The Real Tree of Life

Monet Japanese bridge at giverny

 

In the 1980’s I visited the Monet exhibit when it was at the Chicago Art Museum.  My husband at the time humored me with tickets and appeared to be as delighted as I was with the works of this famous impressionist.  Sometimes you just have to see things in person to understand their brilliance; this was true for both of us after we toured the travelling exhibit.  We brought home a print of the Japanese Bridge at Giverny to frame and proudly display in our home as a remembrance.  I still have that picture lying in wait for the perfect place to showcase it in the more contemporary-styled home of Steve and me.  Perhaps we will find that spot in another few decades or maybe our next home, whichever comes first!

Another piece of art takes my breath away every time I see it.  If I can ever find another print of it I suspect that I will always have it on display somewhere no matter our décor.  I was in the gift shop of the Chicago Art Museum with a boyfriend at the time, years before finding the Monet print, when I found a poster of Henri Matisse’s “The Tree of Life.”  It’s a photograph of a stained glass window from the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, Italy.  Something about it captured my heart.  The colors and themes are simple, completed in a form of collage for which Mr. Matisse remains famous.  I’m not particularly fond of most of the rest of his work however, that tends to be more abstract or includes distorted images of people, places, and things in bright colors.  Many of those people are partially naked:  tis not my cup of tea to have an image of a naked stranger on display in my living room!

We carried the poster home on the commuter train back home to the suburbs like a prized possession.  This trip occurred before I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the true giver of life.  Oh I knew the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis and the two trees in the Garden of Eden:  the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life.  Perhaps it was the simple themes, Biblical title, and reverence for our Creator that struck a cord in me when I saw this image.  Sadly over the years of living in various apartments then storing the print in a storage locker, the framed poster was damaged by a basement flood beyond repair.  Or perhaps it was the distraction of graduate school that cost me my better judgment in keeping this little memento safe.  Oh well.  It’s not that important right?

Years later I came upon the Tree of Life image online.  I searched and searched through scores of poster websites trying to find another copy.  On two occasions I even called the gift shop at the Art Museum trying to locate a source for securing another copy.  The image was printed for that temporary exhibit only and the staff said I would have to contact the Vatican in Italy for another one!   Yes, I looked for contact information for the Vatican gift shop and eventually ran into a dead end once again.  Still another lead led me to an oil painter who could make copies of it but the online service appeared somewhat nefarious for the cost.  I’m not sure it would be worth a few hundred dollars to have a beastly oil painting when a nicely matted and framed print will do just fine.

tree-of-life-stained-glass-behind-the-altar-in-the-chapel-of-the-rosary-at-vence-1951 

So the search will go on for perhaps another few decades.  That’s fine too.  These days the “stuff of life” (as in art prints) is less important to me.  An older mentor once taught me at a critical time in my life to hold things of value lightly before the throne of God’s grace.  It’s like placing a pencil in the palm of an outstretched hand.  He may grant you good things or non-material blessings depending upon each season of life in which we find ourselves.  Sometimes we hold onto the pencil for a purpose as it lies on our hand and other times the pencil falls away.  To discern whether to hold on to it or let go out of our hands is wisdom indeed and worth holding onto the most.  Let’s reflect on this further:

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.  Proverbs 3:18

Ah yes, there it is.  Looks like in the Bible the Tree of Life was first noted in the Garden of Eden and later referred to wisdom.  What else we can find?

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.  Proverbs 11:30

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  Proverbs 13:12

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.  Proverbs 15:4

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  Revelation 22:2

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.  Revelation 22:4

And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.  Revelation 22:19  (Our just reward if we do not heed His invitation.)

 

Knowing that I have access to the tree of life through my relationship with Jesus Christ has made a tremendous difference in my life.  These past 2 1/2 years have been wretched with painful, noxious symptoms and waking seizures every day, multiple times per day, and often for hours.  Other symptoms come and go every day.  Knowing the hope that lies within our Lord’s living water manifest within the image of a life-giving tree resonates with me.  I love gardening and increasingly appreciate being outside more than indoors:  two ingredients drawing me towards His majestic creation in the natural world.

As He gives life to nature so does He breathe life into you and me.  The past 1 1/2 months since my brother’s devastating stroke pains me as I realize his suffering too.  My love for Mike draws me to pray for him in hopes that he rededicates his life to the Lord who loves him despite this situation.  As we both dwell in the presence of the Lord there will be a purpose for our lives, a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  We must draw upon the living water extended to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection to realize these promises, until we are called home to dwell in His presence forever.  His indwelling Spirit will sustain us, and strengthen us like that tree of life growing strong and tall against the storms that may come.  It is the harsh winds and rainstorms that help the sapling to develop strong roots, sturdy branches, and rings in the trunk that tell the stories of His amazing grace through it all.

The real tree of life is not a poster or a pendant found on the internet:  that is for certain!  The real tree of life is the Lord Jesus Christ as the rock of my salvation, His firm foundation under my feet, nourished from the Word of God, yielding the fruit of Holy Spirit for His glory alone.  We will grow in love and admonition of the Lord:  a wonderful place to be.  I am so grateful to have found the true Giver of life.  Gentle Reader:  have you found Him too?  :J

Missin’ Mike and Good News Too

There is good news to report:  my brother will be moving into a better rehabilitation facility soon!  His fiancé is now his legal guardian and has received preliminary acceptance of his admission into the rehab. unit of a skilled nursing facility close to their home in Port Huron, Michigan.  Michael’s Medicaid is now approved which makes this transfer possible.  Lord willing he will be there within a week.

My heart is breaking that I have not been able to see him since our initial visit to him at St. Johns Hospital April 15th.  St. Johns dumped him into an inner city nursing home when a place became available who would accept someone with “Medicaid pending.”  The social workers claimed that they contacted 35 facilities before St. Francis accepted him.  While we are grateful that this search for a place ended up extending his inpatient rehabilitation 10 more days, the place he got transferred to isn’t much more than “3 hots and a cot.”  Oh I guess they give him his medication too and an occasional bed bath.  Not much for a 53 year old man who has just suffered a severe stroke and needs considerably more care.

I am sad that there has been no follow up on his medical needs after the initial physician visit.  (He has a tumor on a kidney that was to be scheduled for biopsy but nothing has happened.)  The staff at St. Francis has lost or been unable to locate most of his clothing.  Michael sits in a “geri chair” for much of the day which is a large vinyl recliner chair:  completely dependent upon others to be moved out of his room, into the dining room, or possibly into the T.V. room.  I understand that the building is very old with stained walls, stench of incontinent residents, and constant sounds of demented residents or staff milling about.  Michael has gotten weaker from inactivity.  His weight continues to be down even with the meals and treats brought to him by his fiancé and our cousin, Lisa.  Lisa is an optometrist on staff with the facility but that has made little difference in meeting Michael’s care needs.  Lisa witnessed a nurse writing her requests in the nursing 24-hour care log.  Nothing happened:  1) he continues to crave cigarettes whereas a nicotine patch would ease his chemical dependency and 2) he never got the wheelchair promised upon admission and supposedly recommended by the physical therapist.  I am convinced that the poor, sack-of-potatoes positioning in the recliner chair has contributed to his worsening left shoulder pain.  Such is life post stroke with left hemiplegia and no rehabilitative care.

In the meantime Sister Bear has secured a television/DVD player, wheelchair, walker, and bedside commode for him.  However with the lack of security for his personal items and transportation issues getting the items to him from their respective locations (wheelchair and commode in Mt. Clemens, walker in Adrian, and T.V. here with me in Indiana) everything is on hold until he moves into a better place.  Lord willing everything will move forward soon as various family members have offered assistance to get these items to him and his fiancé (also named Lisa!).  Lord willing I will be able to visit him at Marwood in Port Huron in about 2 weeks.  Surely my serious respiratory infection will be resolved by then and travel arrangements will come together; the seizure attacks have lessened some as well, gratefully.  I would have never tolerated visiting Mike at St. Francis due to the extremely high potential risk of environmental triggers for seizures.  Even the outdoor patio would have been an impossible place to visit coupled with the resident smokers.  Knowing all of this contributed to my heartbreak of late.  There was nothing I could do but keep in touch with everyone, secure the equipment, pray, and wait.

So I wonder what it has been like for Mike to be so debilitated, alone except for some weekly visits, in a dumpy and dirty living environment?  I understand that he had his Bibles brought to him and pictures taped to the wall next to his bed.  His fiancé Lisa says that he was trying to do his exercises on his own as best as he could.  Without being able to get up and bear weight on his left arm or leg, however, the benefits of exercise would be limited.  The risk for complications has been elevated with some realized as ongoing pain and weakening instead of continued progress.  He was too debilitated to return home from St. Johns Hospital without 24-hour physical assistance and considerable accessibility modifications.  Hopefully he will be more mobile and independent when it’s time to leave Marwood and go home.  In the meantime he has had a lot of time to think about many things.  I hope he reached out to the Lord, the person of Jesus Christ, in his time of need.  I hope he will find some purpose, some meaning for this desolate oasis of time.

Most communication between us has been cut off since Mike arrived at St. Francis due to the sorry state of their phone system.  (No surprise that the place is rated one out of five stars.)  After getting through to talk to him on his first day there, the facility phone was always busy when I called.  Twice I happened to call when his fiancé Lisa was visiting so I could hear his voice for a few moments.  The last time there were so many loud voices and screaming in the background that the words were tough to hear.  I can picture the scene in that place very easily.  I worked in all types of care centers from the inner city to private pay life care communities as an occupational therapist.  Many times I completed those wheelchair screening assessments and crawled around dirty, stuffed storage rooms and sheds until I could find a wheelchair with matching parts for a new resident.  Oh well.  When you don’t have insurance you get what you get.  I guess that Mike was actually fortunate to not be dumped in a homeless shelter.  At least there were security fences around the building and a guard at the front door.  The boarded up homes across the street were intimidating to fiancé and cousin Lisa yet they visited anyways.  I sure wish I could have gone to see him too.  I miss my brother.

I look forward to seeing Mike and holding him for a long time when I do.  There is much sadness for all that he has lost.  There is also much anticipation for all that the Lord has in store for him and his fiancé Lisa too.  I believe that the Lord has His hand on him in that Mike’s life was spared.  Just under half of all persons who experience a cerebral vascular accident don’t survive.  Mike’s cognitive abilities and ability to communicate have been spared.  His ability to swallow foods from a regular diet was quickly restored.  In my clinical experience these rarely happen in a person with severe left hemiplegia.  We are all hopeful that his ability to function will improve over time as well.  The rule of thumb is that the most rapid recovery occurs within the first 3-6 months post stroke.  He is six weeks out from his onset date of April 13th and continues to feel new sensations in his affected arm and leg.  And now his next phase of rehabilitation is about to begin bringing new hope for more return of function.  This time I’ll bet at least a quarter that Mike will be very motivated for physical, occupational, and speech therapy!  That will be very good to see indeed.

Until then, please join me in praying for Mike and his fiancé Lisa.  Lisa has a teenage son, Alex, who loves Mike and hasn’t seen him since April.  There’s a golden retriever named Garfield who misses him too.  The new place is closer to their home so I hope all of them will get together sometime soon; even dogs are allowed to visit at Marwood!  Oh I am grateful for such blessings.  Yes, there is good news this day with the promise of even more to come.  Thank you Jesus for your enduring grace and mercy.  Go before us, strengthen our faith, bring healing to our dear Michael for your glory Lord.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Michael George Lech
Michael George Lech

 

Inspired by Michael

Gotta love a wacky sense of humor!  Call it gallows humor if you will.  Today it is keeping me sane.

Here are a few momentos as I support my brother, Mike, recovering from a stroke.  Enjoy!  JJ

No Kidding!
No Kidding!
My favorite.  Have a good day all!
My favorite. Have a good day all!

 

oldcarguys pepsihope sick sense of humor strokerecoverysick sense of humoroldcarguyslife-support-computer-humorHIPPA humorheadnurseonfloor'Yummo Toothpaste contains no caffeine, and cleans your teeth better than Coke or Pepsi!'

This one looks like Mike!
This one looks like Mike!
Michael George Lech
Michael George Lech

And then you just hope to move sideways

Here’s a brief update on my brother, Michael, and me with a prayer request:

At this moment Mike is moving from an acute, inpatient rehabilitation facility to one of the lowest-rated nursing homes in the city of Detroit.  The social workers claim that of the 35 facilities they have contacted, St. Francis is the only one who would accept him.  The reason?  He is “Medicaid Pending” and does not have any other insurance.  We are sad and concerned.

Today Mike’s rehabilitation stops until Medicaid is approved.  Today Mike learns how the indigent of our society are left behind in facilities located across the street from an abandoned buildings in scary neighborhoods.  Today Mike decides whether or not he is a FIGHTER.  I only got to talk to him briefly before the transport vehicle came to wheel him out of his private room and begin the next leg of his recovery journey.  He has made tremendous gains in cognition, swallowing, self care, transferring from one seat to another, and even walking.  Mike has had close monitoring of his medical condition, medications, and test results.  The plan to address a complex cyst on a kidney remains unclear as he moves away from his rehabilitation and medical specialists.  None of them go to the new facility.  It is unlikely that he will receive any rehabilitation therapies from this point forward until his Medicaid is approved.  We are sad and concerned.

We are hoping that this transfer is a move sideways and not the beginning of a downward slide.  At this point I do not believe that he knows that he will be receiving fewer services.  He is concerned about the facility location and the comfort level of his fiancé visiting him in an unsafe neighborhood.  Gratefully our cousin, Lisa, is an optometrist who sees patients there every 6 weeks.  She has known the staff there for 10 years.  We are hoping that this helps place Mike in a favorable light.  Lisa has also offered to accompany Mike’s fiancé, also named Lisa, on her first visit to the new place.  I am exceedingly grateful for this.  I wish I could be there too.  I cannot go at this time.

I had my own questionable “move” this past weekend.  Difficulty breathing and bizarre, violent seizure attack episodes landed me in the emergency room.  I received “treatment” and returned home; the last three days have been marginal yet better in some ways.  I saw my family practice physician yesterday and was able to put together a few plans to tighten up my treatment plan.  Unfortunately I had to escape outside for fresh air THREE TIMES due to the mold aerosols in his water-damaged office building!  Did I mention that I was already wearing a charcoal mask?  Geez.  I was re-reading the Clinical Summary this morning from my visit and collapsed at the kitchen table into a pile of seizure-like tics.  Perhaps the aerosols followed me home on the porous copy paper?  Who knows.  My gracious husband has seen me through it all, threw out the papers this morning and opened the bay windows to help me revive.  Thank you my beloved Steve!

Sometimes it looks like things are going downhill when actually we have just stepped a little to the side.  Many hidden blessings have come from my brother’s stroke:  developing a closer relationship with his fiancé, rekindling a friendship with my amazing cousin Lisa, and seeing a few family members step forth to love on my brother are wonderful.  And in my own situation I now have a biotoxin illness doctor who is willing to go to bat for me when headed to the ER on a Sunday in addition to an incredible husband who is my kinsman redeemer.  Steve is willing to love me, care for me, and defend my special needs when needed on my journey to wellness.  He believes me that this crap-ola-ski is NOT all in my head and is helping me overcome it too.  In both my brother’s and my own situation, I am seeing new expressions of love that have not been there in our lives before.  Cool beans.  Thank you Jesus!

Gentle Reader, would you kindly pray this scripture with me?  I pray that we will lean on the Lord, trust in the Lord, and have courage to move forward when-and-as the Lord leads these next few weeks.  I need to rest in the tender care of my Jesus and not get ahead of the work He is accomplishing in today.  After all, I do not want to miss the richness of His tender care, His presence in each breathing moment.  Such a joy it is to know that He is here carrying Mike this afternoon in that transport van.  Such a joy it is to know that He is here too with me and you carrying our thoughts and prayers to our Heavenly Father for His wise care according to His Divine plan for our lives.  Perhaps sideways is a good place to be right now.

Want some bulletproof coffee?  Let’s go out on the patio and sit for awhile.  The sun is shining this afternoon and the narcissus, tulips, hyacinths, and buttercups are blooming!

Proverbs 3:5-6
Proverbs 3:5-6

 

 

The Sister Bear Speaks

While my brother’s fiancé is there at the hospital with him in the thick of things, his next of kin is a bit upset.  I am too upset to make any rational decisions.  The feelings run deep with me.  It’s all I could do to be polite on the phone today to the social worker from the rehabilitation unit where Mike is hospitalized.  At least Steve and I have the weekend to sort things out . . .

Very likely Mike will get booted out of the hospital next week and sent to be housed in a nursing home without additional rehabilitation services.  His insurance is “Medicaid Pending” and his requiring of 24-hour physical care post discharge, a situation that cannot be met at home for valid reasons, is pushing the hospital to discharge him from their care.  I don’t get it.  In my 30+ year career in rehabilitation as an occupational therapist, the discharge criteria virtually always hinged on a lack of progress, not the particulars of discharge planning.  It’s a new day:  a new reality.  If you can’t do what the government-driven healthcare system wants you to do then I guess they can wash their hands of you.

Perhaps he will go to a nursing home or perhaps by some miracle the Veterans Administration (VA) will accept him on such short notice.  If the decision is the former, he will be fed 3 meals per day, kept clean and dry, and left to sit slumped in an overstretched wheelchair or geri chair in front of an out-of-tune entertainer from the long term care circuit with a pair of maracas shoved into his functional hand.  The wailing of the demented residents will woo him to sleep at night as he tosses on his waterproof mattress to get comfortable around the bedsores that no one will find until it is too late for healing.  Thickened Pepsi to drink?  Not a chance.  At least until his fiancé cleans up her make-up from crying long enough to ignore the swale of urine stench long enough to bring it to him.  God bless her faithfulness visiting every day through this incredibly stressful ordeal!

Or perhaps it won’t be that bad.  Maybe he will get into a VA rehabilitation facility with little red tape and get stronger.  Regardless, the hope of at least a few weeks of physical, occupational, and speech therapy has vanished for the time-being.  And Michael has no idea yet, what is about to happen to him next week.  I left a message for his saint of a fiancé and she has not gotten back to me yet.  Maybe she is in as big of SHOCK as I am.  Maybe she is exhausted and horrified from touring nursing homes closer to where they lived in the “thumb” area of Michigan.  I don’t blame her for taking a little time for herself to sort things out.  My heart goes out to Lisa.  She has been through so much these past two weeks as her life has changed forever.

As for me, 200 miles to the south and struggling with four hours of seizure attacks multiple times per day, I am overwhelmed with the stress of it all.  Just seeing the missing flooring in our bathroom from yet another mold remediation project is enough to stub my toe even when the light is on.  Somehow I completed a few errands outside the home this afternoon and made a simple dinner.  I talked to a few family members who offered mixed consolation while I was stepping on the elliptical for 20 minutes, phone in hand.  Geez!  I haven’t used that thing in a few weeks!  I must be stressed out.  Thank goodness the nightly seizure attack episodes haven’t fully ramped up yet tonight:  I needed to talk to you, Gentle Reader!  I started to type and there you were.  Thanks so much for being here.  I can barely speak I am so very upset.

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

Life goes on despite the drama of the moment.  If Steve and I don’t impulsively drive 3 hours north to go to the hospital tomorrow and I’m stable enough, we will attend the 50th wedding anniversary open house of some friends.  It will be good to enjoy some Christian fellowship.  Then maybe my beloved Steve will start to work on the bathroom floor tile project and I’ll put together the jewelry orders that have been sitting at my work table this past week.  Lord willing I’ll continue with the Spring clean-up of our gardens and Steve will mow the grass for the first time this year.  Looks like the narcissus will be blooming within a day or two with their yellow-throated happy faces reaching up to soak up the sun.  The sunshine will feel good on my broken frame as well and I will enjoy the freshness of the air this time of year.  There’s no better hue of green than that of the tender leaves emerging from their Winter slumber:  truly lime, truly sublime too.  Some call it “horticulture therapy.”  Gee, maybe I should go right now poke my finger in the dirt of the violets waiting to fill the self-watering planters I thought I might plant tomorrow . . . I need a fix of something and a shot of tequila is out of the question these days . . .

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

Please pray for us.  This sister bear is hurting more for her brother than anything right now.  My beloved Steve has been so loving despite the challenges of my illness, demands of his work, and his other responsibilities.  Lisa has got to be struggling as well, balancing work, the care of her teenage son (Alex), and assuming increasing responsibility for Michael’s affairs.  She and Michael have known each other almost 7 years.  Her 13 year old son has a great relationship with Michael too.  Oh Lord, hold us all closely this night.  Help us.  Show us Your love, mercy, and grace.  Guide us with wisdom.  If it is Your will, heal my brother from the effects of this devastating stroke.  Comfort him as he realizes all that has happened to him and show him hope, be real for him on his bed of sickness.  He has reached out to you in his time of need.  I am grateful for this and grateful that you are here with us.  And thank you for the encouragement we find in Your Word:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4)

In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

Michael George Lech
Michael George Lech