Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Hard Ugly Truth Continues to Georgia

(This is the third in a series.)

My husband Jeff began working for a southern bank based in Wilson, North Carolina many years earlier.  He had gradually worked his way up to a Vice President position.  There were frustrations along the way.  Having worked in IT for Nortel, GSK, and Cisco among other giants, he noticed right away the bank's lack of "global" thinking within their IT projects.  This is one thing he could never get too far away from.  The bank "lifers," who were above him, noticed he had a different way of thinking, too.  Never having worked anywhere else but for this bank, they couldn't (for the life of themselves) think outside the Winston Salem "bank box" where they were taught to do things a certain way.

For some of those boxed-in bank lifers, he became a challenge.  I believe they thought of him as competition in a market that was shrinking as the economy hobbled through the whole loan crisis.  One thing about Jeff is that he's a straight shooter, hard worker and has been in the industry long enough to understand your good name is attached to you.  No matter where you work, you'll end up discovering someone that you worked with at another company will show up on the floor above you, the office down from you, or as a contractor working alongside you.  He is always very personable, truly genuine, highly motivated, and very competent to produce excellent work.  He expects the same of others working around him.  No games, just honest teams working to get the job done, and done well.  The lifers at the bank thought differently.  Because they'd never worked anywhere else, their small-box view was limited to the size of the bank.  And the only rules they knew or played well were to get ahead no matter who or what was in the way.  Playing games to get what you want was something several of them had mastered.  And Jeff was definitely in the way. 

It was going to be a fun-filled Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration with boating, river-tubing, eating out and enjoying the quiet setting on a lake with picturesque mountains serenely surrounding the water.  We were all looking forward to it until the phone call came in late on that Thursday afternoon.   I can't remember if I told the kids anything after I hung up the phone.  I do remember sinking into a couch on the screened porch and feeling like someone had knocked the wind out of me.  This had happened before many years earlier when he had worked for Nortel.  I remember being on vacation in Maine when CNN flashed that the giant had lost nearly a billion dollars in the previous quarter.  I remember Jeff saying you can't lose a billion in a quarter and hold onto jobs, and getting on the phone to begin strategizing early.  Even so, when the layoffs finally arrived, I think he was jobless for the rest of that summer.  But this, this felt different.  Although I couldn't put my finger on why, my gut firmly stated this would be a very different experience.  He went through the first three stages of loss quickly: shock, anger at the disrespectful way in which he'd been let go, and definitely the "if only I had seen this coming."

We told family first and quietly finished packing for the trip.  Suddenly, going to Georgia felt wrong.  Going to Africa felt wrong, too.  Going anywhere but behind closed doors to cry felt wrong.  One amazing thing took place though.  It was like the tiniest glimmer of hope.  Just before we left to travel caravan-style to Georgia my mom handed me her tube of toothpaste.  She suggested I try using her Colgate "Maximum Strength" Sensitive toothpaste.  After meeting a corporate Colgate businessman on a flight somewhere, my parents were true believers in the "slightly different" formula this sensitive toothpaste had.  I'd already tried two other similar toothpastes with no effect, but anything at that point was worth a try.  I began by brushing with it and moved to wiping the aggravated tooth with pea-sized dots of it every few hours.  Almost miraculously, the throbbing was cut in half in less than 24 hours.  I continued taking ibuprofen three times a day and kept the tube of Colgate in my pocket.  Looking back, when I scrutinize photos of that family vacation, I see deep concern etched in my face.  Joy was definitely missing.

~ When you're walking through a dark valley, take time to sit quietly, to rest and to listen. You will hear God's promise: "I will give you treasures, even in this deep dry valley. Riches are stored in secret places." May you walk full of faith that He'll fill your arms with those treasures which will restore you . Be strong and take heart till then. God is near enough to touch even if you can't feel Him; He's for you, holding you  or walking quietly alongside in your grief, and leading you beside still water for rest, and making a way where there is no way. He wept. He’s well acquainted with grief. Keep walking through this valley and let him sustain you. He will never leave you alone, and in time he'll lead you back to a mountaintop. Keep your eyes up. Look forward with hope on this journey, don’t turn and linger in regret. ~

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Hard Ugly Truth Continues

(This is the second part in a series.)

Working through Simon's knee recovery was exhausting in the first two weeks.  Each day thereafter became a little easier as the intense pain wore off and more hard work began. Two new and worrisome things slowly began for me though. 

With just weeks to go before a mission trip to Africa, my hair began falling out.  Not in scary clumps, just too many strands while shampooing and conditioning.  Soon enough everywhere I looked, I found my hair.  At one point the vacuum cleaner started making strange noises.  I unplugged it, flipped it over and realized the roller was wearing a soft coat of my long blond hair.  I had barely noticed it at first, but now I was seeing my hair outside on the lawn chair where I was sitting, in the car, people were pulling strands off my back.  And it was leaving twisted blond nests in the shower drain.

Then worst of all, I woke up one morning to an aching tooth.  Because I've never had any serious dental problems or work needed, and it was so throbbing so much, I just knew I needed my first ever root canal.  Earlier in the year we had decided to switch from our beloved dentist of 16 years to a dental office 35 minutes closer, just a five minute ride from our home.  When I got into the office to see the new dentist, not just one, but both of them were at a loss as to what was causing the deep throbbing.  An x-ray showed nothing, all the teeth in that area were healthy and alive, both dentists stared at my mouth and dismissed one idea after another. They offered to take out an old filling and replace it, but the cold air test showed no sensitivity, and they were not at all certain this would solve anything.  They had no guarantee it would cause the throbbing to go away.  Their schedule was fully overbooked so, she put me on an emergency list to have it done if I decided to, and if someone canceled.  Their parting gift was a mouth guard to mold to my mouth and wear at night.  They decided it had to be clenching and grinding due to stress.

I had two weeks till I got on a plane to head to Uganda.  That night I laid awake wearing a mouth guard, with a throbbing lower jaw and tears rolling down my cheeks from deep anxiety.  I did not like this new state I seemed to be stuck in.  I couldn't seem to shake off whatever had a hold of me.  I was praying every hour for a healing or at least an answer to solve the throbbing -- even if it was painful to go through.  The next morning I called my old dentist to see if he had time to share a second opinion.  Their office answering machine said they were on vacation for the next four days.  Just my luck.  Naturally, when they were back in the office, they saw me first thing.  Again, two more dentists looked at old x-rays, took new panaramic sets, and stared, searching for something that might cause this deep ache.  They conferred and finally agreed, there was nothing that either of them could see causing a problem.  He talked me out of having the tooth refilled.  At a loss for what to do, he wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and pain medication to get me through the few weeks I'd be away from home in a third world country, just in case it got worse.  They were fairly certain altitude wouldn't affect the pain.  His office assistant showed me how to cut my mouth guard smaller, so I couldn't even slide my back teeth on it at night.  They told me to keep on a regimen of ibuprofen 3 times a day for the next week.  I wanted to cry because none of this seemed novel-- I was looking for new plan that sorted it all out neatly and put an end to it shortly.  In fact, coupled with everything I'd been through in the past 20 days, this all seemed over the top... an ache a dentist couldn't help?  I decided that if there was a purgatory, this is what it would feel like.  My days were filled with Simon's doctor and physical therapy appointments.  My nights were filled with anxious wakefulness.

Months before, my parents had planned out a week-long vacation in the picturesque mountains of Georgia to celebrate their wedding reunion.  We would return from Georgia and my seventeen year old son Jackson and I would have four days to do laundry, run last minute errands, and repack before we boarded a plane for the 24 hour trip.  I desperately wanted to be wildly excited about it like my teammates.  While packing for Georgia and for Africa, I began to sense an even deeper well of dread.  I'm normally a positive, "glass is half full" type of person.  That upbeat personality was ebbing away and I felt like I was grasping air when I tried to pull it back on like a comfortable cloak.  I was literally praying around the clock, for everything, for everyone.  I began creating A Faithful Word board on Pinterest as a specific gathering place for Bible verses to keep me grounded.  There was nothing more calming than to scroll through and read or add to this board I'd made of beautiful typography to calm and soothe my weary soul.  Especially when I was up in the middle of the night.

Our Georgia mountain resort vacation was going to be a week long Saturday-to-Saturday trip.  Jeff and I had been talking to Simon's surgeon about traveling nine hours away just 18 days after major knee surgery.  Both he and the physical therapy office loaded us full of supplies and plans for every imaginable scenario.  Simon was definitely looking forward to getting away from the four walls in our family room.  A resort, even in a wheel chair, sounded absolutely fabulous.  He had finished all the serious pain pills, was looking more like his old self and had even begun lifting dumbbells and doing crunches in bed.  My mouth was doable with the ibuprofen regimen, though it continued to cause a constant nagging sensation.  I had just finished setting up a plan with a church member who orchestrated homemade delivered meals.  We agreed three dinners a week would make Jeff's life easier at home working and caring for Simon and Ashleigh while Jackson and I were in Uganda.  Next was a plan to help our youngest, Ashleigh, feel more confident about starting middle school while I was away the first two weeks.  It involved time to talk, a quick shopping trip for some clothing updates and school supplies, a notebook full of outfit plans, a clean organized room, a couple of new Pinterest boards including Dear Ashleigh just for her to look at while I was away.  I hoped all of these would boost her confidence about a new school, new teachers, lockers and locker combinations, and changing clothes for PE.  I also knew she was worried something might happen to us while we were halfway around the world.  All I could do was teach her by example that I felt strongly called for this trip, and the good Lord had even moved my heart to let Jackson pay his way to come along on this life changing adventure.  

When the phone rang at 4 pm that Thursday, I saw it was Jeff, so I grabbed a notebook I had been jotting "To Do" and "Don't Forget" lists in, I just knew there was something else he wanted me to write down!  I was humming with extremely organized checklists these days.  Instead of his hearty, "Hey!," I heard a voice that was flat and quiet.  I couldn't understand what he was saying at first.  I wasn't even sure if it was Jeff I was talking to.  I motioned for the kids to stop talking so loudly and walked outside onto our screened porch.  What was he saying?  Something about coming home early, something about leaving now... something about being laid off.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Hard Ugly Truth Begins

If there's anything better than sharing the hard, raw, ugly truth and then being prayed for and well loved despite it all, I just can't imagine what it is.

Our truth began unraveling and reweaving itself into something new last spring.  It began small, with a knee surgery for our fifteen year old wide receiver, Simon.  My husband Jeff and I had hoped surgery would never have to happen.  After all he was young, he was in "football physical shape," and this was his knee -- he needed it to work well for the rest of his life -- it was not something we wanted to just rush into surgery with. Only after visiting several different surgeons with as many different ideas, months of rehab, and finally, an MRI, did we learn that knee surgery needed to be scheduled.  And what was needed turned out to be so much more than we could have imagined.

Surgery involved three separate surgeries taking place all at once on the injured knee.  We learned that both knees were naturally deformed from birth and many parts of his legs had overcompensated for the deformities so they worked just fine for him.  Until one of his knees was dislocated.  The surgeon's plan involved sawing bone and resetting the knee and screwing in tendons that would learn new jobs in their newly appointed places.

We were amazed and scared.  It involved bringing home a 20 lb  piece of technology that began flexing his leg in small degrees from the moment he arrived home and gradually increasing over the next six weeks.  It involved a small contraption hooked to his leg brace with four little electrodes to send electric pulses to help with pain management.  It involved copious amounts of medication, ice bags, note taking and timing everything perfectly to keep swelling and pain at bay for the first two weeks.  It involved setting up a bed in our family room so he could have visitors and also so I could sleep on the couch at night in case he needed anything. It involved perfectly piled pillow mountains to prop his leg on and getting used to watching hours of TV to relieve boredom.  It involved setting an alarm every few hours for new medications that had to overlap with certain medicines but not all of them.  It involved changing raw dressings, attaching and reattaching electric probes, buckling his leg into and out of the brace, swinging it straight out and helping him everywhere -- the shower, the restroom, and eventually up and down the stairs.  It involved little bits of sleep all day long, a lot of hand holding, and even more soul searching.  Mostly, it took away pretty much all of his independence.  I held onto 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 and offered it to my teenage son.  In it, the apostle Paul wrote , "I pleaded with the Lord to take it [a thorn in my flesh] away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in my weaknesses, my hardships, my difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.'

I thought that it was all a bit overwhelming even when we just took baby steps everyday, until I added to that burden the suddenly sad but still very athletic teenager I now had on my hands.  He believed his future looked much less bright as he looked out the window each day.  Laying or sitting all day long in bed without exercise is not a good thing for a young man who needs to run, to move, to lift weights for stress relief, who thrives on getting things done by himself.  His bed was pushed against the window so he could see the sun rise and set over the backyard or moonlight spilling in through blind slats like a natural nightlight.  He could look outside whenever he wanted, the problem was the world out there looked the same and kept right on going at the same pace, but for him it felt like everything should've come to a grinding halt. 

Just when I thought we had a rhythm we could handle going, a summer storm moved through and left us without power for twenty four hours after our first few days at home. In an 87 degree home, it's hard to keep ice bags or temperaments cool for long. There was no CPM to keep his leg flexing and the sticky June humidity closed in.  Everyone became a little surly.  Still, I had so many dear people who reached out to help.  Dinners from friends came in three times a week.  A surgical nurse I knew from church was on call just for us, even at 1:45 in the morning when he threw up ten minutes after he'd taken his next dose of heavy pain medication.  (Now what?  Redose?)  Luckily, I had help in figuring it all out, calmly and smartly though I was feeling foggy and exhausted.  Our neighbors stretched out a electrical cord from their generator the next morning to run a few things from our home. Like Simon's CPM and the freezer full of ice.  I spent time on the phone with another neighbor I barely knew, but whose son (a friend of Simon's) was recovering from a devastating athletic accident where both knees had undergone similar surgery eight weeks earlier, though his surgeries were done in an emergency situation.  The owners of the pool company where Simon planned to work told us his position was open all summer for him, even if all he could manage was to sit in the guard shack and check people in by late August, they'd schedule him to work.  Mostly, I think we had loads and loads of prayer which kept us going when we encountered each bump in the road.  I reminded myself to breathe through it all:  This was challenging, but this wasn't impossible.

And then two new and worrisome things slowly began. Just weeks from a scheduled mission trip to Africa, my hair began falling out and worst of all, my normally healthy mouth began aching.