The Good Things

I am in another hard week. Not just for me, I recognize. This is a hard season for my household, our community and for the world at large. Things feel heavy because they are heavy. Sickness and Violence and Injustice and Disaster should always be things that weigh on our souls; they should never be welcome things in our lives and in this world.

So I hold those things. The Bad Things.

I cannot emotionally and physically hold only The Bad Things. And neither can you. Whatever we try to tell ourselves, however we try to justify it, it is too much. Which is why we have permission to find The Good Things, too. Even if they are small, even if they are stored in our memories, even they have not yet arrived, we all have access to The Good Things.

I recently landed in the Emergency Department because of a medication reaction causing me to nearly pass out and shake uncontrollably. I had such a strong anxiety attack my medical team filled my IV with Valium after helping me with fluids. On top of being painful and scary, it was a huge disappointment: this was the medication that my cardiology team had hoped would prolong my heart’s life. My intolerance means we have to try something different and anticipate my heart’s quicker decline. Bad Things.

So it struck me as somewhat miraculous when I started finding The Good Things:

My mother-in-law drove in from Oklahoma gave up her entire week to help me and Ben at home. She assisted with meals, house cleaning, and health maintenance. She gave us not only the gift of her presence, but also took away the burden of literal hours of chores that would have fallen to my caregiving husband. She is a Good Thing.

I was able to talk to my mother, too, and celebrate her birthday on the phone. Both sides of my family sent meaningful e-mail, adorable photos, and daily “Life in Fresno” updates. My incredible husband continued to care for me (and make me laugh in the process!). They are a Good Thing.

Friends reached out to see how I am feeling and functioning. Local pals ran errands and my next door neighbor dropped off a homemade dinner. People prayed and sent us encouragement in their own words and in Scripture. These are Good Things.

A haircut. A drive to Dover. Lizards and bunnies and butterflies. All Good Things.

The Psalmist declares that God fills life with Good Things. And I am someone determined to see and accept God’s Good Things, to allow them to exist alongside the Bad. To open my eyes and also my hands, to see and to receive. I am also determined to try not to blame God for the Bad Things, the things that are not God’s plan for our world that we create ourselves. The God who forgives, heals, ransoms me, surrounds me, and fills my life with Good Things is with me and is with you.

So today, as we navigate the Bad, while Ben quarantines downstairs and we monitor ourselves for Covid symptoms and worry about our friends who are sick and try to prayerfully make decisions to care for our community and world, I can look outside at our Rose of Sharon in full magenta bloom and think: Praise the God of Good Things.

The Inconveniences

The past two weeks, the toilet in our master bathroom has been running non-stop. We considered this a minor issue and got used to readjusting the flapper in the tank, turning on and off water, and making things work. Yesterday we decided it was time to replace a couple parts, so Ben ran to our local hardware store and purchased what we needed. He strategically found a time in our schedule where he could take off the tank, do a quick installation, and get things running again.

We promptly discovered that our toilet was not a standard size and our store did not carry our particular replacements. Ben and a friend had dismantled it and were not able to put it back together with the worn out pieces. We were going to need to do some research and find the replacement parts if we were doing this ourselves, which meant an evening without use of that bathroom.

A minor inconvenience for a household with more than one toilet.

Without a toilet on the main floor, I needed to use stairs to get to the restroom. Stairs are difficult for me to use even on my best health days so by my second bathroom visit I was winded. Ben helped me get back to My Spot on the Couch and I felt a wave of panic. My diuretic was doing its job and getting rid of excess water quickly–way to go, medication!–but that meant there was another trip in my future. My mind was racing: What happens the next time I need to pee? Can I make another flight of stairs? Do I need to find a bucket?!

One of the most challenging realizations I have had to accept in this season is that my inconveniences more quickly evolve into problems.

In other times of my life, when I was feeling and functioning better, I was quick to point out that mild annoyances were not worth my worry or emotional energy. I was taught “don’t sweat the small stuff” and liked to be self-sufficient. For much of my life, I had the time and ability to clean up and move on from issues of any size. And I encouraged others to do the same.

For many of our friends living with chronic illness, there are common issues that quickly escalate due to a person’s physical, mental, and emotional limitations. Not everyone has the dexterity to fix the broken thing, the mental capacity to think thru all the options, or the energy to do the research. Our culture can overlook and water down hard things, believing that “small stuff” is a one-size-fits-all description. But for some of the people we love, the caregivers and the care-receivers we are doing life with, there is NO small stuff. Every challenge is a difficult hurdle and will take a lot of effort.

I am lucky to have Ben. He sat with me and helped me calm down before we put together a plan. We ended up taking all my necessary stuff downstairs to sleep in the basement, close to a working toilet, and Ben called a plumber to come in the morning. (Thank you, Blue Dot Services!) Yes, we had to pay a literal price for a problem that most people could fix on their own, but we are learning how to accept help of all kinds. As of this afternoon, I am back on the couch and grateful for a new toilet tank with standard parts.

Friends, I apologize for any time I tried to minimize your hard things or looked past your problem. Your stuff is not small. Your challenges deserve to be recognized. May we all walk forward together with a little more grace for ourselves and each other–especially when it comes to toilets.

The Gifts

I woke up late this Christmas morning, staggered to our couch with a protein shake breakfast, looked at my husband across the room and began to weep. I was completely overwhelmed. I was not crying tears of hardship or frustration, I was crying tears of joy. Complete unfiltered joy.

This year has been a very difficult one for a number of reasons. My family almost died in a horrible car crash while driving out to visit us and my parents were badly injured. My heart health continued to bring its own challenges and I had more bad days than good. Our city, country, and world saw incredible struggles and strife.

But instead of being overwhelmed by anger or sorrow, I feel joy.
“Why?” I wondered out loud. “How can I feel so full at the end of such a draining year?”


Because we have received good gifts every step of the way.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:9-12, NIV)

This passage of Scripture befuddled me for much of my college career. Whenever we studied Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, I always found these verses kind of…random. Parents giving their children rocks and snakes? That sounds like stuff I would have loved when I was little! What kids are asking for bread and fish? (During this time I also learned importance of not trying to interpret every passage into today’s culture.) It took me years to understand the significance of this text and the truth that it contains: God gives Good Gifts. When God’s children ask for good things, God does not respond with a curse. Even when God does not respond how we hoped, God is not trying to trick us or punish us. God is love.

I need to pay attention to what I am giving God credit for; sometimes I point at trash and attribute it to the greatest Gift-giver of all! When horrible things happen it is not God responding to my requests with venom. Ugly things are the result of evil at work. My heart condition is not a “blessing in disguise” but an attack against the goodness of God. Car accidents and political fights and racism is not, and should never be, connected to our Good God. God responds to us in love and gives us (as undeserving as we are) Good Gifts.

Many times this year I have reached out to God for help. I asked for bread and fish, for our daily needs. I asked for comfort and peace. I asked for familiarity and support. And God responded with Good Gifts:

  • A HOME. Ben and I purchased a beautiful house with the help of our supportive family and a great realtor. (Thanks, Tyler!)
  • ASSISTANCE. People gave rides, meals, and lots of time and patience on days I needed physical help. My IANA Team has been an incredible blessing.
  • THERAPY. We set aside money in our budget for monthly counseling sessions. Talking with a professional about my mental and physical health has been a gift.
  • SEMINARY. One of the most unexpected answers to my pleas for help was in the form of a learning community. It has been a great start to a three-year journey of reading, writing, and sharing.
  • PRESENTS. Some of the good gifts I unwrapped this year were literal presents: Candy from our neighbors, flowers from our church family, even a Gilmore Girls themed package from a dear friend.
  • HEALING. My parents and my brother are alive and recovering from their injuries. Their lives are the most important gift I can celebrate this year.
  • LOVE. In and through all this year has brought, Ben and I have received love. An overwhelming amount of love from people in our community, people we barely know, and a God who knows and loves us all.

I have been given Good Gifts this year so I thank God with praise and wonder and weeping. And I thank all of you, too.

May you be overwhelmed by Good Gifts in this new year.

The Anxiety

I cried in the doctor’s office today.

Again.

I have been wheezing and coughing and dealing with stomach cramps for the past few days and, with the sound advice of my husband, decided to contact my GP. Their office has been amazing when it comes to making last-minute appointments and giving me the time I need when I am there. They are friendly and helpful and treat me like a person. I am really grateful to be connected to their clinic!

That is a rabbit trail that, although lovely, is not the point of this post. Back to the story at hand…

After my doctor heard my side of the week and did her own analysis, she told me she wanted to run a test for the Flu. Not anything crazy, just a cotton swab and a few minutes of waiting for results. A quick painless test and ten minutes of talking to Ben while we try to decipher medical posters on the wall. No big deal.

Right? No big deal?

I started crying the minute my nurse walked into the room. Ben jumped up and grabbed my hand and my sweet medical team member pulled out a tissue. “Oh no! It’s alright!” She told me. “I promise this won’t hurt much it will be over very soon.” After a few minutes of tears paired with coughing and “I’m so sorry”s, I was finally breathing well enough to let her stick the swab up my nose.

After the nurse stepped out with my mucus sample and my husband gave me a hug and I coughed up some more phlegm I had to ask myself the question:

WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!

The past few years I have had intense anxiety attached to anything and everything related to my health. I have ugly cried before every procedure and in multiple medical visits. I had a full-blown panic attack on the ER gurney while they were trying to find a vein for a blood draw. I shed hot, silent tears on the ride home after I was deemed unwell enough for cardiac rehab. I put off taking a new medication for days because I had (perhaps unwisely) further researched some of the potential side effects. As someone who has always been a bit of a worry-wart, my heart issues have accelerated that anxiety and created a whole new stress-filled beast!

I have heard that dealing with chronic illness is often connected with developing or worsening anxiety. People with physical health issues (and those caring for them) are more aware of what is happening in their body and can feel completely out-of-control in regards to status and symptoms. Being sick is terribly stressful.

My medical team knows that I am dealing with anxiety and they have worked well with me in moments of fears and worry. A few times they have been willing to give me a moment to emote without them present and a few times they have been able to come up with a different way of getting data. Every once in a while there is nothing any of us can do except move forward. No one has ever made fun of me for weeping as they wheel me to the cath lab. They, perhaps more than anyone else, understand how difficult this is. After all, they are the ones prescribing the scary procedures and bringing the stressful news!

. . .

[Inhale. Exhale.]

. . .

With the help of my amazing therapist and loving support system, I have been able to recognize what is triggering my worry and stress in certain situations. Sometimes clarity comes days or months later. Sometimes I only find certain pieces of truth. Sometimes, like today, I am able to speak it in the moment.

“I am angry.” I told my husband, still holding my hand. “I am angry that I feel sick most days. And I realize it is not my fault. I feel helpless and that makes me sad and worried and angry. If I have the flu, it is just one more thing I have to try to work through on top of everything else.”

And you know what? I stopped crying. For a few moments I was able to identify my emotions, put into words what was bothering me, and breathe.

I don’t have the flu. (Unfortunately, I have a kidney infection and the start of bronchitis–which might be worse.) But I do have anxiety. And I have people who are helping me move forward in all of it.

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month. May we all move forward together.