Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pass the Tissues, Please

Last night, we went to Tom and Linda's for a music night. We've been doing this for months, and we have things down to a routine.

I, personally, have noticed some deterioiration in Don over the past few weeks, but I don't think he had really acknowledged to himself that there was any digression. He always uses his rollator (a walker with wheels and a seat) to get into Tom's, because there's no other way for him to get in. I shot Tom a glance when he came out to the car to help us in, letting him know that Don was going to need help. When Don first approached the back steps, he said something like, "Now, I think I can do it, but stay close, Tom." I knew better. He couldn't even make it up the first step without Tom's lifting his leg to help him place it on the step. He was exhausted by the time he got to the top. Then, he was just SURE he could do it alone when it was time to go back down to come home. Not to be.

When we got home, I could tell he was troubled. He laid down on the loveseat and closed his eyes, so I didn't bother him. When we got in bed, I asked him if he wanted to talk - and he did. We chatted for a while about the illness, what it's doing to us, how it's changing our lives, and how blessed we are to have each other and such wonderful family and friends. After we talked a while, his spirits were lifted and he was ready to go to sleep.

My life has had less tragedy than many - at least I feel that way. We've been truly blessed, both on the Ellis side and the Stewart side. I continue to pray for a complete healing. Until that comes, Don and I are pledged to making the best life possible for him. Tina Turner sings, "What's Love Got to Do With It?" I reply, "EVERYTHING!"

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm Human - VERY Human

I have felt the stress of the holidays (and everything else) the last couple days, and today in particular. I allow how other people feel about me to completely dictate my life at times; this is one of those times. There is a person that I'm in frequent contact with who has made it no secret that they find it difficult to be around me. I honestly feel that I've bent over backward to pacify - but maybe that's wishful thinking. It's going to be necessary for me to be working with this person within the next few days, and I'm almost making myself physically ill with dread. Why can't I just put it out of my mind, let it slide off my back, and go my merry way? Don't know. I think just writing it out helps release a bit of the tension, though. I suppose it's okay that not everyone likes me. In fact, I guess it's okay that some people can't STAND me. But it doesn't make me happy. I'm not content with that.

So, I'm struggling emotionally - and hating it. I've been down this road before. I don't like the journey. I will make a conscious effort to turn my thoughts to positive things when negative thoughts crowd their way in. I will not dwell on hurtful things that have been said and done. I will be a better person for all that I'm battling. Okay. That's my positive confession. Now, to carry it through to fruition!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Life's An Adventure

Today, Don and I decided to visit a little restaurant near us for lunch, aptly named "Itty Bitty." It only seats 35 people, and I think that may be only if everyone weighs 120 or less.

Don opted to use his powerchair, since he's a bit weak to go far with his rollator. As we entered the place, there was a small table just inside the door to our right. That wouldn't work for Don. He didn't want the draft from the door. So, he chose a table on the other side of the room in the opposite corner. The place was crowded, so winding our way across the floor was an adventure. Don thought he would get behind the table, back to the window, facing the crowd -- so he began his grueling route. When he started through, there wasn't enough room between the neighboring table and the one he had chosen for us. After he had knocked the table about three inches in one direction and then the other, a voice piped up, "I don't think that table's supposed to be movable!" Man, was my face red!

He finally got himself situated, we ordered, ate, and made as hasty a retreat as is possible in a crowded room maneuvering a powerchair. You've heard of a bull in a china shop?

Friday, December 11, 2009

I've Gotta New Attitude!

As a usual thing, I dread the holidays. It's a change from my routine, and I don't deal well with change. I'm usually more busy than I should be (have a hard time saying "no"), and get myself in a tizzy.

This year, however, I seem to be dealing with things better. I'm already more busy than I need to be, but I'm taking it in stride. Things can only frustrate me if I allow it - right?

In the wee hours of the morning, Don's 94-year-old mama fell out of bed and broke her femur. She's undergoing surgery right now to put in a rod and pin. Now THAT'S having a heavy situation to deal with! She's complaining about having the surgery, but she's dealing beautifully with the pain issues (they have her on morphine now, but she wasn't doing much complaining even before the morphine). She knows what difficult times are, and I'm sure she's seen worse than what she's going through now.

It's all in the attitude. Some days, mine stinks! But controlling my fears and anxieties is something I'm growing into - a day at a time. The holidays hold no terror. I'm free to laugh, love and enjoy! Join me!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Year to be Thankful

Wow! This year has brought all kinds of changes to my life - some good, some not so good. I will be 62 years old tomorrow, and I think I may be FINALLY learning some things that I should have learned many years ago.

1. Don't sweat the small stuff. I'm learning to not place undue importance on things that don't really matter.

2. Cherish family and friends. We've had to lean heavily on some of our friends and family this year, and no one has bowed beneath the weight we've put on them. Thanks, guys and gals!

3. Realize that dwelling on unpleasant things doesn't help my state of mind. I can't help what others say, think or do - even if it affects me in a personal and hurtful way. I'm only responsible for myself. I CAN control what I choose to think about.

4. God has been very gracious to me. Don and I married when I was 18, very naive, and very immature in lots of ways. God gave me a wonderful man who would stand by me and support me despite my flaws (and,I will add - for those of you who think Don is perfect - that goes both ways!), and we've built a beautiful life together.

5. Look around and see all the things I have to be thankful for. We've had some difficult times, but not as difficult as some others have had. No matter the trial, God has provided the needed strength.

It's been a good year. I'm gearing up for a wonderful forever!

Friday, November 6, 2009

What, Exactly, Is Faith?

As you know, hubby was diagnosed almost two years ago with ALS, a terminal disease where all your voluntary muscles die. It's actually much more complicated than that, but that's a simple explanation.

Let me begin by saying that we believe in divine healing - miracles. We've actually experienced some in our own lives and have seen others who have also experienced unexplained healings and happenings. Problem is, we didn't write down the formula. I can't tell you why we received a miracle one time and not another. In all honesty, I don't believe there is a simple Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 formula, and I automatically turn a deaf ear to those who try to give me the instruction sheet. I know I must have faith (even as a grain of mustard seed). I know the healing comes to the glory of God. I've read scripture to build my faith and put me on solid standing. But that's about as far as my religious insight goes.

So, when people tell me to "call what is not as though it is" or not to say my husband has ALS, because then I'm laying claim to the disease, I struggle with that. I know there's life and death in our words, but is denying the truth speaking condemnation on ones self? I believe God can heal Don, but do I think I have some sort of secret concoction for obtaining this healing? No! If God was limited by our words, how did Jesus raise Lazarus? Mary and Martha were both rather blunt with Jesus in telling him he had come too late. What about those times when people were raised from the dead when the mourners were already outside the door going through their loud chants and groanings? It didn't limit God's ability in any way.

I'm probably being far too "open" in posting my feelings, but I'll freely confess that I don't understand all spiritual things. I know God is in control, and I know that both Don and I strive to live our lives in a way we believe is pleasing to Him. If being positive means I put off or fail to deal with daily needs he has, then I'll have to decline that positive stance. If having faith means I accept where I am today and deal with it in an affirmative way, knowing that God can still, in His omnipotent power, reach down and give my sweetheart a miracle - then, I'm in. Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

With a Thankful Heart

The last few days have been very busy around here. The roof over our attached garage began leaking a few months back. Don's brother fixed the leak, but a re-roofing job was imperative. On Friday, Tom and a friend started the job. It was cold, windy and misty. A nasty day to be on a roof, but they persevered. Saturday, more help showed up, the day went well, and we went to bed thankful for God's goodness in giving us such a wonderful family and friends. Today, Sunday, was the best crew ever. They finished the job in record time. My brother, who has Parkinson's and wasn't keen on getting on the roof, cut out my burning bushes in front of the house that I've been loathing for the last couple of years. He also trimmed our Chinese dogwood tree; it looks so nice. Dondra had come down last night and helped me prepare three pans of enchiladas. Think I probably had about 16 people eat lunch here. (I know it was more than 12, because we used all my dinnerware and had to pull out the everyday set.) When they left, my kitchen was clean. The yard looks better than it has for a long time. They picked up every single bit of trash out of the yard. I have a new roof. And God has once again proven his great faithfulness and favor.

On the negative side, we've seen a bit of failing in Don the last few days. Don't know if it's the colder weather or what, but his lower body is weaker. Think that stopped him from being out there almost the whole time someone was working on the house? Not on your life! He's such a trooper.

It amazes me how God can drop peace in a heart right in the middle of a dark night. Hope in the midst of hopelessness. Joy in the enduring of hard trials. He is ever faithful and good to His children. I want to hug Him close - with a thankful heart.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's a Good Life

Today, my "baby" boy turned 42. That's so hard for me to believe. We had everyone over to the house for dinner to celebrate. Yummy (totally unhealthy) meal of roast, potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, green beans, yeast rolls and yum yum for dessert - cherry or chocolate, your choice.

I can't keep my mind from wandering back 42 years ago, when that precious baby boy was born. I was 19 and totally excited to be a new mom. He was such a perfect first baby. Easy-going, good eater, not demanding or given to fits of temper. He was sleeping 12 hours a night when he was two weeks old - unheard of nowadays. A good "starter" child for a young woman who thinks she has it all together (but, in reality, has so much to learn). I loved being a mom. We were very strapped financially, but I tried to make good times for us anyway. Hubby worked straight afternoons, so it was Jeff and I together for long hours most days. We sang. I read stories to him. I got in the floor and played with him. I taught him, and he was so eager to learn - EVERYTHING!

The teen years brought some heartache and indecision on our part. We weren't certain how to handle him all the time, and I think he knew that. But we all survived.

Forty-two years have passed. He's grown into a wonderful man, and his life encompasses so much - loving husband, caring father, successful businessman, Godly example to his family. A man of integrity. Who could ask for more?

I reflect, and I thank God. We haven't always done things right, but we've always had hearts after God. Seeing who and what our son has become makes me proud. Life has been good - to us and to him.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

Today, we spent a couple hours at United Access in St. L. having the EZ Lock bolt taken off Don's loaner chair that he's been using and put onto his own personal powerchair that we received Friday. While there, I noticed a family (husband, wife and son) who were also waiting on a vehicle to be serviced. She and I struck up a conversation. It seems that her son, Daniel, was born apparently perfect. He caught on well and was picking up words right on schedule. But, when the time came for him to start trying to walk, it simply didn't happen. The doctor said the child was just lazy, but Kate's mother heart knew otherwise. He did finally learn to pull himself around in a clumsy crawl that was more like a bunny hop than a crawl. The doctors took another look, diagnosed him with CP, and told them he probably wouldn't survive past childhood. When he was 17 months old, he went into a seizure and seized for four days and four nights. When the seizures finally passed, he had lost all physical function that he had developed and his speech had completely digressed.

In the meantime, Kate became pregnant again. She carried the baby girl full term, but the child only lived a short time before dying. They never really found out the reason for her death. This young family was devastated. The doctors assured Kate that the chance for another child they birthed to have CP was remote, so she and her husband decided to try to have another baby. Rachel, too, was born with CP. She lived 16 years, most of which were very painful for her. She was a bright child, but was trapped in a body that was twisted and pained. When Rachel was 16, she needed a serious heart surgery; Rachel didn't survive the surgery.

This past February, Kate had a seizure. They still haven't figured out what happened to her, but the seizure left her unsteady on her feet and with memory problems. She had to quit her job as a high school teacher.

Daniel, who is now 30, became more than they were able to care for at home, so they have had to place him in a facility that specializes in independent living for the handicapped.

I spoke with this lady for quite a while and assured her that we would put her family in our prayers. She asked if we could exchange phone numbers, because sometimes she just needed someone to talk to. How could I refuse?

Sometimes God presents us with very special opportunities to minister. I feel like He placed me where I was this morning just so Kate would have a listening ear. Or, maybe it was more than that. Maybe God wanted me to see my own situation from a different perspective. Once again, I'm feeling blessed and highly favored!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thanks for the Memories!

Don and I were privileged to go back to Bethel in East Alton this morning. They had asked the High Road Pickers to come entertain at Old Friends' Day, which began with a yummy (Sue Carter style) breakfast at 9 and an outdoor service at 10:30. The service began with Tisha leading a worship song, which caused my mind to go back. Several of the young people that various churches are now reaping the talents of have roots in my little group of kids in Children's Church at Bethel Pentecostal Church in East Alton. Some are active in music ministry, several in children's ministry, teaching and encouraging. I will admit to feeling a bit of parental pride when I hear of their accomplishments. We had an awesome kids' choir back then. Twenty-five to thirty-five voices strong, with three part harmony. Amazing! I worked hard at planting the Word in their hearts and hope I helped them find the joy of sharing that Word, either through story-telling or singing.

A little walk down memory lane. Makes me very thankful for all the wonderful friends and family God has placed along that path.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Balance of Grace and Truth

We're studying "7 Secrets of Successful Families" by Jimmy Evans in our young married class. This second chapter has been rich. It's titled,"A Balance of Grace and Truth." I wish I had read this book years ago, when my own family was young. John 1:14 says, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Further, in John 1:17, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Jesus was the perfect balance of grace and truth - the setting of boundaries and the use of loving guidance when the boundaries were violated. Jimmy Evans puts it this way, "A successful family is a playground with a fence around it. A family of truth without grace is like a fence without a playground. A family of grace without truth is like a playground without a fence." He added these equations: Rules + Relationship = Righteousness
Rules - Relationship = Rebellion
Relationship - Rules = Destruction
I don't believe we have to set aside discipline or correction to exhibit love to/for our children. On the other hand, when we set rules and forget the "grace" factor, we tend to be overly stern and rigid. Unfortunately, I think that's where I fit. There's certainly a balance of the two, but it takes a strong, determined, Christ-centered parent to find it and make it a consistent part of family living.

Looking back, I'm thankful that God makes our children so amazingly resilient. While I feel we did many things very, very right as parents, we also failed miserably in some areas. As I watch our son parent his children, I see him continuing some of the things he learned from us. Thankfully, I also see him carving out new paths, being brave enough to set aside the things he thinks weren't effective and incorporating new methods. There's hope!

An imbalance of truth and grace can create disastrous results. I've seen it happen. But we are ever growing and learning - even at 61 years of age. As we become more like Christ, the perfect balance of grace and truth will become more evident in our life and in our relationships with our family.

I recommend the book.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's Just a Hiccup

We've been waiting six weeks for the delivery of Don's power chair. It will make life so much easier for him, because it's a lot more stable than the scooter he's now using. He's tipped over a couple times on the current scooter and has had several close calls. However, we were told today that we were rejected for the chair. Don isn't bad enough, they say. He can still feed himself, dress himself, and bathe himself. I told the rep that I can now better understand why so many have told us, "Our chair is like brand new. We got it the week before (our loved one) died." They want to wait until you're past going before they commit to help you.

There are some positives, though. Since they don't consider him "bad enough" to qualify, we're thanking God. He IS still able to feed himself. I can remember when those days passed for Dad, and I'm not ready to see Don at that place. He CAN still dress himself. It's a chore, and I have to give him occasional assistance. But thank you, God, for Don's tenacity. As long as he's able at all, he WILL be taking care of himself (and me, too, as much as he's able). Bathing is a bit more complicated. He takes his rollator (the walker with four wheels and a seat) into the bathroom, then transfers himself to the shower seat, doing the same thing in reverse when he's done. He's exhausted by the end of his shower, but he DOES bathe himself. So, keep your power chair, Medicare, if it means my sweet, hard-working honey has to lose more of his independence and pride to get one. We'll do just fine with this scooter, thank you very much!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Piper's Gone

We had to have our little Piper put to sleep today. He was gravely ill with little to no hope for recovery. We're very sad, but he was a bright little light in our hearts and home for about a year and a half. We certainly gave him a better life than he had had living in a crate for those many years before. If there are animals in Heaven, I know Piper's there. He was the best!

Sick as a Dog

Our little dog, Piper, is very sick - possibly sick unto death. It makes us so sad to see him suffering the way he is. It all started on Sunday. Without going into the yukky details, I'll just tell you that I had a bloody mess to clean up in his crate, and he didn't eat a single bite all day. Monday, I coaxed him into eating a few bites of softened (in water) Cheerios and a piece of one of his treats. Tuesday, about the same. Yesterday, he didn't eat a single bite again. The poor thing is nothing but a bag of bones. This morning, he wouldn't even come out of his crate. I bodily picked him up (which he used to hate. Loved being petted, but not picked up) and carried him outside. He did nothing. He's been such a good little dog, if I overlook his poopie accidents, which he has never totally overcome. Don's been praying for him. I'm taking him to the vet at 11 today. More to come.

Monday, August 3, 2009

For Better, For Worse . . .

I'm wondering, just who was it that gave young couples the belief that it was okay to throw up their hands and quit when they come to a bump in the road of marriage? What part of "for better, for worse" do they not understand?

As you know, my honey of 43 years has been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). It has changed our lives tremendously, but there's one thing that hasn't changed - unless it has increased - and that's our love for and commitment to each other. Sure, there have been numerous times when we could have thrown up our hands in surrender to the status quo. Lots of instances when it would have been easier to give in to defeat than to fight for what we had committed to. But we chose to take the high road (the harder road, sometimes), because we had pledged before God, our family and friends to take each other "for better, for worse." I know. The "worse" part stinks. But the "better" part is well worth fighting for.

I'm convinced, if we could step back and see the big picture, we would all work more diligently at making our marriage relationships as secure and safe as we possibly could. In the "worse", the "better" is what carries you through!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Permission Denied!

Don and I were recently conducting some business at the bank. The young lady taking care of us left the office for a few minutes, and I noticed a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt hanging, framed, on her wall. Mrs. Roosevelt was quoted as saying, "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission." I've thought of that quote several times since.

For as long as I can remember, I've had an inferiority complex. Yes, I know I'm a God's Kid, fashioned in His image, and that God doesn't make junk. I know all that in my head, but, some days, I have a hard time getting it in my heart. My love gift is words of affirmation, and if someone offers even constructive criticism, it's almost like a slap in the face to me. I'm not going to pschoanalyze myself, but I simply know it's been something I've dealt with all my life. People tell me I don't come across as insecure, and I'm thankful for that, because I would often rather crawl in a hole somewhere than put myself forward.

But that quote started a motor whirring in my spirit. No one can make me feel inferior unless I give them permission to do so. If they have problems, I don't have to take them on as my own. Even if they're unable to relate to me in a positive way, that isn't necessarily my fault - so I don't have to make it such. I'm going to mull it over some more, but I think I'm going to do better with this little quirk of mine in the future. I'm as secure as I allow myself to be. Wow! What a revelation!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It was just a joke!

Almost a month ago, we had our first appointment at the ALS Clinic at St. Louis University. While there, one of the therapists measured Don for a foot brace (his left foot drops, and his toes will catch, causing him to fall). She had approached me slyly and said, "How about we tell Don that this brace only comes in this butterfly design, just to see what he says." They had already caught on that Don is very much a manly man. So, we pulled the joke on him, trying to convince him that his brace could only come enhanced with lots of pastel-colored butterflies. Let me just say, he was glad it was a joke.

This morning, I received a call from the same therapist before our 2:30 p.m. appointment to get the brace fitted in St. Louis. She said, "Mrs. Stewart, you simply are NOT going to believe this. Do you know what design they sent Mr. Stewart's brace in? Butterflies!" She had obviously pushed the wrong button when ordering. The irony of the situation was just too much to let her off lightly. She asked me to break the news gently to Don, but I told her I wasn't going to tell him anything. She would just have to explain it when we got over there!

But, you know, all things DO work together for good . . . Don's sleep is often interrupted by his calf cramping. He has long thought it's because he can't lift his foot, and that muscle gets over-tired from being in the same position all the time. He was anxious to wear the brace at night, hoping to help the calf cramping. The therapist said we could only get one brace, so we would just have to put this one in and out of his shoe each time he wore it. After the order error, she said she would overlook the "only one per family" rule and let us have both the butterfly brace and the new black one she's ordering. Our younger grandson got a lot of enjoyment out of seeing Pa with his butterfly brace! But all's well that ends well.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Boy, Was My Face Red!

I've had a bit too much excitement for one day! We have two hummingbird feeders at our house, one in the front and one in the back. The little stinkers have been drinking from them like crazy, so I'm having to refill them every two or three days. This morning, I decided to get my "brew" ready for the feeder in the back. The process involves mixing 1/4 cup sugar with 1 cup water, then bringing the mixture to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil, I pour it into another container and add a few drops of red food coloring. When it cools, I put it into the feeder and mount it where it belongs.

This morning was different. I had put my mixture on the stove and was bringing it to a boil when something else (who knows what) took my attention. I ended up on the computer downstairs, probably on Facebook. (I AM somewhat addicted - but just somewhat.) Anyway, the next thing I know, this odd alarm sound is going off in the house. I ran upstairs to find the problem and was met by smoke and an acrid smell coming from my little pan on the stove that held the now charcoaled water/sugar mixture. I quickly went in to our alarm and turned it off. It came on again. Again, I turned it off. What I didn't know at the time is that you have to turn it off twice in quick succession to get the fire alarm to actually deactivate. Next thing I know, a fire engine has pulled up in front and two garbed firemen are approaching the house. I ran out explaining that it was false alarm. I don't think they were amused.

I've learned two things from this episode today: (1) Try to keep a watch on the boiling pan of hummingbird syrup. If it's left unattended, it WILL turn to charcoal and badly smoke up your house setting off the alarm; (2) To turn the fire alarm off, you have to go through the "off" process twice in quick succession. Let all who read be warned!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Sights and Smells of Home

I just finished putting my sixth loaf of zucchini bread in the oven. The scent of warm cinnamon is floating on the breeze, and I started thinking. . .

Sights and smells I love:
1. Seeing Don interact and play with the grandkids or seeing them put their arms around him and give him a smooch.
2. The smell of a fresh pot of coffee in the morning.
3. Watching Don and our grown son and daughter exchange hugs and back pats.
4. The fresh smell of my sweetheart after a hot shower.
5. Seeing the tiny hummingbirds at our feeders in the front and back.
6. Breathing the "baby" smell of lotion when I love on little people.
7. Crawling into a freshly changed bed.
8. The toothless smile of a baby.
9. The scent of something good in the oven.
10. Seeing an old friend.

Makes me smile just thinking about all these things!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

. . . And a Wonderful Time Was Had by All

Tonight was such a wonderfully fun night! It was music night, and we hosted. I had spent most of the day yesterday preparing yeast dough for homemade pizza tonight. I also had potato salad and strawberry shortcake. Mom and a couple of the Stewart sisters-in-law brought goodies as well. We had about 25 people in and out during the evening. A new couple came who was visiting with one of the couples who comes all the time. It's always great to make new friendships with good people. The music was enjoyable. The company couldn't be beat. The food was yummy. I'm exhausted - but it's a happy kind of exhausted.

My life has changed completely in the last year. I rarely do things just for or by myself anymore; Don and I nearly always do things together. It matters a great deal to me that he spends time doing things he enjoys. And he enjoys playing music! Right now, my life is seeing Don smile as he's surrounded by his friends and family. Can't beat it!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Is It Thanksgiving Yet?

The past few days have been some of our busiest for a while, but I've been overwhelmingly thankful for my life - where I am, who I'm with, and why I'm here - several times.

1. They ran a special segment on CBS News last night about ALS. The man they interviewed was clearly more advanced than my honey. I'm thankful Don's where he is and no worse. If a miracle doesn't come, we know what to expect. But I'm thankful for the here and now. I love having him be able to go places with me, even if it is on a rollator or scooter. His company is priceless.

2. On Sunday evening, we met with a number of our very dearest friends and family to celebrate our time at Bethel, when Bro. and Sis. Brand pastored there. What a joy to see old friends. Sis. Brand often says, "Make new friends, but keep the old. The new are silver, but the old are gold." We spent time with golden friends on Sunday.

3. Tuesday night was bluegrass night. Our guys aren't dyed-in-the-wool bluegrassers. They play some oldtime gospel, some honky-tonk, and other music as well. We had a great time socializing, and Don enjoyed being with his music playing buddies. All except one of the Stewart siblings were there. What a treat!

4. We got the four younger grands yesterday and kept them overnight. They're always delightful. While we were at Dollar Tree today letting them each spend their dollar, I noticed a woman at the checkout. She had a whole troop of little people with her. I asked her if they were siblings, and she replied that they were sextuplets! I knew exactly who she was. Before the babies were born (there are two older girls as well), Don helped put the air-conditioning in the home friends and family were renovating for this young couple who were, at the time she was pregnant, living in a two-bedroom home. All six little people, who are now five, are healthy and as cute as little bugs. I somehow felt connected to her, since Don had played an important part in preparing their home for them. Friends I didn't even know I had!

5. This evening, Don's sister, who is visiting from Tulsa, and his mom came over to spend some time. I've always greatly admired this particular sister-in-law. Maybe because we were friends even before I started dating her big brother. She's been an inspiration to me, and her faith and genuine experience with God always encourage me. Some people SAY they have it, but this woman really does! I love having her as my sister-in-law.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow. We have absolutely NOTHING on the calendar. We're getting with our kids on Sunday evening, so there will be lots of cooking and planning for me to do before then. But, for the moment, I think I'll bask in the good memories and blessings that God has given me. They're many. They're sweet. And they're undeserved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Good Times in Branson

We Found a Golden Nugget!

We returned last evening from a trip to Branson, provided by my sis and BIL. What a treat it was! We thought our Branson days might be over, because I can't manage all the "things" it takes to get Don in and out now, but BIL made all that manageable.

We did a lot of fun things, but there was one highlight that I think I'll remember (and Don will remember) for the rest of my life. We wanted to go to a show on Friday evening, but didn't know what we wanted to see. Of course, hubby prefers bluegrass, but we were having a hard time finding a venue to fit the bill. We finally settled on a family show appearing at the IMAX called Crossties. The fiddler was a cajun champion, and he was good. The 19-year-old girl played the stand-up bass, and she was one of the best I'd heard. The mom provided lead on most of the vocals and played some guitar. But the best was the banjo/guitar/dobro player dad. That guy was AWESOME. Neither Don nor I have ever heard any better. The crowd was small (economy, I guess), so there was a lot of interaction between the performers and the audience. At one point, one of the performers said, "Hey, did you know we have a guitar thumb picker in the audience? He plays with his own bluegrass band in Louisiana?" As soon as it quieted down a bit, my BIL yelled out, "And we have a 5-string banjo picker back here, too!" So, the group invited the guitar picker and Don down to the stage to do a couple songs with them. Don is unable to get down to the stage, so they brought this beautiful $6000+ banjo up to the top row, where we were sitting, for Don to play. The thumb picker was good, and Don played along with that song. Then, it was Don's turn. Unfortunately, he chose a song none of the other musicians knew, but he was game and went ahead with it anyway. He was shaking like a leaf by the time he finished, but they all clapped and yelled, and he was beaming for all he was worth. It was wonderful! I've rarely seen him so excited. It was such fun for him. We took some pictures of the "awesome" banjo picker and my "awesome" honey, which I'm sure will be treasures for Don. The guy gave us his card and asked us to keep in touch. He said we had really touched his life, and he thought Don had such a sweet spirit. (Well, we knew that all along, didn't we?)

I'm thankful for all the golden nuggets God allows us to find along the pathway of life. This was one of those times. Much thanks to my sis and BIL for making it possible.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Death of a Dream?

When I was younger, my life was consumed by gospel music. I played it, sang it, directed it and devoured it. Almost every dimension of my life was somehow touched by music. It was my gift - my minstry. A few years ago, life as I knew it changed. Due to certain circumstances, I was no longer in the ministry of music. To be completely honest, I was lost. It was like cutting off an arm or a leg and having to learn to function with some semblance of normality after the loss. My heart was broken, and my spirit was faltering.

Our lives continued to make changes, and, although God opened up other doors of ministry, music was not one of them - at least not in a substantive way. While I continue to miss it, I've noticed a change in my heart of hearts. I no longer need to minister in music to survive. While I haven't yet decided whether that's a good thing, a bad thing, or simply part of the evolution of my life, it's definitely a change. I quit listening to music at home a while back, because I found myself constantly arranging it for a choir or a group. And that part of my life was gone. Listening to the music just tormented me. I'm opening my heart back up to it again, and find myself able to listen for the pure joy of listening.

As doors in life open and close, we're called upon to make some adjustments that we hadn't foreseen or planned. I may never again in this lifetime actually have a ministry in music, but I'm getting better with that. I have other callings, other gifts. Nobler missions. Death of a dream? I don't really know. Beginning of a new chapter? Definitely.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lights. Camera. ACTION!

Think my honey and his little bluegrass buddies are headed for the big time. No kidding. (Well, just a little.) They played at a recent BBQ at a senior citizen's home in Greenville, IL. It was hard to tell if the patients enjoyed their performance or not, but the nursing staff loved it. As a result, someone contacted them about playing a couple sessions at the Bond County State Fair in Greenville, IL in August. They're like a bunch of kids. Full of excitement - especially Don's youngest brother. I mean to tell you, he is in this thing heart and soul. (Think they could write a song about that!) They're practicing at least once a week, getting ready for the big day. I knew all of you would be interested, just in case you're in the Greenville, IL area around the 26th of August. Y'all come!

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Rainy Day

It has rained almost this whole day long. I have no idea what our kids were doing today, but my honey and I spent the day alone. Gloomy? Indeed. Boring? Sometimes.

But, in the midst of the boredom, there was a bright spot or two. Hubby and I watched the movie "Faith Like Potatoes." Although we had a hard time understanding the actors (whether our hearing or their accent was at fault, who knows?), it was very inspirational. Equally as inspiring was the documentary about the main character that we watched after the movie. It lifted our faith to see the things this Angus Buchan has accomplished. Lord knows, in our present situation, the occasional boost of faith is a welcome thing.

It has also been a day of reminiscing for my honey. Maybe the rain causes him to be more contemplative. He was lying on the couch remembering what he was able to do two or three months ago that he's no longer able to do. It could have been disheartening, but, instead, we felt thanksgiving in our hearts for what he's still able to do.

So, just as the sun will shine again in a day or two (I hope!). Likewise, there's a silver lining to every cloud in our lives. Lord, give me courage to face the rain, always waiting and watching for the sun to shine tomorrow!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Encore! Encore!

If you know my hubby and me at all, you may know that our likes and dislikes are sometimes poles apart. I love music - almost all types. But, if there's one that I might like the least, it's probably bluegrass (or head-bangin' rock, which I consider to be just as hokey). Anyway, of all the varieties of music out there, can you guess which one my honey is most into? You guessed it - bluegrass.

For the last several months, Don's youngest brother has been having a "jam fest" at their house every two weeks. We take in food for snacking, and the group of "jammers" bring their instruments and take seats all around the walls in the livingroom to do their thing. All ages come to enjoy the camaraderie and fun.

The music is engrafted in me. When I was a child, every time we would visit Grandma and Grandpa's house in the country, Sis and I would be awakened on Sunday morning by the sound of a violin (actually, Grandpa called it the fiddle), guitar or dobro. We kids would have spent the night on the hide-a-bed or on the floor, and Grandpa would be saying, "Hey, wake up and sing for me!" It was a routine. I never hear fiddle music but what I think of Grandpa and the legacy of music he left for his family. Through the years, my taste changed a bit. I became more fond of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Christ Church, Israel Houghton and New Breed, and Hillsong. But, deep inside my heart, when I hear that fiddle tuning up and the banjo start strumming those first few notes, something stirs, flutters and comes to life. I tell myself that I'm just "into" it because that's what Don loves, but I think it's more than that. The music is basic, simple and melodic. It speaks to me and beckons me to join the group. Pat my foot. Harmonize with the singers. Before I realize what has happened, I'm totally engrossed. An active member of the "jammers." The old hymns and toe-tappin' songs awaken a part of my soul that is dulled by lack of use. I come to life. I sing along. I laugh and become a part of this jolly band of minstrels. At the end of the song, we applaud ourselves and wait in anticipation for the next ripple of notes.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

It's the Small Things . . .

We had the four younger grandchildren Friday night and Saturday, and I made some interesting (and uplifting) observations. They've been with hubby through this whole health ordeal we've been going through, so they're very aware that he's worsening. We decided to take a drive up the River Road, intending to stop at the Grafton Ferry loading area and feed the seagulls, after lunching at the KFC/Taco Bell buffet in Alton. Hubby uses his scooter any time there's much walking involved at all, and we didn't really have room in the vehicle for both the rollator and the scooter anyway. The oldest girl (who also happens to be the biggest) made herself available as my official "loading helper." It's a task to disassemble the scooter and load it, then unload it and assemble it all again every time we stop somewhere. But she was right there. The younger grandson was the doorman and also assisted Pa in getting into the bathroom. The middle granddaughter was always looking out for Pa's welfare, getting his drink for him at the restaurant, making sure he had just the right seat at the table, clearing the path so he wouldn't trip over anything. I had noticed that the youngest granddaughter kept herself a bit apart. Maybe she didn't feel as comfortable as the others in public. But she made my heart bubble when, as we were dropping the kids off, she made double trips to Pa to give him a big hug and kiss.

It isn't always the big things that make the sun shine in your heart. Sometimes it's those little tokens of kindness. I've had two of the young women in our Sunday School class recently tell me that they believe God has placed me in their lives for a special purpose. How great is that? How encouraging! I serve my honey in many ways at this point in our lives, but I still like it when he's quick with the "please" and "thank you." Remember to smile at others. Be kind to the waitress or waiter in the place where you eat. Don't snap at the mechanic when he tells you how much the repairs are. I'm saying all this because it's a lesson I need to learn myself. I had occasion this week to snap at a couple people, and I took full advantage of it!! Who was I impressing? No one. It's the little foxes that spoil the vine, and it's the little kindnesses that make the heart sing.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mother, May I?

Do you remember playing "Mother, May I" as a kid? That's the game where you all stand in a line, and the leader gives you instructions to follow. You respond with, "Mother, may I?" The leader then tells you whether you may or may not follow through with the instructions. Stupid game. The leader totally determines who's going to win; but we enjoyed playing it anyway.

Sometimes life is rather like that. We make our plans and dream our dreams, but then reality steps in and everything's changed. It's like the leader says, "Saundra, take three giant steps forward." I respond, "Mother, may I?", only to hear, "No, you may not!" I'm left standing right where I started or, even worse, told to take two baby steps backward. Makes me wonder, are dreams even worth dreaming? Is hope worth holding onto? Is there really a "happy ever after"?

You'd better believe it! The Bible says it this way: "And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. " I Corinthians 15:19 (NLT). There's so much more to life than today. Few things are more thrilling than having a dream and seeing that dream fulfilled. But what if it isn't fulfilled just the way we've planned. Does that make the end product of less value? I believe my Father is a much more giving, caring, sharing father than the mother in "Mother, May I?". When He plants dreams and hopes in our heart, we can be sure that, even if the end outcome is different than we had visioned, it's best. You hear that? BEST!

Hubby and I crossed another little bridge in our life today. We sold our camper. Had to be done. Don isn't able to hook it up, much less set it up after we reach a campsite. We loved that camper. Loved the sweet, leisure hours we spent in it. A segment of the dream we had for our golden years died. We had hoped to be able to take the grandkids and spend time hiking and fishing and camping. Life isn't, once again, turning out the way we had planned. But life is still good. In fact, it's more than good - it's wonderful.

The past year has taught me what love is all about. It isn't about things or places or money. It's about love. It's about family. It's about making memories by spending time together. Sharing goals. I may not see my future unfold exactly as I had planned, but what's coming is going to be just what I need. What's BEST for me. I'll face things I hoped never to face, but I'll face them with confidence that I can make it. For, though I didn't choose the end of my path, I did choose the One who walks the path with me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Once a Hotrod, Always a Hotrod!

Some personality traits can be changed, or at least refined. But I think there's one inherent male trait that, once you've been hit by it, never goes away. Hotrodding. My dear husband was known in his younger days for his wild, fast driving. Then, of course, there were the years of dirt-biking - even racing. Not to be outdone by his son, he took up bicycle racing when Jeff was a kid. In other words, he's always liked fast cars, bikes, etc.

The bug bit again yesterday. Don now has a scooter that he can ride when he's wanting to do things outside, but doesn't have the strength to go the distance with his rollator. We had our younger grandson for the evening, and hubby was showing him how to operate the scooter. There's a slant from the driveway into the garage to the driveway running up the side of the house. Don turned a little too sharply, and, before he knew what had happened, he was on the ground looking up! I glanced out the window in time to see a man from across the street coming across and instinctively knew something had happened. By the time I got out there, Don was already getting up and brushing himself off. He wasn't hurt (just a bit of an ego bruise). I had to laugh. It's bad when you're so engrained with the need for speed that you wreck your electric scooter! Some things just never change.

Monday, April 13, 2009

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood!

Not realistically (it's very chilly and overcast), but emotionally. I'm on a high. I haven't bought me any new clothes except for tops in at least a couple years, so today was my shopping day. I ended up buying two outfits and had to drop down a size from what I usually wear on both. They weren't from the same store either, so don't try to bust my bubble by telling me, "Things are running big now." To be honest, they may be making them larger now, since the general population is growing in girth, but I refuse to believe that's the case. I don't even want to THINK about being honest in this situation. I'm too flattered! (My arm is getting a bit tired, though, from patting myself on the back!)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My "Thankful" List

I haven't been blogging so much lately, mainly because our life doesn't have a lot of funny things going on at the moment. I always like reading the blogs that make me chuckle and cause me to remember good times I've had in the past. The things I'm recalling from my past at this stage of the game aren't always pleasant, but, oddly enough, I don't feel frightened by that. Maybe I'm naive, or just plain stupid. But I'm believing that my future exceeds my past. I know I never go through things alone. God is ever present, and we're surrounded by a host of friends and family who love us and care deeply for us. Thank God for that!

Here are some things I'm in the process of learning:

1. Things that used to bug me (like Don's snoring at night) look totally different to me when viewed from my present perspective. Now, when he snores, I thank God that he's beside me in bed. Nevermind that he's a bit NOISY!

2. Family and friends mean everything. Petty differences simply don't matter in the light of life and death. Although I may not agree, I can at least learn to tolerate.

3. Even in the darkest of days, God brings a ray of sunshine. Hope, in the midst of hopelessness. Laughter at the door of the tomb. Peace on a stormy sea. It's all there, but I may have to look for it.

4. I can say "no" to requests that cause me to be overloaded and extend me to the breaking point. Even more important, I can do so in such a way as to not offend. I've grown up feeling I needed to take on every task put before me. Not so. I'm neither qualified nor able to stretch myself that tightly anymore. Both Don and I deserve better of me.

5. Don't sweat the small stuff. Some things simply don't matter in the overall scheme of things.

6. Applaud the heroes. My dad was a hero. In the face of the terrible disease he had (the same one we're facing with Don now), Dad never lost his smile or sense of humor. He was a man of great integrity. My mom is my hero. I've never seen anyone deal with opposition and trouble with more finesse or grace. She made caring for Dad almost look easy, which it certainly was not. My brother is my hero. Despite having Parkinson's, he's ALWAYS fantastic. Just ask him!! You simply can't keep Gary down. My honey is quickly taking his place among my heroes. Complain about his circumstances? Wouldn't think of it. Stop living and enjoying the things he loves (like bluegrass on the first Monday evening of the month at Burger King)? Never happen. Clap. Clap. Clap. Hope you can hear the applause, my heroes.

7. Trouble never lasts forever. What seems insurmountable today will be only a memory tomorrow. Thank God for tomorrows!

Maybe I'll have a funny story to share soon. But, at the moment, we're simply surviving with grace. And that's a feat!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Woman of Grace

Don and I are blessed with many exemplary young people, on both sides of our family. I feel that my own children are heads and shoulders above many, but it doesn't end there. I have nieces and nephews whose lives far exceed anything I could ever hope to accomplish or even aspire to.

Which brings me to this post. I have one special niece who is incredibly bright, articulate and thoughtful. But she and I are poles apart on many of our views, specifically relating to child-rearing and family life. I can be just as opinionated, or more so, than she, so it leads to some differences of opinion.

Once again, recently, she showed me what a young woman of grace and Godliness she truly is. She posted. I had an opposing view. I usually refrain from expressing myself on her blog, because she is surrounded by loyal friends who feel much the same way about things as she does. However, this time I responded. Of course, I was shot down by some. However, this young lady handled the situation so lovingly, tactfully and gracefully, I couldn't help but admire her stance. Despite our differences (which she is fully aware of), she has never ONE TIME treated me with any ill-will or disrespect. That shows me what a special young lady she is. Truly a modern-day Woman of Grace.

I love you, dear niece, and respect your heart ways. When I grow up, I want to follow my heart the way you do.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Element of Safety

We met with the counsellor from ALS this week, and the visit was very informative. She came to the house and stayed about 2 1/2 hours. In the course of the conversation, she was asking us what some of our concerns are, and it came out that each time Don has to change his lifestyle to accommodate this disease, he feels like it's a step backwards, and it distresses him. I like what she said. She commented, "You need to change the way you look at it. Instead of feeling it's a digression, simply say to yourself that you're changing your lifestyle to add an element of safety. You're protecting yourself. It's worth the change if it keeps you from falling." Nice way to look at it.

I've had things in life that hit me square between the eyes. Setbacks. Disappointments. I've hurt so deeply that I felt I might never be able to trust again. But I've learned lessons from those times that I would not have learned any other way. I'm actively trying to change the way I view adversity. In learning new lessons, I'm adding an element of safety. I'm protecting myself. Maybe I'll be more cautious next time not to speak so quickly or thoughtlessly. Maybe I'll consider your feelings before I comment. Then again, maybe not! But, if I don't, I can expect to have to make some changes in my lifestyle, because I'll definitely be falling - taken down a notch! Hope I can learn the easy way.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Battle of the Bulge

I've learned through the years that I exercise very little self-control where eating is concerned. For all my early life, I was painfully thin. I ate anything I wanted and in the quantities I desired without any ill-effects at all. Even after each baby, within six weeks I was two pounds lighter than I was when I got pregnant. Now, I've rolled into my 60s. Things have changed. Honestly, it began before then, but 60 seems to be some kind of mile-marker for most. I've discovered bulges in places that used to court long and lean. What happened? One sweet niece recently joined a gym; she's hoping to win the battle of the bulge by working out. That hurts my back and makes me all sweaty. Eeeeewww! I have a treadmill, but it's seldom used. I like walking the park, but Don hardly lets me out of his sight anymore. Anyway, on many days my "get up and go" got up and went! What to do? What to do? It might help if I cut portions, but then I'd likely pitch the leftover food that could be used to feed hundreds of children in China or India or someplace like that. (I ALWAYS cook more than it takes to feed the two of us.) A guilty conscience isn't worth the effort. What about eating more healthy - lots of fresh fruit and veggies? Actually, I've done that. But I love fruit, and I end up eating it by the basketful. Sounds like a self-control issue, doesn't it? I think I've come up with a solution, though. There's this wonderful under-garment that you can buy and it "automatically" removes those unwanted pounds, along with all the unsightly bags and bulges. I bought one. It kinda works! Getting in and out of the thing is enough exercise to last a week. I think I'm going to lose weight just putting the thing on. I'm the winner!!!

Friday, February 27, 2009

There's Nothing Wrong with "Nothing Wrong"

I haven't posted a blog lately, because life has been going pretty well in the rutted norm. Then I got to thinking, "What's wrong with that?" We've had a lot of trauma and unsettling things happen in the last year with Don and in the last few weeks with Mom. We're learning ways to deal with Don's situation, and Mom is doing much better than you would expect her to be doing following a serious heart attack at nearly 83 years of age. So, tonight I'm posting because I've decided there's nothing wrong with "nothing wrong." In fact, that's a blessing! We're not having to run to the hospital every day to check on someone. Don and I are actually sleeping in our own bed - TOGETHER. Mom is home, sleeping in her own bed and loving it. Those are good things.

Besides that, we went this evening to visit our brand new little great-nephew, Seth Marshall. What an absolute doll he is. Is there anything that brings more joy than a new baby?

So, I'm posting because nothing's wrong. All's well. Don's strength slipped a little bit this week, but nothing overwhelming. We continue to look at our lot in life and be thankful. We have each other; we have wonderful family and friends; we have a faithful God.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Live in Mercy

Don and I were watching Jentzen Franklin last evening on TV, and his sermon stirred me greatly. He was speaking about "Living in Mercy." He told an illustration about how, when the Bible was translated into Latin, there was an error made. The portion of scripture that talks about the Glory of the Lord being on Moses so that the people couldn't look upon his face somehow came out saying that Moses had horns. Consequently, since that's the interpretation Michaelangelo was using, every time he painted Moses, he painted him or sculpted him with a funny hairdo - horns on his head. Moses hadn't changed any, but the interpretation of him had.

God will bring people into our lives that we may strongly disagree with. We may feel that they are wrong in their intrepretation of scripture or are living their lives in error. We aren't interested in the background or the "why" of what they're doing. We've already painted horns on their head. It's important that we live in mercy. Learn to love those with whom we're in disagreement. There's a lesson to be learned in every life situation, and every person in our life has something to "grow" us if we'll take the time and patience to find it.

All I can say is, "Lord, help me." It's the merciful who will obtain mercy. If I want to receive it, I certainly better be extending it! Can I get a witness?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Mom decided after her outing with Elissa today that she did well enough to move back home. This is the second day in a row that her blood pressure has done very well, and she's gaining strength daily. I think she may be more "ready" than I am. I'm going to worry about her a bit, at least for the first few days. I'll be checking on her several times a day, though, and I've put our number in her speed dial on her cell phone (which, thanks to Bill, she's very much enjoyed this past few days). Can you believe it? A near-83-year-old who had a severe heart attack and was put on life support is back living independently less than two weeks later! A MIRACLE - there's just no other word for it!

Twist and Shout

Life has brought some unexpected twists and turns to our lives of late, and some of them were catastrophic. Given where I've come from emotionally, I was bracing myself to make an attempt to deal with everything in a calm, sane manner. The first night of Mom's severe heart attack was a bomb for me. Seeing her actually have the attack was the most devastating thing I've ever witnessed. Although Don had a heart attack, his didn't exhibit the bodily violence hers did. After that initial shock, though, I've felt the arms of the Holy Spirit wrap around me and pick me up, carrying me above the circumstances. Miraculously, Mom's been home with us since Tuesday. She continues to improve on a daily basis. Good thing, because Don has been a bit weaker the last couple days. I took Mom to her own house for a little while yesterday while I went to the grocery store, and she did fine. She's going to spend the day there today, having lunch with one of the granddaughters. Her blood pressure, which had habitally been going lower and lower throughout the day, actually did the opposite yesterday - it went up!

Do you remember the "Twist and Shout" era? The couples would twist, jump and shake, smiling the whole time. It looked painful and wearying, but they were having great fun. That's the way it's been the last few months around our house. We've had lots of things thrown at uis, and it seems that we're having to twist, jump and shake our way through, but the victory shout is still in our hearts! We're winners. God is smiling upon us as he brings Mom back to her old self and showers His grace and mercy on me and Don.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Great Day

Mom sat up for five hours today and did just fine with it. When we got ready to put her back in bed, they had to get a little stool for her to step onto in order to get on the bed (she's such a short little thing). She was able to step onto the stool, turn herself around and sit down on the side of the bed. A great accomplishment. They hope to move her into a room this evening. She's been in Room #13 in ICU, and they're moving her into Room #911. Sure glad we aren't superstitious!

Friday, February 6, 2009

As the World Turns . . .

We left the hospital a little early tonight to come home and rest (except that I'm doing laundry instead). Mom continues to show improvement. She's eating and tolerating it well. Her blood pressure was staying up a little better this afternoon. They're trying to get an IV in her arm so they can disconnect the central line, but they haven't been able to get an IV in yet. Mom was hating all the painful attempts. They won't let her out of bed until a physical therapist is there, and the weekend isn't a good time to get a physical therapist to come in (so we're told). So, she's stuck in bed in ICU, possible until Monday. Even so, she is improving, and we're thankful.

As you can imagine, it hasn't been the easiest of weeks for Don. He tried to walk with the use of his cane the first day, and he almost didn't make it. So, every day since then we've gotten a wheelchair as soon as we walk into the hospital and use it for the day. That's been a tremendous help. He's used to taking care of me, so he simply can't stand the thought of my going to the hospital alone. It's sweet to have a man that cares so much about me!

Keep praying! We're experiencing the results.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress

My mom is a pilgrim on an earthly journey - and WOW is she ever making progress!

I took her teeth fixin's over to her this morning, and that alone made her feel better! Also took a brush and comb to make her hair a bit more presentable (although Carolyn still told her this evening she had "pillow head"). She ate two meals today and didn't experience any discomfort. They're hoping to start some physical therapy tomorrow, so she should be getting up in a chair for the first time. Her blood pressure seems to drop easily, but we're thinking that will improve once she's able to get up a bit. They talk like they'll keep her in ICU for at least two or three more days, but she's doing well.

Thanks, again, for all your thoughts and prayers. Someone said that her quick improvement is nothing short of a miracle, especially considering her age. My answer to that is: (1) You don't know my mom, and (2) you don't know my God!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Today was a very positive day for Mom. When we went in this morning, she had learned how to deal with her vent much better and wasn't fighting it as much. By late afternoon, they had removed both the heart pump (through the sheath in the groin where they had done the angioplasty) and her vent. She's hoarse, but croaking 90 miles a minute! She said she has a lot of catching up to do! They were going to come in at 9 and sit her up (in the bed, we think), but they hadn't done that yet when we left at 9 p.m. The change is unbelievable, though. I'm expecting them to move her into a regular room tomorrow, if she does well through the night, and possibly home by the weekend. The doctor hasn't said that, but it wouldn't surprise me at all. Isn't God good? I'll try to give you updates as they occur, but today was certainly a mile-marker. Her wonderful sense of humor has returned in full force. She's keeping us all entertained!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Random Thoughts on Depression

My personal depression was most likely chemically induced (hormones). I had tended toward depression in my younger days, but didn't really recognize it as such. Just thought I might be moody and didn't always feel that I "fit". It became much more, though. My thoughts:

1. Not all depression is of a spiritual nature. Some is situational (death, trauma, poor health, loneliness, etc.), and some is caused by a chemical or hormonal imbalance. Various spiritual people in the Bible suffered from depression, so you're not "sinning" because you're depressed!

2. It isn't wrong to get medical help for depression. We've been taught so strongly against medical intervention for mental problems in Christians that we're ashamed to admit there's a problem at all. Yet, we don't struggle with that dilemma if we have diabetes or cancer. If you've tried vitamins, herbs, etc. and there's little or no improvement, you may want to seek medical help. I , personally, had to go on Lexapro for a couple years, but no longer have to take it. It didn't completely get rid of the depression, but it made the lows not quite so low. Unfortunately, I felt it made the highs not quite so high, as well.

3. Find the trigger. Many times, bouts of depression are cyclic or triggered. It can be as simple as a person's being put in an uncomfortable situation, or even the anniversary of a traumatic event. I still find the holidays difficult to cope with. I'm not especially comfortable in crowds - and that includes family gatherings. While I'm much better now, it was nearly impossible for me to deal with the "crowds" when I was ill. Try to determine if your lowest times are being triggered by a specific situation you're being put in (school, Sunday School class, family gatherings, a particular friendship).

4. Your thought life is important. While the "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" becomes irrelevant in extreme depression (it's impossible to think that pro-active when you're looking up to see the bottom), I found it helpful to listen to Hosanna or Integrity praise and worship music. I prefer silence, but, when I didn't have something going in the background, my thoughts would automatically wander to negative or non-affirming things. I would find myself rehearsing injustices over and over again. I would discourage music with high tempo or strong rhythm. Those things minister to the physical but not the mental. Music in major keys (as opposed to minors) with even tempo and Biblical lyrics is best. If you're not into praise and worship, at least listen to something soft and soothing.

5. Find some key scriptures to memorize about your specific situation. Tape them to the mirror in your bathroom, write them on index cards and carry them with you. I would quote (recite?) "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind" over and over and over again. That may not be the verse that speaks to your loved one, but there's bound to be one special verse for him/her.

6. Recovery takes time. Depression doesn't just happen overnight, and recovery doesn't come that quickly either. If it's necessary to get on medication, it will STILL take time and effort on your part to completely overcome this. You may not be suffering from extreme depression, but if you don't find the trigger and learn to deal with it at its beginning, I can tell you from personal experience that it worsens.

7. Seek out friends and family who understand what you're going through and are willing to love you through it. Some people aren't comfortable being around a person who's depressed, and, while that stinks, you have to learn that's not YOUR problem. Avoid people who "preach" to you. My personal feeling is that no one who hasn't suffered from depression personally should actively counsel a person who's suffering from the problem. Unless you're exceptionally insightful and compassionate, you can speak more harm and discouragement than good. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen.

I know this isn't an all-inclusive list, but, for those of you who have expressed interest, maybe it will give you a few guidelines.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gold Nuggets

I blogged a few days ago how that, in the midst of a week of bad news, God had blessed us by allowing a friend to supply our need for a transport chair for Don for our most recent doctor visit. On Saturday, something even MORE exciting happened.

The end of November, the neurologist wanted to give Don a series of plasma infusions (called IVIG) to fight the disease they thought he had at that time. The procedure was horribly expensive and Medicare wouldn't pre-approve it. So, after much thought and prayer, we decided to go ahead with the procedure, even if it meant losing everything we owned. We didn't feel we had much choice. I proceeded to consult with several financial gurus at the hospital where the procedure would be done as well as Medicare and Blue Cross, crossing all my t's and dotting all my i's, in case we were billed personally for the infusions.

Saturday morning, when I opened my e-mail, I had a message from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois, our secondary insurance carrier, telling me to check our account. When I went into the account, I saw that they had paid our IVIG charges, and I didn't have to file a claim, write a letter or anything! I was thrilled. Their part of the payment was right at $50,000, and they only pay 20%. Someone told me, with all the write-offs insurance companies get, our original bill was probably somewhere in the area of $600.000! What a wonderful blessing to not have to worry about that expense when we already have so much on our plate.

Even though last week was a difficult week in many ways, there were still gold nuggets to be found, assuring us of our Father's love and care. We're still some of His favorite kids!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Here's Where We Are . . .

Today, the MG specialist told us that Don was misdiagnosed with myasthenia gravis. He said (which our regular neurologist has inferred the last two visits) that Don has a motor-neuron disease. He referred to it several times as ALS (which is the disease my dad died from), but it isn't full blown. At the moment, Don's is mainly concentrated in his lower extremities. We're seeing a slight bit of degeneration and involvement in his upper body, but not a lot. We've been dealing with this for a little over a year now, and it's been a steady deterioration of his ability to use his legs. The definite diagnosis has been a blow for us. We had felt that we could deal with the MG, because it does go into remission. We knew, however, that we had seen no remission in Don's case since it began. So, his major surgery in September was probably completely unnecessary. Today has been difficult for us, but our trust in in the Lord. He's been more than faithful to us. Whatever the future holds, God's our Fortress, our Strong Tower and our Hope. Since my dad died of ALS, I'm tending to remember history. There's no comfort in that. This evening is better than this afternoon was. Don and I held each other and cried in each other's arms - and that has made it better. Sometimes, when you're walking blindly, crying is about all that relieves the present pressure. We will survive, however. We have a strong love for each other and for the Lord. Please believe with us that God's healing will come and His grace will sustain as needed.

Giving Thanks!

Don has an appointment with a new specialist today, and we've never been to this particular Doctors' Building. After our appointment over there yesterday to see the eye specialist (by the way, Don's eye is improving), we drove by the new doctor's office. Unfortunately the parking garage is across the street from the actual office building, and there's no cross-over walkway. I thought about the situation off and on all night long, because Don is too weak at this stage to walk any distance at all without sitting down to rest. I finally decided I would call my mom and see if I could borrow a little fishing stool - something small enough I could fold up and carry with us. When I called this morning, she had nothing that would help, but suggested I call a medical equipment rental place here in town and see if they had anything. I had actually gone there a few weeks back and purchased a bathtub seat for Don and found out that the place is owned by a girl that I graduated with. So, I called Jackie this morning and explained my dilemma. She suggested that I stop by and get a transport chair to use for the day. Problem solved! She isn't even charging me for the use of the chair. Isn't God good? I'm so thankful that, even in unpleasant situations, God is still there caring for us.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Get Me a Lawyer!

Don has become so weak that it's impossible for him to walk around with me in Wal-Mart or the grocery store. So, recently, he's begun using one of the motorized carts when we go to the local Wal-Marts. Today, the cart he got was a bit quirky. At first, it would only go in reverse (with the accompanying beep, beep, beep). Then, he'd be running along at a nice little clip when the thing would just stop dead cold. His head would shoot forward as he came to a bone-jarring, screeching halt. I got so tickled, because the stop-and-go of the cart was totally unpredictable. He felt like he'd been to Six Flags by the time we finally made it through the check-out and got the thing parked back in it's little parking space. I think I'm going to have to see me a lawyer. We may need to file a suit against Wal-Mart or the scooter company for whiplash!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What a Mess!

Last night, as my mom was leaving church, someone pointed out to her that one of her tires was low. So, she called and asked if she could stop by and have Don air up her tire. No problem. When she arrived, Don went out back (in the bitter cold), opened his garage, and proceeded to air up her tire. When he was finished, he realized he had no strength at all. He had told her to back the car around to the front garage so he could squirt some kind of sealant in her tire. He was hoping she didn't see as he dropped to his hands and knees and crawled to the house. I heard banging on the door and ran upstairs to see what the problem was. I found Don, totally wiped out, crawling on his hands and knees into the house. I helped him in and had him sit down for a few minutes. Then, he decided he was strong enough to go out and finish his job. But he wasn't. By the time he was done, he was too weak to make it back into the house. Fortunately, one of the young families from Bethel Chapel saw we were having problems and stopped by. Joe helped Don into the house, where he sat in a chair until he had regained some of his strength. That's what life has become for us. But, as usual, we found something to laugh about. Don said the most challenging thing about the whole incident was crawling from the back garage, across the yard, up the steps and onto the back porch and managing to avoid all the dog poop in the yard! He said, one good thing about it, it's much easier to see when you're down so close! What a mess!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ain't Life Grand?

Monday evening, our granddaughters had cheerleading, so we had our younger grandson by himself. Last night, two of the girls had projects to complete at home, so we had the third girl by herself for the evening. Friday night, we'll have all four of the younger grandchildren, and Pa is taking Stephen eagle watching on Saturday (the girls have open gym at cheerleading and won't be able to go). I must tell you young parents who are dealing with the struggles and joys of raising small children, you make the lives of your parents full to the brim. Those hours, evenings and weekends that we get to spend with our grandchildren are priceless. I think that, somehow, by being a good grandparent, I'm vindicating myself for all the mistakes and failures I made as a parent -- or, at least, some of them. Besides all that, when we're tired, we can send them back home and take a nap! And can I get a big "Amen" from all the grandparents out there??

Friday, January 9, 2009

Don't Let Your Right Hand Know What Your Left Hand's Doing

There's a scripture in the Bible that says pretty much the same as my title. It means to not be too open about your business. Some things are better off kept private. We had a different interpretation of that scripture yesterday.

Dondra had surgery on both her left elbow and the base of her index finger on her left hand. Surgery went well, but the residual problem was troublesome for a few hours. They blocked a nerve in her shoulder in order to do the surgeries. Her arm from her shoulder down was completely dead until about 2:30 this morning, when the feeling began returning to her fingers. We had to laugh at some of the consequences of being dead-armed. She heard the dogs licking and licking and scolded them. "Girls! Girls! Whatever it is you're licking - stop it!" I glanced down and said, "Dondra, they're licking your hand." Once she was trying to prop her arm up on the pillow. It was dead weight, and, without her even being aware, the arm fell over and whopped her little 4 1/2 lb. dog across the head. She's casted from her shoulder to her fingers, so putting on eye make-up before we left the house this morning was quite a challenge. (And any of you who know Dondra well know she wouldn't be caught DEAD without her eye make-up.) Putting on undergarments is less than a cinch, and even taking care of her bathroom needs is a job, especially since she's left-handed.

Isn't it funny how we depend upon our different body parts to function properly, and we don't even realize how dependent we are? Just mash a finger, break a leg, or have to patch an eye for a while. You'll see. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made (some more wonderfully than others).

By the way, Dondra is recovering well. She'll be in a cast for a couple weeks before returning to the doctor for an evaluation of her progress.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What Constitutes "Old"?

I passed my 61st birthday in November. Not so many years ago (well, a lifetime for some of you), I honestly thought 61 was old. But I'm re-thinking things. Oh, yeah. I have the beginnings of crows' feet at the corners of my eyes, and my neck looks like it's outlived two or three bodies. But other than that, I'm not ready for the "old" label. I had a praise and worship CD in yesterday, and decided to dance around the house to the music. What a shock! My dancing looked more like a drunk elephant on the loose! I had to stop and laugh at myself. But that's good, don't you think? Laughing will keep me young; cuts down on the frown lines. So, I vow to laugh more. Loving will keep me young. So, I vow to love more recklessly (within reason of course). Spending time with young folks keeps me young (or makes me feel EXCEPTIONALLY old). So, I want to work my way into the lives of some folks younger than I. Old's just a state of mind, right? My annual birthday is just another number (that continues to escalate). Right? ASIDE: I've noticed that I've sure used a lot of parantheticals in this blog! I'm not going to get "old" for a while yet. I've made up my mind! Now if my body will just start cooperating, I've got it made!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Look Forward

This past year has certainly brought some new experiences my way -- and some of them were less than pleasant. As a whole, though, I don't feel I can complain (no one wants to listen anyway). I will confess that I'm praying 2009 is a little kinder to us in some ways. I've learned that good health is a very difficult thing to hold onto, and that it's sorely missed when gone. By the same token, I've learned that, when you love someone, you support them through thick and thin, ups and downs. That's the way I love my hubby, and he loves me that strongly in return. What a blessing!

So, what do I want out of the New Year? I simply must learn to speak less and listen more. I caught myself at different times this holiday season just running off at the mouth. Not necessarily saying bad things, but saying piddly things. I talked to myself more than once during that time and told me to just shut my mouth! My hubby isn't terribly conversational, and I think that affects me sometimes when I get out.

I also want to view everything that happens in my life as being part of God's plan for me and learning the lesson He has for me in it. That includes uncomfortable or even hurtful things. Ouch! That's a hard one for me to keep, because I like to retaliate. Defend myself, you know. I like being in control. I'm honestly working on it this area already, and I've seen some positive results.

Keeping my mind and heart set on positive things is another area where I need lots of work - even at my "advanced" age. Again, I'm working on it. I feel much better when I keep my thoughts under control and don't allow them to completely run me into the ground. God help me!

Looking at these things and knowing my frailty, I know I'm not going to be able to pull it off. But I'm not relying on my own abilities or strengths. My strength is in the Lord, and He's promised to lead me in good paths.