I’m having a FOOT fit

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Chico's parents prepared a delicious Brazilian meal for us. Oh how I wanted to be in the kitchen helping!

Chico’s parents prepared a delicious Brazilian meal for us. Oh how I wanted to be in the kitchen helping!

The doctor told me that it would take seven weeks to heal from the foot surgery. He didn’t pull any punches or sugarcoat the news but somehow I under estimated the recovery.

It’s interesting the things we hear and the things we ignore.

I heard SEVEN weeks, and thought, “Oh I can do that, no problem!”

But I failed to think that SEVEN weeks breaks down to

49 days and nights

about 1,176 hours

or 70,560 minutes (if my calculations are correct)

non-stop

of inactivity and/or pain.

A brief moment out of the foot boot enjoying flowers given to me by Ike and Caleb

A brief moment out of the foot boot enjoying flowers given to me by Ike and Caleb

Often it’s like I’m just counting down the time, longing to put both feet on the ground and move forward – physically and mentally.

Since it’s my right foot, I am truly sidelined.

I'd rather be sewing...

I’d rather be sewing…

I can’t drive and almost even worse, I can’t sew. I made a Christmas quilt and walked four miles in one day just traipsing back and forth ironing the piece and putting it together. Now I’m adrift in inertia. As someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time inactive, I’m very challenged right now. In many ways, I feel completely worthless.

And to add further misery, while wearing the orthopedic boot, I developed a shin splint which has resulted in even more time in bed or stuck on a couch. I feel like I’m not progressing at all but instead going backward.

It’s not an entirely blob-like existence. I’m reading Don Quixote, doing my Bible study, praying for others, maintaining prayer journals for my future daughters-in-love, these are useful good things. I’m also folding clothes, doing an occasional chore but nonetheless I don’t feel like me. I guess I didn’t expect a cheilectomy and removal of some screws in my foot to result in such a season of purposelessness. My friends are visiting, in fact people from two different countries have graciously made dinners for us, it’s lovely but I’m accustomed to doing stuff, being an active participant in life.

What are ways that you feel productive when you’re unable to do the things you love? I know I’m not the only one that’s faced this challenge!

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Warmth – Brazilian style

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photo 5Temperatures plummet all around the country but we experienced a heat wave of sorts. A Brazilian blast of kindness warmed our family these past few weeks as we enjoyed spending time with Chico’s parents. I have loved ones in Qatar, Chicago, El Salvador and Brazil – we’re all over the map!

Since last May, the Lord opened the door for new people to enter our home. Most who entered as friends left as members of our family. Some through actual marriage proposals (Lu and Kelsie) but others through spending extended time in our home – they became W-H’s, an extension of our olive shoot branch.

And it’s interesting, the timing of it all. Disease and deception ushered a person out of our lives. Without a proper goodbye, a thank you, a warm embrace, nothing, nada, zilch, poof, he was gone. I don’t recommend it. So while recovering from the pangs of loss, these people have been a healing balm to our family. We haven’t forgotten this person but we have moved on in order to survive. He hasn’t been replaced but God has opened new chambers of our hearts. I know many people who have experienced a loss can empathize.

On Sunday, we said our goodbyes to Francisco and Leyla. We enjoyed going to church together and I was deeply touched to sit by Chico’s mom and to hear her singing the refrain “Hallelujah” in one of the songs. Tears streamed from both of our eyes as the music played. It’s safe to say that a year ago none of us had any notion how close we would feel to one another. I didn’t really personally know any Brazilian people until September. Now it’s like our family has grown exponentially just by adding one charming borrowed Brazilian olive shoot into our home.

After church, we went to a restaurant. As the meal was ending, Chico’s dad went out to his car to get something. When he returned, he approached the Hubs holding something small in his fingers. He then gently took the corner of the Hub’s jacket and carefully attached a small gold item to the collar. With a few emotional words in Portuguese, he embraced and kissed my husband and that’s when we saw this.

photo 4In some way, it re- minded me of when Nate was pinned as an officer at West Point. Our dear friend Colonel Eric Kail com missioned Nate. We will never forget that moment or that man.

It also reminded me of the kindred moment when Nate was tabbed by his brothers after completing Ranger School those memories flooded back to me.

I’m not sure Francisco understood the significance of his gesture but based on the tears that flowed afterward, perhaps we all did. Francisco’s gift to my husband was an acknowledgement of trust and connection. That pin proudly sits next to the Army pin on my husband’s coat. The cold weather allows him opportunity to display some of our dearest and deepest connections.2013-07-12 12.17.27

The  feeling of being deemed worthy and proven can warm a heart and that little pin of our two flags was a profound symbol between 2013-07-12 11.19.16men. When people enter our lives, they leave an impression. In this case, it was an enduring and deep connection neither family could have expected.

My family phoenix

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34I am proud of us.

This five-piece puzzle that we have called ourselves has shown strength and faith in the face of great sadness and loss. Last year, my father-in-law was a significant member of our family, this year, that all changed.

But instead of falling apart, our family persevered. We nearly curled inward, it would have been understandable. But we all have done the opposite. We chose hope. Not always, not perfectly. Yet we risked rejection and kept our hearts open. I am proud of us.

UnknownAs a junior in college, I attended l’universite de Caen in Normandy, France. Founded in 1432, the university was destroyed in 1944. Most of the town was also decimated, in fact, the home where I lived still had bullet holes in the stone wall from a fire fight during the Invasion.

At the entrance to the school, a sculpture entitled “The Phoenix” welcomed all. Many days I strolled past this statue but never really appreciated its beauty or significance until now.

For some reason I remember that monument and connect it my present day life.35

The morning before Thanksgiving, my family gathered together. An impromptu gluten-free brunch of pupusas (a popular Salvadoran dish) and pão de queijo (a delicious Brazilian cheese bread) filled the kitchen with warmth and flavor.

Around the table, I saw people I never expected to be here. One person, in fact, I didn’t even know existed until about three months ago.

There sat~

– A handsome borrowed Brazilian son

– A Salvadorena future daughter-in-love

– A gluten-free future daughter-in-love

photo 4And beside them, all holding hands sat

a Soldier preparing to be deployed a few days later

– a ministry-minded middle and

– an orange hair, freckle face olive shoot.

We bowed our heads to pray and I tried not to cry. Happy tears filled my eyes.

How did I get so blessed?

Look at this food!

Behold these people!

I scarcely could take it in as the Hubs led us in prayer. The Lord gives and He takes away. There weren’t five of us. There now were EIGHT.

In a way, that breakfast was a symbol of our phoenix, our human sculpture of grace and resilience.

Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, deception and greed have not defeated us. What Satan intended for evil, the Lord has used for good. Though we do not forget and still grieve, our family has created new connections and love.

Across the miles, continents and cultures, hearts still remain strong.

A gift of words to my beloved olive shoot

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r-dayandafter210My arms reached down and pulled the orange-haired baby out of my body. Ten days late, I wanted to get this show on the road! A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

That old song by Helen Reddy, “I am woman,” could have been my anthem cry. I felt like I could conquer the world by this one singular action. I still get rather uppity whenever I think about my hands being the first ones to touch my child and being the one to welcome him into the world personally. It was instant love and connection.

The delicious ginger boy I once cradled in my arms has now become a handsome 17-year-old man.

Today I honor him.

I praise the Lord for him.

My heart bursts to overflowing because of him and I’ll stop there or I’ll just start crying.

Sometimes it takes my breath away when I consider God’s goodness, how He knit that boy in my womb. I imagine most moms feel that way about their children, how blessed we are to hold vessels of love in our bodies, don’t you agree?

wh401Truly it is by grace that I am the mama to three awesome olive shoots. I know the person I was, I did not deserve such bounty. One day when I am before Jesus, I will tell Him, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over again into eternity.

Though I will never know what it’s like to have a daughter, I do know what it’s like to have a ginger.

Furthermore, I am an authority on raising an Isaac and could easily write a book on this journey.

These might be a few chapters –

Laughter – True to his name, Ike is the child who makes me reel with giggles. Once he gets going, there’s no stopping this kid. Often the Hubs will be driving and Ike will begin using one of his funny voices. Soon Ike and I are both competing each other for who can drive the Hubs the craziest with our silly antics and jokes. The Hubs will have to scream for us to stop because he lacks our jocularity. We rarely stop. 😉

Tenderness – As humorous as Ike is, he also has a gentle side. He is warmly affectionate to me even at this age and I have seen him deeply touched by the pain of others.  He recognizes others’ struggles and is on the side of the weak and impaired.

sc00305c8bLast year, I was sitting next to a boy during a basketball game. This young man attends our school and he has some disabilities. He beamed as he cheered Isaac on from the bleachers. This boy didn’t know I was Isaac’s mom and when I introduced myself to him, he said, “I love that guy.” I believed him, it was so obvious. When I asked Ike about him afterward, he smiled and said, “Tom’s (not his real name) the man.” Time and time again, I have noticed how my orange hair, freckle-face olive shoot has compassion for those who don’t really fit in with others. My heart bursts with joy each time I see the sincerity of his heart.

He’s the cool kid who is relaxed around people of different cultures and skin tones. He hopes to one day adopt and have a melanin-rich child in his family. I adore picturing Ike as a husband and a dad, he will be a wonderful leader and mentor.

Struggle – But it’s not like life has been easy for him. Ike had a speech problem when he was younger and it was only through hard work and perseverance that he was victorious over this.

Also having two high achieving older brothers can leave big shoes to fill. He often puts a lot of pressure on himself though we reassure him that we just want him to be the best ISAAC he can be. And at times, by his own admission, Ike can have a temper as red as his hair but because of what the Lord has done in his life, Ike usually (not always) can now control his anger and tongue. We rejoice in his accomplishments. God is good!

Humility – This is my precious OS who freely apologizes to me when he is a stinker. He desires to be in right relationship with the people he loves. Ike is able to speak into people’s lives because he knows what damage a prideful heart can cause. As a teenager, I cannot recall one single time when I genuinely apologized to the extent that my son does and trust me, like most of us, I should have done that with great regularity. Ike is the kind of kid you want as your friend because he will tell it to you straight and speak with a voice of experience and authority.

Suffering – This summer I sat Ike down and spoke honestly with him. Since he is the only boy living at home all year, I told him that I felt the Lord was calling Ike into a difficult time of suffering. He was going to get a front-row seat into Alzheimer’s and dementia that his brothers would not know. It would be a very painful time but one that the Lord would carry him through. His grandpa’s conditions were serious and there would be great sorrow. Although the situation has not mapped out exactly as I expected, my words have proven true. As much as I hate it (I will refrain myself about some other feelings I’m having…), Ike has been resilient and strong. His heart has been courageous beyond his years.

photoServant – Which leads me to the next part that I didn’t expect. Though Ike has faced great suffering, God has also recently blessed him with a super cool surprise!  A “little” brother! We are now hosting a Brazilian exchange student for the year! Instead of being the youngest brother, our ginger now shares his home with Chico, the 6’1″ dark-haired guy from the Sao Paolo area! The two are quite a pair and you can’t help but smile when Ike is helping him. He shows Chico how to mow the lawn, take out the trash and empty the dishwasher. Ike helps him with homework, the proper use of American slang and how deal with us as his foreign parents. My OS is a living example of how a teenager can live a Christian life and not be swept up by the world. Yes, it’s not always perfect but no one is and that’s ok. Ike truly pours himself out in joyful service to Chico in every way. There is a smile in our family with this new addition and in many ways, it’s because Ike takes the lead in caring for his new buddy/brother.

photoOctober 29th is a day which calls for great celebration! I am the mama to a strong, kind, talented, adorable, hilarious, gentle, super studly olive shoot! I love you, my Isaac.

Five minute Friday – She

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When I walked down the stairs at the missionary house five years ago

She caught my eye, took my breath away

“Wow, she’s so pretty!” I thought to myself.

All of us at the girls' prison in El Salvador

All of us at the girls’ prison in El Salvador

Then I went to the girls’ prison in town

And she acted as my translator as we spoke about redemption, purity and freedom in Christ

“I love her heart,” I thought to myself as we both openly wept at the beauty of the moment.

Then my oldest son began speaking to her

He, a cadet at West Point

She, a college student in El Salvador

And soon enough, they began to fall in love

Two countries away, a romance and a host of many obstacles

They have persevered

And on Sunday, in this beautiful tropical land

He dressed up in his finest, heart beating like a drum

What a moment!

What a moment!

He reserved a table at Ruth’s Chris in downtown San Salvador

And when the waiter brought out the creme brulee, there on the plate

Even though they spelled it wrong, she understood! What a sweet memory in every way!

Even though they spelled it wrong, she understood! What a sweet memory in every way!

She read a life-changing message!

Even though there was a typo since English is not the first language of this country

995474_10151567058450059_296521023_nShe became more than the pretty girl I first met in a faraway land

She was elevated from just being my son’s bonita, his girlfriend…

She became my future daughter-in-love…

Join us at this writing community and share!

Join us at this writing community and share!

My son’s future wife ❤

She said, “YES!”

I could write more but I was only given five minutes! What do you think about the word “she”?

Today I ate two donuts, don’t judge – a daughter-in-law’s journey

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Take that Alzheimer's!

Take that Alzheimer’s!

Before 9 am,

I had an argument with my husband

I had an argument with my freckle-face, orange haired olive shoot

Contacted the 24 hour help/crisis line at the Alzheimer’s Association, again

I stressed about an impending, almost certain family conflict regarding care management of our loved one with a brain disease

I learned my ministry-minded middle’s bike had been stolen in Chicago

And I had not one but TWO donuts

A Boston creme and a marble chocolate/vanilla swirl one

You got a problem with that?

I didn’t think so.

Then I called my mom who listened without judgment

And I texted a friend who met me for lunch

And biked nearly 12 miles

While sweating

And talking to Jesus

Because I’m talented like that

Today's truism. This is the note attached to the container of cookies. I'm only showing the note NOT the cookies!

Today’s truism. This is the note attached to the container of cookies. I’m only showing the note NOT the cookies!

My friend greeted me with warm hugs, a pretty smile

And a container full of fresh, home- made cookies

Which are stowed away in the freezer

In an undisclosed location

I felt slightly normal

Then I cleaned up around the house

Began marinating the ginger/lime chicken

Patched things up between Ike and me

And the Hubs and me

Continued reading Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s too.

Tonight I just want to feel the Hub’s arms around me

And enjoy the refreshing circulation of our new air conditioner

Maybe go for another bike ride

I’d also like to laugh

And kind of marvel at the way the Lord got us through another day

And probably eat a cookie too

Shhhhh…

A dozen things YOU can (and should) do to help people dealing with Alzheimer’s

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When this card arrived in the mail, I was so blessed!

When this card arrived in the mail, I was so blessed!

If you aren’t directly involved with someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia, you will be soon enough. Since becoming a very reluctant member of this community, I have been accruing thoughts, advice and opinions on lessons our family is learning along the way.

This is my partial list of observations and I imagine these tips are useful for anyone in a care partner role. If you are a long-distance family member and not involved in the daily care of an impaired person, you will avoid much strife by heeding these simple recommendations.

1. Do not add to the stress level. We realize you have your own life and struggles but if you grouse and complain about how busy you are, we want to throttle you. Ease tensions by remaining calm and kind, that’s what we are trying to do while fighting against a terminal illness.

2. Do not make idle excuses about why you can’t help. Ain’t nobody got time for that. If you are a hindrance to the care of a person with dementia, then you have become a burden. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Deal.

3. Reply to emails. If the care partner took the time to give you an update, the courtesy of a response is much appreciated. At the risk of being too demanding, may I also suggest something more than a one line reply? Tensions are high enough. You sacrificing your time to write a paragraph of communication will bless those in the midst of trouble.

4. If you don’t believe them, come find out yourself. Yes, it’s hard to even imagine a loved one having such tremendous difficulty with the simplest tasks. True, it is physically painful to hear of the almost hourly decline but suck it up. Second guessing people is useless and if you are suspicious, then spend time with the person and pay attention to the signs and clues that there really is a problem.

A message from a superbaby/ministry-minded olive shoot.

A message from a superbaby/ministry-minded olive shoot.

5. Encourage – I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to receive frequent text messages from my OS saying, “You’re doing a great job, Mama!” It’s like a cookie to my soul and I gobble it right up. I know it has meant a lot to the Hubs to hear me inquire if he needs me with him to do something.

6. Don’t make suggestions on additional things they could do. For example, the Hubs and I have spent over 10 hours a day individually attending to our loved one’s needs. Even the mere suggestion that we might just run over and give this person daily medication is asking too much.

7. Listen. If a family member opens up to you and invites you into their hurt and pain, find the time to empathize. If you don’t have time to listen at that moment, offer another time when you can talk. I have noticed that care partners need to talk and unload. Once I get started, it’s hard for me to stop.

8. Contact the care partners. Appreciate their help. If you are unable to be there, then think of things you can do to acknowledge the enormity of the task. We are weary and thirsty and rarely get any appreciation from the person we are assisting. Usually we get just the opposite, quite honestly.

9. Contact the brain-diseased individual. Make all efforts to be in that person’s life. It’s kinda not about you, btw.

10. Educate yourself. Please don’t tell me you don’t like getting on the computer or reading or any such nonsense. I was reading other things before my life necessitated more education about this disease as well.

I am blessed with loving and caring friends. Here's just one example of the sweet people I know.

I am blessed with loving and caring friends. Here’s just one example of the sweet people I know.

11. Pray. Yes, pray. Lift these people up to the Lord. They are deep in the trenches. A friend sent me this Scripture the other day. Another cookie to my soul.

12. Send cards, be creative. When my grandma had Alzheimer’s, my sister arranged frequent Skype dates with Grandma. I felt reassured when Lorri gave us a virtual tour of my grandma’s assisted living center. The pang of knowing my grandma would never return to her home was lessened when I saw her new dwellings.

Which one of these suggestions resonates the most with you? What would you add to the list?