August

I saw a picture this morning that said:

“How is it still August?! Isn’t today like August 33rd?”

Amen the heck to that. This month has been years long, I’m convinced. How else would it be possible to fit in all that has occurred? In this forever long month in just our little family we have settled down in a new (old) country, returned to our home state, our little man turned 2 years old, we’ve welcomed moving trucks (twice) and a friend from England, we purchased a car, I learned how to drive a manual, we settled into our new home, visited potential new churches, visited family, we’ve been up to Lake Erie, and basically tried to avoid all those tempting restaurants we’ve lived without for 4+ years. (Except for donuts and ice cream. And pizza. Those will never be avoided.)

It seems fitting that all of this kicked off in August, a month that is traditionally so full of change. As a kid August means one thing – summer ends and school begins. I always loved school, especially the act of going Back to School. Yes, there was the new backpack and 1st Day Outfit thing, but mainly I loved the fresh school supplies, seeing friends again, and diving back in to learning. (Nerd, amirite?) Later, August marked when I would move into my dorm room for the first time and begin the College stage of life. Every year for four years it meant returning to a sleepy village that was suddenly full, where I dashed between classes with new notebooks in hand, around lakes, buildings, and slow walkers. It’s really no surprise that I became a teacher; August held the same tinge of excitement for the four years I spent in the classroom. Even now that I’m no longer teaching, every year as August peeks above summer’s horizon, that Back to School feeling of anticipation returns. And two years ago, August held the biggest life-changing change of all, when our sweet silly son was born, forever marking this month as special and worthy of pause.

August was certainly much anticipated this year, with our round-the-world move hitting right at the end of July. August undeniably meant change. Change. CHANGE. New beginnings. Out with old – ready or not – in with the new. July was difficult goodbyes, doors solemnly swinging closed, the handing over of keys. Boxes, hotel rooms, and luggage. August was the fresh start.

So why has August been so long, so difficult? It has been absolutely wonderful to return Home – to family, to memories, and so much more. Yet somewhere along the line the newness and anticipation started grating on me. No more change, please! (Except for my furniture and stuff… that can arrive any day, please and thank you.) Some days I love waking up and stepping on to our new back porch, looking out over my coffee cup with an eager grin. Other days the same feels daunting. “Church shopping” has been incredibly difficult, making me miss our wonderful church and community in England, while highlighting the reverse culture shock of moving back here. I’ve discovered those Sunday morning interactions completely exhaust me, and our son doesn’t understand why every Sunday morning he has to go play with another group of strangers in a building he doesn’t recognize.

I know it won’t always be like this. I know that roots must grow before the fruit.

Yesterday, I was reading Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist – a fitting book for me right now. In her essay Learning to Swim she writes about a season of change, and how it wasn’t the change itself that bogged her down, but her own response to it. She lost her perspective, wanting immediate clear answers and a set plan, minimizing her faith to only what was going on in her life and forgetting about the bigger picture. She writes, “I believe God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent through life and history: life from death, water from a stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything’s easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom.” As I read that, it hit me. I can’t fast-forward through this. There are blessings in the midst of this difficult season, and things God wants to teach me. Those days I long for close friends here? Maybe God wants to remind me what it’s like, so I can be a better friend down the line; so he can better prepare me for long-term friendships here. As we’re all at home together trying to carve out time to work on our new business plan but sometimes feeling stuck, maybe I need to remember how simply being in the same room together for this long is a huge blessing, especially compared to the separation we endured a year ago. It’s time to refocus on what God has blessed us with. Slow down, throw out my expectations, enjoy this season. Take some deep breaths. Focus on gratitude, opportunities, joy.Pray and prepare for what lies ahead. And ultimately, turn the page in the calendar and step out.

September, here we come.

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A Weight Off My Chest

(Yes, that joke was 9 months in the making).

ravitch procedure bar

Sam with his new “letter opener.”

It’s amazing how quickly the human body can become conditioned to things. Up until the last year of my life, I laughed, sneezed, even hiccuped normally. The pectus excavatum had it’s symptoms, but none that simple or obvious. But when I had the bar in these last 9 months, it wasn’t always that easy. Towards the end of the time, the bar had become quite embedded (I think this was due to a fall down the steps in April). Sneezes were pure torture once that happened; I was petrified of getting a cold. I essentially stopped sneezing, at least as far as I could help it.  Whenever I felt that recognizable tickle I’d proceed through my checklist of sneeze-preventing procedures. Hold my breath: check! Squeeze my nostrils closed: check! Push on the roof of my mouth with my tongue: check! Look like an idiot if doing these things in public: check!!!  But, that google search was productive, as those things did usually help keep the sneezes at bay. Sadly, laughing wasn’t fun either…  it especially hurt when it was a sudden fit of laughter, like when Sam would throw in a random funny comment out of no where and I would burst out laughing. In a positive note, I’ve realized how blessed I am to live a life filled with frequent laughter. 🙂

So, when I returned from the hospital just two days after having the bar removed, I felt lighter in more ways than one. Once it became clear that it didn’t hurt to laugh, Sam and I sat down and watched gag reels on YouTube for way too long, chuckling, chortling, and even guffawing together – pain free. Praise God! And, since my surgery two weeks ago, I’ve enjoyed several pain-free sneezes. (Yes, enjoyed. I actually love sneezing usually.) For the first week post-surgery my instinct was still to shut down the sneezes (No! NO!!! Initiate Anti-Sneeze Protocol!) and I had to actively think about sneezing, but this week I think I have enjoyed more carefree sneezes than I did the entire past 9 months. I even had a fit of hiccups while cooking dinner tonight and it just made me feel silly, as opposed to sore. These little things have meant more to me than you’ll probably understand, and to me they truly mark an improvement.

My general recovery after this surgery has been a breeze, especially compared to the first surgery. Now, two weeks later, I feel great! I was able to sing in the worship team on Sunday, I’ve been back to work for a week already, and I’ve even done some gentle yoga a few times. Soon I’ll begin physical therapy to begin tackling the bingo wings I’ve gained these past few months of not being able to lift anything over 15 lbs. Cardio will come soon – jogging, running, dancing – all in its time.

So, I’ll commit the next months to these worthy tasks: praising God as I laugh more, dance around my house simply because I can, and sneeze whenever the sunshine tickles my nose. 

Surgery #2 – Looking Back

Here I sit, back “in hospital,” about 9 months after I had my first surgery to repair my pectus excavatum. What a long road it has been…

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Tomorrow I will have part two of the surgery – removing the metal bar that I’ve had in my chest since November. I read back over my posts from my diagnosis and surgery (see the links in my first sentence), and I realize how far I’ve come and how much God has taught me. I’ve told a few people that I’m actually excited about this surgery, more for what it means than the actual procedure.

On Sunday, during worship at church, I was really struck by the lyrics of the worship song “Dance Again” by Life Worship UK. You can listen to it here. The lyrics are:

Praise Him, when your heart is breaking
When your strength is almost gone
Sing out your song and praise Him, in the fire and fury
In the dark night of your soul, your God is in control

Praise Him, for His love and mercy
Praise Him, for His grace and favour
Praise Him, our God is faithful
Praise Him, He is strong and mighty
Praise Him, He is holy, holy
Praise Him, He is always in control
His love has conquered all, His love has conquered all

Your tears will dry, your heart will mend
Your scars will heal and you will dance again
And of His kingdom there will be no end, for Christ our King is coming back again

( by Matthew Hooper, Copyright © 2013 Integrity Worship Music & LIFE Worship)

As I sang those words I thought of the limitations I’ve had since the first surgery: no running, jumping or doing anything that could jostle the bar; no lifting anything over 15 lbs; limited twisting and bending; occasional chest pain when I laugh or breathe deeply; back aches as my posture changed; worry over the bar shifting, etc.

But even as I thought of that, I pictured myself teaching Zumba as I used to. Dancing, feeling alive, thanking God as I often did for giving me the health to dance. And I remembered… I will dance again. My God is faithful. His plans are far better than mine, and his timing perfect.

Looking back over my old posts from my first surgery – they act as a journal of sorts – a few things stood out to me:

  • “Hopefully when I look back at this post in a week, two weeks, a month, etc. I will see some real improvements.”  That post was from the end of November and I really have seen improvements… At that point, Sam had to help me lie down, and help me up. I couldn’t use my abs to pull myself up at all, and I was not allowed to “log roll.”  It even hurt to raise my arms above my head and shampoo my hair.  This morning, as I pulled myself out of bed and got ready for work, I remembered how much of an accomplishment that really was.

 

  • “Was this even worth it?” A day or two after the surgery, when I was in the worst pain and my thinking was clouded by nausea, I remember moaning this. Months later, even though the bar isn’t out yet, I can see the fruit of that pain and the surgery. If nothing else, God has strengthened my faith through this and built my character. He’s taught me to trust him unconditionally, even in the “dark night of your soul.”  On Sunday, my friend Rhiannon preached and delivered an encouraging and insightful message  on waiting for God, called Watching Paint Dry (you can listen to it here). She mentioned Romans 5:3-4 at one point:

    Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4, NIV)

    I realized as she spoke that hope doesn’t always come first. We must persevere in order to build our character, and that in turn gives us hope. In that painful time after my surgery I couldn’t see how God was going to use all of this – I only felt pain – but God showed me how to hand every day and circumstance over to him and persevere.

 

  • Another small thing I mentioned before was noticing the weight of the bar. I said it felt like my cell phone was sitting on my chest. Now, 9 months later, I don’t notice the weight at all. I’m hoping that means I’ll feel light and free once it’s removed. And I’m praying that my lung capacity will improve as well without that pesky bar in the way!

So, I’m about to go to bed. When I wake up, I’ll begin all of the typical pre-op procedures. Please pray for my surgery, my recovery (anesthesia and I don’t get along), and my doctors and nurses. Also please pray for my at-home nurse over the next few days (his name is Sam… and I hear he’s pretty cute). Thank you so much for your prayers – over this whole journey – and I’ll update you again after I’ve recovered.

Spring

“Spring is here! Spring is here! Life is skittles and life is beer. I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring. I do. Don’t you? ‘Course you do.”

I haven't been able to avoid the flower aisle at the grocery. Buy all the flowers!

I haven’t been able to avoid the flower aisle at the grocery. Buy all the flowers!

As much as I long for heavy snowfall in the winter, bundled up in cozy sweaters and scarves, I can’t help but get giddy when hints of spring appear. Our winter here was atypical for us: grassy green meadows remained, rain fell instead of snow (not a single flake!), no cuddle-duds were needed. Because of this, I doubted that spring’s arrival would be as sweet. In North Dakota, spring seemed to arrive overnight (though maybe not until late April). The disgusting gray snow mounds would melt into the street, dead brown grass would reappear. But even still, I’d drive home from work with the windows down and immediately put away my heavy winter coat until the next winter, committed to the prospect of spring. Everyone buzzed with the same unspoken excitement.

 

Here, it sneaked in slowly. One small indicator at a time. The green grass grew lusher. Sunlight hung around a little longer. Temperatures rose. Plants began to bud. Daffodils spot both countryside and kerbside like dandelions. One day last week I woke up before my alarm from the sights and sounds of spring. The sun was shining so brightly through the curtains that I actually thought I had overslept. But nope, spring was just confirming its presence. And the birds!!! I’ve never heard birds sing with such bliss (or with such volume… side note: I think there are birds living in the ceiling above our bathroom. Yikes.)

I’ve celebrated so far by decking the house out in color – new buntings, fresh cut flowers – and bringing color back into my wardrobe. My morning tea today fit the vibe as well.

Spring is in the air... and it looks as if spring is in my tea!

Spring is in the air… and it looks as if spring is in my tea!

Although it’s technically not spring yet I’m declaring that it is here to stay; at least for a few months! For those of you still blanketed in snow, I hope your patience is rewarded and spring arrives in all of its glory soon! Just as autumn represents necessary change and preparing to hunker down for the long dreary months ahead, spring to me symbolizes a fresh start. Hope. New life. I’m no poet… that is clear. But, every spring I am reminded of lyrics from a song by Nicole Nordeman entitled Every Season:

“And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe.
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green.
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change.
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring.”

Newly purposed

Newly purposed

As I focus on this time of “re-creation” and God’s grace that gives me that chance, I want to pinpoint a few things that need to be changed in my life. I’m praying that God helps to recreate me in these ways, specifically, as the world around me is transformed:

  • Use my time more wisely and less selfishly, in ways that glorify God.
  • Live generously, listening for God’s voice to guide me in giving of my resources and gifts.
  • Being a better listener in general.
  • Be intentional about building and keeping relationships with those near and far.
  • Live boldly for Him, demonstrating God’s love and speaking His truth to those I come into contact with on a daily basis.
  • Prioritize time in God’s word and other books that will build my faith.

In what ways do you want to be made new this spring?

I’ll leave you now with some sights of East Anglia: colorful and coming to life!

Magnolias in bloom! (I had no idea magnolias could grow in England until we moved here!)

Magnolias in bloom! (I had no idea magnolias could grow in England until we moved here!)

Ahhhh, the smell of fresh cut grass!

Ahhhh, the smell of fresh cut grass!

Rosemary blossoms

Rosemary blossoms

"And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils."

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

 

 

 

2 months after surgery

It has been two months since I had surgery to fix my pectus excavatum. The recovery has been many things  – difficult, frustrating, painful, important, necessary, slow, boring, lazy, etc. – depending on the day. But now, two months out, I can look back and really see how far I’ve come since I was laying in the hospital in a post-surgery daze.

Here’s where I’m at now:

– I can drive. Tight corners, mini-roundabouts, and parking are still difficult, as I can’t move the steering wheel quite as quickly as I’m used to. A flat tire I got a few weeks ago is evidence of that. But, I can at least get myself around if I need to. I’m working now on building up the time and distance I can go while driving.

– I am on ZERO pain medication. None. Zippo. No ibuprofen or nuthin’. That, possibly more than anything, shows my progress. My back still aches often, and my abdominal muscles whine from having to support my new-and-improved posture, but it’s all very tolerable.

– Slowly, but surely, I’m picking back up household chores such as emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, etc. Some things are still difficult, or I can just tell I shouldn’t be doing them yet… I tried to sweep the kitchen floor the other day, figuring I could just lazily drag the broom behind me as I walked, but even that was too much resistance on my chest. Similarly, the other day I had Sam move the laundry down to the laundry area for me so I could try to switch out loads from the washer and dryer. Three loads later, I sat on the couch hugging my heating pad to my chest, aware I had pushed myself too far. I have to remind myself to take it slow. Sam reminds me often too. That’s what I struggle with the most now… I feel fine, so I want to do normal things, but I have to remind myself that I just can’t do everything yet. Thankfully, Sam is an absolute gentleman and does all the chores I cannot without so much as a frown.

– Though I’m not supposed to do any weight-lifting, running, or anything that would put stress on or “jostle” the bar, I have been able to do some cardio… Taking Tobes out on some faster walks, even going to the gym and riding the exercise bike once (without Toby, of course). It’s a tricky balance, getting needed exercise while not overdoing it, but I’m working on it. I keep reminding myself of what the surgeon chided when I asked about what exercises I could do, “You’ll have plenty of time for that once the bar is out.” No need to rush. 

*Warning**Medical details in this bullet point*  The incision is healing up well and I have almost all feeling back around the incision site. My only concern, which has just come up this week, is that I’ve developed a lovely yellowish-red bruise around my sternum and that my sternum aches just a bit. Two months after the surgery seems like a strange time for that to pop up. It also makes things look different because of the discoloration, so it’s difficult to judge if things are possibly reverting a little or are staying as they should. Please pray with me that everything is as it should be and that I will continue to recover well.

Overall, I’m feeling great. In fact, I’ve had a few people ask me recently, “Oh, how are you feeling??” and it takes me a second to figure out what they’re talking about. (“Why? Do I look extra pale today or something? Bad hair day? OH! The surgery!… got it…”) That’s a good sign, right? 🙂  My grad school started this week and I had no problem sitting at a desk, reading and typing for a few hours a day. My walks with Toby are getting longer, and my errand-running endurance is increasing. Things are going well! Thank you to all of you who have prayed me through this. Please, keep the prayers coming, as I continue to recover and trust God throughout this process. It looks like the bar will be staying in until this summer or fall, so please pray also that I am patient and discerning with what I do. God has already shown me so much throughout these last two months – he’s shown me that with Him I can handle more than I ever thought possible. That I needn’t be strong myself, because I have the constant resource of His strength to use as my own. He’s taught me to be appreciative and present when I’m feeling well, when I’m surrounded by friends and family, but to trust Him and praise Him just the same when I’m suffering and in pain. Those lessons aren’t over, I’m still learning, reminders are often needed, but the times of resting and the many hours I had to think during my recovery have shown me how incredibly blessed I am: to have a God who loves me and provided eternal life at a terrible cost, to have family and friends that surround me (physically and in thought and prayer) and exhort me when I need it most, beautiful creation that surrounds us here as a constant reminder of God’s omnipotence, and new opportunities to glorify God and live for Him. This may be my last “medical” update for a while – I hope I have nothing new to report until the bar comes out – but I hope I have lived (and typed) in a way that gives the glory to God. I could not have done any of this without the hope, strength, and comfort hat I receive from the Holy Spirit. I remember moaning from the hospital bed, “Is this even worth it?” when I was feeling my worst, but even if it wasn’t, I hope I have glorified God and that I continue to do the same throughout this process.

Thank you again for your prayers! Onward to recovery. 🙂

2014: A new resolve for the new year

Happy 2014 to you all! I passed the true test of every new year by actually writing the correct date on important paperwork today. Huzzah! (Unlike that one time while teaching when I started to write the date on the board with “199-” and then slowly erased in shame.)

We rang in the new year with a small group of really fun people, playing drawing games and an obligatory match of Apples to Apples, chatting a lot and laughing even more. Just before midnight we hiked out into the dark, armed with glow sticks and torches (…flashlights… although real torches would have been way cooler) and grand plans for the crucial countdown.

torches

Our friend, Emily, acquired celebratory floating paper lanterns (ya know, the kind from Tangled). We hoped to ring in the New Year watching them float away, their glow speckling the sky above our beloved town, a clear analogy of the glowing hope of the upcoming year and our ol’ troubles leaving town. But, you’ve probably noticed my word choice implies a bit of a let down. Yeah, they didn’t work. The typical blustery, damp, British weather wasn’t in the festive mood and it didn’t cooperate.  The lanterns didn’t celebrate like most people do on New Years… they didn’t get lit. (Ba dump chhh! That was a stretch… sorry.)

lantern

Instead, we counted down, huddled together, and popped confetti poppers. We were surrounded by an intimate, cozy darkness with flashes of fireworks on the horizon. We said goodbye to 2013 – along with it’s struggles and joys – and headed back indoors.  Auld lang syne.  Now to begin another lap around the sun.

toast

Then, there was New Years Day. January 1. Always a strange holiday in my mind. A national holiday to recover. To gather your wits and organize yourself enough to get through the next 364 days. To ponder life. (OR to sleep in, laze around in your pajamas, drink coffee, and WATCH SHERLOCK.) I did reflect a little at least. Right after Christmas I read a great blog post from SheLovesMagazine about oneword365, revolving around the general idea of simplifying new year’s resolutions to one main idea. I love that. Yes. Just one word. It will keep me focused, provide a base for other goals, my poor memory can retain it… Yes. Let’s do it. Okay, now what word?

For a few days I ruminated on a few. Simplify. Nah, just reminds me of “Semper Fi” which leads me down the rabbit hole of movie quotes. Health. I’ve had enough of worrying about my health, plus I have doctors orders not to work out too hard. I actually have an excuse to not make the “work out more” resolution! 

So what did I decide upon? Let me preface it with this… I kept ruling out option after option, but then it became quite clear to me. A few sermons I heard echoed this general idea and I felt myself naturally drawn to do the opposite, so I thought it a good choice. I cheated a bit though; it’s not an adjective and it really should have another word in front of it. I chose “(Be) present.” 

I don’t know about you, but my thoughts often wander to to-do lists.  I forget to enjoy the “now.” Sometimes an urgency takes over rushing me to the next. I sometimes don’t relax well… “What should I do after this?”  But I want to be present and enjoy as much as possible of: chats over cups of tea, time reading on the couch with Samuel, walking and stretching my legs while Toby stretches all four of his, time praying to and praising God, gaining not just knowledge but wisdom. I want my mind focused on HIS will for me. His plan. Not my schedule.

One of my favorite parts of a new year is picking out my new day planner. That handy leatherbound book that will fill with appointment reminders, deadlines, and holidays. But this year I want it to hold less weight. I want to have a mindset of “now” and a flexibility that allows me to enjoy it. That calendar will remain only a little paper-filled book instead of a weight filling my mind.

I heard an excellent sermon lately from Rob Turner at Apex Community (from December 8th, 2013) on the topic of Entitlement. The entire sermon was convicting and thought-provoking, but one part truly hit home for me. He talked about how the meaning of Hebrews 12:1-2 tends to get warped. We take the “running the race” analogy the wrong way. He said that we set up miniature finish lines to mark our progress throughout life. I finished high school! I got married! I got that job! I finally took that trip! But this mindset causes us to always focus on the next finish line. For the last few months I’ve been focusing on moving to England, then having surgery, then starting grad school. With that mindset we’re always running a race or training for the next. But the finish line mentioned in this verse is not one of this world. Are we laying aside every weight as the verse says? Are we pressing on with joy in our day-to-day life as we serve God? The little accomplishments and tasks that mark our days are not what Paul was speaking of. We are daily running. Daily pressing on. No finish line tape to tear through yet… So, we must daily refocus our priorities. Daily recenter on Christ.

This year I will be present. Present with God. Present with friends. Present with family. Present in my life.

Happy New Year!

Christmas 2013: London and home, with a little less wrapping

Merry Christmas, first of all!

This year, Sam and I celebrated Christmas day quietly at home here in England. November and December were a little hurried and hectic, marked by surgery, recovery and some stress. We also enjoyed time with friends, many laughs, and time in our cozy home. Because of how time has flown, I was so thankful for a quiet Christmas at home! It’s always  difficult to be away from family during the holidays, but thank goodness for FaceTime, Skype, and phone calls, right?! I felt like I had time to pause, take a breath, and enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.

Our home Christmas 2013

There are so many exciting things to do around here for the holidays – visiting cathedrals, choirs and concerts, festivals and markets – but I didn’t really do my research in time at all. Instead, we headed to London for Christmas eve, even though everything I know from Doctor Who tells me that’s a terrible idea.

We survived, as did London. :)

But we survived, as did London. 🙂

Sam went to London a few weeks ago and went to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. At that time, it was so crowded that it verged on agitating instead of enjoyable. Still, I had heard a lot about it and wanted to go! So, on Christmas eve, when I was finally feeling up to the adventure, we hopped on the tube and headed for Hyde Park. We got there early, and to my surprise, it wasn’t crowded at all!

Some of the decorations were a little creepy. This guy's eyes even moved as he taunted people passing.

Some of the decorations were a little creepy. This guy’s eyes even moved as he taunted people passing.

The beautiful Christmasy offerings.

The beautiful Christmasy offerings.

For the low-low price of only £3 (~ $5) you can toast your own marshmallows! (Ha!)

For the low-low price of only £3 (~ $5) you can toast your own marshmallows! (Ha!)

Our first stop was to get Belgian waffles. Cinnamon sugar for me, Nutella for Sam. YUM.

How could we pass these by?

How could we pass these by?

Nuuutteeeellluhhhh

Nuuutteeeellluhhhh

We meandered through the lanes of stalls and rides, passing bundled kids and their obliging parents. It thankfully wasn’t too cold, but just brisk enough to make mulled wine a must. The whole ordeal was commercial, yes, but also wintery and enjoyable.  Still secretly hoping for a white Christmas, I couldn’t help but think it could have been improved by snow flurries, but the promising puffy clouds had other plans.

Hyde Park and looming rain clouds.

Hyde Park and looming rain clouds. (And yes, the grass is still incredibly GREEN here.)

After having our fill of the Bavarian bustle we headed back to the tube to move on for the day, just in time to avoid the downpour. 

Notting Hill Gate Tube Station, the prettiest one I've seen by far. As we waited for our train, rain pounded on the glass overhead.

Notting Hill Gate Tube Station, the prettiest one I’ve seen by far. As we waited for our train, rain drummed on the glass overhead.

Further proving what a small world it is, some friends from college were in London for Christmas! It was so nice to catch up with them over a great meal and to see some familiar faces on Christmas eve.

kjkhgkjhg

Our friends Katie and Chris. Katie is also a military spouse and has an excellent blog – check it out here!

The rest of our holiday was spent at home, curled in front of the fireplace, playing cards and spoiling our furry family. Watching White Christmas and Fantasia. Reading of the birth of Christ from Luke, as well as some Robert Frost.

The pup getting his Christmas treat. I must admit, our motives were partially selfish, hoping the bone would distract him as we opened our gifts.

The pup getting his Christmas treat. I must admit, our motives were partially selfish, hoping the bone would distract him as we opened our gifts.

On Christmas day we took some goodies to the troops working on base and otherwise just lounged around at home. Sam’s main Christmas gift from me was an aquarium, so he spent his time setting up filters, checking water levels, washing and preparing gravel, etc.  I asked him and he reassured me that was fun for him. 🙂

Sam knocked it out of the park this year with his main gift for me. AN ESPRESSO MACHINE!!!  I did give several not so subtle hints.  (It helped that there was a commercial of someone handing that exact model machine towards the camera, as if giving the gift to whoever was watching. I would reply each time with, “Why, thank you!”)

Isn’t he the prettiest lil’ machine? I’m still working on a name for him…

He also surprised me with two beautiful little necklaces, HAIM‘s Days are Gone on vinyl, new perfume and other goodies. Samuel’s great at gifting. He knows me so well!

We enjoyed two great Christmas services at our church. One message was given by a lively Scot who has that rare ability of sneaking in a memorable and powerful message while simultaneously making you roll with laughter. His message has really stuck with me since hearing it two weeks ago. He told a story from his childhood about how his sister wanted this very specific doll for Christmas. She did in fact receive it Christmas morning, and the speaker and his brother played their brotherly roles by immediately mocking her for it. “That is proper rubbish.” When it came up missing later that day, he of course was blamed. After much crying and denying, the toy was found in the family’s large black plastic trash bag, still sitting in the living room floor, buried under the wrapping and cardboard.

“Don’t throw the gift out with the wrapping.”

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Obviously upon opening my espresso machine, I didn’t jump up and down with joy and then promptly bin it.  No… After opening it and realizing what it was, I carefully placed it down and admired it, I thanked Sam immediately and hugged both him and the espresso machine. Now I can’t wait to get it set up, figure out how to use it properly, and take advantage of that gift every single day! The speaker challenged us to treat the ultimate gift – Jesus Christ, sent to be our salvation – the same way. This holiday season, as you’re attending parties, getting things checked off your to-do lists, travelling, or enjoying your other gifts, remember that those things are really just the wrapping. Bonuses. Blessings. We’ve already been given the only gift we need. This world and the good things in it are simply ways God shows us the gift that has already been given. Though I did miss being home in the states for the holidays, I am thankful for a holiday with a little less “wrapping.” I doubt I would have been able to see through that wrapping this year. I fear I would have distractedly swept up the true gift in the busyness of it all, missing the message that God so wants me (and you!) to understand. Christ was sent to earth, and ultimately sent to his death, to bear my sins and set me free. What a gift indeed!

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Although it’s been said, many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you! 

I sneezed.

It happened. Yesterday, while knitting on the couch, I sneezed.

Newsworthy, right?

This wasn’t just any sneeze though… this was my first post-surgery sneeze. The one that I was completely dreading. That I had been warned about. The sneeze that haunted my thoughts. The sneeze that I was sure would feel as if my chest was splitting open and the bar was punching my lungs.

Since my surgery, I’d had several of the “ahh… ahhh… AHHHHH….” noisy inhales that lead to a sneeze, but it was as if my body shut them down before the “CHOOOO” could follow.

“No.”

“You’re not ready for that yet,” my body said.

But then, as mentioned, yesterday it happened. I could feel it coming. I accepted my fate and awaited the painful, agonizing “CHOO!”

And you know what? It wasn’t terrible. Typically my sneezes bring to mind terms like “explosive,” “messy,” or possibly even “equine.”  But his sneeze was soft and gentle, maybe even dainty. It didn’t hurt a bit. It also wasn’t nearly as brain-clearingly satisfying as my pre-surgery ones, but I was completely fine with that. 🙂

All of this is a strange way of saying that I’m feeling a bit better. When I wrote my last update two weeks ago, I was feeling discouraged and extremely uncomfortable. Today, as I type this, I’m sitting up at the table, my back only mildly aching. I’m just taking Ibuprofen instead of the strong painkillers and muscle relaxers I was on back then. Sure, my chest aches a bit. My endurance isn’t great. I am SO tired of sleeping flat on my back. BUT I’ve come a long way. God brought me out of a painful and tough time and I can feel the promise of healing ahead.

God has taught me in the last few weeks that when I’m not focused on myself, I’m not focused on my pain. I’ve been challenged to look at His promises, sacrifices and love. I’ve seen the compassion of friends and family, and I’ve tried to find ways to give back to them. I’ve been blessed with laughter and hope, even in the most painful moments.

I can testify, God is good. ALL THE TIME. Even when we’re blinded by earthly circumstances and can’t see it. He loves us, cares for us, and teaches us to trust him… sometimes through something and silly and simple as a sneeze.

Working on Thankfulness

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There are days when life seems so full of blessings that it almost seems unreal. The beauty and opportunities that encompass my life make it easy to be thankful. Other days, when family seems farther away than normal, or when pain and sickness are too close for comfort, it is a struggle to focus on thankfulness. Blessings are still present. There are still things to smile about. But they get pushed aside unintentionally as I dwell on what is wrong.

Here in England they obviously don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so it really has been out of sight and mind. Our town is already fully decked out for the holidays, I have boxes, gifts, and shipping forms littering my kitchen table instead of thanksgiving decor. The main news I hear from the states about the subject is whether or not stores should be open on the actual holiday. Someone at the doctor’s office today told me to have a nice Thanksgiving and it caught me off guard. Oh yeah, Thanksgiving is soon! Thanks and gratitude have not been #1 in my mind. But as I continue into my recovery, however uphill it feels, I’m trying to change my view. I’m asking God to change my view. There is so much to be thankful for and so many positive things to dwell on. Here is a list of sorts.

– I am so thankful for laughter, and how much of it is in my life. Because of my surgery and the steel bar that is now at home in my chest, it hurts to laugh and it will for a while until I get used to it. I’ve pointed out a few times since being home that I never knew how much I really laughed! The first few days post-surgery I would have to tell Sam to stop being so funny because he kept making me laugh. Or the dog or cats would do something silly and crack me up. I said a few times as I tried not to laugh, “Who knew my life was this funny!?” But those little pangs have reminded me of the joy that I am blessed with. In the midst of pain I can still find things to laugh at and I am surrounded by sources of laughter and happiness. That’s something to be thankful for.

– I am thankful for friends and family who make the oceans and miles seem a little smaller. I have been so uplifted by cards, care packages, messages, and prayers. New friends and old friends alike have visited, cheered me on, and encouraged me. I have felt the love of my family even though they are far. I know I’m not alone. 🙂

– I am so thankful for modern medicine and wise, caring medical teams. For too many reasons to list!

– I am thankful that God’s timing is perfect and that I had this procedure done while unemployed and childless. What a blessing it has been to not have to worry about sub plans, getting back to work or asking for more time off. Heck, today is my first time in real clothes (not pajamas) in over a week!

– I am thankful for a husband who is living the promise, “in sickness or in health.” What an incredible caretaker he is. He has cooked, cleaned, vacuumed, washed dishes and clothes, bathed me, helped me change my clothes, organized my medicines, and seen some sights I hope he can forget (ha) … Without one complaint. We were sleeping on the lower guest bed because I can’t get up into our tall four-poster bed and without me asking or even hinting, he switched the two beds (box springs, mattresses AND frames) by himself so I could sleep in our bedroom again. He is incredible. And all the while he continues to make me smile and laugh. He’s the best.

– I am thankful for home and that our new house here feels like home. Sam and I have noted that several times to each other. It’s cozy and comfortable. Welcoming. We can come in and drop our burdens, plop down and relax. This is something I am hugely thankful for in the midst of the newness that comes with an overseas move. Our houses is far from perfect or spotless – the previous renter patched the paint on the walls with the wrong color, the carpet has stains, the windows are thin, etc. – but it’s our haven.

– I am thankful for my furry family (my pets). To those of you who don’t have pets – or to Mrs. Vix who thinks my dog is the ugliest – this might be odd, but they are such a comfort and joy to me! Little, fluffy Peanut Butter is curled up on the bed next to me, Toby is breathing heavily as he snoozes on the floor and Muffins is probably snuggled up with the radiator downstairs. When I came home from the hospital they greeted me at the door. I heard the kitty collars jingle as they ran down the hall towards us, and I immediately smiled. They are a major comforting presence in my life. And, they’re crazy. We have the strangest pets and they make us laugh all the time. The other day Sam asked, “Are the pets just weird or did we make them weird?” Great question. Either way. We love them and are so thankful for them.

– I am thankful for the reason I have hope and joy: Jesus Christ. Titus 3:4-7, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

In hospital

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Now that the pain and nausea are somewhat subsiding, I’m beginning to note all of the interesting ins-and-outs of being “in hospital” in the UK. I’ve been here for 5 days now and will probably be here a few more, so I’ve been able to really soak it all in. Now, up until this point, I’ve never really been admitted to a hospital for an extended period of time, so if I point something out as being unique but it happens whenever you go to the hospital, well, that’s okay. 🙂

First of all, I’m staying at a hospital that is specialized for the surgery I had but that also operates on private patients and NHS patients. From what I’ve heard, NHS-only hospitals here can leave a bit to be desired as they’re stripped down a bit, but I can’t say that’s been the case here. I have a private room with a lovely wooded view, a clean bathroom, a desk, high back chair, and a nightstand, in addition to the medical bed (duh). It has cable television (“90 channels of rubbish” as the lady who welcomed us mentioned) and after a few days we finally asked and got the password for the secured wi-fi. Free newspapers (The Daily Telegraph) are brought around daily, and tea/coffee is offered anywhere from 4-6 times a day.

As far as food goes, they bring me a menu daily where I can select my choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each meal has a starter and a dessert. The food isn’t anything to call home about but it’s fine. The nurses and housekeeping staff here are so obliging though… If I don’t eat what is given to me they offer me whatever else they can find to get me full. “Would you like lemonade? Fizzy water? Ice cream? Tea and biscuits?” For one meal I checked the “fresh fruit” box and expected to get the equivalent of a restaurant side dish, but nope, I was brought a banana, an apple, an orange and a pear. With a container of fruit yogurt thrown in for good measure. Not too shabby.

The language difference between my ‘Merican English and their English English hasn’t been too difficult to overcome, but a few things are different or humorous at least. For example, they come every few hours to bring me my “tablets,” (medicine). The nurses had a good chuckle when they came to change my “plasters” and I told them we called those bandages or Band-Aids. Several times I have heard the oh-so-British “Ta!” which is a casual way to say “thanks.” And one of my nurses would say “Oh bless yahh…” whenever I asked for more medicine or complained of anything. Thanks to the drugs I’ve been on, there hasn’t been a lot of… uh… well, bowel activity, but the Brit nurses check by asking if my bowels have “opened.” I may just be immature, but that seems like a really gross way to ask that question. And their British (or British mix with another background) accents make it sound so proper and therefore funnier. I’ve also been called Love, Lovey, Duck, Dear, and a fine young lady on a few occasions by the nurses and doctors too. Ha! I think just about every nurse and doctor has asked me where I’m from in the states, recognizing my accent wasn’t English, but one nurse did say that she knew Sam was American but couldn’t tell by my accent. I considered that a small victory. 🙂

Overall, this hasn’t been what I’d call fun or enjoyable, but I will say it could have been far worse. Every person looking after me has been calm, compassionate, well trained, and generally pleasant. I don’t feel Iike a nuisance by any means. Though it’s been a painful and woozy last few days, I’ve been in great hands and I’ve been able to see evidence of God’s care around me. He has painted a beautiful autumnal scene right outside my window. Sam was able to take off as much work as needed. Toby was taken care off and was out of sight and mind for the last week (and according to the kennel worker, Toby “couldn’t give two shits” about us leaving him there. He made friends easily. Ha!). Nurse after nurse reassured me that my surgeon was really the best one for this procedure, a fact that I had discovered from my own research before. And not once did I pass out or get sick because of having to get a shot or get blood drawn. These things aren’t coincidences. God is at work, not just on the big days or in the important life events, but at all times. I’m so thankful for that!