"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Circling the Wagons (a Story of Redemption)

Boy, do I have a story to tell!

What if I told you that writing, for me, feels a little bit like throwing up? It mulls within me for awhile…days, weeks, months…and I just let it sit there in my stomach, festering. I want to let it out, but I don’t know if I have the energy it will take. Plus, it can be messy, and I don’t always feel like dealing with it. But it creeps its way up my throat, and I keep swallowing it down, my jaw muscles tightening in an effort to hold it in. Every night I think, “Maybe tonight I should get it all out.” And every night I’m too tired, and I just distract myself from the inevitable. But at last, I can’t take it anymore, and when finally I release it, it explodes…the chaos of words and random thoughts tumbling out of me and onto the page, giving meaning and substance to all the things I’ve been suffering through for so long. And I feel instantly and infinitely better. It feels great, actually. Clean. Pure. My words, strung together in unique and pretty ways, have created something where there was nothing before. Thoughts have been converted into meaning. But the relief only lasts for so long – only until I consume the next round of life experiences, and the process repeats itself like a cycle.

Life. Mulling. Explosion. Life. Mulling. Explosion.

You get the idea.

The story I’m going to share is one of trial, and yet also of God’s unfailing provision and redemption. It is a long story and might be a bit boring at times. But it is our story, and I don’t want to forget a bit of it. After all, it was six glorious, heart-wrenching months in the making.

You already know the first part – the saga of the Colorado floods back in September and how the bottom floor of our home was covered in water…how, in the midst of a lot of financial needs and the denial of our insurance claim, we made the decision to tear out our mildew-ridden carpet and live on the paint-splotched 30-year-old vinyl tile underneath…how the stress and hopelessness we felt about our situation caused an ulcer for Ryan, and I suffered panic attacks and crippling anxiety…how in the weeks before Thanksgiving, we decided to make peace with the circumstances, make the best of it, and keep on living. We couldn’t worry about things that were beyond our control. You’ve got all that, right?


We rounded the corner into our little neighborhood, admiring the colorful Christmas lights hanging from the houses of our more ambitious neighbors. We discussed a dinner of frozen pizzas, and Ryan reminded us that he intended to watch a little Sunday Night Football. Our 10-year-old daughter declared that she planned to put together her new Lego set that she’d been itching to get at, after she got her backpack ready for school and we got the van unloaded, of course.

We had had an amazing, relaxing Thanksgiving trip to my parents’ house in Oklahoma. The 10-hour trip home was spent munching on sandwich wraps we’d picked up from a random Salina grocery store, listening to the Broncos game on half a dozen radio stations as we crossed Kansas, and posting pictures on Facebook as we neared our great city. But as always, we were anxious to get home—excited to put new sheets on our bed, get back into our routine, and even get our Christmas tree the next evening. I was toying with the idea of getting a live tree this year, and I made a mental note to do some research on the best local tree lots.

The van pulled up in front of our little tri-level home, and I breathed a small sigh of relief that our house was still standing with the living room lights still on. It looked warm and welcoming. I grabbed the mail from the mailbox while Ryan headed in with the first loads of our stuff. I met him at the door as he came out.

“I turned on your Scentsy warmer,” he said.

My brow furrowed as I stepped inside. It smelled. The house stunk like mildew and stagnant water. Like it did in September, after the lower level flooded due to heavy rains.

“The house smells funny,” I said over my shoulder as Ryan came in with another suitcase.

“I know. That’s why I turned on your Scentsy.”

I didn’t understand. Why the smell? We had worked so hard recently on making the house smell better, and we had been pleased with our efforts. In the weeks before Thanksgiving, I had plugged in several air freshener and kept fans going for added circulation. Was it because the house had been closed up for five days?

I placed the mail on the kitchen table and took a few steps down toward the family room. Water covered the old vinyl tile—not completely, but enough.


Did I overwater the plants before we left? But surely that would have evaporated and not left such a stench. Did it rain while we were gone? My eyes traveled to the windows; they looked okay, and the water hadn’t quite made it over to the fireplace where the water had come in with the torrential rains months before. I quickly dismissed that idea.

“Our basement flooded again!” I yelled up to Ryan.

“You’re kidding.”

At the bottom of the stairs, I took a right and sloshed into the laundry room, which seemed even wetter. I heard the sound of water coming from the water heater closet, and that’s where Ryan joined me, just in time to see the water spraying from a valve at the top of the water heater.

He groaned.

We quickly assessed the damage; water had completely soaked our new area rugs, and somehow it had soaked our guest bedroom carpet too. It seemed to have gone through the wall. Ryan turned off the water heater and went in search of the ShopVac.


“This seems familiar,” he said, as he got to work sucking up the water. It wasn’t that bad, really. But it was definitely annoying, and we knew we would have to get a new water heater now. Plus, the stench was really overwhelming.

I climbed the stairs to the main level and saw Ryley sitting in the living room, surrounded by a pile of Legos and instructions. I opened the kitchen freezer and quickly realized we were out of frozen pizzas. In fact, since we’d been on vacation, the kitchen didn’t really have anything to eat. And it was already after 8 p.m.

My husband’s patience was growing thin downstairs. Ryley said she wasn’t super hungry, and so I decided to call our insurance and make a claim. We knew from our experience in September that water damage from broken appliances would be covered by insurance. I didn’t know how much damage there actually was, but it was worth a try.

That done, I headed back downstairs and had a sudden thought to check the crawl space.

I worked at the little white door and popped it open. It was dark inside, but a reflection of light caught me off-guard.

Uh oh.

“Ryan, do you have a flashlight on your phone?” I yelled, trying to be heard over the noisy ShopVac.

He dug his phone out of his pocket and handed it to me. I held the light up to the little doorway, illuminating the four-foot-high crawlspace, stretching under the entire middle level of our home. It was a lake. Water rippled, reflected, and flickered, about six inches deep. I felt sick.

At the look on my face, Ryan turned off the ShopVac and came over to look.

“Oh no. This is beyond what I can do,” he said, defeated.

“I’m going to call our insurance back.”

The furnace was sitting in six inches of water, so it seemed right that we should turn off the heat. The next hour wore on, and the good people at State Farm helped us coordinate water mitigation for the next day. We grew colder and colder, and it became increasingly clear that we would not be able to stay in our house without hot water and heat. Ryan gave up on the ShopVac; there was no point in continuing. We dumped out a suitcase onto the living room floor and repacked it with pajamas and clean clothes for the next day. Then we loaded up the van again.

As we drove away from the house, I could almost feel the Christmas spirit draining from my body. We passed more cheerful houses adorned with icicle lights, and I felt like even in our middle class neighborhood, we weren’t good enough. Our house was the trashy one.

There would be no Christmas tree this week. I didn’t know if I even had the energy to go through with the piano recital I always held in our home, or accompany Ryley’s school choir in the winter concert. I just didn’t know anything anymore. I felt like I had lost control of our little home; the rug had literally been ripped out from under my feet. We already had no money after all our resources being drained in the aftermath of the last flood three months before, not to mention costly car repairs we’d had to get done. I was already on an anti-depressant, and my husband was nursing an ulcer. It had been a bad fall for us in many ways.

Not Christmas too.

As far as I was concerned, the house could be set on fire. But ironically, with all the water inside, the chance of it burning was actually highly unlikely. I felt stuck with a hell hole of a house that needed repairs and updates in every single area and no ability to do any of it without sinking deeper into debt. I didn’t see a way out, and for a brief moment, I wanted to die.

Tears started falling down my cheeks, as shock wore off and reality really set in. I wished I could rewind my life to a happier time just hours before when we were speeding down the highway toward home, not a care in the world, not a clue of what awaited us. Down the street from the hotel, I realized that it was almost 10 p.m., and we still had not eaten dinner. It was all I could do to say, “Let’s stop here at Sonic for some food.”

Of course, staying in a hotel is always exciting for a 10-year-old, and she was disappointed that we were too late to swim. Not that we had brought her swimming suit anyway. But we sat on the pretty hotel room beds and ate our mozzarella sticks, and I popped an anxiety pill. Once Ryley was tucked in and asleep, I lay across the other bed with Ryan and just sobbed. And we prayed. And I cried some more. And Ryan reminded me that in moments like these, when we’re at the end of our rope, we have nothing left but trust in God. There was literally nothing else we could do.

I thought how crazy it was that this flood was not a surprise to God…that the whole time we were dealing with all the crap in September and October, God knew that another flood was coming on December 1. We thought we had maxed out at our mental capacity, but God knew that we hadn’t. And even then, He knew that He would bring us through.

Ryan and I both took Monday off of work. After dropping Ryley off at school, we headed back to the house, almost afraid of what we would find. I’m not sure what I expected, but we found everything pretty much the same; nothing was worse. The water mitigation crew arrived and got to work. They lugged approximately 30 high-powered fans into the house, as well as all their pumping equipment. They stacked all of our furniture, washer, and dryer into a pile on one side of the family room.


Water was still coming in through the broken water heater, so Ryan did some quick online research and figured out how to turn off the water to the house. While the crew worked on the mitigation, we purchased a new water heater and had it installed. By evening, the standing water was gone (though leaving a muddy, muddy mess), and our furnace worked. Things were beginning to look not quite as dire as they did the night before. So we moved back in.

The fans were so loud for the next several days that in many parts of the house we couldn’t hear each other talk. Ryan wanted to watch Monday Night Football, and to do so, he had to pull a chair right up to the TV with the volume turned all the way up, our furniture stacked at his back. Ryley found a comfier spot to watch TV amongst the stacked furniture.






Also, the damage was worse than we thought. The moisture had traveled 18 inches up our walls and had damaged the old vinyl flooring too. The mitigation foreman estimated that the water had been leaking for three or four days before we got home. Construction guys came and tore out big portions of wet drywall in all three rooms.


On Tuesday afternoon, we were scheduled to meet our insurance adjuster. and I was nervous. Everyone had said that this kind of damage was covered, but what if it wasn’t? What if he rejected our claim? It would be just our luck for our fate to be decided by an obscure loophole in our policy. What if we were stuck with a $5,000 bill?

If the drywall and flooring were as damaged as they said, then I felt like it should all be covered, which could be a huge blessing. We hadn’t had the money to replace the flooring from the first flood. What if this was God’s way of redeeming everything that happened to us in September?

I prayed all the way home from work, asking God for favor with the adjuster. And that’s when this song by Tenth Avenue North came on the radio:

I’m Tired, I’m worn, my heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes, I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed by the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn
I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I'm too weak; life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left
My prayers are wearing thin
Even before the day begins
I’ve lost my will to fight
So, heaven come and flood my eyes
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn

I instantly knew that everything was going to be okay. Before the adjuster even stepped into our house, I knew what his decision would be. I felt like skipping with joy. God had shown me that this was His way of redeeming everything. I felt such peace in my spirit.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

An hour later, the adjuster left, and we were rejoicing that it looked like new floors were guaranteed. We didn’t know how great of carpet or tile we could get, but we knew anything would be better than the crap that was there.

But there was something else. We learned that we had asbestos in our vinyl floors and drywall. It would need to be removed, and because of the danger of breathing asbestos, there was a very specific abatement process. Over the next few days, we received bids from multiple contractors and abatement specialists. Since we couldn’t take too much time off of work, we left a key under our mat, and people came and went as they pleased. It was a surreal time in our lives. We kept our dog locked in her kennel in Ryley’s room during the day, with the stereo turned up so she couldn’t hear the strangers coming and going. Nearly every day we’d come home to find a couple of business cards left on our kitchen table.

In the meantime, we realized our furnace wasn’t keeping up. The warmest the house could get was about 60 degrees, and we were experiencing sub-zero temperatures outside. On Thursday morning we woke up to a frozen pipe in our upstairs bathroom, and I frantically called plumbers and did online research to see what could be done. Finally I wedged a hair dryer between the pipes under the sink and aimed it straight at the wall until the pipe thawed and water flowed without any damage done. But after that, I was terrified of other pipes freezing, especially since our house was so cold. I was constantly anxious about it, and I found myself obsessed with checking the crawlspace for signs of further pipe issues. To do so, I had to disturb the mitigation set-up and massive fans blowing into the crawlspace, but I was so obsessed that I checked for broken pipes no less than three times a day.

As we were heading into a bitterly cold weekend, we decided to call an HVAC guy about the furnace. He came out and inspected it on Friday night.

“Yeah, that thing needs to be replaced,” he told us. “Anytime a gas furnace is under water, manufacturer guidelines state that it should be replaced. I’m supposed to tell you to turn it off.”

“Um…So are you saying it’s dangerous for us to stay here until it gets replaced?”

The guy took a deep breath. “I’m supposed to tell you that you need to turn it off and not run it. But off the record? You’ll be fine. It has safety triggers.”

This was a Friday night. And before we could just “replace the furnace,” we needed to make sure it was covered by our insurance. We assumed it would be, but you never really know, and we weren’t about to make that kind of financial commitment. Also? It was like 5 degrees and falling. The chances of getting State Farm to approve a new furnace on a Saturday AND get the HVAC place to install it same-day were pretty slim. We tried, but we didn’t get approval until late Saturday, and the guys couldn’t install until Monday. So I’m sure you can imagine what kind of tail spin that sent panic-prone Joy into. All day Sunday, I found myself googling “gas heater flooded, carbon monoxide poisoning.” And what I’ve learned is that whatever you search for, you will find, regardless of accuracy. Somebody somewhere has found a connection and has posted something about it. I felt so much better after the furnace was successfully installed on Monday.

In the meantime, we received a wonderful blessing of a financial gift from some of our family. It was exactly the amount we needed, and we could not believe the way that God was providing…first by giving us insurance coverage for the loss and redeeming everything from earlier in the fall, and then by providing the money for the deductible. A huge load was lifted off our shoulders.

We were told that between gutting the house for abatement, putting everything back together, and the upcoming holidays, we needed to expect for our lives to be in upheaval for the next three or four weeks, minimum. Since the mitigation crew had stacked all our furniture in the corner of the family room, along with our washer and dryer, I called the Laundromat I’d seen in the strip mall outside our neighborhood.

“Do you take debit cards?” was my main question. I hadn’t used a Laundromat in 13 years, and the world has changed quite a bit in that time. But no, I learned that the machines are still quarter-based.

The first time we went, I was absolutely horrified and exhausted by the time we’d lugged four heavy laundry baskets down the stairs, outside, into the van, out of the van, and across a parking lot, leaving a trail of laundry detergent powder wherever we went. I couldn’t even imagine how I could ever get used to doing it, and I began mentally calculating how many times we would need to repeat the process in the following weeks. Two? Three? The Laundromat was pretty clean and, for the most part, safe. But I was just so irritated. Over the next two and a half months we would visit the Laundromat more than 10 times, and we actually developed a pretty good system for it. We grew to like the friendly attendants and established a bit of a routine. It was just another lesson in flexibility.



Because our dog Juliet was used to being locked in the downstairs bathroom/laundry room during the day, we had to find a new home for her. We decided that the kitchen would be the least stressful place, so we moved our table to the side and squeezed Juliet’s kennel, blanket, food, and water into a corner next to our patio door. This would change multiple times over the course of the next two months, and basically our kitchen table became inaccessible.


We also needed to figure out what to do with our TV. We weighed our options and decided that since there were already DirecTV hook-ups in our bedroom, it was the only logical place for it. We moved some comfy chairs into our room and developed a quasi-sitting area. We called DirecTV and had them come activate the hook-ups. It wasn’t ideal, but it an improvisation we could live with.

We weren’t sure what exactly would be happening or when or where, so we didn’t think it made sense to get a Christmas tree. I thought I was okay with the decision, but then Ryan and I decided to get a small three-foot tree for Ryley’s room and surprise her with it. She was overjoyed! We moved our tubs of Christmas decorations and ornaments in from the garage and plopped them on the floor in Ryley’s room. I sat down with her, and together we listened to Christmas music and chose which ornaments should hang on her little tree. I wish I could say that it was a good experience and that we are the poster children for flexibility, but instead, I sat in the middle of my daughter’s room, sobbing and mourning the loss of my own Christmas tree. I was sad that there wasn’t space for all the ornaments, and as we carefully packed the tubs back up with the unused treasures, I couldn’t help but think, “Maybe next year.” And I would burst into tears again. I was so depressed.


The week before Christmas, the asbestos abatement began. We were told to make sure we had everything we wanted from those downstairs rooms because we wouldn’t have access to our things for a couple of months. We put on our shoes and descended into the chaos, raiding our basement of movies, books, board games, Legos, TV trays, favorite blankets, and anything else we didn’t think we could live without. I came home from work on Monday afternoon, and there was a giant POD in our driveway, a lockbox attached.


When I stepped inside the house, I saw that the lower level was completely sealed off with white plastic and red tape. I couldn’t see what progress had been made, but it was an eerie feeling to know that unseen strangers had gone through all of our belongings, packed them up, and moved them out of the house, all in the course of about six hours. Our kitchen table had been moved into the middle of the kitchen. It was so strange.




That night, somehow I cooked spaghetti for dinner, and since asbestos abatement is dangerous, for the next three days, we were completely limited to our upper two floors. It felt very cramped and confined.


Then, one day I came home, and the abatement was done. The downstairs was gutted down to cement on the floors and framing on the lower portions of the walls. It was much more than I expected them to do. The family room and bathroom opened up right into the crawlspace, and everything smelled damp and musty. It was fascinating, and Ryley was thrilled with the way her voice echoed from the top of the stairs.







We met with the flooring contractor that our insurance had assigned us (an elderly gentleman by the name of Fox, spurring many family jokes of “What does the Fox say?”), and we were very disappointed in what was being covered by the insurance. His first estimate had us coming up with $1500 out-of-pocket for very basic vinyl tile in the bathroom and carpet in the family room. The guest room wouldn’t be covered; they thought that carpet was re-usable. It was depressing. We lowered our standards a little bit and took home some crappy vinyl samples that would put us out about $300 total. The thought of paying out-of-pocket for low-grade materials was really disappointing. We considered getting other estimates. After all, based on the carpet bid we’d gotten in October, we believed that we should be able to get a better deal.

After the Christmas holidays, I really felt like Fox should come back out. I work with insurance companies all the time at my job, and I thought we needed to fight for some stuff. In the guestroom, I had noticed rust stains from furniture left on the carpet during the flooding, and I remembered that the adjuster had mentioned that stains were potentially the only way to get that guestroom carpet covered. Also, the abatement crew had stripped the stairs down to wood and had also torn out the guestroom closet carpet, so those things needed to be added to the estimate. I just felt like he needed to see everything again and see where our numbers were at after that.

Fox came out, looked at everything, and agreed. He called us a few days later and said that he had gotten the guestroom approved and that he thought he could actually get us a nice carpet installed for what the insurance funds allowed. No extra money was needed from us! Praise God!

The unfortunate thing, however, was that Fox didn’t have an installation crew available until February 1. So we would have to go another three weeks without our washer and dryer, another three weeks without normalcy, another three weeks avoiding the dark, scary, smelly abyss just down the stairs from our kitchen. Another three weeks with the massive, ugly POD in our driveway. Another three weeks where we’d think of a book, movie, or game we wanted and remember, disappointed, “Oh. It’s in the POD.”

I lost my voice during this time, which made negotiating with insurance and our mortgage company very difficult. Our claim had skyrocketed to a whopping $24,500, and because of the size of the claim, each contractor’s check had to be forwarded to our mortgage company for endorsement and documents signed and faxed before they would release the funds. We are actually still going through this process with the last couple checks.

Days rolled into weeks, and we settled into our new routine. Since our dog was still living in the kitchen and our table was inaccessible, we ate dinner at our coffee table or on TV trays upstairs in our bedroom. I didn’t bother cooking. We came home from work and unwound in our bedroom, ate in our bedroom, watched TV in our bedroom, and then slept in our bedroom. We regularly felt claustrophobic, but we made it work. We watched both Broncos play-off games and the Super Bowl in our bedroom, selling our prized tickets for the much-needed money. Ryan called it “circling the wagons” – hunkering down and being a family together…leaning on each other even when circumstances aren’t what we really wish them to be.


The drywall contractor and painters were able to come out and at least finish their areas while we waited for flooring. We asked for bids on finishing the bathroom the way we’d always dreamed of, adding a laundry chute, painting all three rooms different colors. It was all more expensive than we thought, so we passed, settling for the minimum of what the insurance covered. And every time we chose not to go with the expensive option, we felt like God rewarded us with favor in another area of the project. We were able to get the guest room and bathroom painted different colors for free, but I decided to tackle the guest room closet painting myself and then also paint the 1970s wood paneling on either side of our fireplace myself. Without light down there, I had to plan it so I painted during daylight on the weekends. It was rewarding work, though it was a bigger project than I had clearly understood, and my shoulders ached.







The week before February 1, we started counting down our excitement. The last load at the Laundromat…the last TV shows we’d watch in our bedroom…Maybe if things went as planned we could even watch the Super Bowl in the family room!

But it was not to be. Fox called, and what do you think the Fox said? The Fox said that his carpet installer had pulled out his back and would be “out” indefinitely. Of course! I asked if there were other installers, and Fox mumbled something about it not being fair to put other customers out for our sake. I wanted to scream (but I couldn’t, because of my voice, you see), “I doubt if your other customers have had their washer and dryer in a POD for two months!” But instead, I bit my lip and tried to remember what it’s like to be the contractor delivering bad news. The truth is, I understand.

That weekend, Ryley and I decided to have some fun with our blank canvas downstairs before it was forever covered by new carpet and tile. We took some extra paint and wrote our favorite scriptures all over the cement floor. I believe that God’s Word doesn’t return void, and what a cool opportunity to affix His Word permanently to our house’s foundation??? We want our home to be full of God’s peace and love, and it was a terrific way to establish that (though I’m sure the carpet layers thought we were freaks!).





The carpet was finally installed the following Thursday, and when the three of us got home that night, we threw ourselves down and sprawled out onto the plush carpet, in complete disbelief at the freshness of new paint and carpet and water heater and furnace and no asbestos! For the first time since September 11, we could walk barefoot in our family room. We had our house back! Almost, anyway.







Since we had bravely given up our chance to attend Broncos games all season long to earn the extra money, Ryan had been playing with a thought in his head….What if we used our Broncos money on a new sofa for our new room? We knew we might need a little more money than that too, so we decided that instead of hiring movers to move our furniture and boxes out of the POD, we’d do it ourselves and keep the money. If we hadn’t earned it already, that weekend, we earned our sofa. It was quite a feat, but despite icy sidewalks and a big old fall I took out on the street, the three of us worked out a system to get all of our furniture and 50-some boxes back into our house on our own.




Because of the new sofa coming in, we decided to get rid of a few items that were no longer needed. So we put an old couch, a broken recliner, and a big stuffed chair we bought at a thrift store years ago out on the sidewalk with a FREE sign. Within 10 minutes, our pregnant neighbor (expecting her sixth boy) was crossing the street barefoot to ask if we really meant those items were free. After she told me her life story, Ryan and I carried the items to her driveway, where she said to leave them for her husband to deal with when he got home. A day later, we put an old (but working) toilet out with the trash since I had insisted we splurge on a new toilet for our new bathroom. An hour later, the pregnant neighbor lady knocked on our door.

“So, we really need a toilet. Do you think we could take that one?”

Oh, how my heart went out to her. And I felt so dumb for being snotty about wanting a new toilet when it wasn’t really a necessity. At the same time, I knew that God had blessed us through this entire process, and in the midst of it, He was using our blessing to bless our neighbors too.

Bit by bit, we’re getting our lives back. We figured out a new system/home for our dog, so this week was the first time we’ve had dinner at our kitchen table since the spaghetti I made during the abatement. It almost felt wrong…like we were too wealthy or something if we could actually sit at a table while eating. It feels almost too luxurious to sit on our new sofa and fall asleep after a long day. We still have rotting carpet on the side of our house from where Ryan put it in September, and we need to figure out how to get it to the dump. We still don’t have our boxes unpacked either, but all that will come with time. At least I can do laundry now, glorious load by glorious load.

Over the course of the last three months, I have been thinking a lot about hardship. Oh, I know this isn’t really considered a hardship. Hardships are things like losing a loved one, or being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or even losing one’s home completely. I understand that our family drama is silly in comparison. But nonetheless, it was a stressful time in our lives, and we watched God do the unimaginable…providing for every need and bringing us through.

One morning in January, on my way to work, I was having a little pity party and feeling sorry for myself: Our house is torn up. We don’t have any money. I can’t talk. Why is life so freakin’ hard?

But then I began to think: What is hardship, really? Everything we endure is a part of life, whether it’s “good” or “bad.” The only difference between the two is our emotions telling us how things should be. Who are emotions to tell us how things should be? Happiness is a choice. Joy is a choice. We must embrace hardship just as much as we embrace the good times. We need to embrace the season we’re in for what it is, and more importantly, we must embrace our Heavenly Father.

I certainly haven’t been a good example of this in the last few months. I haven’t always had a good attitude, unfortunately. I haven’t chosen joy. I haven’t always felt close to God. But looking back, I see that He’s been there the whole time, guiding the whole process, even when we felt claustrophobic and embittered by our situation. He was right in the middle of our circled wagons.

As silly as our hardship was, He was busy redeeming it, providing in ways we least expected it, making all things new. And He did it just because He loves us.

Just because.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Is...

Love Is…

Scraping the ice off of my side of the windshield even when we’re running late, because he knows I will get carsick if I can’t see.

Adjusting the radio in the hotel so that it puts out a fuzzy white noise sound, because he knows I need white noise to sleep well.

Jumping in and ordering my meal at the restaurant because the waiter can’t understand me through the obstacle of my laryngitis.

Lugging the laundry to the Laundromat all by himself on his afternoon off work.

Getting me a glass of water from downstairs in the middle of the night.

Helping me search the house high and low for my keys at 11 p.m., letting the glass of chocolate milk he poured grow warm.

This list makes it sound like I’m high maintenance! But regardless, my husband shows his love in small, beautiful ways every single day of the year. I am overwhelmed by how good he is to me, even when I don’t deserve it. And I get to spend the rest of my life with him. ;-)

I love you, Ryan. Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Sound of Silence

It’s a silly life we lead. Truly it is. It has been a very interesting fall and winter, and we just keep plugging along like people tend to do.

But the most bizarre thing of all? I lost my voice.

“Oh, it’s just a little bit of laryngitis,” you say.

“Oh, stop your whining!” you say.

But no. It’s not. And I won’t. Because without the ability to talk, writing is the only way to free my thoughts from the prison that is my head. I feel like my brain might explode from all the thoughts I can’t get out. Smile

Five weeks ago, on January 2, I awoke with a weak and raspy voice. I felt completely fine otherwise, so I headed in to work. But as the day progressed, my voice became weaker and weaker; and by the end of the day it was practically gone.

And it has been gone ever since. Day 36.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve gone almost all of 2014 like this. I hear my voice in my dreams at night, and I wake up sad. I’m still trying to decide if I “think” in my voice….I honestly can’t remember what it used to sound like.

Some days are worse than others. On good days I sound like Mickey Mouse, and on bad days the very strain of trying to whisper sounds like a cat gagging on a hair ball.

“Joy, you sound like you smoke 40 packs of cigarettes a day,” my friend said this evening while we attempted to catch up by phone.

Ryan and I went out on a dinner date the first weekend in January, and the waitress cast bewildered glances at Ryan when she couldn’t understand my order. Thankfully, he jumped right in and commenced his duties as “voice surrogate,” as he calls it. But as we waited for our food, he couldn’t hear me above the din of the other restaurant guests, so we gave up on conversation altogether and retreated to our I-Phones for entertainment.

I did some online research and wasn’t really concerned for the first week. I gargled salt water and breathed over steam and sucked on cough drops and rubbed Vicks on my neck and feet – all the stuff they say to do. But nothing made it any better. In fact, it seemed worse. At the end of the second week, I’d had enough. I made an appointment to see my doctor. A strep test ended up negative, and the doctor said it was most likely a virus that needed to run its course.

Every day that passed was more frustrating than the last. It is exhausting to live life without a voice.  Communication is hindered no matter where I go. It doesn’t make sense to answer the phone or make calls. Because I feel fine, sometimes I forget. So when the phone rings at work, I pick it up, and then immediately I regret it. They can't hear me or understand me, and my throat becomes sore from the strain of trying. It’s extremely difficult (and embarrassing) to order at the drive-through, too. When we’re watching TV, Ryan mutes it when I have a comment to share.  In the car, Ryan and Ryley can’t hear me above the noise of the road, so I just sit quietly and hear what they have to say. (Not that that’s a bad thing!) Smile

“Sounds like you’re getting sick!” says the cashier at the grocery store.

“Miss Joy, you still don’t have a voice?” says my piano student.

“Did you say something? I’m haunted by your whispers,” says my boss as he passes my office door.

“Ah, did you cheer too hard for the Broncos this weekend?” says everybody nearly every day.

I’m pretty sure the contractor and carpet guy that have been working on our house for the last month think that my voice is naturally hoarse.

But after three and a half weeks, I was really getting concerned. I still didn’t have any other symptoms that made me think I was fighting a cold; the whole thing was just bizarre. No amount of chicken pho soup or herbal teas would bring any relief. The more I googled, the more I started seeing articles about “chronic laryngitis” and “cancer.” Ryan tried to ban me from using WebMd. Basically, I learned that any time laryngitis lasts longer than three weeks, it is a sign of a deeper problem. A friend of ours was even diagnosed as having a paralyzed vocal cord recently, and that freaked me out.

So I called my doctor’s office, and they agreed that I should see an ear/nose/throat specialist. They got me in last Friday, and Ryan came along just in case there was anything serious. I loved the ENT…

“Are you sure you want her to get her voice back?” he joked with Ryan, right before sticking a tube up my nostril and down the back of my throat. Smile

As it turns out, I have Chronic Reflux Laryngitis, which can develop when stomach acid from acid reflux backs up your esophagus and irritates your voicebox and vocal cords, causing everything to swell. I didn’t know I had acid reflux; it’s not painful, and I don’t have trouble with heartburn. But now that I’ve done my due research, I see that I had signs and symptoms of acid reflux for months and maybe even years but didn’t know it was a problem.

The ENT doctor gave me two medicines to take and said I may not see improvement for 4-6 weeks. My new friends in the online articles report that some cases last six months.

I’m glad it’s nothing super serious, but it is a frustrating journey I’m still walking through. Let’s say it does last six months….At what point does an employer say, “I’m sorry, but we really need our office manager to be able to speak and answer the phone.” Are there disability benefits for that? I can’t effectively teach piano or Sunday School like this; I can’t conduct interviews for my freelance writing. I miss singing.

I long for my life to make sense. I want to learn what I'm supposed to learn in this season.  But sometimes you can't pen a cutesy little blog to wrap up the last few months, with a nice little moral at the end. Sometimes there isn't a moral. Sometimes it's just life.

A friend texted me the other day and asked how life was going. I was vague in my answer because how do you say, “It sucks; I have laryngitis” without sounding like a drama queen? I’m sick of drama.

“If you need to talk, I’m here,” was her sweet response.

If only. Winking smile