"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Breathing Room

You know that feeling where you work and work and work and just never seem to get ahead? And so you take on a second job, and maybe after a few years, freelance work too. And a few years after that, a third job. You have your routine, and you have enough money, but you never seem to have any surplus. Your budget is tight, tight, tight. Sure, you’ve made bad decisions with credit, and you have a whopping college loan bill to pay every month, and you have two car payments out of necessity. You’ve made mistakes, and you understand there’s a price to pay (literally) for your American lifestyle. But there’s no extra money for new clothes or a fun family trip, and treating yourself to a fancy birthday dinner means eating ramen on the other nights of the week to make up for it. And you look out at the months and years stretching ahead of you, and you don’t see any way out of this crippling financial rut. You know God always provides; you’ve seen it and tasted it. You don’t doubt it. But you’re tired of your entire life being an exercise in trust.

So then you have a particularly bad crisis year financially where both of your cars act up and require multiple expensive repairs, and your house floods twice in three months, and you have so much anxiety that you have to go on medication, and your husband develops an ulcer. You fight through those battles, and the victory of your beautified house is almost worth the trials you endured. Then, a few months later, the hail storm of the century hits your house, and a tree falls in your front yard, and you have holes in your siding and dings in your gutters, and your roof is totaled. Your car has so many dents it looks like you practiced golf on it. So you file yet another insurance claim, nay, two insurance claims, and because you work at a roofing/siding/gutter company, you have the connections you need to get the work done well and for within the allotted funds. And your house looks great, inside and out, and that’s when your brother, a loan officer, starts pestering you to refinance your home.

You drag your feet at first; you don’t want him to know how little money you have and how much debt you have. You don’t want to go through the irritating paperwork process. But after awhile, he convinces you, and you do it, and it is so much easier than you had imagined it would be. And, because of all the improvements to your home in the last year and a half, your house appraises for so much more than you ever dreamed! So now you have the option to use some available funds to pay off some debt and poise yourself in a much better position than you’ve ever been in your life. By eliminating some monthly payments, you can suddenly use the income from your extra jobs to pay down more bills and give more to your church and have more to bless people with, and you still have a little extra leftover every month.  You’re not rich, and you’re still in debt. But you finally have breathing room.

Breathing room.

And when you look back at each angst-filled situation that was so much of a heartbreak when you were in the midst of it, you realize that God really was present. Not only did He use those situations to teach you patience and perseverance and (more) trust, but He used the outcome to set you up for success. All things truly worked together for your good. And you praise Him and thank Him for always knowing what’s best and for always taking care of you even when you doubt. You’ve seen firsthand that His ways are not your ways. Your God knows how to use life challenges and appliance failures and storm damage and insurance payouts and refinancing all to His and your advantage. He’s the ultimate businessman. However He needs to do it, He can and He will.


I wish I could say that we all live happily ever after in this scenario…that God has decided we’ve seen our fair share of trial and learned all the lessons we need to learn.

“They’ve got it! We can stop challenging Ryan and Joy with their trust issues. They’ve learned their lesson!” God says to Jesus, while they sit on the throne, peering down at us through the clouds.

But that’s just not the way it goes. :-) We’re always learning and growing and developing until the day we die. And we are far from perfect and far from death.

Over the past year, Ryan’s Chiari symptoms have slowly come back. It started last summer with some bad headaches, and we thought it might be his eyes. He went to the optometrist and came home with reading glasses, which he didn’t really like. But then, in the months that followed, he started having weakness in his arms as well as dizzy spells and that constant, nagging headache, and then sharp icepick headaches in different parts of his head, too. The skull decompression surgery in 2006 had supposedly cured him, but as we are currently learning, that was still technically in the early days of Arnold Chiari Malformation research. Now they know that there really isn’t a cure, and the surgeries sometimes help, and sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they help for a little while and then the symptoms return. 

I don’t understand how it all works; does the skull grow or shift over time? Basically, almost nine years ago, the surgeon drilled into the base of Ryan’s skull, grinding a one-inch area of skull into dust, creating some breathing room for the spinal fluid, which had gotten caught between the brain and the skull. A metal plate was then inserted to help redirect the flow of the spinal fluid. He felt better; he was a new man. A lifetime of headaches was behind him. But eight years later, they crept gradually back.

Two months ago, Ryan saw our family doctor, and she referred him back to our original neurosurgeon. Of course he had to wait another month for that appointment. We finally met with his neurosurgeon’s PA in late April, and she ordered all kinds of bloodwork, X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. And tomorrow is the day when we get all the results. We find out if it is truly Chiari or if it’s something else, and we find out whether or not there’s anything they can do.

Over the past few weeks, the headaches have gotten increasingly worse and intense, and I think Ryan’s greatest fear is that they won’t be able to find anything…that maybe it’s not Chiari or anything else they can pinpoint. But then there is also a slight fear that it is something else…something much more serious than Chiari.

My overworking, over-imaginative mind has created scenarios where I think, “Okay, so if he has to have brain surgery again and be without work for six or more weeks, did God foresee those challenges years ago and work in our lives to give us breathing room to help us survive financially? Was all of that for this?”

In the meantime, my heart hurts for my trooper of a husband who works so hard at his job and deals with unimaginable stress some days, and then mows the lawn, goes grocery shopping, and does pretty much whatever I ask…and he does all of it with a hurting head. I don’t know how he does it, and I wish I knew what I could do to make his life easier. He doesn’t complain. I have to pick up on his distress through the look on his face and the adorable but heartbreaking way he wrinkles his forehead. And tired of me asking how he is, he told me that from here on out I should just always assume he has a headache.

So tomorrow is the day. I’m looking forward to having some answers, and I know Ryan is too. The thing is, God is already there….He’s not just the ultimate business person; He’s the ultimate brain surgeon too. And if breathing room is what Ryan needs in his skull, we know our Father is more than able.  Because He loves Ryan, He loves us, and He’s done it many times before.

But if you think of it, prayers would be appreciated. :-)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sweet Harmony

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and we enjoyed a relaxing day at home, all three of us engrossed in library books and lounging in pajamas in our front room, surrounded by coffee and dark chocolate. The wild aroma of slow-cooked pulled pork filled our home, and the beautiful spring snow gradually shrunk outside our big living room window.

We woke up to about 10 inches of heavy, wet snow, and it was unfortunately too much for some of the trees up and down our street. Thankfully our tree survived, after Ryan trudged out in his boots around midnight and shook the snow off each branch. Since we didn’t go anywhere yesterday, this morning was my first chance to look at the neighborhood, and I was saddened as I drove, seeing all the broken branches hanging down. So many ruined trees. A tall, old willow filled the street and blocked a cul-de-sac, so city employees were out there dragging it away at 7:00 this morning. And just like that, the landscape of our neighborhood is changed.


On Saturday morning, Ryan took Ryley along with him for a few errands he had to run. They were listening to the radio, and she was singing along, as she always does.

“When Mommy and I are in the car, we always sing along with the radio. I try to find the harmony, and I can usually find it for one note. But Mommy? She can sing the harmony for the whole song!”

Ryan said there was so much love and admiration in her voice.

I remember feeling that same way about hearing my parents sing.

And my mom tells stories of how, as a little girl, she sat at her piano with a hymnal, trying to pick out the alto part for each song.

I took Ryley’s comment as a compliment—a rare view of myself through my little girl’s eyes. But it seemed to me to go deeper than that…to be a perfect metaphor of what motherhood truly is: the effort and goal of every mother to let her life sing for her children, and for that song to be a pleasant, harmonious sound. And because our kids love it, they mimic it, one note—one moment—at a time. With careful listening and practice, maybe they too can make their life a beautiful song.

More than just with the radio, though, she’s listening carefully to the things I say, to my musings loud, to my spoken inner thoughts, to how I treat people, to how I talk about people. That’s scary, actually. She hears my mistakes, my sharp and flat notes, my imperfect attempts at harmony.

But then, she hears the good notes too and she remembers them, and with every song, she tries to vocalize that harmony stored in her head and in her heart…the harmony she’s heard me sing a thousand times.

What a very important job we have. :-)

May our harmony always be sweet. And may it always last through the whole song.