I have been told repeatedly that sharing your personal story of life, of transformation, of loss, of struggle, and of joy is important and beneficial. I know that hearing others tell about their life is inspiring, encouraging, and even thought-provoking for myself. Hopefully, reading my story below will help you, if even just letting you know that you are not the only one who feels like you do.
Quick background - I had a decent childhood, two parents and one sibling and usually a dog around; went to church and Sunday School and youth group, private schooling then public high school; nothing really outstanding except my brother's teen and early adult years of addiction that caused some interesting high school years for me.
Fast forward a couple of years, to my personal rebellion, to find myself 21, unmarried, yet with a new born baby boy. Isn't it interesting how we say "I found myself...", did you really find yourself, didn't you realize what you were doing in the first place and that those actions might have consequences (and ultimately blessings)? Well, yeah I guess I lived a life SAYING I believe in Jesus, but saying and LIVING are two different things as I have grown to understand. Being a single parent isn't easy for anyone and harder for someone who "leaned" on church "family" that didn't really help until after the child is born and they realize I'm not going away. Did we survive? Yes. Did we thrive? No
In my early 20's, as a single parent, I went to church, participated in a First Place Bible study (group weight loss Bible based), and found a good guy that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Woohoo! John and I dated, got engaged, got married, had a daughter, and life was looking good. Got pregnant again, had the normal marriage discussions about kids, money, jobs, etc. Pulled into my driveway one early evening and watched my life change once again - with a great big bang. (Warning! Warning! You may feel tugs at your heart and tears in your eyes as you continue to read--if you don't like that stop now :))
As I drove into my driveway that evening with my two kids and six months pregnant with the third, I saw my husband...face down on the ground and not moving. I ran out of the car, hollered for my then six not quite seven year old to come help me roll his father over, called 9-1-1, and proceeded to try and perform CPR on my husband whose face was gray and body, heart, breath was unresponsive. EMT's responded, we headed to the hospital (please people, when you see and hear an ambulance, get the HE-double hockey sticks out of the way!), in an attempt to save John's life. It wasn't to be. God called him home that day. And I found myself a single parent once again. With two kids and one on the way. As I look back on that day (3/28/01), I think how in the back of my mind I "knew" John was gone - from that gray face to just the feeling of the presence of death. The hardest phone calls I had to make where the ones to his family. The hardest time was making it through those days. My husband was a jokester and liked to play harmless pranks and tell me jokes - he made me laugh. I remember we held his visitation on Sunday, April 1st - April Fools Day. I stared and stared at the casket, willing him to sit up and tell me it was all an elaborate April Fools Day prank. I never got that last laugh.
Looking back on 2001 and the few years directly after John's death, I can firmly see God working in my life as He guided my path towards Him. "You are so strong" and "what a strong woman you are to go through your ordeal and still keep going" and other strength comments were made to me at that time by friends, family, and even strangers. I can honestly say, as I look back, that I was not the strong one. I was in a season of weakness, a time of emptiness, a time of helplessness. In my weakness, Christ's strength was shown. Christ is how I continued to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. Christ is how my kids and I survived those first few years. Because honestly, life was a fog, a dense cloud around my head, I barely knew what steps to take, as I could not see the path. For the faith the size of a mustard seed, Christ's loving arms pulled me through. And sent me a small "wake up" call in the form of chronic illness.
November 2006, just before Thanksgiving, I started having trouble rising from a chair, achiness in my hands, and achiness/soreness in my hips. I assumed overweight and getting older (I mean I was the ripe old age of 34) until it didn't pass and became worse. Thankfully, it only took about four weeks and three doctors, to rule out Lupus, Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder, and arrive at the well-known diagnosis of Polymyositis. I'm sorry, what? You've never heard of it. Me neither. In short, Polymyositis is an auto-immune disease that causes muscle weakness usually beginning with the muscles closest to and within the trunk of the body - neck, hips, back, and shoulder. Besides muscle weakness, thickening of the skin on hand, weakness in fingers and toes, along with experiencing muscle pain, breathing problems and trouble swallowing are some of the fun attributes. Initial treatment for me, included prednisone (probably the most wonderful, dreadful Rx available - just my honest opinion) and various tries of immunosuppressant drugs. I've gone from a daily of 80 mg of prednisone to 10 mg and bounced back up over and over again. Gratefully, I met a rhuematologist through a friend, who was more committed to getting the disease under control through both traditional medicine and natural alternatives. And who worked with me to accomplish my goal of removing Rx drugs from my treatment plan all together. Through using essential oils and natural supplements and consistent prayer requests to friends and family, I thankfully state that I have been Rx drug free since July 2014!
I called being diagnosed with Polymyositis as a "wake up" call, because it led me to begin to participate in my life again, if solely to figure out how to keep myself well and alive because I had others depending on me. And its a good thing, God gave me this call, as life is not a rose garden.
I firmly believe that God was preparing me for the next step in my life. Through losing my husband, I learned that life isn't guaranteed, there will be suffering, and God will always provide. Through my wake up call, I learned to be self-aware and intentional in what I did for myself and my family. In May of 2012, I added the diagnosis of Rhuematoid Arthritis to my list. This wasn't surprising as those with one autoimmune disease are very susceptible to gathering others. In the year preceding, I watched my eldest, Kyle, experiment with drugs, excessive alcohol drinking, staying out late, and generally being a teenage pain in the ass. I thank God, that He kept pursuing Kyle and pulling him back, and that God let me see that Kyle's faith never wavered. He realized that drugs and alcohol weren't the way to go and he needed to finish high school so he could move on to changing the world his own way.
Thursday, October 11, 2012 - is another day in my life that is life-changing, almost indescribable, full of unthinkable suffering, and reflective of anticipated, expectant assurance. I went to sleep the night before after saying bye to Kyle and his girlfriend as he left to drive her home. I woke up at 2:00 am and sat up straight, not understanding at the time what woke me. I checked the kids, realized Kyle wasn't home. I wasn't worried because this was not uncommon and I figured he fell asleep at the girlfriends house watching a movie. I'd see him later that day. I went back to bed and arose as I normally would to get the younger children off to school and myself to work. Not long after arriving to work, a phone call from a friend asking about Kyle, saying she heard he was in an accident, sent me into a frenzy trying to figure out how I prove it wasn't him. I didn't even know what I was trying to show wasn't Kyle. I pulled up the news stations that I was told had a story of a high school senior who lost his life that morning, at 2:00 am, in a single car accident. Shook my head and said no, please no. I then proceeded to call an HPD officer that I knew, had one of my managers calling her contacts, all to figure out what was going on because no contact had been made to me. When an officer tells you "ma'am, you need to call the medical examiner's office" - you really don't because you already know what they are going to say. Yes, I confirmed the death of my 18 year old son via the phone, from the medical examiner, and then by the police chaplain. I made phone calls to grandparents and family and went to my other kids school to tell them.
The hardest days lay ahead as I tried to plan a funeral, as I tried to navigate my way through the pain, as I tried to find blessings to be thankful for, and joy in the suffering. Friends - loyal friendship. Kyle had the most interesting of friends whose lives he touched by being a true, loyal, give the shirt off his back friend to. Family - wrapped their arms around us and loved on us. Touched and inspired - there have only been a few times when I've seen a church over capacity for a funeral - Kyle touched and inspired a great many lives in his short 18 years with us. Thankfulness - I was blessed to be his mother for a short time, that no one else was in the car, that he didn't suffer, that I KNOW I will see him again when its my turn to go home to Jesus! Now please don't think all these thoughts came to me immediately and I was joyous in suffering from day one - I wasn't. It took a while. Yet the difference in this day and the day John died is huge. Intentional hope. I use that phrase because I was intentional in my relationships with others. I was intentional in growing my faith by going to church and seeking out where Christ was telling me to go. I was intentional in making sure I did not stay home and sink into depression. I was intentional in relying on the HOPE I have in Jesus. You see, God is the only one who could and can empathize with me. He's been there. He's lost His Son. In fact, He chose to give Him up, to sacrifice Him. For me. For you. Jesus is my hope, because of Jesus' death and resurrection I am able to bank on the fact that I will see Kyle and John again one day because I am not lost to death. I am alive in Jesus.
More to come on where we are, transformations my family has seen and more...