What A Pain

It’s a hard topic to write about–too few details and the writer seems vague and stoic, too many and the writer seems self-consumed and whiny.  I pray I’m able to write my story and encourage others without being either.

be kindThis is a tough topic because in light of so much death and tragedy in the world, it feels wrong to even speak of something non-terminal.  I, thankfully, have not experienced a terminal illness or sudden death of an immediate family member.  The all-consuming pain and grief of such a loss is something I can’t relate to, and would never try.  I have, however, come to understand the frustration and exhaustion of a chronic illness and would like to open the hearts of others to what it means to no longer be “normal.”

So this is my story–how I went from a carefree, active mom to a woman forced to choose activities according to the day’s energy and pain level.  Enduring a chronic illness has changed my life and personal perception of others who suffer.  I no longer see them as people filled with excuses, rather they are filled with a desire to be “normal” while living in an abnormal body.  I’ve come to understand it’s not pity they want, but understanding.  I’ve joined their ranks and in doing so have been properly humbled.  But it is in this humility and weakness that God’s power is made perfect.  And I’m learning to be OK with that.

 

The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

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 Two years ago I woke to feed a crying 4 month old, and felt severe pain in my hips and left heel.  Plantar fasciitis and sciatica are common conditions during and after pregnancy, so I just chalked it to being postpartum.  The next morning, I began a familiar self-treatment routine– ice, Advil, lots of stretching, and a super-sexy night splint for my foot.  In the past these efforts were effective, but after eight weeks without relief it was clear I was going to have to see a doctor.  Dang it.

At the time I had a short list of doctors I saw regularly–an OB, a dentist, and an optometrist.  That’s it.  And honestly I only ever saw them when it was absolutely necessary, like when “1-800 contacts” would reject my expired prescription or I needed a qualified person to deliver a baby.  I just didn’t frequent doctors’ offices–who has time for that?

I started with a podiatrist, and after 3 months of tests, he basically diagnosed me ‘a hard nut to crack.’  Actually he diagnosed me with bone marrow edema and said, “Wow, I’m so sorry we couldn’t help you.  Bone marrow edema is really painful.”  Thank you, Dr. Obvious.

I was simultaneously seeing a chiropractor for my hip pain, but his treatments were also coming up short.  I remember at the height of the hip pain telling my husband I didn’t think I could manage the stairs at our church and we came up with a drop-off plan that included no stairs for me.  We are talking severe hip pain.  Limping.

When it was obvious to me that something more was going on, I began researching medical literature on my own.  Being a nurse, I became my own case study, mapped a detailed history of my health, and examined each red-flag along the way.  I read about any condition that fit my profile, desperate to find out what was wrong.  I would joke with my husband saying, “If this wasn’t me having to experience it, this medical research would actually be interesting.”

My research findings, along with my chiropractor’s urging, led me to a GI doctor to rule out inflammatory bowel disease, which has been linked to joint pain.  There I was lucky enough to experience firsthand what I’d been sending patients off to experience for years.  (PS, fellow nurses, that gallon of lemon salt water does not taste better over ice, and I repent for every time I told a patient it did.)  My GI visit was uneventful and nothing showed up abnormal.  Half a year had passed, and I was getting quite anxious to find some answers!  Instead, back to the drawing board.woke up

I continued with chiropractic treatment, and he ordered more tests for unlikely but possible culprits for such severe hip pain, like osteoporosis or avascular necrosis (dying bone.)  It was when several small joints in my fingers began throbbing he decided it was time for me to see a rheumatologist.  A rheumatologist?  That’s a specialist for people with real diseases, and I was skeptical, because I was perfectly healthy–except I’d now been experiencing unexplained pain for about 8 months.

The rheumatologist was all business.  She tapped on her laptop as I recalled my full medical history for her, then ordered a gamut of blood tests which included Lyme Disease (common to this area), Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. When everything came back normal I was relieved, but also frustrated–I needed an answer.  She prescribed an oral anti-inflammatory commonly used for arthritis (Mobic), which I initially protested taking.  With her gentle poker face and beautiful Indian accent she said, “Let’s just see what it does for you, okay?”

I returned for my follow-up a month later a new woman. “WOW!  I feel so much better!  I can’t believe that arthritis medication worked!”  That’s when she broke it to me, “I believe you have Psoriatic Arthritis, that is why it worked.  Your history supports this diagnosis, and we need to start you on something to prevent joint deterioration as soon as possible.” (Did I mention she has a killer poker face?)  My thoughts went something like, “WHOAH, lady.  I do not have a disease.  I’ll take your little medicine, but I DO NOT have a disease.”

I went home and read everything I could about Psoriatic Arthritis.  Still in denial, I made an appointment with a dermatologist so together we could prove the Rheumatologist was crazy–this was really my plan.  Contrarily, he confirmed that I did indeed have very mild psoriasis and the joint pain I’d been having was indeed Psoriatic Arthritis.  He recommended I go along with the treatment.  I went home and cried.  Not because I was wrong.  Because I had a disease.

my immune systemPsoriatic Arthritis (PsA) is an auto-immune arthritis usually found in patients who have psoriasis, a skin rash.  A similar auto-immune arthritis more people have heard of is Rhuematoid Arthritis (RA.)  In simplest terms, an auto-immune disorder is when your body’s immune system attacks itself causing inflammation and destruction to the body.  Auto-immune diseases are more common in women, particularly those of child-bearing age.  In the case of PsA, joints and tendons are attacked, and without intervention, devastating joint deterioration can occur over time.  Lucky for me, my rheumatologist was not-so-crazy after all, caught this early, and prescribed medications to slow the progress of the disease.  The moderate pain still lingers, however, and it’s this daily reminder of my disease that has power to steal my hope.

This journey has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life.  Trying to juggle my family and manage this has brought me to my knees at times.  As I said, I’d never compare it to more harsh disease treatments and outcomes, but the reality is my life has changed and I–along with those around me–are having to adjust.  I’ve enjoyed a life of physical agility and strength as long as I can remember.  This condition has taken away some of my independence; I now have limitations where once I had few.  Now, people I love are affected, because quite frankly there are times I don’t have the physical strength or emotional energy to “deal” because the pain is so intense.

But even with all that, this new way of life has afforded me something I don’t think I’d have otherwise–a richer realization of my utter reliance on God.  Unfortunately, when things are going good, we humans tend to put our hope in those things.  We say our ultimate hope is in God, we even believe ourselves. But when you get down to the nitty-gritty, our hope is in our independent ability to control our destiny.  When the Lord allows an affliction in your life, you realize just how little control you ever really had.

Enduring this has been a lesson in hope.  Hope is much more powerful than I ever realized.  With every attempt at healing, I gained and lost hope that the “normal” me will ever return.  For months I thought I’d wake up one morning and be able to say, “Well that sure was awful, glad it’s over.”  Hope for healing comes and goes.  But I have never lost an ounce of hope that my God hasn’t left me or removed His hand from me just because I’m enduring hardship.  I’ve cried to Him, questioned Him and flat-out begged him to take this away.  He hasn’t taken it away, but no less potent is the HOPE I have that this pain is only momentary, but His love for me is eternal. I can rest knowing His love for me is the greatest need of my soul, and that I have that and nothing can take it away–this is my Hope.hope

I pray that in some way this post blesses you.  I’ll end with this wonderful quote from C.S. Lewis.  For the someone in your life who suffers–physically or mentally–I pray you’ll find grace to show them sympathy and understanding.  And I pray they’ll reach for and cling to the love of God, the most potent healer of all.

“when pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge,

a little human sympathy more than much courage,

and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

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Doodle Bug

I love cute stuff.  Even though I’m not nearly as “girly” in everyday life as my designs might suggest, I simply love cute stuff.  Sometimes people will tell me, “Your designs are so ‘cute’.”  I love that, because did I mention I love cute stuff?  But I never want the conversation to end there.all you need is LOVE

Each doodle and painting–no matter how “cute”–has a purpose behind it to outlast cute trends.  My hope is that a design would comfort and encourage the recipient.  Some designs are made for those facing trials, while others are made to celebrate life’s joys.  Music has always been a big influence in my life, and many designs come to me while listening to good music.  But all designs are from a deep place in my heart, and are intended to please not only the eye, but the soul.

LOGO BIGTake for example the simple logo for A Little Happy.  When I realized God was going to slowly grow this blog and hobby into a ministry I decided it was time to choose a logo.  Some people see this as a daisy, but it’s actually (supposed to be) a sun.  Originally the outside was orange, but I changed it to blue, representing the hint of sadness that often surrounds me in life when depression hits.  The little smirk says, “I’m okay because God’s promises are still true.”

saved by graceOne of the first Bible verses I doodled was Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. It is the free gift of God.”  Sitting by the pool in the summer of 2013, I doodled “Saved By Grace” in my sketch pad.  Upon seeing a life preserver nearby, I knew that was the image I wanted attached to this verse.  The perfect reminder that I am rescued by God’s grace.

I often draw reflections of my home state, Mississippi.  The first Mississippi design was doodled on some old Kindergarten-lined paper.  I was just doodling cotton bolls and kept going to create this fun collection of things that remind me of Mississippi. The cotton, the river, the coast, the capital and the Choctaw tribe.  I never knew I’d end up selling this as a print!  If I had known, I may have cut it into a more exact shape, but it is what it is–a doodle on Kindergarten-lined paper.

One particular season of life I found myself strapped for time and pulled in a million different directions.  I just wanted to slow down, and in my quiet time one day doodled a snail.  I named him “Slowpoke” then began looking up scripture references for my new friend. slow poke

While many verses can complement Slowpoke, Jeremiah 2:25 hit home.  It reads, “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” That’s not all, however, it concludes with, “But you say, ‘I can’t quit! I’m addicted to alien gods.'”  Now this is some scripture that calls you to self-examination.  Ouch, I like it! 

I like having visual reminders of truth all around me, it fulfills the need to be reminded where my hope lies.  Much of my personal home decor carries a spiritual theme, be it a Bible verse, decorative cross, or inspirational painting.

I used to be very intimidated when a person’s home was decorated this way, thinking surely they’d “arrived” to feel confident enough to display their beliefs so boldly.  But over time I’ve learned people of faith don’t display messages of truth because they are these things.  They display them because they know how quickly they can forget these things, and follow “alien gods.”

When I place Joshua 24:15–“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”–prominently in my foyer, I’m not proclaiming my little family has “arrived” or perfect.  I’m proclaiming we are a family in constant dependency on God, who is perfect.   JESS BIRD SCAN
I was once taught a proverb that says, “Place something for the eye to see, so the heart will remember.”  That proverb pretty-much describes what I want A Little Happy designs to do.  In fact, that’s what this ministry is built on–using words and images to help people remember their only true source of happiness is God’s enduring love for us all.
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These designs and many others are available on canvases, magnets, note card sets, and select designs on t-shirts.  If you know of a charity that would like to partner with A Little Happy, or needs a donated item for their charity event, please email me.  And be sure you come see me on October 18 at the Wesson Flea Market!

 

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I’m Talkin’ Mississippi

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time you know I’m a proud, homegrown Mississippi girl.  Back home I’m a dime-a-dozen, but here in my DC suburb I’m somewhat of a unique specimen.  Just when I think I’m fitting the mold, I open my mouth and blow my cover–I’m not from around here.

babs

Lord, yes.

Sometimes it gets really awkward how “not from around here” I am.  Who knew the proper term for something falling over wasn’t “tumped?”  Certainly not me.  You mean “sprawled” isn’t a verb used nationwide for things being spread-out?  Absurd.

Occasionally, I even have to stop and explain common Southern sayings.  The conversation skips a beat, and that’s when I realize I’ve used language that’s routine among my people, but basically gibberish to the rest of the world.

Once at the bus stop, moms were discussing that they hadn’t seen a certain neighbor in a long time.  I replied, “You know, I haven’t seen them in a month of Sundays.”  From the quizzical expressions, I knew a proper definition was required, and followed up with, “It means a really long time.” 

Sometimes people just nod their heads in agreement, bless their little hearts.  Like the time I told a friend I wasn’t going to attend an event because it was just “too much sugar for a nickel.”  She wholeheartedly agreed, but later texted, “What did you mean about the nickel and sugar?”

MIXED MISSISSIPPI_0004

Ruth 1:16

I explained I think it means “too much of a good thing is too much.”  But sayings like these were inherited, and quite honestly there was some mystery–even to me– to the idiosyncrasies of my vocabulary.

Very often I find myself talking differently when surrounded by different accents.  It’s not to fit-in I assure you, it’s more like survival of the fittest–I just want them to be able to understand me.  If left around non-Southerners too long, I’ll begin speaking in a quick, precise, somewhat nasal manner.  Yes, I said nasal.

Contrarily, my drawl thickens when I’m back home visiting.  A few days into one particular Mississippi visit my oldest child said, “Mama, you’re really talking Mississippi.”  This has become a family quote.  Whenever the kids hear anyone with a Southern accent–whether it’s on a cartoon or in the grocery store–they get so excited, “MAMA, THEY’RE TALKIN’ MISSISSIPPI!”

When I was a little girl, my daddy wore a t-shirt supporting Wayne Dowdy, a Mississippi politician.  The campaign slogan read, “I’ll always remember who I am, where I came from, and who sent me.”

MIXED MISSISSIPPI_0002

Mississippi Mud

I loved that shirt, and even as a child carried a strong sense of pride and honor coming from the unique state of Mississippi. No matter what form you find me in–nasal or nostalgic–I’m always sure to throw in a promo for my home state.  I never ever want to forget who I am, and where I came from.

People probably get a little tired of me always “talkin’ Mississippi.”  That’s OK, because I get tired of being from a state that’s often underrated and overly scorned.  Some folks will never be lucky enough to see how great my state is–her hospitable people of all races, beautiful beaches and bluesy Delta.  When I’m talkin’ Mississippi, I’m just doing my part to make sure when folks meet me, they meet Mississippi.

MIXED MISSISSIPPI_0003

Feels like LOVE to me!

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Slowpoke

As a daughter of the Deep South, a question I am commonly asked is, “Do you miss living where life is slow?”  I usually just grin and say, “I do.”

usa porchI imagine the inquirer is picturing my family back home–casually rocking on the front porch while sipping sweet tea, nothing better to do than wait for the sun to set.

And while the South is famous for porches and sweet tea, the “slow-living” stereotype is somewhat of a myth.  People in the South are often just as inpatient, rushed and busy as people up North.

slow poke

Meet “Slowpoke.” He’s my reminder to slow down.

Regardless of geography, it’s an individual decision how you are going to live.  I’ve lived in small towns and been insanely busy, yet lived in large cities taking it slow and simple.

Sure, there are factors that cause more stress in larger towns–traffic, cost of living, etc.  But the truth is each of us has to make a personal choice to slow down.

Even with a packed schedule, you can have a stillness inside your soul that refuses to buy into a culture that reeks of stress.  I dare you to stop dreaming about the day you’ll sit and sip sweet tea on a porch, and slow down where you are.

 

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Spilled Milk

This morning I gave my 2 year old a half-full cup of chocolate milk.  Somehow I didn’t foresee this ending badly.

spilled milk

 

No more than 3 minutes after receiving the drink I hear Benjamin say, “Oooohhhhh. I make mess.”  I came in to find the entire contents splattered across the floor–the floor of my in-laws beautiful beach condo.

There was absolutely nothing to do but take a deep breath and grab a roll of paper towels.  I knew this outcome was possible when I handed the drink over to a feeble-handed toddler.  But I made the choice anyway, and now it was time to pay the price for my decision.

chochocspillAs I glanced down at the spill I noticed the pattern was actually a great life-lesson.  There’s the obvious centrally located mess–the area where the cup landed and the majority of the milk collected.  But feet beyond that, the mess extended to the smallest of droplets, and even these tiny sticky specks have potential to cause problems if left unattended.

When you make a mistake, the damage isn’t confined to you and you alone.  An unwise decision made in haste, a word spoken harshly, or a careless action.  Look closely, people and things around you get splattered and careful clean-up is necessary.

When our words or actions lead to a mess, cleaning up that mess is the right thing to do.  A responsible person recognizes their fault and how it affects people and things around them.  A loving person finds ways to repair and restore whatever damage–no matter how large or small–occurred.

God hasn’t called us to a life of carelessness, but of self-control and sound mind.  Paying careful attention to the full extent of the spill is necessary when cleaning up chocolate milk, and any mess in life.2 timothy 1 17

God also didn’t call us to a life of fear, shame and guilt.  Which is why once the spill is clean, it’s clean.  Glory to God!

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Move It And Lose It

Eight weeks ago we moved.  Although it was just down the street, the same moving process had to occur as if we were going cross-country.  As I dug through boxes day after day I began to fall into anxiety.  Having anxiety over a disorderly home isn’t something I’m proud of, but something I’m still struggling with.we're moving

I realize it’s a petty concern compared to more serious life issues, but it’s a real issue for many people.  When I talk to other women, particularly, they also harbor frustration and shame that the state of their home could cause so much distress.  The disorder of unpacking reminded me of a good truth my husband said to me years ago.

When Bradley, our oldest, reached the mess-making age my husband got a full glimpse of my issue with disorder.  Up until then, I had full control over the placement of each toy and blankie.  I wouldn’t go to bed until everything was in its place, so that the next morning I could awake to order.

box headsOne afternoon JD found me in tears as I struggled to sort toys and regain control over my domain.  A much more laid-back housekeeper, I’m sure this behavior was unbelievable to him.  But instead of chastising me or calling me what I was–a control freak–he said something I’ll never forget.  “Macie, it’s OK.  Nothing here can’t be undone.  It can all go back to the way it was.  Try to relax.”

This is a small glimpse into a huge truth.  Life is full of different ways to ruffle your feathers and even steal your feathers completely.  Time and time again families are hit with circumstances that leave them feeling as though there is no hope–as if it can never be undone.

But over and over again the Bible speaks of the Lord’s authority and victory over disorder, injustice and yes, even death.  Throughout the Old and New Testament verses speak of a Lord that will come and “undo” every wrong that was done to His creation.

Nothing, my friend, can’t be undone.

 

The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces;

he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

Isaiah 25:8

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Standards of Measurement

Tonight while loading the dishwasher I noticed my husband had yet again placed bowls on the top rack.  I have repetitively asked him to put bowls on the bottom rack because, in my expert opinion, they don’t come out as clean on the top.

proper dishwasher loading

Oh. Apparently the bowls DO go on top.

I wondered as I worked how I could nicely remind him of my request.  My wondering turned into speculation that he probably never even listened when I asked him to do this simple thing.  My speculation turned into resentment–how could he neglect to do this one simple thing?

As I moved the bowls from the top to the bottom rack, my brooding thoughts came to a sudden halt as I recalled a few things he’d asked me to do recently that didn’t get done.  When I stopped accusing long enough to see both sides of the coin, I realized how much I fall short.

My life illustrated.

My life illustrated.

My husband asks me to do small tasks all the time, yet sometimes things aren’t completed the way he asked, and sometimes not at all.  It’s not because I didn’t listen, or because I’m intentionally neglecting his requests.  Things just fall through the cracks–that’s how life is.

I privately forgave him, as this whole exchange took place silently in my head and heart.  The truth is, if I’m going to hold him to a standard of perfection, then he has a right to hold me to that same standard.

So many relationships–of all kinds–end because we allow these silent exchanges to cultivate into a full-blown irreconcilable difference.  So many relationships are riddled with drama because we hold others to a much higher standard than we ourselves could ever meet.

I know this won’t be the last time I start down a path of measuring another’s performance by a perfect standard of measurement of my calibration.  But I know by the grace of God–and the gift of the Holy Spirit guiding me–next time I’ll be a little quicker to stop and dole out grace instead of judgment. From now on, I’m not going to worry about where the bowls are.

For in the way you judge, you will be judged;

and by your standard of measure,

it will be measured to you.

  Matthew 7:2

 

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