Lessons Learned

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February 2, 2020

Seventeen months ago, I penned these words: “Some people have asked me, “What do you think God is trying to teach you by this?” My response has been that I am learning a lot by the experience, but I in no way believe that God caused this to happen. We live in a fallen, broken world, and our bodies simply break down. There are lessons to be learned…

Some of those lessons have been practical. I’ve learned not to put any plastic container between my legs to try to open it. It took a gallon of orange juice and a simple water bottle for me to get that one down.  It only took one mayonnaise packet for me to learn not to open it with my teeth. Finally, I discovered not to put my body weight while opening a door outward when someone is on the other side and opening the door for you. Yes, all those scenarios are pretty funny. I wish all the things that I’ve discovered were that lighthearted.

I have been educated about my lack of patience. If I were keeping a grade book, my current score would be a C minus. I still struggle with being demanding, and I know others get frustrated when I want something right then. I continually get frustrated when I can’t do something for myself. I now know that I cannot do two things at once. If I am walking and want to know what time it is, I go to my destination, sit down, and then look at my watch. Early on, I learned not to rush to answer the phone. It took a few falls for me to learn not to do that.

I am learning how to play second fiddle, and I don’t always like it. I have been humbled to know that I cannot always be in the driver’s seat. Last night I was (mostly) content by doing things behind the scenes for an event that I was instrumental in orchestrating. Sitting in the second chair allows me to help make the first chair shine. My role as Pastor is to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” ~ Ephesians 4:12 NIV. I am seeing leaders flourish as they take up the more upfront positions that I used to hog.

I have gained a bit of empathy.  I hate to see people suffering. Most of my career, I have done my best to avoid such scenarios. When my mother-in-law, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, was moved to a board and care home, I could not bring myself to visit her. I felt awkward about seeing someone with a disability. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I am seeing things in a much different light now. I am okay visiting with and praying for people who are physically suffering. I will never see a person in a wheelchair or using a cane the same again. I know.

I am thankful for lessons learned.

2020

 

January 5, 2020

We have now passed into a new year and a new decade. I am also moving into 17 months as a disabled individual.

The day after Christmas has been important in our extended family for many years now. The tradition is to walk on the beach together after a nice brunch in Pacific Beach. Last year, I stayed on the sidewalk while everyone else enjoyed our December 26 ritual. I remember thinking to myself, “next year, I will be able to walk on the beach with everybody,” that did not hold true.

As we finished eating, I suggested that I would wait in the restaurant until they were through with the walk. I wasn’t happy about it, but I did not want to spoil our 32+ years of history. My brother-in-law brought their dog, and the lifeguard told him to stay off the beach. I figured we could commiserate with each other (not about that walk but our mutual life-altering situations). Steve was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers last year.

As we began toward the pier, most everyone stayed with the two of us. Honestly, that meant a lot to me. That gesture helped me not feel as sorry for myself. God has been very good in the sense that my life was spared, yet I am still very frustrated at how this has all has played out.

There were victories in 2019.  I retired the wheelchair in June. I went back to work full-time in August, and I put the cane away in late November. Then after two falls in December, I decided that much I was trying to do was vane. I didn’t want to be seen as a disabled person. I hated meeting new people who would only know me this way, but once again, I was worried about optics.  The reality is I may never get much better. I am not giving up, but the fact is that I have plateaued.

It is very easy to get frustrated and throw myself a pity party, then God shows up and reminds me that he is good. The past week has been very refreshing. On New Year’s Eve, I had the honor of officiating a former student’s wedding in Utah.  Alex is 32 years old and a lawyer in Austin, Texas. I was both his seventh grade and eighth-grade teacher. One of his groomsmen, John, was also in my class. It was a bit surreal to see these 12-year-old boys grow to be such fine men.

This afternoon I attended Church of Hope in Aliso Viejo, where another of my former students (actually from my first youth group in Irvine) is the lead pastor. He invited me so the elders of this church could lay hands on me and pray. Another surreal moment, but oh so encouraging.

It is those gentle reminders, the friends who take care of our yard work, a note here and there from a former student, or a simple text message to let me know someone is praying for my complete recovery.

Just for fun, here are some things I have learned in the last 17 months:

 

  1. Never clean up orange juice with a rag and your foot.
  2. Waiting 15 minutes to walk to bed after you’ve taken Ambien is not a smart thing.
  3. A lot of people park in handicap spaces when they’re not supposed to.
  4. People are more likely to call you “Sir” when you are walking with a cane.
  5. You can’t open everything with your teeth.
  6. Strangers will go out of their way to help you’re when you’re disabled.
  7. Never wear pants you can’t shimmy out of when they are buttoned.
  8. Kids see beyond your disability.
  9. It is more entertaining if you do a little jig before taking a fall.
  10. Going upstairs by yourself at church is frowned upon.
  11. I should heed Jordan’s and Pam’s advice not to move chairs.
  12. Having an accident the week you begin driving again does not inspire confidence.
  13. My body is impatient. There is no more “waiting to go.” I learned this the hard way.
  14. Rails to keep you safe get very hot if they are metal.
  15. I don’t need most anything right this moment. I am learning to be patient.
  16. Locking my keys in my house makes life problematic.
  17. Asking people to tie my shoes is not that difficult.
  18. I need a lot of quiet time to calm overstimulation.
  19. I have supportive friends and an amazing wife.
  20. God is good regardless of what I feel.

The Expanse and the Atlantic Revisited

 

November 19, 2019

I will be first to admit my recovery posts have lacked a positive outlook as of late. There have been so few gains over the last three months, so when I spoke the word “plateaued,” in my previous blog entry, I was consenting to the idea that I was not going to get much better. I had been beaten.

When people ask me, “how are you doing?” I’ve tried to explain that some days are better than others. Well, today has been one of those better days. Today might be the most important day since I put away the wheelchair.

After arriving at work and saying hello to everyone, I sat down at my desk and made a decision. I was not going to use my cane until lunchtime. Practically speaking, this was not the right choice. The last time I crossed “the expanse” ( the space between my office and the main office), I got distracted and fell. I’ve grown weary of falling, so risking that is not something I relish. Nevertheless, I made that crossing at least four times before attempting to cross “the Atlantic” (the space between my office and the men’s restroom).

With cane in hand but not touching the floor, I set out to take those 50 steps or so (I am taking smaller steps than most). If someone would’ve been watching me, I probably would have been unable to take more than a few steps. I was overjoyed when I reached the bathroom door. I thought to myself, “You did it!” and that reality gave me the confidence to walk back to my office at a quicker pace.

Once back at my desk, I changed my mind about using the cane after lunch. I made the decision not to use it at all while I was in the office building. When leaving this evening, I walked to the doors and then planted the cane on the ground and congratulated myself on a job well done. I’m quite sure that I will sleep hard tonight. When I see my neurologist tomorrow, she will ask, “how are you doing?” and I will answer her with a more positive outlook.

I’ve learned to do numerous things that are handy with a cane. I guess I will have to learn to live without it.

Pressing On

 

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November 11, 2019

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. ~Philippians 3:14 NLT

I know that cherry-picking verses and applying them to personal situations is a poor exegetical model, but I’m going to claim it anyway.

A number of you expressed concern over my post last week when I said I was tired and frustrated. It has been 15 months; I am. That does not mean I have given up hope, or I distrust what God is doing in my life. It does mean that I am human and subject to emotions that sometimes seem antithetical to faith. I keep a mirror blog on WordPress that is titled Faith and Doubt (www.faithanddoubt.life). In no way doubt the existence of God or his personal interaction with his creation, but it does seem at times that people get lost in the cracks. Intellectually, I do not believe that that is true, but it certainly feels so at times.

A few months ago, my doctor and physical therapist both use the word “plateaued.” They said I could continue to experience gains, but they would be the exception, not the rule. My body had already confirmed that but, it was frustrating to hear.

I am walking better but very slowly. I still rely upon a cane. My left hand is still mostly useless. There are glimpses every morning of regaining functionality. When I am completely at rest, I find that I can move my fingers in ways that I cannot do what I am fully awake. I have to remind myself that I’ve had a brain injury. If I want to show you that I can point with my left hand, the response is for my finger to turn inward. It is all so bizarre.

Here is what I do know; there is purpose in suffering. I have had countless people tell me that I have helped them in their situation. I will take that affirmation. If God uses my position to help others, then I can find comfort in that knowledge.

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ~CS Lewis

One Year

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September 26, 2019

Yesterday was our 35th wedding anniversary. It was also the first anniversary of my stroke. Yesterday, I chose to honor the day we were married and not commemorate what has turned out to be the worst day of my life.

A year in, I still have questions that go unanswered. We had done everything right. We were in the hospital in 30 minutes, which was well within the safety zone for a TPA injection (a life saving, clot-busting medicine that can only be administered within a two-hour onset of symptoms). After being wheeled to the ICU ward, I laid in the bed and sobbed. I did not blame God but was sure that I would walk out of the hospital. Within a day, I could walk to the bathroom, and a few days later, I was able to raise my arms. I was convinced I had escaped dire consequences.

Because my doctors were unable to regulate my blood pressure successfully, they transferred me to a regular room in order to get the medication correct. I was feeling good and I was looking forward to being discharged. My release date was postponed because my blood pressure was too high. I began traveling down a road of despair. I felt fine, but they would not let me go home. When I was ultimately released, I walked to our car and got in on my own power. I was finally free to recuperate at home.

The drive home was uneventful. After the hour on the freeway, I struggled a bit to walk up our driveway. Our dog, Sam, was very excited to see me. It had been nearly a week, and I was looking forward to sitting down in my office and getting caught up. I am answered a few emails and got up to speed with the news of the day. Things felt like normal but, when I tried to stand I collapsed on top of the ironing board that sat next to my desk that I use for extra space (I am a flat space abuser.) Judy ran back to find me on the floor and the ironing board irreparably damaged. She had to call the neighbors for help. After getting back on my feet, we’ve decided to go back to the hospital on the same day I had been discharged. Once again, I began to travel the road of despair.

I honestly do not remember how many days after the second discharge that I found myself with a relapse of my symptoms. I could not operate my left arm nor my left leg. The decision was made to transfer me to a rehab facility in the city of Tustin. I would spend the next three weeks in intense rehabilitation. It is a weird feeling to be in a facility like that with mostly senior citizens. I would spend at least three hours a day re-learning to walk and learning to make use of what little movement in my hand that was left.

I was released from the rehab hospital on September 22, nearly a month from the stroke. I was frustrated in the hospital because of things I couldn’t do. I thought going home would be different but, I realized that I was just as limited and that was maddening. The next number of months were a cycle of faith and doubt, hope and depression. I cried at the drop of a hat. I did not want to participate in social activities even to the point I refused to go to our life group.

My primary care physician-approved me to go back to work part-time beginning on January 24. It was good to get out, but I was ill-prepared for how exhausting it would be. I gradually regained my strength and went to 30 hours, July 1 and full-time, August 1. I found humor in many of the situations that I found myself in at the hospital and in rehab. The reality of my situation has tempered that now. I have good days and bad days. The majority of the pain has ceased. I put away the wheelchair a few months ago, and I make myself walk, albeit with a cane.

I wish I could report that I have found victory in Jesus and have conquered depression, but that would be a lie. There are good days and bad, but I do believe the positive days outnumber the negative. I have deemed this time as pre-retirement practice. Judy has been an anchor through this storm. I understand the term, helpmate, more than ever. I am so thankful that God orchestrated the end of her career at Vanguard to coincide with my need to have her home. I do not like to throw the word ”Blessing” around, but that is what our time together has been.

I have somewhat plateaued in my recovery, but I do not believe I am through. If you are a praying person, please pray specifically on my left hand and arm, my ability to walk unhindered, and for Judy to find a well paying full-time job that can use her management ability.

God is good. I need to be reminded of that at times.

Recovery

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August 1, 2019

It has been a while since I last updated everyone on my progress. Things are still moving much slower than I would like.  Tomorrow marks eight weeks since I officially put away the wheelchair. I still have to use it if we’re going somewhere that involves a lot of walking, but for everyday use, it is no longer a viable option for me.  I am regularly wiped out by the end of the day, but it is a good sort of tired.

As of today, I am officially back to work full-time. I came back 20 hours a week in late January. In July I upped it ten more hours to 30 hours a week. As of August 1, it is back to full-time work.  About a month ago, I stepped back into my role with Route 56 (the ministry I pioneered two years ago for fifth and sixth graders.)  It was significant spending some time with them at Forest Home.  I hope to be well enough to attend winter camp with them in January.

Our church has stood by us throughout this whole ordeal. The leadership made up the difference while I was on disability and continued my salary through these months of part-time work. I am very thankful to be a part of the Mission Hills community.

One of the more frustrating limitations I have is the inability to use my left hand. It is incredible what you can do with your mouth to address this concern (my assistant came to my aid earlier today when she saw me carrying a water bottle in my mouth.) Pam Giali is my protector at the office, but I would rather have two functioning hands. Over the past week, I’ve discovered that I can open my hand when I wake up in the morning. It doesn’t last long, but it does give me hope.

In a few weeks, it will be one year since this occurred.  I want to thank everyone for your continued prayers as I continue to recover.

 

 

 

Summer Sundaes

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July 8, 2019
The wheelchair was put away nearly six weeks ago. I have not given in to the temptation to pull it out. Don’t quickly toss laurels my way; I made sure that it would not be easy to consent to my weakness by storing it in the trunk of the car or at the ever-crowded workroom at church. I would love to say that I am feeling stronger, but that is not the case.
 
There is not a day that goes by without someone affirming me and saying I’m doing “great.” I am not feeling it. There is no question that I have progressed, but it is so much slower than I ever anticipated. Back in October, I made a goal go to winter camp with my students. As that date grew ever closer, I realized that my attendance was an impossibility. As my students prepare for summer camp, I am in the same situation. I love camp, and I am disappointed about not being able to spend a week at Forest Home with my fifth and sixth graders. I do intend to spend a day and treat them to an Adventure Mountain Sundae. That has been a highlight of Summer camp, and I am excited to share that time with them.
 
The ninth Commandment says we should not covet (desire or envy) that which others have. The stroke has put me in the on the unenviable place of not wanting material things but rather watching random individuals walking. Most of us would never even give that a second thought, but at least once a day, I will see someone swiftly walking across a room or a jogger on the street, and my heart sinks.
 
I want to be done.