Meeting Miss Daisy

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It is our delight to announce to you the newest chapter in my therapy journey: Daisy Mae! Her story is lengthier than you might expect for such a tiny ball of cuteness, so grab your favorite cat (or dog?), and settle in.

Back in September 2016, Ivan let me foster and adopt a tiny feral kitten from the Humane Society in Riverside. Feral kittens need extra attention and playtime since they still have a lot of wild instincts (like biting and scratching) to work through, so when the accident happened in December it quickly became clear that Franz needed a different temporary housing arrangement. Everyone was spending all their waking hours at the hospital, and that level of solitude would have been enough to drive even a “normal” kitty a little frantic. So  a super kind friend of ours stepped in and took Franz (craziness included) to live with her family and their two big kitties. As the spring months passed by, we kept running into medical barriers to prevent us from taking him back. Initially it was factors like my compromised immune system and high blood thinner dosages, then the safety hazards of kitten versus wheelchair , and finally the uncertain transitional period where I was learning to walk on my own but wasn’t steady enough to navigate around anything small on the floor (much less small and moving). By this time we knew we were most likely heading for San Jose at the end of May, and had no idea what our final housing situation would be – or if it would be cat friendly. At this pivotal moment, Franz’s foster mama once again stepped in and saved the day by offering to keep him permanently. This brought so much happiness and joy to my heart because 1) I HATED the idea of sending him back to the pound or giving him away to a stranger and 2) I knew Franz would be super safe and happy with his cat friends and human family that he’d been living with for the past 6 months. Also, there was a good chance he wouldn’t remember me after that length of time anyway  and would be upset by leaving his foster family that he’d bonded with.

So, backstory complete, we fast forward to the end of July, when one of my therapists asked about the possibility of my getting a pet. She believed the “therapy pet” would help me in a lot of ways: 1) it would keep me company during the extended “alone time” I was starting to face with Ivan back at work and my parents resuming their normal church activities 2) it would provide another layer of responsibility and challenge for me to handle as I continue taking over my old wife/homemaker responsibilities and 3) it would add a new level of stimulation for my brain to begin accepting as “normal” at home.

And providentially, that very same week I got to meet little Daisy. She and her brothers were being fostered by a family at Hillside, and her cuteness melted my heart at first sight. Reassured that she had a quiet, sweet disposition and was already being loved on and trained by her foster family and their other pets, Ivan approved Daisy as my new “therapy cat.” We waited another month till she and her brothers were old enough to live  alone  in their permanent homes, and she joined us this past Saturday. So far she is turning out to be the perfect blend of cuddly naps and gentle play (I am still on blood thinner, so absence of biting is important!), and she presides over my daily home therapy practice with interest but sans interference. Daisy and I also both sleep a lot, so you might say it’s a match made in cat heaven! Giving thanks for great things from this little cutie ❤

In Honor of Nine Months..

 

Today is exactly 9 months since the accident. Thank you all for walking with us so long! ❤ In honor of making it this far, I wanted to share with you a brief devotional video. Ivan was asked to record this last week so he could share part of our experience – and some of the things we’ve learned – with other Conservatory teachers at Valley Christian. It was an honor for him to get to share in a new capacity, and we were very grateful for that opportunity!

Pain: Allowing vs. Investing

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It’s rather funny that it’s almost 9 months after the accident and this is my first post dedicated to pain. Obviously, pain and I have been pretty good friends for a while now, in one way or another. I haven’t written about it until today, however, because I didn’t know quite what to say about it – to myself first, much less other people. When I say “pain”, I’m actually talking about two separate categories: physical and mental/emotional.

One of the reasons I’ve been so confused is that when I started my “getting better journey” I had one strategy that I assumed would work equally well for both categories: distraction (aka staying busy!).  Distraction is actually recommended for physical pain…as in, when you look at the clock and realize you have at least another hour before you could possibly think about taking more medicine, the only relief left is to try to find some activity which absorbs enough of your brain power that it doesn’t have as much energy to process and respond to those pain signals that are so  pertinaciously making their presence known. Mercifully, my early “survival” days ended a long time ago; although physical pain still pops up regularly, it’s now easily controlled with medication and therapy.

My mistake lay in assuming that my heart would work just like my brain did. In other words, I believed that by distracting my brain with activities and counting blessings, I could simply skip over the fact that in spite of all our blessings (and believe me, I know that they are numerous!), I have also lost a lot. And that loss hurts.  I was desperately afraid of allowing my heart the time and space to hurt because I could guess how bad that might feel. Not only that, but I also felt guilty about acknowledging the pain. Guilty because so many people have lost so much more than I have. Some people lose their mind, or part of their body, or (most scary to me) people they love. Or don’t have a place to live. Or a place to work. Or, don’t know God at all and have to face all those terrible things completely on their own. Somehow, I feared that acknowledging the realness of my own pain (the first true step toward heart healing) would minimize or disrespect those other tragic circumstances in some way.

However, as Ivan and I have dialogued (one of his favorite words!) about this over the summer, I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that my initial strategy was misguided. My first purpose as a human being is to serve God, and I can’t serve Him to my fullest ability if my heart is still unhealed. So, allowing pain to be real so my heart can truly begin to heal is actually a good and necessary decision. Which brings me to the second word in the title of this post: investing. It turns out that the thing I was actually afraid of doing (and rightfully so!) was investing in pain. Investing looks like a lot of things. Maybe investing looks like embracing the very tempting untruth that my pain is unique and somehow above everyone else’s pain…and therefore the world should revolve around me. Maybe investing looks like feeling so depressed that I give up on my activities for that day. Maybe investing simply looks like being so wrapped up in my own feelings that I’m distracted and unengaged during my Bible reading. Unfortunately, I have ended up falling prey to all of these forms of investing at some point or other – just this summer alone.

Nevertheless, God’s grace in Christ is enough to cover all my failures and enable my life to be about the big picture journey instead of every individual mistake along the way. So, in the big picture: learning to allow myself to feel and process pain honestly, but without investing in a negative and self-centered mindset, is a critical skill. A skill I’m very much still learning. But my big picture goal is to develop the ability to feel pain while continuing to invest in the good things God loves. And in truth, this “allowing and investing” is really just my Millennial talk for  the age-old concept of “sowing and reaping”, which ties back to one of my new favorite Scriptures:

“Because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit [of God] will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially those who belong to the household of faith.” ~Galatians 6:8-10.

A new TYPE of learning…

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Left hand fingers at work!

 

This may surprise you, but….I just learned how to type normally again in the last couple of weeks. A announcement which seems weird on a lot of levels, I know. Obviously I have a blog, and I’m pretty up to speed on texting and Facebook messaging too. So what’s been going on this whole time?? Especially since, at least recently, I’ve been down a right thumb and wrist as well as a left hand. Well, just to get the phone point cleared up right away, Siri is my friend. I approached our relationship with a healthy amount of skepticism at first, but she’s been decently accurate on the texting and messaging front for just about 9 months now. So thank you, Siri!

And that brings us to computer typing. I remember at the end of January when one of my therapists sat me down in front of a computer and asked me to type something…anything. I stared at my left hand for a while and finally tried to aim one finger at a key and drop my whole hand toward it ( somewhat reminiscent of a missile). I missed. At that time I couldn’t move any of my left fingers independently and I couldn’t feel them, either. Clearly not the ideal combo for a star typist. But on the other hand, there was the blog…and I’ve always loved writing ever since I was a small child. So yes, up until last week I’ve typed every blog post using just my right hand. More recently, after my right hand issues started becoming more problematic, I’ve reduced using my right thumb and have often just created posts using the other four fingers on my right hand.

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So anyway, back to our main story: when my occupational therapist sat me down in front of a computer 10 days ago and asked me to try typing using both hands again, my expectations were minimal to say the least. You can imagine my and Ivan’s surprise when my left hand fingers started moving. Moving independently, and moving accurately. True, I still can’t feel them, but it’s amazing the number of things it’s possible to do using just your eyes and a whole lot of concentration! Every new step of progress is a gift from God as well as a gentle reminder to be open to what He views as a successful recovery. I used to obsess over whether or not I’d ever get feeling back in that left hand again…. but recently, I can’t remember the last time I gave it too much thought. Who defines “successful”, anyway? For now, I think regaining skills – and/or learning unconventional ways to adapt around the missing ones –  is the best measure of success. My newest picture of a successful recovery is achieving some basic priorities for my life. Priorities like trying to keep a nice home for Ivan on my own. Priorities like being able to take better care of myself by myself, with the goal  that Ivan can focus on work and look forward to a relaxing and (at least somewhat) normal evening when he comes home. Priorities like learning to type again, with the hope that I might have a chance to finish my own education one day too. And if that’s success, then God has been pouring it into our lives in abounding measure. Including independent left fingers!

When your brain does T-Rex arms..

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T-Rex arms!!!!

 

It’s Monday, and I’m here to  (hopefully) add a little humor to your day! Remember a year or so ago when it was trendy on Facebook to make fun of T-Rex’s? Or, more specifically, to reference the awkward and seemingly useless T-Rex arms?  People dressing up in T-Rex suits or getting friends to inadvertently “do T-Rex arms” by jumping out and scaring them was remarkably popular. Well, I’m doing my best to bring back the T-Rex trend!  At least on the individual level.

Not to wear out an already tired topic, but the main reason I haven’t made many public appearances yet, is…surprise…brains take a long time to recover! My brain is fantastic with generating sometimes bizarre – and usually undesirable – reactions to being placed in an overstimulating public environment. One of its old tricks that has made a recent comeback is (drumroll please!) T-Rex arms. For those of you who might be more technically-minded, my version of T-Rex arms is actually a neurological response called posturing, which can be summarized as “an involuntary flexion or extension of the arms [or] legs, indicating severe brain injury.” Since my family has been kind enough NOT to photograph me during a T-Rex moment, I added the picture at the top to give y’all a visual aid. 😉 One funny component about these incidents is that besides being involuntary, I also am usually not even aware that I’m doing it until someone tells me. Thus, the humorous (well, at least after it was over) incident below:

Last week Mom was taking me to therapy in the afternoon, but we both decided we wanted coffee since we were running early (shocker!) and didn’t want to sit in a waiting room forever. Mom suggested I try to go in with her since 2 pm is not a peak coffee time, and short excursions to quiet places are actually part of my therapy homework. So I followed her inside, feeling pretty optimistic since we were only ordering to go and probably wouldn’t be there for more than 5 minutes.

Me: takes deep breaths and finds a point on the counter to focus on.

Mom, after a couple of minutes: “Umm.. can you stop doing that?”

Me, looking up at her: “What am I doing??” Then looking down “Oh.”

Behold, a perfect set of T-Rex arms!! After leveling a determined glare at my right arm, I succeeded in forcing it back down to my side after a couple of minutes, but unfortunately my left arm was less  obedient and remained stubbornly glued to my chest. Our coffees happened to be ready at that precise moment, however, so we made a prompt exit and Mom gently pulled my left arm down outside. Looking back, I have no idea how bizarre we must have looked if anyone happened to be watching, but thankfully neither of us was pondering that at the time.

The good news is that T-Rex arms don’t hurt me in any way: they’re just a bit odd, definitely awkward, and sometimes embarrassing.  Also, unlike some other classes of patients, I’m blessed that mine only make cameo appearances under certain conditions, rather than being permanent. So for now, my current philosophy when trying to go out is:

 

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It’s off to work he goes!

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“Mr Utomo” is in the house! 

 

Today marks the end of Ivan’s first week of full-time work at Valley Christian Schools (VCS). This week has been crazy to take in on a lot of levels. First, being at VCS at all is an answer to more prayers than we can count. Looking back to February, we began to realize more fully the long-term status of my situation, which led to fearful contemplation of where we would end up after Ivan graduated. The miraculously ideal situation in which we find ourselves now never crossed our minds. Not once. So, to say we are still in awe of living 5 min away from my parents (and Kaiser!), 10 min away from both Ivan’s job and church, plus Ivan’s new status of full-time music teacher, which has always been his dream…is an understatement. I never thought “awe” could be an understatement, but I’ve been corrected 😉

So what does this look like on a practical level? Ivan will have regular school teacher hours during the week, as well as working with the VCS marching band on Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons. As we’ve mentioned before, my brain is not a fan of any sort of change in routine, so getting used to  a different schedule (and less Ivan) is still proving tricky. But, thanks to some promptings from therapy (writing out the day’s activities during breakfast is life!), as well as lots of forethought and love from both Ivan and my parents, I can honestly say at the end of our first week that it went better than expected. Thank you, Lord!

Mom has once again stepped forward to save the day as therapy chauffeur and activity planner, as well as sharer of plenty of yummy dinners so “Chef Ivan” can be off-duty many nights. Thanks, Mommie!

And this last paragraph is for you, Ivan! I can’t thank you enough for throwing yourself into your new job whole-heartedly, yet bearing with me as patiently and sweetly as you always have. From keeping up with all those chores that I still can’t do, to helping me plan my days at home, to comforting me and calming me down when my brain acts up…you’re off to an amazing start! This new teacher gets an A+ from me ❤

New Brain Status Results!

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Three weeks later…ah, those visual-spatial skills! 😉

 

Grace: Last Wednesday, Ivan took me in for my 6-month neuropsychological evaluation. For those of you who might be wondering, neuropsychology is “the study of the relationship between behavior, emotion, and cognition on the one hand, and brain function on the other.” Don’t feel bad – I definitely had to Google that one too! 🙂 The short story is that the right frontal-lobe brain injury (TBI) I suffered at the time of the accident, combined with the damage from the 2 strokes, produces…well…issues. As in lots of issues. The projected recovery time for my level of TBI is 2 years, but during that time I am being followed by neuropsych to monitor the healing process as time passes. So, I had one test back in January before I was discharged from the hospital, my 6-month follow-up was last Wednesday, and I will have a concluding series of tests in December 2018 to determine what my final level of brain function will be, as well as to identify any permanent deficits that may remain.

So…what exactly happened last Wednesday? I had a four hour series of tests. Four hours. And by tests, I mean active tests, not passive medical testing like an MRI or a blood test or something. The questions were endless: computer tests, memory games, vocabulary, math, puzzles, and much much more….thankfully, so much more that I don’t even remember most of it at this point!  I don’t think I ever took four hours of tests in college or when I started grad school, so it is both humorous and odd to me that they decided to use that method to test an injured brain. But oh well, I’m definitely not a doctor, and I digress…

Ivan: The term the neuropsychologist used to describe Grace’s current condition is a “neurocognitive disorder”–that is, Grace is having cognitive difficulties caused by neurological reasons. At this point, Grace pretty much looks perfectly fine from the outside; but this term is a good reminder that Grace still has a lot of healing that needs to happen on the inside, in her brain. At the risk of stating the obvious, this healing is physical healing–not merely emotional, behavioral, or volitional. Throughout the two-year window of time that Grace mentioned, the brain will actively continue trying to heal itself by re-establishing the complex network of connections that make it possible for the different parts of the brain to communicate with each other.

This morning, Grace and I met with her neuropsych doctor, who went over the results of the intensive testing from last Wednesday. From the tests, he was able to gather that Grace had a very high-functioning brain before the accident (I could’ve told him that ;)). He was then able to compare Grace’s current condition to her “old” condition. What we discovered is that Grace’s intelligence, specifically her language skills, are pretty much just as solid as before. The areas which have declined are her mental processing speed and visual-spatial skills. Grace is now slower at processing incoming information, and slower at producing synthesized information. She also has a hard time making sense of visual information, which, for example, means that if she looks at a menu at Peet’s, she might as well be looking at hieroglyphics.

From our therapists and other doctors, we have also learned that Grace has lost the ability to filter out extraneous information. For example, if you were sitting in a coffee shop reading a book, there might be all sorts of conversations going on around you, machines would be making all sorts of noises, music might be playing through the overhead speakers, but you would be able to tune all of that out in order to focus on your book (or you might put in some earbuds and then read). Grace’s brain has a hard time doing that..imagine if your brain was trying to make sense of each and every bit of noise, sound, information, stimuli in a crowded public space…it would simply be too much.

Grace’s sense of time has also been impaired–five minutes can sometimes feel like twenty, making it even more difficult to “survive” in certain public situations (even church..). It can also be understandably stressful to not be able to gauge how long any given task will take. You or I might think, “Today I need to do this, then that, then this, then that, and I should be done by such and such a time.” But with impaired time perception, maybe it might feel like you only had ten minutes to do your taxes!

Fortunately, with most of the cognitive “speed bumps” listed above, the neuropsych doctor explained that these are typical for people with severe head injuries. Though he can’t tell how much Grace will get back, he was fairly certain that Grace will continue to recover throughout the next 18 months or so. Grace and I, and our families, are grateful for new information and insights which will help us better understand and navigate through our situation. We are, as always, ever more and more grateful for your love, prayers, and support! And we will continue trusting in our loving, sovereign, faithful, powerful, gracious and merciful God. To Him be the glory! 🙂

When you need a third hand…

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Splints accumulated since moving to San Jose…

 

Hi everyone! Grace and I would like to share with you an aspect of her recovery that we haven’t posted about before: her right hand. As we know, Grace’s left hand was affected by the stroke, so that she has no sensation in it and has been working through therapy to learn to use it without the sense of touch. Since her right hand has been her only usable hand throughout the past seven months or so, this has led to the development of some injuries in her right hand and arm, presumably from overuse. There is also a possibility that some of her current pain is a result of trauma from the initial impact–at the time of the accident, Grace was carrying her violin case in her right hand. Some muscles or ligaments may have been damaged, but given Grace’s critical condition at the time and no external warning signs, the right hand was not a super high priority.

Around the beginning of March, Grace started experiencing pain around her right thumb and wrist. Her occupational therapist in Riverside diagnosed her condition as De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, which is swelling of the thumb tendons located in the wrist. She gave Grace a splint to wear, which is designed to immobilize the tendon to allow it to rest. When the first splint didn’t help, she gave Grace a second kind; but after 10 weeks that area still hurt.

When we made it up to San Jose, we explained our situation to a sports medicine doctor, who gave Grace a cortisone injection to help relieve the pain and inflammation, as well as a third kind of splint to try. As Grace and I started occupational therapy in San Jose, our new therapist spotted that it was not just Grace’s thumb tendons that were swollen, but that the swelling went all the way up to her elbow tendons. She subsequently tried ultrasound therapy on Grace’s right arm and wrist, and gave us a fourth kind of splint, but after four weeks, the pain still hadn’t gone away.

So today, Grace and I saw a hand surgeon for a consultation to see if she had any new information or advice. She explained that sometimes it takes multiple cortisone shots before we can see any effect. (As a brief aside, the normal progression to heal from De Quervain’s is splinting, then cortisone shots, then a surgery that creates space around the thumb tendons, allowing them to heal more quickly.) So our choice was to try another cortisone shot (which, Grace tells me, really hurts) and see if more time will help her tendons heal, or to go ahead and do the surgery. From the doctor’s perspective, there wasn’t a “better” choice necessarily, since short of surgery no one can guarantee the desired outcome. However, the surgery would mean Grace could not use her right hand at all for at least six weeks, effectively leaving her without the use of either hand. Given this dilemma, we decided to try another cortisone shot, along with a fifth kind of splint, while scheduling a surgery date in September in case this second shot doesn’t work.

Please pray for Grace during this time! She has worked so hard at her therapy and “homework” exercises, in order to get stronger and better, and she has done all of that while trying to “rest” her overused right hand as much as possible. Grace has a very high pain tolerance level, so if she says something hurts, it definitely hurts bad. As always, we are trusting God to guide us step by step, but there are moments when we’re more tired and worn out than at other times. This also reinforces the fact that recovery is not linear–there are ups and downs! But we’ll keep walking step by step with our gracious and merciful Lord, and we can’t thank all of you enough for walking with us! Thanks again so much! 🙂

We Made it 7 months!!

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Physical therapy – San-Jose style!

Grace: It’s so crazy to think that today marks exactly 7 months from the accident! It definitely seems more like a lifetime ago. And, on the subject of 7’s, the past 7 days have brought us through another transitional period, including highs and also a low, that ends with us writing this post from our new apartment, after spending our first night there last night!

Low: Ivan was in Indiana for all of the past week attending a Music For All Summer Symposium. Haha, well actually this might count as a high for Ivan (we’ll see what he writes below!) since it included music and travel and was his first official job assignment from Valley Christian (VCS), but from the wife perspective…I missed him far more than I could possibly write here. Any change in routine is difficult for me, plus the fact that he’s been by my side continuously since December, plus the fact that we’re married. So yeah.

High: Therapy officially started back this week! In case I haven’t said it here before, I actually love therapy. As always, we continue to be amazed by the quality and quantity of care available here (for example, getting 60 min personal sessions here vs. 60 min with a group class in SoCal).  It’s been so refreshing to be able to discuss realistic neurological recovery goals as a young adult instead of just being guided by traditional benchmarks that were drawn from an older age group (75% of strokes occur in people over the age of 65). So we were feeling lots of hope last week!

High: Family support! I enjoyed my final week at my parents’ condo last week…I can’t say enough about how amazing our month-long stay there has been. Obviously, I love them just because they’re my family (plus they own a cat!) , but they’ve been serving and supporting us the whole way since December… and then went super above-and-beyond this week: taking me to Kaiser multiple times, helping get the last details of our apartment fixed up before Ivan got home, being patient with me when I had episodes or was just struggling with Ivan being gone, planning fun activities to pass the time…not to mention helping Ivan get to and from the airport in spite of his inconvenient flight times. THANK YOU GUYS!!!

Final High: Ivan is safely home now!!!!! ❤

Ivan: Wow, I can’t believe it’s been seven months! Going through this accident and all its ramifications is like stepping to the other side of a transparent curtain…once you’re on the other side, you can look back on your “previous” life, but everything looks different now, and you can’t go back. Good thing we have an omniscient, omnipotent Shepherd to follow! 😉

To borrow a quote from a certain famous hobbit, it’s probably safe to say that lately Grace and I have felt a bit like “butter scraped over too much bread.” Our mental and physical energies have been pushed almost to the limit, and at times it feels like we are constantly pushing a boulder up a hill, only to see the boulder roll down again…but we are discovering that through the Spirit of God there is always an undercurrent of grace in our lives that produces renewed strength, moments of peace and joy, and thanksgiving.

I spent last week at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, learning about the wonderful world of percussion! As a pianist, it was fascinating to jump headfirst into what seemed like a whole new world, a different sub-culture of music than what I was used to, but I was very grateful to VCS for allowing me to attend, to help me prepare for some of my teaching duties this upcoming year. I was so proud of how well Grace handled this past week! It wasn’t a smooth ride the whole way through, but she put every ounce of effort she had into it and God brought us back together again last Saturday.

This may be a good opportunity for me to give an overview of how Grace is currently doing, at the seven month mark. As we continue to work with medical professionals toward Grace’s long-term recovery, we are still gaining new information and insights about our overall situation. Here is what we know: orthopedically, Grace is doing well! The bones in her legs have healed well, and Grace has been able to walk on her own, without assistance, for at least two months or so now. The original prediction was for September. Praise God! While she probably will experience pain in her legs for the rest of her life, nowadays we have only minimal continuing care on the orthopedic front.

The issues that remain are neurological, and cognitive/behavioral. On the neurological front, Grace still has no feeling in her left hand, which limits the extent to which she can be an independent adult (personal care, cooking, household activities, etc.). Through therapy and lots of hard work, Grace can move the fingers of her left hand, but without the actual sense of touch most things are still too dangerous to do.

The cognitive/behavioral side of things is probably the most complicated to try to explain. The traumatic brain injury (TBI) that Grace experienced affected her frontal lobe, which has affected her ability to process and structure information. Specifically, Grace still needs an outside source/person to help her know what to do next. Also, too much information/stimulation still causes her brain to “shut down”–hence, no church attendance yet. All of this is difficult to describe using words, and even I am still learning the best ways to help provide structure for her on a daily basis.

Some of you may have wondered: “How can Grace write so well in her blogs if her brain is still injured?” The answer is that, thank God, the part of her brain where her intellect and natural gift for writing is found has not been damaged (as far as we can tell). It is located in a different part of the brain than the part that was injured.

So Grace is still Grace. She is still kind, God-focused, incredibly smart and talented, funny, extraordinarily perseverant and hard-working, and beautiful in every way possible. She tries her best in everything she does, and is choosing patience every day. I could not be more proud of her. I think only God will ever know just how hard the challenges she faces every day are, but I am honored that I can walk with her. Thank you all for continuing to walk with us! At this point, Grace’s recovery will progress at a much slower rate than initially, in the first couple months, so there may be more time in between updates. But we will continue to trust God and rely on Him, and we will always be thankful to know that so many brothers and sisters in Christ are continuing to lift us up in prayer! Thank you all. God is good! 🙂

30 Sundays Away From Church

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Once upon a time…I went to church!

 

 

Yesterday marked my 30th Sunday not in church….I could be wrong, but as far as I can remember, the most consecutive Sundays I missed in my “previous life” was 2.

One January afternoon, I remember asking Ivan to see if he could check me out of my rehab hospital to make it to church that Sunday.  Obviously, I was too foggy to process that I could barely transfer from my bed to my wheelchair, much less make it in and out of a car and through a service at a church that was 45 min away. He said no. (Also, I’m pretty sure the hospital would have said no for him in case he was wavering.) But anyway, that marked the beginning of this 6 month journey of figuring out how to worship God consistently on my own, apart from the communal gatherings I’d known my whole life. Thankfully, even though church is an essential part of growth and accountability and encouragement, God lives in hearts, not in church buildings. And, being sovereign and omnipotent, He knows that there are varieties of reasons why someone may not be able to attend church regularly – and provides for those needs too!

For me, the initial barrier seemed mostly physical, but after I learned how to navigate with my wheelchair – and eventually walk – we realized just how much neurological/brain healing must take place in order for me to handle all the sights, sounds, and interpersonal stimuli that come with attending church. So what have I been up to spiritually, then? 

Well, Step 1 was to learn to listen through a sermon or podcast-type thing at home. It took me a while to be able to focus enough to make it through an entire one, but I did! And I can now say I’m pretty hooked on Alistair Begg’s 25 min. Sunday evening podcasts. Step 1.5 was getting reacclimatized to listening to music – including praise music. It’s true that I’m probably biased from my violin background, but it’s amazing how just one song can totally reset your attitude and uplift your outlook on the day.  And then there’s Step 2: praying. Pretty important, right? I was surprised at first to notice that my mind got lost rapidly whenever I tried praying on my own. I could make it through a short “Thank you for the food” or “please help this appointment to go well”, but that was about it. Enter: the Psalms! Thousands of years ago, God provided a whole book of prayers written down for us to meditate on and worship through. Well, verse by verse, they reminded me of things to say “thank you” for – or request – and they also ended up being great templates to follow as I tried to exercise my “prayer muscle” and make it through longer prayers on my own. The great news is that not only did this “prayer therapy” work, but it also ended up being such an uplifting and inspiring exercise that I plan to keep up with it indefinitely now. Step 3 would be actually attending a service! While the estimated timeframe for achieving Step 3 is still pending, every Sunday is one Sunday closer!   in the meantime I’m thankful for the hope of  God’s nearness that He constantly offers…even when it calls for unorthodox approaches.