Residency Respite

This past month has been a residency respite for Isaac.  Working in a Lancaster clinic provided normal eight until five/six work hours.  It was the first month in a year and a half in which Isaac was given weekends off, and the unscheduled time was most welcome.  For the first time in a very long time we were able to schedule time to go on a hike, visit my grandparents to provide them with help around their house, and attend church together four Sundays in a row.

The general stress of the past few months has been difficult and has kept us constantly on our knees in prayer.  Isaac needs to decide quickly if he will specialize after residency in order to direct his research over the next two and a half years, and it is stressful making those life and medicine decisions.  With my frustrating job search, financial strain, decision to return to school for nursing, and decision to pursue spinal surgery, the stress and emotions have been high.

Due to my declining neurological status and back health, to have Isaac more accessible this past month was providential.  We were both feeling the exhaustion of eighteen months without consistent time together, and I was needing a husband who had the time to help with dishes, cleaning, etc.  However, tomorrow starts a new schedule back in the hospital – back to one day off per six days worked, later nights, etc.  And four weeks later I plan on kissing him goodbye for a month due to his rotation.  But we have this past month to carry us through….to build up our bank of dinners together, time spent dancing in the kitchen, and to store it for the months when we don’t have those things together.

Yet in the midst of the turmoil, pain, and unknown, we have seen God faithfully working in our lives – moving, growing, and changing us ever more into his likeness.  At times we have felt the past few years have been a giant storm; a constant set of circumstances that have held us on the precipice.  But we are seeing the way these storms are challenging us and shaping us.  Our marriage is growing, we are growing, and we are in the midst of having some serious conversations about what, where, and how it looks like for us to live out the calling on our lives.

And until the day I regularly see my husband at the dinner table or have weekly guaranteed date nights, I will treasure these moments and times that we share.

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(Our “date night” to do work and study together while drinking coffee! We love this place!  It’s where we first studied together while in school.)

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Residency

Eighty hours of work. In one week. Most of us work forty hours. And eighty hours is a generous number – there have been one hundred hour weeks, or weeks with eighty hours of work and another fifteen of working on research, case presentations and studying for patient’s cases.

While most of us complain about working a five-day work week, my husband always works six. And for half of the year, he works twelve days consecutively before earning two days off. Most of us get to choose when and how we use our vacation days, in order to take advantage of a long weekend or short break when we need it most. Isaac gets to take vacation twice a year, for two weeks each time. It’s a wonderful two weeks, but sometimes he has to endure nine months between any kind of break. Holidays mean nothing in a hospital – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter – they function like any normal day. And residents don’t get holidays off. And do you get to leave at the end of your “shift”? Not in his world. It might be his time to sign out and leave after a twelve or fourteen hour day, but if a family has questions, he stays around for an extra hour to assuage all concerns. His job and responsibilities are constant and ever-present.

My job is to help him succeed through residency alive and thriving – some months we achieve that better than others, depending on the demands the hospital places on him. I try to feed him delicious food as he often doesn’t eat at the hospital when he gets busy, keep him encouraged by visiting him when we are on opposite shifts, and be a listening ear for the days that overwhelm him. It’s not always easy on this side. Residency take its toll and demands more of a family than can ever be imagined.

While I write this, Isaac is working a thirty hour shift. Straight. As in, thirty hours in one shift. His shift started at 6 a.m. today and ends somewhere around noon tomorrow. On that note, I will sleep and go to bed praying for his sanity and strength.

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Siblings

Siblings

1994 and 2014. We are wildly older, and so much closer as siblings!

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A Story and a Reminder of Faithfulness

This is a story of something that happened three years ago, in October of 2010.  It’s changed me in so many ways.

That Friday morning began like most Fridays – rushing off to an early morning of work with a strong cup of coffee in one hand and a change of clothes in the other.  I woke up exhausted, but that had become standard in this season of life.  I was working full-time, then driving an hour to coach collegiate soccer, and then nurturing a three-week old relationship in the minimal free time that was available.  But by mid-morning that Friday, the exhaustion had turned into a general feeling of being unwell.  I was restless, fatigued, reacting mechanically, moving in slow-motion cognitively and not feeling like myself.  And without knowing why, I sent a text message to my friend Jen, who is an ER nurse, telling her I didn’t “feel right.”  Within seconds, she told me drive to the ER because she was in triage that day and would be able to put me in a bed immediately.   And without truly having a reason, I left work and drove to the ER.

Jen immediately triaged me upon arrival, and I remember not being able to make extensive conversation with one of my closest friends.  I felt dazed, exhausted, or just confused. After taking my vitals, Jen walked me back to a room and sat me in a bed.  This is where my own memory stops and everyone else’s accounts fill in the next several days for me.  Soon after being placed into a room, I began having a massive seizure.  And not the slight twitching kind of seizure.  I was experiencing a massive grand mal seizure, to the point that multiple ER nurses and “big guys” (or so I’ve been told) had to hold me down in order to place multiple lines.  Jen found my phone and called Isaac, my boyfriend of three weeks.  All she told him was, “Chrissy is in the ER, you need to come now.”  She also called my parents, who were away in Virginia to inform them that I was very sick.  My Mom, being a nurse, told Jen to keep them updated and they would decide if it was necessary to come back home that night.

The major problem was that the seizure wouldn’t stop.  Tests were ordered quickly – bloodwork, a CT scan in which people were holding me down in order to get a clear picture and prevent me from injuring myself, and many other tests.  There was no readily obvious reason I was seizing.  But the longer I was seizing, the more at risk for permanent damage I would become.  I was quickly becoming unresponsive.  And despite trauma usually intubating with a glasgow coma scale rating of 8, Jen asked them to wait longer to see if things would improve.  Eventually, with the situation continuing to destabilize, Jen called my parents to inform them that I would be intubated and that they should make the five-hour drive back to Pennsylvania.  I was intubated, and Jen manually breathed for me with an Ambu bag.  Despite the ED pushing as many medications as possible through several lines, my seizure would not stop.  And so they called the MICU team to come and help put me into a medically induced coma.  At this point, physical and emotional exhaustion hit Jen.  She stepped out of the room and collapsed in tears on Isaac and two other friends who were sitting outside of the room.  For a brief moment, they thought I had died.  But Isaac snuck a peek into the room and still saw the monitors on and knew that all would be well.

The MICU team came down and put my ravaged body into a glorious coma, ending the seizure activity.  While I was unconscious in the ICU, friends and family began to gather in the waiting room, taking turns sitting beside my bed.  In all, over sixty people came to visit me and pray for me over the course of a few days.  It wasn’t until late into Friday night that my parents arrived and talked some of my friends and boyfriend into going home to sleep.  While the ICU team did more tests  on Saturday to determine the cause of the seizure, they had my Mom do some research.  They had her call the two pharmacies I used to see if I had been put on any new medications.  And with one phone call, a medication was found to generally be the culprit.  With other tests being negative, the doctors decided to “wake me up” on Sunday.

The process of coming out of a medically induced coma is slow, and I was talking to people before I remember being able to talk.  There is a distinct memory stuck in my head of Isaac running into the room and flinging his arms out wide while shouting “you’re awake!” He then bent over and kissed me for the first time.  That same night we told each other we loved one another, just three weeks into our relationship.  And it was during that week in the hospital that I knew Isaac would be the man I would marry, in part because he wasn’t scared by the medical uncertainty that my life brought with it. Over the next few days, people gently and slowly told me the story of what happened so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed.  I didn’t learn most of the details for months.  But I was told enough to be overwhelmed by Christ’s faithfulness in my life, as evidenced by the fact that my life was spared when there was no explainable reason I should have lived.

I almost didn’t go to the ER and almost went home instead.  I would have had the seizure at home, where no one would find me for hours.  And I almost decided to drive to soccer practice that day, in which case I could have had the seizure on the road.  Jen didn’t have to answer her phone at work, and was almost never in triage – but that day she happened to be available to put me in a room when I needed it most.  And why did I text Jen in the first place that I didn’t feel well?  I never did that!  There are so many what-ifs.  The only thing of certainty is that I serve a great God who protected me and saw fit to prolong my life.  His grace is amazing!

The next three months of recovery were difficult and frustrating as I was unable to work, and even ended up in the hospital again.  And I still suffer some effects from that seizure and its damage to my brain.  But now I am married to that boy who wouldn’t leave my bedside.  My family is closer and more precious to me than ever.  And my friends hold a dear spot inside of my heart.  Most importantly, life has been a continuing lesson on my need for and dependence on God.  Life is good.  God is greater still.

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Glory through Suffering

If you are near a Bible, check out 1 Peter 5:10-11

 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

These verses resonate with me because while they promise suffering, they don’t necessarily promise a mindset of suffering.  God’s Word is clear about one truth: we will suffer, it will not be easy and none of us are exempt.  However, as this above passage illustrates, God’s Word is also clear about not allowing these sufferings to consume our lives.  Despite our suffering, our Savior promises to create within us strength and a steadfast spirit.  Our life doesn’t have to be our sufferings in every facet, but the redemptive Christ can take our pain and allow it to become an area for ministry, a tool for sharing how our Savior is working and growing in us, and a means for bringing glory to the only One who is deserving.

This week has brought more trial, more suffering and more questions into my life.  On Monday night I suffered a seizure here at home.  By God’s grace, Isaac was home to quickly protect my head from repeatedly hitting the floor and to call 911.  And by God’s grace, I didn’t need any life-saving measures taken this time.  It was three minutes long, which is much longer than I would like for my brain to be struggling.  And it took almost fifteen minutes for me to become aware of my surroundings and to be able to comprehend what Isaac was saying.  We aren’t sure yet what triggered this seizure and are working on preventing more in the future.  This entire week has been spent recovering, resting and trying to feel “normal” again.  While I spent the day on the couch repeatedly puking and unable to move, I continued to pray that all of the post-seizure effects will quickly diminish.  If they don’t, I am continually at risk for another seizure.  Truthfully, that terrifies me since they have almost killed me before.

But there are things I still know to be true and are resting in:

1. My God is in control, despite the seemingly out of control nature of these occurrences

2. God is always glorified and magnified when I choose to depend on him and point everything back to his sovereign hand of power and control.

3.  Pain and suffering are redeemed by Christ every day.  My job is to trust him.

4.  God loves me.  This instance doesn’t make it less true.

5.  Am I allowing my life to reflect Christ in everything that I do and in everything that occurs?  If I am, God will be glorified.

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Loved Like Crazy

Lately my heart has been encouraged by Ephesians 1.  I’ve been reading and rereading the truths and promises in this chapter, and just clinging to the knowledge that God IS working in my life.

Grab your Bible and check out Ephesians 1.  I’ll highlight some of my favorite verses here.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ. In him we were also chosen.  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth.  You were marked with a seal.”

Now read Ephesians 4:1: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

I’m going to do my best to explain some things. I’m sorry if it’s not well-detailed or written.  According to Ephesians 4, God has placed a calling on my life and heart.  What is that calling?  To live in line with who Christ intended and created me to be.  I am a daughter of the King, and no longer a slave to the world and it’s standards.  When we commit our lives to Christ – choose to be in holy bondage and slavery to him –  we have to choose between living a life in slavery to what everyone else says we should be, or living in the freedom of Christ. It’s a daily choice to live in the reality of who Christ made us to be.

So who has God made me? That’s where Ephesians 1 comes in…if you dig deep, you will see truths of who Christ has made you, the promises he has given to you, and the spiritual blessings you have inherited through him.  I’ll start the list…  Christ blessed me with every spiritual blessing, he chose me before the creation of the world, I am redeemed by God – I am His, all of my offenses are forgiven, I am predestined in love, God reveals to me His mysteries, I am included in all Christ is doing, I am marked with a seal (the Holy Spirit), and I am God’s possession!

The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in me!  That power is the resurrection, God giving me life and changing me daily.  That Power has called my name before even the earth was a solid form, that Power loves and redeems me – and redeems all of my pain, that Power blesses even my darkest moments with his truth and faithfulness, that Power has marked me with his own kingdom seal (the Holy Spirit) to represent the inheritance that waits for me in Heaven, that Power daily declares my worth and value because of His love for me, that Power has made me an integral part of the Kingdom, including me in all that he does.

I am valuable.  I am loved and I have worth.  I am God’s chosen daughter.  Beloved.  I am the 1 sheep out of 99 that Jesus went searching for.  The person he died on the cross for.  The daughter for whom he is preparing a home because he cannot wait for me to spend eternity beside him.  I  am his perfect creation – he saw me and made me the exact way he envisioned me!  Every hair, every gene, every toe is His creation!  My identity is Christ and all of those beautiful things that He has made me to be in Ephesians 1.  I am defined by his love and acceptance of me, by his grace and faithfulness, by his promises and forgiveness.  I am not defined by my career, husband, family, friends, my athletic ability, and my passions in life.  I am defined by a wild and beautiful Creator who is safe, but not always gentle.

It’s hard to believe these things when life gets painful, or my own plans for my life do not come to fruition. But that doesn’t make them any less true.  These are truths that need to be worked down deep into the heart and recesses of the soul until I believe them with the very core of who I am, until I really do believe that I am God’s most precious possession next to His own Son.    He is good.  And he loves me like crazy.

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Opening Clenched Fists

There are days and weeks that take the life and energy out of me.  I’m left exhausted and burnt-out, wondering what I’m supposed to do to get my legs back underneath of me.  Life can press in hard.  Painfully.  Relentlessly.  For the past ten years life has pressed in hard; chronic illness has been my constant shadow, I’ve dealt with the pain of dreams realized and then shattered, of traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, and the humbling experience of being at the cusp of death and being a given a second chance at life – twice.  The past year has been gifted with an abundance of physical pain and emotional struggle.

When those moments of pain and heartache are placed in my life, I have a conscious choice to make.  The struggle can shatter my world and paralyze life.  Or, I can choose to  find strength in my greatest Treasure.  I’m simple, ordinary, fragile, and human.  I have nothing to offer, no strength of my own to conjure when I can barely walk, and no unique resources or emotional balm to soothe my aching soul.  But I have a Treasure inside of me, inhabiting a simple vessel, a jar.  That jar is fragile, prone to being broken and crushed.  But the thing inside of the jar?  It’s the very resurrection.  Living.  Breathing.  Lifting me out of my fragility and brokenness and providing a way to endure the hardships without being destroyed.  And dare I whisper it – the resurrection is bold enough to redeem the pain.  All of it.

And so I give myself over to the Treasure.  I surrender all of my fragility and mortality and put my earth-self to death so that Jesus may be made preeminent in my life.  This is a process.  But I can get scared and selfish and take things back and have to surrender them all over again.  Surrender is a lifestyle I have committed to live.  God is pursuing me relentlessly, demanding everything and asking me to live with open hands.  And so I open clenched fists.  He takes away.  And it is good.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

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