By the sound of crickets here on the blog, you’ve probably speculated that my life is either full and busy or it has collapsed once again.
It’s actually been a mix of both.
I kept intending to write, filling the Moleskin journal in my purse with idea after idea, but I was “too busy” to pour my heart out in a post. Every mom in America can relate to my simplest excuse; it was the beginning of a new school year. The back-to-school list, especially for five kids –three moving into new places in three different college towns –would have overwhelmed a healthy mom, let alone me.
On top of this, I was offered the volunteer position of Learning Support Specialist at my daughters’ school. My giddiness was uncontainable. I miss my high school English students, the content, and my colleagues terribly, so I viewed this opportunity as an olive branch from God. I am not, and probably never will be, able to work full-time. I just don’t have the stamina, but this, this idea, felt doable. In fact, it felt perfect. All the best aspects of my old job wrapped into this one, tied with a glistening green and gold St. Pat’s bow: the writing process, literature circles, newspaper class, grant writing, web administrator, public relations. This particular olive branch was custom-cut for me.
Volunteering at my daughters’ school proved refreshing in so many ways. Transitioning from high school students who are sooooo over this whole learning thing to bright-eyed children hanging on your every word is restorative in itself. But add to that, the women I get to work with?? Oh my, sent from God himself to lift me up and remind me that I still have purpose, even if it isn’t in the life I’d imagined. This team of teachers is unlike any I’ve ever encountered. They take genuine pride in one another’s successes; there is no jealousy when one receives special recognition. They talk about their kids as if they truly are their kids, and whether they had the student three years ago or today, they are just as proud or worried or humored by him. These beautiful women welcomed me with open arms, and poured their love and prayers and light into me from Day One.
To put their goodness in perspective, above the school copier is a little sign that says something like “Have a minute while waiting for copies? Say a prayer for our students.”
Yeah, it’s just a good place to be.
By the end of the first week though, my husband feared I was doing too much. Instead of volunteering seven hours like we’d intended, I found myself spending 20-25 hours a week at school simply because I enjoyed it so much. Surrounded by intense love and hugged each time one of my daughters saw me in the hallway, St. Patrick School felt like a place of healing. How could that be wrong? Still, I promised to slow down and observe my body’s signals.
I had three beautiful weeks. But, momma, you know how that goes, too. We are on top of it all that first week, right? Clothes laid out and lunches packed the night before, hair in the latest Pinterest braid with just the right bow, healthy family dinners and no-rush homework time, lots of conversation before our nightly bedtime story. We got this.
Until we don’t. We fall off the wagon. Did I sign her planner yesterday? I haven’t had the energy to go to the grocery story, you’ll have to eat hot lunch. You need your library book today?? Seriously, you have to recreate a 3D saint this weekend, and you are just telling me about it?? Yep, those first few weeks of school lull us into a false sense of security.
Then my body crashed. I knew I was failing at the whole balance thing, so I desperately tried to rest, but it was too late. The Lyme spirochetes woke once again, and since my brain was the most active part of my body, they plunged right in and started having a party. One weekend I’d spent an entire afternoon with my three-month-old granddaughter and the next evening having dinner with my in-laws who live four hours away. On Monday, while talking to my mom on the phone, I lamented how long it had been since I’d seen my sweet grandbaby. She said, “Jen, you just saw her Saturday!” I argued with her. I thought she’d lost her mind. I hadn’t seen Hensley in two weeks. Then I looked at the photos on my phone. Hen. Hen. Me and Hen. Hen and the girls. Hen. John’s parents. Puppies. People picking out their puppy. Me and the puppy.
I had absolutely no memory of the entire weekend. This shook me to my core. I know my body is unreliable, but now my mind? What if I lose my memories, too? How could I just completely lose a full block of my life?? A wonderful block of time at that? I called my doctor immediately, explained the situation, and began a six-week round of IV and oral antibiotic treatment that very day. Neurological Lyme symptoms are serious and terrifying.
So my life hit pause yet again. A tremendous headache settled in, and I spent about 22 hours a day lying flat to ease the pain. I actually had so much pain that after three straight weeks of it, I willingly allowed my doctor to schedule a lumbar puncture to drain some of the excess spinal fluid. I had double the normal pressure, and within a couple hours, my headache was gone. A few days later, it started to return, so I once again returned to lying flat to ease the pressure.
With everyone at school and work, the days became long again. I struggled with vision and facial palsy on my right side, which compromised reading or blogging. Television was just hurtful noise. I would lie in bed and in the quiet wonder, “God, what do you want from me??” I thought I was doing His will. I had shed my old life and was learning to embrace this new one He had shaped for me, so why was I still being punished? Why wouldn’t He just let me live this new life? “Lord,” I cried, “what do you want from me?”
The highlight of every day is when my daughters would come running into my bedroom after school. Full of life and light, they tell me all about their day. They snuggle in beside me, and I laugh at their stories. One evening 11-year-old Gracie said, “I learned a new Bible verse today, Momma, and it’s so perfect for us.”
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” — Philippians 4:13
I smiled at her fresh, hopeful face. I could tell she believed I was hearing this scripture for the first time. What she said next though took my breath away. “It says ALL things, Mom, not SOME. ALL. We can get through Lyme disease because God will give us the strength to do it. We just have to ask.”
Sometimes I forget that God might be using my situation to change someone else. As my girls and I held hands and bowed our heads, my purpose became clear. Gracie prayed for God to give us strength and to get us through this, and I cried and cried because God had already listened. My little beauty has strength and wisdom and empathy beyond her years because of my journey with Lyme disease. Her faith in her God is unwavering.
Could anything more important, more beautiful come from this disease? A parent’s job is to raise a good citizen, someone who will contribute positively to our society and who will put God first in her life. Every part of my physical body still hurt, but my heart was full of a joy no pain could touch. How narcissistic was I to assume my purpose is always about me?
Sometimes as we are doing this whole parenting thing, we wonder if our children are getting it, you know? Are they seeing what we’re trying to model? Are they hearing our words? Are they paying attention?
I would cherish the ability to play soccer in the yard with my kids or to be well enough to travel to my son’s away football games, but it’s okay that I can’t because my purpose is so much more important than my physical presence. Gracie is paying attention.
Now I am, too.
P.S. I painted this sign for her room to remind her she can do ALL things, not just some.