Category Archives: Spiritual Fitness

Sue the Explorer With Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Wood and Spring


I’m taking a break from my usual fare this week, because I recently started following a blog called Cee’s Photography, and she runs photo challenges every week.  She has beautiful photos and they make me smile, so I thought I would share with you because you can never have too many smiles in a day.

I decided to participate in her Elements/Seasons series – as you all know I am a nature freak.  So, without further ado, here is my entry for Wood/Spring.

First up – photos from one of my most favorite places in all the land!  Bjorklunden (Lawrence University) in Door County.  Love, love, love that place, and for a while went every year with my sister for a ladies weekend.  I missed the last two years, a knife in my spiritual heart – I have been able to reach out to God so easily in this place.

Spring dew on lakeside branches.

Spring dew on lakeside branches.

God calling in the mist.

God calling in the mist.

This next picture was taken down by the Fox River, close to the locks.  I was actually trying to get shots of the pelicans, and happened across this bright bit of life starting it’s journey.

Life finds a way.

Life finds a way.

These yellow blooms were in my front landscaping at our old house.  Absolutely no clue what they are.  Tiny blooms in very fine leaves.  I just liked them because they are my favorite color!  Yellooooowwww!

Yellow somethings?

Yellow somethings?

Here’s something weird about me you probably didn’t know.  I love old cemeteries.  I like to read the stones and shut my eyes and imagine them as they lived, worked, and played.  When I was a kid, cemeteries creeped me out and I used to hold my breath whenever we drove past one.  Part of an old wives tail I think?  Like lifting your feet up when driving over railroad tracks.  Geez – I don’t even remember what that one was for – just remember doing it.

This cemetery in Salem, MA was especially cool because it had people in it from the Salem Witch Trials.  Interesting thing about these old tombstones is that they looked fake because they were so thin. I had to touch them to be sure they were real.  And plus, like the big kid I am, I just can’t not touch.

Salem cemetery, Salem, MA

Salem cemetery, Salem, MA

Salem cemetery, Salem, MA

Salem cemetery, Salem, MA

This next photo was taken while kayaking with the Daver on the chain of lakes in Waupaca.  There is a series of small, shallow lakes on the tail end of the chain perfect for kayaking.  I managed to not only stay in the boat, but didn’t drop my camera or phone in the drink.  I have mad kayaking skills.

Waupaca County, WI

Waupaca County, WI

We found this face of tree roots on our walk to a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, TN.  It had just rained, so it was a slippery, muddy hike.  But totally worth it – so much natural eye candy!

Old Man

Old Man

I just really liked how all my pots looked last year, waiting for me to fill them with new life.  This year, many stand empty yet, as we have been too busy trying to get a driveway, deck, etc.  Next year, they will all be filled again, though!

Time to plant!

Time to plant!

Last spring, I road in the Menominee River Century – we did 50 miles.  On a short breather after a hill climb, I hopped off my bike and ran in the woods to grab this shot.  Did I ever mention how much I love riding?  Scenes like this play a big part in that love.

Pine trees in Menominee

Pine trees in Menominee

I know I recently shared this one, but it’s so pretty, I had to include it.  Taken on the trail thru a local bird sanctuary – it’s basically wetlands.  I was covered in chemicals or I would have been eaten alive by the velociraptors…er…mosquitoes.

Trail thru a local bird sanctuary.

Trail thru a local bird sanctuary.

And finally – does anyone know what these purple beauties are?  I see them blooming all over the place but have no clue what they are.

Who Am I?  24601!!

Who Am I?   24601!!

Those are my contributions!  I hope you enjoyed them!

A big thank you to Cee for sponsoring this challenge!  Please check out her blog, and also the other entries posted in her comments.

See you all next week!

Sue

I Got A Rock


The Jesus Rock - Shores of Lake Michigan near Bjorklunden

The Jesus Rock – Shores of Lake Michigan near Bjorklunden

Dave and I have an inside joke, that isn’t really all that “inside”. Based on the Peanuts Halloween episode, where everyone gets candy while trick or treating except poor Charlie Brown, who keeps getting rocks. I no longer remember the particulars, but something happened at home, and Dave’s response of “I got a rock” elicited giggles from our oldest chick. Her dad has been in love with her and her laugh since the day of her birth and so pretty much anything he says or does that makes her laugh is repeated until it becomes a family tradition.

Although this particular chick has fled the nest, the “I got a rock” tradition continues in our house. It pops up at odd moments – shopping, on our walks, vacationing, dinner, decorating for Christmas…

I Got A Rock

I Got A Rock

The thing is, we love getting rocks. I have a collection of them on my desk, we have various rocks brought home from vacations, and any trip to the beach has me bending over God’s glitter with curiosity and wonder.

Rocks are mysterious, beautiful, gentle, brooding, forceful.  They have a story to tell but they are slow to speak.  For me, being around rocks is like being around God – I have a sense of well being, warmth, and calmness.  In the rush of living, they remind me to slow down and take a breath.  Look around me.  Sit a spell.  It’s like I can hear God whispering to me in the warmth of the sun soaked stone.

It’s always interesting to see what people do with rocks.  Sometimes they polish them into jewelry.  Make tools out of them.  Carve out tunnels and drive thru them. Create masterpieces within them.  Bake with them.  Curb fire with them.  Build shelters from them.

"Look at that giant rock!  Let's drive a bus thru it!  Heck, yes!"

“Look at that giant rock! Let’s drive a bus thru it! Heck, yes!”

Mostly, I just like to touch them, especially those worn smooth by wind and wave.  Last time I went to Bayshore, I decided to rock pick with my camera instead of my hands – these specimens were a little large to fit in my pocket. Here are my favorites.

Playing with my shadow.

Playing with my shadow.

In the shallows

In the shallows

Mr. Stripey

Mr. Stripey

Rocks with big strips like this in them intrigue me.  I always wonder what was happening on earth during the making of that layer.

Rocks with big strips like this in them intrigue me. I always wonder what was happening on earth during the making of that layer.

IMG_2532

I love this one.  It looks like a brain.

I love this one. It looks like a brain.  No need to point out the weirdness of that statement.  I am fully aware.

IMG_2539

I love this one too - the color is so rich.

I love this one too – the color is so rich.

If you look closely, this one has a daddy long legs on it.  I usually hate spiders, but even I'm not freaked out by daddies.

If you look closely, this one has a daddy long legs on it. I usually hate spiders, but even I’m not freaked out by daddies.

This one makes me think of a whale.  Or a dinosaur skull.

This one makes me think of a whale. Or a dinosaur skull.

Love the color on this one too.  And how I managed to capture the water splashes.  Completely on accident, mind you.

Love the color on this one too. And how the water swirls around it.

I love how the water looks splashing over this one.  And of course, I caught this shot totally on purpose....

I love how the water bubbles over this one. And of course, I caught this shot totally on purpose….

This one reminds me of an ancient temple.  Or maybe the dutch windmill cookies my Grandma Conard used to always give us.

This one reminds me of an ancient temple. Or maybe the dutch windmill cookies my Grandma Conard used to always give us.

This one I just liked because of all the tiny dot things on it.  Sort of like worms but not in a gross way.

This one I just liked because of all the tiny dot things on it. Sort of like worms but not in a gross way.

This rock with the wound of exposed granite really caught my eye.  I took one picture dry, then wet it down with the rest of the water in my water bottle (which I regretted on the hot bike ride home).

This rock with the wound of exposed granite really caught my eye. I took one picture dry, then wet it down with the rest of the water in my water bottle (which I regretted on the hot bike ride home).

Here it is wet

Here it is wet

Extreme closeup!

Extreme closeup!

Last but not least...

Last but not least…

Besides awesome rock pictures, I got a bit of a sun burn that day too.  All in all, a wonderful afternoon.  I’ll be back next week with tales of Wisconsin Summer Survival!

Sue

Exploding Oatmeal and Other Hazards


quakerYesterday, my oatmeal exploded in the microwave at work.  I make oatmeal every day and I have to keep an eagle eye on it because Mr. Quaker Oats sometimes gets a bad attitude.  Well, there were other people in the lunch room hogging using the space in front of the microwaves to make their coffee, so I was trying to be courteous and give them some room.  Next thing I know, I see my oatmeal spilling over the top of my bowl.  I leapt forward and grabbed the door, almost bashing my co-worker Lois in the head as I yanked it open, and then stared sadly at the mess.

My first thought was not, “Ew- what a mess” or “Wow, I hope I didn’t kill Lois” but was, “Rats. Now I have less food to eat.”  My second thought was, “I wonder if I can salvage any of the stuff that spilled over” followed by my third thought of, “Gross, Sue.  You might eat a random M&M off the floor but you will not stoop to eating boiled over oatmeal off the bottom of the work microwave”.  For the record, I had to repeat this to myself twice, and thankfully Lois was still in the lunchroom or I may have succumbed to thought #2.  Haha!  Just kidding!  That would be so disgusting!  I would never do that!  (No, really, I might have.  Lois unknowingly saved me, even after I tried to kill her with the microwave door.)

I hate having my food routine disturbed.  It just leaves the door open for those irrational rationalizations, where my brain tries to justify eating 10 cookies to make up for the disruption.   “You poor dear!  You didn’t get a full 1/3 cup of oatmeal today.  Have a pan of brownies.”  I know what you are all thinking.  You are all thinking I should overcook my oatmeal everyday and replace it with cookies because oatmeal is like eating wall paste and good Lord if your going to eat something as bad for you as wall paste you might as well eat cookies.  And if I’m going to eat cookies, bring on the chocolate cake, because even Bill Cosby knows chocolate cake is full of nutrition!

Perhaps you are wondering if I grew up as a starving child in China (“There are starving children in China that go hungry every day!  Eat your wall paste!”) but no.  I grew up in a middle class home and never went to bed hungry – not even as a punishment.  My mom was a wizard in the kitchen and could make a pound of hamburger stretch for all 7 of us, including my Dad and my brother.  No, I’m just a food addict.  No meth or crack for this girl!  But whoa!  Is that a bakery?  I think I’ll stop in and mainline a chocolate donut.

Because I am a food addict, I need to have a strict food plan of no sugar or wheat, and I need to follow it.  I have fallen off the wagon these last three years, and really have no desire to get back on it, even though I know the sugar and flour just keep feeding the beast.  Before this, I went four years without it passing my lips.  I lost 80 pounds.  Gained confidence and moved up in my company.  Ran my first half marathon. Hit the upper 90’s in my health assessment at work.  Felt absolutely fantastic, physically and emotionally.  Except when I felt deprived – like at birthdays when others were celebrating with cake or at Christmas when I passed the cookie tray without taking one of my mom’s cut-outs (my favorite), or on vacation with the Daver or at Easter when I passed the rows and rows and ROWS of unbelievably delicious Robin Eggs and other confections (why do we celebrate religious holidays with so much chocolate?  A fattening mystery…).

So where am I now?  I am somewhere trying to find the balance.  I want to have my cake and eat it too (pun totally intended) but I don’t want to give up my health doing it.  I have gained back some weight, but not all.  I have held on to certain food habits – like lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins – and most certainly my exercise habits have stayed.  I don’t run as much – I would like to have fully functioning knees and hips when I am 80 – but I do bike, swim, inline skate, kayak, walk, hike, snowshoe, and hang out in the gym doing burpees and jump squats and dive bombers (oh my!).  Since regressing back to sugar, I have done another half marathon, ridden 2500 miles on my bike, taken another position in my company, and performed 10 billion burpees.  Yes, you heard me.  10. BILLION. BURPEES.

DrEvil

And you know what?  I think I’m okay with where I am.  Yes, I still struggle.  Yes, I still have food issues.  But at the end of the day, I would rather eat a celebratory piece of birthday cake on my dad’s 82nd birthday.  I would rather go out with the Daver and have pizza and a couple of beers while we talk and laugh about our week.  I would rather bike 100 miles with Kay, eating strawberry shortcake at the rest stops.  Or have dessert with the girls at the end of our night out.  Or eat a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry in Boston even if it means getting blisters because I am stupidly wearing brand new shoes.  Or eating Garrett’s cheesy popcorn while watching my niece run in the Chicago Marathon.  And you know why?  Because life is meant to be lived, and sometimes living involves eating delicious foods that have no nutritional value.

birthday-cake-hd-wallpaper

Some people are blessed with high metabolisms or the ability to eat a single brownie, but I am not one of them.  I am a big-boobed, 49-year-old woman, with stretch marks and jiggle, that loves a good laugh and cake with frosting and sprinkles.  But I just have to believe there is a balance and come hell or high water, I’m going to find it.  And when I do, I will share it with the world.  Meanwhile, I’ll be in the gym –  doing burpees.

What are your food downfalls?  How do you handle feeling food deprived?  Have you found balance in your own food plan and if so, what worked for you?  I love hearing from you and I love your feedback!  Please share in the comments below or on my FB page!

PS – I actually love oatmeal and seriously do eat it every day at work, with two – three hard-boiled eggs.  I like it best with almond milk and blueberries or apples and cinnamon.  Mmmmm!

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For additional reading on body image acceptance, check out these blogs:

August McLaughlin’s Blog

Katrina Anne Willis

Sue

Not Your Average Joe


Never Give UpI’ve been called a lot of things by a lot of people.  For the sake of this exercise, I am going to stick with the positive, however.  🙂  A long time ago, when I was struggling with a particularly bad bout of depression, I was talking to a friend and I must have mentioned something about not giving up on God – that I would keep praying even though I felt completely abandoned, because I knew that my feelings didn’t necessarily convey the truth.  She looked at me and said “Wow, you’re really tenacious.”  That surprised me, because I had never thought of myself that way.  Another friend told me that when I want something, I go get it.  Again, that completely didn’t sound like me.  At all.  I thought about all the unfinished knitting projects, boxes of beads and findings, and scrap-booking supplies sitting in my basement and had to laugh.

But all of those unfinished craft projects were because I was running around the house eating everything except the one thing I was craving.  I was seeking to express myself artistically when I should have been writing.  So finally…FINALLY…I started writing again.  I started a blog (ironically – about knitting).  And then I started another blog.  And then I started ANOTHER blog.  And then, I started Brick House.  And Brick House would be IT.  THE BLOG.  THE MINISTRY.  I was going to write about helping people and about making a difference and about spiritual growth and about motivating others to make positive changes in their own lives.  I prayed about this and it truly felt like God was pointing me in this direction.  (I was also going to buy the old De Pere library and build a coffee-house and my old school friend Caroline was going to come up and be my barista…I haven’t written this off yet – God could still make it happen). I knew it would be a long process but in the meantime….I was supposed to write.

A funny thing happened on the way to my blog.  I met my ego, and my ego was pretty upset about my lack of followers, the slow traffic to my site and that the main people who signed up to follow me were only trying to get traffic to their own sites or to get me to buy into their ponzi scheme.  My ego hated that.  My ego hated that I wasn’t famous, that nobody left glowing comments about my writing ability and that I wasn’t making any headlines.  My ego was Ron Burgundy (I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal), and I can tell you he can be pretty damn depressing to have around when he realizes he isn’t a big deal after all.

Ron Burgundy

I began to write less.  What was the point?  Nobody read what I wrote anyway. So this past summer, I almost quit.  I rode my bike more, ate more junk food, read trashy novels, and did pretty much everything but write.  Weirdly, even though I was doing whatever I felt like (when I wasn’t at my day job, of course), I was getting depressed.  And then, I remembered Joe. Joe – who couldn’t bike or run or drive or work a 9-5.  Joe who almost died when he was born and then a few more times after that for good measure.  Joe who had 8 surgeries just to be able to walk across a room.  Joe who always had a smile on his face.  Who never complained. Who looked opposition in the eye and kicked it’s candy ass.

And most importantly, Joe who followed his dreams and didn’t quit.  If you know Joe, you know about his grassroots organization called Handicapped From The Heart.  If you don’t know Joe, this is probably the first time you heard about it.  And you know what?  Joe isn’t going to quit just because most people have never heard of him or what he does.  He knows that even if he only changes one heart, then he has made a difference.  And he will keep trying until he changes another.  And another.  And another.

Handicapped From The Heart started as a tiny idea in the back of Joe’s mind.  He wanted to reach out to others and let them know what it was like to have a disability, while also encouraging them to stop thinking of the disabled as “disabled” and instead think of them as people with different abilities (“differently abled”).  However, he had no idea how to go about launching it or even who to talk to.  He kept searching, eventually speaking to Mark Heck, the director of Pulaski Area Community Education (P.A.C.E), who was willing to listen.  A few million meetings later, Handicapped From The Heart was founded.  Since that day in 2010, Joe has spoken to many schools, churches, and organizations, and some schools also use his message in their anti-bullying campaigns.  Joe’s thought provoking message about hope and tolerance has softened many hearts while helping to change the way people think about the disabled.  Joe is making a difference.

Handicapped From The Heart

Last summer I had the privilege of running the Bellin with Joe as one of his angels via the Wisconsin chapter of the My Team Triumph organization.  Joe was our Captain, and two of his other friends and myself were his angels.  Before signing up, Joe was nervous.  He wasn’t sure what to expect and he didn’t know any of the folks at mTT, and he really didn’t know me very well either.  But he reached outside his comfort zone and contacted Christian Jensen, the director at mTT, and talked to him.  Then he recruited his two other friends.  And he talked to Christian some more.  And we had training runs and Meet and Greets.  And Joe talked some more (to just about everyone, because Joe likes to talk and people like to talk to Joe -he just makes your heart lighter!).  By the time we crossed the finish line a few months later, Joe was one of mTT’s biggest fans.  Christian met with Joe afterwards and asked Joe to be an mTT Captain Ambassador.  Joe now helps to recruit new captains, angels, and volunteers for future events.  Joe is making a difference.

Bellin Run mTT My Team Triumph

On October 7th, 1988, the small community of Pulaski lost 5 young girls in a tragic accident. One of those girls, Jessica McKeefry, would have known Joe as her step-brother had she lived.  This year marks the 25th anniversary of their deaths and Joe’s response has been to start the footwork in establishing a scholarship fund in his step-sister’s name.  Joe never knew Jessica, but feels compelled to honor her and her friends by giving others a chance at higher education.  It’s been a slow process because he has never done anything like this before, and he is once again in uncharted territory.  But it’s not stopping him.  Joe is making a difference.

I suppose by now you see where I am going with this.  Joe is making a difference, and I am one of the people whose hearts he has touched.  In remembering that Joe didn’t quit, even when many people would have said he was perfectly justified to do so, I realized that I couldn’t quit either.  I remembered my tenacity and dug in my heels.  I kicked Ron Burgundy out of my head, and made a commitment to write and to publish my blog once a week until the new year.  And then I would go to twice a week.  Even if nobody ever reads it again.

Joe reminded me of my first love -to write and to be a writer – not just for my own mental health but for the purpose of reaching others with the same grace and acceptance that God has for me.  To be uplifting and kind and sometimes (hopefully) funny.  To help others take that first step towards health.  And to tell my audience about more people like Joe – to make a difference by writing about and becoming involved with other people who are making a difference.  I don’t need to be famous.  I don’t need to have accolades.  I don’t need to be a big deal.  I just need to change one heart.  And then another.  And then another. And then another.

And that is how Joe changed my life.  He reminded me to believe, to have hope, to push forward.  And that’s his gift – his very life is a reminder not to quit, and his message is that all people have worth – even me.

Next year begins a new chapter in my blog.  I upped the ante to TWO blogs a week for 2014, and of those, there will be at least one health or fitness, one human interest and one “making a difference” post.  I will still have my usual weirdness (trust me, that just doesn’t go away) on other days.  Maybe even a few surprises!!

Float

To close, I want to thank each of you who read my blog for your loyalty and encouragement.  I know you could easily spend your time playing Candy Crush or pinning funny e-cards on Pinterest (ahem), and I am grateful you choose to read my blog instead.  You are blessings in my life that I do not take lightly nor for granted.

Much love and friendship,

Sue

Thanks For Making Me A Fighter


JoeBefore I go any further in my experiences with Joe, I want to share his birth story with you, because it tells you how hard Joe fought just to be here.  His tenacious fight for life was surely a predicator of a personality not willing to let living pass him by.

Joe’s life journey started with a rendering of flesh and spirit that should have claimed not only his life, but his mom’s.  Many people today have a hard time believing in miracles, or God, or even a power greater than themselves.  For me, Joe’s birth story solidifies my belief that God is real, present, and active in our lives, even when I don’t know it, don’t appreciate it, don’t acknowledge it, don’t feel it.  Joe and his mom, Dee, both believe in God’s miracles.  They see one every day when they look in the mirror.

On March 3rd, 1986, Dee went bowling.  The fact that she was 7 months pregnant never gave her a second thought.  Bowling had always been a part of Dee’s life, and she had been active and bowling throughout her pregnancy.  She came in to Ashwaubenon Lanes laughing and joking with her friends, just like any other league night.  Her turn came up and she threw her first ball.  She immediately experienced debilitating abdominal pain, and was barely able to keep her feet.  Her scared and worried friends called her husband Don and he picked her up and brought her home.

Once home, the pain did not diminish.  Her fear for her baby mounting, she called her mom for advice.  Her mom came over, took one look at her daughter, and knew Dee needed medical care.  Dee and Don rushed over to St. Mary’s Hospital.

At St. Mary’s, she was brought up to the OB floor and was seen by the nurses, who then called her clinic.  The doctor on call for the clinic (not her regular doctor) did not bother coming down to examine her.  Instead, he asked what she had for dinner, diagnosed “gas” over the phone, and prescribed some anti-gas medication.  Dee and Don went home. Her 17-year-old sister Doreen was there babysitting their two older children, and remembers it vividly.  “Don had to literally carry her in the house.   Her face was as white as a sheet of paper.  It was blatantly obvious, even to me at 17, that there was something horribly wrong.”

However, Dee tried to do as the doctor ordered, hoping it would work.  She took the prescription and tried to stay calm while waiting for the pain to subside.  Except it didn’t.  It got worse.  Dee called the nurse to let her know, and was told to take some additional medication, and to try to walk it off.  Again, this did not help.  Another call to the nurse resulted in the same instructions.  By now, Dee was worried and frightened for the life of her baby, wondering how all this pain could be caused by gas.  She just wanted it to shift and dissipate, so she would know her baby was still okay. So she followed the nurse’s instructions and, leaning on Don for support, she walked.  All night.

As soon as it was light, Dee called her sister Debbie, who was also a nurse.  Debbie knew her sister was in trouble, and said she needed to get in to see her doctor.  As soon as they could, Don took Dee to her OB/GYN.

Her doctor examined her, and said she was either in labor, had a serious bladder infection, or “we don’t want to discuss the other diagnosis”, by which he meant a uterine rupture.  He sent her to be admitted to St. Mary’s for an ultrasound.  At the hospital she was told she could not be admitted to the maternity floor, because she was not in labor, so they put her on the general floor instead.  Dee’s pain began to increase, and she called for the nurse. This nurse came in, examined her, and then told her she should be on the maternity floor, so she was moved again.  By now, the pain was radiating to her chest, and shooting thru her shoulder.  Dee asked the nurse when they would be doing her ultrasound, hoping to finally find out what was going on.  The nurse getting her into her bed told her no ultrasound was prescribed.  A few minutes later, the nurse came back, and acknowledged that Dee actually was to have an ultrasound, and another nurse and an ultrasound technician came in.  Within seconds of the ultrasound, the nurses realized Dee had a serious complication, and called for help.  Dee soon had all three of the doctors from her OB/GYN clinic at her side, including the one who misdiagnosed her.

Dee’s pain was elevating quickly, and her stomach was beginning to swell.  Her doctor let her and Don know that Dee had indeed ruptured her uterine wall and that he would be performing an emergency C-section to save her life and the life of their baby.  There was no time to give her meds to help the baby’s lungs – it was critical get him out as Dee had been bleeding internally by then for over 12 hours, and if the baby slipped thru the rupture, he would die.  He told Don the baby would be taken immediately to the neonatal unit at St. Vincent’s.  Dee was almost incoherent with pain, but she was aware they were going to take her baby, and that his life hung in the balance.

Joseph Donald Christensen was born at 12:24 PM on Tuesday, March 4th, 1986, weighing 3lbs, 14oz. and was named after his great-grandfather, Joseph, and his own father, Don.  Because Joe was critical, Don could only watch anxiously as they prepared his little boy for transfer.  He did not get to hold Joe.  He worried that he never might.

Don’s worry was not misplaced.  Joe was okay for the first few hours after his rocky entrance, but at 4pm his lungs collapsed, requiring 4 chest tubes.  Joe was also put on oxygen and a respirator, which he fought, resulting in him needing to be sedated.  Because of his sedation and the respirator, Joe also needed a feeding tube because he could not be fed with a bottle.  Nor could he be held.  During this time, they also discovered Joe had a level 4 brain bleed on his right side (they are rated 1-4, with 4 being the worst).  Joe was not expected to survive.  A priest came to baptize him.

When Dee woke from her surgery, she needed 4 units of blood to replace what she lost.  Her sister Doreen and her friends gave blood for the very first time in order to help her.  She was weak and distraught, believing she had lost Joe despite assurances from Don and her family.  She had not seen nor held Joe yet, and the stress of recovering from her own near fatal ordeal while worrying about her infant son in a hospital across town was literally causing her hair to turn grey.

It was not until Friday that the hospital allowed her to travel to St. Vincent’s to see her little boy for the first time.  She could not hold him because of the respirator, but at least she could touch him, and rub his little arm.  His foot fit in the palm of her hand.  Seeing Joe sedated and full of tubes did nothing to alleviate her fear, but there wasn’t anything more that they could do.

Dee was shuttled back to St. Mary’s where she stayed for a few more days.  During her recovery, her hands-on-care was performed only by nurses.  The doctors did little more than talk to her from the doorway.  There were no apologies.  No admittance of wrong.  In fact the doctor who diagnosed her with gas had the gall to say, “Well, it’s a good thing you’re so persistent or I would be visiting you at Schauer and Schumacher Funeral Home”.  Within a week, Dee was discharged, and she and Don went home without Joe.

This was a traumatic time for them.  As any parent with a seriously ill child knows, the first person you blame is yourself.  Tensions mount and anxiety becomes constant.  Dee and Don had two little girls at home, so they also had to cope with their feelings of crushing disappointment, helplessness, and fear, all while juggling time between Joe and the girls and holding everything together.  They ached to be a whole family.

At Dee’s 6 week check, she and Don confronted her doctor.  He told them that her uterus had ruptured, likely at the site of her previous C-section (Dee had her first two girls by C-section, and 28 years ago, she should have been considered high risk).  The rupture was the size of a golf ball, and at any time Joe could have slipped thru the tear, killing them both.  He told her it was a situation you learn about in medical school, but that you never want to see happen.  In fact, he had seen it only one other time, and mother and child did not survive.  He also told Dee and Don that there was NO medical reason that she and Joe were alive.

Joe was in the hospital for 88 days.  During that time, Dee and Don were called to the hospital several nights for situations where Joe was not expected to live, including a bout with pneumonia when he was only 2 and a half weeks old.  Each time, Joe proved them wrong.

Miraculously, Joe’s brain bleed healed on its own, the day before he was supposed to have surgery for a shunt.  He was removed from the respirator on April 6th, his mom’s birthday.  The entire family was ecstatic – they could finally hold Joe after over a month – but nobody more so than Dee.  Holding Joe was the best birthday present!

With them during Joe’s entire stay, and indeed even after his discharge, was Dr. Jim Winston and Dee’s favorite nurse, Betsy (Betsy saved Joe’s life when he had pneumonia.  She saw the signs right away and they were able to take immediate action.  And while it was still touch and go, Joe surely would have died if she had not noticed).  Dr. Jim and Betsy held the hands of Joe and his family thru every process, celebrating every victory and suffering every setback, together.  At Joe’s discharge, Dee and Don were again told that there was no medical reason that Joe survived.

When Joe came home, the entire family had to learn CPR.  Joe was still on oxygen and also had a heart and breathing monitor to let them know he was getting enough oxygen and that his heartbeat was regular.  But, he was home.  Finally, Joe was home.

Joe’s family had to be prepared for all possible outcomes, including death.  He could be wheelchair bound, blind, deaf, unable to feed himself, or walk, or talk.  As it turned out, Joe is legally blind in his left eye, has severe hearing loss in both ears, but boy, can that guy talk. 🙂

Joe also has issues from his brain bleed.  It affected his entire left side, and he has little use of his left hand, with no bone structure in his fingers.  He has had 8 surgeries ranging from basic foot straightening to sternum surgery (you could stick your fist in inside his sternum before that) to scoliosis surgery (he says that one was the worst). His scoliosis was so severe that it took 10 hours of surgery, where they had to break his back in order to straighten it, and then use 13 screws and rods to keep it that way.  Joe has a full back tattoo showing a replica of his surgery.  It’s one bad ass tattoo.

Joe's Tattoo 2

One might look at Joe’s experience and wonder why he and his family had to go thru what they did, or if God truly loved us, why do we still have suffering and hardships.  I don’t have an answer for that.  I think we each have to look for our own blessings in our own lives and in our own hearts.  We can’t weigh or measure our lives with someone else’s or allow blessings in another’s life detract from the blessings in ours.  We need to surround them with our hearts, and treasure the gifts God has given us.

Joe puts it best:

“I do believe in God.  I believe He was not ready for me yet, and still isn’t, as far as living.  The tattoo on my inner right forearm is symbolic in a way.  Every day that I am here, I feel, is a gift.  I try to live my life to the way He wanted, to the best of my ability by telling my story and joining differently abled events.  In a way, it is His way of telling me “you are here for a reason.  Use the gift of life to the best of your ability”.

Joe's Tattoo

I was born a very sick little boy, and sent to St. Vincent ICU.  There were lots of sick little babies there with me too.

I was an unexpected surprise being the first boy and all, and I was never given much of a chance being so sick and small.

I spent the first 71 days of my life on St. Vincent’s 6th floor and every step I took ahead the nurses and doctors knew I could do more.

They never once lost hope, as they never do, even when it seemed close to an end – they are so much more than just nurses and doctors, they are what I call FRIENDS.

They took care of me and loved me just as their very own and they really tried to help my mommy and daddy feel at home.

But now I’ve made it through all those hard times, and I will make it through all the rest, because the care I got at St. Vincent’s NeoNatal Unit was the very BEST.

Yes, I guess I truly am a miracle, as I’m so often called, and I’d just like to say-

Thank you for the gift of life and may God bless you every day.

 With love to St. Vincent’s Neo-Natal Unit

Joseph Donald Christensen 3/4/86

Meet Joe


A few years ago, I met a young man named Joe.  Joe is one of my best friend’s nephews, and we went to a Toby Keith concert together.  Joe loves country, and Doreen (my friend) asked him to come with us seeing as we had an extra ticket.  She said to me, “I can’t wait for you to meet Joe.  He’s my hero.”  It was a fun night, but I didn’t fully understand her “hero” comment .  Then last spring, I had the opportunity to work with Joe on a project, and got to know him as a person, and not just as “Doreen’s nephew”.  It changed my life, and Joe is pretty much my hero now, too.

The next three blogs are about that experience.  Yesterday I was talking to my sister about how I tend to jump first, and ask questions later, and that when I buy in, it’s at a dead run.  At jump time, I usually don’t realize I am making a life changing decision.  Getting married, having kids, giving my life to Christ, changing jobs, signing up to run a half marathon… Doreen says it’s because I jump in heart first, not head first, and I think that is a pretty good description. My project with Joe was exactly one of those times.

On the outside it seemed pretty straight forward.  Joe and I were going to run the Bellin 10K together with a couple of his other friends for a really good cause.  Before I get into that, though, I want to tell you a bit about Joe.

Like many of us in Northeast Wisconsin, Joe lives in a home town community within minutes of family and friends. He has a mom, dad, step-dad, two sisters, a brother, and a whole slew of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews-all of whom he loves and they, of course, love him right back.

Joe has a best friend yellow lab named Tyson and a best friend human being named Tyler.

Joe’s favorite food is wings, and he also won’t turn his nose up at Butterfingers, ice cream, pizza, and anything his Grandma Marge whips up (I have been blessed with sampling some of Grandma Marge’s culinary delights. God sure loved me that day!).

Like a lot of men, Joe has an unhealthy relationship with the remote control.  Did you know the average American spends 5 hours a day watching TV?  Joe spends his 5 hours with Judge Judy, Pat Sajak and the boys from the Nerd Show (The Big Bang Theory for those of you not in the “know”).  He is also a diehard WWE fan, catching WWE Raw every Monday and WWE Smackdown every Friday , and will shell out for the Pay Per View specials as well as documentaries.  (On a side note – it’s kind of fun to say the word “Smackdown”.  I’M GONNA PUT THE SMACKDOWN ON YOU, BRO!)

Seeing as Joe always has a smile on his face, it’s only fitting that his favorite types of movies are comedies.  He likes silly humor along the lines of Austin Powers, Dumb and Dumber, and Ace Ventura, but the Rush Hour series, The Hangover and Ted are his current top picks.

As I said in the beginning of my post, Joe is a country boy at heart.  Shuffle his iPod and you’ll get a mix of Toby Keith, Zac Brown Band, Bryan Adams, Brad Paisley, Sugarland, Dierks Bentley, Darryl Worley and even a little Bon Jovi for good measure.  Bon Jovi isn’t country, but hey – a little Bon Jovi on anyones iPod is a good thing, right?  Plus he’s cute.  Not that Joe cares.  Just sayin’ though…

When I asked Joe what his favorite books were, I figured he would be like a lot of guys, mostly reading internet articles or magazines.  But he surprised me by coming back with a couple of unexpected titles: Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life and Nick Vujicic’s Life Without Limbs.

Joe loves to write, and has aspirations of becoming a journalist. He has written for his hometown newspaper, and feels his strength lies in freelance.

Joe has a couple of bad ass tattoos.  A ginormous one on his back, and a smaller one on his arm.

Joe would like to travel someday, and the first place on the list to visit is Italy.  He and his family talk about going often, but like most of us, his cash flow doesn’t have Italy in the budget.  Knowing Joe, he will get there someday, though.

Taken all together, Joe seems like an ordinary guy, living in an ordinary town, with an ordinary family.  Pretty much just like the rest of us.  So why am I focusing on Joe?  Why the ordinary?  I did so because I left out one important detail about Joe.  Joe has cerebral palsy.

Like many people with disabilities, Joe has lived his life in the shadow of what he can’t do and has fought hard for normalcy in his life.  It’s sad and frustrating to Joe that some people can’t see past the wheelchair to the person sitting in it.  He refuses to be victimized by his circumstances and strives daily to make the most of his life.  In fact, even the word “disabled” bugs Joe.  “I’m differently-abled, not disabled,” he told me.  Hey, Joe – me too!  The world shudders at the thought of Sue The Brain Surgeon.  God knew what he was doing when he put a pen in my hand, and not a scalpel, and He knew what He was doing when He created Joe, too.

That’s why it was important for me to spend this first post telling you how much Joe is just like the next guy.  I wanted you to see him as a living, breathing, feeling, thinking, loving, worthy, person – with friends, family, ambitions and desires, and not defined by the first impression you may have gotten if I had introduced him as a young man with cerebral palsy.

So what about this ordinary guy?  This “average Joe”?  What makes the ordinary extraordinary?  What is it about Joe that changed my life and reminded me to be true to myself?  Check back with me next week for the rest of the story!

Sue

Learning To Move The Bean Bowl


I bought green and wax beans the other day at the farmers market.  They call them wax beans because they are yellow and look waxy I guess.  The term ‘wax’ in reference to food grosses me out, so I prefer green and yellow.  Or better yet, green and gold (Go Pack Go! Yes, I just went there, and yes, I used my entire first paragraph to set up the Packers reference.  This is what happens when you live in the land of cheese).

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I love getting fresh produce from the farmers market but it does require extra work to clean it and make it ready for consumption.  It’s not like buying a bag of Steamers and popping it in the microwave (although I do love Steamers – what an awesome invention).   Fresh food needs to be cleaned and cut and trimmed and peeled.  Kind of a pain, all this eating healthy business.  Some veggies are more of a pain than others but beans are fairly easy in the veggie cleaning line up – just wash and snap off the tops.

My process is to wash them in a colander, spread them on a clean towel, grab a few, snap off the tops and then toss the cleaned bean in a bowl and the top in a pile to the side for the garbage.  Easy peezy, lemon squeezy, right?  Well, I was cleaning my beans after I got home, and I kept accidentally throwing the beans in the garbage pile and the tops in the bean bowl.  What the heck?  After about the 10th time, I realized I had my work area set up wrong.

Green and Gold beans!

Green and Gold beans!

My natural tendency was to grab the beans with my left hand and snap off the tops with my right, so the bean bowl should have been to my left and the garbage pile to the right, and I had it reversed.  This would have taken about 5 seconds to rectify and ended the awkward cross reaching, plus the time-consuming need to stop what I was doing and fish the tops out of the bean bowl.  Not to mention that I was using extra energy just concentrating on my process that could have been used to create a plan for world peace and a new energy resource (HAHA.  Okay, I would have created my grocery list and a plan to clean the bathrooms but still, a better use of my time).  Instead, I stubbornly continued to clean my beans counter intuitively, swearing under my breath every time the tops ended up in the bean bowl.

After going thru 3/4 of my beans, I finally set my ego aside and fixed my workstation.  I finished the rest of my beans lickety split (I like to say that word.  Lickety split.  Or is it lickety spit? Hmmmm….).  I wasted a lot of time and effort fighting my body, but was too prideful to admit my set up was wrong and I was too lazy to expend the energy to change it, even though I used way more energy trying to fight it.  Apparently this thing on my neck really is just a helmet holder.

Door County Century

Helmet holder, but at least I get strawberry shortcake!

Life is like that, isn’t it?  The thought of making a change, even one that will make my life easier, seems like too much trouble and effort, so I keep on trying to control the wrong things.  I read once that a person won’t make a change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.  Pain yes, but pride too.  My ego tells me my process is right and if I could just control myself, all would be well.  This is especially true in my eating habits and in my relationship with God.

I will never be able to eat normal portions if I don’t have a handle on why I am eating in the first place, and I will never be able to grow in my relationship with God if I continue to try to commune with Him according to rules and obligation.  It’s hard to change what I have always done, and the process of making that change seems overwhelming.  But like moving my bean bowl, the initial energy needed to make a change is greater, but is less overall because of the energy saved on the other side of the change.  The sooner the change, the more energy saved.  With all those energy savings, I could qualify for an Energy Star.

Thus starts my quest to move the bean bowls in my life that are causing me to stumble and seeking God for change and direction.  I don’t think it will be easy, but I believe with His help, all things are possible.  One of the biggest changes I see coming is my commitment to writing.  In fact, the very idea is giving me anxiety at this very moment.  But, you know how sometimes you crave something, like maybe a bowl of ice cream or a donut, and you decide not to have it because it’s fattening or whatever, so you eat everything else in your cupboard instead, and then end up eating the ice cream or donut anyway?  That’s what this is like.  I feel like I have spent years eating around my desire to write, thinking I would never be able to make a living at it or be good enough.  Instead I have tried to find satisfaction or direction in other areas, and while I have been successful, I am still wandering around my house opening up cupboards.

I’m scared.  I’m scared of failing, of not being good enough, of dying poor and penniless living out of a cardboard box with nothing but my thermos à la Steve Martin in The Jerk.  But I think I am more scared of not trying it.  Of never knowing.

Steve Martin

I’m picking out a thermos, for you!

How about you?  What are the “bean bowls” in your life that need moving?  I love hearing from you!

Sue