Tag Archives: God

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.

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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.

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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

Scotchy Scotch Scotch, We Love Scotch


I have had several people ask me why we moved from DePere. The short story: Empty nesters. But you know me. I’m not about the short story. I always gotta write a book. But in the interest of being interesting, I’ll give you the abridged version.

Dave and I got engaged in the middle of a field on Dollar Lane in DePere. We were young and green and dreaming big. But you know how reality reaches in and kinda changes how you look at things – money and circumstances and all that jazz. We couldn’t afford it and that was okay. We found an adorable little house in West DePere, and made our first nest there. Kids started coming, we moved to the next size up on the other side of town, and then Lindsay got sick and then we moved again and then they needed braces, prom dresses, bmx bikes, and cars. You know the song and dance. It was always something. But the dance was lovely, and I wouldn’t change any of it, except maybe the leukemia part for Lindsay.

Empty-Nest

Now we are in our empty nest stage (almost) and have been able to financially breathe easier for a few years now. We have about 15 years (if all goes well) to retirement, and we are both in good health. After talking a bit, we decided that if we were ever going to have that little piece of country, we needed to do it now. So we started looking.

I will admit that I wasn’t on board right away. My open house attendance was half-hearted and I hated everything we saw. We had lived in our current home for 15 years, and in that particular neighborhood for over 20. And I liked our home and neighborhood. I liked it a lot.

These dogs were made for walkin...

These dogs were made for walkin…

 

I liked walking the dogs every night and knowing all the houses and people behind the doors. I liked when Bricky drove past and honked. I liked when Pen and Ben were outside and we hollered across the street to each other or when Jim was in his driveway putting up Christmas decorations and we would stop and chat. I liked walking past “the boys” on Erie Street in the summer, when they would be sitting out side in the evening watching the neighborhood. I always felt a little safer because I knew they saw everything. (Geez, I better quit this – I’m starting to depress myself).

Then one Sunday, we went to an open house out here on Scotchman. While it wasn’t the home we purchased, it was the one that began to turn my heart. I remember standing in the living room there, watching a red-tailed hawk wheel around the farmer’s cornfield, and my heart skipped a beat. I knew I would move to be there. I can’t tell you exactly why – it’s not like we didn’t see red tails in DePere. Or eagles or sand hill cranes or deer or great blue herons, because we did. It was more the area and knowing it would all be right in our backyard. Or close to it.

ScotchyScotchScotch

After a lot of talking to the realtor, we decided to try to purchase a spec home they were going to build out there, a few lots down. It would have a three stall garage and a walk out basement, and would have part of the pond in the back yard. We listed our house and crossed our fingers. A lot was riding on whether we could sell our home on time, and Lord knows I didn’t want to move twice.

Now, I have to be honest here and tell you my heart swayed back and forth for a while. I had mood swings from “I can’t wait to move!” to “WAAAAAAH! I don’t want to moooooove! I want to live here forreeeeevvvveeeerrrrrr!” Dave asked me at least three times if I really wanted to keep pursuing it. I kept telling him yes, but I really wasn’t sure. In fact, right before my birthday, I almost decided to take him up on his offer to back out.

I DON'T WANNA MOOOOOVE!

I DON’T WANNA MOOOOOVE!

We had rented a condo up in Door County for my 50th, right on Lake Michigan. I was stoked because I was finally feeling better, after having been sick for over a month with some mystery virus, and I couldn’t wait for a weekend to snow shoe and tramp along the frozen lake shore. I told my realtor not to schedule any showings that weekend. Showings and open houses were a huge pain in the butt for us because we had to do something with the dogs and cat.  This meant a really long hour in the car with fish-breath hyper dogs and a yowling cat, who also occasionally puked for good measure.

We got a call two days before my birthday that there was a couple that wanted to see our house on my birthday, which meant either losing a night at the condo or one of us (meaning Dave – duh – it was my birthday, dammit) staying home and coming later. I couldn’t believe it. I ranted and raved inside my head and called Dave to see what we should do. I really just wanted to throw in the towel and tell the realtor no. To heck with it. This was crossing the line. A gauntlet thrown at my feet. Nay, I shouted! I won’t give in to the heathen realtors who would steal my birthday!

Of course we scheduled it. Dave stayed home and I went up alone (don’t feel too sorry for me, he came up later).

On the way up to door county, I drove past the turn for the new house, and had an epiphany, kind of how the Grinches small heart grew three sizes on Christmas day. I could feel the area calling to me. I felt at home. I realized I had from the beginning, and that I really wanted to move, but had been to afraid to ask God for it. It seemed a silly thing to ask, when people were starving and dying and suffering, but I had to let Him know my heart. So I prayed. I asked God for His blessing, that we would like to move there if it was okay with Him, and that if the answer was no, we would understand.

The folks who came thru that day, the ones I was so annoyed with my realtor about, came thru again on Sunday. By Monday we had an offer. Huh. What do you know.

And the rest, as they say, is history. A lot still had to happen (read my blog about all the cake eating involved), but it all fell into place, one piece at a time. We sold our house with time to spare. The buyers didn’t want to close until mid-March, so plenty of time for the new house to be finished and we would only have to move once. Given my freak out level thru the whole process, it seemed like a miracle.

Now, before anyone starts singing “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a Mercedes Benz,” I just want to say it wasn’t like that at all. We didn’t ask for the house to be given to us or to win the lottery or anything like that. All we asked for was guidance and an open door. And you can look at it as coincidence if you want. We choose to believe that God cared enough to give us an answer.

I believe God works that way – that if you talk to Him and have Him in your life, you’re going to hear back from Him.  Sometimes I enjoy the conversation, sometimes I don’t.  And I don’t always understand what he is doing or why (like, hardly ever).  But I wouldn’t want my life to be without Him.

The other day I was driving to work, basically telling God I surely didn’t understand why Jen died, and what part of His plan required this type of loss. It seemed arbitrary and cruel. When I got home, I had a letter waiting for me from a friend, with words of encouragement that assured me that even though I didn’t ‘get’ what God was doing, He was at least listening.

Enjoy the spring weather!  I will be back next week to tell you all about my Zelda, Ocarina of Time, appliances.  zelda

Sue

PS -My ancestors are from this area. Champion, to be exact. There is even a Conard road (see pic – I was on it last summer and I am sure I will be again, often) and somewhere a cemetery with some of my ancestors in it.

15 Minutes of Fame

15 Minutes of Fame

PPS – When we were growing up, my grandparents had a cottage on the bay. It’s about 4 miles from me now.

PPSS – When my kids were growing up, my parents had a cottage up in Crivitz. This home reminds us both of going there with our kids. I think it’s the open concept, the dark counter tops, and the feel of being up north. Every night we come home from work, we feel like we are going to the cottage.

PPPSSS – Dave’s dad grew up in this area. Attended Holy Cross school and church on Bay Settlement Road and lived not too far from here as a kid. Dad D’s cousin Louie’s dad used to own the land we are currently living on. He still owns a pretty big chunk, and lives only a mile or so away. Less than that as the crow flies. That said, Dad D often stayed at his uncle’s farm, and literally ran and played in these very fields we are now living in. Sometimes I sit, and imagine the DeGroot boys running thru yelling and waving sticks, all brown and dirty and smelling like sun. It makes me smile.

PSPPPSPSPSPSPPS – There is a cemetery up the road with DeGroot ancestors in it, too. And stop thinking the cemetery thing is creepy. I actually like them for some weird reason. I always try to imagine the history of the people buried there – like telling myself a story. Now, I can imagine it, knowing they are people who are a part of who I am.

PPPSSSSPPPPSSSPSPPPSSSSSSSSSP – Maybe it is a tiny bit creepy.

 

#100HappyDays Plus Lent


Lent.  When I was a kid, I always gave something up for lent.  Usually it was candy or soda.  As an adult, I have only very rarely participated in that aspect of Lent – mostly because the motives for giving something up became linked to losing weight or some other selfish end.  That’s really missing the point of what Lent is all about, which is a time of reflection and growth in your relationship with Christ, as well as a preparation for the most holy of weeks and the grand finale – the Resurrection.

However, this year I ran across this article, posted by a friend on Facebook: 20 Things To Give Up For Lent.  This inspired me to try something different this year, and I am heeding the advice given in the article by giving up Guilt and Worry.

Living my life consumed by guilt is like telling God He isn’t big enough to heal my past or that I am beyond forgiveness.  If I say with my mouth that I don’t believe those things, then I should practice believing it in my heart.  And if I believe it in my heart, then it’s time to move away from that damaging self talk Guilt whispers every day, and move forward instead into change and forgiveness.

Worry is the Ugly Step-Sister to Guilt.  I worry about things I have absolutely no control over with the misguided internal belief that if I worry about them enough, I can somehow control them.  And even though worry has never changed a single outcome in all of my 50 years of existence, I continue to practice it.  You all know the definition of insanity, right?  So it’s time to start practicing Trust, in place of Worry, and learn to allow Peace to follow Trust.

A tall order for only 40 days.  And I am pretty sure I will fail.  But every day is a new day and a new chance to start again.  No success has ever come without failure along the way.  I will give you an update after Easter.

Now, on to #100HappyDays!  These are in no particular order, by the way.  Nor do I have a picture for everyday since my last 100 Happy Days post – things have been a little hectic with all the moving stuff.  I am sure you will enjoy what I have though.  🙂

Birthday Stragglers:  My brother and my oldest sister decided I needed a little more Nifty Fifty-ness in my life.  Below are their contributions.

Words of Wisdom from my OLDER brother

Words of Wisdom from my OLDER brother

Old Age Tool Kit From my OLDEST sister, complete with sticky note instructions.  Because us old people are so forgetful you know.

Old Age Tool Kit From my OLDEST sister, complete with sticky note instructions. Because us old people are so forgetful you know.

KUUUUUUHN!

We got to meet John Kuhn at our sales meeting.  Besides me and Kuhn, that's our sales rep Judy on the left and my co-worker Kirby in the middle.  Notice I'm wearing Packer gold.  Totally not planned.  I'm just sort of awesome that way.

We got to meet John Kuhn at our sales meeting. Besides me and Kuhn, that’s our sales rep Judy on the left and my co-worker Kirby in the middle. Notice I’m wearing Packer gold. Totally not planned. I’m just sort of awesome that way.

Besides going thru all the photos, I also went thru a pile of the kids old toys we still had.  I ran across this truck and had to take a picture.  Matt used to do this to a lot of his trucks – he would draw up decals and tape them to the body.  Seeing this made me smile and remember the sweet boy who spent so much time laying on the floor with his cars and trucks.  “Matthew the Vehicle King”.

Another Nifty Fifty Event!  A beautiful necklace from my friends Karen and Betsy, from their store, Pretty Poppy.  If you happen to be in Newburyport, Massachusetts, stop in!  It’s a girl’s dream.  Seriously – I could never bring my daughter in there.  I would go broke.IMG_1700

Latte Friday!!  Every Friday, I go thru Jitter Bean for a latte.  Yummy delicious – and Julie always gives out an animal cookie with each cup!  If you have never been there, you need to check them out.  Buy Local!!!

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This adorable girl.

Daisy Duke aka Dobby

Daisy Duke aka Dobby

This goofball cat.

Rub ma bellay!  Rub it!

Rub ma bellay! Rub it!

Lucky with his snowbeard.

Let me in, lady!  It's freezing out here.

Let me in, lady! It’s freezing out here.

Going to see Wicked with my daughter, my sister and my niece.  I will say this was the one time I liked the play or movie better than the book.  Excellent performances by everyone and we had fantastic seats.  IMG_1803

Lindsay’s “Wicked” inspired drink at the restaurant.  It looked like lime jello.

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Cousin Mike’s retirement after 24 years in the Navy.  Thank you, Mike, for standing the watch!  We are grateful and blessed to have men like you serving in our country.IMG_1727

This – just because.IMG_1835

Finally getting to meet my adorable grand-niece who is almost a year already.  Where does the time go?  A popular old fart lament, I know.  I’m not putting in our picture because this is a public blog, but suffice to say she is super cute and takes after her auntie in Greatness.  Happy Birthday, B!!

This ginormous snow pile on the corner of our street.  My neighbors had to have made this on purpose.  Too bad they don’t have any kids – it would make an awesome fort!

Holy snow pile, Batman.

Holy snow pile, Batman.

This “Goodbye Winter, You Suck” cookie we got from work today.  Okay, that’s not what they called it.  Something more politically correct like “Beat the winter blues” or some happy horseshit.  But we all know the truth.  Winter, we are done with you! Done, I say!IMG_1851

My new bedroom set.

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Ha!  Just kidding.  I really did get one, but it’s in the garage at my in-laws.  In our 28.5 years of marriage, we have never had a matching bedroom set, so I am pretty stoked about this.  Once we are moved in, I will post pictures.

And finally, random pictures of our new house while under construction.  We just went out there last night, and it’s almost all done.  Wheeee!  One more week!

IMG_1816IMG_1841IMG_1814IMG_1845IMG_1779IMG_1787This will likely by my last post for a few weeks due to the move.  We got rid of my old desk and I’m sitting on a low stool with my keyboard on my lap, gazing up at my computer which is on an end table.  I thought the stool would work but it turns out I’m still a little low.  Anyway, long story short – it’s not super comfortable, thus the suspension of blog posts until I am set up in our new house.  I expect it will be the 27th before you see me again.  Hopefully we will be firmly above the freezing mark by then!

Stay warm, my friends!
Sue

 

 

 

Roller Coaster…of Love…(Say What?)…(sing it with me!)


Happy 2014!

It’s that time of year again!  The time where we look back on the past and forward into the future.  It’s like being at the highest point on a roller coaster – that pin-dropping moment of silence after a ponderous, rickety climb, where your heart gained momentum faster than the roller coaster car.  And then as the car pauses – you hold your breath and you see your future ahead of you, and you begin praying that your harness holds you firmly in your seat and that you won’t derail on the hairpin curves.

grucoaster

Did I ever tell you I hate roller coasters?  I don’t trust the harness, I don’t trust the course, and I don’t trust the person who built it that insists it’s safe.  This is exactly how I feel about life.  God loves me but I must really test His patience.  I see the course He has set before me, but I am already arguing with Him that the harness He provided is going to give out, hurling me into space.  He knows I’m going to have a death grip on Him, eyes squeezed shut and screaming all the way down that first hill.

These last few weeks have had some unexpected twists and belly droppers and I can’t say I was overly appreciative of the final moments of the 2013 ride.   And now we are back at the top of the coaster and as I look down to the coming journey that will be 2014, I see a lot of question marks and unknowns, and it’s making me a little crazy.  I wish I could see the course ahead of time, to plan for each turn and belly drop.  To be prepared and know exactly how I will handle each situation.  I want the security of the KNOWN, of the quiet, mundane day-to-day living, that stretches no faith nor spirit.   God doesn’t see it that way.  He knows without stretching my faith, I won’t grow.

So God and I are having a talk.  He’s going to keep me secure in my harness, wrapped in his love and strength, and I’m going to try to keep my eyes open and enjoy the ride without barfing up my Slushie or screaming for the ride to stop.  I actually did that once – scream for the ride to stop, not barf up my Slushie – on the Matterhorn at Disneyland.  In my defense, I was only 9, and I was riding with my mom who was also screaming.  Gotta love those mother/daughter bonding moments.

I know I will be a stronger, smarter, wiser version of myself when it all shakes out.  The process is the tough part for me.  But like I said in my Christmas blog – life is precious and it’s important to live in the moment – even the crappy moments.  In a nutshell, that is my main goal for this year.  To embrace every second of joy, anxiety, fear, happiness, sorrow, humor, and love.

Therefore, besides learning to live in the moment, one day at a time, on the things of 2014 that I won’t be able to control, here is a list of the more mundane things I have a little more control over and hope to accomplish.

  • Mental Survival for this Sunday’s Packers’s/Niners game. I know I am being overly dramatic, but all my fellow Cheeseheads will agree that watching the Green Bay Packers play lately is enough to make you go running to your doctor for a prescription of Xanax.  At least the game will be at L-L-L-Lambeau, and it will be c-c-c-cold!
  • Increase my blog posts to twice a week.  I am planning on keeping Thursday, and then probably adding Monday – hopefully something humorous because Lord knows we need a reason to laugh on Mondays.
  • Pull my pal Joey Christensen on the Titletown Tour in another mTT (My Team Triumph) event – this time cycling.  As you may remember, I was one of his angels in the Bellin last year,and I would like to continue that relationship by doing the Titletown Tour cycling event with him in 2014.
  • As part of my involvement with mTT and hanging out with the Joe-meister – attend, learn and pass with flying colors the American Sign Language class that I signed up for thru St. Norbert College.  Gotta be able to communicate with Joe while I am pedaling him around this summer.  Hopefully I don’t crash when I am turning around to sign to him.
  • Clock 2000 miles on my bike.  No clue how I am going to find time to ride more than I already do with everything else on my plate but I’m darn well going to try.
  • Running the Fox Cities Half Marathon with my bestie, Dawn.  Although this is really her goal, I am along for the ride to provide motivation and encouragement.  Of course, I haven’t ran long distance in over two years, so she may be the one cracking the whip on me instead!

And that’s about it for now.  As a good friend of mine just emailed to me:  It takes less time and energy to pray than to worry.  I am hoping to pray more than worry in 2014, for all of our benefit!

May you all have a blessed new year!  And stay warm!

Sue

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Spirit of Christmas Present


Oh, Christmas.  How I wanted you to be different this year.  To have more meaning, more thought, more purpose.  I wanted you to live up to the warmth of the Norman Rockwell painting.  To the wonder of Twas The Night Before Christmas.  To the peace of the Nativity.

nativity silhouette clip art

Oh Holy Night. Image courtesy of Vector Clip Art

I wanted to FEEL you, Christmas.  In my heart and in my brain and in every fiber of who I am.  And yet I woke up the other morning and realized you were about to pass me by if I didn’t do something about it.

Perhaps, dear Christmas, I have put you on a pedestal.

Most years, the day after Christmas finds me a little sad and disappointed.  Yes, I loved spending time with family and friends and walking the dogs at night past the house lights in the neighborhood while listening to Harry Belafonte.  I enjoyed watching all of the Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the Grinch.  I went to Christmas parties and baked cookies and gave to charities.  But part of me spent the entire season looking past my loved one’s shoulders, hoping to see the perfect Christmas coming around the corner.

So this year, I decided to help put together a retreat called “Too Much Christmas” for one of our church groups, in an effort to find ways to add more meaning and less “doing” to this Christmas.  But, instead of taking Christmas off the pedestal, I unknowingly built the pedestal higher.  Like, a lot higher.  Baby Jesus probably has a nose bleed.  If there were any lemmings at the Nativity, they would be leaping to their deaths right now.

And I had such great plans!

I was going to pick something to purchase from the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Catalog to give as a family, and my family was going to LIKE IT and think it was COOL and know we were the best family EVER.  (Really – check them out.  It is a pretty cool charity).

Samaritan's Purse 2013 Gift Catalog

I was going to start not just one, but TWO new family Christmas traditions – one for just Dave and I and one for us and the kids.  No idea what – but I was going to “go big or go home”.

I was going to suggest a new activity for the Conard family Christmas, where we all brought a small notebook with our names on them, cutely decorated according to our personalities, and everyone would write wonderful, smarmy things in them about each other

I was going to sit with Dave and my two adult children on Christmas Eve and read the nativity story from Luke (2: 1-20) and then from Matthew (2:1-12), somewhere between leaving Grandma and Grandpa DeGroots but before I went to midnight mass with my parents.

I was going to have a baking day with my friends, and we would all gather round in my kitchen and laugh and make cut outs and eat chocolate and talk about how this was the best Christmas EVER.

Christmas Cookies

Mmmmmm….cookies!

In reality, we decided to sell our house about two weeks after that retreat, and I have prepared for none of the items on my list, as instead I have been preparing my home (and my heart) for its new family.  I have been feeling sad and confused and certainly not in the Christmas spirit.

So I trudged off to work that morning, crabby and grumpy.  It didn’t help that it was Garfield-I-hate-Mondaysa Monday.  Are there any good Mondays? I thought, as I walked thru the biting wind.  I frumped my way thru the morning, and by 2pm, when I went to work out with my friends, I was pretty happy the day was almost over.  We worked out hard (I’m still sore, three days later), and as usual, I was able to forget about everything for a while, except just making it thru the next set.

I don’t know what happened, but when I got back to my desk, I realized I had Christmas right in my possession, all this time. Maybe it was the endorphins or maybe that I only had another hour to work, or maybe clearing my mind opened it up for me to hear God’s voice.  Probably it was all of those things.  But suddenly, I felt okay about not being in the Christmas spirit.

norman-rockwell-christmasSo what if we are not the perfect family having the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas?  So what if the only decorations I have out this year are my tree and my Nativity?  So what if I feel crabby on Mondays and it’s too cold to walk the dogs and see the lights?  So what if I am sad about leaving my home of 15 years on one hand and excited to move on to the next chapter of our lives on the other?  So what if Christmas day comes and goes and I don’t feel any different than I would on any other given day?

In truth, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because I realized Christmas is in the everyday, just as Christ is in the everyday.

When Christ was born, he came without ribbons.  He came without tags.  He came without packages, boxes, or bags.  He came like all children come – with pain and blood and fear and wonder.  He came with a chorus of angels heard only by the smallest of audiences, a few shepherds out in the hills.  His parents worried about all the things new parents worried about.  Was he warm enough?  Was he hungry?  Did he have all ten fingers and toes?  Surely they were wondering if he really was the son of God or if they had just imagined the whole thing.  He must have seemed so….normal.

Nativity

And that’s what I learned.  I am going to live in the spirit of Christmas “present”.  To live, feel, breathe, love, weep –with all of who God made me to be – every single normal moment of every single normal day of every single normal year – no matter what comes.  No strings attached.  No “it has to be this way” or “we have to go here” or “I am supposed to feel this way”.  No more over the top expectations out of people or events.

So this is my promise to myself:  Just for today, I choose to live in the moment, even the crappy moments, because it is the moments that make up who I am.  Just for today, I choose to be present, to look all situations in the eye, because the present is where my loved ones are.  Just for today, I will embrace and accept my life, whether I’m in the valley of darkness or the mountain top of joy.

Each day is a gift.  Each day is Christmas.  Christmas doesn’t ‘come’.  Christmas just ‘is’.

grinchtextI love hearing from you!  What will you do, Just for Today?
Contentedly yours,
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