When Everyday Life is the Biggest Puzzle

Imagine your life as a jigsaw puzzle…

The information on the puzzle box is incredibly limited. It does not tell you how many pieces are inside. The photo on the outside of the box is just blue sky, scattered with soft focused clouds. As you look at the photo on the box, you mutter, “This is going to be so difficult to put together.” Every puzzle piece looks identical in color. The theory, in any time you put together a puzzle, is that the puzzle will look EXACTLY like the photo on the outside of the box. Your hands steadily open the box of the puzzle-of-life and remove the lid to see the contents. Much to your surprise, there are pieces of strange colors and of strange images, not all blue sky as you assumed.

My strategy, in putting together a puzzle, is to search out and place all the straight edges and corners to build the framework first. The beautiful blue frame stares back at you with the promise of many days yet to come. Your logical brain knows that life isn’t always going to be blue skies, it is a certainty that there may be clouds, maybe even a storm or two. As you fill in the pieces, you uncover a piece with an image of children. That’s pretty cool, not sure where they fit in, but it makes you smile. As you stir through the pieces, you discover an image of a lovely garden, again not sure where it fits, but pleasing nonetheless.

As you stir through yet more pieces, turning them right side up, you find a heart. Not just any heart, this one is broken. Oh! if only you knew where it fit, you could possibly prevent it from breaking. The next piece turned over, a hospital bed. You can assume that it must fit before the kids, after all, children are born in hospitals. But this piece is not even shaped like any of the other pieces. It is so random. You keep it within eye-line, always in sight, wondering when and where it fits.

You realize that you have excruciating back pain, you pass it off as having been sorting and searching for so long. Some hot packs and Advil with surely take care of it. There is a much bigger task at hand, making sense of this chaos. Hours and days blend together, as you piece together the story of your life. A little piece with a pill comes to sight, and another, and yet another. It seems as though the medications have multiplied and don’t resemble each other. You group them together and push them to the side.

You’re surveying the pieces before you. Some are brightly colored and some have dark murky images. A gloomy image of two people sitting across from each other in what looks like an office setting. These people do not look happy. One person with their head in the hands, the other holds a clipboard and pen. Unsure of what this means, you begin a new section of puzzle pieces.

Another shadowy piece is a bottle of poison, or so you think. When you look closer at the label, it appears to have some biohazard looking image on it. Is it a warning of something dangerous? Off to the side with the other dark pieces…

If only we were able to see all of the pieces of our life laid out in front of us. To see the timing and plan, the purpose of it all. Our sense of control would be so overwhelming, we would manage and manipulate the puzzle to fit our plan. Our way. Had I known that the piece with the broken heart would surface more times than I can count, I would have maybe withdrawn. Not allowed myself to love so ferociously. That would have been the worst, not the broken heart, the lack of passion in my life.

There is no way to compartmentalize life. There is no way to neatly organize our darkness or create nice, neat edges. The dark image of the people facing off in an office could represent many facets of my life. I’m not exactly sure which piece is which, perhaps it’s the conversation with a lawyer during my divorce. Perhaps it’s the conversation with a doctor that is just not listening to me or hearing the cry of my body. Perhaps it’s the conversation with a trusted friend that doesn’t understand or believe the abuse of my past. In any scenario, I’m was left feeling defeated and dark.

The dimness of a hospital bed, in this puzzle, served my parents, so many days and nights sitting around a hospital bed praying for better days. Cancer and disease are beasts that we try to tame. Days into months of lingering illness and pain. Some never know the victory over the beast. Little did I know, that in their death, I would learn about strength.

The ‘pill pieces’ have been present most of my adult life. I’ve battled depression and anxiety to epic proportions. I’ve had seasons of quiet and seasons of mayhem. Those manic seasons come and go, but never completely disappear. It’s in those season that I’ve craved peace. Sought it out and chased it. Peace is elusive. What you are certain will bring you peace, may be the core of chaos. While it is imperative to seek peace, seek discernment and wisdom equally.

In your busy-ness of life, you learn to pass off the little moments of discomfort as nothing more than nuisance. The back pain that stops you in your tracks can be attributed to a zillion things. Your weight, poor posture, an occupation on your feet all day. Never would you assume that your back pain may be the root of a deeper more invasive disease. Too busy to give it light, you pass it off as that, passing. When putting together the pieces of a puzzle within a puzzle, you discover you have an autoimmune disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis.  It’s when you understand your ‘biohazzard puzzle piece’ is not a warning of danger ahead, it is the treatment for the disease that you [and multiple doctors] failed to see. It’s the victory and defeat. You now have a name for the disease, but the treatment is another chapter in illness that you wouldn’t wish upon an enemy.

But in this tabletop view of life, you can see that these dark puzzle pieces are but small segments of a much bigger picture. Yes, they are visible, but they are surrounded by light. Not always sunshine, but light that gives purpose and life. Your life is that, purposeful. Breathe in the moment of right now. Un-burden yourself of the chaos and quest for having all of your pieces organized just right. Let go the pain of a season of dark days. Look for the lessons learned in those moments. Yes, even the darkness has a lesson to be learned. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning to not do that again, or it’s as complex as finding the voice within to stand up for yourself or a loved one in their dark season.

No, sunshine and blue skies would be too boring, for this girl. I will lean in and learn about love through the pain. Healing in the brokenness. Learn to slow down when my body tells me to. Life is to be lived, discovered anew. Throw the box away! Throw away the picture in your mind of how it should be. And, if life ever gets too blue sky, take a Sharpie and write cuss words across the pieces. Live life – out loud!!

 

 

When A Wife Has To Question Her Marriage Vows

More than five years ago I married the love of my life. I can honestly say that he’s the love of my life as I’ve known him since I was 9, my first kiss when I was 11, and wrote his name on every notebook I had. We had a break-up of over 30 years, but we found our way to each other again and married quickly, knowing it was right. We stood in front of family and friends and made promises and vows to…

…to have and to hold
from this day forward,
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
all the days of our lives.

We always believe in the better, richer, health and love and cherish; but what happens when the “sickness” takes over. Shortly after we were married I began to feel really lousy. I thought it was a pretty standard UTI aka bladder infection. I’d had a kajillion over the years, so it was no big deal to me. It was however a big deal to my favorite Nurse Practitioner. She saw some unusual flags in my lab work and immediately requested more labs. Fast forward several weeks; I’ve met my new doctor, a nephrologist; a kidney doctor. It has been determined that I have Chronic Kidney Disease; a progressive disease. Simply stated, my kidney function is declining, and will likely continue until failure. It could be decades until that point, if ever; but some life style changes are needed immediately.

Together, my hubby and I, took a realistic look at my future and what it may mean; dialysis or transplant. We have been realistic and he’s amazingly supportive. He’s my Jiminy Cricket, he helps to keep me positive and on track. We have been transparent when people ask why I can’t have ‘brown pop’ or a big fat steak when we dine with friends. Yes, there are cheat days when I just ‘need’ a Diet Coke or sneak a bite (or 5) of hubby’s medium-rare steak. He’s not a chronic-cop, but he helps to keep me in check.

Here we are, after five years of marriage, facing another medical hurdle. For months I’ve been wrestling with multiple issues. Random weird, things; a rash on my face, extreme fatigue, horrific pain that was come and go, and ridiculous sleep patterns. Doctoring for independent symptoms, mainly because they seemed to have zero connection. At the end of April, I had such crippling chest pain that I went to the ER. Long story, longer; I was admitted to the Heart Hospital with ‘inverted T-waves’ on my EKG. My experience was less than favorable, but that’s another blog for another day. During my follow-up visits, I felt as though they though I was nuts or over reacting. I was told my chest pain was Acid Reflux and my fatigue was part of my Depression. I’ve battled depression/anxiety for decades; I know the difference.

I’m not sure if it was a quest to prove my sanity or just to prove the doctor wrong, but I kept pushing for more tests and demanding action. It seemed as though more medical professionals were scratching their heads and rolling their eyes. It wasn’t until I was referred to a Rheumatologist that I got some answers. Her answers were actually questions, questions no one else was asking. She connected dots and pursued more options. Today, I’m readying for an MRI to prove/disprove a diagnosis. As of now we have some answers, none of which are catastrophic, but not something to cheer about.

It’s in the waiting that I have such unrest; I’m not a patient, patient. It’s my husband that keeps me grounded. Perhaps part of his easy manner is a thread of naivety or disbelief, but he’s not one to dwell on my illness. I tend to be the one to dwell, roll around and be miserable, in my illness. I feel guilty for my illness, I want more for my family. I want to be more for them. I don’t expect them to be the Web MD freak that I am, and know each symptom and prognosis. It’s on days when I feel as though I can’t move, I have terrible pain and want to be a pitiful puppy that I question my marriage vow. Not necessarily my vow, but his.

I know that my husband professed before our friends and family that he would love me in sickness and in health, but neither one of us signed up for this. Husbands are amazing creatures, and have pretty similar natures; they are fixers. When I say that I’m having a tough day, he asks why. It’s not as though he doesn’t know why, but he’s wanting to now why so that he can fix it. His kind and loving nature wants to keep me from experiencing the ugliness. It’s in those moments that I get angry for the years I ‘wasted’ and lack of gratitude. It isn’t fair that the best years of my life, prove to be the most unhealthy.

But this is where faith steps in, the belief in something that is unseen. Our future is just that, unseen. No one knows or can predict what tomorrow holds. In sickness AND in health, we aren’t promised a tomorrow. It’s in that promise that I made, MY vow to love my husband in sickness and in health, that I understand that it wasn’t a promise of his sickness or his health or mine. We promised. WE have sickness and health. WE have better or worse. We promised.

It’s on that promise, that I will stand – or lie down in this instance – to pursue my sickness. I will take my 2 Xanax and cowgirl my way through an MRI, that I dread!!! I will seek answers and pursue treatments as my promise to him. No questioning my vows, but answering the call to love, all the days of my life.

 

Reasons Why I Am Not Blessed

Well, did that title make you sit up and take notice?
Did you think, she’s nuts!? (more nuts-er)
and… she’s off her meds, again!

Yes, I am nuts and medicated; but I am not blessed.  Well, not in this sense:

blessed

adjective bless·ed \ˈble-səd\

Simple Definition of blessed
: having a sacred nature : connected with God
: very welcome, pleasant, or appreciated
—used to make a statement more forceful

Watch out for your toes y’all… but this word has been so overused in Christianese. “How are you today?” “Oh I am just so blessed, thank you.”  I’m guilty, I’ll own it. But when I truly look at that phrase, while the intent is to give props to God, it has a certain arrogance about it. Forceful indeed!

Honestly, I don’t remember a time when God was not a part of me. As a kid, my parents would drop me at Sunday School and come back to retrieve me. I attended church and youth groups with friends, but I wasn’t raised in the church. My mom was a generational-cast-off-Catholic* and I think my dad and God had an agreement, “You don’t bother me, I won’t bother You.” I don’t really have a salvation story, it’s just always been. I have some great rescue stories and turn-around stories and Annisa-you’re-a-bonehead-stories to which God showed up in BIG ways. But to say I have a revelation, salvation story; no. I have a pretty shocking testimony, however… brace yourselves, it’s pretty deep… I AM STILL HERE!!!

I am still here, yep, sums it all up. Sexual assault survivor, teen mom, overachiever, striving spirit, depressed, anxious, medicated, suicidal, devastated, renewed – I am still here. Days I didn’t think I would be, days I didn’t want to be. Yet, here I am; but don’t call me blessed. The implications of being blessed points to God giving special favor. While I know that God has been my saving grace, I don’t consider myself in special, segregated favor.

People often tend to treat God as a Genie: 

One to bequeath gifts and health and finances and the perfect job, only in times of need on our part. We never speak to him, ONLY when we need him.

Some treat Him like the TV Infomercial Guy:

If I act in the next 15 minutes, You will get me out of this situation. But WAIT, there’s more! For just a nominal fee, (like going to church, once) You will restore ALL the dumb decisions I’ve made! Right? Act now, this offer expires soon!

And there’s my personal favorite, the Barterer:

Ok God, I’m going to give up chocolate IF you will just do this one thing for me! (anyone? anyone? thought so!)

[I personally believe] We don’t receive special blessings JUST because we believe. I know that will fly-in-the-face of some believers, but I’ve never been the docile type. Stay with me on the Crazy-Brain-Train…

There are believers all over the world; I have been to one of  the most underprivileged, desperate, no electricity, no running water, villages in Peru. I have hugged and kissed these little Grubkins, and found more joy and pure love in their hearts than any overindulged brat back home. So many of us would look at the two, side by side, and think, “oh, the American kid has so much more. So blessed.” and “Those poor unfortunate Grubkins, have nothing, how sad.” WRONG!!! Brown flag!!

 

To say that stuff makes you blessed is an insult to Grace

How can I say that God has ‘blessed’ me with things, and wealth and health, etc when children are living in poverty? Children are growing up in crack houses? Tsunamis and earthquakes happen to believers, too. I can’t view blessings as a reward for simply believing, not while so many suffer; cancer continues to ravage and kill,  a dumb-ass guy puts mouse poison on the salad bar at grocery stores, devastation all around. And Yet, I should have the arrogance to say, I am blessed.

I understand, know and believe that I am a Child of God, but I’m not the favorite kid. Yes, I also know that there is an opposing force to what God wills, and that we also have free-will. That still doesn’t make me blessed, special. I will admit, I used to correct people who would say that they’re ‘lucky’. Oh no, no, no….you are blessed! As I self analyze and [over]think my own words; this is what I actually said. “NO NO NO, you are wrong. Luck doesn’t exist. It’s because You are special. You got the goodies, oh favored kid!”

Yes, He is a good good father, and like any parent, God wants to see us succeed. He gives us free-will to choose a path, even if it’s the wrong one. He will wait on us, arms folded, to come back around. Inspire us to make better choices.  He is not the Genie, TV Infomercial Guy or Barterer, “Ok, Annisa, if you do this for Me, I will give you all your desires.” Nope, not how it works. God doesn’t discipline. He doesn’t punish, although many still live in that fear.  “Annisa, I saw that you partook of far too much wine yesternight, prepare ye for your smite.  {I know you read that in a Shakespeare-ish voice in your head}

Not even the pomp and self-glory of mission work, ‘ok Annisa, go to Peru or to a woman’s prison and reach out to those poor underprivileged, unfortunate souls. Show them how blessed you are” WRONG, again. “Annisa, go to these places. Have your heart broken, splintered into shards, and see that I love them too. Not more, not less. I love them, too. Humble yourself, you aren’t all that. What can you learn from them, Bonehead?” {yes, God calls me Bonehead}

God loves us, even when we are unlovable, even when we reject Him. Even, when we aren’t sure we believe IN Him, He believes in us. Picture in your mind, God gathering every believer in a row, linked arm in arm; He would look at each of us, and say the same thing, one by one;” I love YOU, I have such great plans for you, and you, and you…. ”

 

*MY definition of generational-cast-off-Catholic = Someone who’s parents divorced and could no longer attend Catholic Mass, only to marry a man who had been divorced, and not be able to attend Catholic Mass. {Thanks heavens, for the Catholics Come Home program}