NicoleNews

Friday, September 29, 2006

Amazed


First I must apologize for the recent absence of entries. It actually is a good sign in some respects. A sign that the pace has picked up around here for all of us. Since Nicole was given the green light to walk, she has done just that. I am reminded of the time Jesus told the lame person to get up and walk. He got up and began to walk. Well, so has Nicole. She went through a couple of weeks cautiously walking through the house, carefully going up and down the steps, outside to our yard and the car, then a long walk in the park one beautiful day with a friend, Savanah ( who has "been there" for Nicole through these months - thanks Savanah!), attentively making her way down the sidewalk of a busy street, until eventually feeling more stability and normalcy in her walk. It has been the most amazing progress, truly miraculous, since the doctor's initial prognosis was one to two years to complete recovery. I believe her quick recovery is due to so many factors. One is her youth, making it possible for her bones to fuse quickly and they did so perfectly...beautifully alligned. This meant corrective surgery wasn't necessary. Her doctors anticipated surgery may be necessary, but it is not the case. Her bones have fused and without shifting. How amazing is that?

This photo is extremely symbolic. It was the morning after Nicole was told by her doctor to begin walking and resume normal activity. As I entered what is our "hang-out" room (formerly our dining room), the first thing I noticed was the presence of an empty wheelchair. Stately positioned right where she always sat, it was apparent she walked to her bed that night, leaving the wheelchair behind, empty. This wheelchair was never in this room at night...every evening she wheeled herself into her bedroom and lifted her body onto the bed. This meant Nicole, for the first time in three months, had walked to her bed. Tears flowed at this physical demonstration of the amazing transition taking place in Nicole's progress. For a brief moment, three months flashed before my eyes and then disappeared. There was a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us. God was doing something that far exceeding our expectation.

Physical therapy is now part of our routine...three times a week. It is building strength and stability in Nicole's lower body and legs. Although she is always "achy" after a session, she calls it "good pain". We are also grateful that these sessions have not proven to be as painful as originally anticipated. In so many ways, we have witnessed the amazing healing of our daughter. This brings to mind the many who have prayed regularly for Nicole over the last four months. Your prayers have sustained her through this time of suffering, confusion and healing, giving us all strength to face each day with its unexpected challenges. Thank you!! Nicole will continue therapy for six more weeks. By that time we anticipate she will be well on her way to full recovery. Again, it is astonishing to think this has happened in less than six months from the accident. We can't comprehend it all. We stand amazed and in awe at all God has done!

There is another item for which we are extremely grateful. Today we heard that the driver of the car has pleaded guilty to all charges against her. This means Nicole doesn't have to face months of drawn out court hearings and the emotional toll of waiting for a conviction and resolution. This is good news for Nicole; however, I am also keenly aware that someone else's life is tragically altered as the result of a very foolish decision. No doubt she is experiencing her own pain.

So much has happened in just a few months that at times it is dizzying. Nicole is now facing decisions about when to move back to her apartment, should she or can she work part-time or full time, when and where, there are litigious concerns and options, and countless questions still unanswered. As her body is recovering, we know in time her spirit will also recover. We look forward to that day. For now we are all extremely thankful.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Journey

The call no parent wants to get,
concern,
fear,
the unknown,
the unsettling.
The love that no one deserves,
cards,
flowers,
money,
gifts,
food,
help.
The prayers that kept on praying,
family,
friends,
churches,
people as yet not known.
Places you don't want to be,
hospital,
wheelchair,
x-ray room,
doctor's office,
rehabilitative therapy.
News you did not expect to hear,
Get up,
stand,
walk,
exercise.
Thanks you really don't know how to express,
for healing,
for recovery,
for support,
for provision,
for medical care,
for justice,
and in it all,
day by day,
for one main thing,
ever needed,
ever constant,
the Hand of God

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Very Big Little Things

Difficulty changes the way you assess life. It simply shrinks your calculations. In moments of suffering you tend to calculate life in small increments. You look for little signs of progress and small signs of help. You search for little indications that you are not alone and small evidences that things are getting better. You find you are thankful for smaller things and express gratitude over what you once would not notice.

In difficulty you are reduced to living life in small moments and little steps. Difficulty sticks you in the middle of some big thing that you did not have in your plan, so in the middle of it you search for little signs of progress, hope, strength, and life. In difficulty those little things are no longer little. They are huge and important. The little side-comment of the doctor takes on huge significance. The little note of encouragement is big enough to get you through the day. The alleviation of a minor pain stands as a sign of major progress. A few steps take on the importance of completing a marathon. In difficulty you experience many very big little things.

Nicole had two very big little things in the last few days. First, she actually spent an overnight in her apartment in Center City. No, she is not ready to live there yet, and yes, it was a physically uncomfortable experience. But it also was a very big little step back toward the life she was living before May 19th. The second very big little thing was the purchase of a cane yesterday. It meant so much to Nicole. The cane will allow her to be a bit more mobile and more stable as she is mobile. It will also help communicate her condition to people who are around her in the outside world, and that protection is very important to Nicole.

So, we are very thankful for these very big little things. We are aware that difficulty has given us eyes that are more able to see the small things for which to be thankful and we are grateful that day after day we have little things to celebrate.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Limits

We just don't like to live with limits. We all tend to buy into the delusion of our own invincibility. We want to think that we are better off than we are and can do more than we can. We don't like weakness, frailty, and pain. We all want to be able to set goals and be free of obstacles in the way. But we live in a world where pain exists and bad things happen. Our bodies do get broken and weakness is a daily reality. And when trauma has broken the body, the road back is often a long one.

Nicole is up and walking! It is an amazing thing! It is a reality deserving both gratitude and celebration! But she is not walking like you or I would walk. Her legs and feet have not borne weight since the morning of her accident, and so they are weak and unaccustomed to exercise. So what happens is that the excitement of mobility is quickly tempered by the onset of the soreness that follows.

We went for a slow walk with Nicole on Tuesday in Valley Green. Valley Green is in the upper section of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and has a wide walking trail that runs along the Wissahickon river. It is so lush and wide that you have no sense that you are in the middle of the city. We really didn't walk that far and we surely took our time, yet on Wednesday Nicole awoke to such pain in her feet that she had to cancel her therapy for that day. It was a bit of a wake-up call.

Yes, Nikki is walking. And, yes, we are thankful. But we all must remember that she is walking with limits. Limits that will remain with her for a while.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Walk

She came out from rehabilitative therapy stiff and sore, but she walked down the hallway! Yes, she moved slowly, almost as if made from china. But Nicole walked. I went and got the car and it was almost surreal to drive up and see her standing and waiting for me. Her left leg is weak and her right thigh is still somewhere in the process of returning to normal. Her back is stiff, she does better with bending forward than leaning back. Yet with all of this, she is so much further along than we ever imagined she would be at this point in her recovery. The fusing of the bones in her pelvis has been as near to perfect as anything you would hope for.

Are there fears and dangers ahead? Sure, there are. In these early days of mobility Nicole needs to be extremely careful that she does not fall or isn't bumped. She needs to fight to recover without pushing herself too far. And she needs to fight the discouragement of working hard in therapy and then after paying the price in discomfort.

The walk of recovery isn't simply about physical exercise. If physical recovery were only about physical recovery, physical recovery would be so much easier. The process of recovery from serious injury and all the suffering it entails runs deeper than the organs, bones, and muscles. It is a walk of the heart as well. It is the walk of determination, the walk of hope, the walk of faith, the walk of patience, and the walk of persistence. All are needed in order for the physical exercise to do its work. As Nicole walks, our prayer is that she will walk the deeper walk as well.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Gentle Steps

Gentle steps,
new,
unexpected,
amazing,
exciting.
Gentle steps,
halting,
careful,
slowly, scary,
Dr.says, "Go."
Gentle steps,
therapeutic,
scary,
restorative,
celebratory,
strengthening.
Gentle steps,
ahead of schedule,
unpredictable progress,
protective environments,
process continues.
Gentle steps,
Gift of the Giver,
Grace of Creator,
Fearfully thankful,
uncovering meaning.
Gentle steps,
all of us taking,
never quite knowing,
living and learning,
tears and laughing.
Gentle steps,
thankful at starting,
not quite returning,
upright and moving,
watching and waiting,
Gentle steps.
Gentle steps.
Gentle steps.
Gentle steps.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Perspective

Nicole stood and took a few steps Monday for the first time since her accident! She moved haltingly and hasn't left her wheelchair since. This is a remarkable achievement given the severity of the injuries she sustained May 19th. Again, we are very grateful for every step of progress she makes.

One of the observations Nicole immediately made after being upright, was that things looked smaller. She had become used to viewing life from the perspective of looking up from her wheelchair without really being aware of it. She only became aware once she was standing and looking at life from that perspective.

Difficulty does this, it changes your perspective. In ways that are subtle and not so subtle, it alters the way you see your world. Perhaps it causes you to look at your world through the lens of fear and dread. Or maybe it makes you look at life through the window of profound questions that you have never asked before. Or you may look at life through the lens of envy, now even more aware of what others have that you do not. Or difficulty may give you the eyes to be thankful for little things that you wouldn't have previously acknowledged. Difficulty may lead you to look at your world through the lens of doubt, calling age old beliefs into question. Or it may encourage you to see your world through the eyes of faith as you are now more aware than ever of God's presence and help. Or difficulty may just blind you, leaving you only able to see your own suffering. Or it may give you better sight, now more able to see and relate to the needs of others.

Suffering will alter your vision in some way. This is both one of its dangers and one of its gifts. Our prayer for us and Nicole is that this moment of difficulty will not leave us visually impaired but with an enhanced ability to see.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Answers

Difficulty is a woods and the trees are questions. They are everywhere you look and in the way of where you step. They keep you from moving in a direct line to anywhere and they shade way too much of the sun. The greater the difficulty,the deeper the woods, the deeper the woods, the more you long for the straight path and the bright sun that answers are able to bring. Now, difficulty is never without mystery because many of its questions cannot be answered, but it is wonderful when the answerable questions get answered!

It is our hope that this week will be a week of answers. Nicole has two therapy appointments and it will be interesting to see how she progresses through regular rehabilitative therapy. More significantly, she has Wednesday and Friday appointments with the doctors that are treating her legs and pelvis. It has been six weeks since Nicole saw either doctor. We all want to hear how she is doing and what the next step will be in the process of recovery.

No, we are not entitled to answers for all the questions we can generate. In fact, we are lovingly protected from answers that would overwhelm us. But it is a grace when an answer is able to dispel confusion, weaken fear, and strengthen hope. And in the middle of the woods of difficulty, it is wonderful to know, to understand, and to be able to plan.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Normal

It was a good night. We ordered Chinese, Nicole dug through old boxes of stored "stuff", and we did a lot of laughing. It was nice to see Nikki's smile and fun to enjoy her unique sense of humor. There was something fundamentally mundane and normal about the moment. There was no discussion of injuries, recovery, therapy, or physicians. There was no talk of lawyers, courtrooms, charges and judges. There was no looking back at the tragedy that happened and no looking forward to what may be. It was simply a very normal moment enjoyed by parents and their 24 year old daughter.

There will be many days to come that are anything but normal. There are many physical and medical hurdles ahead. There are tons of legal questions unanswered. There will be moments of discouragement and pain. We will not always agree on what is and what should be. There are hugely important decisions to be made. And significant steps to be taken. There is wonderment about what life after the wheelchair will be like. There are questions about the long-term physical effects of Nicole's accident. There are many appointments and hearings to come. But last night was normal; Chinese food, old stuff, and laughter.

When you are going through long-term difficulty normal is never really normal. No, it's a precious gift received with gratitude by people once who wondered if they would ever have normal back again.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Justice Begun

We are all very thankful that in the courtroom on Monday things went as well as we could have ever wished.

Nicole was able to be calm and to testify very clearly. There were other witnesses who filled in other important details of that terrible morning. The driver of the car was charged with a variety of very serious charges and will now have to decide how she is going to plead. If she pleads guilty, there will not be a trial and Nicole will not have to testify again in the criminal case. If she decides to plead innocent, the case will go to trial and Nicole will once again be the principal witness.

As you can imagine, we are very relieved and thankful for this good beginning. We realize that we are at the beginning of what could be a lengthy legal process, but are very thankful that Nicole experienced justice operating on her behalf after such a huge injustice was done to her.

At the end of the day, Nicole and Luella were both exhausted and grateful; a pretty good combination after what may well have been a very disappointing day. Thank you again for standing by us as we walk through the steps of both recovery and justice.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Let Justice be done

It is a quiet Sunday morning and I am preparing for an overnight trip to Dallas. I awoke thinking that we are on the cusp of a very important post-accident transition for Nicole.

Nicole's traumatic injuries and all that we have dealt with since, were the result of her being crushed against a wall by the driver of an SUV, who was both drunk and unlicensed. On Monday morning the first hearing of the criminal case involving Nicole's accident will begin. It will mean that Nicole will see the person who is responsible for her injuries, face to face, for the first time. None of us are able to predict what that will be like for Nicole. None of us knows what it will be like for Nicole to be the principal witness and be required to relive the horrible events of that terrible morning.

We would like Nicole to be able to experience whatever comfort may come from seeing justice done on her behalf. No one can take away her injuries. No one can give back her former life. No one can get her through recovery. No one can guarantee her future. No one can remove the horrendous days of suffering that she endured and the many, many days locked in her wheel chair and her bed. No one can remove the fears and concerns that plague us all. But justice can be done. It would be wonderful for the driver to receive a conviction of guilt.

So, our prayer for Monday is that:
- Nicole will have the strength that she needs as she faces the driver and testifies
- that Luella will have grace and wisdom as she supports Nicole
- and that justice will be clearly and decisively done.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

These are the Days

These are the days:

- of therapy and recovery
- of quiet boredom
- of legal questions and concerns
- of thoughts and questions about the future
- of wondering how long
- of laughter mixed with pain
- of hope colored by dread
- of medical insight and physical questions
- of restless sleep followed by hours to pass
- of stacks of vidoes and finished puzzles
- of long days in, punctuated by brief moments out
- these are the days between aftermath and a return to normality

But these are the days that we have been given. They haven't simply fallen on us, the product of meaningless chance. These are the days we have been given. They are ours for a purpose. They have been given for a reason. We are here because we were meant to be here. We have been given these days for good. This moment is soil in which something will be planted. If in this moment the seeds of anger are planted, bitterness will grow. If in this moment faith is planted, hope will grow. These are the days that we have been given, not only so that we would learn how to wait, but so that we would plant new seeds, invest in new things, and make fresh starts. But when you have been injured so severely it is tempting to let survival overwhelm investment and questions overwhelm fresh starts.

These are the days we have been given, but they are not meant to be an end in themselves. These days are a portal to new insight, new commitments, and new action. Pray that we would not only say these are the days of questions, waiting, and boredom, but we would also say that these days of pain are also days of opportunity and potential. Pray that we would act as if these days have not been given as an end of soemthing, but rather as a beginning of something better.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Waiting

Accident,
trauma,
fear,
hospital,
waiting,
pain,
tears,
questions and concern,
cards and flowers,
confusion and hope,
waiting,
release,
home,
adjustments,
questions,
cards and gifts,
waiting,
examinations,
long quiet days,
boredom,
waiting,
discouragement,
pass the hours,
pass the hours,
food and help,
thankfulness,
waiting,
doctors and lawyers,
waiting,
hope and fear,
laughter and depression,
therapy,
waiting,
three rooms,
day and night,
day and night,
waiting,
waiting,
waiting,
waiting.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Long Tail

The problem with difficulty is that it is a beast with a very long tail. If you have experienced a life-altering crisis, it will have a profound effect on your life for a very long time. There is a way in which the long tail is the hardest thing to deal with. You and the community around you arise to the moment when the crisis explodes. You are moved with grief and compassion. But, long after the moment of crisis, the tail of difficulty remains. It is hard to live when you are still being whipped around by the tail.

Difficulty really does have a long tail. Perhaps it's the long tail of devastating financial implications. Or maybe it's the long tail of lasting injuries. Or it could be the long tail of unanswerable questions about the furture. Or the long tail of loneliness and alienation. Or the long tail of profound life questions that are just below the surface all the time. Or the long tail of fears about recovery. Perhaps it's the long tail of unbelievably long days, trapped in three rooms of a house. Maybe it's the long tail of contemplating over and over again how much you have lost. Or it could be the long tail of wondering where your friends are and what they are doing? Or it could be the long tail of anger and envy that never seem too far away.

The immediate crisis is over for Nicole, but the struggle is far from over. The beast hasn't left her room, because this beast has a very long tail. It is the long tail of difficulty that Nicole (and we) are dealing with right now. There are moments when we deal with it well and there are times when it feel as if we've taken all the whipping we can take from the tail.

We grab hold of the hope that we do not deal with the long tail alone. There is another sufferer who exposed himself to the long tail of suffering so that we would have help when our moment of difficulty seems like it has gone on too long.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

We Are Family

One of the greatest benefits of difficulty is that it reinforces the importance of relationships. In moments of difficulty you find yourself leaning on others like never before. Suffering reminds you that you were never constructed to do life by yourself. It reveals that for all your delusions of personal self-sufficiency, you are actually tied into a web of inter-dependent relationships without which you could never live. For all of its feelings of alienation and loneliness, difficulty is a highly relational experience.

Nicole is no longer suffering the awful physical pain that resulted from her injuries, but she is not pain free. No, she deals everyday with the pain of a shockingly altered life and a fundamental inability to be mobile. She is basically locked into three rooms of our house. Just about everything she does is done in those three rooms. Yesterday a wicked thunderstorm hit and I watched Nicole try to get to a window so she could see. She finally gave up in frustration. The pain Nikki feels now is the pain of being a prisoner of her injuries and the pain of not knowing how long it will be before her prison gates are unlocked.

Last night Nicole's prisoner monotony was broken up by an evening with her brother, Ethan, and his wife, Courtney. We had supper together and then played cards. I sat there very thankful for family. Ethan and Courtney didn't do anything unique or special. All they did was visit, but in so doing they brought their outside lives into Nicole's inside world. And while they were with us, the monotony was broken. I hated to see them go. I felt the quiet enter Nicole's three rooms again and I could sense that she was struggling with her plight.

Thankfully we are family. And thankfully, the borders of our family extend way beyond even our extended family. Last night family broke the monotony and interrupted the pain of immobility. It didn't take much. They didn't need the technical knowledge of a physician or counselor, simply the willingness to enter those three rooms and be themselves.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Will Wonders Never Cease?

As I looked out from the deck of the beach condo that we were enjoying at the invitation of friends, and as I took in the mesmerizing beauty to the ocean, I found myself lost in thought. On May 19th something happened that was totally out of our control that radically altered our lives. When in a moment your life changes, you are again and again left feeling weak, small, unable, unprepared, and unwise. You feel this way because you are dealing with a very bad thing that, if you had the power and control, you would not have permitted into your life. In the face of this, you are confronted with the vast amount of life that is simply outside of your ability to determine and to manage. And as you live through the difficulty, you wish you could wave a magic wand and go back to life as it was the moment before difficulty changed everything.

Yet, as I was sitting there, taking in the multi-media display of creation's beauty, another thought came flooding into my brain. Nature's display confronted me with the fact that there are also many, many things in my life that I did not choose and have not controlled that are very, very good. I was reminded that everyday we encounter things that we have no power over whatsoever but that make our lives easy, beautiful, satisfying, fulfilling, possible, and healthy.

- We did not choose to live in a time where medicine has made such tremendous advancements.
- We did not choose to live in a country where quality health care is so readily available.
- We did not choose that Nicole would be injured in a place where a hospital was close with almost immediate trauma care.
- We did not choose to be loved and supported by people from all over the world; people who have met so many of our needs.
- We did not design the human body with its astonishing ability to heal and recuperate.
- We do not control the technical insight and practical wisdom of doctors who have provided such good care for Nicole.
- We do not control the chemistry of the body with its almost mysterious ability to respond to medications.
- We did not create the flowers that have again and again brought beauty into our place of difficulty.
- We did not plan to have work that would afford us the flexibility of schedule that we have enjoyed since May 19th.
- These and a thousand other things have been as present in this moment as has the pain of suffering.

You see, our lives are not just shaped by difficulty over which we have no power, but also by wonders that never seem to cease. And for this we are very thankful!

While we were away, Nicole and her aunt devised a way for Nicole to actually get herself upstairs and into the shower without standing up. Nicole has great upper-body strength, so she eased herself out of her wheelchair and onto the steps and went up the stairs on her bottom. She was able to sit on a chair in the shower and then ease herself back down the steps and into her wheelchair. Will wonders never cease?!?

We are thankful for Nicole's progress, but even more thankful that in our own weakness and lack of control our lives are not out of control. Each day we are surrounded by things of beauty and grace; things over which we have no power. What we need are eyes to see and hearts to embrace the beauty in the middle of the difficulty so that we can not only ask, "When will this trial end?", but also, "Will wonders never cease?"

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Break in the Action

Yes, in the middle of difficulty, that is what you often long for...somehow, someway there would be a momentary break in the action. Difficulty is demanding and all-consuming. Difficulty eats up your time, controls your schedule, and has a plan for your future. When you are in the middle of what you would have never chosen to be in the middle of, you feel both a loss of control and as if you are being controlled. You are never really free to choose and to do. No, difficulty means that there is one big thing that has entered your life that must be dealt with everyday.

So in the middle of difficulty's daily demands, you do hit those moments when you wish that there could be a little break in the action to rest, retreat, and recouperate. Thankfully Luella and I are going to get a break in the action for a few days. Once again we are the recipients of the kindness of friends who have invited us to the shore for a few days. We have been able to arrange care for Nicole while we are away. I am particuarly happy for Luella who has been going from early morning until early morning the next day since May 19th.

As we leave, I have not been able to quit thinking that for Nicole there is no break. She still remains the prisoner of her injuries. There are no exit ramps on her long road of recovery. She isn't able to forget the many things that she has lost. She cannot escape the profound questions of her future. And she awakes every day knowing that she will once again live the same day that she lived the day before until her injuries are healed and her strength is restored.

So pray for rest for us and grace for Nicole. Pray that she would have strength to fight both the inward battle of the heart and the outward battle of physical recovery, because right now for her, there really is no break in the action.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Water, Water Everywhere

Well, yesterday it was finally worked out. Nicole will be able to begin non weight-bearing aquatic therapy next week at a very well-regarded local rehabilitation hospital. It is very important to get her legs moving and active as her pelvic injuries are continuing to heal. We are thankful that Nicole can take this next step in her journey of recovery.

Last night as I was lying in bed, trying to get my mind to shut off so I could get some much needed sleep, I began thinking about water. What we have been going through is a lot like being tossed by the waves in the middle of a storm. You have those moments when you feel as though you are on the crest of the surf. Perhaps you've been given good medical news, or been encouraged by a gift, a card, or a meal, or maybe it has simply been a good day emotionally. In those moments it feels like the surf is carrying you. You can sense you are making progress.

Then there are those moments when you feel like you are in the deep valley between the waves. You are looking up at walls of water. You wonder which one will crash over you first and you think about how much progress will be lost when it does. Maybe the valley is just a tough day emotionally, or maybe it is disappointing news.

Often the feeling in your heart in times of difficulty is much like sea sickness. Not unlike the stomach of someone who has been riding the angry surf, your heart gets to the point that it's had all that it can take of the mountains and valleys of the surf. You simply feel tired of being tossed around and you long to be on the shore and out of the waves.

Pray that as we continue to ride the surf of Nicole's injury and recovery, we would remember that, although we are tossed, we are not totally adrift. Thankfully we do have an anchor and for that we are continually grateful.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Very Different, Very Same Day

Difficulty often means that you are locked in a world of sameness. It feels like you're living the same day over and over and over again. And while the days are mind-numbingly the same, there is little you can do to alter them. It's like sitting in a movie theater and watching the same scene over and over again and realizing that your strapped into your seat and you cannot get out.

In the middle of the sameness you don't really live your way through the day as a willing and active participant. No, what you actually do is look for ways to survive the day. You grasp at things that will make the hours pass quickly so that you go to sleep and wake up to live the same day all over again. You do this so you can get as many days behind you as quickly as possible because you know you have been relegated to living this same day over and over again for a long time. It's hard to be thoughtful. It's hard to be productive. It's hard to think that you have been blessed with time to do what you previously wished you had time to do. In difficulty it doesn't feel like you have been blessed with time, it feels like you have been cursed with time. Yes, you have been given unencumbered hours, but it's the same unencumbered hours over and over again.

When struggling with the constant sameness of repetitive days, little differences take on a whole new meaning. You notice even the smallest alterations in the schedule or character of a day and you tend to be thankful for even the minor things that result in the day being just a little bit different. Yesterday was a very different, very same day.

We all were prepared for yesterday because we have lived it so many times already. We knew what the needs, duties, schedule, and expectations would be. We did the same things that we always do on this same day, but it was different. When I went to bed, my heart wasn't as heavy as it had been on the days preceding because this very same day had been very different in one particular way. Nicole had a bright and cheerful day. Nicole has a wonderful (quasi-sarcastic) sense of humor and her humor was in evidence yesterday. She even made some gallows-humor jokes about her condition and her life in the wheel chair. When Nicole smiles the room brightens.

The room was bright yesterday and that made the very same day a very different day. How can we not be thankful? It's hard to know why yesterday was different, and you feel reticent to over-analyze it, but it was nice to have a day characterized by sweetness and humor.

I don't expect that yeterday began a major difference in our days. I suspect that we will return to living the same day over and over again. So it is right to stop, observe and be thankful for a different day. It probably wasn't a long-term change, but it was a sweet gift, given by someone who knew we needed it. We are grateful.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It's Just Not that Simple

The problem with difficulty is that it simply isn't simple. It would be easy to be able to say that difficulty is a bad thing caused by human beings and that is that. The problem is that, in reality, it isn't that simple. Any moment of difficulty is a swirl of seemingly contradictory things that somehow you are dealing with everyday.

Sometimes by your own stupidity or irresponsibility you make your own bad moment. Sometimes difficulty is the result of dealing poorly with things that are in your control, but not always. Nicole was not acting irresponsibly and the thing that happened to her involved many things that were out of her control.

Sometimes a bad thing is just a bad thing and there is nothing else to say. Sometimes evil is evil and without any apparent redeeming value, but not always. Sometimes very bad things result in very good things. Sometimes, in what seem to be horrible, life-changing moments, the seeds of a flower-bed of a wonderful new life are planted and begin to grow.

Sometimes pain is a horrible debilitating thing that robs you of life and vitality. Sometimes pain is just pain, but not always. Sometimes pain is a God-given warning that something important has gone wrong. Sometimes the greatest of pains produces the greatest of thanks for things that without the pain would not even have been noticed.

Sometimes difficulty affords you time to get out of the rat-race and re-evaluate and re-assess. Sometimes the times of contemplation in difficulty redirect and nourish the soul, but not always. Sometimes pain makes you more susceptible to anger, self-pity, bitterness, and the cancerous desire for vengeance.

Sometimes difficulty gives you time to be creative and productive. Sometimes it allows you to discover previously uncovered gifts and abilities, but not always. Sometimes in moments of pain all you want to do is numb your mind and distract your soul and so you do anything to escape the drudgry of another 16 hours before the next time to sleep.

Sometimes difficulty introduces you to profound life questions that are both worth asking and answering. Sometimes pain makes you a better philosopher and theologian, but not always. Sometimes difficulty causes you to be trapped in the dark hallway of questions that are easily asked, but cannot be answered. Sometimes the deepest pain of difficulty is the pain of living in the middle of its mysteries.

Sometimes difficulty invites you to a new way and a fresh start. Sometimes difficulty results in postive transitions and benefical new plans, but not always. Sometimes in difficulty you feel like you've lost complete control over your life and the ablility to plan. Sometimes in difficulty it seems like someone has put your life on hold.

Difficulty is not a simple experience. In times of suffering, you don't deal with any of these things separately. They are the swirl that you live in the middle of everyday. And in the middle of it all it is easy to lose your bearings. The problem with difficulty is that it is not just one thing, it is a lot of seemingly contradictory things you are required to deal with all at once. Pray that we would not lose our bearings in the middle of the swirl.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Too Quiet

It was a quiet day, a very, very quiet day. It just didn't seem like there was much to say. Things are what they are and they won't be changing soon. And in the middle of it all, there are times when we all seem to be processing the state of things within ourselves.

We are in a regular "recovery routine" consisting of the little things we do for Nicole to assist her as she goes through the day. Luella and I have learned how to balance our schedules so that one of us can be at the house at all times. Nicole is rolling around more in her chair and doing more things for herself. And Rusty (our dog) follows her wherever she goes. (No tire marks on his back yet!)

We are working to get Nicole's aqua therapy started. Please pray that the obstacles in the way will be alleviated, so that Nicole can get her muscles moving.

I think we are all a bit tired and a little frustrated because we all are being asked to wait. We wait for therapy to begin. We wait for the next doctor's appointment. Nicole waits many times each day for us to assist her. We wait for Nicole to be able to be more mobile. We wait to find out what is going to happen with Nicole's legal case. We wait for Nikki's body to heal. We spend hours at home, sitting and waiting. We all wait for this moment to be over. And we wait to return to some semblance of normal life. We wait. It is what we are being called to do.

There are times in the wait when you have said all there is to say. There are times when you are not all on the same page. There are times when the days seem unbelievably repetitive. These are the moments when quiet descends. Sometimes it's the quiet of impatience. Sometimes it's the quiet of boredom. Sometimes it's the quiet of disagreement. Sometimes it's the quiet of exhaustion. Sometimes it's the quiet of longing. Sometimes it's the quiet of assessment. And sometimes its just quiet; nothing more to say.

In the middle of it being too quiet yesterday a package came from friends in California. It was full of wonderful baked goods. It broke the quiet, if just for a moment, and we were thankful.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Tension

Whenever I return from a long trip, I am reminded once again of what we have been through since May 19th and how much progress Nicole has made. Each time we have visited the doctor her progress has been medically confirmed. I am also hit with how we have been able to turn our house into a rehab center and how God has provided the help that we have needed each time we have needed it. As I walk around Nikki's part of the house, I see evidence of gifts she has been given and I am reminded of how many people have taken time to consider just what a person in her situation might want, need, or enjoy. In Australia it amazed me how many people began their conversations with me with questions about Nicole. In one of the main meetings, time was spent specificaaly praying for her and her full and complete recovery. We have not been alone in this difficult moment and for that we are very thankful.

With all of our reasons for thanks, we are also very aware that we are in a difficult phase of Nicole's recovery. You have probably noticed that this has been the theme of the last few posts. We are simply in a time of tension. Nicole is feeling much, much better. She is not experiencing the regular pain that was so debilitating the first sevreal weeks after her injury. In many ways Nicole seems completely normal. And this is where the rub comes in. Although she has come a long way, she has a long way to go. The doctors tell us that those many reconnections of her bones a very soft, making Nicole quite susceptible to reinjury. At the same time, it is difficult for Nicole to spend day after day in three rooms of our house. It is hard to find constructive things to do to pass the hours and then wake up the next day and do it all over again. All of this presents a very significant tension between recovery and vunerability. Because of her recovery, Nicole is technically able to do some things (in her wheel chair) outside of our house, but unless she is in a very protective environment, she is in danger of doing injury to bone structures that have only recently begun to heal.

It would be nice if the tension was only between recovery and vulnerability, but we live in a fallen world where what is ideal is not what we always experience. The problem is that we don't all come down on the same page when it comes to deciding what is resonsible and what is dangerous. We do want Nicole to make a full recovery. We are working so that she will have few, if any, lasting limitations from these severe injuries. We do want to hit the middel between being way too casual and all too paranoid. And we do not want to see the tension between recovery and vulnerability to degenerate into tension between us as we live together through this difficult moment. For this we need your prayers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The "was" and "what ifs"


Much has happened since the last post, July 6th. Friday and Saturday, July 7 - 8, we were busy with wedding details, desiring to make this a memorable wedding for our son, Justin. Justin and Amie were married Saturday, with Paul officiating the ceremony. It was a lovely and fun wedding and we were all thrilled that Nicole was able to attend. Six weeks ago we had no idea what to expect of this weekend and the wedding. Nicole was to be an attendant, but in the weeks following her accident decided she couldn't participate. We are so thankful for the progress she has made, making it possible for her to attend the wedding and reception, and celebrate. We are grateful for a friend, Savanna, who accompanied her as a friend and assisted her throughout the day and evening. This made it possible for Paul and me to enjoy the occassion and celebrate with Justin and Amie.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Friday evening I had an opening reception at the gallery for a new exhibition I had just installed last week as well. I was able to attend for about an hour and then drove to the wedding rehearsal. Some readers of this blog have asked about the gallery. It is Gallery Siano. Our web address is www.gallerysiano.com.

Sunday afternoon Paul left for Australia for the week, returning this Saturday evening. It is his first trip to this beautiful country. Pray for safety as he spends many hours traveling and that he would be free to teach and speak. He is at a church in Sydney. I mention all of this, not to bore you with personal details, but to explain why there hasn't been an entry for almost a week.

Nicole and I are managing quite well. She was given a very large puzzle, 32 x 48". We have spent our evenings poured over this puzzle, sometimes quite frustrated trying to find that one piece to complete a section. Thanks Jody for the diversion.

One major concern at this time is the possibility of re-injury. Her loss of pain and ability to move around with greater ease creates a sense of over-confidence. This is the period when most re-injuries occur. Often, the results from re-injury are far more serious than the original injury. In Nicole's case, it could affect her ability to walk normally again, among other things. This is compounded by a serious case of "cabin fever", wanting to go out in her wheelchair with a friend or two, is a formula for a significant setback in her progress, IF anything were to happen. As parents, we keep thinking about the "what ifs". This reminds me of a previous blog titled "dreadification". I think we are still there. Our goal is to assist Nicole to full recovery as fast as physically possible, and to avoid situations that could result in delaying it. The challenges are new every day!

Picture - Nicole in one of her goofy moments!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Contentment

There is so much we tend to want. There are so many things that we think we need. There are many things to which we feel entitled. Each day is approached with thoughts of where we would like to go, what we would like to do, and who we would like to see. Our minds are easily filled with short-term desires and long-term plans. We tend to design tight schedules and don't like interruptions in our way. We all tend to be quite committed to making our lives as comfortable as they can be and we all like to be in control of what happens to us. Because of this, contentment is hard for us. In any given day, each of us is more apt at expressing discontent than gratitude.

Real contentment isn't produced by external circumstances, but from attitudes of the heart. If you need life to be a certain way in order to be content, you won't experience contentment very often. True contentment is the result of gratitude and real gratitude is the result of humility. When you begin to realize that everyday you receive much more blessing than you could ever deserve, you are able to be content even in situations that you would have never chosen. When you are able to see that even in the darkest of moments there are things for which to be thankful, then you are able to experience contentment mixing with pain. When purposes that are larger then your own momentary happiness are what capture your heart and structure your activity, you are able to be content even when things aren't going your way.

Yesterday the doctor examined Nicole's legs. He will not do surgery at this point, but it is clear she has much healing yet to do. They are going to begin some non-weight bearing aqua therapy to get her legs moving, but any thought of being upright simply has to wait.

So, we are called to be content. Content with the daily schedule. Content with the limited activity. Content with balancing all that needs to be balanced. Content with the natural processes of healing and the time they take. Content to wait.

But contentment is hard. You hear the siren calls of the "what ifs" and the "if onlys" and you are tempted to give way to discontent and frustration. Pray that we would live in this moment with humble gratitude, aware of how much we have been given, even in this moment of difficulty.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"Dreadicipation"

No, I haven't forgotten how to spell. This newly created word is meant to capture the oppositional emotions of difficulty. The emotion you so often carry around duriing the long haul of recovery is a constantly conflicting mix of dread and anticipation - "dreadicipation." Frankly, it just wears you out!

Tomorrow we see Nicole's knee specialist. "Dreadicipation" is the emotion I feel going in. It is good that Nikki is under such fine care. It is good the we will get a definitive plan with regard to her knee. So we plan for the appointment with postive anticipation. Yet at the same time, we dread the possibility that Nicole may need surgery on one or both of her legs. And we dread the setback that could be to her recovery.

Last night we were able to take Nicole to an outdoor cafe. We are deeply thankful that she has come this far. We did not think it would be possible to do this kind of activity this soon. We anticipate that Nicole will progressively be able to do more. Yet we are very fearful of re-injury. We are very aware that the many breaks of Nicole's pelvis are not fully healed and that her legs still are not ready to bear weight. We dread the thought that in one of her adventures outside the house, she would be injured again and face a crushing physical setback.

Nicole anticipates any moment she is able to be outside and she dreads the long, long hours, day after day, in the same two rooms of our house. Here days are filled with "dreadicipation."

Pray for us as we are tossed back and forth with daily "dreadicipation." Pray that this lifstyle of conflicting emotions would be tempered by faith. Pray that we would make wise decisions, but in seeking to be wise, not give way to fear.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Vitamin D

Vitamin D (3), also known as cholecalciferol, is a form of vitamin D that is made by the human body. It is made in the skin when 7-dehydrocholesterol reacts with UVB ultraviolet light with wavelengths 290 to 315 nm. This can be found in sunlight when the sun is high enough above the horizon for UVB to penetrate the atmosphere and is responsible for the production of cholecalciferol. Up tp 20,000 IU can be made in the skin only after minnimal erythemal doseof exposure, or until the skin begins to turn pink. Vitamin D plays an important role in the maintenance of an intact and strong skeleton. Its primary task is to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the blood by ensuriing correct intake and secretion.

Nicole got loads of vitamin D yesterday! And it was not through a pill, but through direct exposure to sunlight. Justin and his fiance', Amie, were with us in the afternoon and Justin had the idea that we should have a picnic supper outside our house. While I made a quick meal, things were set up outside and we carried Nicole out and placed her in her wheelchair. Not only was Nicole able to bask in the sun, something she has not done for weeks, but we discovered a much easier way to transport her from the house to her chair or a car. This does open up the possibility of Nicole being able to occasionally get out to places that are wheelchair accessible while she is making her rocovery.

It is amazing how the body has been designed with all of its interdependent systems. Seemingly minor interruptions of regular motion and light can result in negative physical consequences. We have learned so much in the last several weeks about God's crerative mastery. And we have been very thankful that more of Nikki's systems were not damaged in that horrendous moment when she was crushed against that wall.

It has also been very clear that there is a close connection between the outer man (physical body) and the inner man (the spiritual self). Perhaps the deepest form of suffering in times of difficulty is not the physical pain, but the fear, pain, and brokeness of spirit that accompanies physical trauma. And it is amazing how much of helping a person's physical recovery is about seeking to do any appropriate thing you can to build the inner person. Hope, joy, rest, trust, and purpose are the best of medicines when suffering has entered your door.

So, we are thankful for sunlight and for the smile on Nicole's face as she sat there and took it in. And although we don't really fully understand the first paragraph of today's blog, we know the One we are putting our trust in does and we are thankful for his provision and his design. This time of difficulty has deepened and enhanced our gratitude.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Motivation

Difficulty so dominates the horizon of life that is hard to see, feel, hear, touch, and experience anything else. Difficulty is the tatse in your mouth when you awake and it is the last thought in your brain before you crumble into sleep. It steals your emotions and corrals your concentration. Sometimes it leaves you broken , discouraged, and overwhelmed and other times numb and staring into space. Difficulty leaves you leafing through the pages of a book with no memory of what you read. It cause you to escape into the television with little care for what you have watched. It robs you of activity, vitality, and creativity. Difficulty makes you feel weak and controlled and, in so doing, reduces you to passivity and reactivity. It whittles you down to living for your next meal, your next medication, and for the day to end. Difficulty makes you count the days instead of living them. It makes you while away the time instead of investing it. It makes you fight for one thing rather than creating new things. In all of this, difficulty tempts you to run, hide, quit or at least to give into the passivity and learn to be comfortable with cascading days of nothing.

At the same time, difficulty is an opportunity. In the midst of incredible pain and suffering, in the midst of the deepest of questions, difficulty gives you the gift of a fresh start. Since it calls you away from what once was, it allows you to jump back in, in new and different ways. Difficulty calls you to reassess, refocus, and recreate. It challenges you to require the pain to produce and the suffering to build. In shattering your daily routine, it really does give you that rare moment when you can redefine your life. Difficulty gives you the freedom to pick up new commitments and give yourself to new values.

In difficulty, passivity collides with purpose and it is a scary thing to watch and wonder which will win. Motivation has been an issue for all of us. I try to read and I have to reread what I read because, in my mind, what I read still lies unread. Luella has had to fight distraction to give herself to her work. And Nicole has found it easier to do things to escape the day, in the hope that days will pass quickly so motivation has been a concern.

Last week a friend from years ago, Agnes, called and said she would like top stop by on Thursday or Friday and drop something off for Nicole. We thought it was sweet that she was thinking of Nikki, who she knew as a little girl. When she spoke of dropping something off, we thought of flowers, candy, a game, etc. (all of which have been greatly appreciated). Another friend, Jody, was with Nicole for the day, as Luella and I were out for the day preparing for our son Justin's wedding on the 8th of July. Nicole hinted in a couple phone calls that she had been given an amazing gift, but until we got home we really didn't get the full idea.

Agnes only visited for a few minutes, but the "something" that she dropped off for Nicole was a digital piano with a set of professional earphones! Nicole is a vocalist and a composer! It's as if God was reaching down and pulling the creativity right out of Nicole. She was blown away and so were we. What an amazing invitation to create! What a clear call to fight discouragement and passivity! What a physical demonstration of God's love!

So pray for us and for Nicole that on the otherside of the encouragement, when the boredom and distraction of the difficulty hits once again, that we will fight passivity. Pray that Nicole (and we) will turn difficulty into creativity. Pray that we won't feel that life has been taken away, but rather an opportunity for a fresh start has been given.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Outside World

Yesterday I listened to the news in detail for the first time since Nicole's accident. As I did, I realized how much we have lost contact with the outside world. Yes, we know there is a world out there and we know there are local, national, and international stories of interest. We know there are malls. restaurants, and movies theaters. We know there are sites to see, places to visit, and things to do. Yet the world inside our doors has so occupied us that it is as if the world outside our doors no longer exists. On an every day basis, essential trips to work, the pharmacy, and the grocery store are about as far away as we get to the world that exists beyond Nicole's daily need and her recovery. Many things that we would have thought were important, maybe even necessary, have receded into the backgound of the drama that began on May 19th. Although we are trusting that the most serious aspects of the drama are now behind us, the aftermath keeps us outside of the outside world.

I had a good day with Nicole yesterday. I felt grateful that she is showing increasing strength and I felt thankful that I could meet her various needs throughout the day. Yet I was very aware that I was in this parallel universe where one very significant thing simply has overwhelmed everything else in our lives. We committed to the inside world of Nicole's recovery, so that as quickly as possible she may participate in the outside world once again.

We are very positive about Nicole's recovery, yet we do not know for sure everything that is before us. One thing we know for sure is that we will live in our little parallel world as long as she needs us. And although life is a little wierd at the moment, we love the fact that God has given us the privilege of assisting Nicole in her dramatic moment of difficulty. We know that whatever world we are called to live in, God is with us, giving us what we need for that day.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Gratitude

It has been a good week so far for Nicole. She has stepped down her medication and has been able to be relatively comfortable. She rests most of the day, allowing her body the time it needs to heal. Her spirits have been good, despite all that she is facing. Last night her brother Ethan and his wife Courtney came for supper and a evening of looking at Northern Ireland pictures. As I looked a Nikki in her wheelchair, I was reminded again of how far she has come since May 19. And then I got thinking about gratitude.

Earlier in the week, I passed by Nicole"s room, saw her sleeping soundly and I was filled with gratitude. She was breathing, she was with us, she is recovering, she is under good care, and it appears she will move around fairly normally when the long recovery is complete.

Gratitude is an interesting thing. There is so much we failed to be grateful for because there is so much that we fail to notice. You see, gratitude takes sightedness. The problem of ungratefulness often begins here. What happens is that we all get inflicted with the visual lethargy of regularity. Here is the dynamic, the more frequent and regular a thing is in your life, the less you will tend to be thankful for it. For example, you may be extremely grateful that you were able to buy a new car, but by the end of the first year, you have quit noticing how amazing it is that you are in possession of this wonderful mode of reliable transportation.

One of the benefits of difficulty is that it tends to give you eyes to see the many things, big and small, that are worthy opf your gratitude. Nicole's accident has awakened us from our visual lethargy, giving eyes to see many things for which we are grateful. We are thankful:

- For our house and the room we have to provide for Nicole to heal.
- For the physical body and the interdependent systems that God has created that give it an amazing healing capacity.
- For the flexibility of Luella and my work that has allowed us to attend to Nicole's needs.
- That we live in a big city where the finest of health care is available.
- For the worldwide community of friends and family who have supported us so well during this time.
- For a justice system that takes seriously the wrongs done against people like Nicole.
- For all the technologies that assist you as you cafe for a seriously injured person (indoor plumbing, computers, the refrigerator, the air conditioner, the television, the DVD, the cell phone, the washing machine, etc.)
- For spiritual truths that give insight and comfort when you face the unthinkable.
- For Starbucks (a place to get away that is not far away).
- For our sons who have loved us as we have tried to serve Nicole during this time.
- For brains that are able to process infromation and make decisions.
- For the ability to communicate those thoughts in words (even though convoluted at times).
- For emotions.
- For flowers that allow the beauty of creation to inhabit a place where it may otherwise be hard to see beauty.
- For a warm cup of tea and a chewy bagel (Nicole's favorite breakfast).
- For medications that have a mysterious ability to deminish pain.
- For Rusty, our dog, who provides Nicole with constant commpationship even though he doesn't understand what she is dealing with.

We do not wnat to be people who fail to take notice. We do not wnat to be people who become shockingly used to the riches we've been given. We hope that we will be able to continue to see, even the smallest of gifts, and in seeing be constantly grateful.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

To Wait

It's where we are right now. It is what we are called to do day after day. Wait. Similar routine cascades upon similar routine. The borders of our every day world extend only as far as the walls of our house. Nicole's world has shrunk to just two rooms. The job description of each day is simply getting through the day. Nicole's body must be given time to heal. Time is the medicine of the moment. Time to heal is the gift we are endeavoring to give to her. But giving time to another person means being willing to wait.

The problem is that waiting is not a passive experience. As you are waiting your thoughts are not passive. As you wait your desires are not passive. All the other aspects of your life don't go on hiatus. While you wait, you are forced to let go of things that don't cooperate with you and stay the same. Life doesn't wait for your permission to continue. It isn't in tune with what you think you need to be doing or where your thoughts and desires are at the moment. Waiting is a war. While you wait, nagging questions battle with heartfelt thankfulness and willingness to serve combats with desires for it all to be over. Your acceptance of what has happened does battle with your wish that life would return to normal. Meanwhile you really do want to lovingly serve the person who has been so seriously injured. You do consider it an honor to be by the person's side; to be able to make God's love more visible, if just for a moment. Yet, doing what you really want to do takes you away from everything that would have comsumed your life before the accident.

So, maybe waiting isn't just waiting. Maybe waiting is not so much about passively passing the time until you get the thing for which you are waiting. No, perhaps waiting is more about what you are becoming as you wait. Being required to wait will change you in some way. No one is ever the same after they wait. The question is not simply, "How long do I have to wait?" No, the real question is, "How will the call to wait change me?"

Our prayer for Nicole is that this time of waiting will be a time of rich rewards and personal growth. We trust that this time will result in positive new directions and in an exciting fresh start. We trust that very good things will come out of a very bad thing. And we pray the same for ourselves as well.

Until then we wait.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Future

It was good to be back home with Nicole and Luella. It was a quiet and uneventful day, just what all of us needed. Given all she has and is facing, Nicole's spirits seemed good and her body seems to be taking those day by day incremental steps of healing. Tomorrow I will spend my first full day in my office since May 19. We really do have so much for which to be thankful. We were pointing out to Nikki how far she has come in the weeks since her accident and she jokingly said, "Maybe God does answer prayer after all." Yes, he does indeed!

Because it was a quiet day, I found myself reflecting on questions about the future. Will Nicole's recovery continue to be so positive? What will we learn about the injuries to her legs? Will she end up needing further surgery? What will happen with her legal case? Will she be adequately compensated for sufferring and loss? What will be the spiritual results of this travail for Nicole? How long will she be with us and needing care? How will she do when the process of physical therapy begins? Will she have any long-term physical limitations? How will she do when all of this is behind her and its time to get back up and running? And how will we do with balancing all of the responsibilities we must carry in the inbetween?

In the middle of the day I began to reflect on how difficulty propels you into the future. You would think that a moment of suffering and difficulty would so command your focus that you couldn't possibly think about anything else but the needs of the moment. But that is not what happens. Difficulty launches you into the future. It sends you out to worlds unknown to try to discover what does not yet exist and to understand what has not yet happened. And, although difficult to articulate, the way you suffer in the moment is affected by what you think the future may hold.

You see suffering is not unifaceted. Suffering always has three faces. In a moment of suffering you grieve what has happened, you suffer the pain of the moment, and you suffer the fears of the future. In fact, one of the hardest disciplines of suffering is to stay focused on the issues of the present.

Pray for Nicole and us tha we will not ask questions of the past and of the future that cannot be answered, that we will focused on the healing processes of present, and as we do, that we will recognize the daily grace that we are being given.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Gradualists

Friday was a day of extremes. For Luella and Nicole in Philadelphia it was a very good day. There was a good report from the doctor and a time together at an outdoor restaurant. Saturday was a day for both Nikki and Luella to rest and recuperate. For me, Friday was a very hard day. I was in San Diego to speak at a conference. I not only love what I do, but I also have a deep sense of privilege that I have been called to do it. But Friday morning was different. There has never been a point in my travels when my mind was so completely pulled in two directions. It was a huge battle to focus on the day's schedule of speaking ( although I was excited with the opportunity). I wanted to be home. I wanted to make sure Nicole was transported from the house to the car safely. I wanted to make sure that her ride to the doctor was as comfortable as possible. I wanted to be with her and Luella as they listened to the report from the doctor. I would have loved to be with Nikki to enjoy her rare moment outside. And since I was not able to be with Nicole and Luella, I could not wait for a break in my schedule to call and see how their day was progressing. And of course, I was on pins and needles to hear the doctor's report. It was a schizophrenic day.

At the end of the day, it hit me again how radically our lives have changed. I was struck by how much my daily thoughts are consumed with Nicole's needs. It hit me that other things that would have been in the foregound of my thoughts, plans, and activity, have faded into the background. It impressed me that I have a daily set of habits that I did not have in the days preceding May 19th. I reflected on how much my conversations with Luella are dominated by Nicole's physical needs, her spirit at the moment, legal and medical issues, and things that we need to do to assist her in her recovery. And I was left wondering how long this new normal would be the daily normal in which we live.

I think we all tend to live as gradualists. We all tend to buy into the expectation that our lives will stay essentially the same and only become different through extended processes of change. Our marriages gradually mature. Our children gradually get older. We are gradually given more responsibility in our places of work. Gradually our children leave our homes and gradually establish homes of their own, as we gradually get older. But we have not been gauranteed that life will be a collection of easy-to-predict, gradual changes. In fact, in a broken world, where things don't quite operate as they were intended, there is a real possiblity that we will hit moments of crisis, where life radically changes in an instant. And in some situations of immediate change, life is never the same again.

As gradualists, we all slip into finding rest in the predictability of gradual change. But this is not a safe place to rest. In a moment, change can explode in on us in ways beyond our expection.

Our lives are different than they were before Nicole's accident and there is a way in which these differences have changed us as well. Yet there is one thing that has not changed. We run to God for strength, hope, and wisdom; the same place that we would have run on May 18th. There is a way in which we never were very good gradualists. Although we did enjoy the lethargy of predictable lives, deep down we knew that our hope must not be in our circumstances. Nicole's accident has reminded us again that our security must not come from the regularity of our daily situations and relationships, but from the One who is with us every moment, whether the moment is repetitive and mundane, or a moment of crisis and radical change.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Good News!

We have been both heartened and grateful for the prayers of people from around the world for Nicole during the five weeks following her accident. So we want to share with you some very good news.

Yesterday was a very important day for Nikki. It was her first doctor's appointment since her release from the hospital. This meant getting her safely into the car and dealing with the information that the scans of her injuries would afford.

We are very thankful for Chick and Steve who helped carry Nicole (in her wheelchair) down our many steps and into the car and for Savannah who went with Luella and Nicole to provide company and assistance.

The visit to the doctor was very encouraging. There has been no shifting of the many broken bones of Nicole's pelvis. Each break is properly alligned. This means no sugery necessary at this time. Also, Nicole is able to put 50 per cent weight down on her right leg. This is a milestone in her recovery.

There are still concerns with her left knee and an injury to her right thigh, so a visit will be scheduled to another specialist this week.

Nicole was feeling strong enough that Luella was able to take her and Savannah to an outside restaurant for a meal together. It meant so much to Nicole to actually be outdoors.

The next visit to the doctor caring for her pelvic injuries will be in six weeks. Until then, Nikki's routine will stay about the same. Although she will spend more time with a physical therapist, she will spend most of the day in bed, allowing her body to heal, and get into her wheelchair for a few hours in the evening.

I have a picture of Nicole a few days after her accident that is the background screen on my phone. It reminds me to pray for her every time is use the phone, but it also reminds me how far she has come from the shocking trauma of May 19. We know that Nicole has much healing yet to face, but we are deeply grateful to God for how well she has done so far and for all of you who continue to stand with us.

Please continue to pray for Nikki and for us as we care for her, day by day, in our home.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In The Moment

When difficulty comes so powerfully into your life that it cannot be absorbed in your daily routine, but instead radically alters everything you have been used to, it is hard to live in the moment. When you awake day after day to spend long hours unable to do anything more than try to pass the time, it is very hard to keep your mind in the moment. When caring for a loved one has removed you from your normal list of daily responsibilities, it is very hard to stay focused on the here and now. Difficulty tempts you to wrestle with the twin mysteries of the past and the future again and again and again.

Difficulty is a tempter that whispers in our ears, "If you only understood what happened, things would be so much easier." It seems so logical to try to unpack the past and the questions you want answered are the questions any rational person would consider. Yet, for all of the unpacking, you never really get specific answers. There are general conclusions that can be made, but quickly you hit the wall of personal mystery. Looking for these kinds of answers really does anything but lead to rest. Yet, it is so tempting to try to dissect that fatal moment again and again.

Difficulty is a tempter that says, "If only you could see into the future, things would be so much easier." And so it is hard not to try to divine the mysteries of what is to come. It is hard not to pick up the unsettling questions of long-term health, finances, employment, and housing again and again. It is hard not to know what seems so important to know. It is hard to plan when you have little grasp on what is to come.

But difficulty is also a teacher. It calls you to learn that the deepest form of comfort is not found in digging through what you do not know, but in resting in what you do. Difficulty points you away from the seductive lure of secrets, to find hope in things clearly revealed. Difficulty warns you to live in the moment and to see truths previously known now powerfully confirmed, and in so doing, to find hope. The problem is that the tempter is often easier to listen to than the teacher.

Yesterday, in many ways, was a good day. Nicole was able to rest in relative comfort. I was able to be with her and care for her needs. Both things were a blessing not to be missed. But, in the middle of the day, Nicole wrestled with the "what ifs" of the past and the "what could bes" of the future, and as she did, we struggled together to live in the moment. In the cataclysm of all that has happened, it is a daily fight to stay focused on the here and now. Yet, there were graces in yesterday's moment. A card, a poem, a warm meal, and insightful gifts all pointed to God's in-the-moment love. But what you need in the moment is eyes to see and a heart to receive.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Separation

On June 11 my son Ethan and I got on a plane and headed for Northern Ireland for a week of ministry. As most of you know, travel is a regular occurance of my ministry. Luella and I are both used to my leaving home to speak at various places around the world, but there was never a moment where leaving was harder than on that day. In all of the deep daily helplessness that you feel when you are watching a loved one suffer with a broken body, you experience a strange sense of comfort in being near. Nearnesss makes you feel as if you are "with" the person in their suffering and gives you the sense that you are doing something, even when there is so little you can really do. Although we enjoyed the multi-layered green of Northern Ireland, the day-by-day separation from Nicole, was very difficult. I found my mind again and again taken way from whatever we were doing with internal wondering about Nikki and how she was doing at that moment. The phone calls almost made it worse. I would hear Nicole's voice, without its strength and luster, and I would long to touch her hand or kiss her forehead.

Yesterday we finally arrived home. I couldn't stop putting my arms around Nicole and touching her head. It was wonderful to see Luella and Nikki again and to hear how well they had done while I was away, but I was slapped in the face once more with what she is facing. As she would call for help or ask for assistance, I was hit again with how broken her body is and with how little she is able to do for herself. Nicole's days are spent in a hospital bed in what was once our breakfast room, a room that forever will have new meaning. She literally invests her day managing the severe pain of her injuries and doing about anything she can to past the unbelievably long hours of inactivity.

When I arrived, Nicole was not in very good spirits and It was not until late in the evning that we came to understand what she was dealing with. Chick, a dear friend for years, had come over to discuss with Luella the possibility of installing a wheelchair ramp. Because of how our house and the steps are positioned, they were not able to come up with an easily doable plan. This was a huge disappointment to Nicole. She had gotten very excited at the thought of going outside into the yard for short periods of liberation from her little room, fresh air, and communing with nature. And she was frustrated that we seemed unable to come up with an easy way to make it happen.

I went to bed last night filled with thoughts of separation, this time not thoughts of my separation from Nikki, but of her almost total separation from her own life. The moment that SUV crushed her body against the wall separated Nicole, not only from her health, but from the apartment that was so special to her, from her job, her daily routine, her circle of friends, and her investment in the hopes and dreams for the future. It took away from her the ability to run down the steps to meet a friend. It separated her from her walks through beautiful Rittenhouse Square on the way to work. That moment took away Nikki's ability to care for herself. She has been robbed of her ability to plan and to do. She has lost both her independence and her daily community. She has been so fundamenatlly separated from her life that she grabs hold, with both hands, to the smallest potential for mobility. Although the new routine is now familiar, each momentary aspect of it only serves to force Nicole to face how much she has lost. And in such total separation, it is impossible not to be defeated by contemplation of how long the separation will be and if there will be aspects of the separation that will last forever.

Perhaps one of the harshest aspects of suffering is separation. We all tend to find such security in the comfortably repetitive regularity of daily locations, relationships, and routines. We all tend to live each day with the unspoken expectancy that what is will always be. We all tend to define ourselves and the meaning and purpose of our lives by that regularity. We all find respite in the way days cascade upon days with predictable similarity. We depend on this regularity so much that even the smallest interruption of the routine (traffic, a flat tire, a missed phine call, etc...) can wreck a day. But in a fallen world, where we are not in control, there is no guarantee that today will be repeated tomorrow. At times this means we are required to deal with momentary hassles of life that we wish we could avoid. At others times we are forced into such a total separation from our regular routine that it seems as if we have been robbed of life itself. There are ways in which this is suffering's harshest blow. In such complete separation, it is hard each day to get up and do hand to hand combat with the demons of discouragement and anger. It is hard to run from frustration and self-pity. It is hard not to demand answers for unanswerable questions. It is hard to be at peace with what you would have never wanted and definetly did not choose.

Pray for Nikki and for us that as we help her through these days of separation we will all fight the right kind of fight. And pray that, in all of the loss, we would all have eyes to see the good things that we are daily given, and that we would be thankful.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Four Weeks

It is now 1:45 am, June 16th. It was about this time four weeks ago that Nicole's life dramatically changed and she would face the biggest challenge of her life. Someone's careless action brought chaos, pain, tears, bewilderment, anger, loss, uncertainty, frustration, and only she knows what else...into her world.

Today Nicole was quiet. Although she was pleasant, I didn't see her smile much and there was no laughter. She seemed distracted by her thoughts, thoughts she wasn't prepared to share. I didn't want to press her. I know she needs time to sort things out and to grieve... grieve over this jolting infliction brought upon her and all she must face in the months to come. Up until now her focus has been on surviving, making it through the days and nights with the least amount of pain and discomfort. As she gains control over one part of her body, another pain emerges. She can't take a pill for this pain. Like the physical pain, it has to run its course...it will take time.

There is much for which I am thankful. God preserved her life. Her injuries could have been worse. One break in her pelvis is about two inches from her spine. But Nicole is home now, gradually recovering. Four weeks ago her body was in trauma in a sterile emergency room with strangers struggling to save her life. Tonight her body is mending while she rests in the comfort of our home. For this I am grateful beyond words!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

On Our Own

You may be wondering what has happened in the Tripp household, since there hasn't been a posting for several days. No need to worry...all is well. The "writer" is on the road and I will try to fill in with a few details. Paul is in N. Ireland this week and our son, Ethan, went in my place. This is a great opportunity for them. I am thrilled Ethan was able to take off a week from his job and travel with Paul. So Nicole and I are on our own and I am enjoying our time together. I love spending time with Nicole and, although I would never choose to spend it this way, it is a joy to be with her and to do whatever is necessary to make her comfortable and help fill her days.

Since our trip to the hospital last Saturday, Nicole has spent most of her days in bed. However, when she moves to her wheel chair in the evening, I've noticed she is becoming stronger and is doing more for herself...looking vibrant and even laughing. We seem to be somewhere between the "light" moments and the "why" moments. There are always the "why" moments.

Each day brings new challenges, keeping her prescriptions filled, learning to keep her pain under control, adjusting to a new wheel chair, visits by the physical therapist and the beginning of some muscle building exercises, scheduling doctor's appointments, paper work for court hearings, etc., besides all the daily routines.

Nicole has always been a night person and for most of my life, until I had children, so was I. She loves watching movies. So in the evenings we are having fun watching movies until 1 or 2 am, when she is ready to settle in for the night.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to all who have supported us through this unexpected event in our lives. So many of you from around the world have been praying for Nicole's recovery. Thank you!!! We have appreciated all the cards with encouraging messages, the meals that have been prepared for us, baskets of food and "goodies" for Nicole, beautiful flowers, friends who visit or call, the comments from so many on this blog, the emails, those who have covered the gallery when I couldn't be there, others who have run errands for us, offers of assistance, and the list goes on and on. I would like to thank the members of our church, Tenth Presbyterian, for their support and for the pastors who visited and prayed with Nicole during her stay in the hospital. We are truly touched and overwhelmed by everyone's encouragement and support at this trying juncture in Nicole's and our lives. It is too overwhelming to consider the future and the many details facing tomorrow, next week, next month. God has promised us the strength we need for today. Our plans don't extend too far into the future, since at any given moment, something could change. Tomorrow will take care of itself. We have been dramatically encouraged and blessed by all of you. "Thank you" will never say it all.

Paul and Ethan return on Monday. Paul will resume his morning entries on the blog. Until then, the entries may be sporadic, but I will try to keep you posted from time to time.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Control?

From a purely human stand point, yesterday was simply out of control. Friday night we noticed some swelling in Nicole's left ankle. We are very alert to swelling since Nicole is a high-risk patient for blood clotting. The body was designed to be in motion and when it isn't, bad things tend to happen. So, yesterday morning, as I was out having coffee with a friend, Luella called the doctor. The doctor's immediate respnse was that we should get Nicole to the hospital as soon as we could so that they could ultra-sound her legs for clots. Because of Nicole's injuries, she has to be transported in an ambulance, so I got the call that Luella had to wake Nicole up and tell her that the ambulance was on its way to take her to the hospital. (Not the way anyone wants to start the day!) Since Saturday is an important day for the gallery Luella directs, I rushed home and changed my clothes, went to the emergency ward, got the gallery key from Luella, and rushed down to Old City Philadelphia and opened the gallery. Meanwhile, Nikki and Luella were at the hospital waiting for tests to be done to see if she needed to be admitted or not. Because she had to be transported and had to wait to be seen, Nicole was not able to take the medication she needs to escape the pain of her injuries and began to experience severe discomfort. Thankfully, her tests came back negative and Nicole ended the day back in her bed at our house.

Its hard not to look at the day as a day of futile activitity accompanied by needless discomfort. You can't honestly look at the day and make sense out of it. By the end of the day, we were all emotionally and physically exhausted. You want to ask why, because this kind of day offends your sense of rationality and control. We tend to think of life as being secure when we can understand it and when we have it under control. Suffering transports you beyond the boundaries of your reason and your control. It forces you to respond to what you do not understand and to react to what you did not plan. It frustrates our love for comfort and ease. It denies us the order and predictability that we tend to expect. Suffering doesn't submit to our desires and it does not cooperate with our plans. Suffering is a kidnapper that comes into our lives, blindfolds us, and takes us to where we do not want to be.

But suffering is not just a kidnapper, it is also a teacher. Suffering teaches you that life in this broken world is frought with danger. It warns you that physical things are weak and impermanent. It points you to the fact that there is little that you actually control. It instructs you as to where reliable comfort and sturdy hope can be found. Like a patient teacher with a resisitant student, suffering pries open your hands and asks you to let go of your life. Suffering invites you to find security, rest, hope, and comfort in Another, and in so doing, assaults the irrrationality of personal sovereignty that is the delusion of every human being. In that way, suffering is not just a kidnapper, and not just a teacher, it is also a liberator. Suffering frees us to experience a deeper comfort and hope than we have ever had before. The problem is that we don't always want to be free. Even in difficulty, we fight to retain what suffering shows we didn't have in the first place.

Pray that we will not fight, that we will be good students, and that we will celebrate our freedom even in the midst of exhaustion and pain.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Long Haul

Yesterday was a hard and painful day for Nicole. In her enthusiasm at being home, she spent too much time in her wheelchair the day before and woke up with pain all over her body. Except for dinner in her wheelchair, she spent the enitre day in bed. Yesterday reminded us once more of how broken Nikki's body is and how long it will be before she fully recovers. Yesterday reminded us of how much she still needs to be cared for. Yesterday reminded us that what we have been doing for Nicole since she was released from the hospital, we will be doing for a long time.

Because Nicole doesn't have any visisble injuries, her color has returned, and her voice is strong, she doesn't look as broken as she actually is. There are moments when you can forget that her release from the hospital was not a sign that she was better. Her time in the hospital wasn't a time for healing her injuries as much as it was a time for the body to recover from the physical effects of the violent trauma of the accident. Once Nikki's vital signs were where they should be and it was decided not to do surgery, she was relased to come home and heal. All this means that we have to be committed to the long haul.

We human beings tend to be able to rise to the occasion. We drop what we are doing in an emergency or crisis and run to the aid of a friend or family member. Most often we recognize the significance of the moment and we respond appropriately. But serious injury is a crisis that morphs into a lifestyle of suffering and dependence. It hit me very powerfully yesterday, that when you are near someone whose body has been broken like Nicole's, it is wonderful to rise to the occasion, but it is not enough. What is needed is perseverance. Perseverance is the willingness to stay committed, with determination and grace, to what you would not have chosen, until it is complete.

We deeply love Nikki. We are so glad that we can be by her side during this dark time. We are thankful that we can meet her physical needs and cry with her when the enormity of it all seems too much to bear. But we are also very aware, that it is not enough for us to rise to the moment. We are in it for the long haul. Pray that God will enable us to persevere and not just in activity, but in love, tenderness, and grace. Our hope is that our love for Nikki will be a daily reminder that she is never ever alone.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Community Project

One life's most significant realities has been powerfully reinforced to us since Nicole's accident. It is that life is a community project. We were never designed to live, an isolated, independent, autonomous, and self-sufficient existence. Suffering awakes you from all of your delusions of independent capability and reminds you that you are woven into a web of interdependent relationships that you cannot live without. This truth has been powerfully reinforced to us in the days since Nicole's accident. We have found ourselves needing to depend on a host of people known and unknown in order to get through this difficult moment and provide for Nicole all she needs for a full recovery. And we are so thankful that we have been surrounded by so much help. We have not gone through this situation alone!

Yesterday, as we all began to understand what life in our home would be like as Nikki struggles to recover, there were powerful reminders of community. Let me list some:

- The day began with a basket of coffee, tea, and warm muffins, delivered to the front steps of our house.
- The mail brought a stack of wonderfully encouraging cards from around the country.
- A friend delivered a prepared supper for us to enjoy.
- Several people suggested ways that they might be able to physically help us.
- Money was given so, on one of those exceptionally busy days, we could grab a take-out meal (enough for more than one).

Each thing was encouraging, not only for the specific help it provided, but because it reminded us that we are not alone in this moment. We are very, very grateful for the love that has surrounded us! Yet, there is a rub to interdependent community. The community that loves and serves you, isn't under your control. Care providers don't always do what you would like for them to do when you would like for them to do it. I spent the good portion of a day attempting to secure medication that, if I was ruling the world, would have been awaiting my arrival. The help of friends and family isn't always dispensed at the moment you feel most needy. And since the community you are dependent on is populated by imperfect people, there are disappointments along the way. People known and unknown don't always follow through. So, in all of your thankfulness, you have to guard your heart against entitlement, demandingness, criticism, and bitterness. Community, this side of heaven, is not only essential and something for which to be thankful, it is also unpredictable and messy.

Finally, we are also very aware that there are times in each day when the surrounding commmunity goes home and we are very much alone in our difficulty. Nicole is the one who has been seriously injured, no one can step in and bear her pain. Luella and I are her parents, no one lives near her, hour by hour, as we do. In the middle of powerful reminders of community there are stark experiences of aloneness. It is in these moments that we need to remind ourselves that even when physical, human community is absent, we are not alone. There is One who is with us. He has suffered more than we will ever suffer. He understands what we are going through, he will not turn his back and he refuses to leave.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Settling In

Human beings are creatures of habit. We tend to develop daily routines of people, locations, and responsibilities. We fill our schedules with things that we need and want to do and we do these things day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. We stay busy with habitual routines that are often so unaltered that not only does one week look eactly like another, years take the shape of previous years, with little deviation. We find comfort in the orderliness, predictablility, and control of our routines. Its the unaltered repetition of it all that tends to make life safe and secure. We settle in to such comfortable routines that we can act, react, and respond almost without thought or planning.

It all works very well until something, totally outside of the routine, explodes into your life that is so serious and so significant that it can not be avoided, ignored, or absorbed into the routine. Such is Nicole's accident. Since May 19, it has completely repaced our routine. We have done little else but care for Nicole. Not only are we convinced that this has been right to do, in our love for Nicole, we could not have done anything else. Yet at the same time, we are aware that there are other things that God has called us to as well. These things are good and right to do and they have not gone away. So we are now in that moment when need and responsibilty intersect (well, actually they seem to collide). We cannot continue to suspend all elements of our routine and we want and need to continue to care for Nicole. We will let nothing stand in the way of our participation in her full recovery, yet there are other things that we are committed to do. Right now, it seems impossible to merge the two routines in the way that allows us settle in and daily do what we have been called to do. It seems so overwhelming, that we find ourselves unable to look at the whole thing at once. We can only cope when we are concentrating on a piece at a time.

Yesterday was a day of settling in. We all began working on the routine that will structure our lives for the months to come. For Nikki that meant getting used to scheduling her medication and learning how to get comfortable in her wheelchair and navigate it where she needs to go. For us it meant wrapping our minds around all that Nikki will need while she is with us, positioning these things so they are available to her, and understanding where she will need our direct assistance. She was visited for the first time by her home-care nurse and will soon get her first visit from the physical therapist. It was all this settling in at home that put the issue of routine on the table. How can we do all that we are being called to do at this moment in our lives? How do we add the huge and significant responsibility of care for Nicole to so many other seemingly non-negotiable things in our lives? How long can we ignore emails and cancel appointments? How do we fulfill business and ministry commitments and love and serve Nicole in her suffering? We are so thankful that we can care for Nikki in this painful moment, but how do we arrive at a routine and what does settling in look like?

No one is ever warned or prepared for the security and predictability of the old routine to be shattered, but when it is, you either give way to worry and fear, or you begin to rest in a deeper security. Suffering pushes you to find something more reliable to put your trust in than a comfortable routine and your ability to pull it off. Suffering reminds all of us of how little we actually control and how easily we are able to be overwhelmed. Suffering calls us out of the confines of our little self-sufficient worlds and forces us to depend on God and others. In this way, as completely unsettling as suffering is, it is productive, because when we are living in humble dependency upon God and others, we have reconnected with what we were designed to be. No longer able to do it on our own, we reach out and we reach up, and in so doing become more authentically human. This is a good thing, the problem is the process is both painful and overhwleming.