Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PD Delivers Two More Arrows To The Heart

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
Proverbs 11:2 (NIV)

Was it a strike to my pride? Or just more arrows to my heart; launched from the ever present bow of Parkinson’s Disease?

Recently I took my son to parent night at school. During this particular session everyone was to dress in pajamas, bring a blanket and sit on the floor to listen to stories and then sing songs.

Needless to say, I had to check my pride at the door as I walked in sporting my blue and black (racing) cane. I looked around the room at all of the moms and kids in their p.j.’s, looking happy and content. As I surveyed the room several moms and children had already begun to spread out blankets and get ready for the fun ahead. I began to feel out-of-place and “old” as I realized that there was no way I would be able to get down into the floor and sit with my son. I knew that if I got down onto that cold, hard tile floor I would not be able to get back up again.

This experience launched arrow one into my heart. I was sad and felt bad for my beautiful son. All of the other children had young, healthy moms who were sitting in the floor with them. They were laughing and having fun listening to the stories and singing the songs. I had to sit at the back of the room at a table, while my son sat alone on his blanket without his mom to laugh with.

The second arrow came with stealth, drove deep into my mind, and has caused unease within my soul. I was putting together a scrapbook page for my son’s third birthday. The project was nearly complete when I decided I wanted to add a large handcrafted number three to finish the two-page layout off.

When I started to sketch the three, my mind went totally blank. I could NOT remember what a three looked like, much less how to write one! Talk about freaking me out. I knew that I could look around the room and find something with the number three on it, but I wanted to see how long my mind would block the memory, so I purposefully did not look around.

Instead I sat and tried to visualize numbers in my head. I could see every number one through ten, except for the missing three. This strange blockage lasted for almost thirty minutes and by then I was almost to the point of tears. Then suddenly it was like a fog lifted from my brain. I began to be able to visualize the missing “3” in my mind.

As I look back, parent night is now but a memory, and thankfully I am retaining the ability to visualize all of my numbers. (At least for the moment.) But, these two events have caused me to evaluate my health status. I am beginning to ask myself, “What will my health be like in five to ten years?” I am questioning if my seemingly rapid increase in symptoms are being caused by the PD itself, or if one of my medications are to blame. I do know that one of my meds can cause side-effects that are similar to the cognitive difficulties I have been dealing with lately. I am also questioning my diagnosis. I have wondered if maybe there is something besides PD going on with me. Maybe I am just being overly cautious. Maybe I am just freaking out a little because a dear friend just had her diagnosis changed from PD to MSA (Multiple System Atrophy), and our symptoms are quite similar.

At this point I am feeling much more humble. God has my attention and my praise! Even during this time of mental reevaluation and readjustment to having a progressive neurological disease, and given the concern I am feeling for the future status of my health; I am able to praise God for I know that He loves me and He is in control. I give Him praise for situations which teach me humility for it is truly my desire to grow in His wisdom.

Dear Lord, keep me serving You in humility. Bless me with Your wisdom. I have no power or strength of my own, but through Jesus all things are possible. Allow me to cling tightly to Your promises and to lean upon You for my support and strength. I love You and I praise You. In Jesus name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life’s Little Inconveniences

Will you rely on him for his great strength? Will you leave your heavy work to him?
Job 39:11 (NIV)

Once upon a time there was a young woman who was quite physically strong and fiercely independent. She was known to take on jobs that most women would not be willing to consider. She worked as a roofer, a painter and even as a forest-fire fighter. She was more than willing to get her hands dirty and take care of most challenges in life on her own terms. She did minor car maintenance herself; oil changes, replace spark plugs, rotate tires, check belts, etc. She did not need to call a handy-man to assist with plumbing or carpentry repairs for her home; she gladly tackled such projects on her own. She did not have a gardener. She kept her yard mowed, the hedges trimmed, and the walkway edges clipped. Did I say this woman was quite self-sufficient?

Turn the pages in the book of life. At a relatively young age this woman is now facing a progressive neurological disease: Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. (Just in case there is any doubt, this woman is me.)

My once fierce independence has become incredibly interdependent and dependent. I have been blessed with a wonderful husband and have learned that I can count on him in interdependence. I also have a dependent relationship. I am a child of God, and as such I am blessed with a relationship of utter dependence upon Him.

I no longer fight for independence. I have learned that I am much more blessed and fulfilled when I live in dependence on God and in interdependence with my Husband. I can’t say that I got to this point without a fight. I think that most of the life lessons that I have learned have come about with more than a few battle scars. My dad always said, “Joan has to learn everything the hard way.” He was right!

Now that I am facing an uncertain future with my health limitations, I have had to swallow my pride; yes I said “swallow my pride,” and ask my husband to assist me with many things that I have always done for myself; not only the more physical tasks such as car repairs, carpentry and the like, but also some tasks of daily living. Many days I need assistance to cut my meat at dinner. I am no longer able to beat eggs. I would require assistance to brush my teeth were it not for the use of a battery operated spin-brush. You see, even some small tasks are now impossible because of the quick repetitive motion required.

With Parkinson’s Disease repetitive motion tends to put muscle groups into a state of arrest. Think of the heart when it goes into cardiac arrest. The normal rhythm is interrupted, the beat becomes irregular and then the heart stops altogether. This is very similar to what happens within my nerves and muscles. I can begin the action but as I continue to place my body under the demand of those quick repetitive motions, the neural impulses begin to fire irregularly and the muscle freezes up. Often this will cause muscle cramps and intense pain.

Relying upon my husband’s help for these normal life tasks is, well, humbling to say the least. (Not that I don’t need a good dose of humility from time-to-time.) God has blessed me with a greater love for my husband through these stressful times. My husband is accepting me, assisting me when needed, and loving me in spite of an unknown future. What woman wouldn’t respond to an unconditional love like that?

Within these struggles I am being blessed by learning how to live more fully dependent upon God. He has become my strength in weakness, my comforter when I am feeling down due to the loss of physical abilities, my solid rock during the ever changing progression of symptoms. God is blessing me by growing my faith in Him. He is teaching me that when I am weak, He is strong and mighty. Within these struggles I am being blessed by learning how to live more fully dependent upon God. He is teaching me that my “salvation requires [me] to turn back to [God] and stop [my] silly efforts to save [myself]. [My] strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on [God] — The very thing [I’ve] (for far too long) been unwilling to do.” Isaiah 30:15 (MSG)

I am so grateful that God is a patient God. I am grateful that during my years of stubborn independence He loved me enough to carry me along. I am grateful that He is now teaching me to trust fully in His divine wisdom, plan and calling on my life. In fact, even with the pain, limitations and struggles that PD presents in my life, I have come to realize that this disease is a strange sort of gift to me. God is allowing me to use what was meant for harm to give praise and glory to my God and Savior Jesus. I am learning through suffering, due to illness, not to live my “life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:2 (NIV)

So, if these little life inconveniences are a tool that can be used to focus just a small portion of glory and honor upon the Creator of all life, I say, “Bring it on!”

Related Verses:

Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me— The very thing you've been unwilling to do. Isaiah 30:15 (MSG)

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1&2 (NIV)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Learning to Live in Sufficient Grace

“But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

Any serious illness can test ones faith and belief in God. But for those who suffer, like myself, with a chronic, debilitating disease every day brings about confusion, weakness, worry and fear. None of these attributes support an attitude which will allow me to see God in my everyday life, nor will they bless me in my daily walk with the Lord. My goal then becomes, “How do I learn to live in the sufficiency of His grace, trusting Him with every aspect of my daily life, laying it all down at the foot of the cross.

In January 2006 I was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. Due to my ego and belief that I was almost bulletproof, I thought to myself, “No big deal. So I’ll shake a little. I can handle that.” Of course, I had done the research and I knew very well that a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can bring a broad variety of symptoms. I just wanted to believe that my experience would be a slow progression and I would only be challenged by mild symptoms at worst.

That of course has not been my experience. As I have studied and researched this disease and have lived with it and the symptoms. I am learning just how much of my daily life can be impacted by a non-curable, progressive neurological disease. In a physicians P.D. lingo one of the tests used to measure a patients progression rate is what is called P.D.R.S., or Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scales. In the almost three years since my diagnosis I have gone from a PDRS score of 2 to a current rating of 57. The rating scale reflects 0 as being no symptoms to a top score of 100. This rapid increase in symptoms has me classified as progressing at a rate somewhere in the top 5 – 10% of all PD patients.

Given these facts, how then am I coping with the rapid changes in my physical condition? I am learning to rely fully on the power and strength of Jesus Christ. I have often heard it said that one cannot live a life of faith if they are never pushed beyond the point that their own human ability can carry them. It really doesn’t take much faith to walk or run when one is fully healthy. It doesn’t take much faith to walk into a job everyday prepared to give your best work to your employer when the mind and body are healthy and whole.

However, when it takes every bit of energy one can muster up just to get out of bed in the morning and get dressed to go into a place of work due to physical limitations, faith and reliance on God is increased. When one can no longer process verbal requests from co-workers and must ask them to write their requests down so that no mistakes are made and nothing is forgotten or overlooked, ones faith and reliance on God is increased. When at the end of the work-day one has no physical strength or stamina left to give, and there are still the responsibilities of cooking a meal for the family, playing with a child, or giving time and attention to ones husband, faith and reliance in God’s strength and provision is increased.

I am learning that to get through each day I must ask God to help me to focus on the tasks that He puts on my to-do list. There will be many tasks on my to-do list that never get attended to, and I have learned to release these items to God. He knows what activities are required in my job, in my ministry, and for my family and home life. For those required activities He will bless me with the ability to complete tasks and touch lives with the love of Jesus. The only requirement is that I remain in contact or communion with Him in order that I may have wisdom and insight as to what God has placed on my priority list for me to accomplish each day. This is where my challenge comes in, and where the Lord blesses me with the most opportunities to live by faith in Him.

Over the next few weeks I am going to try to look at a few of my daily challenges and share how I am learning to see God’s hand in the midst of my daily life. I will share what God is teaching me and how my faith is being increased as a result.

I have the honor and responsibility to share the wonders of Jesus with those around we who are lost and alone. Once again, I pray that God will bless me with the opportunities to “boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength! Praise His name.