Finding Joy in the Tough Times

It’s easy to find joy when exciting things are happening. Each day seems full of new possibilities. And the sky is the limit when it comes to dreams. But what about the unexpected changes? The dark times? Where is the joy then?

It’s easy to find joy when exciting things are happening. Each day seems full of new possibilities. And the sky is the limit when it comes to dreams. But what about the unexpected changes? The dark times? Where is the joy then?

I started off this year full of dreams and ideals. After 6 years of difficult pregnancies and Post Partum Depression, I’d finally come out the other side. I’d survived! As I healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I started looking toward the future. I had big dreams, and I was sure God was behind those dreams.

Then, in less than a week, all those dreams came crashing down. And, to be honest, I’m floundering a bit right now. I’m confused, hurt and more than a little scared. I thought my dreams and plans were from God, but now everything is changing.

Memorial Day weekend we were in MA visiting special friends. The stress of a big church remodeling project and Jonathan’s ordination were behind us. We were having a wonderful time and looking forward to a great summer. It had been years since I felt so well physically. We spent the time on the 9 hour drive to MA making plans for our future.

Then on Memorial Day, I had an episode where I almost blacked out. The next day I had another one. Over the next 3 days, the episodes got longer, stronger, and closer together. (Can you tell I’ve had 3 kids–it sounds like I’m describing contractions!) I was getting scared, but determined to make it home before going to the doctor.

We arrived home on Thursday night. By Friday morning, I couldn’t even walk across the room without feeling like I was about to pass out. So Jonathan drove me to the ER. Do you want to know what is my new definition of humility? Sitting on the ER floor with my head between my knees because I couldn’t make it to the registration desk. My pride took a tumble, for sure!

And it was there in the ER I first heard the acronym POTS.

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome–a failure of the autonomic nervous system to regulate blood flow throughout my body. My heart rate was fluctuating 70 beats per minute trying to get blood to my brain. I was light-headed, unstable, tired, and couldn’t think clearly. Four days later, after a tilt table test, the diagnosis became official.

At first I was relieved. I really was! I had a diagnosis. The cardiologist knew what was wrong with me. My heart was fine. It wasn’t terminal. They didn’t find a brain tumor on the MRI. Yes, I couldn’t walk across a room. Yes, there is no cure. But I knew what was wrong with me.

Then came our attempts at establishing a new normal. Our summer plans changed from hikes and trips to the beach to doctors visits of all kinds. We crossed plans and projects off our to-do lists, because we knew they weren’t going to get done. People from church brought meals or Jonathan cooked. Slowly we got started getting used to the fact that many days I couldn’t drive. Some times folding a load of laundry was a huge accomplishment for the day. Other days I felt almost normal.

I went through our schedule and assigned the kids new chores. It no longer seemed crazy to have a 5-year-old clean the bathroom. We canceled more projects, trips, and plans.

I’m actually doing a lot better now. The cardiologist started me on a beta blocker a few days after the tilt table test. It doesn’t solve the poor blood circulation or the brain fog, but most of the time it keeps my heart from wildly fluctuating, which helps with the light-headedness. On my good days I’m able to drive short distances or pick up a couple of items at the store (as long as there are no lines!). I can live an almost normal life about 1/3 of the time. Even on my bad days, I can usually get out of bed. But I have to be very careful not to overdo. If I attempt anything close to what I used to accomplish, I pay for it with several days where I can hardly sit up. During VBS, people at church got used to seeing me lying flat on my back in the nursery or a corner of the sanctuary, trying to get some blood back up to my head.

In March I began to think God wanted me to change the focus of this blog. When I got diagnosed with POTS, I wondered how that would play out. But I think I’m getting a sense of direction. And, actually, what’s been happening recently goes well with what I thought God was showing me last winter. I’m still formulating things in my head and my heart, but I’ll keep you updated!

Old Goals/New Goals

On the days I feel like I can’t keep going, I remember Psalm 103:13, which says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (ESV). God has a lot more patience and compassion for me and my failures than I have for myself! He doesn’t expect perfection. He want us to lean on His strength and accept His grace as we try to become the people He wants us to be.

This is coming a bit later than I intended. We got derailed this week with some sickness. But that is life–just when a routine seems to be established, something always happens!

Does that discourage me from having a schedule? Actually, no! If routines and habits are established and maintained when life is going smoothly, everyone and everything is in a better place when the bumps do come. And it is faster and easier to get back on track once life settles down again. Which is why I determined to focus time and energy this year on reestablishing some of those schedules and routines that gradually and unintentionally disappeared in our lives.

After five years filled with three rough pregnancies, a miscarriage, and multiple bouts of severe post partum depression, I was exhausted and muddled. I didn’t have a consistent routine, because routines (when there is a baby involved) continually change, if they exist at all! I’d given up on any goal beyond survival. I’d learned to settle there. And I didn’t like it.

The biggest hang-up I had when it came to making new goals and routines was fear of failure. As a highly sensitive person with strong perfectionist tendencies, I tend to view failure as deadly. I’d rather not attempt something than attempt and fail. (Just ask my family what happened when I learned Spanish!)

But I couldn’t keep living the way I was living. And change doesn’t happen by accident. So last month I started on a quest to change my life–one month at a time.

To do this, I chose three goals. My intention was to work on them for one month. If it worked, I’d either continue them the next month or develop new goals to focus on.

And . . . it worked! I was able to stay focused on my goals for one month. I saw change and improvement. And I didn’t get burnt out or feel like a failure because it is much easier to stay focused and excited about something for a month than it is to stay committed for a whole year. That’s not to say there weren’t days things fell apart (because there were plenty of those!), but there were more successes than failures.

January’s goals were to get up earlier so I had more time to read the Bible and exercise, to exercise 5 days a week, and to spend less time on my phone so I could spend more time reading good books.

In order to find time to exercise, I started setting an alarm again for the first time since I started having kids. I hate alarms with a passion, but I found a ring tone that wasn’t obnoxious. And I’ve set it and gotten up to it almost every day.

By getting up at 6:20 (approximately 20 minutes earlier than I had been waking up on my own), I am able to have half an hour to read my Bible, pray, and read a spiritually focused book before the kids get too crazy. And it’s been wonderful! I’ve been having my devotions much more often. And I’ve been getting more out of them because they aren’t rushed.

I wasn’t too sure how the next goal would go either. I do dislike exercising! But I found my exercise pants, put together a Youtube playlist of JessicaSmithTV exercise videos, and started exercising.

I’m not a fan of exercising, but I am a hug fan of JessicaSmithTV. I started using her videos when I was pregnant with Elena in the middle of a cold, icy New England winter. They are fun, easy-to-follow, and I appreciate her clothing choices. So I found some of my favorite walking workout videos along with some core strengthening videos.

I was surprised with the results. No, I didn’t lose a lot of weight. But my core is much stronger. And–here’s the surprise–I have so much more energy!

Ever since Colin was born, I’ve spent almost every afternoon lying on the couch while the kids are resting–too tired to read or sew or do anything productive. But since I started exercising every morning, I’ve had the physical, mental, and emotional energy to stay moving. And this has enabled me to accomplish much more each day!

Since I have more energy in the afternoons, I’ve been reading more. I actually finished 5 books in January (thanks to two days of jury duty!). It has been wonderful to spend time reading again. It is my favorite hobby and greatest addiction!

Since the monthly goal plan worked well for January, I decided to move forward with it for this month, too. For February, I decided to keep getting up early and exercising, but cut back the exercising to 3-4 days a week. That gives me a little bit of freedom if we have to get out the door early for a doctor’s appointment or homeschool co-op. And, let’s face it, some nights kids are sick and don’t sleep well, and then it’s hard to wake up extra early to exercise.

I’m also continuing to read more. This month I want to specifically focus on finishing 2 non-fiction books. I struggle with finishing non-fiction. Too often I read the first half dozen chapters and then set the book back on the shelf. So I’m determined this month to finish No More Faking Fine by Esther Fleece and It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst. (I’m reading the latter book as part of an online Bible study, so that should give me added motivation.) They are both wonderful books, so I want to finish reading them.

My next goal is something I should have worked on long ago. I need to spend more time with Elena. Because of many factors–she’s very independent and self-sufficient, she’s the middle child, I got pregnant with Colin so soon after she was born, etc.–she doesn’t get the attention she needs. I get too busy doing school with Quentin and taking care of Colin’s physical needs. So this month I’m trying my best to spend a few minutes each day playing with her or reading to her. And she is so excited!

There is so much I could work on and change in my life. There are days when I struggle with feelings that I’m failing in everything, so why even try to change? But I’m choosing to pick up the pieces and try again. Some days go great. Some days end in tears. But I want to keep moving forward and not just settle for survival mode. On the days I feel like I can’t keep going, I remember Psalm 103:13, which says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (ESV). God has a lot more patience and compassion for me and my failures than I have for myself! He doesn’t expect perfection. He want us to lean on His strength and accept His grace as we try to become the people He wants us to be.

Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com



It Is Possible to Survive (and Not Hate) Jury Duty!

The presumption of innocence of the defendant and the judging of the facts by 12 impartial members of society is an important part of our legal system. It helps protect the innocent and convict the guilty. It is a solemn and important civic responsibility.

A few months ago I received my first jury selection summons. Based on what I knew about jury duty (TV crime dramas and 12 Angry Men), I freaked out.

It was right at the beginning of the school year. I had just started homeschooling Quentin. And I was also teaching a high school persuasive writing class at a local home school co-op. I couldn’t imagine how I would cope if I was selected for a trial that lasted for a week, or two, or three!

Making a long story short, I requested to be excused. A reprieve was granted–supposedly until school was out in the summer.

“Supposedly” is the key word here, because shortly before Christmas I received another summons to appear for jury selection in early January.

At this point, we had a school routine established. And I was feeling slightly less stressed by all my teaching responsibilities, so I decided to just accept it. Who knows, what if I reminded them I was supposed to do it in the summer, and then I got summoned the week of a family vacation or the week of VBS? There isn’t much to do in a cold, dreary PA winter, so why not spend a few days in the courthouse? They were obviously not going to forget about me! Besides, I had between a 66-75% chance of not even being chosen.

But I was! The odds were definitely not in my favor that day.

I cried on my way home from the courthouse after jury selection. I imagined days or weeks away from my kids while their education and the housework fell apart. I imagined shuffling them from one babysitter to another while all structure and stability disappeared. And I imagined the stress of trying to presume someone innocent and then sorting through the facts in a potentially complicated case. I did not feel emotionally up to the challenge.

But, as is often the case, reality is not nearly as bleak as our imaginings! The case lasted only 1 day. It was clear and concise. There was no need for hours of deliberations. There was a lot of down time, so I was able to get a lot of reading done! I had a quiet lunch hour by myself and a chance to visit some fun little shops without 3 kids breaking anything. And I learned a lot–about the court system, society, and life.

It is always sad to see someone who’s life is falling apart. It is a scary and sober responsibility to have someone’s fate in your hands–definitely not something to take lightly! And it is a sad reminder of how dark, broken, and dangerous our world can be.

Would I be upset to get another jury summons at some point? Absolutely not! The presumption of innocence of the defendant and the judging of the facts by 12 impartial members of society is an important part of our legal system. It helps protect the innocent and convict the guilty. It is a solemn and important civic responsibility.

(And, personally, it was a great chance to sharpen my speech and debate skills as I listened to and mentally graded each of the lawyers on the structure, content, and delivery of their arguments.)

Finding New Joy and Purpose in the New Year

Year-long goals don’t work well for me, so I thought I’d try something new this year–1 new goal per month. It only takes 3 weeks to make a habit, right? So a month should be long enough to enact some change.

(This post does contain affiliate links.)

I can’t be the only person feeling like I got stuck in a rut at some point last year. I’m overwhelmed and unmotivated and frustrated with where I am in my personal and spiritual growth. It’s time to get unstuck.

Year-long goals don’t work well for me, so I thought I’d try something new this year–1 new goal per month. It only takes 3 weeks to make a habit, right? So a month should be long enough to enact some change.

My goal for January is to exercise 5 days a week. It’s not that I’m horribly overweight or anything. But I just feel flabby and tired and out-of-shape. I had 3 babies in 5 years. (That does a number on one’s body!) I don’t like the way I look or feel right now. It’s hard to find time to exercise with 3 little people who wake up very early. But I’m going to make it a priority for one month and hopefully get some of this flab out of the way. If I lose a few pounds, that would be an added bonus!

My only other goal at this point, which I hope to make a year-long goal (Wait, didn’t I just say I don’t do year-long goals?!) is to read 2 books per month: 1 non fiction and 1 fiction.

If you know me, I love fiction–especially the classics and WWII historical fiction. I’ll read Dickens or Bronte or historical fiction all day long (and neglect my family, too!). I struggle to stay motivated reading nonfiction.

But part of learning and growing is reading nonfiction–whether it is being challenged by someone’s life or reading a book about spiritual growth. So I am determined to read 1 non fiction book per month.

This month I’m reading The Clockmaker’s Daughter: A NovelTby Kate Morton. I love Kate Morton’s books, especially The Forgotten Garden: A Novel! (I should probably add the caveat that The Clockmaker’s Daughter does contain some supernatural elements not all readers may be comfortable with reading about.)

I also started No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending.

When I started Esther Fleece’s book, I thought I was reading something for someone else. But I quickly realized we all have things we block instead of dealing with them in a healthy manner. I intend to write a review of all I’m learning from the book after I finish it.

I already have a couple of ideas for February’s goal. But I’m not sure if I want to stick with a practical goal (like I did this month) or branch out into an emotional or Spiritual goal. I still have several weeks to decide what I’m doing. And maybe I’ll end up choosing two goals and see how that goes.

In the meantime, my kids are bouncing off the walls from a too-long Christmas break, so we are getting back into a school schedule. My abs hurt from the Jessica Smith TV workouts I’ve been doing every morning. I have jury duty next week (first time ever). And I really want to find time to finish my books!

Photo by Bryan Schneider on Pexels.com