Trying to Explain

Have you ever been asked a question that you struggled to adequately explain? I’m pretty good at thinking and speaking “on my feet,” but there are times when the subject matter and circumstances of the asking make it difficult to pull my thoughts together. This has happened to me a few times and left me feeling very frustrated at being unable to communicate what I want to say. It happened again the other day.

I was in the grocery store when a young woman stopped me and asked what church I went to.

“The Catholic Church,” I replied.

“Oh,” she responded with obvious disappointment. “I am looking for someone to go to a church my friend wants me to try, but I’m scared because it’s pretty out there.”

Further conversation revealed she’d been raised in a Baptist-style home, but has been wrestling with whether what she’s been taught all her life is actually true. A friend has told her she needs to speak in tongues in order to be saved and she wants to know what’s true and what’s not. How are we saved?

We stood and talked for some time.  It wasn’t the best environment for it, but I did the best I could and assured her that God would guide her if she would seek Him and His will. After assuring her of my prayers for her journey, we went our separate ways.

Over a year ago I was asked the same question by a family member who is struggling to understand our conversion to Catholicism. Unfortunately, it was asked in a noisy room and “off-the-cuff” as well. There are issues with both circumstances.

First, my hearing is getting worse and I struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise. I almost have to close my eyes and concentrate on what is being said to sort it out from everything else, so discussion was difficult. Second, although when I was an evangelical that would have been a five-second sound-byte answer, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” that’s not the case as a Catholic.

Why is it so different? Well, rather than trying, once again, to explain it with my own words, I’m going to use someone else’s explanation who knew he was being asked and adequately prepared to answer it. I’ll warn you, though, it’s an almost 25 minute explanation, so grab a cup of coffee and settle in to listen to Fr. Matt Hartley in Arvada, CO.

 

Bartholomew

IMG_5171.jpg

(Mary Anne holding Bartholomew in his favorite position!)

“When this cat and these dogs are gone, I’m done. No more pets. I want us to be able to take off and go to Wyoming or anywhere else without having to worry about animals.”   Famous last words.

Actually, it’s not my fault, not entirely. After Sammy, our last surviving cat, disappeared last year I had no intention of getting another one. I enjoy cats and there’s nothing better than laying in the recliner with a cat on my chest, snoozing away a lazy Sunday afternoon. That deep-throated purring from a warm, fuzzy body snuggled up on me is about as relaxing an experience as I can imagine. The only thing better was when my babies laid there to nap, but then I was always a little tense, worried I might move wrong and drop the baby. You never really worry about that with a cat, because they usually land on their feet with only an eye roll in your direction at such clumsiness.

But, animals have to be looked after when you travel, so I figured it would lessen my anxiety if there weren’t any to worry about. But every time I would say, “No more pets after these are gone,” my kids would give me the “Right, Mom,” look and go about their business, shaking their heads.

Well, for my birthday in August, Mary Anne took matters into her own hands and brought me a kitten! A pretty tan, lightly striped, male whom I named Bartholomew. I like using Biblical or saint names for pets when I get to do the naming and he came from a family with several boys named after the Apostles, so I thought Bartholomew would be cute. Besides, his meow is so loud that I can say to him, “Bartholo!” and he’ll respond, “Mew!” Pretty cute, huh?

He is now about seven months old and a nice-sized cat. While I write this he is laying on my chest grooming himself with an occasional lick on my chin to make sure I, too, am properly groomed. I don’t know what will happen when the dogs are gone, but I’m pretty sure I’m always going to have a cat!

The Flip Side

pexels-photo-286198.jpeg

Winter here in North Dakota can be (and usually is) quite brutal.  Despite the blizzards and severely sub-zero temperatures, there is beauty to be found.  Whether that beauty comes in the form of the ferocity of the wind or in the delicate artwork of a frosted window, it puts a new perspective on that harshest of seasons: winter.  I feel the same way about my diagnosis.

Although the words “Multiple Sclerosis” can seem very daunting, it is surprising what a relief it is to finally have an answer for so many of the odd things that have happened over the last few years.  To finally be able to lose my embarrassment over the way I need to get out of my car (both feet firmly on the ground first), or the way I will run into a wall.  Although I might sigh, I no longer berate myself for needing to have a death grip on a hand railing going down stairs because I don’t trust my knees to get me safely to the bottom.

Quite often I have felt as though my body was going berserk on me and I’ve chalked it up to being out of shape, overweight, getting older, clumsiness, etc. To stumble, to have my legs start jerking erratically, to have my hand not be able to control a pen properly, to feel exhausted when I have not really done much has been completely baffling. God has blessed me with a sense of humor and so I often will respond with, “That’s why my mother didn’t name me Grace!” but there is still that deep, nagging feeling that things are going crazy or maybe it’s all in my head and I’m just trying to subconsciously get attention. (By the way, it is all in my head! There are lesions on my brain causing this! 😄) So to have someone tell me, at last, that there is actually a reason for what is going on has brought me an incredible sense of relief.

Although this diagnosis has thrown me for a loop, I cannot say that it has been devastating. For one, I am not looking at imminent death. For another, I am not anticipating chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or any of the other horrors that come with a cancer diagnosis. Even if I would have the worst type of MS I would still have a number of years to live before it would take me.

The thought ran through my head one time that at times like this people might ask, “Why me?” However, I have thought for some time that the proper response to some of these things is, “Why not me?” For what reason would I ever believe that somehow I should be exempt from the suffering in this world? There is nothing special nor exceptional about me that would preclude me from this. I also recognize that God has allowed this to happen.

Does that make God cruel? No, it doesn’t. You see, I might struggle with some of the horrible things that happen in this world and wonder why God allows them, but the fact is that those horrors are usually caused by other people. God gives us all free will and our free will can harm others. However, MS is not something self-inflicted nor caused by anyone else. God has allowed this to happen to me and I believe that it is because He’s going to use it in my life and hopefully in the lives of others to bring Him glory and to help me to become the best-version -of-myself that He envisioned when He created me (Romans 5:3-5).

I have many friends and relatives praying for me. Some of them are asking God for complete healing and, if that is His will, I will be glad to have it! However, I realize that He might have a different purpose for it.

Now someone might say, “But, Tracy, you’re not in any real pain. You’re not really suffering very much just yet. How do you know that when the pain truly comes that you will see it this way?” I don’t know. I haven’t been there yet, but I can hope that I will endure whatever suffering this disease might bring with grace and patience with an eye on the eternal.  After all, this disease will not be for eternity, but only for a time.  At some point God is going to call me from this life into the next and whatever I have suffered here on earth will be swallowed up in His love and mercy.  Perhaps, when I’m on that Other Side, He’ll even show me what it all meant here on earth.

Christmas, part 3

UnknownSometimes life can throw us some weird curveballs.  My mother-in-law’s death wasn’t really one because we had anticipated it for years.  Mom suggested one time that perhaps we should celebrate her and Dad’s 45th anniversary since no one could imagine she’d make it their 50th.  Not only did she make it to the 50th, but they celebrated their 60th last August!  Who would have ever guessed?

My DNA results were surprising because I never imagined that I had Jewish blood in me. I think it’s cool that I have connections in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Old as one of Jewish descent (though only partial) and the New as a Christian.  I think that’s pretty special.

But last Thursday, December 28, I got a curveball thrown at me from out-of-the-blue that I didn’t see coming at all.

On December 9th I woke up with the right side of my body experiencing scattered numbness with my right hand and foot tingling.  As I walked it felt as though my sock were bunched up; a very annoying sensation for someone who can’t stand even a grit in her shoe. Ugh!  I’d just been to Grand Forks the week before for an adjustment at the chiropractor and now needed to go back because, obviously, something was “out.”  Since it was a Saturday I’d have to wait until Monday.

By Monday the numb spots were getting more noticeable and the tingling hadn’t stopped, so I trekked back to Grand Forks and had the chiropractor adjust me again.  Except it didn’t work.  As I walked out, I could tell that nothing had changed, but hoped that by the end of the day it would be better.  It wasn’t.  By Friday I knew I had to have this looked at because it was getting very annoying and my right shoulder was numb.

I went to see Ashton, a physician’s assistant, who did a full evaluation, blood tests, and neurological screening.  Nothing added up and the blood tests came back normal.  She said to come back again if there was no improvement within a few days.   That was the 15th and the following Monday (the 18th), Mom Spenst passed away so there was no time to think about going back.  I just hoped it was going to be fine and would go away as a similar experience had two years before.

The funeral and Christmas were bundled up into a whirlwind of people, activity, and severe cold weather.  By the time the 26th came, though, I knew nothing had changed and felt it was actually getting worse.  So, I called to see Ashton again, but she was out of the office.  I saw Dr. Emerson who decided it was time for an MRI.  On Wednesday morning at 8 am, in the bitter cold of -25°F, I was led out to the special semi-truck that comes through our rural community once a week with an MRI machine.  They completed the scans, some with dye for contrast, and I went home to wait for results.

Nolan and John had to leave Thursday morning to get back to work.  After having taken off about a week and a half, they really needed to return.  So, they headed out by noon and I went to work at our local appliance store where I work part-time.  That afternoon the nurse called and said the doctor wanted to go over the MRI results with me.  I was able to get the last appointment of the day at 4:25 PM.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had these kinds of tests before, but quite often if all is okay the doctor will allow the nurse to tell you that over the phone.  I had a feeling all was not okay.  My oldest two daughters came with me so I wasn’t alone.

We sat down with Dr. Emerson and he said that the MRI had shown results.

“Tracy, it’s MS.”

 

Christmas, part 2

The second part of Christmas happened on Christmas Day and it was very exciting!  I got my ancestryDNA results!

AncestryDNAStory-Tracy-301217

WOW!  Not only do I have a heritage, it’s the COOLEST heritage there is!  Jewish!  I’ve always liked Jewish-sounding music (Hava Nagila being the only piano piece I can still play), but never thought it was anything other than just a love of the rhythm.

It turns out that there is an option on the ancestry.com site that I was able to opt in or out of my information being made available for making connections.  I opted out of that for now as I’m not ready to go that direction. Right now, it’s just enough to know where I come from.

Christmas, part 1

IMG_0420.jpg

Christmas this year has been a roller-coaster of a time, so I’m breaking it down into parts because, quite honestly, it’s the only way I can handle all that has happened.

On December 16 we received word that Nolan’s mom, Pauline, was in her final days. After a 50-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), her life on this earth was coming to an end.

Nolan had decided several days before that he wouldn’t make the trip to Kansas to try to see her again since we’d been there in August for her and Dad’s 60th anniversary. I called him that morning.

“Love, do you want to go?”
“Yeah, I really do.”
“Then you’d better get to the office and ask for time off.”
“I’m parked outside it now.”

Our son John, who works at the same company as Nolan, decided to go with him and the two of them left that day in hopes of making it there before she died.

They arrived on Sunday the 17th and saw Mom and Dad at the care home in Kingman where they were living. They were able to see and talk to Mom. Mom had been unable to really talk for several days, but the one thing she could still say was, “I love you.” When Nolan and John hugged her, she whispered it to them, too.

That evening at Terry’s they helped answer questions for the obituary and talked about funeral arrangements while they waited for another brother to arrive.

The next day the siblings who could be there were back at the care home. Nolan and John planned to leave the next day as Mom was expected to last a few days longer. While they were looking through some photo albums in the sitting room, Dad walked in and said, “Mom stopped breathing.”

That quickly, in those few moments while Dad was looking down reading something, the room had gone quiet and, looking up, he realized she wasn’t breathing. Quietly, peacefully, and without pain, she was gone.

Mom’s funeral was December 23rd with most of the family here for it. The family service Friday night and the funeral on Saturday were testimony to the love and dedication of Mom and Dad to one another for all of the 60+ years of their marriage. Dad’s loving care of Mom for all these years has been nothing short of heroic. As Mom would so often observe, many spouses of MS sufferers leave them, unable to cope with the growing disabilities of their mate. Such a thought never entered Dad’s mind. He and Mom were just as much in love on the last day as they had been on their wedding day.

At times like these it is appropriate that people express their sympathies at our loss and we certainly agree. Mom’s death has left a huge hole in our world. But our sorrow is tempered with relief that her pain is finally at an end. She is now free! Free from this world and its sorrows; free from the pain of MS; free from living with the effects of sin in the world. So, although we cry when we think of our memories that are never to be repeated, we rejoice at the thought of her finally with Jesus, her Savior and Lord.

And, so, the first part of Christmas 2017 was a reminder of why Jesus came–to conquer death. Mom is now living that reality.

Merry Christmas to Me! The results are in!

 

 The ancestryDNA results are back, and on Christmas morning! According to the results, I’m 39% European Jewish, 27% European West, 19% Scandinavian, and 6% Ireland/Scotland/Wales. Although that only adds up to 91%, all the others are just traces with low confidence.

My mom is going to laugh! She’s always said that she thought there must be some Jewish in me somewhere. 🙂

Merry Christmas, everyone!