Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stilpstaber Camping Extravaganza 2009

This February we got together with the Buchstaber family for the first time. Bucky and Curt could be twins separated at birth in the way they look and in all the things they have in common. Both of them love the outdoors (boating, fishing, camping, hunting and hiking), are Godly men and are great with kids. Britta and I hit it off right away too and Curt thinks we look alike which is a massive compliment to me because Britta is gorgeous and is totally fashion-forward, even pulling off wedge sandals when camping. If only I could be so fancy... She's a Godly woman, a fantastic mom and a wonderful friend who I have learned a lot from in the short time we've been friends. Our kids mesh together well too. Crosby and Grant share a love of Legos and being crazy. Lucy is uber fancy, much to Katie, Alli and Paige's delight and when Lucy is around, she is the center of attention. Baby Griffin is Alli's biggest attraction and Britta patiently lets Alli "help" with Griffin until he wearies of his personal space being infringed on.

This spring we decided to go camping together. We selected the last weekend in August to be our final hoo-rah to the end of summer and start of school. The plan was to camp near Crater Lake since even though I'm a native Oregonian, I've never been there. When I scheduled my surgery, I asked the PA if I would be able to go camping 9 days later and he hesitantly said, "Yes? If you're okay with just sitting around the whole time." Naively (pre-surgery) I told the Buchstaber's that our camping trip was still a GO. Of course I could travel 4 hours in each direction, set up a camp site, cook, limp to the outhouse every time I had to go potty, and sit on the beach while everyone swam and went boating. DUH. I might have been 3 days post-surgery before we wised up and revamped our plans for the Stilpstaber Camping Extravaganza.
Plan B was to condense our time together from 3 days and nights to one 24 hour outing. Phase 1 of Plan B was golfing. Curt and Bucky golfed 18 holes at the course by our house yesterday morning. Since they started at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m., they were done by 10 a.m. We fed our families lunch and then met up at Buchstaber's house where we began Phase 2 of Plan B, boating. Both families loaded into a church van (bonus of being a children's pastor) for our day at the lake. Stopped by their friends' house to pick up the Buchstaber's speed boat and headed to Haag Lake, a reservoir hemmed in by rolling foothills in all directions.

Curt and Britta were quick to mention that the weather on Thursday was prime boating weather: hot and sunny. The weather on Friday, our designated boating day, was sunny in the morning and proceeded to get colder and cloudier the closer we got to the lake. Right about the time Curt lamented, "The only thing that could make this weather worse is rain," the first huge rain drops started to fall. Bucky and I tried to keep everyone positive and mention how much fun it would still be, but our words fell on deaf ears as we docked the boat, unloaded the van and watched all the kids and adults scramble for sweatshirts and start shivering.

We managed to get all 11 of us in the boat, which was initially smoking significantly. As we pulled onto the empty lake, Britta (who was worried about a breakdown) begged Bucky to stay close to shore since there was NO ONE on the lake to tow us in if we needed help. The boat warmed up and stopped smoking, so we dropped the tube in the lake. Grant and Crosby took the first turn, laughing hysterically as Bucky sent them up and over the wake. They even caught air a few times. While Crosby and Grant shivered and started the teeth-chattering process in the boat, Alli and Katie took a spin on the tube. Followed by Curt. Bucky tried his hardest to send Curt flying off that tube, but Curt somehow managed to stay on. Curt took a turn driving the boat and Bucky impressed us all with his wakeboarding skills. It only took about 20 attempts with the camera for me to finally capture him mid-air. Alli and Curt took a short-lived turn tubing together and then all the kids (except Griffin) jumped in the water to swim. Grant was the only one brave enough to stay in the water and tube back to the dock. As we were unloading one teeth-chattering child after another, the sun broke through the clouds and proceeded to taunt us as it grew brighter and pushed the ominous rain clouds off in the distance.

A Stilp outing isn't complete without some sort of potential disaster on the road. Bucky watched the gas gauge in the van slide to E and then past Empty as Madge, the GPS system, took us way out into the back country roads for the "quick" way home. We topped out at the summit of a small mountain, and breathed a short-lived sigh of relief as we started the gas-saving process of coasting down the hill. I say "short-lived" because as Bucky navigated the van/boat combo down the curvy mountain roads, the smell of burning brakes saturated the air. The trailer connection for the brakes wasn't working and the poor van brakes were unsuccessfully taking the brunt of the work. We squeaked to a stop at a corner of a little country town and praise the Lord, there was a gas station with one pump. We smoked our way to the pump and rejoiced in the fact that we avoided running out of gas.

We unloaded at the Buchstaber's house and began Phase 3 of Plan B: sleepover at the Stilp's. Came back to our house and grilled out camping food: brats and hot dogs, cole slaw, chips, and watermelon. After we stuffed ourselves, we started a fire in Bucky and Britta's portable fire pit and the kids made s'mores around the campfire. Britta and I sweet-talked the boys into putting the kids to bed at 10 p.m. and then the adults followed suit later in the evening. We woke up this morning and made pancakes, bacon, eggs and strong coffee. Finished Phase 3 with a slide show of our time together and watched the Buchstaber's pull out of the driveway.

It was a great time and Plan B was probably just as fun as Plan A would have been. Maybe next year, we'll actually get to Crater Lake, but the Stilpstaber Camping Extravaganza of 2009 was one that won't quickly be forgotten.

Turned the Corner?

Is it possible? I think I may have turned the corner. If I could do the happy dance I would!

Thursday night Curt and the kids took me on my first outing - to Costco to order contacts and eat ice cream. It was about as thrilling and exhausting as it sounds. Crutching from the parking lot to the optical department, from the optical department to the bathrooms on the other side of the store, and from the bathrooms to the food court on the other side of the store completely wore me out, not to mention the 3-ring circus and obvious sympathy stares I got along the way.

On Friday we increased my activity, decreased my pain meds, took me another outing (a boat trip) that forced me to skip a nap, and stayed up late. But guess what? For the first time since surgery, I slept through the night until 5 a.m. and then fell back to sleep without taking any drugs. Woke up this morning and my pain level was not increased! Praise the good Lord for answering prayers!

The swelling is finally going down in my knee and the structure of a knee cap if starting to emerge from the melon shape that it's been for the past 9 days. Getting off such strong doses of Vicodin makes me feel like myself again and even though the pain is constant, it's finally at a tolerable level. On all fronts, I 'm feeling so much better and it has lifted my spirits so much. Now to just not over-do it today....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Little By Little

Thanks for all your prayers. The short update is that this surgery has been thoroughly kicking my butt, way more than I expected it would. I think I have hit every symptom associated with "normal recovery" and maybe a few outside the range of normal. Since the surgery was more extensive than the surgeon anticipated, my recovery is going to be longer and slower than he originally thought. So I've adjusted my mindset to deal with the pain, take advantage of the times when I'm feeling better get a few things done and feel purposeful even if it's momentary, accept help when it's offered, and take it a day at a time. If you can believe it, I haven't been out of the house in EIGHT days which for someone who is often gone multiple times during the day has potential to make me crazy. I've started icing my knee in different rooms of the house to feel like I'm getting a change of scenery.

Curt and the kids have been amazing. The kids have been getting along really well: sharing, playing games, helping to clean up with asked, and been very tender and concerned for me. Our friends and family have gone above and beyond in helping with them. Chauffering them to and from play dates, treating them to special dates at the movies, hikes, trips to the pool, McDonald's, sleepovers and trips to the parks. Even though the pace and structure of our life has been top-sized temporarily, they have rolled with punches better than I anticipated.

And my sweet husband. What a good man. I could brag on him forever and ever amen but won't bore you with mushy stuff. He has cared for me so tenderly, made me laugh when I wanted to cry and been such a rock holding it all together. He's a gift I don't deserve.

We modified our "Stilpstaber Camping Extravaganza" from 3 days camping at Crater Lake to the boys golfing tomorrow morning, followed by the families spending the afternoon at Haag Lake, and returning to our house to "camp" in real beds with close proximity to lots of ice, pain meds and flush toilets that are stumbling distance from the bed.

Through it all, there are lessons to be learned. In my coherent times, I've been spending time with the Lord. I have felt His nearness and His tangible touch through the care of my husband, through the meals from friends, and through the people who have blessed our family by loving on our kids. The human side of me wants to take the easy way out and be done learning lessons about humility, pain, service, and resting. However, in the grand scheme of life, when I come out on the other end of this, these few weeks will be a blip on the screen of our lives. But the lessons I'm learning about compassion, service, empathy, and the value of rest are ones I'll take with me to eternity. And who can complain about that?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bottomed Out

I think I bottomed out and may be on the upswing with recovery. Last night was brutal and I was done in on a physical, emotional and mental standpoint. Curt's kindness and tenderness have been such a gift to me. I have no idea how I would have made it through this ordeal without him. He is one amazing man.

We made it through a super tough night and today, overall, has been an improvement from yesterday. I think, barring any unforeseen complications, I am starting on the slow path toward recovery. We're staying on top of the pain and I'm learning how to stay awake even when I'm doped up on Vicodin. Bonus.

It dawned on Curt and I today that crutches would provide some freedom and independence for me and maybe I wasn't supposed to be bearing weight on my leg so soon after surgery. And what do you know... Right there on the discharge order, but overlooked by the nurses at the surgery center, was crutches. I'm trying not to be a grumpy pants about this oversight. I'd love to go to church tomorrow, so we're hoping to scrounge up a pair to borrow until Curt can get me some from work on Monday.

We cancelled our camping trip for next weekend and are in the process of figuring out a realistic plan to replace the old one. Fortunately our friends who we were supposed to go with are flexible and gracious which makes me feel less guilty for ruining things for 11 people.

I can't drive if I'm on pain meds so my new goal is to ween myself off those so we won't be house bound. Curt made a good point that my surgery leg is also my driving leg, so getting back behind the wheel will be more of a challenge than I originally thought.

Oh and for someone who hates to have the hiccups, I've had them a record-breaking four times (and still counting) today. All in all, I'm a bit grumpy right now, but know I have a lot to be thankful for. It's a new day tomorrow. Thanks for your prayers. We really appreciate them, can feel them and are seeing God answer them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic expectations. That sums up the last 24-36 hours. And I'll add in this caveat that what I write may or may not make sense as I'm still under the influence of a lot of pain meds...

Surgeons have this secret language that only they seem to understand. When Curt was doing ortho surgery every day, I'd ask him the typical, "How was your day?" and he'd reply, "Oh fine. Did a couple total joints, a ACL repair and a few minor scopes." From a surgical standpoint, my procedure was about as simple as they come. In my naivety, I assumed my recovery would in turn be simple. And the first 12 or so hours when I was jacked up on morphine actually were easy. I even said to Curt, "I thought my knee would hurt a lot more."

Enter day 1-2 post-op. Last night my knee started throbbing and it grew more difficult to walk. By the time I went to bed, the Viocdin wasn't coming close to touching the pain. I couldn't find a comfortable spot and even the slightest flex of a muscle shot pain through my leg. I laid stiff as a board in bed thinking like Happy Gilmore, "Go to a happy spot," cause there was nothing else I could do. I finally fell asleep, but woke this morning to more of the same and almost passed out coming from the bathroom. Thankfully, my friend Brenna, and her daughter Grace, arrived at 8 a.m. to watch the kids. I took more Vicodin (which by the way, gives me chills, numbness in my hands and feet, a chemical headache, hyperawareness to sound and exhaustion - you people who like it are CRAZY!) and crashed for the next 3 1/2 hours.

While I was dead to the world, Brenna tidied my house, did my laundry, emptied my dishwasher and made my kids two hot and nutritious meals. She was so kind - I wanted to kiss her. We sat and chatted until Curt got home from work and it was really enjoyable.

After she left, I dropped the little bit of a facade I had going and fell apart. Curt is always so empathetic and his gentle kindness reduced me to a moaning mess. I was not expecting my knee to hurt so badly or to make backward progress. I didn't expect to be completely worthless to help the kids or help out around the house. I didn't anticipate being unable to walk to the bathroom or needing to ask for help to take a shower and get dressed. I wasn't expecting to have pain strip me of any sense of pride. In the past, I've always bounced back quickly. Have a high pain tolerance (or so I thought). My helplessness led to some heart-to-hearts with God about time lines. His recovery time line wasn't matching mine or even coming close.

My sweet husband unwrapped my knee for the first time since surgery and we were both shocked at how swollen it was. It really didn't even resemble a knee and the fluid around it was so compacted that it felt hard. He helped me take my first shower since surgery. Tucked me in bed with ice packs galore, a water bottle and more pain meds. He even called the orthopedic PA to find out a time lime for a "normal" recovery. And guess what? I'm normal. In theory, the swelling will go down as will the pain and I'll be feeling better soon, maybe even in the next few days.

My recovery expectations were unrealistic, but the silver lining is the tenderness, thoughtfulness, and gentleness that God is showing me through my amazing husband and friends. And I'm so grateful for that.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back to the Land of the Living

On Tuesday, we went to our friends' house to play and plan a camping trip. Britta and I had just pulled out our blank paper and pens to plan meals when we heard Grant crying loudly. Since the dude is tough, I knew he was hurt. He was holding his wrist and his elbow and crying, "Ow! Ow! I fell out of the top of the tree and landed on the rocks." Sure enough, a branch near the top of the tree had broken off and Sweet Boy fell all the way to the ground. I was pretty sure his injury fell into the "emergent" category and not the "wait until tomorrow" category, but as I always do in medical emergencies, called Curt. He walked me through what to do and as Grant iced and calmed down, he started feeling better. He seemed to be using his wrist more and Britta and I both felt like he was probably okay. I scrapped plans to take him to urgent care and brought him home instead. Curt examined it when he got home and was marginally convinced that it was just a sprain.

Wednesday morning was surgery day. Curt started waking up kids so we could distribute them all over Newberg before we went to Salem for surgery. He examined Grant's wrist once more and thought he felt bones shift. Shoot. We changed plans and told Grant that he'd have to come with us to the clinic to get an x-ray and sit at the surgery center all day while I had surgery. Nothing like one-stop shopping and good times (note the sarcasm). Fortunately, Grant chose a great best friend with a super nice mom and Kelly came to pick him up when he was done with all his testing.

We got to the clinic and Curt rushed off to see patients while I admitted Grant and helped him get three x-rays of his left wrist. Sure enough - he had the smallest possible fracture in his wrist. You couldn't get a smaller break and still call it a break, but I think he was relieved to have bragging rights of some sort and some validation for the pain he felt. He got a "HOPE Orthopedics" brace and has to wear it for 3 weeks.

My surgery was at the surgery center across the street from the clinic and was scheduled for a 10:50 start time, but I had to be there at 9:20. At 9:10, I passed Grant off to Curt, kissed Curt (who was still seeing patients), and walked over to check in. The realization that I was having surgery sunk in when the nurse took me to the bathroom and gave me a surgery hat, slippers and a medical robe to change into. Changing into that outfit stripped me of any sense of dignity I thought I had. I sat in my pre-op chair, mindlessly reading PEOPLE magazine and watching the clock CRAWL toward 10:50 a.m. At 10:42, Dr. Sewell came in and explained what he was hoping to find in my knee and how he was going to fix it. At 10:45, Curt arrived from clinic, quickly changed into scrubs, and joined me for the rest of the pre-op meetings. We talked with the anesthesiologist and signed my life away and then we all walked to the operating room together. It was the strangest thing to be meeting Curt's colleagues in my surgery get-up and hoping the folds of my over-sized gown were keeping me adequately covered.

I've never been in an OR before. Super cold. Of course sterile. And bigger than I anticipated. The Lord gave me a sense of calmness and I really didn't feel anxious. What a relief. I followed instructions for laying down on the table, put my arms on these trays, and took a few deep breaths. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in recovery. Kind of a trippy thing, that anesthesia. The past 24 hours have been a blur of every possible side effect. Let's just say, I was not made for narcotics. I think I may have re-entered the land of the living after this last two hour nap, but only time will tell.

Once I was asleep, Dr. Sewell invited Curt to join him in the OR. Curt didn't assist with my surgery, but got to be there while Dr. Sewell inserted the cameras and poked around to find the problem. The fact that Curt was there, brings me post-surgery comfort in some strange way. And Mr. Smarty Pants (Curt) was right with his torn meniscus diagnosis of early June. Dr. Sewell successfully found and repaired the tear in the meniscus and trimmed away some frayed cartilage in my knee cap. Since he repaired the meniscus, short-term recovery will be longer, but the long-term strength of my knee will be better. I should make a full recovery and be able to run again. YIPPEE SKIPPEE!

Thanks for all the prayers, help with the kids, and meals. We really appreciate them. The post-surgery pain in my knee has been manageable thus far which is a great answer to prayer. The pain medication the doc gave me really wigs me out, so we're trying to find a pain management strategy that involves keeping me out of La La Land and in the Real World.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not Out

I took the kids up to OHSU today to have lunch with Curt and to introduce them to his co-workers. In all honesty, I was dreading our outing. I put this pressure on myself that all the kids would need to be showered, hair combed, somewhat matching, and on their best and quietest behavior because noise carries in the hallways of the old dormitory where Curt's office is located. But our time together was surprisingly fun.

The kids remembered their manners and actually shook hands and said, "Nice to meet you" to everyone they met. They were showered with combed hair that didn't get pulled out of hair parties until we were re-loaded in the van. Alli and Katie wore cutoffs (not my first choice), Paige wore striped shorts under her striped dress, and Grant wanted to wear his new white, cotton undershirt tank top as a "real" shirt, but I drew the line on that one. We were presentable, but definitely not picture perfect. The noise volume increased significantly when we arrived, but we weren't in Curt's building long enough to make a huge disruption. He took us out to the huge lawn and we picnicked in the shade of enormous trees that had to be at least 100 years old.

While we were setting up lunch, the kids scaled all levels of the outdoor brick fireplace/grill and begrudgingly got down when we realized what they were up to. Grant was the first to enthrone himself on the tallest stack of lawn chairs with his ginormous stick that he found in the woods and he promptly declared himself "King Grant." "Queen Alli" claimed the second tallest stack of chairs leaving Katie and Paige to alternately fight over the "Princess" stack of chairs or cry because Grant declared the non-Princess-sister to be "the homeless servant." We couldn't help but laugh at how it characterized the roles the kids play in our family. Grant bossing everyone around. Alli, the third born, pushing her way past her two sisters, but occasionally submitting to Grant's demands. Sweet Katie and Paige, who are always so agreeable but easily offended, protesting Grant and Alli's domineering ways.

They abandoned the royal game to play Simon Says. Curt was Simon and we giggled as we watched our kids play the game. Little Paige didn't even come close to grasping the concept. She stood in line, huge smile plastered to her face, immediately doing everything Curt dicated whether Simon said or not. When her siblings would scream, "You're out! You're out," she'd fall apart and run crying to Curt or I for comfort. We tried several "practice" rounds but her game play did not improve. Grant was more interested in exploring than playing, which left Katie and Alli who were much harder to trick. Curt finally tricked Alli, leaving Katie standing as the winner. When she realized her good fortune, she gleefully declared, "You're out Alli. You're out. I win." Alli set her jaw and said resolutely said, "No I'm not. I'm not out," and then kept playing.

It struck both Curt and I as high-larious and Curt quipped through his laughter, "What if life was like that?," and we started brainstorming scenarios. The police officer brings you a speeding ticket and you say, "No thanks officer," then drive away. You get fired from you job and you tell your boss, "No thanks. I'm not fired." It would definitely make life interesting to never play by the rules or be held accountable for bad choices.

I was journaling about our fun afternoon and inwardly giggling about Alli's defiance when it struck me. Life with Christ is like playing Simon Says Alli-style. Well kind of. I don't mean the never playing by the rules part. Obviously, God doesn't want us stepping out of bounds or not taking responsibility when we screw up. But there is the whole redemption aspect of Christianity that looks a bit like Alli's take on Simon Says. If God is Simon and we're players in the game, when we sin, God says, "Oops. You're out." And the consequence we deserve is death. Then Jesus enters the picture and says, "Hey Simon. I'll take that consequence so Jodi can play." Jesus' sacrifice on the cross gives him the life-giving power to say, "Jodi, stop sitting in death. Get up. Get into the game of life. You're not out." Anyone else up for a game of Simon Says Alli-style?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Knee Update

After months of nagging pain, one "clean" MRI, and weeks of unproductive physical therapy, we have come full circle with my knee. I was back at the orthopedic surgeon this morning and he is confident enough that there is something mechanically wrong (i.e. something inside my knee that is broken and needs to be fixed) with my knee, that he wants to scope it. He, his PA, and my Physical Therapist all agree that my symptoms are pointing to a torn meniscus, the same diagnosis Curt gave me weeks ago, and that it didn't show up on the MRI. My cracked cartilage in my knee cap bugs me, but isn't the greatest source of aggravation and pain, so we'll tackle the meniscus first.

My surgery is scheduled for this Wednesday, August 19th. Time is TBD. Recovery time will depend on what he finds once he gets inside. If he just has to "trim it up" (whatever that means), then I could be running, albeit not comfortably, in as little as two weeks. If he finds a tear that he needs to repair, he'll be more strict in limiting my physical activity for the first two months. I'm a bit nervous about having surgery since it will a first for me, but I'm thrilled to be getting to the bottom of what is causing all these problems and pain.

Prayer requests would be:
1. That the scope is worth-while and that hopefully he finds something he can pin the pain on and fix it.
2. That recovery will go well.
3. Logistics of covering child/hubby care while I'm off my feet. Curt is taking Thursday off and Friday afternoon, but he has to work on Friday morning so I'll need help with the kids on Friday morning. Also on surgery day, I will either need a ride to the surgery center (or I'll go in with Curt in the morning and just sit around until my surgery) and I'll need to find child care times 4 for the kids for that entire day until we get home.

Thanks for praying with us and for all your support over the past few months.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Did That Just Happen?

I went to Physical Therapy today for the umpteenth time for my knee. I've been saying all along that my knee doesn't seem to be making any improvement. It still aches all the time and swells up in the back and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to why. I can sit all day and it hurts. I can be on my feet all day, and it hurts. I still can't do any real cardio workouts because EVERYTHING (even biking) causes acute pain and the doc said I have to stop if there's acute pain. To say I'm frustrated is an understatement.

After another 45 minutes of stretching, analyzing, hmmming, testing and head scratching, my Physical Therapist asked me how I thought I was progressing. When I said, "No offense to your work, but I think I haven't made an ounce of progress," he actually agreed with me. He cancelled my appointment for Thursday and made plans to call my ortho surgeon today to figure out next steps. I felt validated about how I've been feeling, but I left the his office discouraged and forced to cancel my plans to go to the gym because my knee hurt too bad to attempt a workout.

On a whim, at 12:20 this afternoon, I called the neighbor girl to see if she could babysit for an hour while the pool was open for lap swim. I figured floundering around in the pool was better than getting no exercise at all. On the way to the pool, I asked the Lord to have this swim be a productive and encouraging one. For me to have victory over anxiety and fear and to feel some semblance of peace and comfortability in the water. I really needed a good swim as motivation to keep trying.

I got in the pool at 12:40 and had a mere 20 minutes to swim. Pushed off the wall and swam one lap. Then two. Then three. Kept forcing myself to keep going and not stop. Push off again. Find a way to breathe cardiovascularly and fight off those demons in my mind. When I'd start to panic, I'd quote II Corinthians 10:5 in my mind and take my thoughts captive. And God answered my prayer. About 5 laps in, I felt relative peace in the water. I actually swam a lap without fighting off panic and realized I wasn't thinking non-stop about not drowning. Once I realized I wasn't panicking, I'd start again. DUH! At any rate, I managed to swim NINE CONSECUTIVE laps without stopping!!! So in theory, I could swim a sprint tri and not drown. I took a 30 second break, and then swam four more laps, all front crawl, before I got out of the pool at 12:55.

As I showered, I kept thinking, "Did that just happen? Did I really just swim 13 laps in 15 minutes?" Thank you Lord for making progress and giving encouragement, even in the little things!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

That Was a Little Better

Curt forced (well strongly encouraged me) to get back in the pool. He organized my evening so that after we went to parents night at Camp Tillikum, the family would drop me off at the pool with my bike, and I'd swim while he went home and put the kids to bed. After swimming, I could practice my triathlon skills and bike home on my junky bike in the dark. I was not motivated at all to exercise at 9 p.m., but knew I needed to get back in the water as a matter of principle, so I agreed to his plan.

And it was better than last time. Still not great. But better. I get so nervous that I forget to count the laps, but when I rehashed it in my brain, I think I did 12 laps total in 30 minutes with 2 breaks. I did 2 laps of breast stroke, 2 lap of back stroke, 1 lap of side stroke and 7 laps of front crawl. And I may have looped 5 laps together consecutively, although the details are a bit blurry.

The mental aspect was still my biggest hurdle, but each time I felt myself panicking, I tried to take my thoughts captive and find a place of peace. And God was good to answer those prayers. I have a LONG way to go, but it was nice to get a decent swim under my belt. It gives me a bit more confidence for the next time I hit the water.

Enjoy The Now

This morning I dropped my oldest two kids off at camp. Drove my youngest two kids to Vacation Bible School and just like that, I had 3 hours to myself. I went to the local coffee shop and ordered a cappuccino in a real ceramic cup (not to-go). The kind of cappuccino where they make a feather design in the foam at the top. I carried it precariously back to my tiny table by the window that was cracked just enough to let in the chilly morning air. I pulled my Bible from my Java Blue Vera Bradley quiet time bag and proceeded to relish the SILENCE. Okay, so it wasn't silent in the coffee shop. There was actually quite a bit a hustle and bustle, but I owned none of the noise, so I was able to tune it out. I sipped my fancy drink, took tiny bites of my chocolate chip scone and enjoyed the fact that I was wearing a sweatshirt for the first time after weeks of unusually hot weather. I read and journaled. Nibbled and sipped away the next 40 minutes. I begrudgingly packed up my stuff and walked the two blocks to the van. When you're not schlepping four kids you can intentionally park a few blocks away to enjoy the gorgeous morning. I went to see my hair stylist and got my first hair cut in six months. She was even able to patch up my lame attempt at cutting my own bangs. I walked out of the salon like the girl in the Pantene commercial. Tossing my newly styled locks and hoping someone noticed that I actually had a recognizable haircut and not an overgrown mess. I had just enough free time left to run to the gym and squeeze in a workout before pickup at Vacation Bible School. Don't worry - I tried to keep the sweat out of my fancy hair.

Paige went to "Wampa Terry and Wama Ru's" house for her first every sleepover and so Alli and I drove her out to Wilsonville for the big event after VBS. We decided to make the most of our alone time together and had a date of our own. We went to a park down by the river (that reminds of the Chris Farley motivational speaker skit on Saturday Night Live, but I digress) and played on the play equipment. There was a huge chunk of preserved forest separating the ball fields from the river, so we decided to go for a hike. I let Alli navigate and we explored the trails through the woods. When we made it back to our starting spot, we sat on the swings and played I Spy. We finished our date by coming home to snuggle and watch a movie.

We picked up Grant and Katie from camp and as I started to make supper, the kids went upstairs to play. I chopped and prepped in relative silence, when the quiet was broken by the sweet sound of all three kids giggling. They were full-on laughing their heads off and it made me start to chuckle. In that moment, I felt God whisper to me, "Enjoy the now." As much as I LOVED my three hours of solitude this morning, I equally loved regathering my little chicks from their activities and listening to them enjoy each other. It dawned on me that I have the rest of my life to sip coffee from breakable cups and read my Bible without being interrupted a thousand times in 30 minutes. And I realized that my kids won't always need me to help them remember what goes in their backpack for camp, to show them how to fold a fold-top sandwich bag, or to help them tie their shoes.

That little sentiment from God, "Enjoy the now," gave me a renewed sense of purpose in my parenting. To embrace those times of quiet when I escape from my normal life and let them bring rejuvenation and refreshment. But to also embrace the noise and the chaos, the tears and the laughter that come with raising four children. And I have new resolve to enjoy the now.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Just When You Think Things Will Slow Down...

I had big plans for this summer being relaxing and laid back. It has been REALLY fun, but busier than I imagined. Instead of being laid back, I would characterize it as "maximized." Every time I think, "Oh things will slow down next week," next week comes and it's already full with wonderful activities.

Last week, our dear friend Kathy Dillon came to visit us from Chicago. We first made her acquaintance as Grant's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Dillon. That summer we crossed the line into friendship and never looked back. Once she was done instructing our kiddos (Katie had her for kindergarten too) we decided to ditch "Mrs. Dillon" and after much debate, settled on "Aunt Kathy." She fills so many roles in our family and has been such a gift to us. We really enjoyed our time with her.

We took her to Newberg's Old Fashioned Festival parade and between the four kids, scored a grocery bag full of candy. Took her to the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and were surprised by how busy Multnomah Falls was. Drove around the parking lot three times behind a long line of cars waiting for spots chanting, "Back Out (clap, clap, clap), back out, etc. etc." When someone did indeed back out, we hooped and hollered much to their delight. We hiked the "moderate, 2.2-mile hike with 700 feet of elevation gain to the top of Multnomah Falls. The dizzying view (at the top) aims down the cataract to the toy-sized lodge and its ant-like crowds." (quoting from the official hiking website). About the time we were all drenched in sweat and still not at the top of the falls, I felt slightly guilty about undertalking the difficulty of the trail. It just wasn't that steep in my memory... We played in the cold creek at the top of the trail and cooled off with ice cream cones at the bottom. Temps when Kathy was here were record highs hitting way over 100 degrees, so being inside in the air conditioning or being near water was paramount for a successful day.

On Sunday, we took her to Solid Rock, our wonderful church, and then she was brave enough to fly solo with all four kids while Curt and I escaped for 24 hours to the coast. She spoiled the kids rotten while we were gone which of course the kids loved, and we were so blessed by a romantic, refreshing time as a couple.

On Tuesday, I took her to Silver Falls State Park. It was too hot to hike any substantial distance, but Silver Falls is fun because you can walk behind the waterfall and explore the caves. It also has an easily accessible creek at the base of the falls so we hiked down the trail through the woods just far enough to access the creek. We splashed in the water, caught crayfish, and played. We thought we were nice and cooled off, but in the short hike back to the van, we over-heated again. We have a digital thermometer in our van that measures the outside temperature fairly accurately and it held steady at 112 F the entire drive home! I am definitely not cut out for extreme heat. Tuesday night was house church night and it was a real pleasure to have Kathy worship with this new family of believers that God has drawn us to. Wednesday was departure day for Aunt Kathy and we were all extremely sad to drop her off at the airport. We considered kidnapping her, but figured the police would know where to find her, so we sadly released her until our next visit.

Yesterday Curt competed in the Blue Lake Olympic-distance triathlon. Blue Lake Park is about 45 minutes from our house at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge. It's a ginormous, private park with picnic shelters, multiple play structures, a spray park, a swimming beach, and paved hiking/biking trails everywhere. My Mom and Terry came to join in the fun and we had a great time watching Mr. Studly work his race. I had butterflies in my stomach the entire time Curt was in the water. Seeing one mile of swimming laid out made me realize how FAR it really is. I can't believe these athletes can swim that far and Curt's stroke seems so rhythmic and effortless, completely unlike my current water flailing that I call swimming. We were on the beach when he came out of the water and I must admit, I got a little weepy seeing him run under the big Red Bull marker and up the hill to the transition area. Swimming that far just seems so monumental to me. He hopped on his bike and rode 24 miles in record time, then transitioned to the 6.4 mile run. We stationed ourselves at a play structure on the running route so the kids could have something fun to do while we cheered on all the athletes. Once Curt passed us, we moved down to the lakefront and waited for him to run by on the way to the finish. It is such a fun, inspiring and motivational atmosphere and we all had so much fun.

After the race, we had a picnic lunch to celebrate my Mom's birthday. I schlepped in an angel food cake with fluffy white frosting, but you all know how deficient I am in cake decorating skills it didn't handle the heat very well, so it looked even more pathetic by the time we served it. It's the thought that counts, right? After the picnic, we took the kids to the spray park and for a short swim in the lake before heading home and crashing on the couch in a slightly comatose state for the remainder of the night.

Which leads me to this morning. Today I experienced another parenting first. I loaded the kids in the van and brought Grant and Katie to Camp Tillikum and dropped them off for a week of day camp. I really can't believe they are old enough to go to camp! And this camp is SO cool. Cool enough that they featured it on Amazing Race. Since we are Amazing Race junkies, I felt my pulse pick up when I saw the "Tillikum Retreat Center" sign and walked down the tree-lined, gravel road with the wood "Challenge Course" sign pointing in the direction that all the Amazing Race contestants went. It was even prettier in person than on TV and was hard to believe this wilderness paradise was a mere 6 miles from downtown Newberg. Rolling foothills cascaded on top of each other, all covered with huge, towering pines. A long lake nestled in the crevice between the mountains with a swimming beach and canoes nestled in the grass by the boat dock. Camp counselors in green t-shirts and shorts pointed us in the right direction on where to park and how to find their group. Grant and Katie wrote their names on little pieces of wood with strings attached to them and then we set off to find the counselor holding the sign for their grade. Sweet Grant was really nervous about going to camp without a buddy. He's the type of kid who can play by himself for hours and isn't particularly outgoing. He prefers a small circle of intimate friends over a wide, circle of friends of various depths, and tends to be reserved in an environment he's not familiar with. Going to camp without a ready-made friend created quite a bit of anxiety in him. I knew he'd be fine once we got to camp and my momma's heart was relieved to see the anxiety visibly turn into excitement once he saw how cool Camp Tillikum really is. Little Miss Social, AKA Katie, never even considered being nervous. She was super excited to make new friends and didn't even glance back when I left her with her counselor.

The littler girls and I left Tillikum and headed to the Newberg Friends Church which was hosting a week of Vacation Bible School. It took a while to get through the registration line, but eventually we made it in the chapel and got Alli and Paige nestled in their row of same-aged kids. It felt surreal to walk outside, childless, with two full hours to myself. Alli's synopsis of the first day of VBS was priceless. She said, "When I pray, even if I use a quiet voice, God still hears me. He has really good ears." And when I was fake-crying over the fact that all the kids are growing up and I was left all by myself this morning, she said, "Stop crying mom. Bigger girls are way more awesomer."

I used my two hours of alone time to spend with God and then decided to try to run for the first time since my disastrous race in Sunriver. My knee has had six weeks of rest from any cardiovascular activity and strain, but it still aches all the time and swells up with even the slightest of physical therapy stretches. Since I have PT tomorrow, I thought I'd give running a try and see if I could make it a teeny tiny mile without pain. Pushed start on the Garmin (which tracks my distance and time) and made it a whopping .18 miles before the first zinger of pain. Stopped at .25 miles with sharp pain in the front and back of my knee and just like that, my 1 minute and 51 seconds of exercise was done. I am frustrated, frustrated, frustrated! Please pray with me that I can embrace the slow road to healing if that's God's plan for me. I feel like I have made ZERO progress in 6 weeks and that I'm just wasting my time with all this rest and PT, but that could just be emotion talking.

So that's the update on Team Stilp. In 20 minutes we'll go pick up Grant and Katie from their first day of camp and I can hardly wait to hear how it went.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Not Sure What to Think about This Swimming Thing

Okay folks. It's official. I really fear swimming. I forced myself to swim again today and every fiber in my being resisted the entire five-minute drive to the pool. Today was better in some respects and worse in others. The pool was almost empty which I liked because it made me feel like people weren't sitting in the bleachers doubled over in laughter at the lady in the mom-suit flailing wildly in the water. The lap pool had a few random swimmers and I was hopeful that I wouldn't run into anyone in my lane. Somehow, in spite of my best efforts, I still managed to slap the girl sharing my lane and crash into both the lane divider and the wall when I was doing a back stroke. Note to Newberg Swimmers: swim at your own risk if I'm in the pool.

My goggles have been fogging up and leaking and they continued to give me grief today, but at least I had a legitimate reason to stop at the side of the pool and pant while I tried to fix them. I tried the spitting trick but I'm so nervous in the water that my mouth was all dried out and I couldn't come up with enough spit to de-fog them.

I warned the life guard before I entered the pool that I am amazingly bad at swimming and that if he wanted entertainment fodder for the next lunch break, he should keep his eyes peeled on my lane. Then I jumped into the water. Gave myself a mental pep-talk and forced myself to push off the wall in a front crawl. I swam two consecutive laps of front crawl and managed to not inhale the pool or panic to the point of coming out of the stroke to tread water while I mentally went bezerk. I connected a lap of side stroke to the two previous laps to catch my breath the flipped to my back for one lap of the aforementioned back stroke. By the time I touched the wall (and I managed to not ram my head into it), I was ready for a break.

My back stroke, in theory, made four consecutive laps of swimming for Jodi. Something to be celebrated. If you don't count the lengthy turns I made every time I saw the wall, grabbing hold just long enough to get stability and plunge back into the water. Since my goal is to do a triathlon, my stupid brain wouldn't let me celebrate four laps. Instead, it jumped right to, "Well, if that was an open water swim, you'd be in trouble. You were hanging on the edge of the pool for a few seconds each time and how will you ever do an open water swim not to mention you'll be swimming in a dark hole of blackness with other swimmers slamming into you instead of a chlorinated pool with lap lines that you can actually see." Clearly self-defeating thoughts but ones that were floating around none-the-less.

While I was beating myself up mentally, the nice life guard asked if I was open to some pointers. His main tip for my front crawl was to put my face deeper in the water. Imagine that. Apparently my fear of breathing underwater is obvious from the surface. I'm keeping my head more toward the surface which sinks my lower extremity further under the water, rendering my kick less effective and making it more difficult to cover ground quickly while I'm swimming. He told me to plunge my head way into the water and focus on looking at the bottom of the pool which would naturally bring my legs closer to the surface of the water and make my kick more effective.

We talked just long enough for me to remember that water gets in my nose and back of my throat just enough to make me feel queasy when I stop swimming. Long enough for me to remember how much I hate going underwater. Long enough for the dread of breathing under water to surface to the forefront on my mind. Long enough to make me TERRIFIED of trying a lap or two or three of front crawl with my new coaching tips.

I forced myself to push off the wall and sure enough, when I put my head down it seemed like I was flying in the water. The stroke just came together. But it also felt longer to get my head out of the water to catch a breath and the mental games were in overdrive. I struggled mentally to finish the first lap and forced myself to start a second one. Several times on the second lap, I panicked to the point of pulling out of the stroke and treading water while the demons in my head reeked havoc. I finished the lap, but it wasn't pretty. Did a lap of breast stroke to try to get comfy underwater again, but couldn't seem to come back from the panic swirling in my brain.

I stopped and tried to collect my thoughts. Find peace and calm. To conquer the craziness in my head. Told myself I had to finish strong with one more lap of front crawl and that winners don't quit. Just do it, like Nike. Pushed off the wall, panicked before I finished one stroke, and headed back to the wall. When I got out of the pool, I felt defeated. Frustrated that I let my mind limit what my body can physically do.

I'm not sure what to think about this swimming thing. I've been processing it all afternoon. But I know there's a lesson here that God is trying to teach me that I don't want to miss. As I've written this post, God keeps bringing to mind these verses in II Corinthians 10:4-5. They say, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Do I think me learning to swim is a matter of spiritual significance? No. But I do know that Satan loves to defeat us. To suck the life out of us. To sap our motivation and make us apathetic. I also know that he gets a sick pleasure of messing with our minds. Whispering lies to us disguised as truth that nail us in our most vulnerable areas. Fear of being underwater is a stronghold in my life and Satan doesn't want to let it go.

I also know that people every day across the world swim. And most of them don't drown. I know it's possible to breathe underwater and not swallow the entire pool. I know that God wants me to have victory. To not live in fear. I know that God's desire for my life is peace, not anxiety.

So when I measure the truth against Satan's lies, I realize I need to take captive every thought that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. I need to make those anxiety-inducing thoughts toe the line in obedience to the freedom that Christ offers. I need to tell Satan he's a fat, toothless dog with no power over me. And when I'm done telling him off, stick my face in the water and swim already.