the best laid plans...

What are you planning for right now? Summer vacation? Redoing your bathroom? Just simply getting your laundry done? Planning is like many things, a double-sided coin. On one hand, it is a wise thing to plan for your future, to set about doing the things that will enable you to be successful, healthy and fulfilled. On the other hand, you can be so busy making plans that you miss out on the unplanned joys along the way, or even worse, your plans keep you from those joys due to implementing faulty plans in the first place.

I have had an interesting experience these last 4 years. I have not been able to plan. Oh, in the beginning, when my pain had just begun, I thought once I got it under control, we'd be able to get right back to planning our life and future, and this pain thing wouldn't take up too much of our time. After the first surgery failed, and my pain continued to increase, and my leg began to give out more, I realized that my back was going to change the direction of my life, and my husband's for some time to come...

My pain had already started affecting our plans, even before my first surgery. I suddenly was unable to really, truly commit to going anywhere, even if it was the grocery store. After a long day of working I would come home in so much pain, going out to dinner or to see a movie was out of the question. I went from being spontaneous, to not being able to do things I committed to, or even needed to do. And it wasn't just little things like meeting someone for coffee. It was the inability to plan when we wanted to take a vacation, visit family, or even start a family of our own. I had never been one to lay my future out like the Game of Life. Rather, I had hopes and dreams, that I have pursued with the idea that my desires (when they are good and healthy) point me towards what I should be doing with my life. I had a loose framework that I had constructed, with certain points along the way highlighted as things I didn't want to get to the end without ever having done. One of those was finding a godly man to marry. Another was to have children. Another was to work for a church or an organization where I could use my gifts to encourage and help others.

But like I said, all that changed when my leg gave out from underneath me when I was simply walking down the hall. My pain not only interrupted my plans, but completely drowned them out by rudely yelling over them  for the next 4 years. I fought against it for a while....I remember thinking, if this medicine would just work, or if this new injection will lessen my pain even just a little, then I can get back to my life. But the medicine never did work, and the injections never lessened my pain, and I was never able to get back to my life.  Or, at least, I was unable to get back to the plans I had made, albeit ever so loosely, or get back to my life as it was before.

Not being able to plan can at first immobilize you. It's a feeling of well, if I can't make any plans, or know what my next month or year will hold, then I should just sit here and not make any decisions, or take any action until I do know. But if I had waited for that clarity, I would have missed out on 4 years of my life! Once I started to accept that my life was not in my control at all, and that all I could do was focus on the things I was able to do and enjoy, I gained a sense of peace that I've never experienced before. I realized that although planning has its place, no one every really has control over what they've planned anyway. You can plan your life out to the nth degree, all perfect and neat, and tied up with a giant bow, but that doesn't mean you'll actually get to do all the things you plan. None of us are truly in control of our lives, and I found it freeing to realize that at my youngish age. I mean, I knew of course that we can't control things like weather, or cancer, or even the outcome of a football game. But you trick yourself into believing you are in control of some things, like where you'll go next week, what you'll eat for dinner tonight, or even when and how many kids you're going to have (or not have). Well, when that illusion was stripped away, and all I had left was the realization that all the time I had was the day I woke up in, I started to live differently. I started to live with a peace. I could hope and dream about my future, but I could live today and not worry.

I didn't always do it perfectly, there were plenty of days I would have a conversation that went something like this: "God. Do you see what's going on here? I had a very nice life planned out for myself. You finally brought this amazing man into my life, and we were going to have babies and serve You, and do all kinds of good in the world. But I am having trouble sitting in a chair. I am having a hard time walking up the stairs. Forget about mopping the floor or cleaning a toilet. Also, I'm not sure if You're aware, but I haven't slept well in months.....when are You going to fix all this so I can get back to those plans? Hello up there!?"
And you know what? I don't think He minded. I heard someone say recently that his young daughter questions him every time he drives them home from church. She isn't more than 6, but she asks him every few minutes, "Do you know where we are? Do you know how to get home? You're going the wrong way!" He pointed out this is often how we relate to God. He sees us, knows where we are, and where we're going. But we often don't trust Him, even though He can see the whole picture from where He is....we're like that little back-seat driver of a girl, with every twist and turn voicing our concern about His awareness of our present circumstance and uncertain future. But also like that father and daughter, I don't think God gets upset with us when we show our immaturity or insecurity. He understands we don't see the whole picture, and that it gets a little scary sometimes.

For the first time in 4 years, I can see a future that doesn't involve recovering from a surgery, or a life constrained to my couch, in pain. At almost 5 months post-op, I can see a future where pain does not dominate my daily life. I am already doing things now without pain, that I haven't done in years. My husband and I have already planned to go to Savannah next May, and up to Gainesville this fall for as many Gator games as we can stand, oh, and don't forget about flying out to New York, or trying to adopt a baby!..... And just like that I'm making plans's like riding a bicycle, you don't ever forget how. But now my plans are filtered through the knowledge these last 4 years have brought me. 

That knowledge is this: Work today, you are never promised tomorrow. Enjoy today, you are never promised tomorrow.  Love are never promised tomorrow.

And finally, what I have chosen to plan may not compare or come close to what God has planned for me...His ways are higher than mine, but His ways are loving and good.

"I find that doing of the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plans."
---George MacDonald

being sincerely wrong...

Have you heard that the world is going to end today at 6 p.m.? I'm not sure what timezone we're talking about, east coast, or west coast...but I guess as each timezone passes that 6 p.m. mark, they're referring to the next one. Either way, I find this conversation about the end of the world to be interesting and also very sad. Not sad because I think the Rapture is about take place, but sad because it isn't. As far as I can tell by my limited understanding of the Bible, when Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 "But about that day (the Rapture, i.e. the beginning of the end of the earth) no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" He couldn't have been any more clear. If Jesus Himself did not know the exact date, I have a hard time believing a man like Harold Camping is going to know it either...especially since he was wrong back in 1994.

What makes me sad is that Mr. Camping and his many followers, while being sincere, are sincerely wrong. It is yet another example among thousands of a man deciding he has all the answers, and leading others farther and farther from reality and truth. These leaders may pull their philosophy from Christianity in this case, a comet in the Hale-Bopp suicides, or "apostolic socialism" in the Jonestown Massacre, but they all eventually end up leading others down a path of lies, disappointment, and in many cases, death.

This is why I think that who or what you put your faith in really does matter. In this case, Mr. Camping isn't going to have his followers drink cyanide laced Kool-aid, but I think they will feel in very least disillusioned and crushed by the failure of his prediction. Many of them have quit their jobs, sold their homes, given every penny they had to promote this day through billboards and flyers. What will the world look like to them tomorrow? Will they give up faith altogether? Will they be angry and bitter? Will they see that not every religious leader or faith system is actually worth following?

I think the Camping followers are an example how you can believe in something, give it everything you have, and when it fails, it costing much more than you realized. Another way of looking at it is like this: we all "know" that gravity exists. We understand it, and have seen it explained over and over as children. But say I decide to believe that there is no gravity. I believe it with my whole heart, soul and mind. I believe it so sincerely that I manage to convince my friends and my family to join with me in our belief that there is no gravity. We tell others about this belief, tell them that they have been lied to and manipulated by others for so long to believe in this invisible force. We say we are going to show the world that what we believe is really true, and decide to put on an exhibition so that others will join in our faith. We get on a plane and fly to New York. We go straight to the Empire State Building, and with the whole world watching, we all jump off....

Well, you know and I know what would happen. We would have all died together, in our very sincere faith. I, as their leader, would have led them down a path to die. Now, I can't presume to know Mr. Camping's heart, but I have a really hard time believing that his motivations in all of this are pure. But let's pretend that we do know for sure, and that he really believes he is going to meet his Maker tonight. Does that make it any better? Does his sincerity make his leading families to lose their jobs and homes okay? If you take that stance, I would like to point out another leader who was completely sincere, Adolf Hitler. But both Camping and Hitler were and are, wrong.

So, does that mean we just give up on faith or belief in something other than ourselves, altogether? I would argue absolutely not. I have made it pretty clear throughout this blog that I believe in Jesus, and I try to live a life that reflects that. But if you aren't a Christian, or a believer in anything at all, I would just challenge you to consider who or what you are putting your faith in. Everybody believes in something. Whether it's believing that there is no God, or that there are a million gods, it really does matter what you believe. Why? Because whether it's believing that the world is going to end tonight at 6 p.m. or that we all will come back to this earth through reincarnation, what you believe has an effect or consequence in your life. We think, give, act, and mold our lives according to the belief system we have, whether we realize it or are consciously doing so. Let's take gravity as an example once more. I believe it's there. I've never seen it, never touched it. But when I drop a glass cup, I know it's going to break on the hard floor and so I make every effort to catch it. And, if I didn't believe in gravity, I would let that glass crash to the floor into a million tiny pieces. 

What we believe, and who we believe can change our whole lives. I know personally that what I believe has changed mine, and brought me more peace and joy than I would have had without it. I had a sort of a judgement day back on December 27th, 2010. Nothing makes you confront your fear of death like having someone cut you open from your shoulders to your buttocks, take some drills and a few pliers, and rearrange your spine, ribcage, and everything in-between. Having a date set in stone for a day where you can realistically possibly die, makes you think about and live your life differently with the days you feel you know have left.

Maybe this crazy guy who has 'cracked the mathematical code' hidden in the Bible we've all managed to miss, is on to something after all. I mean, look at the people who have jumped on his soon-to-be busted bandwagon. They have sold their homes, quit their jobs, and devoted what they believe their remaining days and hours to make others aware of what they feel is impending doom. Now, let's be clear. I think he has done a serious disservice to these families. But his followers show that if you believe you're dying in a few weeks, you live your "last days" differently. Money, success, homes and cars don't really matter that much. What matters are the people around you, and whether they are going to be with you on the other side. As for me, I know that having what could be the day you die right in front of your face, made me live with a greater sense of urgency, appreciation, love, and joy.

I didn't really believe I was going to die. I mean, my surgeon is amazing and trustworthy, and I knew I was in very capable hands. But when you sign your name to a paper that says you are aware a potential side effect of this surgery is death....well, you take it seriously. Thankfully, I only had to endure that 'awareness' for a few weeks. But what if we lived our lives like that every day? The truth is, nobody is promised tomorrow, or even a next heartbeat. No matter what you believe, no matter who you put your trust in, we all die. We may die tomorrow, or we may die in our sleep at the age of 103. But we all die.

I don't think Camping's followers are going to die today, any more than I think hogs have wings. But, what they believe has and will cost them their jobs, homes, and savings. The people of Jonestown and the Hale-Bopp cult paid for what they believed with their lives. I'll end this by asking a simple question:
What will your belief system cost you, if what you believe turns out to be wrong?

point your toes...

I just got done with my work out, and am feeling really invigorated. I have been feeling better and better after my exercises lately, and can really see the progress I'm making. Even a few weeks ago, after my hour long physical therapy, I would be wiped out for the rest of the day. And I was hardly doing anything! Now I'm walking faster, using small 5 lb weights, and have tripled my reps, and I feel energized after all of it. I know I say this a lot, but I am just amazed at how the body heals!

One of the hardest things to visualize before my surgery was how I would move, and what it would feel like. The idea of fusing your spine completely straight is a tough one to imagine, and an even tougher one to commit to for life without getting a "test run". I knew that if I had this surgery, and I hated how I felt, there would be nothing I could do about it. Talking with people who had already had the surgery helped with this, especially since about 95% were positive about their post-op bodies. But I understand now why it was so hard to describe what it's like to someone who hasn't had the surgery yet. They all said that they didn't feel limited, and that years later they hardly noticed their rods and screws, and being fused really wasn't as bad as we fear pre-op. And now that I've had the surgery, I would say the same thing. I do feel different, I mean, not being able to sit up and grab the sheets at the end of the bed is not something I'm used to. But when I'm walking around, or sitting reading, I don't feel like a robot, I don't feel "fused".

Although I don't "feel" the fusion as much now at over 4 months post-op, I am careful to not do anything that would hinder that fusion from healing the way it should. My exercises are all geared toward building up my obliterated core body strength, and strengthening my arms and legs, without bending or twisting. As a girl I took ballet lessons for over seven years. It must have made quite an impact on my mind and body. One of the only things I can remember clearly from the day of my surgery was when I was coming out of the anesthesia, the nurse told me to point my toes, in order to make sure no damage had been done to my spinal cord. Well, I pointed my toes and the nurse asked me "are you a dancer?" Apparently I had "pointed" my toes as you do in ballet, which is a very exaggerated point with an arched foot. I guess most people don't do that, especially after a 7 hour spinal surgery!

I never thought much about how all those years of ballet could impact me later on in life, but I have been surprised how that training has really helped me with my new spine. A big part of ballet training is holding your back as straight as possible, while using your core muscles to move your legs and arms in graceful gestures. There are bending moves done with a straight back, from the waist.
When I get the okay to start bending again, that is how I'll be bending. I also have found that doing deep grande-pliés enables me to reach things on the floor without bending at the waist, and will save my lower un-fused vertebrae from any unnecessary wear and tear. I started using the demi-plié almost immediately after my surgery, because my newly added height made it hard for me to reach necessary things like the faucets and the handle to flush the toilette, without bending my spine. Now I'm using the grande-pliés more and more as my legs and core body strength is returning to reach things like the silverware basket in the dishwasher, or my shoes off the floor. Once I realized how that training was similar to my post-op physical therapy exercises, I have added quite a few of the old bar exercises, to give myself some variety and a fun challenge too. I may not ever be up on pointe shoes again, but I can get those dancer legs and strong core muscles! 

Ballet dancing, and all that goes along with it, has reminded again of how perspective can really change the way you handle an experience. I can look at my back with it's enormous scar, and my malformed ribs and shoulders and think of myself as a Frankenstein. Or, I can look at my straight back with perfect posture, and think of myself as a graceful ballet dancer, ready to glide effortlessly across the stage of the rest of my life...           I choose to be the dancer.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.  
~Kurt Vonnegut
my sister (on the left) and I
ready to dance!

happy mother's day!

Happy Mother's Day! I am so thankful for a Mom who loves me and I can look up to.

And happy Mother's Day to all of you who have given a baby a chance to live, even if it wasn't the easiest decision to make. I hope the world begins to see how precious each life is, whether it is in the womb or out. To hear an amazing story of a mother's love, please visit this site: 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, there is help!

There is no such thing as an unwanted child.
Thank you to all who have given a child a are my heroes.

4 months post-op....

It has been 4 full months since I had my back (and life) permanently altered. Thank the Lord, I'm doing really well! I am very excited that I'm able to sit for hours now, without pain. This is a biggie. Before this surgery, I would almost instantly have horrible sciatica whenever I sat, even if it was just for a minute. I drove down to North Palm Beach last week, which is over 2 and a half hours, and had no significant pain during OR after. AMAZING!!! I still have pain, and I still have "bad" days, but overall I'm in less pain now than I was last December. Being able to sit has opened my life back up again to travel, movies, dinners out, and church. Think about how often you sit during the day, and how it would be really hard to go a day without it. I've spent the last 4 years trying to avoid sitting as much as possible, which really cuts into your fun activities and work life!

I still struggle with some day to day activities. For instance, putting on pants is my least favorite activity. Also, any shoes that require buckling are frustrating. I can do both of these things obviously, but it takes me waaay longer than it used to. It will probably get easier, as my muscles continue to heal and relax the further I get out from my surgery. But it won't ever be as easy as it was pre-op. But I knew signing up for the "back modification" that my life would be different, somewhat harder, and somewhat easier in many ways. I believe the trade-offs have been well worth it.

I did try to take a bath the other night, which ended up being a disaster. I still take at least one hot shower everyday, sometimes two depending on how sore my muscles are, and I really wanted to just relax in the big soaking tub we have. Many people on the forum recommend doing this, and take baths regularly post-op. So I thought to myself, I can do this! Long story short, it turned out to be the worst bubblebath ever! I had a very difficult time getting in, and an even harder time trying to get out. At one point I thought I'd be stuck in the tub forever! I told Drew afterwards that I found myself wishing I had those safety bars installed in the tub. You know, the ones for ahem....older people.....I could add them to my collection of a raised toilet seat, handicap parking decal, walker, and my two grabbers....

might as well be me...
But if my worst set-back is an unsuccessful bubblebath, well, I'm doing pretty good. I am still learning what I should and can do right now. And since I am progressively getting stronger and feeling less pain, that learning process is continually changing. I might try a bath a month from now and not have any trouble getting in or out, (though I think I might buy some of those cushion things that go in tubs). I think the thing that is hardest at this point is the fatigue I get. I get wiped out so easily. From what I've heard from other post-op patients, the fatigue starts to get a lot less around 6 months post-op, and even less at a year. Some report seeing even more improvement at the 2 year post-op mark! I forget that my body is working constantly to grow bone right now, and that takes a lot of energy. And again, fatigue is lot better than pain....

Overall, I'm seeing more and more improvement every month. I look back at where I was 4 months ago and am amazed at the way my body has healed. And aside from any further bubblebath disasters, I think the next 4 months will bring even more freedom and less pain than these last 4...

you are what you eat?

It's official. I'm breaking up with non-organic meat. I know this isn't directly related to my spine, but as I am healing and focusing on getting healthy and strong, I have been thinking a lot about food. After watching a food documentary last year called Food, Inc. I was so disturbed by what has happened to "farming" in our country that I swore off any non-organic meats when I went to the grocery store, along with non-organic milk and cheese. The switch at that time wasn't too bad, and except for the increase in cost, I really didn't feel like eating "organically" was that hard. I must say that the cost of organic food can be hard to get over at first. But, I really believe that we have devalued food to the point where we expect it to be cheap, and we are not getting the nutrition we actually need. I look at the higher cost as an investment in my future. I can pay more for my food now, and less for medical bills later (and we all know I need all the help in that department I can get!). One of my good friends, Melissa, has a great blog all about food. She wrote a great piece about this line of thinking and I think you should check it out, along with all her other insightful recipes, research and general yumminess.

For the last year I can say I have exclusively supported organic milk, meat, and cheese at the grocery store. (And by "organic" I mean meat from chickens that are not genetically engineered to be so big they can't stand up on their skinny legs, or cows that have been pumped full of antibiotics and forced to live nose-to-rear indoors their entire short, awful lives. I know this term can mean a wide range of things, and not all "organic" brands are truly organic. I just try to stick to smaller, organic farms, that treat animals well, and do not use massive amounts of hormones. My rule of thumb is, the closer the food is made to you, the better it will be for you. You can usually google a brand and find out what actually goes on with a specific brand.) Once I started looking, I have found that Publix has a growing selection of organic, healthy foods to choose from. My favorite so far is a brand called Amy's. They offer yummy frozen meals like a delicious mac and cheese, as well as my personal addiction, cheesy burritos. I also love, (and have been known to polish off one all by myself) Publix brand organic frozen pizza. It's a little on the small size but it is delicious! Even low-cost giant Walmart has gotten on the organic bandwagon and now offers some organic milk and creamer. They don't have the selection I need quite yet, but I hope they get there soon. Providing affordable and nutritious foods to the masses could be a huge money maker for them, while helping us all get a little healthier.

a yummy organic meal from Pine 22
While cooking at home with organic options has been pretty easy, I have had a very hard time finding ways to follow my conviction when eating out. I love a juicy hamburger or steak, and never get tired of cheesy pizza. Finding organic options when eating out or on the run is very hard! There are two new restaurants in my town, Orlando, that offer delicious organic food, (you can check them out here and here) but let's face it, I'm not going to be driving downtown to the same two restaurants every time we eat out. So what's a girl who loves animals, steak, and eating healthy to do?

For now it looks like the answer to that question is to end my love affair with meat and cheese, at least in the public. I will eat out, and try to support the restaurants who are already trying to bring back real farming, and real food. But if I can't eat at those places, I'm going vegetarian! I honestly would love to be vegetarian in general. But I am just too Southern to let go of my BBQ or steak! I may get there eventually, but for now I'm taking baby steps towards putting my money where my mouth is, literally and figuratively...

What do you think about eating healthy, spending money on food, or the state of our farms in America? It isn't hard to find studies on how badly we all eat, and how it is affecting our bodies. And as someone who has had their share of medical problems, I'm trying to take care of myself as well as I can. I am also a firm believer in taking care of the earth and animals we've been blessed with. Just because I eat meat doesn't mean I think we can treat cows or pigs with disdain. Raised by a Mom who was "green" before it was cool, she taught me to think about where our food comes from, how to recycle, to exercise, and to eat sugar in moderation. I know that kind of upbringing is pretty rare, and I know a lot of people just aren't aware of how a farm should look in the first place.

Anyway, I know this "breakup" is going to be tough. But, in the long run, I hope it affects a healthy change in my body, and maybe even in the world...

oh, and P.S. if you have any suggestions for eating vegetarian while dining out for a girl who is not a big fan of onions, peppers, mushrooms, squash, zucchini, or eggplant, send them my way!