In November 2009, I retired from a 30 year professional career to become a caregiver for my chronically ill, disabled daughter. Her young life had been full with great friends and travel soccer. When she was a freshman in high school, she was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). She was wheelchair bound, too weak to stand, and too fatigued to go to school for more than two hours per day. By junior year, she was completely homebound. Our lives were in a deep valley. During this difficult period in my life, I received an invitation to join a Listen to My Life group.
As we began the “My Life Now” Map, my lingering question was so complex – “Will my daughter ever be well? Will she be able to walk again? How will she be able to graduate high school? Will there be a plan to go to college?” My first reaction to the sharing of maps was RELIEF. The “My Life Now” Map enabled me to hear authentic stories from others who struggled with valleys at various times in their lives. The group began to let down their personal walls very quickly, so I began cherishing the opportunity to begin to develop friendships at a MUCH DEEPER level than typical.
I remember the joy I felt just sharing the “My Life Story” Map from early childhood to present. I giggled through special personal stories which I have not thought about for years, and reflected on how I managed through tough stuff like my parents illnesses and deaths, my brother’s serious car crash and my eldest brother’s fight with lung cancer. As I completed these maps, I was amazed to reflect on how life throws us so many curve balls, but with strength and faith, we move forward.
It was then time to complete the “Valley Experiences” Map. This map was the most difficult for me, but I found key questions which helped confront my distress - “How do I grieve in a healthy way?” “How do I compensate for the loss?" Taking the time to answer the tough questions enabled me to articulate my thoughts and feelings in a very raw and honest way with a small group who was there to just listen. The opportunity to share my valley story was a gift from God.
The “Desire and Longings” Map was easy to complete. “I desire and long for the day my daughter can walk without a wheel chair, return to school, hang out with friends, be independent and plan to go to college.” Fast forward to March 2012. To my shock and disbelief, my daughter had a second diagnosis - Ulcerative Colitis. REMARKABLY, after seven surgeries over six months, she is much better! She IS walking for the first time in five years; she just completed high school and has been accepted into an outstanding nursing program!
I felt God through this year of trauma because my Listen to My Life friends supported us with great compassion. For me, it’s the special bonds of genuine friendships which made the Listen to My Life process extraordinary. These friendships helped me see how to move towards God rather than walk away while I was struggling with emotional strength and the “why us” questions.
I recently attended a one day Listen to My Life Following Forward workshop to reflect on the challenges of 2012 and to plan for the year ahead. I went back to the "My Life Now” Map and changed my lingering question to “How can I change my job description from a stay at home caregiver to a re-employed professional woman who is so grateful to God for his healing?” I am using the reflection questions to help me move forward with hope and encouragement.
Questions to Ponder:
“Give your attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthews 6:34
Dear Father God, please help me stay strong to enjoy life today as we slowly climb out of a difficult valley. Help me stay in the day and entrust the future to you. Thank you for tenderly walking this journey with me and showing me the way, even when it does not seem clear.