Archive For The “Living with Brain Injury” Category

That time I landed my dream job and quit a year later

That time I landed my dream job and quit a year later

Seemingly ages ago, I began a series of posts titled “That Time I Went to Lourdes and…” They chronicled the events following on our trip to Lourdes (as you might have guessed, which involved  hitting rock bottom and finding my Simon of Cyrene.) The last post ended with me applying for a job, and broadly hinting that that was my Simon of Cyrene. However, the Lord works in mysterious and unexpected ways. When I wrote those posts, I had no idea how very much life was about to change.

The quick version of the end of that story is: I got the job. I [mostly] loved the job. Everybody suffered. I quit the job.

There’s a beginning to a new story that I want to share too: I started something pretty amazing. Oh, wait. I didn’t start something amazing.

Confused? Here’s all of that in more detail:

I got the job.

I was pretty confident after the first interview that I would, so this was no surprise, to be honest. I cried for weeks, but I knew it was what I was meant to do.

I [mostly] loved the job.

In so many ways, it was my dream job. If I was going to leave my family every day and go to work, about the only way I could imagine doing it was in a Catholic environment. This position allowed me to write about matters of faith – and get paid to do it! I got to market Catholic organizations I believed in, promote pilgrimage as a way to grow closer to Christ, and be a part of a ministry I believed in. Best of all, I was blessed to work with a group of devout Catholics. Office “gossip” centered around Theology of the Body, the saint of the day, and the best local homilists and confessors. Our days started with prayer, our phone conversations ended with “God bless,” and the acceptable response when faced with a decision was, “Let’s pray about it.”

I confess to having always wondered how working moms could be away from their kids so much, and I knew this would be a struggle for me. What I didn’t know or understand was the value of “finding myself” as a successful, goal-driven woman again. I had failed to appreciate the value of adult conversation on a daily basis – especially for the wife of a brain injury survivor who has very little to contribute to most conversations! It was a pleasant surprise to discover an “upside” to being a working mom.

However, loving a job and loving certain aspects of working didn’t quite overcome the many challenges.

Everybody suffered.

There’s a reason why most mothers with large-ish families don’t work outside of the home. Every kid has needs, and the more the kids, the greater the demands on a mother’s time and energy. No matter how wonderfully helpful your kids are (and mine are pretty great), there are certain things they can’t do. Like scheduling and attending doctors’ appointments, helping with homework, communicating with teachers, and spending one-on-one quality time showing maternal love. And this doesn’t take into account the myriad of things a wife is called to do for her husband, which were compounded in our situation by a brain injury that prevents Ray from driving or managing a myriad of responsibilities that he would have otherwise overseen.

The kids’ grades and health went into a rather steep decline – at least for a few of them. I saw scores on report cards that caused my jaw to drop and my blood to boil, and it felt as though I had a different sick kid everyday. My oldest, who had never missed more than two days of school in previous years, missed a whopping 22 days last year! We had pink eye, sinus infections, flu viruses, and – for the love of all that’s good – LICE!

(Okay, lice had nothing to do with me working, but still… it was one more day added to a year filled with way too many absences.)

Ray’s general wellbeing suffered as well. Left to his own devices from 8 to 5 every day, he stayed in bed until three most afternoons, and spent exorbitant amounts of time absorbed in online materials that were bringing him down rather than building him up… in a big way.

Last but not least (and my spiritual director would gently chastise me for putting this last), my spiritual, mental and physical health suffered too. I was up until midnight most nights, and the alarm sounded at 5:30 each morning. I didn’t work out, I didn’t socialize, I no longer attended my mom’s group at church or my book club meetings. The idea of writing another novel became a pie in the sky dream that I would never have the time to achieve. Promoting the novel I had already written was impossible, and my preparation for speaking engagements was frightfully haphazard. Worst of all, no matter how much I enjoyed aspects of being in the office, I agonized over the time I was losing with my family – time I could never get back.

And the truth of the matter is, there were challenges in the work environment as well – ones that I won’t go into but – honestly – it was those office challenges that had me in a state of absolute heartache one night. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt this way, but this was the night that I finally pleaded just before I went to bed: “Lord, I know this isn’t what you want for me. Please show me how you want me to provide for my family.”

Not surprisingly, He did, and He wasted no time in doing so.

I quit the job.

I woke at 4:00AM with a concept buzzing through my head. I didn’t yet have a name for it, but it wouldn’t leave me alone or let me go back to sleep. I got up, did a little research, and knew that this was something I would enjoy doing, and something that would be incredibly meaningful for families. It would give me the flexibility I needed, and – with a lot of hard work – would provide a good income for my family.

That was in early March. In May, life events made it extremely evident that I could no longer work full-time, so I went part-time. My employer was amazing, but I knew it couldn’t last. Working part-time didn’t provide enough income, and I felt that I was losing money by not focusing efforts on my new business. In June, one day after I would have celebrated my one year anniversary with the company, I handed in my resignation.

I won’t lie. Quitting my job was going out on a limb in a big, big way. It didn’t help when the air conditioner broke and we discovered a rather large hole in the roof the very same day I handed in my notice. The very same day. But God had shown me what He wanted me to do, and I had to step out in faith.

I accepted the broken A/C and dilapidated roof as God’s way of saying, “Failure is not an option.” If this was His will, he would be my rock in making it happen.

I started something pretty amazing.

By this time, it was mid-June. I had given that 4:00AM inspiration a name – Inkwell Personal Histories. I had formulated a plan, found a graphic designer, created a website and the requisite social media accounts. I had pitched the idea to my first potential client – and he loved it. I told a few other people and they loved it too, so much so that several of them had joined an already growing list of clients.

So what was that idea? In a nutshell, we write people’s life histories, taking their most treasured memories and weaving them into well-written and enjoyable stories. We compile each person’s stories into a beautiful hard-bound book that will be cherished for generations to come.

Inkwell’s vision is “To positively impact the future by chronicling the past.” We aim to celebrate the seemingly ordinary people who are extraordinary to those who love them – everyday heroes who have quietly made an impact on family, friends, and communities.

I didn’t start something amazing.

God did. Without Him, none of this would have happened. He’s already blessed the effort in amazing ways, and continues to reveal new and exciting opportunities. Not only can I help families connect through their understanding of loved ones’ histories, I can also give peace to the dying when they are  able to leave behind a tangible piece of themselves. This can help those who have impaired memories to regain some of what they’ve lost, and help those who have lost loved ones to compile memories posthumously. Parents can gift their graduating senior with memories of their lives so far, with encouragement to continue to pursue their dreams. With the guided autobiography classes I’ll soon start teaching, individuals can begin to write their own histories, and enjoy the cathartic benefits of examining the past through a fresh lens. Best of all, I’ve already started ghost-writing a novel of faith for an amazing Christian woman, and plan to make “Journeys of Faith” a cornerstone of the business.

God may have started it, but He’s shown me again and again that it’s success is dependent on His grace and my hard work. I’m incredibly excited – and slightly awed – to move forward in this journey. God only knows where it will lead!

P.S.

If you’re interested in learning more about Inkwell Personal Histories, you can do so at www.iwpersonalhistories.com. And please (please, please!) follow Inkwell on social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Of course, feel free to reach out via email as well! (stephanie @ inkwell writes.com, without the spaces)

 

That Time I Came Home From Lourdes and Found My Simon of Cyrene

That Time I Came Home From Lourdes and Found My Simon of Cyrene

“Jesus Falls for the First Time” from the life-sized Stations of the Cross at Lourdes

My last post left off with me a blubbering mess – sunken into a jet-lagged, hormone- and stress-induced pit of despair from which only medical pharmacology was able to drag me.

Looking back, I have to laugh at myself, while also acknowledging that – yeah, I had totally legitimate reasons for falling under the weight of responsibility.

But here’s the beauty of it – even Christ fell under the weight of his cross. Three times, in fact – showing by his perfect example that we, in our humanity, can only take so much. At the same time, demonstrating the need to seek and accept help, as Christ received the help of Simon the Cyrene in carrying his cross.

I’d already been blessed by so many “Simon’s” – friends, family, and strangers who brought us meals and did my grocery shopping throughout the first several months of Ray’s recovery. Those who watched my kids so that I could be with him in the hospital or take him to therapy; those who provided a cleaning lady so I’d have one less thing to worry about; those who donated to our GoFundMe account or just randomly slipped a check into my hand; and, of course, those who lifted us up in prayer.

But this event last spring was a private cross. Whereas our entire community – and beyond – knew about the initial heart attack and brain injury, I was the only one that knew that I was caving under the weight of that same cross which had been placed on me more than a year and a half before. My family was already helping as much as could possibly be expected. They regularly watched the kids, helped with driving and meals, and more. Ray’s parents lived a half hour away, and the long drive made it impossible for them to help often.

I was on my own.

Only, I wasn’t. Duh.

First, so that I could think straight, our wonderful babysitter Hannah, came over and transformed the house into one I could at least live in. Something so simple, and yet it was enough to help me see through the mess and begin to prioritize. I turned to prayer, and the next day – once the jet lag and the anti-anxiety meds had worn off – I felt more myself. My problems weren’t resolved, but they seemed a lot more manageable.

When faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, the best Christian prayer might be as simple as “God, show me the way.” It’s one I pray often. In the immediate aftermath of that crash into self-pity I prayed, God, show me the way. His answer came in a very unexpected way – an unlikely “Simon of Cyrene.”

Going to Lourdes had set me on fire for pilgrimage. While we were there, I began to dream of being able to take each of my kids on a pilgrimage for their high school graduation. Two days after we returned home, I looked up prices. While it was actually less than the cost of going to Disney World, it still wasn’t something that I would ever be able to afford under our current circumstances.

Okay, God. I have to believe you want my children to go on pilgrimage, because I know they’d grow closer to you. If you want this, please show me the way.

And then I got an email from a pilgrimage company. My name had found its way to their email distribution list when I attended a movie night they hosted a few months before. Their offices are local, and the owner of the company happens to be a parishioner at my church. They were hiring.

A communications director.

The person needed to be a proficient writer, fluent in social media and email marketing, motivated, and passionate about helping others.

Hmmm. Interesting.

But, seriously, God, I’m sure your answer to my problem of being crushed under the weight of responsibility is not that I should get a job. 

So I left the email in my inbox and resolved to forget pray about it.

And then a friend texted me. She’d seen a job opportunity that I’d be perfect for.

Ugh. I guess I really do have to pray about this. 

And so it was that a week later I found myself in a job interview. And afterwards I sobbed because I knew I’d get the job. For days weeks I cried every time I thought about being away from my kids.

But at the same time, new possibilities opened up. Maybe I’d actually be able to pay for a little bit of therapy for Ray. Maybe I could finally hire a cleaning lady. Maybe we could take a family vacation. Surely I’d be able to send each of my children on a pilgrimage at some point in their lives if I was actually working for a pilgrimage company!

For many years, whenever money got tight, I’d pray, God, if you want me to get a job, please make it abundantly clear, and show me the job you want me to have. Every time, money would providentially appear. An unexpected check in the mail, a gift from a friend, a refund I hadn’t known was coming, the food not ringing up at the grocery store and the manager giving it to me for free. Again, and again, and again. But now, God was making it abundantly clear, and he had, indeed shown me the job. Now, I prayed, God, I think you want me to do this. If not, please close this door.

And the door opened wider. Could my “Simon of Cyrene” be… a job?

Stay tuned for the rest of the story…

That Time I Went to Lourdes and Came Home to Hit Rock Bottom

Putting an end to a very prolonged blogging absence… I’m going to attempt to write the story that has prevented me from publishing to the blog in many, many months – partially because it’s not an easy story to tell, and partially because one event in the story has led me to be even more ridiculously busy than I was beforehand. So here goes: the story of the time I went to Lourdes and came home to hit rock bottom.

Lourdes is a tiny town in France where the Blessed Mother appeared to a young girl in the 19th century. During one of the apparitions, water miraculously sprung from the ground, and that water has been associated with many miraculous healings. Since then, it’s become a popular pilgrimage destination, especially for those seeking spiritual or physical healing. The Order of Malta generously takes “malades” and their caregivers every year, and Ray and I were fortunate enough to be included in last year’s trip. (Thanks to my friend and fellow Catholic YA author, AJ Cattapan, who’s a Dame in the Order of Malta, and sponsored us to go on the trip!)

As we embarked on our pilgrimage, Ray’s healing was first and foremost on my mind. While we’d already experienced numerous miracles, he was still subject to many deficits compared to his previous capabilities – deficits which prevented him from living the life he – or we – would love to live, achieving the goals and dreams that we once held for ourselves and our family.

Interestingly, Ray underwent a brief transformation while we were in Lourdes. One day we went to a healing Mass. On the same day, we were both submerged in the healing waters of the baths at Lourdes. That evening, Ray’s speech became clearer, more quick and concise. His thoughts seemed to come at a much faster pace. We enjoyed one very special meal – just the two of us – and a fun evening of karaoke with our fellow pilgrims. It was almost like old times. I felt incredibly blessed to have those special hours with him, but held my breath, fearful that it wouldn’t last or that – maybe – I was simply imagining things. Indeed, it was a temporary improvement, but I felt that it gave me a glimpse of what could be – of what still might be – if God chooses to grant healing to Ray in the future.

This particular story I’m sharing with you today, however, isn’t about that particular intention. Very close behind the prayer for Ray’s healing was one for my own healing. Not a physical healing, but a spiritual one. In fact, that need had become so obvious that I was probably praying for my own healing at least as ardently as for Ray’s. The challenges of being a “brain injury wife,” the mother to five young children, and juggling the numerous other responsibilities I held were taking a serious toll on me. I found myself impatient, jumpy, stressed out, quick to anger, and any other number of unpleasant things. Hence, I went specifically praying a prayer I had learned during preparation for Marian Consecration, which is adapted from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Mary, lend me your heart and keep me in your most pure heart.”

A heart like Mary’s, and the graces to carry the crosses I’d been given. That was what I most desperately needed.

The trip to Lourdes was wonderful, but also incredibly busy and with very little downtime. As an introvert, who spends a lot of time every day in quiet prayer and reflection, the hustle and bustle proved a bit difficult, especially since I found myself with so little time to refill my cup in silent prayer. However, I greatly enjoyed meeting many wonderful people from the Order of Malta, and felt incredibly blessed by the friendships that we made.

One woman in particular shared the story of her friend who’s husband had also suffered a brain injury. Her friend realized that what her husband needed was to have someone working with him to keep his mind and body active throughout the day. So, she worked with him for eight hours every day and – miraculously – the man improved and was able to lead an almost normal life. Except – scratch that – the wife didn’t work with him. She had gobs of money, so she hired someone to work with him.

Imagine the needle screeching across the record at this point. I can’t afford a full time employee to provide therapy to my husband! But – since I sometimes make the mistake of thinking I’m Super Woman – I was determined to somehow figure out a way to provide that 40 hours per week on my own. Buoyed by that glimpse of the Ray that “could be,” I went home determined to do make it happen. I was going to keep Ray’s mind stimulated for eight hours a day, every day of the week.

We arrived home on a Tuesday night after a long day of travel – jet-lagged, exhausted, and anxious to see the kids, who had been very well cared for by my mom during our six day absence. She had skillfully and lovingly made sure that everyone was fed and clothed, made their lunches, drove them to and from school each day, helped them with their homework,and gotten them to the wide variety of activities and sports that five kids tend to be involved in. In fact, you might say my mom is the real Super Woman of the story! Alas, though, as one might suspect, keeping on top of things like laundry and housework was not at the top of her list. The house was in need of a serious straightening, several loads of laundry needed to be folded, the floors needed to be swept… you get the picture.

And so it happened that late the next morning found me sitting in the family room, kids at school, and Ray still in bed. I hadn’t been able to rouse him despite all my efforts, so instead I had grabbed my laptop in hopes of tackling the mountain of work I had gotten behind on. The laundry piled on top of the couch proved too great a distraction. I began to think of everything I needed to do. I needed to write another book in order to help support our family. I needed to promote the book I’d already written. I needed to write a newsletter for one of my freelance clients. And I needed to fold those clothes. And vacuum the floors. And clean the evidence of boys in the bathroom. And then there was the fact that I needed to figure out a way to stimulate Ray’s mind for eight hours a day but how was I going to do that when I couldn’t even figure out how to get him out of bed???!!!!

Once a month – on about the 14th day of a 28 day cycle – I’m prone to anxiety. I think maybe this was the 14th day. Or maybe it was just the jet lag. I’d like to use both of those as my excuse. But the long and the short of it is: I lost it. I started sobbing. Long, deep, gut-wrenching sobs that I didn’t know existed within me. Maybe, on some level, I was finally mourning the loss our family suffered on that fateful November night in 2015. Maybe I was feeling sorry for myself. Maybe I’m just human and finally became overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of everything that was being asked of me – or, rather, everything that I was expecting of myself. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop. Just as I thought I finally had it under control, I would be swamped by another wave, and overcome by another bout of sobbing. I’d give into it for a little bit and then struggle back up to the surface, only to be plunged under again. This went on for hours.

Finally, as time to pick kids up from school drew near, I resorted to calling a friend who was able to prescribe – and deliver – something to get me calmed down. It worked, and I went through the remainder of the day in a strange emotionless haze.

So there you have it: the time I went to Lourdes praying for a heart like Mary’s and – somehow – came home to hit rock bottom.

Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story. But, this story is way too long for a single blog post, so you’ll have to wait a day or two for the next chapter. (I’ll give you a hint, though: I’m still working on that heart like Mary’s. But, I think I’m a lot closer than I was. The interesting thing is the strange twists and turns its taken me to get here, and the many unknowns that I hope will continue me on the path.)

While you’re waiting for that next chapter, check out these two amazing stories from my fellow pilgrims to Lourdes:

AJ Cattapan’s “That Time I Went to Lourdes and God Whacked Me Upside the Head”

AJ’s “Pod Members” Miracle: “That Time We Went to Lourdes and Our Son Was Healed

One Year Later: Ray’s Brain Injury Recovery

As the posts regarding Ray’s recovery from brain injury, and our experience of the last year continue (a little slower than I’d hoped!), I know the burning question in the minds of many is, “But how is Ray doing, now?” The process of brain injury recovery is actually a three-year deal, so we’re only a third…

One Year Later – The Spiritual Journey

Wow. It’s hard to believe, but tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of Ray’s heart attack and subsequent brain injury. My goal is to publish a series of posts in the next few days, chronicling at least a little bit of our journey. First, though, I want to share a little bit of the…

Stress, Neurotics, and a Plea for Help

(Please note: Any self-derision in this article is largely tongue-in-cheek. While I am critical of myself in an mostly almost entirely healthy way, I’m also well aware of God’s infinite love for me and the fact that he wants me to love me too. And I do! I’m only human, but also trying to do better.) The…

Homecoming!

Ray’s Home! After eight weeks in Grand Rapids in neurological rehab, Ray has finally come home. Here’s a how it went down… We Had a Week that Could Have Been from that Fiery Place Below First off, I’ve been suffering from a terrible cold that has only affected me (worn down as I am), and…

This is Not a Hot Mess Pity Party

So this was supposed to be the post that I had half-written last week, when I was writing the update on Ray’s recovery. But it’s funny how, in the blink of an eye, everything can change and the “I’m doing okay but dang this is a lonely business” post changes to an “I’m a hot…

A Long Overdue Update – Ray’s Recovery from Brain Injury

The crickets have been chirping over here at A Few Beads Short, which probably has many of you wondering how Ray is doing following his heart attack and brain injury (injuries, actually). So here goes… Ray’s doing well. Like, really, miraculously, incredibly well. I have to remind myself of that every day, and look back…

Being Home – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (A 7QT Post)

It’s been two weeks now since Ray’s unexpected homecoming. There have been good times, there have been bad times, and there have been downright ugly times. Here are some highlights. 1. Good: I Can’t Even Keep Track of How Much Help We’ve Had Seriously. I’ve said all along that about the only thing people aren’t doing…

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