Two Blondes + Two Strokes + One City

<This post is longer than most, but, if you can, read entire post. Stay patient.  There is a really cool encounter at the end, only to be explained as a ‘God moment.’>

I despise Jake’s stroke and everything it took away from him.  Without warning, the thief stole the life he once knew and loved.

Pause for a moment … think about your battles, both past and present.  Can you identify even one good thing resulting from it?

In order to find these gifts, it is a purposeful action, because reality is that there are those unavoidable days in life which feel like hell on earth.

For me, the most unexpected blessing has been the friends I have met along the way.  They are spread across the country, and the world.

Periodically, I want to introduce you to these friends …  and their stories.

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<photo by me … Tammie Walker … San Francisco>

Tammie Walker of Kalamazoo, Michigan … who wears great shoes …  mother of three …wife of Mike Walker.  And then …

A dream shattering event in her life.

Her son, Trevor Rhoda, a sponsored snowboarder … was truly one of the best of the best.  A great athlete who competed in an extreme sport; however, a second related injury to his brain … and, now …

Like Jake, Trevor lives with aphasia (loss of speech & language but not intelligence), plus right sided weakness.  He and his family press to move forward while building a new normal.

Tammie arrived in San Francisco this week for 36 hours.  My mission was to show her the city.  Moreover, it was a time to press the “Pause” button on the rest of our lives.

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<Chinatown, SF … No Tammie plate?  No problem!  We can adapt>

Our first stop was exploring the ‘treasures’ in Chinatown.  On this day, we were simply … Two blondes + Two strokes + One fun filled day … Enjoying life

While living in a trial, fear often puts us into bondage, robbing us of our freedom to enjoy life.  There is even a sense of guilt toward having fun.

Ecclesiastes 3: 4, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

From Chinatown, we continued to the Ferry Building at the pier.  While en route to our destination, we paused, enjoying each moment, AND, more photos!

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<selfies …  with cute car and cute house> 

During adversity, we often choose to be ‘happy,’ if and when life returns to normal.

Beware … dangerous territory.  It’s critical to press toward joy, en route, in spite of the circumstances.  <normalcy is often undefined anyway>

Upon arriving to the Ferry Building, we then walked along Fisherman’s Wharf before enduring the steep climb up the hills.

Sometime during life, we will all  have to climb hills in life.  They are much easier achieved with the help of others.  Life is not meant to done alone.  People need people.

Ask God to bring the right people into your life … it requires purposeful action on your part, along with trusting and relying on His guidance.

As Tammie and I cheered one another up the steep grade, we stopped for a photo op. <actually to catch our breath>.  A young lady was at the same lookout and asked us for directions, which then led to conversation with her.

Tiffany was on business from North Carolina and sightseeing in the city between her meetings.  We laughingly told her that we were two blonde moms from SC and Michigan, with two kids recovering from strokes.

She began to share with us how her own daughter had suffered a stroke, in vitro, five years earlier, and they had been in the recovery process.  <happy to say, her child is doing fantastic>

Random coincidence?  Absolutely not.  Once again, this was a beautiful God orchestrated moment in life, a Gift.  For a brief time, we were now …  Three moms + Three strokes + One city by the bay.

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<God orchestrated encounters>

As the day was winding down, Tammie and I reached our final destination … the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill, for a refreshing drink following our 10 mile trek.

It was a day filled with laughter, a few tears, and a new friend, Tiffany.  And then a farewell hug to Tammie … until the next adventure my friend.

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<trying to behave at the Fairmont>

The same issues that I began the day with greeted me at the end.  Yet on this day, I had pressed the pause button, and embraced the Gift of a friendship, one that came from a trial. 

Pressing Toward Joy thought for the day … purposely look for the gifts during trials … and thank Him.

 1 Timothy 6:17  “… but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for enjoyment.”

Next Blog … after the weekend …traveling to SC>>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crash and Burn + Throwback

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<Easter circa 1996 … photo by me>

I hope that everyone had a Happy Easter.  I had to continually remind myself the entire weekend to envision the empty tomb.  Thankfully that image is carved deep into my soul and brain.  It is the Hope that I cling to tightly. 

Due to life events recently, the empty tomb has been my source of oxygen and the ability to get out of bed.  Without a relationship with Jesus Christ, I do not know how others survive  who are walking a path similar to mine.  Where is the Hope?  During these crash and burn days recently, as hard as they have been, I still have Hope and my Lifeline.  Yet, it still hurts.

My intent in writing is bare bones honesty.  It is not to suggest or come across as,  ‘look how religious I am!   You better get Jesus into your life.  I am a more righteous and better person, more emotionally sound than you are!’ 

ABSOLUTELY NOT!

A more accurate portrayal of myself would be: ‘look at the sinner that I am,  the broken, weak, fragile, and frightened little girl who stumbles through life.’  That is who I am, on my own. 

If you see someone different than the person described above … then … you have witnessed the Power of the Holy Spirit living within someone.

Perhaps the purpose of today’s writing was a theme which needs repeating, ‘it is okay not to be okay some days … just make sure that you don’t stay there.’  We are all going to go through trials in our lives.  Equip yourself with the Tools, in advance, that will not only carry you through the valley, but will bring you to the greatest blessing on the mountaintop.

Below I have added a throwback writing from 6 years ago from CaringBridge. Why?  Actually I am not sure but felt led to share with you.

Pressing Toward Joy thought of the day:   “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7

Now, for the Throwback moment.  Below is an excerpt from a CaringBridge post in late 2009.  It is good to remember where we began in order to clearly see the present.  During the difficult days, I must remember the Promises God has already given me.

CaringBridge dated 12/30/2009:

“Yesterday was observation day for us to watch Jake in therapy.  We watched him in speech, occupational, physical, and recreational therapy.  Also, it gave us time to get to know his therapists a little better. Jake’s recreational therapist is Nate and I feel like he will definitely connect w/ Jake as he was with the New Orleans Saints for 2 1/2 yrs.
Therapy is a hard core reality check to see where Jake is right now.  For example, 6 objects are placed in front of him and he is told to point to the “comb.”  He may point to the “pencil.”  When they reduce the # of objects to three & he is told to point to the comb,  then he can do it. This is what baby steps are all about – he can do three objects right now and the goal next week may be 4 objects placed in front of him.

At the end of the day we met with his team of therapists and they all gave their goals as to what Jake would be able to do when leaving Shepherd.  We choose to believe that they are being very conservative in their predictions and that Jake will completely blow their predictions out of the water. I pray that Shepherd will be awed and have to say look at what God did in Jake’s life.

In my last CB entry I explained the fear that I was having for Jake’s future regarding the unknown. God told me that Jake is going to be fine and he will live a long, happy, healthy life.  Now when those other thoughts enter my mind, I just remember the conversation that I had with God.”

 

<<Next blog … a couple of days>>

 

Beauty for Ashes + Hair Day!

Sitting in a hair salon this week, there were two other ladies looking as radioactive and alien like as I did, all with color foils in our hair.  One lady said laughingly that we looked scary now, but soon would be beauties!

The thought that immediately flashed through my mind was the beauty for ashes bible verse.  And then I proceeded to take a quick ‘alien like’ selfie;)

First, the beauty for ashes verse …  Isaiah 61:3:

“to provide for those who grieve in Zion,
 to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
 the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
 a mantle of praise instead of a spirit of despair ….”

Those words … beauty instead of ashes … gladness and not mourning … praise, not despair.  Powerful!

Now the Selfie …  ASHES!!  <hiding that gray>  Ohhh, the things we go through!

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Speaking of the ashes <aka as those weights and burdens we carry>, where are we looking during difficult times?  <or even when times are so-called ‘good’>

If we are looking all around … to the left and to the right … Satan then gladly shows and tells us everything that we are not.  Smart enough, good enough, pretty enough, too thin/too heavy … you fill in the blank.

For those who are in acute injury world, grief, sickness, addiction, mental illness …  Satan sets a  trap in our minds saying, ‘look how good their life is versus the weight and burden that you carry.’ 

The Promise behind the verse in Isaiah 61:3 ‘bestowing a crown of beauty instead of ashes,’ translates to hope and joy.  If we believe in God’s word, He will turn our difficult, disgusting, painful, and depressing situations into beauty … In His Perfect Timing.

How do we claim His promises?

–We must ask confidently,  “… if we ask according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Speak God’s promises and blessings into life. Even insert your name in verses.   ‘I (your name) can do all things through Christ …’ Philippians 4:13  <speak it aloud.>

Pressing Toward Joy thought of the day:  Comparison is the thief of joy.  Do not compare.  Don’t do it.  Not comparing requires purposeful actions and spiritual muscles to not fall into this dangerous trap.

Regarding beauty for ashes + my hair day … Once again I am now a ‘natural’ blonde as my gray is covered up  <<beauty to ashes or ashes to beauty, who knows>>  But Macy (our dog) is still sporting her sassy gray hair!

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<<Me and Macy … post hair day!>>

**UPDATE**  – A number of people who followed Jake’s recovery from the very beginning of our journey, especially from afar, have asked ‘how is he doing?  what is he doing?’  I will share with you soon, while respecting his privacy as he is ‘pressing’ forward in life.

<<Next blog on Monday, hopefully.  Sign up for email alerts on side bar Home Page>>

 

 

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 Some Days … Just Listen …

 

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<photo by me … Shhh … just listen>

Today is a scream into your pillow type of day.   I am not confident or responsible for anything I may write or say. I feel empty.

As I stare at the keyboard hoping to be inspired, nothing.  I feel nothing.  Where are you God?

He is still present.   I am the one who is not.

My spirit is neither graceful nor grateful today. A picture of Godliness I am not.

Such an un Christian thing to say!  Really?  

What a misconception that once we have accepted Christ, we then live in a 24/7 hour state of blissful Godliness?   <we are still flawed humans after all>

Do you have days like this?  I know I am not alone on this issue!

What is happening during these times?  Is there a message that He is trying to tell us?

Perhaps He wants us to stop talking, reading and writing … and simply listen to what He is trying to tell us.

In other words … unplug from the world and plug in to Him.  ‘Let His word pour down like rain …’

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<photo by me … viewing His majesty>

Hence, a song He placed into my heart this morning … ‘Word of God Speak’ by Mercy Me …

“I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say,

Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
Word of God speak”

Perhaps the words that I didn’t have today was exactly what He wanted me to share.   At times, simply Listen to His Wisdom. 

Be blessed and listen to the song below  ‘Word of God Speak’ by Mercy Me.

Pressing Toward Joy thought of the day:  Take the time and listen.  Unplug!

**Next blog … a couple of days … email sign up for blogs, side bar Home Page**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Bowl A Strike … Steps and Stairways

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<Photo by me @ San Francisco Bay …100+ steps>

If you bowl a strike, did one thing happen or did ten things happen?  

Think about it …

The big strike in your life … <you fill in the blank> … has resulted in multiple casualties (pins) collapsing. Right?

Strikes are those life changing, life altering events.

When the stroke <our strike> hit, everyone and everything attached closely to our lives tried remaining upright.  There was bending and swaying  <just like the pins>, but eventually we were all knocked down by the event.

Knocked down but not knocked out.

There is no automatic reset button to quickly reposition the fallen pins.  This is life, not a game.

It’s easier to get back up when life returns to normal quickly. However, when the trial is long and circumstances remain hard, it is a struggle to move forward

So, how do we go forward in a healthy way?

Envision a stairway … uninviting, daunting, dreadful …

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<photo by me>

We stand at the bottom … our eyes focused on the many steps between the bottom and the top. How do we ever climb the stairs?  It would be wonderful to simply propel to the top, thus omitting all steps in between.

REMEMBER … it’s one step at a time!  Most of the time it’s one step forward,  two steps back.

That’s okay.  Expect it and keep moving.

But why?  Why just one step at a time?

Because … with each single step we take, God teaches us valuable faith and character building lessons about life.

Oftentimes, we still want to ask God, ‘why?  why me?’  <we are human after all>

This is the game changer.  Stop asking ‘why’ and start asking ‘what?’  ‘What do you want me to learn from this Lord?’

Be confident that when we do ask, God will lead us to the right place.  “If God brings us to it, then He will bring us through it.”

Personally I am still climbing the stairway.  And it is one step forward … with one or two steps backward.  Ugh … but the only acceptable option is to keep moving.

How about you?  Do you get tired?  I do.

It is a struggle but as believers we must boldly claim the Promises that He has  given to us.  Claim them!  Claim His Promises and then rest … rest confidently in His peace and strength.

Memorize this verse … cling to each Word:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 

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<photo by me … Top of the stairs … it’s going to be Amazing … SF Bay> 

Pressing Toward Joy thought for the day … ONE DAY AT A TIMEnothing more, nothing less.  Getting ahead of today = a guaranteed joy stealer.

**Next blog … a couple of days … sign up for email alerts Home Page side bar**

 

 

 

 

Overreacting … On a Scale of 1 to 50 …

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 <stages of overreacting – photo by me;)>

In 2013, Jake went to a counselor to encourage him  to ‘express’ any emotional issues expected with a life changing event.    We also recognized there were family issues that needed to be dealt with due to our over involvement in his life since the stroke.

It sounded like a good opportunity for the 3 of us to work it all out … right?

After our first two sessions, the counselor said, ‘Mrs. Nicolopulos, I don’t believe we are able to make progress in family counseling until I work with you one on one.  Jake and your husband seem to be in a good place at this time, but you need to be in a healthier place. Afterwards we can get back together as a group and hopefully move forward.’

Jake gave a big fist punch saying ‘Oh Yea!‘  Craig looked at me like he was not surprised by the counselor’s comment, but grateful the message was coming from someone else.

From my comfy spot on the ‘therapy sofa,’ I responded politely, yet slightly surprised, ‘Oh, okay, sure, sounds good.’

Did he just suggest I might have issues?

During my first one on one session, I sobbed through a 1/4 box of tissues over frustration about Jake skipping classes.  The counselor looked at me and said …

‘On a scale of 1 to 50, with 50 representing death or anything involving blood, where would you place missing a class on the scale?’

I responded, ‘perhaps a 7 or 8.’

The counselor continued, ‘So why are you reacting like missing class is a 47-50 on the scale?’  <for me, overreacting had become an automatic response to most events>  ‘Mrs. Nicolopulos, you have already faced death with your son, why would you ever revisit a place, which you do, when you respond to a 7 or 8 issue as if it were a level 50 event?’

How ironic since going back to that moment was one of my greatest fears.

I proceeded to sob through the remaining 3/4 box of tissues.

The counselor continued by saying that reactions need to be in proportion to the situation, not over or under.

I have learned overreactions expose the areas of our lives that we are desperately trying to keep hidden.  It may involve bitterness or insecurities … it is simply any area in our lives in which we feel inadequate or vulnerable.

For me, overreaction was linked to fear … it still is.  The thought of going back to 12/09/09 or any part of the days that followed struck terror in me.

For most of us, as long as everything in life is fine, we are okay.  But when something goes wrong, even a level 7 or 8 event can cause us to respond as if it were a 50 event on the scale.

Pressing Toward Joy thought for the day … when reacting to a situation, recognize the level of the event and respond proportionately.  <lost car keys don’t fall into a level 50 category>.  Thankfully level 50 events are much rarer than a level 7 or 8.

It is critical to recognize that when we do overreact to an event, there is an unnecessary emotional toll that is placed not only on ourselves, but on those close to us as well.

Our Father tells us … Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’  John 14:27

<<Next blog on Monday.  Sign up for email alerts on side bar Home Page>

 

 

Weaknesses … What are Yours?

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I am physically and emotionally tired of carrying my weaknesses.  We all have those 1 or 2 (3 or 4) areas that keep us in a choke hold.

What are yours?  Issues of loneliness, control, grief, trust, anger, self-esteem,  guilt, worry, envy, anxiety, living in the past, fear … you fill in the blanks.

I struggle with the emotional burden of feeling overwhelmed. Am I going to be blindsided again?   How is this all going to work out?   What does life look in 10 years, 20 years …?  What happens when I’m no longer around?

So …what wakes you up in the middle of the night?

Your unwanted guest may appear at the dinner table or late in the evening when loneliness often shows up.  For others, it may be during social situations as you politely smile listening to the successes of others.  Conversations that scream to you everything that your life is not, at least not yet;)

Some days I struggle with getting out of bed because I simply don’t want to face the reality of life.  Satan has then gained control of the mind thus stealing joy and peace.

So how do you battle against the oncoming assault?  First, you identify what steals your joy, and fight to get it back.

Yesterday was a hard morning. < Just get up… Ugh>    I began the familiar routine of assembling my artillery to combat the attacks on my mind, while declaring boldly:

‘This is the day that the Lord hath made.  I will rejoice & be glad in it.’  (x 10)

‘Go to hell Satan!  Get away from me!!’  (x 10) + yelling loudly!

— Sing along to REM’s Shiny Happy People – YouTube it!  (dance while singing as this adds to your joy & power)

The good news is that I got out of bed … you have to in order to dance!  Whatever it takes!

Pressing toward Joy thought of the day:  ‘Joy does not simply happen to us.  We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.’  It is a purposeful decision, action, and fight.

 “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”    Psalm 28:7

<Next blog … a couple of days.  Sign up for email alerts on side bar Home Page>