This Walk to the Car took 5 Years

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The first time I picked up a kid it was 18 month old Ezra. It was soon after I came home and I leaned against a wall and picked him up but totally overshot bc of lack of spatial awareness and motor control and bonked his little head against a cabinet. I was horrified but he was completely silent and just rubbed his noggin silently and let me hug him.

5 yrs later we were leaving church and little brother P2 wasn’t wearing shoes. (I’ve been on vacation with E and R.) “But Aunty Ning Ning, if I walk on the street my feet will get dirty.” I was the only adult around so I picked Peter up and walked to the car. It was only 30 seconds, but I waited a LONG time to be able to do that.

RecoveryLand has been rough lately and my symptoms have gotten aggravated. But moments like this remind me why I spend so much time and energy training. I train for real life – weekends, holidays, and vacations…and for walks to the car with a squirmy kid so his feet don’t get dirty. Not on my watch, P2. Aunty Ning has a thing about feet. 😏😜

503. The Eye of the Tiger

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It’s Monday!  Welcome to the new work week.  I confess, I’m exhausted – and we haven’t even started yet.  But I’ll rally – it’s a good thing I’m a Tan.  We have the Eye of the Tiger.  :)

Thank you for praying for Sassy Smurf.  She is doing well in her post-seizure recovery – no additional episodes, PTL just adjusting to the new parameters and deciding what to do next.  Please continue to pray, and for me, too.  Recalibration II is encountering some wrinkles.

PS. Are you on Instagram? Follow me @iheartrecovery

Learning How on Amazon - it's all NONPROFIT!

Learning How on Amazon – it’s all NONPROFIT!

502. Feb ’16 – The Courage to Trust

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Red Alert! I just got word that my dear dear friend, Sassy Smurf aka “Molly” from Volume 1 had a seizure on Sunday while running. A passing motorist called 911.  She’s okay and at home now, but this is not cool.

Sniff.

A few days ago she sent me a PDF of a newspaper clipping about the wreck she was in. (FYI, half of her was replaced or beefed up with titanium.) Thank God that I didn’t open it and she warned me that it was pretty rough stuff (it took family members years before they could bear to look at it). A while later she texted me, I’m not actually in this picture. I’m already on the flight.

OH, OKAY. So they had already used the Jaws of Life to extract her and she was on the chopper. I feel SO much better about this situation.

I just told her, M, honey, that doesn’t make it better.

LOL.

But I get it. I do the same thing. Like that time I emotionally hijacked you guys and got all these messages from people saying they couldn’t read my blog that day bc it was too appalling. We “forget” how sad it is. Maybe it’s partially a coping mechanism – we diminish the feelings as a way of protecting ourselves.

My PTSD has been aggravated since Mrs. Ridgely passed away (okay, it was probably aggravated before that), and the bad dreams I told you got better last month took a nose dive again. But I got a nice month of respite that was probably aided by Nyquil induced sleep since I was quite ill for most of it.

Getting back into the swing of things has been rough. I was totally gagging this morning as I struggled to swallow all of my breakfast and I told Mommy, Man alive – I gotta email Smurfette. I don’t think I can keep this up.

Her husband, Animal Muppet aka Trainer D, had to catch me at least 3 times in the past week of Training. Since Gen isn’t massaging anymore, Trainer D is fixing my right forearm. There is screaming and writhing involved. He just says grimly, None of that. Other favorite quotes include, No Pain Face – no one wants to see your Pain Face. Even if he’s looking in the other direction he can sense if I’m making a face because he can tell when I’m not breathing.

There was a change in plans and Coach R didn’t have to travel after all. Yay!! Now we have more time for my projects. Apparently Coach R has plans, too.

2 weeks ago:

Coach R: Are you going to be here Monday?
Me: Yes.
Coach R: Bc I want you to run longer…we will do whatever you need afterwards. But I want you to run longer.
Me (external): Yes, sir.
Me (internal): That was code for It doesn’t matter if you are bleeding, injured or not breathing – I will fix it – but you WILL run longer on Monday.

I think he was concerned because he had found me napping on a treatment table after I ran half the usual time.
CoachR: How long have you been lying here playing dead?
Me: Go away, R, I’m busy sleeping.

But I have been running more and have had some weirdness in the left leg. So Coach R worked on it today.

Me: Is this gonna hurt?
Coach R: [long significant pause, full of meaning]….well, I won’t kill you….
Me: That’s what you said last time, R.

So I’ve been having fun with my peeps and am enjoying getting back to my routine.   The idea of having a routine is immensely comforting. One of the most shocking things I realized when I first became disabled was that navigating new environments as simple as a public restroom was like the Olympics.

It took me a year to use the locker rooms at the Regular Gym.

It took me over a year and a half to coordinate my vision and motor skills enough to use the water cooler at the Running Gym.

Simple stuff is a big deal in my world. Disruptions to the systems and routines I’ve put in place are not welcome. I have had some setbacks since my bleed, but not on the scale of collapsing outside somewhere and waking up in the in an ambulance.

We are almost 5 years out from our injuries. This is a curve ball. I was so pleased to think that my friend Sassy Smurf, who was in a wheelchair like I was when we first saw each other, was strong enough physically and confident enough to go to Rwanda on medical missions in January.

And then when I read the first few lines of her email tonight I immediately wanted to throw up. This is not the direction we wanted to go in. But then again, neither of us would have chosen for ANY of this to happen, but we are tremendously grateful that God planted us in the hospital together so we could be friends.

We stuck out of the crowd because we were so much younger than the rest of the patients (we’re the same age). Our Moms say that personality-wise we are so similar it’s scary – listening to us talk or reading Facebook comments really reveals that we are so like minded in many things, which is to say that brain injuries let us be as naughty as we know we’ve both been all along.

368. Commiserating

I spent two years talking to M in my head after I came home from RIO. I planned to contact her when I published my first book. But 6 months prior, before I even had the mental capacity to form it into a prayer request, M emailed me out of the blue bc her next-door neighbors are friends of mine from my Oregon church.

When I saw her name pop up in my inbox one morning, I wept like a baby.

367. The Fellowship of His Sufferings

The most horrifying thing about my situation is the isolation – I remember things only I will ever know about.  But God gave me a friend right in the hospital.  For a long time I didn’t want any new friends.  So God started with someone who was extremely similar to me so I wouldn’t be scared.

This is in keeping with how He does things in general. When God decided how to have a relationship with humanity He could have done anything.  He is, after all, God.  He has every right to rule and to reign.  But He chose to come as a baby in a manger.  No one’s going to be scared of a baby.  A baby needs to be held.  We do that instinctively.  It’s something we can understand and relate to – that’s why God chose to approach us like that – so we would be comfortable.

So now we have to manage the tension between the record of how God does things, and the shock and fear related to an event like Sassy Smurf’s seizure.

My friend, J==>G, was preaching on Sunday and I almost burst into tears when he closed in prayer. He said simply, Lord, give us the courage to trust…

It takes courage to trust – God, another person, that my legs will hold me up, that someone will catch me if they don’t…

So, yeah – this is my February prayer request: Please pray for M’s recovery and for courage.

123. Don’t You Care? | This was the first time I heard myself play the piano (I’m still sitting at the keyboard) and I heard what I sounded like.

 

Learning How on Amazon - it's all NONPROFIT!

Learning How on Amazon – it’s all NONPROFIT!

 

501. Jan 2016: Recalibration Phase II

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Hi, everyone! My plan is progressing nicely. I have not blogged in such a long time I miss it terribly. That’s right – I’ve written 2.5 books in the meantime, but I STILL have more to say. And I’ve been informed that even though I write and talk a ton I’m not saying everything still. That’s why I’m in Therapy:/ (not the Rehabilitation kind, the Mental Health kind). So I’m experimenting with occasional blog updates.

I’ve been very under the weather and it’s been super boring. I cancelled all of my appointments last week. Thank the Lord I was okay enough Saturday morning to go to Mrs. Ridgely’s memorial service. It went really well and was completely packed. Sniff.

The only other thing I did was early in the week when I still felt okay – bloodwork and a brief consultation with Smurfette. A fantastic friend at Boo Boo’s made me this super cool Florida State Seminoles Tiara for Smurfette. You heard me – a TIARA. I noticed while I was speaking at Tea that a lady in the audience had something sparkly in her hair. It turns out she runs a collegiate ribbon business and has recently been offering hair accessories. I told her I needed an FSU Noles item for my Dietician. She made this Tiara and a gorgeous burgundy grosgrain headband for J. Smurfette. Thank you so much – she LOVED it!! Look at her face. Isn’t Smurfette adorable?

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Don’t let that sweet little face fool you, though. The girl is a teeny tiny tornado. And 5 minutes after I took this picture, Smurfette done threw the gauntlet DOWN. I started verbally prepping Trainer D a week ago because my physical is coming up and my new numbers will be published and I always tell him everything so I bought a fancy scale with hand and foot sensors so I wouldn’t be freaked out when the time came for me to be officially measured at my PCP’s office. When I told him about it Trainer D’s explanation was simple – You’re in storage mode again.

Me: You mean like that Evil Catatonic State you told me about last time? I queried.

D: LOL. It’s “catabolic.”

Me: You say po-tae-to I say po-tah-to.

I admit it. I’ve had trouble with the eating again. Hence the conversation with Timmy above. He refused, FYI. I can’t think why. It was egg whites, chicken and broccoli. This is one of my tricks: you throw anything in a Magic Bullet, add liquid egg whites and microwave it. It’s packed with protein and is easier to eat.

Anyway, so I spoke with Smurfette:

S: Tell you what – you keep your calories up at X for Z weeks and then we’ll talk about bringing you down to X-Y…

Me: Can we skip straight to the X-Y part?

S: No. You have to PROVE to me that you can eat X so we can repair your metabolism.

…[later, while she’s writing down the MyFitnessPal information so she can monitor me…]

S: Tell Trainer D that he can inquire about your nutrition, but I’m calling the shots.

LOL. They totally crack me up as a couple. So, yeah, Smurfette threw the gauntlet down and her husband, Animal Muppet, informed me of the plans he has for this next round of training. I think he said something about using machines (he hates machines but uses carefully selected ones for me bc of my motor deficits), building more muscle, and the absolute necessity of carefully timed liquid protein consumption.

In December Trainer D taught me how to squat in the squat rack like the Big Kids do and he was so excited he yelled at me the WHOLE TIME. FYI he has increased my weight gradually with goblet squats or with a kettle bell and has seen my balance and awareness improve as I’ve trained with him and Coach R, so D knew I was ready for this. He’s making me learn the movement with just the bar, or with 5 lbs loaded only on one side to work on my symmetry.

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The first time I did it I got myself under the bar and lifted on my shoulders but just stood there thinking hard.

Trainer D: Why aren’t you moving? I specifically remember telling you to move.

Me: I’m trying to figure out which one is my dominant foot!!

[Tell me THAT, Smartypants.]

You’re supposed to take 3 steps back starting with your dominant foot. I have always been left-footed (e.g. I cartwheel with my left), but then after the stroke my left side got all messed up.

We had some more words and then I decided to just go for the left foot on the assumption that he’d catch me if anything happened.

And WHERE you ask, is Coach R?

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Coach R is well. This is Ed Blueberry proofreading Coach R’s book. Since I’ve been sick I didn’t see Coach R at all last week. I turn around for ONE SECOND and people start asking him to go to other countries and stuff. Seriously. Last time I was like, who’s the person asking you to go? Answer: “This guy I know from the Olympics.”

Blinks. Oh. Okay.

Yeah, so Coach R has some travel coming up, which theoretically I am very glad of, but for real – I need him to stop gadding about creation and FOCUS because I have a new project.

1.17.16

To: Coach R

From: Me

Re: NEW Plan. Chop Chop.

 

I am still ill and am thus lying in bed planning bc this is getting super boring.  Please survive this weekend bc I need you to put your thinking cap on and get on this chop chop:

  1. You invent something cool
  1. We go on Shark Tank

This needn’t interfere with our Amazing Race audition – the two schemes could happen concurrently.

So that’s what’s going on in my world, folks.

UPDATE: I’m not seeing the guys this week anyway. I’ve still been ill and I had 3 different doc appointments (pre-planned check ups) and my PCP heard something weird in my left lung, but the x-ray was all clear! I ran into Animal Muppet on Tuesday (bc Smurfette works in the same building) and after we cracked ourselves up for a while I remembered I was supposed to go see my psych so D made himself useful by reading the directory so bc I couldn’t remember what floor my doc was on. I got a good report from N1, my fabulous Neurologist today, and now I get to concentrate on planning Ed Blueberry’s 85th Birthday (the 5th anniversary of my injury).  Please pray for wisdom in this matter – I want it to either be really quiet or really special.  Thanks🙂

 

Prayer Requests:

  • ASK: that I will get over this cold completely ASAP
  • ASK: That I will achieve a higher level of health in Recalibration Phase II: that I will eat, rest, and move better.
  • THANK: that Mrs. Ridgely is home and happy, and that her Memorial went well.
  • THANK: for a lovely Christmas and New Year with my family, that I am SO much more comfortable than last year, that the bad dreams are better, I have such a great Team of professionals to care for me, and I did quite well at my medical appointments this week.\
Learning How on Amazon - it's all NONPROFIT!

Learning How on Amazon – it’s all NONPROFIT!

 

500. Happy New Year!

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Hi, everyone – I’m just checking in to wish you all a Happy New Year and tell you how crazy and fabulous it has been.

  • Mom Bjorlie is doing well at home, PTL. Thank you so much for praying for her – and please continue to do so.
  • Mrs. Ridgely is in hospice for real this time. Please pray for comfort for her and her dear family. I’m glad for her, but sad for all of us.

I took the picture above the weekend after Mom Bjorlie got super sick. Ruthie had flown to MI to be with the family, and Mommy had gone to Ernie’s house to help wrangle the Wild Ones. Ruthie traditionally takes a #beforechurchtans picture on Sunday so I took one on her behalf. Except it was just one Tan since Daddy was unavailable for the photo op.

But Daddy and I took good care of each other while Mommy was away! I took a series of hilarious surreptitious selfies as proof. Here we are in the car. (We are parked and he is doing something on his phone. Don’t worry, he’s not sleep driving).

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That weekend I flew solo at the Christmas Tea. Thank the Lord it went well! I shared Mrs. Ridgely’s story and some of my own. Here is the audio. I think it’s 26 minutes or something. See if you recognize the laughing voices J. I also explained why we skipped from volume 1 to volume 4 – and explained to the guys that they came to Tea, too, even though they’re male!! (Their books will be published sometime in 2016. I haven’t actually finished Trainer D’s, which is why his is still a T-shirt.)

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And then Mommy came home and we flew down to see Boo Boo and Co. YAY!! I was thrilled for the opportunity to speak at the Tea here, too. Despite being very ill for the weeks leading up to tea, Boo Boo delivered a beautiful and bountiful Tea Time that we all enjoyed thoroughly. Ninja Mommy was on hand to help out and I’m sure it was hilarious and gratifying to see the pattern of hospitality she established for us replicated in Boo Boo’s unique way. Yeah. Let’s call it “unique.”

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I have been lobbying for a dog but I am getting no traction re. my adoption plans. Mommy’s like, It doesn’t matter what the dog looks like, bc Tippy ain’t happening.  This was Boo Boo’s 2 cents:

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So I’m spending quality time with Skittles.

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And I’m doing my duty. This is me stretching with Coach R’s rope after a “run” at the Southern Gym and me with the Total Gym here at Ai Ai’s. Trainer D was thrilled to see me and the Total Gym, btw.

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BTW, all this Training has totally paid off. I went with Boo Boo to her gym and her teacher remembered me and said I was so much better. That’s the consensus. Another friend at church told I had “a focus” while speaking at Tea this year that I didn’t have a couple years ago, and my voice was louder, too. PTL. This is exactly the effect I was going for. I’m able to do a lot more physically and mentally – I still have to spend a lot of time sleeping and resting, but I know when and how to rest better, and am less tempted to try and muscle through a situation because I’m more aware of my limits. Basically, I’m learning to use the “active” time I do have more effectively.

Before she left, Mommy told Boo Boo like 3x that Ning needs to buy some clothes. ROTFLOL. So Boo Boo helped me buy some clothes and Mommy will be happy bc they are not all polar fleece vests. I also decided it was time to buy new sneakers. I have bought far fewer sneakers in 2015, whereas I bought ~4 sets of 3+ in 2014 bc the toe wear was so uneven from my gait. It’s getting better! Or I’m getting cheaper. You pick.

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Just kidding. It’s getting better. Thanks, guys!

And it really is just guys right now. I’m on hiatus from Ninja CMD bc I’m not doing great getting poked, and Gen just stopped doing massage. SNIFF. But I’m glad for her bc I’m fully supportive of people making life choices that are good for them and their family, and I hope she’s able to enjoy concentrating on surgeoning only for a while. And she’s so sweet, she’s like, if you need help, just say so and I’ll come help you. Sniff.

So that’s what’s been going on. I came across a few blog posts from the last couple years as I started Training with the guys and found Gen. Wow – it was crazy. I forgot how much adjusting my body had to do to get to this next level. But essentially, they got me through it. We made progress and pulled back as necessary. Smurfette intervened when things got rough dietarily, and now things are better although definitely still a work in progress. As I made gains in “running” in my machine I felt my lung capacity increasing to the point that I really did feel super loud while speaking at Tea this year. But I also felt major discomfort in my hips even though I was “running” at a relatively low % of body weight as I increased my speed. But now I’ve come to a compromise – I run faster, but only do intervals, and my hips are happy. They, and other body parts, do occasionally get very grumpy, but I have many more self-help techniques in my toolkit to use, and when I really need assistance I know I can call in the big guns.

23102221985_682a63270c_oThe biggest thing I’m thankful for right now, though, is that I’ve been sleeping so much better. I had to pull the plug on my blog etc. bc things got rough with everything happening, and Uncle Bus, then Aunty Haigouhy, and then Mrs. Ridgely, and then I started having super awful dreams about 6 months ago that required intervention on multiple levels. Plus, I realized after Tea here at Boo Boo’s that I haven’t really paused for breath since Mrs. Ridgely was diagnosed. I immediately consoled myself by writing her book even though it was so sad for me (FYI, I haven’t read it since I wrote it, although the word on the street is that it’s really good) and my arm was hurting like anything. I’d just show up and stick out my right forearm and ask my people to “please fix this” so I could finish typing. But I slept for days after tea and realized I needed the break. And then I realized that I’m not having those awful dreams that have troubled me for so long. When I say “awful,” that’s an understatement. If I have shared any details with you, thank you so much for your prayer support in this matter. I still occasionally have excruciatingly sad ones that are tinged with reality but I’m learning to embrace the sad. Or at least to live with it peaceably. Because sad things happen to all of us – and I know for sure that the sad things that have happened to me have made my heart bigger and more compassionate.

I Kings 4.29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.

But while sad things hit me pretty hard, happy things do, too. This year has been rough, but I have SO many things to be thankful for.

Happy New Year!

 

499. A Thanksgiving Update from Ann/Ning 2015

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It’s been a happy year, and a sad one, too. 

It was sad because since I wrote last year’s Thanksgiving letter we had to say goodbye to some very dear ones I considered family.  Dan UncleUncle Bus, and Aunty Haigouhy.  Sniff.  Sniffle.  
 
But it was also happy in that I found out that saying goodbye to them gave me a chance to test out my new post-injury robustness level, and I have not melted into a puddle entirely.  In fact, I enjoyed 3 entire months of low or no pain!!!  I’m strong enough for this on many levels, and I thank God for His grace and for giving me a Team of individuals who are both kind and exceptionally skilled so that they are equipped to help me through the day-to-day aspects of living in a body like this, to pursue higher levels of health, help me reach my goals, and keep me laughing along the way.  
 
This is truly one of the most wonderful miracles of my Recovery.  I couldn’t have imagined people like this.  Individually, you might call my connection with this kind of professional help a happy coincidence.  But when it kept on happening with astonishing regularity and with little or no effort on my part, I gave myself permission to have very high standards since collectively Team Tanimal has the hand of the Lord written all over it.
 
17384558241_e0d2a08d78_bThe consensus is that it has been an indisputably sad and stressful time, and it stands to reason that it would manifest itself somehow.  And although I have done well in some areas, my PTSD got aggravated.  If you recall, I was diagnosed with Delayed Onset PTSD early this year. But the great thing is that I have multiple watchful people who keep tabs on me, and the right kind of professional help for this specific problem.  The end result is that although it’s been rough, I am SO much more comfortable in my own skin than this time last year.
 
It’s a good thing, because I’ve had to armor up for the latest engagement.  My dear friend, Carol Ridgely is sick.  Mrs. Ridgely has an aggressive cancer so I consoled myself by writing a book and asking her to be my coauthor. She is totally hardcore. It’s like THROWDOWN: Carol Ridgely. God saved Carol from an awful life on the street and a heart full of hatred. He saved me from a lifetime of anger and bitterness. We’ve been tight since she got a liver transplant at Georgetown U in ‘99 when I was a freshman.  It’s my privilege now to tell her story.  I incorporated some original source material she wrote back in 1992 right after she became a Christian.  One of the best things about writing is that your really have to decide if you believe something is true before you write it down for public consumption.  This process has been so encouraging for me. 
 

It's NonProfit!! go to Amazon

It’s NonProfit!! go to Amazon

I know I say this every time, but please forgive me for my appalling correspondence skills.  I’ve had to pull the plug on a lot of things out of necessity.  I haven’t blogged regularly since the summer because I needed to prioritize eating sleeping, and breathing, but I started book writing in the interim.  I was working on Learning How volumes 2 and 3 (starring Trainer D and Coach R) but when Mrs. Ridgely was diagnosed I bumped the guys (thanks, guys!) and skipped straight to Volume 4: Learning How to Sing a New Song. It’s what I would have said to her if stamina weren’t an issue and we could just sit around for hours and talk. It’s about what happened to her, what happened to me, how it’s been an arduous road, but how it makes so much sense and how the path has been strewn with marks of indelible grace…And it’s about how we prepare for life, and prepare for death.
 
As always, everything is all NonProfit. 
 
Thank you for your prayers and support. 
 
Love, Ann|Ning
PS.  Happy Thanksgiving from the Tans!

PPS.  Now that Mrs. Ridgely’s book is published I’m hibernating again.  Bye for now!!

492. I Love Mondays

492. I Love Mondays

498. On Sale Today! A New Song – LH Vol 4

It's NonProfit!! go to Amazon

It’s NonProfit!! go to Amazon

It’s time to get your fingers ready to click on the picture above and go to Amazon.com and order Learning How to Sing a New Song – Learning How Volume 4. While you’re at it, go ahead and order my other titles, and once you read remember to leave a review! Descriptions are here, or you can just browse Amazon. As always, it’s all nonprofit, and your order qualifies for Prime and Super Saver shipping. And since it’s so early, you’ll get your books in time for gift-giving purposes!  [3 hours later] I just uploaded Kindle versions of Learning How to Sing and my Memoirs!  They both have an active Table of Contents and are priced at $8 if you like instant gratification.  The print copy is $10.  Although at least Vol 4. Song is in the match book program so if you buy the print copy you get a $2.99 deal on the Kindle version.  And my friends, you do NOT need to own a Kindle to enjoy these digital versions.  Just download the app!!  I love it.  It totally helps my eyes, which are about to fall out right now.  But I was getting impatient with all the Kindle conversion stuff so I just started pressing buttons after dispensing with the pictures for the most part.  The important part is that the books are on Kindle.  I’m only 2 years behind schedule with my Memoirs.  :).   I’d link to the Kindle versions but there’s a 12 hour conversion time before it’s “live” on Amazon so I’m just going to have to trust that it will happen because I need to go to bed STAT. Hey, I’m doing what I can over here.

I was just talking to Mommy a couple days ago about writing, and I said, If I hadn’t gotten sick, I would have never known that I could write. Well, I guess I’ve always been able to write papers in school etc. but didn’t really have anything worth writing about that people other than an English professor might want to read. But one of the funny things about this is that my grammar declined and colloquialism ramped up dramatically once I got sick. And I write like I speak, so there’s a whole lot of “voice” happening.

A week or so after she came home from the hospital, Mommy and I went to go see Mrs. Ridgely. I put a print-out of our book on the table in front of her. You DIDN’T, she gasped. Oh….but I DID, I shot back.

This is one of those times that writing was the only thing that would make me feel better. So I was up early, clutching my travel cup of coffee (a sealed mug is the only way I can carry stuff upstairs), and I went to my people to fix my arm enough so I could keep on typing. (Me to Trainer D: I said RUB it, NOT BREAK IT!!) That Monday during Stretchy Time Coach R asked me about my weekend. I thought for a moment, trying to remember what happened.

Me: I wrote a book!

Coach R: (long pause) …Okay, so first of all…who responds to “how was your weekend” with an answer like that?….

I don’t know why he’s so surprised. I totally did this to him a couple months ago, except you won’t see his book until 2016 since I’m busy celebrating Mrs. Ridgely right now. Sometime in August during Ladder Time I casually mentioned, Oh, yeah – we’re writing a book.

Coach R immediately bought in. That’s why we get along so swimmingly – he lets me have my own way most of the time, except when I might hurt myself, e.g. when he caught me “running” at the maximum incline. When I emailed Trainer D saying we were writing a book however, he immediately messaged me saying, Are you serious?

YES, of COURSE I’m serious, D!!!

Honestly. That’s how I roll. You should know that by now.

Trainer D and I get along swimmingly, too, but the tenor of our interaction is *cough* different *cough*.

I finished Coach R’s book and happily placed a copy in his hands. It doesn’t sink in until you hold it in your hands, I think. It’s a vague idea until you can see it and read it yourself and can tell that it’s a marketable text. I also gave Mrs. Ridgely a pre-publication copy of Coach R’s book because it’s a great example of the co-author process. I wanted her to know I would write the book and she would have as much room to take it in any direction she wanted, but if she didn’t have a lot of energy to spare and liked it as-is, it could be released as a finished work.

Hilariously, Mrs. Ridgely loves Coach R’s book. I am so grateful – apparently it really ministered to her and she learned a lot more about my day to day experience as a result. I emailed Coach R triumphantly to inform him that the CRFC (Coach R Fan Club) just got bigger.

Happily, Mrs. Ridgely loves our book, too. It happened so fast I didn’t realize it, but it’s what I would have said to her if stamina weren’t an issue and we could just sit around for hours and talk. It’s about what happened to her, what happened to me, how it’s been an arduous road, but it makes so much sense and how the path has been strewn with marks of indelible grace. And it’s about how we prepare for life, and prepare for death.

This is the first chapter. Soli Deo gloria.

 

Chapter 1: She Was Right: A New Song

 

“I was a drug addict, an alcoholic, and I was very well known on 14th Street…”

 

Mrs. Ridgely and I had been invited to speak at the IFI Women’s Conference in April 2015. Mrs. D made it easy on us by making it a question and answer format. I was thrilled to be asked and emailed Mrs. Ridgely a few months before when Mrs. D told me she was going to be my partner.

 

Oh, Ning, you’ve done this before, but I haven’t! Mrs. Ridgely told me she was nervous.

 

I laughed inwardly but tried to reassure her as I emailed her back. Seriously, Mrs. Ridgely, I learned that this kind of life was possible because of YOU.

 

Mrs. D didn’t know this when she asked us both to participate at the conference, but Mrs. Ridgely and I go way back. She got a liver transplant when I was a freshman at Georgetown University in 1998. Her hospital room was just a short walk up the hill from my dorm so we started spending a lot of time together. She prayed me through my undergraduate course (COL ‘02), my early working life, and getting an MBA (MSB ‘09).

 

But while I was busy getting my degrees and cutting my teeth in the working world what I was really learning was what it looked like to live victoriously even if you’re sick. I didn’t learn this because Mrs. Ridgely sat me down one day and told me about her experience. It’s because I sat by her bedside as she was in and out of the hospital and watched.

 

Many of my friends who are slightly younger than me were too young to be told about the kind of life Mrs. Ridgely lived on the street before she became a Christian. So when she made her opening statement, especially the part about, …I was very well known on 14th street… I kind of just stared at her and knew that she had just managed to get the full attention of everyone in the room. I was deeply impressed that she had found a way to be frank and keep it real so graciously.

 

After her introductory remarks the rest of the conversation (about being sick and the impact of cataclysmic illness on your beliefs about God) flowed freely. I wanted to just sit back and listen to her, it was so interesting, but I had a mic, too, so I did my share of talking. But I seem to remember saying a lot of, Hey, Mrs. R – Do you remember the time…..

 

And then we’d laugh.

 

And then we’d remember there were a lot of other people there. And that we were supposed to be saying things for their benefit, not just chatting like the old friends we are.

 

We were both so glad to have the opportunity to talk about this in public. Thank you, Mrs. D!!

That was in April. I’m writing this in October. Two weeks ago we got word that Mrs. Ridgely has cancer. It’s bad. She has so much going on, and so many organs are compromised at this point, that the doctors are focusing on making her comfortable.

 

I talked to Mr. Ridgely, aka Charlie, when they first got the “unofficial” news – he told me on the phone and I was just like, So…I’m gonna pretend like I didn’t hear that because I find all of this deeply upsetting so I’m going to be in denial for a while. I’m going to hang up the phone now – call Daddy later, okay? Thanks – bye!

 

Mr. Ridgely played along because he’s nice like that. But we both knew that my denial strategy could not last.

 

It lasted 2 days. Then they got the official biopsy results and then Mommy, Daddy and I trekked our way over to the hospital to see them both.

 

I consoled myself while I was still in denial by deciding to write this book. I told Mrs. Ridgely via a garbled voicemail that we were writing a book, and when we arrived at the hospital she handed me a piece of paper with some thoughts written on it.

 

I had said nothing more than, We’re writing a book. It’s going to be called Learning How to Sing a New Song. All she heard was the word, “song,” and she was off and running. It took me a while to work up the courage to actually read what she wrote but when I did I decided that we should change the title to Throwdown: Carol Ridgely.

 

Man alive. This cancer has given her a fresh dose of life perspective and apparently she’s ready to throw it down. I’m going to follow suit.

 

Sheesh. What have I gotten myself into? I don’t know that I’m ready for this.

 

But I’m doing it anyway.

 

It is impossible to ignore the leading of the Lord in our lives – how our paths intersected when I was young, how an unlikely friendship influenced how I view illness and God, how I got sick myself and learned that this path is not for the fainthearted, and how God’s grace is truly astounding in the midst of suffering.

 

Back in 2003 my Daddy had cancer. It broke my heart. And one day I was crying my eyes out in the Ladies’ Room at Church. I’m talking ugly cry. It was bad. Mrs. Ridgely found me and was extremely distressed to see me so grieved.

 

That week a card arrived in our mailbox. She wrote,

 

If our lives were always sunny we’d never know that He can deliver you, or give you love, peace, and joy in the midst of pure pain.

 

Mrs. Ridgely told me that over 12 years ago. A lot has happened since then.

I got sick.

 

And I learned first-hand that she was right.

 

That card meant so much to me that I kept it all these years. When I moved to Oregon I cleaned my room and threw out a lot of things. But after I got sick and moved back home to Maryland I found this card – it was too special for me to part with. But as we anticipated speaking together in April I knew Mrs. Ridgely had been having a rough time of it physically and had been in and out of the hospital. So I wanted to encourage her and found this card and mailed it to her. She had no idea I had treasured it for so long. And when she received it she told me she just cried and cried.

 

She also cried the first time she saw me after I got sick. I’ll tell you more about it in Chapter 3 but for now I’ll just say I had an AVM Rupture and massive stroke when I was 30 and after about 3 months of inpatient hospital life in Oregon I flew home to Maryland. I was at church one day, secluded in a classroom since I absolutely could not handle crowds at that point, and Mrs. Ridgely came to sit next to me.

 

The tears rolled down her cheeks as she told me she was so sorry she hadn’t been able to fly out to Oregon to be with me when I was living in the hospital. I thought that was so sweet! Even though I was still very loopy at that point (it took a long while for things to settle down mentally) I knew that Mrs. Ridgely had some pressing matters of her own to attend to, and thought it was ridiculous that she should think of flying across the country, but also deeply touching that she had wanted to do so.

 

When I first got the diagnosis of her cancer I mulled over the title of our book. Was Learning How to Sing a New Song the right thing? All of my books in this series start with Learning How…. but we could take it in any number of directions.

 

One afternoon I rooted through a box of old cards I had received while in the hospital but that had been largely untouched.   I knew there were cards from Mrs. Ridgely in there and went searching for some source material.

 

I was not disappointed. There was a whole series of cards from her. Since I cannot read normally now I had never read them. But this time I got my reading glasses and pored over the cards hungrily.

 

When I reached card number three I stopped in my tracks. Here was confirmation. …How to Sing a New Song was the right title. The card was dated July 13, 2011 – a couple of weeks after I was discharged from my last hospital and came home. Essentially, this is where the real work of Recovery began.

 

Mrs. Ridgely is an authority on long-term illness. You will likely receive lots of support from friends and loved ones when you’re in the acute onset stage of illness because everyone is panicking over the urgency of the situation. Once you make it to the Recovery stage you and your family start transitioning out of survival mode, though, you look around and wonder how the world could possibly keep on turning when yours stopped.

 

That’s just how it is. People necessarily need to attend to the pressing matters of life as you come to grips with your new circumstances and realize that since you’re still alive you need to gather the shattered pieces of your existence and see what this could possibly look like going forward.

 

It’s been a humbling and daunting process for me. It was horrifying to realize that I was the only one who would ever know about and remember certain things that happened while I was still drifting in and out of consciousness. The alone-ness was terrifying.

 

But in the midst of that terrible isolation came the peace and love of God – like a gentle dove that hovered nearby until I felt confident enough in what I knew about God and what I knew about myself to put out my hand and let it rest on my finger.

 

The timing, circumstances, and severity of my injury were bad. That’s an understatement.   The word on the street is that a lot of people were angry about it. But God saved me from a lifetime of anger and bitterness not because He wrote a special message to me in the clouds one day, or fashioned a rainbow into words for my benefit, but because I remembered that Jesus Christ came to heal the broken-hearted, and I fit the bill.

 

Even though something really bad happened to me, God was trying to tell me through a myriad of circumstances that He loved me, He knew exactly what was happening, and that I could trust Him.

 

I have trouble talking about many of these circumstances publicly. They are often still too precious for me to canvass. But let me just say that these things – e.g. planting certain people in a time and place so our paths intersect – has happened with truly frightening regularity and specificity that simply cannot be interpreted as coincidence.

 

One of the circumstances I am ready to talk about is the fact that Mrs. Ridgely and I are friends. She knows how hard it is to be sick for a long time. In that card she sent me after I first got home she wrote,

 

In case you hit a road that’s not so joyful and kinda gets you down I pray these verses for you:

 

Psalm 40.1-3

{To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.}

1 I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.

2He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

3And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.

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497. Learning How to Sing a New Song

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Hi, everyone! Remember how I pulled the plug on my blog etc. so I could prioritize health decisions and stuff? Curve ball.

I also said I was working on Learning How Volumes 2 and 3, starring Trainer D and Coach R. New Plan: The guys are on hold and we’re skipping STRAIGHT to Volume 4: Learning How to Sing a New Song.

This one stars my dear friend, Carol Ridgely, aka “Mrs. R.” We’ve been tight since she got a liver transplant in 1999 at Georgetown University and I was a freshman. One week in September she was supposed to have shoulder surgery or something but the surgery got cancelled bc the docs didn’t like how things were looking in there so they did a biopsy. She has an aggressive cancer. So I was in denial for a couple days and then I consoled myself by deciding to write this book.

This is what’s on the back cover:

Carol and Ning are the unlikeliest of friends…

Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. God saved Carol from an awful life on the street and a heart hardened with hatred. God saved Ning from a lifetime of anger and bitterness after her sheltered Princess and the Pea life ended in a cataclysmic health event. But she knew that victory through illness was possible because she had watched Mrs. Ridgely do it first.

…but they shared the same need and love the same Savior.

2 Corinthians 5.17 …if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.

Mrs. Ridgely has been ill for a long time. When I got sick myself I assumed she’d continue to be around for me to talk to, laugh with, and consult regarding important things. Sigh. Barring another miracle, it doesn’t look like it’s going to pan out that way.

So it is my privilege to tell her story now. The nice people at Unshackled – Pacific Garden Mission, Chicago – sent me the original testimony she wrote in 1992 when she submitted it for their radio program. When they emailed it to me I was THRILLED. Wait ‘til you read the book. Her testimony is powerful and it’s impossible to ignore the leading of the Lord in how he brought us together as friends and to speak with one voice now about how Jesus Christ heals the broken hearted. As I worked through her testimony (I reworked it for the book) I kept on emailing her notes like, THANK YOU for doing this, etc. because it’s super hardcore and I am so grateful that she is willing to share her experience with such openness “so that others who are like I was can know that through the Lord Jesus Christ they, too, can be set free…”

Man alive, I’m playin’ with the big boys now for real.

Fasten your seat belts, kids.

This is not a drill.

The thing is, Mrs. R and I are used to canvassing very heavy topics with each other. We’ve done this since I was 19. So when we got the biopsy results and Mommy, Daddy, and I trekked to the hospital to visit her and Mr. R we walked in, I perched next to her on the bed, and we started jawing away like old times.

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite. It describes our hospital visit (the picture at the top was taken that day) and a subsequent phone conversation. I love this story because it’s so typical of my life – really serious stuff tempered with hilarious moments that make it bearable. I will share chapter 1 tomorrow (Wednesday) at which point the book will be officially published and on sale on Amazon (Prime and Super Saver Shipping Eligible). As always, it’s all nonprofit.

…In the space of a week the cancer is spreading visibly. I know this because when I called yesterday she thought I was the oncology nurse so we chatted for five minutes and I heard the details. Since I have phone talking deficits and a brain injury I am used to pretending that I know what’s going on so I just rolled with it. Who knows how long the conversation would have advanced if she had not figured it out and asked point blank, Is this the nurse?

Bahahahaha!! We had a good laugh over it. The best part was that I was totally playing along even though I was only following about 25% of the conversation. It’s my Game Face. We could have gone on indefinitely. I’m really good at pretending.🙂

I do better when we’re face to face. That way I can see your lips moving and have a better chance of really getting what you’re saying. I also developed the habit of people-reading before I got sick because it was useful for me professionally.

I was doing some major people-reading on Mrs. Ridgely when we went to the hospital last week. While she was chatting with her doctor and social worker (who, BTW, handled very difficult subjects with clarity and grace) there were some points when I wanted to run screaming from the room.

Well, I probably wouldn’t have run (I need a machine for that), but you know what I mean.

But I thought to myself, I am MUCH healthier now – I am familiar with these subjects and made my own decisions about life and death, etc. Mrs. Ridgely is doing great – she’s making sure she understands what’s going on so she can talk to Mr. Ridgely later and they can decide on what they need to do. The least I can do is sit here and support her.

So instead of running screaming out of the room I put my hand in Mommy’s and laid my head on her shoulder and prayed for help for Mrs. Ridgely to hear these things and also clarity of thought for what she needed to communicate from her end.

This is just a shell. Just a shell, I repeated mentally to myself.

After the doctor and social worker left I resumed my perch next to Mrs. Ridgely on her bed. We continued chatting away because we’re so used to it….

Seriously, please get ready to order this book. It is such a vivid illustration of God’s grace. Just look at Mrs. Ridgely’s smile in the picture above. Her joy is genuine and contagious. When I got sick she encouraged me and told me that long term illness has its ups and downs. Some days are hard. So in addition to reading our book, please pray for comfort and strength for Mr. and Mrs. Ridgely.

Thanks.

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484. THIS is why I do this.