Be still. What does that even mean? I have been through rough seasons in my life that taught me a lot about being still in the storm, but what does it look like to be still in every day life? I am probably the worst person to ask. I’m a planner, and a do-er, and a stresser. Summer was just another opportunity for me to plan and do and be anything but still. In fact, the plan for the summer was quite literally based around staying busy. In my mind, being still would result in more chaos than we could manage. I am shocked to report that, despite being very busy, our summer was actually running quite smoothly-the plan was working!
It’s not often that I feel like a mom that is killin’ it (I know I am not alone in that!), but I did this summer! I’ve been walking around with theme music playing in my head because I was so killin’ it. There was much more to come on the summer schedule before we spent our month apart. Then came Monday morning. I had been up since 4:45 am due to a promise I made my oldest to go to the gym with her three mornings a week. The summer schedule had us headed to the zoo that day which meant another fun filled morning of locating bathing suits, applying sunscreen, packing lunches, finding shoes, having breakfast, brushing hair, and keeping our chaos under control. We were not running as smoothly as we had been due to some weekend grumpiness spilling over into our Monday. Before I knew it, I had found my wit’s end and everyone got to see it. I went into the bedroom for a breather and texted David that I needed a break. It was just one of those things you say in the moment. I knew a break was coming in July and I was going to make it till then, but I still said it: “I need a break.” Little did I know, I was actually craving some of that “Be still” that I didn’t quite understand. After I collected myself, I went back out and we finished getting pulled together and somehow out the door on time! The break would wait.
We had a great time at the zoo then came home. The killin’ it theme music resumed playing in my head as we powered through the day. David came home early because he had been battling a chest cough for a week and still hadn’t been able to shake it. It was taking all the energy right out of him. At 3:40, I was folding laundry to my theme music when my alarm to take Hope to violin went off. I called for her to get ready and I got all but two bedrooms worth of clothes put away while I waited. I told myself I would finish when I got home.
On the way home after dropping her off, I was mulling about dinner in my head. I couldn’t decide between having leftovers (because we had a literal ton and I didn’t want them to go bad) or firing up the grill to make the chicken that was in the fridge and getting close to passing its prime. I was having way too hard a time trying to make a plan when I got a sharp pain in my belly. I am not a stranger to belly pain so I didn’t think much of it. As I drove though, it was getting worse. By the time I got home, I felt like I should lie down. Now this is unusual: I had two piles of laundry waiting for me to put them away and dinner to get started, but I actually thought about lying down. I went inside and straight to the bed to just take a minute. David was already in there since he had not been feeling well, and as someone who knows me, he knew something was off. He asked if I was okay and I assured him that I was and that I just needed a minute. I told him I was cramping but that I figured it was probably due to the round of medication I had just finished up. I looked it up and confirmed that cramping was a side effect and that it would ease in time. With that I decided I needed to stop being a baby and I got up to start dinner. I decided on the leftovers since they would be easier and I threw the dish of lasagna into the oven. I assessed the rest of the leftovers and decided none of them needed to be started yet.
As much as I tried to ignore it, the pain kept getting worse. I continued telling myself that between the side effect of the medication and the usual stomach issues I have, this was normal and would pass. I even solidified plans with someone for the next day and plans for Friday. Soon enough it was time to pick up Hope. In my stubbornness, I told David I was fine and I would go grab her. On the drive there, the pain increased to the point that I was making audible sounds with each pang and fighting back tears. I have a high pain threshold so I started to wonder if maybe there was more going on than a side effect. When I got to the church where Hope has lessons, I texted her teacher to send her out. I didn’t feel like I could even walk in. Hope could tell as soon as she got in the van that something wasn’t right and was sweet the whole way home. This time, I walked in and went straight to the bed to curl in a ball. David followed me in and, in typical Ashley fashion, I promptly told him that it smelled like the lasagna may burn soon so someone needed to turn off the oven. He went back out to do it and then returned to tell me we needed to head to urgent care.
I fought him because I hadn’t tried everything yet. The last thing I wanted was to go all the way to urgent care, pay the money, and have them tell me to go home and poop! I gave that a go and returned to the bed in the same state. David again asked if I wanted to go to urgent care and I again refused, reminding him about what we had read about the medication. I assured him it would pass and asked what he wanted to do about dinner. He asked me if I knew I was audibly moaning and asked me if I was crying. I told him no, but the truth is that was only because I was doing everything in my power not to. He was not fooled and told me to just stay there and rest while he took care of dinner. I didn’t argue with that.
A few minutes later he returned and told me we were going to urgent care now. I still tried to protest, but he wasn’t listening anymore. I threw on a dress that wouldn’t touch my stomach much and threw a bobby pin in my hair. I knew I would be back before long so I didn’t grab anything additional. When I came out of the bedroom, I found that David had gotten the kids set up at the table, Grace was heating the rest of the leftovers and Hope was making drinks. The big girls were set to hold down the fort until reinforcements arrived. I felt this all so unnecessary.
We got in the van and drove to the urgent care. My pain was coming in waves-it never went away, but got more intense and less intense. Every time it was high I thought, “maybe this is a good idea”. Every time it lessened I thought, “I know they are going to tell me it is nothing. I hope this doesn’t cost too much. I just hope they don’t say it’s gas. That would be embarrassing.” We were at the urgent care only long enough for them to send us to the ER and when we arrived, I was having a wave of intense pain. They didn’t even send me to the waiting area, but instead asked me to sit there at check in. As I sat, I felt my body start to shake and I was again trying not to cry. By the time I was back to a bed, the wave had passed and I was back to making comments to David about how they were going to tell me it was nothing. He kept telling me to stop worrying about that because we were already there now.
After a few tests showed nothing, I was feeling more and more like this would end in a question mark. By this point, they had given me something for the pain, and the lessened pain only increased my feelings that it was nothing. A CT Scan was ordered and off I went for that. I returned to the room and felt like I was waiting to be discharged, but the PA came in a bit later and told us they had found the problem: Acute Appendicitis. Me, in my limited knowledge, thought that “acute” meant small, nothing serious; but in the next moment he told me I was being admitted and would be having surgery very soon. Wait, what?? I let it slip: “I don’t have time for that.” The PA laughed and said, “No one does.”
It slowly began to sink in: it wasn’t in my head-the pain was real. I had appendicitis and needed surgery. If David hadn’t done so much to take care of me, or had given into my stubbornness, I could have had a ruptured appendix. I was going to have to cancel on my friend for the next day (a get together we had already rescheduled a few times). I was going to have to cancel my plans for Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday. I asked exactly how long was I going to have to change my plans and was informed me that I should expect my activity (as I know it at least) to be greatly altered for a month-a month! And I could probably expect not to even leave the house for much for a week. And then it hit me-there was something else important to me in this week that I would be missing and the tears came. This isn’t something I am ready to share here in the blogosphere, but it hit my heart hard. With this, the young PA wasn’t really sure what to do so he reassured me one more time and left the room. I sat there as all my plans got sucked out of the room, my breath with it. Some of the plans were easier to let go of than others. I could feel the chaos, but not so much the beautiful. And despite being stuck in a bed, I was anything but still.
A few moments later, a doctor we had not met yet walked in. He said he had overheard what had upset me and just wanted to encourage us. He shared a personal story that centered around letting go of plans. He was so kind and I wasn’t even his patient. It was beautiful empathy from a stranger. We thanked him; it meant so much to us both. He left and it was just David and I. David held my hand and asked if I was scared. I told him I was feeling a lot of emotions, the least of which was scared, but I really just wanted him to hold me for a minute. He did, and then my brain started again: what about the kids? do they know? who will stay with them? what did I have planned for dinners? were they easy enough for someone else to make? I’m staying overnight-I need things-I need to make a list. I need to let people know we had to cancel plans. I had to cancel a doctor appointment. I had a prescription to get filled that I couldn’t forget about. My amazing husband told me to take a breath, stop worrying, and hand him my phone. Sweet, but I couldn’t quite let go that much.
Amidst all the contacting and taking care of things I was moved to a room for the night and informed that my surgery would wait until morning. I asked David if I was selfish to ask him to stay with me since he was still battling his own thing and he told me I didn’t have to ask because he was staying. We didn’t know what time the surgery would be so he didn’t want to chance not being there for that. He went home to grab some things while I answered the 15,000 questions you have to answer when you are admitted.
We spent our most uncomfortable night together as a married couple. By then, my pain had centralized to the location of my appendix and the shooting pain was there, meds or no meds. Plus, David was sick and trying to rest in a chair that didn’t recline all the way. As I lay there unable to sleep and looking at the face of that man who loved me enough to put himself in that position for me, I thanked God. I thanked Him for giving me a man as stubborn as I am. I thanked Him that this time, David’s stubborn had trumped mine. I thanked Him that they had found the problem in time. I thanked Him for all the people already rallying to make sure the kids had what they needed and that we would too when we returned home. I thanked Him for the amazing two and a half weeks of summer we had had-so amazing that I had been in shock it was going so well. I thanked Him that this happened when taking things slower was an option and that it wasn’t during our upcoming anniversary trip! I thanked Him that it was me and not one of our kids. I thanked Him for my life and for getting to live it and for all the joy each day brought me. I thanked Him for changed plans. I thanked Him for all the glory bringing parts of this I couldn’t even see yet, but I knew were coming. The longer I lay there, the more things I thought of to be thankful for, and in a moment where logic would say thankfulness should be way down my list of emotions, I was overflowing with it. It may not have been by choice, but I was finally being still.
After a near sleepless night, the surgeon came in to introduce himself. He explained the surgery and what I could expect. He ended by telling me that he didn’t want me engaging my core for at least a month. No lifting, bending, tensing….yelling. Wait, wait, wait. I asked him if he realized that he was asking a mom of 7 to not yell for at least a month. In a family this size, yelling isn’t always anger; sometimes it is just to be heard! He chuckled a little and just said, “Wow!” We all laughed and I started praying that second for the ability to not yell for a month. I, like many moms, have attempted many tricks for curbing the tendency to yell, but doctor’s orders was one I hadn’t tried.
Before I knew it I was in pre-op. David was cracking jokes, taking pictures of my with my stylish hairnet, and entertaining people with stories of our home. I could hear the patient through the curtain next to me busting a gut over my concerns about not being able to yell in a house with seven children. Pre-op to op to post-op passed in what seemed like minutes. David helped me reach the benchmarks I needed to pass for discharge so I could get home in time to see the four before they left for their time with their other dad. When I arrived home, like all caring and concerned children, they were most interested in seeing my new scars. I showed them off to a chorus of “cool!” and “gross!” I sat still and smiled at my beautiful chaos.
It is now day three post surgery. This is hard. It is difficult for me to be still, especially when those around me are not. I want to contribute, I want to help, I want to do. Everywhere I look I see something that needs to be done, but I can’t do it. Sometimes my body is telling me I can’t so it’s a little easier to resist, but there are also moments where I feel stronger and have to make myself sit still. I can tell this part will only get harder as I continue to heal. This is all further evidence that this is the only way I would get this kind of rest. My usual days of “rest” are spent reorganizing a part of the house, or cleaning something rarely cleaned, or tackling a project because I have the time. Now, I am making promises to my husband every day when he leaves for work that I will sit, and not pick anything up, or bend, or do. I will be still. I will rest.
This morning I woke up with a migraine and could barely function. I am not prone to migraines, so was taken aback. I tried a shower and eventually found my way to the couch. I laid there watching as David ran kids through showers, made breakfast, brushed hair, refereed, and held everything together. He still had work to get ready for today and there was nothing I could do to help him. I just kept thanking him and feeling like a burden. I was being still on the outside, but not in my spirit. When I realized that and allowed myself to really be still, there was the beauty again right in front of me: A few years ago, days like this would look so different. My life was a long series of powering through, no matter what, because it was the only option I had. I learned to rely on God for strength for every moment and at the end of each day I would thank Him for just getting me through another day. Now I have a helpmate who never sees me as a burden, and a family that works together to fill in the gaps when someone needs help. God gave us each other and this life of beautiful chaos that paints such a lovely picture. I sat back and watched it all swirl around me and relaxed, knowing it was okay.
I know the next couple weeks are still going to be rough as far as me remembering to rest, but I am praying for the ability to be still in these moments. I’m praying for the ability see the beauty around me, and continue to overflow with thankfulness as I soak in all that I can see when I am still.