i am rhonel

This blog shares my sacred journey through tragedy.  I was called for audacious hope whilst grieving a living loss.  And I had to choose – will I be better or bitter? 

I sit next to him on the couch, this man I am blessed to call my husband.  Tears are running down my cheeks, my hair is oily, I am dressed in my oldest rags and have no make-up to hide behind.  I am completely, desperately shattered.

“I simply love life too much to be this unhappy” I exclaim.  “I cannot accept that this is now our life” I cry.  And in that moment, I hear myself.  And it dawned on me that I needed to make a choice.  I needed to choose happiness…

That was November 2014, at my weakest and at my lowest.  I started on the superficial level, practicing self care.  Spending more time on my appearance.  And every time I looked in the mirror I told myself: “You deserve to be happy.”

Slowly but surely I started to believe this.  I realized that even though we have lost so much, I can choose how much more we are going to loose going forward.  And I boldly refused to give up happiness.  My daughter deserved a happy mommy, she deserved a happy home.

One of the hardest realities in life is that we are responsible for our own happiness.  We would like to blame our circumstances, the traumas and the tough times for being unhappy.  And sometimes those around us can even understand our depression and exhaustion.  But what if  circumstances remain unchanging?

On that day, on that couch, I chose happiness.  And it put in motion a series of positive changes in my life.  Nothing in the apparent circumstances around me was different, but I was different.  It was an inner contentment, a deeper connection to my maker and His love for me.

As I said, one of the hardest realities in life is that we are responsible for our own happiness.  But in actuality this is one of the best realities in life.  Imagine we had no control over our own happiness.  How desperately unfair and sad that will be.  But in truth the choice is ours, the control in our own minds, hearts and hands.  It starts with you…Choose your happiness today.

Choose happiness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I see wisdom in my eyes.  I see the hurt and suffering of the past more than four years.  I see the depth of the lessons learned and the loss of innocence it once held.  I see a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend.  I see frailty and sadness.  I see strength and perseverance.  I see audacious hope, resilient faith and unconditional love.  I see the brokenness of being human.  I see the vulnerability of motherhood.  I see imperfection.  I see the perfection in being imperfect.  I see a story of healing through desperate tears.  I see a strong believe in tomorrow, even though life shakes every foundation of today.  I see me…I AM RHONEL

I see mee

Last year November we received the best news from Juneldè’s neurologist. Her EEG was looking so much better that her current anti-epileptic drugs (AED’s) were too strong and thus not therapeutic anymore. That being said we needed to work out a plan to start a tapered weaning process with her Benzodiazapam (Ativan). Together we decided to start in January 2018. Anyone who have ever tried to wean a high dosage of a Benzo (as is Juneldè’s) would know the intense symptoms of withdrawal.

In January we started lowering the first dosage and four days later were seeing acute withdrawal from Juneldè. She began screaming constantly, sweating profusely, vomiting, spasming, not sleeping and in a state of complete angst and confusion.  For six days we suffered along with her (although she definitely suffered the most) and on the fifth day she experienced a grand mal seizure. That was beyond scary and in fear I contacted the neurologist.  His advice: “Stay strong, push through, don’t go back”…

On day seven she calmed down, finally eating and sleeping again.  From there we saw more awareness and expression from her. This was such a welcome result after a scary, confusing, painful time.

Last week the time came for us to yet again lower a dosage. I was apprehensive, finding reasons to postpone the process.

Then a friend introduced me to Robin Sharma’s Podcasts. And I was blessed with his advice on confusion.

He spoke about how society dictates pain and suffering as something that is wrong, something we need to escape and flee from.

However, he proposed that pain is a doorway into true power , suffering is a tool to strength.  Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding (As in The prophet by Kahlil Gibran).

I was thinking about Juneldè’s withdrawals and asked myself then what can possibly be the value of these confusing times? I realized that clarity comes from confusion. A period of breakdown always precedes a period of breakthrough.

In a moment of  insight I decided to hack into the societal mindset that pain and suffering is something we need to run away from. Instead these things might be growth unfolding.

Bravely we dropped another dosage of Ativan, and together with Juneldè we followed great advice. “Stay strong, push through, don’t go back”…

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t want to write this piece. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty about their lives and kids and let’s call it by its name – normalcy. But when chatting to a friend I knew it needed to be said.

I shared with her that the first day of school every new year is tough on me. Logging into social media is as traumatic as being a witness to a terrible car accident. You cannot seem to look away. You cringe on the inside, you struggle to breathe, it seems to happen in slow motion but you cannot make it stop. Yet you keep looking on…All the smiling faces, new stationary, bags and school uniforms. And then a week or so later the athletics. Vibrant, mobile kids running their hearts out.

And then I feel like such a fraud, I am not someone you should be inspired by. There  is envy and jealousy in my heart. A deep yearning and grieving loss. I wish I can send my child to school. I wish I could have been shedding a tear at her independence to be in grade 3 allready. And then feeling a great relief at finally being able to get into the school routine after a too long holiday.

Yet that is not my reality. That is not true for us. Instead I had to see my child struggling through a drug wean. We have to lower her Ativan dosage this year in a tapered approach. And I have to hold my screaming, vomiting, spasming, sweating child that is going through acute withdrawals.

Expectation, envious observation, comparison…These are the root of discontent and unhappiness. Not expecting your reality to look like someone elses, observing your life for what it is and not what you wish it should have been. And never ever comparing yourself to the small glimpses you see of others’ lives;  this outlines the necessary steps towards contentment.

In a sense the first day of shool taught me a valuable lesson, and it set out my curriculum and homework towards self development this year.  Stop comparing and stop envying – as easy as that.

Today, exactly 5 Years ago our lives changed completely and utterly. Drawing a definitive line between our before and after…Since that day we have slowly learned to walk in darkness. At first the darkness was overwhelming and the need to escape even more so. Most of my days were spent in a desperate push back to when I last saw the light. When last I was able to breathe…The darkness enveloping my thoughts.

During that time I was constantly screaming in the darkness. Crying in the darkness. Chaotically loosing my way…

5 Years later the darkness moved first from dusk and then to dawn. And now I am able to see the Light. Not because the darkness disappeared but because I learned to quietly sit in the darkness. To breathe in the blackness of it. And to walk only when able to focus on the Light.

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She is turning 8 years old on Thursday. And I am looking for a gift. I wish she could tell me what she wants, what her interests are, what she dreams about. The reality is that Juneldè is freed from this materialistic life of wants. She lives a life far above anything money can buy.  And yet I continue to aimlessly browse through catalogues; searching, searching, searching…Because Christmas is also coming up and I want to give her the perfect gift!

And in a moment of epiphany I am reminded of the recent Christmas production I was a part of, and the words I repeatedly shared with the congregation.

Christmas is the perfect season to embrace your imperfect life!

I remember all her birthdays and our Christmases since January 2013, the first year accompanied by immense sadness and an overwhelming urge to hide away. The bright lights, Christmas trees, jingle bells and laughter an almost mockery to my grieving heart. And every year since our Decembers seem to emphasise our brokenness and the strict contrast between our before and after.

I don’t know what 2017 held for you. Maybe you too want to push a fast forward button towards the new year. Or maybe you want to ignore all imperfections and act out a picture perfect season.

The reality is that our strive towards perfection is a lie, and imperfection the truth.  Perfection is an unobtainable dream…

Christmas is however the perfect season to embrace your imperfect life!

This year I want to focus on my imperfect, perfect for me, family. I have bought small gifts, that will be exchanged with big love, acceptance and joy. I am looking forward to celebrating Juneldè’s birthday, not sad about what could or should have been, but content with what is…I plan to allow God’s perfect peace to carry me in an imperfect world.

Christmas is the perfect season to embrace your imperfect life!

 

What if?   For a long time I lived by these words.  What if the accident never happened?  And then the follow up line:  “She should have started grade 1 this year”  or “She should have been walking, talking, eating, seeing, smiling, laughing”…  So many should have been’s and could have been’s stealing my joy from me.

And then inevitably these thoughts took me to a place of immense loss and sadness.  I felt robbed, my dreams invaded.  Bitterness like lead in my soul.

One day my best friend introduced me to a song by Laura Story, challenging my thoughts and stubborn self-pity.  It is a song called Blessings.

It starts with the question:  What if?  And immediately I was captured.  Here is someone who understands!  But then she continues:  “‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops?  What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”

I slowly started to accept the truth in these What if’s. Gaining wisdom from the deep understanding that what is, is what should be.  And only what we have, is real. Everyday is perfect in its imperfection.  Everyday is rich in its lessons, and joyful in its gifts.

What if your life is exactly as it should be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always wanted to be a “please, God” family. You know, those people you look at and silently pray, “please, God make me as happy/ beautiful/ content/ privileged as them. The Pinterest’ and Stock images’ family, almost blinding you with their good fortune. I assumed that that will loudly proclaim God’s care and provision. The perfect family, with their happy smiles and rich travel experiences.

And then one day, within two minutes, we morphed into the “thank you, God” family. You know, the ones you look at and thank God that you don’t have to face their challenges. Their lives make you thankful for your own privileges. And even if you wake up a bit depressed, when you come across their story you relook your life and the veil is lifted to see God’s protection and grace in your own life…

It forced me to relook my own meaning making about life. Is it true that our struggles and “rock bottom” times carry the meaning that God isn’t providing? Is it true that only during our times of easy, comfortable living can we convey God’s grace?

I ponder about the story of the poor fig tree being reprimanded by Jesus for not carrying fruit. But it is clearly stated that “it was not the season for carrying fruit”…It only started making sense to me the day when my own life entered its coldest winter season. And I realised that Jesus expects us to carry fruit even “out of season”.

I decided then I wanted to be the “Thank you God!” family. You know, the ones who can thank God even out of season. The ones whose inner happiness and joy is in strict contrast with the imperfections of everyday life.  I am still a work in progress, and will probably continue to be. And so we became the “please God!” family. You know, the ones who daily pray; Please God teach us to be fruitful – in and out of season!

I see myself next to her ICU bed, with protruding tubes and an array of medical interventions, and I see my smile. I remember the despair, shock and utter disbelief in my heart. However the moment the camera is pointed towards me I put on a smile. It is a reflex almost, cultivated through years of classical conditioning. This photo appeared in the newspaper shortly after Juneldè’s accident.

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I continue to page through my Facebook photos, beautiful images of moments in time. Some of them representative, some definitely not. This one was taken two days after an armed robbery at our home. My mom and I, together with Juneldè, was held at gunpoint for a terrifying afternoon. My safe haven was invaded by ugliness and I was fearful for our lives and bodies. Yet, two days later we celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday at a beautiful affair. My smile hides the confusion in my heart, the feelings of self pity and rebellion. I was tired to the bone. In less than two years I have faced my daughter’s drowning, the consequences of her profound brain injury, TWO armed robberies (Feb 2014 and Oct 2014) and an early miscarriage.

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I sometimes jokingly say that in times of dissatisfaction with my life I just open my Facebook wall and page through it. I see an almost perfect life, of smiling happy people. And then I feel better…What a wonderful profile I have!

It is important to remember that that is true for every public profile, Twitter account and Facebook wall we see. It is carefully chosen, full of conditioned smiles. It is not meant to be deceiving or fake, it is just representative of the best parts of ourselves.

We sometimes look at the photos of others, envious of their lives. Just remember, our lives are mostly lived in the unfiltered, unposed, tearful, real moments of every day. The moments of messy hair, sweatpants, laughing until you cry, and crying until you laugh.

Your life is not a Facebook profile displayed on a digital wall…

I love traveling and exploring and was thrilled by the opportunity to visit Jordan and Israel for ten days. What started out as an opportunity to see new places became so much more. It was a pilgrimage to perspective, a journey  to find some left behind pieces of myself again…

On the first day of our tour, as I bopped in the buoyant water of the Dead Sea I realized that even the most uninhabitable of places have a purpose. This hyper-saline body of water doesn’t allow any life to grow, but has amazing healing properties. With my skin tingling from the immense salt, whilst rubbing rejuvenating mud all over my body, I rediscovered the part of me that finds purpose in the brackish of places and times.

At the church of annunciation as I stand infront of the cave that Mary called home, I can almost hear the angel’s message to her. She was only 14 years old, an innocent virgin, and the weight of humanity lay on the baby to be born from her. Inside the cave stands an altar with the Latin inscription: “Here the Word was made flesh”. My heart weeps for this mother whom also knew the immense pain of seeing ones child suffering. In the broken pieces of all the mosaics from around the world, I see the beauty in the brokenness. The legacy of a promise delivered. The gratitude for a baby born to save me. Admiration for a mother whom boldly declares: “I am the Lord’s servant”. And in my heart echos this age old promise “I too am the Lord’s servant”.

As I walked the rest of the week in the footsteps of Jesus, visiting the places I have read about in the Bible, I felt my soul and spirit catching up with my body. I reconnected with myself, the person I became and the life I have.

On the sea of Galilea, traveling in a wooden boat, I praised and worshipped to my God whom calms the storm. As I looked out onto the quiet water, I realized that I truly love my life. And any day if given the choice, I will choose my kids and husband again. Our storms are part of our history (His Story), our hope and faith part of our legacy, and our love a vulnerable gift to be treasured.

 

 

We all know the analogy of the egg and the carrot in hot water. The egg becomes hard when placed in boiling hot water and the carrot becomes soft and mushy.

But during my boiling hot water times I didn’t want to be the egg or the carrot.  Becoming hardened did not appeal to me, but becoming soft was not an option. My life and daughter needed me to be strong and resilient. So what was the alternative?

I have come to intimately know the alternative as “being tea”.  The idea of a tea bag, with its unique flavor infiltrating and changing the hot water, appealed to me.

The more I thought about this analogy the more  it resonated with me. Every tea bag is so distinctive, singular and special. And once it is placed within hot water it changes the water in such a way that it can never be just water again. It is now tea…

My biggest realization was that the tea bag resembles God. My Father that keeps me together, through whom my flavor filters. He is not on the sideline, a mere spectator during my hot water times. He is also not the one orchestrating my challenges and dipping me in the boiling water. He is actually with me in the water, He is the one that holds me together. He protects me from falling apart. And together we make tea…

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For a long time I hid from God. Like Adam and Eve I tried to hide and cover up this burden in my heart, this embarrassing ugly truth. I was angry at God. In a big way…

Slowly but surely these feelings took over my thoughts and life. And a new emotion took its place – shame. Who am I to be angry at God? How dare I question Him and His will in my life? I believed then that He was Good, right?

One day it all boiled over, I had no pretense left. In a pitiful display of anger I smashed almost all of our plates in the barren pool that changed our lives forever. I stood there next to the empty hole and didn’t hold back in sharing all my questions in prayer.

“I trusted you to take care of her, God? I prayed and believed and showed faith and testified yet she is utterly broken. Where are you God? Where were you that day? And where were you when the setbacks happened, the ARDS, the grand-mal seizures, the Rotavirus, the liver failure? How can you allow all of these things to happen in our life. I do not trust Your protection anymore! I don’t understand prayer or faith or hope!  What is the use of prayer and fasting an obeying?”

It is harsh, I know.  But in that moment of utter despair a beautiful thing happened- I surrendered…

I surrendered to all I don’t understand, I surrendered the responsibility of changing outcomes with my faith and prayer and works. I surrendered to a God that loves me unconditionally.

I still don’t understand…Life is complicated and unfair and confusing. Life is hard! But I know now that God doesn’t stand on the sidelines of my pain. He is not a puppet master who chooses some people to suffer in order for others to grow. He doesn’t sacrifice a three year old little girl in order to show His glory. He doesn’t pick the most beautiful flowers first or chooses the strongest amongst us for the biggest life challenges.

Instead He carries us when we are weak. He gives strength and peace that doesn’t make sense. He suffers right along with us and our tears are His tears. He ís Good indeed. All I need is complete surrender…