Happy Thursday, friends!
I have a very special post for you today on The Blessed Life—as I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I love reading books by friends. Especially books by friends who continue to inspire and bring hope in a world that is consistently pushing us to react in fear or anger. Kristin Neva is one of those friends. I got to know the Neva family through my church in Racine. Throughout some very difficult years, I have watched as Kristin and her family have continued to rely on God in incredible faith. Kristin is sharing a few lessons from trials she’s encountered in her life, and how they’re mirrored in her newest book, Snow Country. Read this post, get the book, and give her a follow on Facebook, too!
Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Isn’t that true?
I was married, 32, with a four-year-old daughter and a nine-month-old son. My husband, Todd, was in the prime of his career, and we were taking annual vacations to Florida and elsewhere across the country. We lived in a 1925 bungalow, which we were renovating room by room. My greatest emotional stressors were coming to terms with driving a minivan and adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom.
But Todd had a weak arm, and the chiropractor wasn’t offering much relief. He feared it was a pinched nerve, so he went to see a spine care specialist. It was something much worse.
Todd was diagnosed with ALS, a disease characterized by progressive muscle weakness. It results in total paralysis and eventual death, usually in 3 to 5 years. There is no treatment. No cure. ALS progresses so quickly in some people they are gone in a year. We wondered if our baby boy would even remember his dad.
Now, six and half years later, Todd has outlived the prognosis, though he is almost completely paralyzed. I am his full-time caregiver, as he needs help with his most basic needs. He is still able to breathe and talk, but he’s already starting to choke on occasion. Eventually breathing will get difficult, and then the end will be near.
This is not where either of us imagined we would be at this time in our lives. Life is hard, however, I’ve been surprised by a few good things that have come from this pain.
Pain magnifies the sweet parts of life.
Food comes to life when there are competing tastes. Sweet-and-sour stir fry. A spicy fish taco with mango salsa. And one of my favorite treats—a caramel granny smith apple with salty pecans.
I like caramel. I like apples. I like pecans. But all together, the flavors explode. The salt magnifies the sweet. The sweet accentuates the sour. Each flavor is more intense because of the contrast.
I use the term “come to life” because that’s just how life is, at times sweet and at other times bitter. And there are times in life when we have both the sweet and the bitter, all jumbled together, like a caramel granny smith apple with nuts.
Although it’s hard to stomach the sour parts of my life, the sweet parts are even sweeter.
We love birthdays. We love watching our children mark another year of memories of their dad. Todd helps our daughter with her homework. He listens to our son read to him. We have family movie nights and attend hockey and basketball games at the local college. And I savor it all.
So even if you’ve been served you a big plate of sour, take time to find the sweetness that is still there. It may be sweeter than before.
Pain fuels creativity.
While I find myself savoring the sweet parts of life more, I’ve been surprised at how my emotional pain has awakened my creativity.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Art is often created as a truthful response to pain.
In response to our pain, Todd and I wrote, Heavy, which tells the story of the first year after the diagnosis. It’s helped people who felt alone in their suffering, and writing the book was cathartic for us and good for our marriage.
And writing Heavy sparked my creativity. A little over three years ago I started writing fiction. The first in a series of Copper Island Novels was published in December.
Snow Country is about Beth Dawson, a young woman who is jilted three weeks before her Christmas Eve wedding. She escapes sunny California for the snowy Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where a young State Trooper challenges her to let go of her rules for Christian courtship. Her domineering mother chides her to stay single and wants her to talk her ailing grandmother into moving to Los Angeles.
The book has been described as a romantic comedy, but it’s also story of family, faith, and friendship. It even deals with some pretty heavy topics like loss and suffering. Beth learns a lesson that I have learned in my journey which brings me to my next point.
Pain helps us love.
In Snow Country, Beth and Grandma Lou sit at the kitchen table sipping tea and watching chickadees pluck seeds from the bird feeder and carry them off to an overgrown apple tree. In her emotional turmoil, Beth can’t see the goodness of God. Grandma quotes Jesus, “Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
“You’re feeding them,” Beth retorts.
“We are his hands,” Grandma says.
When we suffer, our hearts are connected to other people who are suffering. It is often those who have experienced personal tragedy whom God uses to support others. It is through suffering, that compassion is born.
Later in the book, the tables are turned. Grandma get some devastating news, and she fails to see the goodness of God. But Beth, having gone through her own turmoil, is there to comfort her grandmother. Beth quotes from Jesus, and grandma retorts, “You’re feeding them, Beth.”
“We are his hands,” Beth says. Life for her has come full-circle.
So if life has happened to you while you are making other plans, savor the sweetness, create beauty, and most importantly love.
Kristin Neva is an author and blogger. She co-authored Heavy, Finding Meaning After a Terminal Diagnosis with her husband, Todd. Her first novel, Snow Country, A Copper Island Novel, is available on Amazon. She blogs at NevaStory.com and KristinNeva.com.