Saturday, November 5, 2016

Celebrating A New Vision

By Linda Grupp Boutin

     My dog, Star, turns 11 years old on her birthday in January. She has begun showing some signs of age. When I look into her eyes, I can see cataracts clouding her vision. When she can't see me calling her, sometimes she cannot hear me anymore. Worst of all sometimes she seems to have small seizures losing her balance and occasionally falling. The one sense she can rely on is her sense of smell. She recognizes who I have visited when I return home by the scent I carry home from hugs I received.

     When I think about newborn puppies, their senses are limited at first too. Strongest is their sense of smell which helps them find their mother and her milk supply. Their eyes are sealed shut for a few days up to about 10 days. Their ears do not hear well at first either. It feels like it is all part of a plan to shield them from sensory overload when they are first born and vulnerable to so many things. Their senses coupled with their inability to walk protects them from hazards they aren't ready to face.

     I believe that God controls the plan and set it up intentionally to protect both young and older animals from hazards in our world. I have seen this happen with people too, both young babies and people as they age. Parents protect their offspring while the little ones learn to navigate in our world. Our healthcare providers attempt to keep the worst of the ravages of aging from preventing us from living a full life. They have developed hearing aids, glasses, canes and walkers and a great variety of aids to help us manage the physical problems that happen with aging.

     My eye doctors have told me for many years that cataracts had been developing in my eyes. Both the ophthalmologist and optician had noted my loss of vision. I asked them when I should have cataract surgery to correct the situation. They simply told me that I would know when the time had come. For years I functioned fine seeing, driving, and reading despite the cataracts. Then this spring I knew the time had come. I felt like I was living in a continual fog bank. Things that had always been easy became increasingly difficult. Writing a check for the correct amount for a bill became close to an impossibility. I called the ophthalmologist's office and they set up a date for my first cataract removal in early May. As my date for surgery approached, I became more and more afraid of what might happen to my sight if anything went wrong.

     The hardest part of the surgery turned out to be the nurse setting the intravenous line in my arm for medications. The surgery itself was a snap and over very quickly. For the rest of the day until the next morning, my eye was bandaged with a very bulky covering to protect it from me scratching it in my sleep. I couldn't wait until we returned to the office the next morning. Gary sat with me while the nurse removed the bandaging layer by layer. When  she removed the final eye cup, I strained to see if my vision had changed (or been lost altogether!). Amazingly the fog I had lived in had completely lifted from the surgical eye.
Enjoying a lovely Southern California evening
     The nurse watched amused as I discovered the changed and improved vision I now enjoyed. She gave me a quick eye exam and found my far vision had improved to 20/20. Gary chuckled watching me walking around the room examining everything with my new vision while we waited for the surgeon to come in. I wonder how many physicians have the pleasure Dr. Hamilton had with how excited I was from the results of my surgery. And it all happened overnight! He explained to me that the lens they had replaced my clouded lens with contained the prescription for my glasses which is why my vision had improved so much.

     I celebrated for over a week as I saw everything with a new clarity I had not enjoyed for many years. At church, our pastor had explained how God's vision was so much more expansive than ours. He sees the best in us even when we carry guilt around with us like a treasure. The Lord sees beyond our limitations to His limitless way of  seeing our potential. He places challenges in our path to mold our characters to a pleasing way that fulfills His Plans for us. My new vision gave me just the smallest of insights into how much more God sees in us than we ever see for ourselves. Now my challenge is to take this new sight, to trust and follow Him more closesly to fulfill His Plan for my life. I trusted the ophthalmologist with my vision and the results were fabulous. How much more when I put my trust in Our Creator will He open my eyes to His wonders?
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Celebrating Miracles, 23rd Psalm and Ileostomies

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Thirty years ago in April, my life spun out of control. I had lived with the severe digestive problems caused by pseudo-obstruction for the last 7 years. Every day I spent at least 12 hours per day connected to an intravenous pump and gave myself all my nutrition through a permanent IV catheter. Complications abounded along with the debilitating symptoms of this rare motility disorder. My intestines went from paralyzed to working backwards to spiraling forward at ridiculous speed. My regular doctors worked in San Diego County, but the specialists at UCLA oversaw the intravenous nutrition. My complicated lifestyle impacted my husband every day, but he stayed beside me throughout it all.

So the doctors in San Diego decided to try one more test to look for anything else to be wrong with my digestion. Something that they might be able to cure or at least treat. This test left my large intestine rock-solid full of barium. As the pain became increasingly impossible to bear, Gary took me back up to UCLA for a consult. This time the recommendation came for surgery and reworking my intestines to include an ileostomy. Since I worked for 5 years as a nurse's aide, I knew exactly what they proposed and I wanted nothing to do with it. God, however, had another plan.

After a week in the medical center with nothing working to remove the barium, the surgeon came to my bedside on a Friday afternoon. "I need a decision whether you will agree to the surgery or not, Linda. I will be back on Sunday morning to put you on the surgical schedule for next week if you agree." I understood that they had tried all other options and if I didn't agree to surgery all they could do was discharge me.

When Gary came to see me that evening after a week of work, I explained to him what the surgeon had told me. He asked me what I would do and I had no answers for him.
 We talked about it, but still I could not decide. After he left to go to my brother's house to sleep, I continued to wonder what to do. I accepted Jesus as my personal savior 5 years before, still my path seemed impossible to tread. I wished I had my Bible, but Gary had forgotten it in his hurry to come and visit after a week of separation with him working in San Diego.

I laid in pain, calling out to God for answers. My prayer over the previous 7 years had always been the  same. "Lord please let me eat!" Every time I despaired, every time I wanted to quit, every time I rode beside Gary in the car to another ER visit, my prayer remained the same. It is said that God puts all the words to our prayers even as we struggle to find a way to verbalize our need.

So I called out to the Lord and reliably He found a way to answer. My roommate's family had stayed beside her all day. They left late and shortly thereafter a private duty nurse entered to sit with their mother all night. When the nurse entered, I noticed that she carried a large satchel which I guessed contained knitting, books, and other things to occupy the long night hours. When she passed by the foot of my bed, I dared to ask,"You wouldn't happen to have a Bible with you, would you?"

"Well course I do honey, would you like to borrow it?"

"Oh yes!" And soon I followed my mother's advice to open the Bible anywhere and just start reading. An answer to my problem would make itself known as I read. And when the Bible fell open, I found myself early in the Book of Job. I turned to Chapter 1, Verse 1 and began reading. As the time passed and I read more and more of Job's trials, I realized I wasn't the first person on earth to endure torment. Some of his trials I related to immediately, like losing everything in life. Pseudo-obstruction had robbed me of my work, strength and dreams. Relying on pain killers to endure the unbelievable agony of this disease no longer worked. My body now too tolerant to receive any relief from the medical profession's strongest medicines. The only escape came with sleep and I had no desire to sleep my life away.

Sometime during the early morning hours while reading, I fell into a deep sleep and when I awoke, the nurse and her Bible had disappeared. I envisioned her gently lifting it off my chest and whispering a prayer to help me through. Saturday brought another visit with Gary and all the normal routines of hospital life. I watched the hours ticking by and tried to sort through what I had learned about Job. He never cursed the name of God, no matter what the provocation. I resolved that I could do that too.

Another private duty nurse entered our room near midnight, much like the one who lent me the Bible the night before. More boldly I asked her if she might have a Bible with her. And one more time God provided. I leafed quickly through the parts of Job that I remembered, discovering that the best had been saved for last. I turned into the next book and found myself in Psalms.

So unfamiliar, yet the words so comforting in the storm surrounding me. I found myself drifting to sleep with the rhythmic, sing song of the early Psalms. But then I came to the 23rd and I used the bed controls to sit up straighter and pay attention to the words. And all of the sudden I understood what God was asking of me. He wanted my trust. He wanted me to set aside logic, He wanted me to set aside the world, He wanted me to forget what I thought I knew. He wanted me to submit to Him and His Plan.

Mom said the Bible would help me decide and now I understood her words at the deepest of levels. God had placed me in this circumstance at the finest of medical centers with the best that the team of doctors could provide. All that was left for me was to trust in His plan and not my own. I continued reading the Psalms and drifted off to sleep with the words resounding in my mind. 

On Sunday morning I awoke with the Bible again vanished, but confident that I had a decision for the surgeon. In a way, it really was no decision at all because all I was doing was trusting that God had me exactly where He wanted me to be in that very moment. The very best "belly surgeon" stopped by my bedside shortly after I opened my eyes.

"I need your decision," blunt and to the point. Surgeons in my experience kept an emotional distance from their patients.

"Put me on the schedule and do what you need to do," I answered.

The next two days of prepping went by in an eye blink. Gary had returned to San Diego and another week of work. The hospital routine filled my days and nights. I clung to the promise that "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."  Rarely could I remember the other words except "He makes me lie in green pastures." You just don't see much green in hospitals, or any other color for that matter. I envisioned vibrant greens swimming below bright skies of blue. Better days with laughter and tears, good and bad, and balance that I craved to have returned to my life.

Gary took the day of surgery off and returned to my side. He cuddled me as we waited for the surgical techs to come in their dusky green uniforms, masks and hair nets in place, looking like nothing I ever wanted to see again. The anesthesiologist greeted us in  Pre-Op and asked me how I was doing. I told him I was scared and he promised to take care of it. 

Surgery is a strange kind of nothingness. I was there one moment, then everything I anchored reality in life to disappeared as the drugs took affect. But waking up afterwards is a nightmare and waking from this surgery was worse than the 4 previous surgeries put together. As my clouded mind searched for consciousness, I saw Gary. But that pain from the surgery immediately demanded that I search again for the peace of sleep.

We were practiced at this and he knew when the surgical nurse brought medication, I would soon be back asleep. He kissed my forehead and told me he would see me again on the weekend. He and my brother Greg had decided that Greg would come to be with me the next day after work. I floated in a sea of pain, one time touching my abdomen and proving to myself that the surgeons had done the deed. A strange appliance, plastic and foreign, rested on my right hip. I thought I knew pain, but all the nurses could do to help was sedate me. I begged the doctors for an electrical stimulator called a TENS unit to distract me from the pain.

It arrived quickly and now I had a small measure of control over the pain. I could adjust the controls to the electrical pads along the incision. All my insides had been removed, inspected and dissected from the parts that had no muscle tone. It felt like all inside me had gone through a rock tumbler, but the polishing had not worked. My brother came by the next evening and tells me I beat him at Acey Duecy, but I could not even remember playing the game much less winning.

The next morning the surgeon stopped by with orders that I had to get up and get that barium out of my intestines. The nurses helped and I went to work as ordered. Slowly but surely, the barium began to come out. And unknowingly, my miracle began to manifest itself with every passing day. The nurses made me cough, get up to use the bathroom and even begin walking in the hallway, IV pole dragging behind. 

One morning the surgeon stopped in and asked me how I felt. "I am hungry," came my ready reply.

"Hungry?" he asked in disbelief.

"Yes, hungry!"

"I wouldn't let you eat yet if you were normal," he said dismissively.

Day after day, our interchange remained the same. My sister-in-law, Vicki, called and she asked me what I wanted to eat. I craved baked chicken and mashed potatoes.

"Don't you worry, Linny, I will make that for you as soon as you get out of the joint!" Vicki could always be counted on to make me laugh.

Greg strolled up and down the hallways with me in the evening, but Friday was the day I anticipated most. Gary would be there tonight after fighting his way north through the traffic.

After a week, the surgeon relented. "You can have some clear liquids, but take it easy will you?"

And so I did, but oh did those liquids taste so good. The nurse stopped in shortly after the tray  arrived. Proudly I showed her that the ileostomy was functioning and would need emptying soon.

It took two weeks post-surgical for me to come to realize the miracle the Lord had wrought in my life. The dreaded ileostomy provided the answer to my prayers, "Lord just let me eat, please." Challenges faced us still, but joy came through the very act of partaking of the table the Lord laid before me. And the very next visit to Tom and Vicki's house found a feast awaiting me of baked chicken and mashed potatoes.

Yes, I was hungry. Hungry to take up my life again and return to school for my BA in Communications. Hungry to renew my strength through studying taekwondo eventually earning my black belt. But most importantly hungry to embrace the miracle the Lord worked in my life and praise His Name endlessly.

The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. Thirty years of living with an ileostomy seems like the smallest of prices to pay for His Healing Touch.  

View a video of my story as I spoke it at CoffeeBreak in 2012 at
Video of the speech is available at:
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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Celebrating Tonight's Walk

By Linda Grupp Boutin

A journal question, a quick response:

"Journal on your passions serving the Lord. Is this something that is transformational or is this a gift God is developing in you? How has this passion revealed itself in your walk with Him?"

Amazed by my walk that evening with my dog, poetry sprang from my heart, into my mind and flowed out through my pen. Passionately, transforming my defeated thoughts, a gift developing without a doubt.

Tonight's Walk

Orange-frosted, gray-black hills,
Magnolias backlit and silhouetted
Dying rays of the sun.
Stillness and peace, day comes to a close.
My dog, Star, trotting beside my knee.
All of this God has given me.

Sunsets followed by sunrise
Each. Three score now with no
Defeat. Walking in His garden
True. God reveals oh such heavenly hues.

Wondering how does He see it
All? Groves and forests, seas and leaves
Fall. Never misses sparrows wingbeat.
Never misses a harvest replete.

All this God shows to me tonight!
Snickerdoodles, friends, writers and all.
Salted caramel floating above. Gifts
Transformed, sometimes removed from
Grasp. He has given, but how about you?

Driven to watch, to learn, to see.
Open arms are waiting for me. Saviour
Standing above, so fine. Thank you,
Lord, for gifts divine.

Talents flourish, thoughts
Abound. Words pour forth, maybe
Something profound. Justly
Rewarded when used for His
Glory. Submit to find His
Passion borne above. 

Star just before our walk.

Good thing that I wrote it the moment I felt the words. My week had been hard, the month even more so. Health challenges, life troubles, a pet and a sister lost for life. No one ever said life would be easy. So I went to my writing group and wrote down this poem. Feeling peaceful, calm and joyful in the presence of those that I love.

Then Friday mid-afternoon arrived. Violence overtook Paris, shots rang out. Living safely in the United States, I close my eyes and mind to a world wracked with pain. Civil war in Syria reigns for five years straight. The Middle East dried out with drought leading to shortages of all that I take for granted in this quiet cocoon. Insulated from famine, no electricity or water. Shots ring out to remind me that suffering in the world surrounds us. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flee, hoping for help from the western world. Trying to save their babies, children and lives, some are just angry and want to lash out.

French flag

The anger boils over, the killing begins again. My lifetime spent worried when the wars will touch me. Weapons in Cuba, Korea-North and South, Vietnam, kidnappings, assassinations, Grenada, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, 9/11, Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bin Laden, Iraq and Iran again. Numbness overtakes, I cannot assimilate it all. Hurt and pain, death and destruction reign. I turn to the source of comfort that saves all of faith.

So now the world rallies to try and help France. Memorials are collecting while mass is celebrated at Notre Dame. World leaders consult and candidates debate what to do next. And history repeats, mankind does not change. Fears panic and feet stampede. Peter, Paul and Mary sang about it when I was a child. "Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing..." John Lennon sang about war too, "Imagine."

So I imagine a world with no war or strife. I pray for peace during my lifetime.  I walk in the sunset my hand held safely in the Lord's.