Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Real Life Stories: Michelle Of Just An Ordinary Family

It doesn't mean that I don't experience difficulty, it just means that I believe whatever God has planned for my life is better than what I have planned.

The back story:

I belong to a group of lovely bloggers on Facebook. I recently shared this project of mine with them and the response was overwhelming. So many wanted to share their own Real Life Story. Michelle was one of the first to say that she wanted to do it, and is one of many that I will share from this group. I'm very excited to get this one out there to you all. Shall we begin?

TJB: What does having joy mean to you? 

Michelle: JOY is different than HAPPINESS. To me joy means choosing to make the best of your difficult situation. Joy is a way living, a way of thinking, a way of being. For me, my source of joy comes from knowing my Heavenly Father and that He is in control of my life so that I don't have to be. It doesn't mean that I don't experience difficulty, it just means that I believe whatever God has planned for my life is better than what I have planned. Even in my struggles I try to choose joy because I know in the end my story can help bring the glory back to Him.

TJB: What kinds of things bring you joy? 

Michelle: Oh that is an easy one! There are the obvious ones - my husband brings me so much joy. He gives the best hugs, is so helpful to me and I have loved watching him shine in his role as a dad. My girls (ages 3 and 6 months) bring me incredible joy. Their smiles, watching them grow, when they giggle together. Being their mommy has been the best blessing. Then it goes to my extended family and my friends. Then there are simple things like a really great latte, the sunshine, walking outside, reading a book, cuddling in bed, singing along to a good song in the car with the windows down, flowers and dogs.

TJB: Describe in detail a time or event in your life where you dealt with a mountain that seemed impossible to climb. 

Michelle: There are two instances that I think of right away and one leads into the other. The back story is that I have congenital hypothyroidism. Thankfully, I was born at a time where it was caught in the PKU test as a newborn. It never really effected me until I became a young adult. For some unknown reason, it started to go out of control. What that means for me is that when my thyroid gland is overactive (meaning it is producing too much hormone) I feel like I am on top of the world! I can accomplish a whole list of tasks in the first hours of being awake. 

It also causes hot flashes, racing thoughts, weight loss, anxiety, heart palpitations and insomnia. When my thyroid is underactive, I feel like a 90-year old woman trapped inside the body of a young woman. It takes insurmountable energy just for me to swing my legs over the side of my bed and stand up. Extreme fatigue, listlessness, memory loss, depression, lack of motivation, sudden and crazy weight gain (13 pounds in 5 days), puffiness in the face and neck, and I miss my cycle.

During this time, I felt so frustrated. Besides having incredibly low energy, and falling asleep in the most random places, I was trying to keep a front at work like everything was okay. I desperately wanted to lead a normal life. Two memories that stick out the most are being in the hot tub with my brother-in-law at our cabin and he said he wanted to take me on a hike to the top of one of the local mountains. I wanted to cry. I desperately wanted to go along but I knew that once we set out it wouldn't be long before I was extremely tired and would probably lay down and fall asleep. (This actually happened walking from the village on the ski hill walking home to our cabin.) 

Right then and there he laid his hand on my and prayed for me. It didn't turn out to be a memorable hike, but it was a memorable conversation and I was so struck by his willingness to listen and pray over me. That same summer my little brother was getting married. An exciting time! My husband and I were asked to emcee their wedding. It was an exciting and big day as it was, naturally anyone would feel tired after all the preparation and hype of the big day. For me it was dangerous. It happened at the height of my illness. I felt self-conscious in my puffy body standing in front of family and friends as an emcee. I was so thankful that on the day of I was able to push it all aside and focus on my brother and sister-in-law and just enjoy the day.

It was these events that planted the seed of starting a family. That year my husband and I both felt like we were in no rush to have kids. We both knew we wanted them but not in the near future. It wasn't until my cycle completely disappeared and my doctors were throwing words around like "infertility" and "trouble conceiving" did we start to think that maybe we shouldn't wait much longer. It had been almost a year since I had a cycle so my doctor told me it could probably take about a year or so to conceive and not to worry if it did. 

In September we made a big move to a new city. That October I got my first period in a year. Most people groan when they reach that point in their cycle but my husband and I were rejoicing. Something normal was happening! It was just a few weeks after that, after one period in a whole year, that we conceived our daughter. It wasn't supposed to happen that fast but it did.

After having my daughter we chose our method of birth control and carried on with life. We decided to stop using birth control when my daughter was 10 months old. I was still nursing, although infrequently, but nonetheless still nursing. So it wasn't a total surprise when I didn't regulate again. And I have never been very regular to begin with. But after my daughter stopped nursing and it didn't return, I knew something was up. Once again, my thyroid was doing a pendulum swing from over active to under active. 

This was especially hard because now we were actively trying for another baby. We knew that I could get pregnant, and we knew the exact reason why I wasn't getting pregnant but it didn't make the following months any easier. As each month passed without any sign of a cycle I cried. I cried so hard many nights. There were a couple of times that there was a cycle, but it wasn't consistent and afterwards when it didn't come back I was always convinced I was pregnant and would take multiple tests. 

It didn't help that people around me would exclaim, "You haven't had a period? You're totally pregnant! Go take a test right now!" All the while knowing full well that I wasn't and I really didn't want to get into it at the Olive Garden over soup and salad. We moved back to Canada and continued with testing frequently my hormone levels and visiting specialists and hoping for something to happen. By this point, it had been over a year and my medical team knew how badly I wanted to get pregnant. We were trying everything we could think of to regulate my thyroid.

To say my faith was challenged was an understatement. I was angry at God and I wanted him to know. It became increasingly harder for me to pray about my situation, I felt sad all the time and it was rubbing off on my family. I was a miserable person to live with. I felt like if I could just have this one thing everything would be better. I had tried hard to choose joy but by the fall of 2013 I just felt so miserable and angry that I didn't even try to choose joy. Isn't that sad?! I feel embarrassed even admitting that.

In early January I was feeling a few symptoms of PMS. After a couple of weeks the symptoms persisted, actually increased, but there was no sign of a menstrual cycle. Finally after a few weeks I thought I should take a pregnancy test just to take the thought out of my mind. I hadn't had my period for three months so I thought there was no way I could be pregnant. To my complete and total surprise two lines showed up immediately. 18 months later and I was going to have the baby I was hoping for!

As I said early, joy is a choice, happiness is an emotion. I also thought that this baby was what I needed to make me feel joy. I was so incredibly happy and I rode that high for a while. But soon the morning sickness set in and it was just as bad as my first pregnancy. I was still angry at God, I was still bitter that it hadn't happened in my time and I still had questions without answers. The happiness faded as my toddler would pat my back while I was being sick in the bathroom. It would return when I heard the flutters of her heart beat or saw the little jelly bean on a monitor but my true deep down to my core JOY was yet to be there. My faith had been rattled incredibly.

Over time it slowly began to return. Soon, my happiness turned to lasting joy. I was able to worship freely, pray openly and my faith was being restored. Even thought it didn't happen in my time, I knew God's timing is always better. We wanted 21 months between our kids and we got 39. We had made a big transition of moving back to our home town, our toddler was out of diapers and almost completely self-sufficient. Why did I think I knew best?

TJB: That sounds like the type of situation that breaks your heart, and tries everything you've got. How did you make it through? 

Michelle: Thankfully I had the distraction of a big move and also a very sweet toddler. Her and I would have some fun adventures together. Even though my heart was heavy, she was always a pleasant part of my days that kept me going. My husband is my rock. He would hold me as I cried, pray for me and do his best to listen as I lamented. 

TJB: Did you choose happiness as a way through it? If so, what things did you do to bring happiness into your challenges? 

Michelle: If I am honest I would try to bring happiness but I would fail. I tried distraction and talking to people about my thoughts but it was very difficult for me to feel happiness consistently. Happiness is not a constant emotion, and sometimes I would let other emotions like sadness and frustration get the best of me. I would try to be outside in the sun whenever possible and do things that made me happy like play with my daughter, go on dates with my husband and spend time with friends. 

TJB: What did you learn from those experiences? 

Michelle: That it is much easier said than done to actually choose joy. Joy that permeates the soul is not something that we can wake up with every morning. It is not brought to us by family, friends, food, exercise or adrenaline rushes. True joy comes from knowing Jesus Christ personally and seeking His will for our life. Trusting that this life is not easy but we are always working towards a greater purpose.

TJB: How do you choose Joy now? (If you do.) 

Michelle: Now I choose joy but carving out time for myself. I love to be social but being alone is something that I need. I read, journal, praying and daily spend time reading my Bible, take a bath or just be by myself. I need to take care of myself so that I can invest in the relationships around me. If I don't, I see a direct correlation to how joyful (or not) I am to the people that mean the most to me.

TJB: Michelle, a big thank you for sharing such a hard situation with us. I'm so happy to hear that despite all that pain you got your two children, and are able to find positive things in your life. It's truly an inspiration.

 To catch up with Michelle outside of this post, you can find her at any of the links below: 

Pinterest // Instagram:

++ For questions or comments for me or Michelle, please post below!

[Photo Credits: All sent to me by Michelle, and all taken by Michelle Cervo Photography]

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