Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"It Was Enough" - Probably My Most Important Post Ever

This perhaps may be the most difficult post I will ever have to write, or at least it is the most difficult one so far. I've had so many reservations about writing this over the last few months because it's so personal, but today God overwhelmed me with an urgency to do so, so here I am. Please don't misunderstand the words that follow - I am not looking for sympathy or anything else, I just need to say this in hopes that it may help someone else. This is very raw, and from the heart, and if you can't handle truth and honesty, then don't read this.

The last three years have been the most difficult of my life. It all started in January of 2010, while I was 6 months pregnant with Levi (by the 10 month standard), when I suffered what I later found out was a gall-bladder attack, the first of many that would culminate into the worst pain I've ever felt in my entire life on the night Levi was born. In February, during a routine prenatal visit, I was sent to L&D (labor and delivery) because my BP (blood pressure) was ridiculously high. Hours later it stabilized and they sent me home with a BP monitor and partial bedrest. Not much later, I was put on full bedrest (well, other than bathroom privileges) and a prescription as it were for bi-weekly NSTs (non-stress tests to make sure baby was alright). I kept suffering gall-bladder attacks (which had still been undiagnosed at this point) until one fateful Wednesday when the pain was so severe it had me throwing up and sobbing in a ball on the floor of my bathroom. I barely made it to the phone to call Tyler, and he rushed home and brought me to L&D. They admitted me and gave me morphine, which made the pain exponentially worse, and then sent me in for an ultrasound. That's when they found the gallstones and decided to keep me overnight until they could manage my pain. It seemed like nothing worked. They took two blood tests, one right away and another in the morning, which is why by the grace of God they discovered I had HELLP syndrome, a very rare disorder involving your blood and liver requiring almost instant removal of your baby in order to save your life.

They sent me by ambulance to Walnut Creek, where we delivered Levi two months early after three days of no food, barely any sleep, and the most intense pain ever. Labor pain was nothing compared to my gall bladder pain. Nothing. Seriously, I fell asleep between each contraction because I was so extremely exhausted, but the contractions felt good compared to the excrutiating pain that followed each one as my gall bladder flared.

Levi was alright, though not great, and had to be kept on an artificial breathing machine for over a week just to stay alive. I hemorrhaged and almost died - it was so bad that the nurse I had following delivery told me that she couldn't sleep all night she was so worried about me and honestly was surprised I made it. But by God's great goodness I did, and though I required a two-unit blood transfusion to make up for all the blood that I had lost and another half a week in the hospital to recover, I'm still here. =)

We stayed in the NICU for nearly two months, two of the emotionally worst months of both Tyler and my life, but we did come home with a sweet, healthy baby boy in the end, so praise God for that! I will never be the same after all that.

Fast forward a year and a half, and I got an overwhelming urge to get pregnant again. And this was after a "scare" a few months earlier that brought me to my knees in fear that we might have gotten pregnant, because I just didn't think I could do it again. But God changes hearts, and with much prayer and deep consideration we decided to try again. I think after that, Tyler sneezed on me and I got pregnant, because it was seriously the very first try that worked. I know how blessed I am in this, please understand this, because I have so many friends who aren't so lucky.

We were excited and a bit scared when we found out we were pregnant, as you must imagine one would be after everything we went through with our first, but we found comfort in our God and the fact that He so immediately answered our prayers for another child. By the time I hit 16 weeks things started going downhill, and by 19 weeks I was miserable. My BP was out of control, and my Dr. was extremely worried - so much so that he couldn't hide it from his face. He sent me to L&D and the Dr. there was less than comforting - she told us to get prepared to lose our little one, because it just did not look good and they might force us to make a choice to save my life by aborting our child. There is no way on earth we would have done that, and thank God we weren't forced to make that choice! I was so terrified for our son - I couldn't handle losing him! I was so worried that things were going to go even worse than they had with Levi, and in a way they did.

I suffered infection after infection during my pregnancy with Owen, ones that caused such extreme pain and discomfort that Tyler was forced to work from home to take care of me and to top it off, the antibiotics would only work for a week or so before the infection would come back. My blood pressure was soaring, but labile (meaning it would get extremely high but then after a few hours would stabilize) so I was put on medicine, partial bedrest and twice weekly NST's again, and all at the early stage of 26 weeks. The nurses said I was one of the very, very few patients that they had ever had come so early to them, and trust me, it wasn't much fun going to the Drs. so often, but what can you do?

It was during this time that I decided Isaac would be Owen's middle name. I was so afraid he wouldn't make it, that I wouldn't make it, and that I would never hear his laughter that I thought the name meaning "He laughs" would be my prayer request to God. Plus, it reminded me to try to find the joy in the situation, to try to be like Job who in his anger and his misery did not sin against the Lord by charging him with wrong doing.

I was miserable! Honestly, more miserable than I had ever been during my pregnancy with Levi, and I had almost died with him. I couldn't understand why God was putting me through this. Why He was putting our family through this. I was in constant pain, so much so I could hardly walk, and by the time I hit 26 weeks I was praying God would put me into labor just to get the baby out of me. And I've been in the NICU... I know what I was asking for. I cried myself to sleep night after night, and by 32 weeks I started getting braxton hicks. I was elated. They continued off and on, getting stonger and stronger until they were strong enough to bring us to the hospital. By 33 weeks I was dilated 2 cm, and by 34 I was dilated 3 cm. I couldn't wait to go into labor. But the contractions kept coming harder and harder without dilating me any more, and my blood pressure kept rising higher and higher, and my Dr. kept sending me in to be induced with L&D just sending me home 4 to 6 hours later that I finally broke down. I became so angry with God that I honestly, and this is where I am going to get really raw, I honestly debated taking my own life. It was that bad. Every time I went in to get induced and then got sent home still as pregnant and in as much agony as before broke me down farther and farther until I couldn't take it anymore.

I was so angry with God. Why would he do this to me? Why torture me with the hope of these contractions and then have them amount to nothing? How was any of this pain, any of this agony and discomfort and inability to take care of my family working for my good? Doesn't God say he will work all things for the good of those who love him? This wasn't love. This wasn't for my good. I was so bitter and angry I could hardly stand it.

Finally, finally, my Dr. got angry with L&D after one more failed attempt on his part to send me in to be induced and he told them that they needed to get it done. What were they waiting for, he asked, for me to get HELLP and die before they induced me? So at barely 36 weeks, they finally brought me in and admitted me to be induced. Praise the Lord! I was induced at 4 pm that day, they broke my water at 8, and I immediately began intense labor after that. As a side note, Fentanol is a joke. They gave that to me to ease my pain, and it would work for about 15 minutes, but then nothing. Then you had to wait another hour and 15 before your next joke. It was worthless.

I was in so much pain, but hey, that's labor, right? About 15 minutes towards the end, they lost Owen's heartbeat. The Drs. and nurses really started freaking out - you could see it written all over their faces. They brought in the NICU doctors and a host of other nurses, it was just as crowded as when Levi was born. We kept asking if our baby was okay. I pulled a nurse to me - "Is he alright? Is he going to make it?" Deliberate silence on her part. No one would answer us. They told me to push. They told me to push harder. "We have to get him out. We have to get him out NOW! You need to push!" But no matter how hard I pushed he wasn't coming out fast enough for him. We were terrified. He was clearly in distress and both Tyler and I just wanted to sob, but we had to focus. They brought out the vacuum extractor, attached it, lost suction, attached it again. They started making leeway on him, unwrapped the cord from around his neck and finally, finally got him out. He cried. Oh, how he cried. I don't know if I've ever felt more relief than what I felt in that moment, but atleast he cried. They whisked him away to make sure he was okay, and indeed he was. He was two days short of premature, but weighed a very healthy 6 lbs. 13 oz. and was in great condition. God is so good!

But in the process of the pregnancy, the infections and the vacuum extractions they damaged me. Or rather, my muscles damaged me. I've been in so much pain ever since. I've been to physical therapy for months, on Vicodin on and off (mostly on) since he was born, started postpartum depression meds a few months ago to help deal with the pain and anxiety from it (which have helped a ton, might I add, so if you've been debating them and still haven't tried them, I really would give them a shot) and now... We've spent hundreds upon hundreds on medical visits and prescriptions. Now I've had two cortisone shots. The first one was great (I mean aside from the blood curdling scream at getting it done), but this last one, oh man. I haven't been the same since. I honestly feel like I'm dying. Sorry if I sound over-dramatic. Trust me, I'm not. It's just been awful, that's all. It's the worst pain I've ever felt, save for labor and gallstones. I can hardly walk. My whole body feels like it's on fire. My hip and back hurt tremendously, enough to send me to the ER. The pain is stabbing, throbbing, raw, on fire, dull and really every other sensation of pain I've ever felt all rolled into one. It hurts all over. I think only my head doesn't hurt, aside from a negligible headache. Even Dilaudid doesn't get rid of the pain. Valium helps a ton, but I can still feel it and it still hurts more than it should, not to mention it basically makes me a worthless person who can't move, it relaxes my muscles so much. But I can tell it's helping, because it seems to make it a bit better each day I'm on it, since my muscles are finally able to relax after a year of being in constant strain and pain. Once again, Tyler is staying home taking care of me. Once again I'm struggling with feelings of anger, bitterness, helplessness and hopelessness towards God. Oh, and to top it off, what we thought was an answer to prayer, the chance to refinance, that we were so thankful for and praising God mightily for, fell through. Now what? That would have helped offset the cost of my treatments, but clearly God has other plans in mind.

I'm trying so hard to suck it up and just get over it - to push through the pain because what if this is how I'm going to feel for the rest of my life? After all, it's already been over a year and a half of constant pain, save for a few good days, so at some point I just have to learn to live with this and not allow it to control my life. I have to put on a happy face and pretend that I'm not crying inside and pretend that I don't want to just curl up in a ball and sob. I have to find joy and go out and enjoy my family and friends because we only get one shot at this life and I don't want to waste it.

But... Why? Why is He allowing this? I know He has the power to heal me, so why doesn't He? If I could only touch the hem of His robe...! Today, in a crumpled, sobbing heap of misery and despair I cried out to God. "Why are You doing this?! Why have you given me beautiful children, a wonderful husband, a beautiful house and amazing family and friends and are not allowing me to enjoy them or be the person you want me to be to them - a helper? Why give me talent and a desire to use it for you, a desire to serve you, and then take away my ability to do so? God, where is Your love? Where is Your faithfulness and compassion? I don't want to serve a God like You, if You aren't a God of love. If You have no love for me, then you aren't worthy to be served. I feel like I'm losing faith in You Lord! I can't do this any longer. I know these feelings are sinful, that You don't deserve me talking to You this way, but I'm not Job, I'm not without sin and I JUST CAN'T DO THIS! I'm so sorry for speaking to You this way. I'm so sorry and yet I'm just so done with all of this. What am I supposed to do? How are You possibly going to use this? God, I just can't take this anymore. Take this cup from me, it's more than I can bear. Why are You not a God of love? Why are You not acting out of love for me? Why, God, why?"

And you know what? In all my accusations, my bitterness, my disgusting words to a God who is worthy of all honor and glory and praise, amidst all that I said, the sin and the hate and the pain, I heard Him say in a still, small voice, "It's okay. I love you."

And it was enough. =)

Deut. 31:8 "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." I find this to be every bit as true for us today as it was for the Israelites back then. I will trust in the Lord with all my heart and all my strength and all my soul, for He alone can get me through this, to the praise of His glory and strength.

Monday, October 29, 2012

"Tower Falls" Expressionist Style Yellowstone Waterfall Painting

I've been having fun lately trying out a much looser style of painting in hopes of 1) being more painterly in my strokes and expressive of my emotions, 2) learning more about color mixing and combinations 3) being capable of finishing a painting in one sitting (because boy does that feel exceptionally good and with little ones, it's nearly impossible to find time to paint!), and 4) eventually getting accepted onto my favorite painting blog of all time, dailypainters.com. Getting on that blog has been one of my major life goals the last few years, as I absolutely love that website! My other major life goal that I've had for a few years now is getting into the Marcus Ashley Fine Art Gallery in Tahoe. I absolutely love that gallery, not only because of the type of art they exhibit, which is absolutely gorgeous, but because of the feeling of the gallery itself and the way that the staff is so willing to walk around with you and talk about the art and the artists who make it. If you are ever in that area, you have to check it out - it will not disappoint you! And if not, they have a fantastic website as well - definitely worth your time to visit! (I provided the link above)

So as I said before, this particular painting was very exciting to paint, and I thoroughly enjoyed using large strokes and partially mixed colors. It's not a style I would do exclusively, because I really find my identity as an artist in the style that I do for "The Secret Lives of Animals" series as well as my more even more whimsical paintings like "If I Could Give You the Moon," but I do absolutely love how it makes me feel to paint this way, and I am sure you will be seeing many more like this one in the weeks to come. =)

"Tower Falls"     8 x 10      Acrylic on Canvas Board

Friday, October 12, 2012

Work In Progress: "The Oyster Thief" - Part 2

I've added another layer to the rocks, basically just by painting in the darks and defining the edges of each one. I still need to add further definition to them and then add in the sand speckles, as well as to make some look as if they are in the shadows, but it's coming along nicely so far. I'm also still debating if I want to put in my little pink anemone things or the two shrimp I had planned to add onto the large rocks. I don't want to clutter this painting up too much, and I'm worried it might. Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Work In Progress: "The Oyster Thief" - Part 1

Here's my newest addition to "The Secret Lives of Animals" Series. It's actually kinda funny - I started this painting on a camping trip years ago, as a realistic portrayal of an octopus, but after finding it again, I realized not only was it all wrong drawing-wise,  but the octopus was way too off center to be on his own. So I've re-purposed this painting, by just repainting the whole thing, and now I love it! I obviously have a very long way to go on it, seeing as it's only really got the first layer of underpainting done, but I'm excited to see this one progress and can't wait to see it finished!

Basic Underpainting

I've added in the first layer of rocks here

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Work In Progress: "Caught Like A Deer" - Pt. 2

Last night I had my mind set on painting, and luckily everyone else decided to go to bed early. So I started on this again, laying in the first layer of background, and having started on the trees earlier in the day. I plan on blurring the edges of the tree in the middle, in order to push it back and to draw less attention to it. So far I'm loving the quality of light I'm getting (sorry the image is so bad, it's from my phone which has a horrible camera on it) and am hoping I can keep the painterly quality of the background as I go along. I'm really striving to create dappled light as it comes through the trees, and have been dry brushing glazes of greens and yellows and buttercream (I barely ever use pure white anymore) in circular motions in order to achieve that goal.

I would have tried to finish the first layer of the background completely, but Owen had his mind set on other things and I was interrupted about 15 minutes into my work to nurse him back to sleep. It takes me so long to get into the groove and actually start painting that I was unable to get back into it, but on the plus side I did get my studio mostly clean, so YAY! When it's completely clean I'll post a few pics of it, because I'm always curious how other people organize their spaces, and I've had a few friends that have asked to see it.

My first layer of the actual background with light coming through the trees

I'm not sure if I'll be able to work on this today or not, though I really would love to. I am trying to get more painting in because I really want to start selling my work, and I'm thinking, on the advice of my husband and my friend Shannon, that I probably need about 10 - 15 pieces ready before I can do that. I need to figure out how many I have now, but I think it's only 2 (YIKES!). I sure have a long way to go! Well, I better get crackin'! Have a great day!

Oh, and if you want to see my first post on this painting, click here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

First Look at the Doyle Family Sessions

I've finally gotten the chance to work on the images from my first session with the Doyles a few months ago, and boy am I glad I didn't rush it! I had that moment of panic after our shoot when it seemed like I didn't get anything good, and I felt so uninspired. In the first place the shoot itself was majorly rushed, lasting all but about 15 minutes, and the location, though meaningful because it is their church, made it difficult because to me it seemed so "pedestrian" (I don't really know what you'd call it, but it felt like the pictures were just taken at a picnic, not an official photo shoot). But then after some time passed, and after finding some major inspiration from one of my new favorite photographers, Jessica Drossin, I came back to these pictures and set to work. Now I am loving the shots I got, probably because they really weren't bad in the first place, (after all, my models were gorgeous, dontcha think?) I had just panicked.

I learned a few things from this process, the first of which is that sometimes it is much better not to rush things just to get them done, but that it can be okay to sit on things for a minute, so long as it's not just an excuse to procrastinate. I honestly didn't even have any time to get to these anyways, so rushing them wasn't really an option after all, but I am really glad I didn't try to squeeze them in. Also, it taught me that taking risks can pay off greatly! I've always loved the grungy look and decided after weeks of perusing Drossin's blog (who's work is absolutely gorgeous!) that I wanted to incorporate that into my own art more than I have in the past, and I feel like it's paid off here. Even Tyler was impressed, because he had agreed with me in the beginning that it looked like I hadn't gotten any images that were professional looking, (I was so worried I asked them to do another shoot with me just in case!) and now we are both in love with these pictures!  

Kelsey and Jeremy (and little Nolan too!), I love you all and am so thankful you've trusted me with taking your family pictures. It really means a lot to me. I hope you like them! Here's what I have so far, and I will be sure to post more as I finish them. =)

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