Update: The In Darkness Sing blog at JenniferSaake is experiencing prolonged technical issues, so I'm temporarily posting back here on my old Stroke of Grace blog. (You will notice many typos in older posts. I intentionally never corrected them, as they helped document my cognitive abilities at various stages of recovery.)

Thirty-nine-year-old Jennifer Saake (founder, Hannah's Prayer Ministries), experienced 6 strokes via vertebral dissection at a chiropractic office, including brain stem and cerebellum bleeds, in Oct. 2011. Jennifer remained hospitalized for nearly 2 months and was not expected to live (near death experience) nor recover, but if she even survived, she was slated to live out her days in a nursing home or, best case, to maybe come home wheelchair-bound and needing 24-hour care. At 5 years, 7 months, God clarified Jennifer's theology on healing and showed how He was writing her story from the beginning.

Jennifer is currently writing more books and stays active on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Stroke of Grace became In Darkness Sing in early 2018 and has moved, along with all five of Jennifer's active blogs, to one location at JenniferSaake.com. (Please see temporary update note above!)

Thursday, December 31, 2015


I bet that title grabbed your attention? Made your heart sink to your toes?
So let me assure you, right off the bat, I am not talking about myself...
At least not any more...

I could have alternatively titled this post something like "Marriage Ponderings." Or even "My 2016 Word of the Year." I've been quiet on the posting front because I've plain been busy (holidays, kids out of school for 3 weeks, birthday parties for my mom and all the kids, marathon doctors appointments, a hearty cold with side dish of bronchitis, etc) and even more so, because I've been doing so much internal reflection.

That first couple years after stroke were TOUGH on our marriage. (Today's still not a cake walk, but many circumstances and attitudes are both much improved!) I am not proud to share that things were fragile enough that I went a few months without wearing my wedding ring (my hands got swollen and painful so there was good reason to take it off to begin with, the problem was that God had to work in my heart to be willing to put it back on, long after it was a physical possibility again) and even asked Rick to pack his bags and leave at one point. Stunned and deeply wounded, thankfully he had the presence of mind to ask a critical question in response to my ultimatum and God keep us, gritting teeth, together. There were many months that the ONLY reason either of us had for sticking it out was the promise we had made to God that this was for better or worse, for life!

As I was struggling with the constant and overwhelming daily fear Rick would leave me, baggage I brought home from the hospital with me, I watched one dear friend after another, seemingly Christ-centered, solid, long-term marriages, dissolve all around me. A friend's husband simply decided he didn't love her anymore and moved hours away, leaving a disabled wife with no ability to drive, to raise two children on her own. A ministry partner's husband had an affair and decided he no longer wished to work on their marriage. Within a short time frame, several author friends had spouses simply dissolve their marriages, or grow unfaithful, leading to divorce. Another friend I have dearly looked up to for years, became the unexpected target of domestic violence and had to take out a restraining order against her husband of nearly 3 decades, in order to protect herself and their children. A second friend had to seek police protection for the same reason. A third friend is still living in unsafe circumstances and has been refused aid from her church and refuses to involve police. More recently, a stroke friend was sent away from her husband's home and disallowed contact with her own children until divorce was finalized, well over a year later. A former pastor and his wife recently separated. The list goes on and on...

I know how close we have come to walking away from our vows. I know the battle! I do not condemn these folks at all (though I admittedly struggle with some anger toward the unfaithful, neglectful and abusive spouses). I have heard for years that Christian marriages are under attack, that if the destroyer can undermine the foundation of the family, he is making progress and distracting God's children from the battle to spread Christ's name, by tearing down our witness. These past few years that statistic has just been hammered home to me on ultra personal levels I never understood before.

For a while there, I was feeling that the sanctity of marriage no longer even existed, that being a Christian did not offer any protection from the dreaded D word, that the only difference it provided was that a couple was MORE likely to undergo attack in this area simply because bearing the name of Christ put them in the devil's cross-hairs to be singled out for attack.

Then I realized that of the 5 stroke couples I daily pray for, all but one set is still together years after initial injury! The road has not been easy, and we all have plenty of struggles in marriage, but statistically, NONE of us should have made it! Does that make the 20% that didn't survive the marriage strain any less tragic, or any of these other stories, for that matter? Absolutely not! It simply says that when both spouses are committed to honoring a promise to God, that Christ does make all the difference! He is the reason 80% of my sample group are still making it!

Praise God!!!

A Day or two after my 5th and 6th strokes, awaiting my life-saving surgeries that prevented additional stroking, I received a letter from my dear friend Becky who was a traumatic brain injury survivor. We had lived in the same town for long enough that I had had a few opportunities to listens as she described a bid of the impact her accident had on their marriage, but without personal understanding on my part. Now, a move put the entire nation between us, but the letter she later told me she had been fearful and unsure how to write, planted seeds of understanding, began a ministry of comfort and encouragement in my heart that continues to this day. She talked of Rick's character, his integrity, what a God-honoring man God had given me. She was forth-write in preparing me that this would likely become the hardest challenge our marriage would ever face, but to keep trusting God and expecting Him to hold us together when I had doubts.

And so, I ask that as you pray for me, that you pray too for Rick, for the continual protection and strengthening of our marriage. This is not an easy journey. One I have seen, first hand, cannot stay sustained without both spouses being yielded of heart to Christ! I thank and commend Rick for his faithfulness through all these years, especially when I was the partner that blindly allowed my own fear to push a huge wedge between us.

Reflecting on these past 4+ years of personal history, I was struck by something I had never considered in quite this way, in the Christmas story before, "Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly" (English Standard Version) or "Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly" (Holman Christian Standard Bible). Did you catch that? Matthew 1:19 tells us that the most amazing redemption story in all of human history, started out with thoughts of, even plans for, divorce! This article, entitled Has Divorce Ever Crossed Your Mind?, while having nothing to do with the Christmas story, is also a powerful read. I'm so thankful God is more than capable of mending things shattered, creating something new that did not even exist before!

This all leads me to share my 2016 "Word Of the Year". I was thinking I might not even pick one for this next year, but all through the day today God has been impressing upon my heart the single theme of "Marriage". And so, I enter this new year humbly, admitting that after 23 years in this God-designed institution, I am far from having anything figured out, know less today that I thought I did on our 19th anniversary shortly before the strokes! But it is my hearts desire to spend this next year pouring into my husband and our relationship, reflecting on the marriage union we, the church, share as the Bride of Christ and praying over the many marriages God places in my path -ourselves, our parents, our siblings, friends who seem strong, friends who are obviously struggling, and marriages and the members of those unions who are living relationships that are frayed, splintered or even legally ended. Won't you join me? 

I put this goal out there, again pleading for your prayers of protection over our own marriage, since I know satan will see this post as a war declaration and would delight in nothing more than bringing about destruction in recourse. We cannot do this alone. It is only in the name of the eternal King Jesus that I even dare this post.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Free Book

Don't miss the give away for the book You're Chronically Ill...So Now What? by Shelly Benoit Hendricks (of RenewedDaily) over on my chronic illness blog (you must comment THERE to be entered) - http://givenmeathorn.blogspot.com/2015/12/book-give-away.html

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Brain Injury *sigh*

A couple of funny thoughts that go through my mind:

1. I should have titled my post on We Made It To December, "Why I've Decided To Take Up Swearing" instead. ;) That might have drawn a few curious readers! :D

2. As an author, I often "think" in written words. I am constantly composing blog posts in my mind, some you end up reading, others you don't. This morning I thought up an opening line to a story. As I was digging some paperwork out from under a dresser, I kept getting caught up in electric wiring plugged in down there. "The tangle of cords mocked her efforts to keep a tidy house..."

Enough writer's randomness for the moment. What I really want to talk about is the very "mixed bag" of living with neurological injury.

Jennifer Saake
About a year+ before the strokes. I can't find any pictures with longer hair and 40 pounds lighter than this picture.
When I first stroked, I LOOKED badly disabled. (Hmm, maybe because I actually was!) I had a paralyzed eye glued up against my nose. I was majorly sight- and hearing- impaired so was always trying to angle my eyes and ears to see and hear as well as possible. I was 100% wheel chair or bed bound. I really could not control my body well at all, neither to move as instructed nor to relax muscles. I couldn't turn my head without great effort (and sometimes not even then) and battled simply to keep my head still and upright on my shoulders. 

Months later, I can remember going to a restaurant (Red Robin - I can still tell you where we were sitting and that it was a tall, skinny, dark-hair, very young guy who served us - I had fried clams) with a walker and significantly improved vision, but still a partially crossed eye. I will never forget the startled look on the waiter's face when I slurred out my order that I'm sure he had to work very hard to understand. I totally FELT hopeless, helpless and ever-so-disabled that day!!!

Best picture from about 6 1/2 weeks out, just after a shower, new hair cut and lots of encouragement to lift my spirits.

I got SO skinny, was terribly fragile. And this shot shows that left arm refusing to function too!

After a few months home (yes, I know there are still Christmas pictures in the background, I never took them down until after the following Christmas!), I could stand alone, as long as I had a table or chair to lean against and I didn't take any steps!

About a year after my strokes, when I still absolutely hated the camera and mirrors (why I have so very few pictures from those first couple of years) and was still striving so hard to come to grips with the utterly changed image I saw in my own reflection, I gave my husband the very most (emotionally) costly gift I could think to give him, a professional photo of myself.

They say you are harder on yourself, much more critical, than anyone else. When I look at that picture (or at least every time I have before today's critical analyzation), all I see is "stiffness". I do not look relaxed. There is no natural flow of motion. (Today I see a fairly even smile and sparkly eyes that actually track together by this point too, but until today I've just seen the deep, painful zits that refused to be fully covred and tension.) I KNOW how hard it was for me to sit still for that shot. To hold my head up straight. To not shake. To try to relax enough to smile and mask the overwhelming pain and mental stimulation of functioning out in public, sitting in a dark room with bright flashes of light, holiday crowds, etc. That day was a huge, brave step for me.

Dec. 14, 2011, the day I came home from the hospital to a hospital bed in my living room.
I knew I was so much better off than I had been a year before, but I still was SO far from being a functioning member of society.

Fast forward three years, to this winter. This is where the "mixed bag" part comes into play. There was a woman I had interaction with at least once a month or more, for a year or so, prior to my strokes. I saw her again a couple weeks ago and said hi and reminded her of who I was. She said, "You look great!" Now how much of this was just social nicety and how much was sincere, I don't know, but it got me thinking...

I had replied, "Well, actually I had six strokes since you last saw me, about 4 years back." She has medical background so I was expecting a look of concern/shock like I am so used to seeing on medical faces when they here this news. Instead, she seemed totally un-flustered, maintaining that I was looking better than last she saw me (pre-stroke). That's when it hit me, that while I still can look kind of "off" at times and while spending prolonged amounts of time with me would reveal more and more of my remaining stroke deficits, I no longer look so noticeably disabled. I suspect that woman figured I just had a series of TIAs or "mini strokes." I momentarily felt I should explain how bad things had actually been, how far I had come over the past four years. Then I decided it wasn't worth it, that she has been enough of a "fringe relationship" in my life so as to not even know I had stroked, so if she didn't see me as disabled, why should I make a point of explaining? (Take that Red Robin waiter!)

This picture, taken about a month ago, is the first time I actually felt I looked totally at peace in any picture since the strokes. I still don't move a have easy muscle flow like before the strokes, but I feel like the majority of my deficits are neurological and in emotional processing, more than physical (though I still have dizziness, major balance issues and walk with a cane, have a left ankle that is weak and rolls out from under me, left knee that is often quite painful, really struggle with hearing, vision is still doubled peripherally, can't turn my neck far or easily enough to look over my shoulder (and when I manage, everything I look at is doubled anyway, so not worth the strain of trying!) and continue to have some issues with tear ducts, mouth numbness (especially too numb to talk clearly or control drool when eating something cold) and swallow and lack fine motor skill of my left hand) or mental (memory is totally unreliable, still don't feel trustworthy to drive, logic and reasoning skills often are impaired, 4th grade homework often surpasses my mental limitations). 

What you can't see are things like 4 different Christmas parties I wanted to attend this month but won't be going too. Nor the sadness in my husband's face as he wisely told me that he wanted me to stay home from these celebrations this month, that all the sounds, lights, activity, social interaction, potential latex exposures, just weren't the risk, my physical pain and backlash days in bed, the emotional strain to our whole family, in the aftermath. 

Tonight was the rehab hospital's annual tree lighting ceremony, a tradition they started in 2011 while I was an inpatient (link goes to hospital's own picture from that night). I love to go each year, sort of as a marker of how far I've come since I lived there, I called this morning to cancel my RSVP and initially used my sick son and own scratchy throat as my excuse, as that would be what I would need to tell anyone in any other walks of life, in order for them to understand a true medical need. Then I realized who I was talking to and added, "I am having a hard time neurologically right now, with crowds and lights and sounds," I figured if they couldn't understand, no one would! (They totally go it though!)

I've had several conversations lately trying to explain why I cannot use the phone for more than a minute or two and not for pleasure visits because of hearing and processing frustrations. That's a major lifestyle change for me as I used to talk on the telephone by the hour!

I hear, "I would haven't had known if you hadn't told me!" to nearly anyone I tell now, so I guess it is not a surprise that when people can't immediately "see" I'm disabled anymore, they just aren't going to get it. This is the chronic nature of brain injury.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

We Made It to December! (and why I've taken up swearing)

Mental and creative energy has primarily been poured into my 30DayOfThanks pictures and memories (a few intense stroke-related stories shared in the mix) over on my InfertilityMom blog last month. Happy December! Time to get back on track over here!

Before I forget, allow me to share a great stroke progress story from last month. Our daughter had been quite sick, so strokie-me, by myself, needed to climb up to her top bunk to change soiled sheets. It took me a long time, and as many muscle group simply do not move well, I'm uncoordinated and unbalanced, plus I'm on blood thinners, I watched several new bruises literally appear right before my eyes...

I gradually coached my way through what needed to be done by repeating the same phrase that I've told myself in every challenging situation for the past four years, "This is great therapy!" After a couple dozen cheers along these lines, while struggling to wrestle the third corner of a fitted sheet onto the too-heavy mattress, obtaining two new ouchy foot bruises in the process of trying to brace my body against the strain, I let go of the sheet, sat up straight and thought, "Wait! This isn't therapy. This is real life! This is why I do therapy!

No, the change in perspective did not make the task at hand any less challenging or allow me to accomplish my task any more quickly (though I DID accomplish it - thank you very much!), but it did bring a huge smile to my heart to see some real-life fruit from all I've battled to reclaim. I'm a REAL MOM and ever-so-thankful!!! (Three times over, first in the infertility battle to get these kids here, then in even surviving stroke to stay alive for them, and now in the physical ability to mother them in practical needs!)

It hit me the other day that I have undergone 6 major surgeries (local anesthesia, hospital or surgery center, recovery room, IV, etc) within less than 4 years. Lost of more minor surgeries/in-office local anesthesia stuff too - actually more scopes and scans and biopsy invasive stuff than I can list... But as far as the big stuff, we have the two arterial stenting surgeries on Thanksgiving Day, 2011, followed six months later by the stent check procedure needed to be sure I was healing correctly, a full day surgery-center event carrying its own risk of further stroking, then a major surgery each year since - ear, then kidney stone, then endometriosis/hysterectomy/appendix. At least the inability to move a stone on my own and ear paralysis were both directly stroke-related. Who knows what stroke paralysis may or may not have contributed to this last round of internal organ dysfunction. Anyway, I'm tired and want my body to quit randomly giving up on me. As my youngest will tell you, "Mommy has given away half of her internal organs now!" Not really, Buddy, but some days it feels like that!!!

Between the enactment of "affordable health care" (umm, how is $10,000 out of pocket each year, before insurance helps, "affordable"? - yes very thankful that we have insurance at all and that it does kick in above that amount, just exhausted from the stress of maxing out every single year for five in a row now, and depleting my husband's life earnings/savings) that starting impacting our family shortly after my strokes, my injuring doctor neglecting to carry insurance then leaving the country before he was court-ordered to personally assist in expenses incurred, and these ongoing yearly exceptional needs (this isn't even counting therapies, regular health care or other family medical needs), I've been a terrible drain on my family. In these moments of realization, it is easy to question, "Now why exactly did you keep me here God? To stress and bankrupt those I most love?" I'm striving to recognize those hear-rending thoughts for the lies they are, but it is a battle some days.

With all these surgeries and recoveries I have lost the hard fought abilities to jump or run I excitedly showed off last year. :( I guess, if you don't use it, you loose it!

If I really push myself in the pool I can still accomplish an agonizingly slow run in the water. (Interestingly, my brain CANNOT master how to run in place. I guess if I'm not moving forward, I'm not actually running?) Jumping in the water, thankfully, still comes rather easily. I've found myself, on several occasions of late, attempting to do something without result and facing momentary confusion because I know I have mastered the needed skill, then realizing that I can, in fact, preform that act, but only in the low-gravity environment of water! 

As for the same tasks on dry land, this is when I realize my existing deficits more profoundly. :( I really hate the physical sensation of climbing up out of a swimming pool. Not only is there the reality that everything is going to be 10x harder on my body now, but there is an incredibly weighty "pull" sensation on every muscle as I pull my body, hand-over-hand up the grab bar, up those steps. Last week, in one of those pool assention moments, I coined my own curse phrase, "Oh Gravity!" 

I truly am thankful for God's creation of gravity, as it holds my feet to the floor (remember when I had to walk around with ten pound weights strapped to each leg just to tell my brain my place in  space?) and enables me to walk in this way. One of my biggest pool frustrations is that I must move to shallow water (where my upper body does not like to be) in order to do any exercise where I must "plant my feet," because they will float off the bottom of the pool otherwise.

On a lighter note, I once read a research study showing how swearing helped cope with pain better than any other method in that study. I use payer, then medication when needed, for my pain. But "Oh Gravity!" does have a nice stress relief effect on me! Figured I will occasionally add this curse to my arsenal of coping mechanisms. I can see it working as a pool climb out phrase, as well as a frustration vent when I drop something and know the shattering impact of gravity to glass shattered around my feet! I think, if not overused, this is a healthy addition to my stress/pain management tool box. I have prayed and believe this is still a God-honoring use of my breath. So when you here "Gravity!" exclaimed in disgust from my lips, please know I am not discounting a gift the Lord has given, just seeking to cope within the limitations to my body!

We were at my in-laws farm for Thanksgiving. I brought bubbles to do a fun experiment on what happens to bubbles when the temperature is freezing (can take the kids out of the homeschool, can't take the teacher out of the mama). The adults had way more fun with the activity than the kids even did, so I wanted my camera from the house to take some discrete shots of the memories. There are steps into both doors of their house. No hand rails. No way for me to slip inside unnoticed or even unaided. "Oh Gravity!" I enlisted our youngest to go get my camera for me, but that broke the spontaneity of the moment and fun had to be posed. It is the little losses that sometimes grieve me most deeply!

I had another first yesterday, not just a post-stroke first but a lifetime first!!! Rick brought home a 22 pound turkey on sale. Having spent almost all holidays with one side of our family or the other, I have never yet cooked a full-sized turkey all by myself. I've served just breasts alone, or even had turkeys cooked in my oven, but always when Rick or my parents were there to help. Yesterday, I had a thawed turkey sitting in cold water in my mud sick (mud sink -another thing I am thankful for!) and no one around to help me with it. So I went into the garage and rummaged around to find my mom's old electric roaster, set it up in the laundry room (so thankful for clean counter space in there, Kathy!), drained the sink, cut open the wrapper, washed the bird right there, followed all the directions to season him up, prayer hard, braced my feet, then lifted the big bird vertically up out of the sink and over the few inches into my roaster. Had to wrestle him for 5 minutes to get him settled down into the pan correctly, no way I could have carried him to an oven or gotten him into one of those poultry roasting bags, but I did manage the electric roaster. Checked and based him through the afternoon (wow does our house smell good, even today!), make wheat-free gravy with the pan drippings when Rick got home and lifted him out for dinner. We had Thanksgiving left over cranberries and I baked some potatoes in the oven. I should have taken a picture! The turkey was perfectly done and not dried out. I was so excited and proud of myself for pulling off that meal! Thank you for the starting point, Rick. (Some people pray, "Give us this day or daily bread..." I pray, "Thank you for more than abundantly providing daily food for our family. Give me this day my daily meal plan!" I am always seeking God for each day's healthy meal choices to prepare for my family and love it when something comes together this nicely!)

I need to get off this blog and on to some serious book writing again! This process is SO SLOW this time around, but I am making a little forward progress each week again. Your continued prayers are so treasured!

Here's my manuscript as of today:

As we enter this season of Advent (and every day!), I leaver you with this memory:

Oh, Kendra, I know our hormones got messed up in different ways. What works for one does not always work for another! But for what it is worth, no wheat (avoid hidden sources like gravy made with flour) and lots of chia (we have Rick to thank for this amazing discovery!) seeds (yes, like what grows "hair" on a piece of pottery!) is really helping with intestinal paralysis and bowl regularity for me! And I've lost 13 pounds (we'll see if it stays off, since I keep loosing and regaining the same 20!) since mid September!

Another look at my book.