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, March 24, 2016

I Perceive It

It will take me weeks to trickle out some significant stories that will begin to do justice to my week at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. The experience was unlike anything my 14 years of praying for this opportunity had prepared me for. Thank you for every prayer breathed on my behalf, every cent spent to send me.

The opening verse shared this week was Isaiah 43:19, "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland" (NIV).

I truly feel a "new thing" happened in my heart that has now burst forth into a new season. [Insert butterfly trying new wings here.] Edited to add: Kendra, you will love my friend Jeanette Hanscome's post about butterflies and Mount Hermon - reminds me of us!

I learned I was capable, through God's strength. I absolutely could not keep up this pace on a daily basis nor for longer than a week (I've slept constantly since coming home), but for this limited time, God flooded me with profoundly uncommon ability. I had some challenges, like pushing my walker up steep hills, but I keep up with a week of 16-hour days (or longer, 1AM wasn't an uncommon bedtime for me, only to be up at 6:30 or 7 to do it all again), often getting from appointment to appointment, back-to-back, in 15-minute segments stacked one immediately upon another. 

My brain wouldn't shut down, so Debbie got hours more sleep than I did and we both had to skip various teaching sessions to go nap just to survive the week. What a blessing to share a room with someone who understood what it was like to fall asleep in class by early afternoon and need to go sleep simply to have the ability to walk to dinner! The morning I told Deb I had to choose between a shower or facing the day ahead, that there "weren't enough spoons" to do both, she didn't even blink. She got me. She faced the same need to skip a shower in trade for more sleep a couple night later.

Meals alone "should" have been beyond me, as hundreds of writers filled a huge room, 8 to a table, and spent lunches and dinners "interviewing" with the agent or publisher hosting each table. The noise level was profound. (Twice since coming home, family members have told me I was shouting, while I was only using the voice I had to use to be heard at meals all week.)  For someone who normally needs to sleep at least 14 hours a day and can't schedule more than one or two energy expenses per day without overtaxing my physical limits, ability to keep pace with this conference was truly God's doing! An energy expense can be as simple as being in a crowded room and processing noise and movement around me. For example, church attendance on Sunday morning typically demands 2-4 hours of sleep on Sunday afternoon in order to recover.  I plan to mostly sleep for a few days now that I am home, but I did not expect so many days of such supernatural ability there!!!

I learned a lot about presenting myself, sharing my stories. It's been a long, dark many years, but this week brought about several Divine Appointments, many occasions to see ways God specifically put and kept ME here on this earth to fulfill pieces of His plan. This was so incredibly affirming and healing to my battered soul!

Many things I went to the conference hoping, praying, expecting God might do, were dead ends. There were writing projects I came home seeing how badly in need of rework they are before they can even become marketable, the need for a huge "platform" before mainstream publishers will even consider my books, etc. (If you would please go to my sidebar and friend me, subscribe to this blog, that would really help me in having numbers to show potential publishers! Also, please introduce your friends to this blog and ask them to subscribe as well.)

Ideas that had not even been developed yet, prayers prayed but seeming far-fetched and long-away, these are the things that, career-wise, might be born of this conference. It was fascinating to watch God putting the things I believed to be most immediately urgent to the side for now, while springing others that were not even an immediate focus into the spotlight.

The very most healing, encouraging part of the whole experience (and this is saying a lot since there were so many profound fingerprints of God over the entire trip) was spending a whole week rooming with my dear sister-in-Christ, sister-of-my-heart, Debbie. Her book, that came into print due to her attendance of a Mount Hermon Writers Conference, more than 20 years ago, was life-changing, life-saving, life-giving when I flailed through my darkest days of infertility all those years ago.

God has allowed Debbie and I to work closely together in various seasons of the distant past, but our lives have not closely been intertwined for a good decade, until 22 days ago when her email started this journey. We laughed until we gasped for breath, every single day. We each felt fully loved, accepted, understood, not in spite of, but often because of many shared areas of deep brokenness. God's grace is amazing!


Saturday, March 5, 2016

I'm Dizzy

Yes, in a physical sense too, but not nearly to the extent that I way in the beginning. That's actually not my point. I'm emotionally dizzy with the speed in which God is bringing certain things (good things!) together in my life this week.

Congratulations to our girl who was inducted into National Junior Honor Society this week!
If you haven't had a chance yet, she would love you to check out her new YouTube channel at MyLifeAsRuth!

First, let me apologize for the typos you are bound to find in today's post. I'm writing on 4 hours sleep. I just re-read something I wrote at 1 AM (because I messed up my medicine schedule yesterday and was fighting drug-induced insomnia until nearly 3AM this morning), and I could barely de-code my own words. As long-time readers here know, I take a unique approach to editing this particular blog. I write a post, give it a read-through or three, make edits and corrections, post, then never change things again (unless it is a factual edit like an incorrect number or website link). I let all regular grammatical, spelling, sentence structure and punctuation mistakes stand as a visual diary of my brain capabilities at that point. Hopefully you are seeing a measurable improvement in the quality of my writing abilities over the course of years. Today will likely not be a good day to measure progress though!

Before I forget, I had a couple examples to share from daily life, why strokes remain such an impactful "big deal" to my daily life. My point is that there is not a single day the passes without at least one significant reminder that strokes are still impacting our daily lives.

Two evenings ago, I was standing at the stove, browning ground beef, chatting with my 10-year-old son, took a side step (a skill I'm thankful to have back because side steps were brutal to remaster!) to get something out of the next drawer over. This single movement, did something to tip my neurological system out of balance, so I threw up, right on the spot. (Thankfully, over the counter, not over food!) No, I wasn't the slightest bit nauseous. No, I did not even have a fraction of a second of warning.  No, it wasn't copious in volume (but far more than just a little "throw up into your mouth" kind-of-thing). No, this isn't an every day (or, thankfully, every week, or even every month!) type occurrence for me now. Yes, this is a common enough type of thing that neither my son nor I even reacted, missed more than a single beat in our conversation. I simply nudged him out of the way, went to the sink to wash up, cleaned up my mess, washed my hands again, carried on with the visit and dinner prep! (Of all the people I could have been chatting with, the little boy who has lived 1/2 of his life with a stroked Mommy who is frequently doing these surprising things, was likely my least-upsettable witness!) Afterwards it hit me afresh how odd our "normal" is now!

14 months after stroke. One of my favorite early pictures.

Years ago I used to make my own tostada bowls frequently for salads. Take a glass or metal bowl, spray it with a little oil, drop a tortilla over it, then spray the inside of the next size up in your nesting bowl set, stack and place it over the tortilla to make into a nice crispy bowl. I decided to try this again last night. It was a disaster! Out of 26 tortillas, I ended up with only 14 that were still edible without being burned to black crisps, only 2 of those turning out semi-bowl shaped (then I managed to crush them both while trying to remove from their hot molds, so they were both just tortilla chips after that), a dozen totally flat ones that I no longer ever attempted to mold, and lots of new burns on my hands, fingers, wrists and forearms! After pulling 6 pieces of charcoal out of the oven, I apologized to my waiting family and acknowledged that this seemed to no longer be in my skill set. They brushed it off as a nice attempt but not a disappointment. They felt bad that I was realizing yet another loss at a tiny piece of my old life I hadn't successfully reclaimed, then we all moved on. I was just wanting to do something simple to show my family I care. It such a little thing, but after nearly 4 1/2 years of daily losses, both minor and profound, it feels more than minor. But it is what it is. I'm recovered back to the point where I actually expected this to be doable again. That's saying a lot, right there!

tortilla charcoal

This bring me to the actual point of today's post. I am about to attempt something massively unknown in my entire life, even pre-stroke, and definitely need your prayers! My "partner in crime" will be none other than Debra Bridwell, long-time (over 2 decades!) friend, and author of The Ache for A Child, the infertility book God used to totally change (save!) my life and directly bring about the launch of Hannah's Prayer all those years ago!

Jennifer Saake with butterfly purse and Bubbles the walker, fall 2015.

Big breath! For at least 13 or 14 years now, I have been specifically praying about attending the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. I have seriously tried to figure out how to get there just about every year (except the year I stroked!) and God has closed the door.  Every. Single. Time. I started hearing stirrings about this year's conference several months back and didn't even look into the possibility. "God always says no, anyway," I reasoned.

Wednesday I woke up to an early morning email from Debbie, asking if there was any chance I was going this year. I started to write an "Yeah right. I wish!" type reply and God stopped me by impressing upon my heart that I was to try again, keep pushing on doors as long as He kept opening them. I knew it was a crazy longshot, but I pulled up their website and sent off a letter of inquiry. The main conference started in just 2 1/2 weeks, I was already past several deadlines, there were significant transportation issues, and I was looking at around $1,400 in conference costs alone, not factoring in transport or other incidentals. I had $40.

The first door I expected to slam in my face was for Rick to say no! He was out of town, so in our quick morning chat for him to say goodmorning to the kids before school, I briefly mentioned the situation, expecting the decision to be finalized right then and there, topic dropped. Surprisingly, he thought it sounded like a fine idea! We got off the phone with the agreement that I would put out more feelers and see what might happen. I mentioned the idea to friends on Facebook, still very much with the mindset of thinking it was a fun dream and likely not to happen (AGAIN).

Thursday morning I woke up to news that the camp was granting me a $300 scholarship (total needed now $1,100), a friend was paypaling me $200 ($900 left) just because God had put it on her heart, I found $100 cash I had stashed away before the strokes and never thought of since ($800 needed), and every last detail concerning transportation needs (my parents will drive me half way, Debbie will pick me up and drive me to her house for overnight, then drive me to Mount Hermon on the 16th), special needs housing accommodations, etc., had been fully resolved! When I got a morning text from my husband telling me he was so proud of me for making my dream a reality, my mindset instantly shifted from "I'm trying," to "I'm going!" At this point I set up a GoFundMe account to intentionally ask for financial and prayer support. This was all before 9:30, and I even got a shower before my ride came to pick me up for Bible study!

I didn't get home until after 3 because we went to lunch and ran some errands after study. By then, $30 more had been donated. A friend dropped by and gave me a healthy cash gift specifically toward gas and incidentals. With my $40 I started with, total expenses were down to just around $730 left, nearly half way there within 36 hours since first consideration! (For Bible study gals who are reading the math discrepancy between what I reported at study Thursday morning and what I'm sharing here, I was off on my original calculation of costs by about $400! Did I mention I've had some strokes? Yeah, math isn't really my "thing" anymore! I think God allowed me to underestimate so much so I would only feel terrified but not run in fear of the extra funds actually needed.)

Yesterday, I awoke to another $170 in donations. I know several of these gifts to have been truly sacrificial! I am humbled and in awe of God. (What's 730 less 170? Seriously, I'm going to stop writing now and figure out the math... $560??? Yes, took me a few minutes since those weren't round numbers, but 560, I guess).  I wrote up a Facebook post saying, "I understand the urgency to make the most of this opportunity, now more than ever, because of those who believe with me that this conference is a pivotal place God has called me in order to hone my craft of writing the stories He is stewarding me to carry to the world. I feel rather like a missionary, entrusted to wisely invest the funds you are giving to the Lord. Less than $550 [Today's note: I'm SO bad at math! Good thing Rick pays our bills now!] left to go already! Thank you for your loving support, both financial and especially your prayers!"

I got my non-refundable deposit paid. I got officially registered for both the main and pre- conferences (how I got messed up on the original math). I got my writing samples selected and submitted (though I realized afterwards that I totally messed up the formatting so have some real work to do to get that all re-submitted according to guidelines). I was feeling overwhelmed and rather discouraged at how "slow" (umm, I can't even keep up - what was I thinking!?) God seemed to be bringing the finances together, anxiety that I don't have it all paid off yet as they desire (though they are graciously allowing me an extra week to get the total in), when a friend encouraged me for an hour by sharing how God recently provided in several areas, even addressing several fears in her life! After that, another $75 came in (just $485 left!)

In the course of writing out this story, God has added another $100 this morning! GoFundMe says I have $370 left to raise. I guess it is actually more like $385 (or even close to $400 by the time GoFundMe has taken out their fees - I wonder if I can edit my goal there?). The fact that those two numbers fairly closely match is a God thing! Because, as you might have noticed by now, I'm not so great with numbers anymore! Maybe I actually had discovered the full costs before I set up GoFundMe but just had forgotten about the pre-conference fees by the time I got to Bible study Thursday morning? Also, it wasn't confirmed there would even be a spot for me at pre-conference until yesterday, so maybe that was part of me not calculating correctly too.

Anywho, it seems God is throwing open the doors this year and I'm beyond excited! (I have another 10 days to let my heart process the stroke and health fears this big semi-solo (without immediate family anyway) on a big, week-long, out-of-state trip like this.) One final bit of amazing confirmation came in last night / early this morning. The writing mentor I have been assigned to is named Kathy (like my Ms. Kathy who has so faithfully cleaned my house and encouraged me for over 4 years) and she's written several books including one about GRACE. That grace book has both a BUTTERFLY and a couple great big dashes of PINK across the cover! Just maybe God cares about details!!!

After the strokes, I wanted to end my life, to go Home to Jesus. Rick challenged me that if God hadn't taken me home yet, I was disobeying to try to force His hand, to stay and find and fulfill His purpose for me here. I feel profoundly that this conference is to play a part in all that. This is part of why this is such a precious opportunity for me, why I'm asking for help to get there.

I've had several friends express that they wish they had resources to help at all or to "do more." You CAN all help by praying! This conference, this year, is a monumental consideration, both the getting there and the attending. While I am there (and as I prepare, then in the days of recovery afterwards!) I need my brain and body and spirit to hold up and function to the best of their capacity. I need my family to be protected from spiritual attack. Please pray hedges of Divine protection around Rick, Joshua, Ruth and Jeremiah (and my parents, Ralph and Betty and Rick's parents Norm and Pat and our extended families) Please pray also for Debbie and Dale (my rides each way) as they each face their own health challenges and prepare for and engage in this week-long event! Please pray for our teacher, mentors, editors, agents and writers gathering there. I believe this is the largest (or at least one of the largest) professional gatherings of Christian writers west of the Mississippi each year! It's a big deal, folks. If God is going to be showing up in such a big way, the old snake is going to be angry and trying to work mischief too!

Saake family, July 2015

Financially, I know God's got more than enough resources to fully meet this need! If He is both putting it on your heart to be used in this specific way to bring about His planned provision AND He has provided you with the resources to fulfil that desire, I welcome your financial aid, but that is really not what this post is all about. Yes, I talked specifics about money, intending to let you see the amazing way God is moving here! I know that I will have all the funds I need. The Lord has made it abundantly clear that I am going, so I'm just waiting to see how He unfolds all that now.


Your help in any way, prayers, sharing this post and need with others, or direct donation, I would be ever-so-grateful! Thank you!!!