I hurt my back a month ago. I kept pushing through and pushing through, taking Aleve and visiting a chiropractor and a physiotherapist sporadically and never ever slowing down. I went to Colorado and then to Chicago. I horsed around with my children. I cleaned my house. I worked and I worked and I worked. This is what I do, after all: I’m a prairie kid raised on the doctrine of the honour and gift of work. I never sit still for long, it drives my husband crazy how I cannot even watch TV without knitting something. I am a do-er.

Then, a week ago, my back injury from a month ago caught up with me and I found I couldn’t move anymore. Everything on my left side hurt. I wept when I drove, I cried in the kitchen, I could not find relief no matter what I did – ice, heat, stretching, have you tried this? I will try anything – or how much over-the-counter medication I took every four hours on the dot. I like to think I have a pretty high pain threshold – hello, four babies – but this left me jagged.

I went to the emergency room finally. My back is a proper mess and my entire left side is suffering – I’ve lost a lot of mobility in my left arm and particularly my left hand. Answers aren’t certain but it seems like it might be a prolapsed disc in my upper back. I’ve been aggravating it mercilessly and now it has decided that I need to stop it, stop it, stop right now.

So I have been stopped. I’m on the couch. Here I am, on the couch.

I have appointments every day this week – everyone from physiotherapists to neurologists. I feel confident we will get this handled somehow, it’s not forever, it’s just for very long day after day right now.  I am taking some serious painkillers every four hours and this takes the edge off, it takes me from excruciating pain to deep discomfort and so we are on the path of hopeful healing. But I haven’t really left the house for days now: I sit on the couch or I lay on my bed. These are the options. Brian is not only doing his work but mine, too. The big kids are helping immensely especially with the baby. We’re muddling through.

I find I feel guilty. Which is dumb, I know. But I feel guilty for sitting here on the couch while my whirlwind of a house has to carry on without me. I feel like I should try harder and just grit my teeth and push through. I always push through! This is what we do! And yet when I try to rise, I am laid out again and so here I sit.

I am re-learning how to rest here on the couch.

I sat in the corner of the couch with my ice pack and my minor doses of morphine and I cried steadily for an hour on that first day. I wasn’t in pain, not anymore (yay for morphine) but I felt ridiculous and self-indulgent. Who has time for a back injury? Not this household. Not me. Not my family right now – we have enough going on already and this summer has been hard on everyone and like anyone needs me to be down right now, too?!

But there comes a time when pushing through is creating greater damage and so we must stop trying and simply rest and heal.

There is a sermon in there somewhere.

This is my time for healing, not for inflicting further damage with my determination to be productive or for pretending everything is fine. It’s not fine and I’m finally admitting that and I’m doing what I need to do, turning to the people who can help me heal, here on the couch.

I work hard on keeping my mind from chasing down the rabbit trails of “what if I can’t travel? what about all of my speaking engagements this fall and in the spring? what about the book I’m supposed to be writing? I can barely sit up! what about my children? what about my husband? what about my family? what if something is seriously wrong? what if this is something big? what if…. what about…?”

This isn’t helpful.

I am re-learning how to take my own thoughts captive here on the couch, how to be mindful about what I allow into my own mind.

Anne turned ten this week and yet I was on the couch. For the first time in her life, I couldn’t make her a homemade birthday cake and I couldn’t go to her little party – this year, it was at the pottery painting place. She was disappointed and I cried at home most of the day, watching Olympic events I didn’t really care about. I flipped through pictures of her ten years of life. When she came into our lives, it was like something that had been always dislocated in me was popped back into place. I am so proud of her and Brian took pictures of her party on his phone so that when they came home that night, I could see them. I feel like I let her down though. She didn’t need anything physical: she had her friends, she had all the “stuff,” she had her family there, her gifts, her traditions all met, but there aren’t replacements for each other and I think she needed her mum and I know I needed to be there but instead we sat together on the couch that evening. She said, ‘I missed you today,’ and I said I was sorry and we had a bit of a cry together. She doesn’t blame me, she understands, and this feels like grace.

I am re-learning that it is okay to be sad with your children, to share their disappointments, and to not try jolly it up or fix it all the time here on the couch.

I watch the news and I pray. I read books that aren’t too heavy to hold up. I can’t knit. Brian makes me coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. I read my Bible often, particularly I’ve been reading the Gospels again (always). I try to walk a bit every day around the living room, to stretch, to shower. I am trying to dwell here. The days are longer than they are when you are moving a million miles an hour, juggling plates and babies and commitments. I feel like I have enough time for all the things I can’t do.

I’m not being productive. I’m not being helpful so I’m trying to be cheerful and grateful and stoic, a model couch-dweller. That’s me! No one will be better at this couch sitting than me! I will drink my water! I will take my meds! I will show up for my appointments! I will say thank you so much and apologise so often, you’ll tell me to stop it for heaven’s sake!

I’m sorry. Thank you. I’m so sorry. Thank you.

So. This isn’t that big of a deal, I know that. I’m watching the news here on the couch, after all, and I’m seeing what happened in Turkey at the wedding and in the southern United States with all the flooding and the world is still going mad, people are truly suffering without a reasonable health care system and access to medication and a supportive spouse and Netflix.

I’m remembering how fortunate I am here on the couch.

Brian helped me outside one evening and settled me into a red Adirondack chair with my feet in the kiddie pool. Maggie was in her little bathing suit – chubby baby thighs! – and Evelynn was in her Barbie swimsuit. They splashed and puttered around, putting the landscaping rocks into the water and taking them back where they belonged. The sun was heavy in the sky and I listened to the wind in the trees above my head. I thought of how I am often too busy, so busy, how there is so much to do in a family of six with work and life and school and ministry, and I thought that I was actually really glad to be sitting here, uncomfortably, in this chair with my feet in the kiddie pool and my husband behind me in the garden pulling beans. I was unable to get up and go be productive or find something to do and so I was just here, all here.

Now that it’s been a few days of this, I’m getting used to the pace of rest. If we don’t pace ourselves, sooner or later our bodies will reset the pace for us.

I did watch the final concert for the Tragically Hip on Saturday night. I cried a bit and I sang along. Like most Canadians of my generation, I came of age on the Hip – high school and university is always linked to this band, long drives around Calgary with the windows down, singing loud –  and this good-bye has been so devastating and beautiful. I wished I had my old Zippo lighter there on the couch because I wanted to snap it open and hold it up for Gord and the boys while we sang along to Bobcaygeon in our living rooms all across Canada.

I am re-learning that there is room for our humanity, our places, our stars, our grief, our pain, our good-byes, our healing in our own art, even here on the couch.


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In which we step into the rain
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  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    It is of little comfort for me to blithely say, “it’s good you are learning this now,” but it is true. Good for your body (back issues are no small deal as you get older; paying attention now is very wise) and good for your soul.
    It took me ’til I was 60 years old (40 plus of those years as a Very Good Christian) to hear Jesus say, “slow down already. I have something to say to you.”
    Take as long as you need.

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    So beautiful, Sarah. I am so sorry you are hurting, and also grateful for what you’re learning here and sharing with us.

  • I’m so sorry Sarah. It sounds beyond ouch! A couple book recommendations because it’s what bookworms do… Beyond Ourselves by Catherine Marshal and, more current, your post offers hints of Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. Praying you get answers and solid direction for healing.

    • I have read Shauna’s book and it was incredible! I wanted to re-read it right away and so now I guess I have the time! 🙂 I’ll check out the other recommendation, thanks!

      • Anita_Mathias

        i became a Christian after reading “Beyond Ourselves!”
        Get well soon, Sarah!

  • Tamryn Weber

    (Big Hug) Sarah – well, big, but not too tight – don’t want to hurt your side more 🙂

  • Ginger Pilarski

    My view from the couch…just thought I’d let you know you’re not alone! After being healthy my whole adult life, at 38 I developed a rare, chronic back disorder. It has left me bedridden the majority of every day. At first I was angry (mostly with God for allowing it), but a year into this diagnosis, I find myself being thankful for the positive things this time has brought. My boys have learned to be compassionate servants, bringing me ice pack after ice pack, making me coffee, and adjusting to the pace of life my illness allows. I’ve gotten to experience the strong, protective love of my husband as he has loved me through sickness and health. “Rest” has a new meaning for me…not just taking a breather between rushing from one thing to another, but the true slowing of body, mind, and spirit. I’m glad you’re finding ways to engage in self-care: reading, reflecting, and following doctor’s orders. Reading “Out of Sorts” has been helpful for me, as this has been far from the biggest struggle I have faced in recent years. I’m trusting God for answers as I continue to search for healing. For now, sending love and prayers…from one couch to another. ❤️

  • Sally Sue

    Sometimes we just need to listen…
    Life is funny sometimes, and the Lord has a way to provide us messages. Often, we don’t really want to hear the message, and when we are choosing not to listen, and we are ‘forced’ into hearing! Such has been what I thought to be my plight this winter, when in fact is has turned into a gift.

    Back in December, I thought I was suffering, when I had a problem with a tooth. Yes, it was painful, yes, it lasted over a few days, but looking back, it truly was something that had a beginning, and an end point. I had a good (and empathetic) dentist who took my call on a busy weekend, physically brought a prescription to the pharmacy, and begged an oral surgeon to take me Monday. Tooth removed, problem solved. Quick healing, and life was back on track!

    In early January, I got ‘the flu.’ I had a fever, cough, and felt pretty miserable. Again, during the process, it seems as if you are never going to get well, and you wallow in self-pity! Again, looking back, the illness was short-lived. Before long, I was back to work at my part-time job, and just my basic running around personality. I am not a person that likes to sit around, I like to ‘do.’ I am often reading more than one book at a time, I knew a friend was going to have surgery, and I wanted to be there for her and her family (her pregnant daughter was having twins, and her grandson was there as well). My kids, thankfully close to me were so busy, one with school work and work, one planning a wedding, one a stay at home dad, and one who had health concerns. My husband, working hard every day, visiting his elderly mom at least twice a week, was running ragged. I tried to be there for them as much as possible, and run the house. Working as an educational advocate on a limited basis. Just like EVERYONE else I have a very full life.

    Over 30 years ago, while pregnant with my second child, I had suffered Vertigo. It lasted over 2 weeks, and it was a really scary thing. That’s why I got a bit nervous in mid-January when I started having small dizzy spells. Nothing that lasted more than a minute or two, but enough that I noted them. These little ‘spells’ seemed to be increasing, and I got a really bad one that lasted quite a long time. (I will forgo the white knuckle drive home during a snow storm), and although they were not like the spell 30-years-ago (at that time, I would get dizzy if I turned my head quickly), the dizziness would begin whether or not I moved. In fact, these spells could begin when I was in a sitting position doing nothing. I finally contacted my doctor, and had an appointment. He recommended doing specific exercises called the EPLY maneuver, and that it was most likely caused by inner ear. He also prescribed a scopolamine patch. Hoping I was on the right track, I did what I was told, with no changes in my condition. Sometimes I would feel much better, and other times, as if it was never going to go away. We are now at the end of January, early February, and I had two major episodes while out, once at a team meeting, and once when I went to see a function hall with my son, his fiance, and his fiance’s family. One of those landed me in the ER, being driven there by my son. CAT scan showed nothing, I was again sent home as if it were positional vertigo caused by inner ear. I knew it wasn’t that, but I didn’t know what it was.

    Those who know me, know I am getting impatient by this point. I can’t do things I want, I can’t drive, I can’t tell what kind of day I’m going to have, and I just can’t do ANYTHING! I am now relying on others to drive me, help with driving other family members, help when I can’t do something. I am frustrated because I know all of these people have very busy lives of their own, and shouldn’t have to help with anything! It is now mid February, and I have an appointment with an Ear Nose Throat doctor (ENT), and just before that appointment, I say to my husband, “I’ve been feeling really good for 2 days, maybe I don’t need to go.” He just looked at me, and said, “you’re going.” That morning, the worst vertigo of all slammed me. All the way to my appointment in Brighton, I am so dizzy, I can’t even open my eyes. This stayed that way for hours, and I couldn’t even walk. Poor Jim had to have me dragging on his arm just to walk, and I still couldn’t open my eyes. Fast forward, the doctor saw one look at my eye movement, and said, “that’s not inner ear,” and sent me immediately down to the ER for an MRI. The end of February brought me to a neurologist. Again, by this point, the dizziness was not as frequent, but still a little there. Neurological symptoms were starting to come forward. I was walking like I was drunk even when I wasn’t dizzy, and my body starting making weird jerking movements. It was not constant, but it was if my body was not always moving according to my commands. I had tremors, and shaking at weird moments, and I just couldn’t control them. I was finally given a diagnosis of Acute Cerebellar Ataxia. Basically, the virus I had in January, somehow ended up in my brainstem, which was causing the dizziness, and the shaking. Weird. My husband had to take off multiple times to take me to these appointments, and he never said anything to make me feel bad.

    Now we get to the gift part! We so often take our lives for granted. When we are ill, we want the quick fix, so we can get on with our own agenda. Me? I wanted to get back to doing what I want to do, not what I CAN do. Impatient that we are nearing mid March, and I have been out of work for a while, and I still have symptoms. This illness has been one of two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, three steps back, and my expectation that a clear trajectory of constant ‘better every day’ would happen was not quite accurate. My ability to ‘plan out my day,’ is now gone, and I have to live in the moment. Making decisions to do something, when I am able, and letting the agenda go. For so many days I was not able to read, or watch TV, and I would get so frustrated! I am able to now close my eyes, and thank God for the things I have at that moment. I am able to pray for my husband, who has been taking over so many of the household duties on top of his already demanding schedule of work, visiting his mother, and so many other duties!As I would get a text from a friend, or one a member of my family, I would be able to first, thank God I could read it ( really!), and then I would be able to pray for that person. And in His infinite wisdom, He has finally gotten me to “let go,” and “let God.” How hard it must be to deal with someone like me, a stubborn, ‘must be in control,’ self-indulgent person! It has only taken me three months!

    Whether this illness leaves tomorrow, or whether it lasts months longer, I have received the gift of peace in my heart, time to reflect on the many blessings I do have, and a love and joy for all of those who are in my heart every moment, with the ability to thank God for them.

    Serenity Prayer
    Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    enjoying one moment at a time;
    accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    taking, as He did, this sinful world
    as it is, not as I would have it;
    trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His Will;
    that I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him
    forever in the next.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this! A gift to all of us.

    • Gary Ware

      I appreciate your testimony/history. I will share this with my wife and daughter. Our lives have included many valleys and mountains and often, I remind each of us how God has provided and cared for us (frequently carrying us) through losses and gains. God bless.

    • Tami Weinert

      Thank you<3

  • Julie-Anne

    Have been there with the making it worse by not realising it’s bad… I hurt my shoulder and didn’t know how so was sure my body was just being dramatic so kept using it like normal. Next day couldn’t even lift my arm. Traditionally it takes me three months to get bored, but I got bored right quick with only one arm in play! I have no wisdom for you but I just wanted to say that I’m sorry you’re hurt. Being injured when you haven’t done anything heroic to deserve it is the worst. Praying for clarity from all the specialists and that the recovery will be smooth and steady and as speedy as possible <3

    • So true – no heroism and no good story makes it worse! Ha! Thanks for your prayers.

  • O, noooooooooo! I’m so sorry to hear this, my friend. But I am not sorry that are getting rest and are being taken care of and got to watch The Hip. Love you.

    • Love you, too! Still sad we didn’t get to Point Roberts with you. Hopefully we can try again.

  • Annette Moore

    “But there comes a time when pushing through is creating greater damage and so we must stop trying and simply rest and heal.”

    There is a sermon in there somewhere.”

    Yeah – is there ever.

    When there is nothing you can do. Or say. Or be. Things just are. You can’t fix it. You can’t ignore it. You can’t extricate yourself from it. And He tells you to rest. Rest and watch how He does things. But mostly, just rest. And you want to jump up and say…but, I can do…or, I can try…and He says – nope, you can’t. Just rest. And watch. And eventually we learn that the resting is not a punishment. It’s a soft gentle grace with just you and Him. And you learn – just a little – to let it wash over you.

    Yeah – there’s a sermon there. For me, anyway.

  • Handsfull

    I’m with you on the couch. I’ve been there since the day before the Olympics started, after surgery for breast cancer. Sigh… This most definitely was NOT what I had planned for this year! I’ve finally started being able to pick up some of the pieces that I had to let go after surgery, but it’s hard. Particularly when I don’t know what the next few months are going to bring in the way of further treatment. We’ve had amazing amounts of love and help poured out on us by our little community, and it has been a gift… but it’s hard being the one always on the receiving end, and not being able to give anything in return! So. Patience. I hate that I always need it, and hate having to muster up more fragments after being told ‘another 2-3wks wait before you get another appointment to get more information’, Just tell me now and let’s get on with it! Oh… patience again. It’s a hard lesson, this resting business!

  • Thanks for all of your help always, Mum! xo

  • Thank you! xo

  • Rachel

    I’m on the couch too! I had exploratory surgery for endometriosis and scar tissue from my previous c sections. My surgery was two weeks ago and Im still here laid out on the couch or in bed for much of each day. I had the grand notion that I would be back to my normal level of activity and buisness after one week at the most. My body is insosting that it needs more time to heal, rest. This means way more tv for my one and 4 year old that Im normally comfortable with. This means watching my husband coom and vaccume and give baths after teaching special ed high schoolers all day. It means saying yes to a friend doing my dishes and cooking dinner. Im fighting the guilt and giving myself the pep talk I have and would give others in my current position. Im reading and singing with my one year old curled up next to me on the bed. Im doing preschool worl sheets and letter games on the couch with my four year old. Im slowing down and soaking it all in. Your words gave life to my weary soul. Thank you for you honesty and humbleness.

  • K

    Thank you for this. God is speaking much to my work-weary body. I am also reminded of this classic:
    When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
    John Milton, 1608 – 1674

    When I consider how my light is spent,
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one talent which is death to hide
    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest He returning chide;
    “Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
    I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
    Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
    Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
    Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
    And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
    They also serve who only stand and wait.”

  • Tess de Marzo

    Your sister in pain here holding your hands with eyes closed praying that you get through this. Like you it took pain to hunker me down but most times I forget. We were born this way I suppose.

  • Tami Weinert

    Thank you. Your words were meant for me to read. My dear, dear friend sent them to me. I too am a couch, or rather, chair dweller. Beginning of August, with little warning, my colon developed a hole and I found myself in the OR, having surgery which saved my life. I am now home and 23 days into this healing. Our world felt upside down….. Maybe now it is actually right side up. I am also a doer: homeless ministry and basically running around trying to rescue hurting people while my husband and I raise our two beautiful children who both have chronic health issues. I am starting over. I can dress myself now. I cautiously try food to see what my body will accept. I am learning how to take care of a colostomy bag. I am learning how to take care of the things that truly matter, that God fit me for. I am crying a lot, humbled by the incredible show of love and support. I am letting go of difficult things (and people) that have demanded more than I could rightfully give. I am like a baby, with halting steps, fragile, and beginning…..little things are big things……because they are. Calling my 17and half year old son in so I can hold him, and talk into his curly hair, asking about his day. Laying in bed with my daughter and talking about a favorite show and how the characters lives are affected. And the million times that she pauses the show because she has Sensory Processing Disorder, and needs to move, talk, touch….to reorient constantly. Quickly touching her soft skin, I marvel that she is 14 and now in high school. Or, lying in bed with my husband watching a little bit of Netflix’s ” The Little Prince” and taking in the beauty of it. Happy….it is our 20th anniversary and I am alive and holding his hand. These small moments…..shine like a mirror mobile over my head. It helps me when it is so hard. It reminds me of new memories being made. And your words are a part of that shining mobile that I’m staring at, transfixed. Because you know. Other women who have responded to your writing know. I could not be here, right now. And I am. I am so grateful. And I am sorry that I was stubborn and thought I had it all in hand. He does…..He does. Not me. Lord, help us all to rest, heal and embrace what you have for us to live and do. And thank you for those who have given and loved and remain.

    • Tami Weinert

      Lord, I pray for comfort, healing and sweet memories being made for Sarah, in Jesus name.

  • Michelle Humphrey

    Sarah, I’m so sorry that you are going through this!! I really can identify as I went through something similar a few months ago. It’s hard being forced to stop. But God is working through this as your words so beautifully reveal. When I threw my back out I wrote about it too:
    Love and prayers to feel better!!!

  • Heather

    Hi Sarah. There is a term used in trauma therapy called ‘pushing through’. Individuals that experienced deep trauma-such as childhood abuse-learn to avoid their feelings and especially, their bodies. These individuals are forced to ‘push through’ in order to survive. It leads to dissociation and inner disconnect. ‘Pushing through’ works in the trauma, but ultimately, it is not a way to live. Trauma therapy helps these individuals to stop and listen to their physical and emotional sensensations. It must be done slowly and in safety. In a broader sense, we must learn to listen to our bodies as well as our souls and spirits. I think it is an area that the church does not understand. Our bodies speak to us and are worthy of attention. I speak through experience. I am the spouse of a sexual abuse survivor, and passionate about spreading the message of the crucial role the body and soul and spirit in healing. I am not glad you are injured, but I am glad that you are humble and learning. I have learned many things along the journey with my husband. Rest well, my friend. I believe you are right! There is a very good sermon in here!

    • Heather

      If you do preach a message, send to the Winnipeg Vineyard. That’s where I attend!

  • Kathy @

    “If we don’t pace ourselves, sooner or later our bodies will reset the pace for us.” I’ve had this experience too this summer, though not as dramatic as yours. I committed to things that worked on paper (things I “should be able to do”) but didn’t work in my life without crippling stress. My body broke down and I was forced by physical symptoms to stop and rest. It’s frustrating at times but it is also such a blessing to be released from constantly producing, like you felt with your feet in the kiddie pool.

  • Michelle Gunnin

    When I was down with my cancer treatments I found out I am not a good rester. I kind of already knew that, but it was confirmed when I could not do my life anymore. It took 7 people to do all that I was doing B.C (before cancer). 7!! That is when I realized that this interruption had the power to change my life…for the better. It should not take that many people to do what I had been doing. Can you say wake up call? And so, I learned to stop being a Martha, and to become a Mary. It was quite humbling. I was allowing friends to come clean my house, drive my kids, and cook my food. I would have never allowed that before, but then the Lord showed me that to refuse them entrance into my life during this difficult time was to refuse him. Yikes! He was flowing through them to me. He/They taught me to receive…something I had never been very good at. Allowing myself to be loved was difficult because I shouldn’t “need” people. I am a do-er, giver, supermom…or I was one. No more. I am 10 years cancer free now…and also free to receive and rest. Praying that for you too. 🙂

  • Enforced rest is HARD. You are a giver, a protector, an active person and activist, and a creator – all these things make it hard to stop. This is experienced as loss, grief. It’s hard to feel your body conspiring against you. It’s really hard not knowing how long it will last. Its hard when you are a planner, and now you can’t see the way ahead. It’s hard letting people down. It’s hard needing people.

    Use this as a permission slip to freely moan and rant and cry whenever and however long you want to. Resting is a useful life lesson an’ all, but it’s SOOOOOO boring…! Sending love and solidarity from my bed to your couch.

    P.S. And no saying that your situation doesn’t compare to mine – it totally does. (We have different challenges, too – I only have one child, and am under no obligations to other people – plus, I’m married to a really good cook, and I have no way of knowing how good your Brian is…! 😉 )

    • P.P.S. Gilmore Girls on Netflix… (Just sayin’)

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  • I read this post last weekend and finally have a moment to comment! New to you, first of all, nice to ‘meet you’ here; I lived in the lower mainland for 5.5 years and am very familiar with the locations you write on, so nice to hear of them, as it were, again. I am reading (another new to me author) a book that I think goes very much with what you are describing here: I am about halfway through reading it; lots to think about and evaluate. I hope you feel better soon and that God uses this time of unexpected rest to speak to you while you are in it. God bless!