best of intentions

October 8, 2018

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Last month I participated in a series of daily writing prompts. Each day, Laura Tremaine would offer the beginning of a sentence and, upon inspiration, those of us joining could complete it however we felt appropriate. The final day’s prompt was, “In 3 months, will you ask me about . . .,” with the idea being something one wanted to be held accountable for. This is what I wrote:

In 3 months, will you ask me about my friends? I fear that I’ve gotten into a bad habit of doing everything “urgent” in my life, and not allowing time for the life-long, in relationships. I have grown lazy as I settle into a comfortable marriage, and live as if my husband is the only friend I need. While he is, for sure, my closest friend, I dare not sacrifice other friendships due to what feels like a lack of time. Elie Wiesel wrote that “Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.” Lord help me to give of my life, love, and possessions for my friends, as so many loyal companions have done for me.

When I wrote this post, what I was feeling was a certain amount of guilt for not living up to the standard of selfless love that I see in those around me. For much of my life, I have been blessed by truly loyal friends and, for most of that time, I have felt inadequate in my efforts to live the same way.

Today I sit in my home, in one of the three stationary posts I have manned for the past 4 days. I am in the midst of creating a new normal for myself, trying to come up with a reasonable routine that is so opposite from all my normal inclinations and habits. I have lost most of what I cling to for a sense of normalcy.
The sun, and water, are currently arch enemies of my skin. And the easy-tanning, sun-loving skin I used to have is flaking off in ugly patches, so that I literally look like a lizard in the midst of its molting process.
Thankfully, the swelling has gone down noticeably in my feet. But blisters continue to form and pop, so that my motion is halting and hesitant.
I, who do not sit still at home—like, ever!—during the day, am now housebound.

It is tempting to carry on with a laundry list of physical woes. And yes, I will claim my age here, (even though my husband and I have declared a delay to my birthday, issuing an ordinance to the universe that my celebratory day will not come until I am recovered enough to enjoy it) . . . I understand now the temptation to annoyingly complain about ones physical ailments as the years creep upwards and the body creeps . . . downwards? :-)
That said, my actual reason for the list of woes is to illustrate that I have lost the daily comforts, habits, and routines that I cling to. There is an open space in my life.

Last night a couple of good friends came to visit. We had intended to have a birthday celebration, planned ahead of time, but the reality was that I could not host a dinner party in the way that I had wanted to. We almost cancelled altogether, but the pain I was having subsided, and my friends still wanted to come, so we had them over after all.
It was a decidedly pitiful party. I could get up, but each time I did, I would have to take a break and sit down again abruptly, often in the midst of whatever it was I was trying to do. I could not offer them much of anything. But we sat, together, and we talked. Not only did we talk, but—and this was the kicker for me—we laughed. We told stories back and forth and, as I told some tales of my own shenanigans, it occurred to me that I could not remember the last time I had a good, hard laugh like that.

After they left, I texted them, saying, “You two are such a bright spot in my world—in general and, specifically, in this current state. Thank you for the true, loving friendship you have shown me—and for your inspiration to me as I strive to be a better one myself, to those of you who show me community.”
In the middle of writing that text, I paused. Whoa, I thought, wait a minute . . .

I remembered what I had written for #10ThingsToTellYou. My intention had been to will myself into better friendship. I was going to give myself a good kick in the pants, and stop being so selfish with my time, so protective of my resources, and so stuck in my own stressed-out brain. I was going to tackle my sorry friend-ability as a self-improvement project.
What has happened instead is this: I have lost everything BUT people. So all I can do right now is take joy in the presence of my community. And of that, there is no shortage.
Friends here have offered rides to the hospital, have brought meals, have sat with me without shying away from the sight of my skin. There is a great deal of uncertainty and fear. But what I wrote about a few days ago remains, in that what I have left is the ability to enjoy the present moment in a way that my planner mindset usually does not allow.
I was going to make myself into a better friend. I was forced to accept the friendship that was always there.

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named

October 7, 2018

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Our dining room table pretty accurately reflects my current state of being: piles left uncleared due to the need to shift tasks and return to a prone position … schedules of med-taking and cream-applications …appointment cards to keep track of for the week … a sense of biding time, riding out pain, and praying for the grace to do it well.
This afternoon I looked up a word in the Greek Dictionary. While taking note of the definition, I caught a glimpse of the bottom of the page. Then I took a double take, thinking I must have read it wrong. These meds are really getting to me, I thought. But, looking again, I showed the page to Peter and he verified my sanity [either that or he proved himself equally insane ;-)]. The words read, “Anna, grace”
It was given as the definition corresponding to that particular Strong’s number. But I could not help but claim a certain level of ownership over my name staring me straight in the face, there on the page of my Greek dictionary.
Thank you, Mom. And thank you Daddy, for the gift of this double name that offers hope as I strive to attain the gift that is my namesake.

Moderation has always been more a practice of willpower than something that comes naturally to me. So I suppose I could claim that, not content to rest on my laurels of celebrating 39 years with a hospital visit, I needed to complete that experience with an overnight in the ER. “How old are you?” asked the doctor, as he flipped through my files. “39. Today.” He looked up from the paperwork, regarding me quizzically. “Today?” I nodded, and enjoyed the gratification of his shared grin at the irony of my choice of celebratory locations.

I had taken the day to rest at home and attempt a no-motion day since the antibiotics had not seemed to affect the pain and swelling thus far. All things considered, I was in a generally positive mood about it, as it seemed to be the right step to take. I know my weakness as a patient, and am well aware that any hindrance to my state of perpetual motion brings out the worst in my stubborn “I don’t need to stop! I can do it!” mentality. So yesterday was an exercise in willpower, in an opposite way from my norm: the willpower to stop.

But for all those good intentions, what ended up happening was that, by the end of the day, I was worse instead of better. We tried accelerating bedtime, laying down early in my last ditch effort to “fix it.” But it did not work. I did not work. My body was severely rebelling against me and I did not know what else to do about the pain. As I lay in bed, I texted a friend, asking about what antibiotics her son had been given. I admitted to her that I was not ok, and was really scared, and she said I should go to the hospital. Now. We had intended to wait until the morning to go and, truthfully, I was ready to go by then but was under the assumption that they closed at night. Finding out they were open I reached over and grabbed Peter’s arm to wake him. “We need to go now,” I said.
Thanks to the care of a kind friend, we did not have to deal with finding a taxi, but just walked downstairs and hopped in the car. On the way there I made a few light-hearted comments about the painful swelling (I was barefoot because shoes wouldn’t go on my feet) and difficulty in dressing (I left in my nightgown), but underneath it all was a great deal of fear.

The treatment began as I expected it would, with prescriptions for two rounds of new antibiotics, and one while there for an IV and another buttock pain killer injection. I warned the nurse of my vein issues before she began but she waved me off and proceeded with two unsuccessful attempts to insert the IV. Feeling the waves of a black-out coming, I was grateful when she gave up and called for help from an anesthetist; then I lay back down for the next injection. This one was more pronounced than I remembered it being—I gasped, and gritted my teeth until she had removed the needle, then tried to focus on breathing while I recovered. By this point the anesthetist had arrived; to my teary-eyed thanks, he managed on the first try. I lay there and closed my eyes for the remainder of the IV drip, hoping that was it for the needles, but afraid to ask. It was.

We were sent out, and given an appointment for the next day with a specialist. They had given me a wheelchair, so the chair was parked right outside the door to the room. Peter had given me his hand to help me walk over there and, as I stepped, I stumbled. That’s odd, I thought. I didn’t realize I had misjudged the location of that step . . . We wheeled on out the door to the car and when I moved to get up, taking Peter’s hand, I reeled. Instead of stepping onto my left leg, it had wobbled underneath me. “It didn’t work!” I blurted. Thinking I just needed to lean more into him, Peter helped me into the car. I dropped into the seat, reliving the sensation I had just had and then, tears filling my eyes, I repeated. “It didn’t work. My leg didn’t work.” Christy stopped driving. “Do you need to be admitted?,” she asked. “We can do that. I had to stay here overnight—others have as well” I nodded, tears springing to my eyes again. “Yes. I think I do.”

We turned around and began the process of checking in for the night. Peter’s suspicion turned out to be correct: the needle used for the pain injection had deadened a major nerve in that leg so, for a few hours, not only was the pain gone but my feeling was as well.

And now we are home for the day, once more in a state of waiting. Waiting for antibiotics to take effect. Waiting for the next hospital visit. Waiting for some semblance of normalcy.

There have been moments in all this that are not, at this point, worth the gory retelling—not worth it for me to relive, and certainly not worth it for you to read about. And yet, mixed in with what has been perhaps the worst physical experience of my life, there have been moments of strange joy . . .

Last night I had an exquisite night of sleep. I would occasionally wake up just enough to be aware of how little pain I felt, and of how deeply my body had sunk into that restful state. There was the occasional sound of the infant being lulled by its mother on the other side of the curtain, but that almost blended in with the white noise of the fan.

After one round of medications, and a hot, trafficky ride home, I blacked out and woke to see Peter’s face above me. “What just happened?” I asked. “You fainted,” he said. “I caught you.” A few minutes later, he was about to go get our wash from the clothesline. I stopped him on his way out the door. “Peter?” “Yep.” “Thank you for catching me when I fall.” He shrugged, kissed me, and said, “That’s what I’m here for.”

this time this year

October 5, 2018


Today is my 39th birthday. It also happens to be the first day I’ve called in sick for the day after waking up and discovering I just could not do it. I could not manage the pain enough to carry on with work—with life—as usual. Granted, I have been doing just that, so perhaps a more precise way of saying it is that today I lost the will to just pop the pain meds and pretend that something was not seriously wrong with my body. And that something has to give.
So I alternate rooms in the house today, trying to think of the things that I usually am too rushed to do. I supervised my students by way of text, corresponded with coworkers, and took care of some virtual paperwork. But there is something else that I have to do today, and that is to make real, for myself, this current physical state. I am scared. After two weeks of increasing pain, I finally found a hospital to try and went there on Tuesday. It ended up being an all-day affair, though with little of that time being spent in treatment—most of it was in the waiting. I came away with an achey buttock, but relief from the pain thanks to that ache being caused by a pain-relief injection. The blood work showed nothing beyond what was obvious to me, which was a severe infection. I am on an antibiotic but am discouraged by the apparent lack of result thus far, and am wavering between trying to be patient and pushing for more answers.
One of the things I did while convalescing today was listen to the audio of this morning’s staff devotion. As my friend spoke, I sat here in tears, and then thanked her for speaking truth to my heart. Her theme was on the ways that God is working in your life when you do not feel His presence, and one of the quotes she shared was from John Piper: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them . . . Not only may you see a tiny fraction of what God is doing in your life; the part you do see may make no sense to you . . . You may find yourself with a painful thorn, and God may be making the power of Christ more beautiful in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9)”
All I feel right now is the pain and the weakness. I see no beauty. I feel no power.
God grant me the will I have not, and the patience that is beyond me. Let me live this life without needing to control it. Let me ride out the discomfort, trusting that something good will come. Let me live in the question mark.
After I thanked her for the devotion this morning, my friend wrote back to tell me her class prayed for me. This is a class I wanted so badly to teach today. I tried to force my body to get to school and be there for these children, with the lesson I had worked on for them. But I could not do it. Somehow I have to believe that the fact that those children prayed for me in my absence had an impact beyond my own agenda.
I will close this post with a bit of an epilogue to what I wrote last Christmas. After Peter and I left Zambia, unsuccessful in our effort to find my father’s grave, the search was picked up by an old family friend. Last week I received a series of photos from her. I do not know what to think at this point. A part of me feels a loss at the no-longer-lingering life quest. Another part feels relief that the burden of the search is lifted. I do not know if we can, or should, get back there again now . . . but, here again, let me live in the question mark. For now.

What I learned this summer

September 5, 2018

[linking up with Emily P. Freeman for this seasonal series]
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What I learned this summer (in no particular order)
1. I’m really bad at hospitals, when someone close to me is involved. I’m especially bad at being wife of said involvee. More about that here.
2. My husband is not the only one who can garden. While I may have a black thumb, I do seem to have developed a reputation as the school gardener. So perhaps, more accurately, I’m not good at the gardening but am pretty good at talking up the joy of compost and dirt when surrounded by troops of kiddos. More about that here.
3. I don’t like giving up if I have not yet proven to myself that I can do it. Part of my goal this summer was to make some progress in the long-term scope of my seminary progress. I was not sure what that meant, when Peter and I first talked about our goals for the summer, but soon I realized that this would be my chance to “redeem” my experience with Greek. When I took the course last year, I struggled through what was supposed to be a summer but ended up taking me an entire semester afterwards as well. It was a humbling experience to struggle so much with a foreign language, after spending much of my life feeling like language acquisition was “easy” for me. So this time around, I decided to do it right. I began by redoing each of the classes from Greek I, corresponding with my professor over the summer about this plan. I am now enrolled in Greek II, with the goal of a more solid go this time around. And so far, I’m getting pretty jazzed about the translation projects . . . no more on that. Yet ;-)
4. I like animals. More precisely, I like consuming all things produced by them . . . and yes, the animals themselves. No doubt I could thrive as a vegetarian, but my body is, ideally, most happy when metabolizing significant quantities of protein.
5. I like books. This may seem an odd thing for a librarian to say but, it comes after going through an embarrassing stint of many years not reading. I was flitting around the world and “too busy” adjusting to new jobs to make the time for it, so I started to fear that I was not a real reader after all. Two years ago I revisited one of my all-time favorite books and, since then, there has been no stopping me. I devour books—sometimes so rapidly that I have to remind myself to slow down and appreciate the process. It has given me a renewed passion for my job as I teach young ones how to experience the same joy I discovered over 3 decades ago. Just call me nerd. Sometimes I also talk to grownups about books. More about that here.

putzing

August 23, 2018


It was with a twinge of guilt that I realized today that the happiest moments of my work life, over the past few weeks, have been, in a sense, stolen moments. Rather than the times spent in the classroom or dealing with library logistics, the moments I have anticipated have been those of little productivity. I have been carting the daily compost from lunchtime leftovers over to the garden, dumping out used coffee grounds and, while there, collecting any vegetables that need harvesting. I have taken to inviting various elementary classes over with me when I do, as they are often on recess when I head over. I ask if they know we have a school garden. Now most do, but when I began posing the question, many had no idea why we had been setting up bins by the trash cans at lunch, instructing them to separate their waste. So I’ve been taking these kids over with me, explaining that their extra food has been feeding the baby plants so that now we have new vegetables to begin the cycle all over again. No, this is not my actual job . . . but I have somehow not felt too terribly guilty about spending to time to do it. It is a well worthwhile “wasting” of time, I cannot help but believe . . .

*Disclaimer: my husband did the hard work of planning and growing this garden. I benefit from the fruits of his labour ;-)

Blood, sweat, & tears

July 25, 2018

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So it goes. Another summer over. Another flight across the ocean. Another round of goodbye hugs and “See ya next year!”s.
As she dropped us off today, mom said she looked forward to when we would be sticking around a bit longer. I reminded her of how I’d quipped a joke I was rather proud of (as I get when I manage to say something that impresses others with my witty sense of humor …or perhaps, more precisely, that impresses me with my own!): “Well, we better come back to stay sooner than later, as we’ve invested blood, sweat, and tears into this place for the past month-Peter’s blood and sweat, and my tears!”
Yes, this has been a summer of blood and sweat for him, laboring on landscaping, roofing, and plumbing, and literally putting “blood equity” into our roof, as his sister noted when I told her about Peter’s nail gun mishap. That day in the ER, I displayed a side of myself that wins no spousal medals. “I’m going to be very mad at you for quite some time,” I promised, as soon as it was clear there was no lasting injury. I attempted to prove my point by shoveling a plastic spoonful of stir fry into his mouth. “This hand is fine,” he noted, attempting to take the spoon from me. I ignored him and continued my spoon feeding, quickly enough to prevent further arguments that might mix logic into my emotional angst. “So much for my special dinner tonight,” I added, sulking over the interrupted meal prep that had been quickly piled into styrofoam before heading to the hospital. And as the hours passed that evening, I began to pace the hallways, impatiently stalking nurses to wonder what we were waiting so long for. “I can see why people try to escape from hospitals. Want to try to hide your arm band and just walk out of here with me?” He smiled at me with a slight hint of bemusement, and it occurred to me that I was probably the one acting more like an impatient than he was. I glared at him then, wishing he would at least grimace from the pain of the hole in his hand. When we finally did leave, he didn’t even let me remind the doctor of the promise to give us something for the pain. “Really, it hardly hurts at all. I’m fine,” Peter insisted.
Did I mention tears earlier? Why yes, I neglected to mention that I did indeed break down into a few rounds of weepy messiness that evening, as if I had not yet sufficiently proven my ability to feel sorry for myself as if I was the wounded party. Not a shining moment for our summer memories, for sure.
But when all was said and done, that day of discomfort, and the necessary days of business following, play their part in the chapter that this summer has been for the story of our life. As unlovable as I felt myself to be, his steady love in the midst of it left my heart stronger where the scab healed over; the space where insecurity has reigned is now covered over by a scar of secureness-in-love. The ugliness I stuff into hiding has spilled out and, instead of being met with horror and rejection, has been calmly accepted. And I realize that he has seen through those walls all along, and loved what I have tried to hide. He has loved me–the “me” I’ve tried to hide.
Lest it appear as if my husband is a bright shining pillar of perfection, I can assure you that we are both very “normal” in our humanity. He is the first to remind me of this fact each time I lapse into “I’m so messed up!” moments of apologizing for my existence. But I am truly awed by the gift that has been given to me, in the form of this man–and this realization may be the main gift that the summer as a whole has been for us. In working through the series of life issues that this season has brought (financial stresses, health failings, family conflicts, and passport emergencies), we have done the business together.
I am a nut for saltiness, in all its forms. If I get a chance to swim in the ocean, I will refuse to shower for days afterwards, relishing the feel of saltwater on my skin and in my hair. Sweat itself, for that matter, can happily live on my skin for longer than might seem natural, if one follows Western standards of showering frequency (are you, dear reader, relieved to be reading and not in my presence at the moment?😉). We’ve joked that I should have been a villain in one of the original Star Trek episodes … beware the salt vampire, then, cause he’s my type!

Thursday’s thrill

June 22, 2018

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Kids. Grandpop. Sparklers. And a match. Perfect.
Having to say goodbye to these three kiddos for another year. Less-than-perfect …and a reminder of the less-than-perfect shortness of our days for this not-so-young-anymore auntie.

Wednesday’s wonder

June 20, 2018

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PaCharley: What was it you got your degree in, again?
Peter: Math
PaCharley: Ah yes. You know about “e = mc squared”?
Peter: Yes, that’s from Einstein-the theory of relativity.
PaCharley: Right, the theory of relativity … would you like for me to explain it to you? Of course, I don’t have enough time at the moment, but … (laughter ensuing all around)

I might have laughed hardest tonight at PaCharley’s dinner table joke. Not sure if it was the sheer humor of the joke that did it, the belly happily full of fried chicken, or the eclectic company surrounding us at the prison ministry meal. Probably some combination of it all. But it somehow made sense of my morning’s surprise sighting. A hope. A promise. A light.

Tuesday’s turn

June 20, 2018

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You just never know …
I was not exactly a happy camper upon discovering we were car-less today. In our usual life, it’s no big deal to rely on feet and bicycles …that’s just, well, life. But here, in rural America, we lapse into vehicle reliance like everyone else. And not used to this particular area, we also don’t know the mechanics to trust. So the first part of the day was spent on the phone, looking at maps, and refiguring how to (and whether to attempt to!) accomplish the intended errands and business of the day. Some things just would have to go. When all was said and done, though, we found a recommended repair shop that had a space for us, we managed what was necessary, the car ended up just needing a simple tune-up, we ran into an old friend and caught up a bit … and in the midst of it all, we managed a rather too-good-to-be-true-interlude as we explored on foot …you just never know :)