Blood, sweat, & tears

July 25, 2018

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

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

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

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 :)

monday chronicles

June 19, 2018

A girl. A hen & a chick. A relaying of my grandma’s fresh breath trick as the two of us pluck fresh parsley and munch on it. An ordinary Monday …

Memorably ordinary

June 17, 2018

Four years. And being the old farts that we are, we commemorated the day in a delightfully ordinary way. We ran. We (I) swam. We talked. We walked. We shopped. We mopped. Ok, scratch that last one. We didn’t mop …but surely no one who knows this wordy nerd is the least bit surprised by my inability to resist a rhyme …
Ok, seriously, though, the highlight of the day was a rambling conversation with our new, and future, neighbor. Virginia shared with us all the local buzz, and shared a jar of her apple butter. We hardly managed more than two words at a time during her rapid-fire oration. We learned about the neighbor whose trade is firearms and blades, and about her recently deceased relative who was a fire and brimstone preacher for decades …”Maybe you’ve heard of him…?” We shook our heads apologetically but I don’t think she noticed as by that time she had moved on to relaying the shenanigans of another neighbor’s recent party. I missed a fair bit of the details Virginia shared but, truth be told, I didn’t much care. I am smitten, still grinning ear to ear at the thought of her delightful self. Yep, pretty darn good on the anniversary celebration front!

Bring on summer!

June 14, 2018

I’ve noticed a tendency I have to feel that only the “important” or “productive” parts of my days are worth documenting for public consumption…ironic, considering the truth of things is that I am more propelled and energized by a genre of life events that I would be more apt to call “silly” in my normal self talk:
-the first sip of a perfect cup of coffee (admittedly, in my world, creamed and sugared. I so want to be a black coffee person. I so cannot seem to get myself there!)
-a good swim, when the motion of my arms and legs seems synchronized with the water flowing over and around me, and when my thoughts shift into an almost fluid flow along with my physical self.
-the feel of sun soaking into my skin after a swim, warming, soothing.
-the taste of a food I’ve missed while out of the country each year
-seeing something that makes me, and my husband, laugh together as we shake our heads in an old fart “what is this world coming to?” sort of way.
These are the sorts of things that get me out of bed in the morning. The small and the mundane. So as much as I want to do great and significant things with each of my days, and as much as I may want to put those great things out for the world to see, those great things just aren’t the things that mean the world to me.
Realizing this about myself, I’m wondering if this summer is a time to come to terms with this reality, and document the daily, no matter how trivial it may seem to be. We have the gift of a summer that is removed from the”daily grind,” as it were. We have six weeks of time to be off the school clock, to travel as we see fit, and to be with the people we are so far away from for so much of the time. What if it is right and good, in this season, to be at peace with less outward productivity, and to not be ashamed to share small goodnesses with the world, without trying to justify myself or prove how I am earning my keep in the world when not doing the 7:30 – 4:30 workday/international/service life? See, there I go again-making sure it’s obvious that summer freedom is not my normal state of being!
All that to say, I would like to do a little personal experiment this summer; namely, I want to share the mundane here, with no apologies, no justifications, and no unnecessary explanations. I will share the gifts others are giving to us, in the forms of hospitality, hosting, time, and love. I will share the small (yes, “silly,” even) things that make me smile, that lift my spirits, and that motivate. I may even share the not-so-pretty, if that is what the day brings. I don’t know for sure what it will look like, as summer brings us a lot of unknowns and needs for openhandedness (not my perfectionist, productivity-oriented, super-scheduled forte, I can assure you!). But so be it … and bring it on!

*photo of mom’s broccoli salad, which she not only makes in large enough quantities for me to consume giant bowls of upon stateside arrival, but that she also delivers to me if I am not staying at her place at any given time of any given summer

It had been a rough week. With the end of the school year looming, tension runs high and patience, too often, runs low. In our household, we were feeling the extra pressure that Peter has at this stage in the game, when one of his least favorite parts of work (running sound for performances) is amped up with occasions such as graduation to plan and orchestrate. My own library end-of-year demands are a bit less public, so my personal stress in this period tends to revolve more around a wifely-worrying mindset. I find myself torn between the desire to care for my husband’s needs and a tendency I have unfortunately discovered in my married self: an inclination to sulk when his personal state of mind makes him less attentive to my own needs!
But back to this week: specifically, to secondary chapel. Peter was at his customary post in the back, behind the sound desk. Towards the end of the chapel talk, I came over next to him to see if his water cup needed refilling. At this point, a closing prayer was announced. As heads were bowed and eyes closed, I had the urge to rub his shoulders. Beginning what I thought would be a quick rub, I then realized that this was going to be an extended period of prayer time. I decided then to take the opportunity to sneak in a good massage for him, while others were occupied with more spiritual matters, and he was stuck at his post but not needing to do anything particularly demanding for the duration of the prayer. I got into it, launching into full official massage technique mode, getting onto my tiptoes for better leverage as I kneaded and pounded. Looking up, I realized that one of the students had turned around and was watching me. She didn’t have any particularly noteworthy reaction, so far as I could tell, but is a student I get along well with; so I looked her in the eyes and nodded my head in acknowledgement of her presence. She nodded back and then, a moment later, turned back around in her seat. Should I feel guilty right now? I then wondered. Am I being a bad example while others are dutifully folding their hands and bowing their heads? Should I . . . ?
I don’t know if I should or not but, truthfully, I did not. And I still do not. Unspiritual as it may be, I cannot help but suspect that this back rub was, in itself, a prayer.

go . . . and grow

May 13, 2018

As school ended on Friday afternoon, I was running around to talk to parents and kids about overdue books and, coming back to make a beeline for the bookshelf, on a missing book “scavenger hunt,” I looked up to see a student waiting by my desk. One of my most considerate teens, she was hesitant, fidgeting a bit before asking, “Um, are you busy right now . . . could I maybe talk to you for a minute?” I teased her a bit, “Ooh, sounds so serious!,” but instantly regretted it when I saw the expression on her face. She was clearly agitated. I sat down and waited for her to begin. “Um, Miss A said I should ask you about my transcript . . .” She sighed then and blurted out that she had just found out she would not be eligible for valedictorian because of her online class not being on schedule. My heart sank when I realized that, in this case, I had no good news for her. My hands were tied by the credit requirements of the school, and in this case there was no way to get around the fact that her slow pace for this online course would keep her from having the necessary marks for an award. Her grades were excellent, but she had been pouring so much time into the work that there was no way for it to be done in time for graduation.
She started to cry and, between sniffles, said, “I’ve been wanting this for so long.” Hugging her, I looked her in the eyes and said, “I know. I’m so sorry . . . but it’s not your fault. You know that, right? You did the best you could.”
“But it wasn’t good enough!” she blurted out, with a twinge of anger.
In that moment, I realized that I was going to need to tell her what I had spent the day telling myself.
“Yes, it was!” I began. “It WAS good enough! Sometimes you can do everything right but not get what you think you need. And, sometimes, what you think you need is not really what you need . . . only the hard part is that it can take years to learn what you really needed instead. And you’re gonna have this happen again, I’m afraid. I know. I’m old now, and it still happens to me!”
She smiled at this and started to try to tell me I wasn’t old. I interrupted her to continue.
“Truthfully, it happened to me just yesterday. I spent much of today in a dark funk of disappointment because someone told me that I couldn’t have what I’d been wanting. I thought I knew what I needed but know now that if a door closes that means it wasn’t the best after all. There’s something better, and I just can’t see that yet.”
She started to cry again, and told me that, unusually, considering her habit of staying late for extra study sessions and after-school activities, she was actually going home today.
“Good,” I said. “Now go do something fun. Go play.”
She smiled. “I’ll try,” she said, giving me another hug before lifting her backpack over her shoulder and walking out.
Yes, I said to myself. Like I said . . . like, go pick one of those flowers your husband has magically made grow for you, against all odds—put a bloom on the table for no other reason than to smile at its beauty.


April 22, 2018

Walking out from church this afternoon, my husband pointed over to the brilliant red blooms and commented on how amazing that tree was right now. Our local friend replied, “Yes, that’s the frangipani, right?” directing his query to me. Rather pleased at being considered an authority in the subject, I nodded confidently. “Yep,” I said, and then proceeded to correct my husband’s mispronounced repetition of the word ;-) Peter then asked our friend about the pods that he had seen on the same tree. “I wonder if they are edible?” he asked. Mr. K shook his head, “No, no – not edible?” With a chuckle, I explained to him that, for my husband and I, the most important question concerning any plant is whether it can be harvested. Peter chimed in, “Yes: can we eat it? is the crucial question!” Continuing this train of thought, however, I then added that, for me, another question is whether or not I can put it on my skin (thinking of the Shea nut trees that we harvest for butter). “It’s all about the body,” I joked—but added that I was quite serious. I then explained that it’s all about the body for me; but this does not necessarily make me overly body-focused. Because if you think about it, you realize that the brain—and consequently intellect—is a part of the whole. So caring for the physical body actually means caring for the whole self . . . spiritual as well, considering God’s mandate to care for all of Creation, ourselves included.
This interaction was a timely one, as right after church I went to study this week’s Psychology class for my seminary studies, on Emotion and Motivation. I loved considering all the ways in which the body and mind work together, so that our emotional reactions are oftentimes inseparable from our physical states.
The most striking takeaway for me, however, came with the idea of what makes for happiness in our emotional life. The mention of the state of mind that creates a sense of well-being, transcending material wealth, cultural setting, and life circumstances, came with a convicting force. This message has been coming with a sort of insistence lately: various people I have listened to on podcasts, in my community, and in books, have mentioned this theme of what makes for a contented life. What I have been musing on, in the midst of it, is how truly blessed I am. I am a gifted whiner and complainer, noticing all the little details that aren’t quite up to par in my surroundings. But when it comes down to it, I have everything I need in order to live a fulfilled life.
Later in the day, my husband and I went out for our afternoon walk. “You know,” I mentioned, when a woman raises her arm, it’s a non-verbal cue. She’s not just needing to, for instance, fix her hair . . . it’s sort of a come-hither action.” I raised my hand in the air and turned towards him. “See—you were a goner from the moment you saw this armpit.” He leaned over and took a long and dramatic whiff. “Yep. You’re right!”

*Update: turns out, thanks to a questioning of my tree naming from another local-tree-knowledgeable soul combined with a closer look this week, it is not a frangipani but a flamboyant. This time hubby snapped a photo, to capture the full, er, flamboyance, of the blooms :-)