invaded

February 26, 2019

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A tyrant has invaded our home, ordering each member of the family to follow its chaotic marching orders. Armies of pill bottles are in formation on each table and countertop. Walkers and canes stand as sentries by doorways. An oxygen machine guards the bed. Fortresses of supportive pillows are built on beds and in chairs. We all must bow to the Sultan of Seniority.

This morning I realized that no one had explained the pages of medicines and dosages given to GramBea. She sat in front of all the bottles with a pill box and loose pills, flustered and looking to me to help. I’d started to look up some of the names last night for her, since most of the names on the list didn’t match that on the bottle, and so required a good old google to decipher what we were actually looking for. But I’d assumed someone at the rehab center would have gone over the list with us before discharging him. For whatever reason, this did not happen. So when we were caught off guard with an unexpected homecoming yesterday afternoon, medicine turned out to be one of the greatest hurdles. For starters we had to gather them all. Some of his prescriptions turned out to be obscure, so Peter was sent from one pharmacy to another in search of available stock, driving for two hours before managing to get just the immediately urgent ones (less urgent ones are still on order to arrive for pickup in the next few days).

And now we have the joy of sorting them. This morning it took about an hour for me to make sense of it all enough to get a weeks worth of pills sorted out in the pillbox. As I neared the end of the job, feeling as if I was nearing the end of a grueling school exam, PaCharley called me. He was trying to fix the button mismatch on his shirt and began to ask me for help. “While you’re sitting here…” he began. “No!” I said, with too sharp of a tone. But I was too on-edge about the task at hand to apologize. “I can’t interrupt what I’m doing right now, PaCharley,” I continued. “This is too important—that has to wait!” And it was true, not necessarily because anyone would have had to focus exclusively on this task; but with my novice approach, I knew that I couldn’t afford any distractions while in the middle of it. For very good reason, I have never had any temptation to pursue the pharmaceutical professions. Tonight’s education was a bit more along the lines of my leanings: learning how to operate an emergency oxygen tank. I was pleased to realize that it is rather similar to my last quirky oven and its leaky regulator.

I’ve taken to hugging GramBea and telling her she’s my hero (the truth). She usually responds with “I’m amazed we’re still talking to each other!”
Will we survive? Yes. Will we still like each other? Hopefully :-) Will we still love each other? Definitely.

Yesterday I read a quote in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It seems appropriate to end, for now, with the words of one who has far better words than I do these days . . .

“Please – Aslan,” said Lucy, “can anything be done to save Edmund?”

“All shall be done,” said Aslan. “But it may be harder than you think.” And then he was silent again for some time. Up to that moment Lucy had been thinking how royal and strong and peaceful his face looked; now it suddenly came into her head that he looked sad as well. (12.21-22)

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a real job

February 22, 2019

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Yesterday I went to a job fair. Most of the vendors (that’s the word they used for it, though it strikes me as odd—incongruous?—somehow) were promoting entry-level positions. I would approach a table to be greeted with a cheery, “Hi! What are you looking for?” The first time I was asked this question, I was a bit stunned. “Um . . . well. I’m not sure.” “Ah—well, I’m sure we have just the thing for you. We have many exciting jobs just right for young people like you. And we offer on-site training. What are your interests?”
By this point I’d probably be smiling a bit as well—not quite so deer-in-the-headlights anymore. “Well, I’m a librarian. And I’ve been a French teacher for a few years as well. Most recently in West Africa. I’ve been in education for 15 years. But I’m open to new experiences at the moment . . . though I’m not sure I’m really all that well-suited for your server openings. I didn’t do so well as a waitress, as I recall—a lower point in my workforce career . . .”
“Oh! Uh-yeah. Ok. Well, have a good afternoon!” I got the hint that there wouldn’t be any arguments to my bowing out, and away, from the company in question.
There was also a booth for the Army. As I walked past, the two men in uniform greeted me. “Good afternoon, Ma’am. Do you know anyone who might be interested in a career with the U.S. Army? Do you have children who might be?” At this point, I wondered what had instantly aged me from being perceived as a recent high school graduate to a “Ma’am” … and a mother of said graduates! But starting to enjoy myself, I responded simply,
“No–I’m afraid I don’t have any children.”
Perhaps they didn’t want to appear to be making assumptions about my age, as the other one added, “Though maybe we have something you’d be interested in . . . may I ask what that might be?”
“Well,” I began. “I’ve been in international schools for about 10 years now. West Africa. China” I paused before adding my coup-de-force. “Afghanistan.”
Both young men grew wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Then one stammered a bit, collected himself, then smiled widely again. “Welcome home!” The other nodded. I laughed, thanked them, and moved on.
I came away from the job fair with one promise of a follow-up phone call, a handful of lemonheads, a stress ball, a water bottle, 2 pens . . . and, most importantly, an educator’s dream toy: a mini notebook of varied sizes of sticky notes.
That was yesterday. Peter was the driver on duty that day, allowing me the afternoon for that outing.
Today was my day to be on duty. Back in my currently familiar world of beds that have buttons, disposable linens, and beeping machines, it occurred to me that I feel the torn between the responsibility of finding a “grown-up” job that will provide income and insurance and the daily urgent—the ins & outs, and ups & downs involved in that common human experience of aging family members.
Is reality a 9-5 and a daily commute?
Or is reality watching your grandfather tested for mental acuity:
Questions such as, “What day is it today,?”
And tasks such as “Take this piece of paper, and fold it in half. Good. Now put it next to you on your right side. Good.”
The lady testing him today was really impressive, and I told her as much. As she walked out of his room, I called after her, “Thank you. You do a really great job with what you do. Really, thank you.” And I was being quite honest, in that I was impressed by the way she was able to balance a professional nature with gregarious conversation that put on-edge folks a bit more at ease. I was grateful to her.
I was also proud of my grandparents. Proud of my grandmother for her willingness to set things aside and commit to planting herself next to a hospital bed day after day, belying her 92 years as she waves to all her new friends in the facility and smiles widely to greet her “sweetheart.” Proud of my grandfather who, still fully capable in his mental functions, patiently answers each question and throws in a few jokes along the way. Most men in his position would not doubt be more inclined to resent these lines of questioning—by my PaCharley has never met a soul he didn’t like. So now, his lifelong habit of having all the time in the world for anyone who crosses his path is, I think, paying dividends. My grandpa—my “Dad 2”—is no angel. He’s hard-headed as ever, and we are all in the middle of what is proving to be a huge and arduous undertaking of family life.
There have been many moments in which I have wondered: Is this life too much? What is this version of “reality” I’ve entered?
But I have to believe that this is a greater reality than that 9-5. That this reality of the winter season of life is, indeed, a real job.

consumed

February 5, 2019

Consumed. That was the only response I could think of today when Uncle G asked how I was doing.
Consumed. By what? I mean, life is easy right now . . . right? It’s not like we have real jobs anymore. All we do is drive my grandmother around. And visit the (growing number of) family members who are hospitalized. And meal plan. And grocery shop. And attempt to set up a house—that we don’t know when we will actually live in. And try to make plans for what the future will look like if/when my grandfather is released and comes home. And try to make plans for/apply for jobs that we can’t imagine fitting into our “schedules” at this point in the game. And . . . And . . .

Gee: somehow life doesn’t seem so easy anymore as we adjust to the “ease” and “simplicity” of this developed Western world again. But you know what? That’s ok. It’s ok. Because when all is said and done, all that really matters is here. Now.

The promise never was one of ease and simplicity anyway. That was not the point. And who really wants that, on the deepest, truest level of the soul anyway? Not me.
What has been promised—to me, at least—is that HE will be gentle with me. He has been gentle with me. He is gentle with me. He will be gentle with me. I know this to be true.
Because it is, we can laugh.

Yesterday my father-in-law had a fall that was pretty nasty, landing him in the hospital for surgery. Since an ambulance had taken him in, we went to the house later to take care of the dogs and chickens. While there, we cleaned up the bloody mess in the bathroom. Or, more accurately, Peter cleaned it up. I made a valiant effort: an effort consisting of staring at in and telling myself I needed to think of where to start, getting instantly woozy, and making a hasty departure to inform my husband that I couldn’t do it.

The following series of text messages between my mom and Peter came a bit later in the day:

Mom: Gary wrote this when he heard you cleaned the bathroom: “Wow. That’s why they are called ‘blood relatives.”
Peter: Does that mean I’m no longer an in-law?
Mom: Maybe we should call you Lou’s blood brother.

*Please excuse me for excusing myself from the scene before properly documenting the crime.

Dad 2

January 29, 2019

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His name is Christopher. He’s 12 going on 13. “Going on” more precisely meaning October 6. When he told me his birthday, I exaggeratedly gasped. “Nuh uh! That’s crazy . . . I’m going on 40, and my birthday is October 5! Isn’t it crazy?!?” He mirrored my own wide eyes as he agreed that, yep, it was indeed pretty crazy. Is that why we bonded today, over balogna sandwiches and milk boxes? Maybe.

Or maybe it’s because both of us were in the waiting game. He was waiting for his “Dad 2” to be released. He got hit by a train. “Whoa! I said. That sounds awful!” He was pushed in front of the train, Christopher went on to explain. “By mom’s ex-boyfriend,” he added. I nodded, sympathetically, as if I understood what that would be like. Truthfully, my own life drama pales in comparison. And as I sat in this waiting room, feeling sorry for myself in this uncomfortable state of . . . well, waiting, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. Not that I feel like any one person’s life pain is inherently greater than another’s: rather, I believe that we each carry our own burdens, and our own burdens are great enough. Not because of the greatness of the burden itself, but because it is suited to our own unique capacities for burden-bearing . . .

But I digress. I do that sometimes. I was telling you about Christopher.

Christopher, who celebrated his birthday this past year with Dad 2, and who likes to eat ketchup with his mashed potatoes. When he told me this, I shrugged, “That makes sense to me. Like ketchup with french fries, right?” “Exactly!” he said—though the pleased-as-punch expression on his face made me suspect that he may not have actually thought of this correlation before inventing his culinary concoction. 

Christopher, who doesn’t like to eat the crusts on his sandwiches. “I don’t know why,” he said. “No wait, I do! My nanny used to cut the crusts off of my sandwiches!” I didn’t burst his revelatory bubble by mentioning that crust-removal is a rather common occurrence in kid world. I think the Christophers in our midst could use every bit of “I’m special” moments they can get.

Christopher and I shared our meal and I soaked up his presence like the dry soul of a sponge I was at the time. He filled me up with kid-normalcy.

Hours later, I returned to the same spot. I was lamenting the fact that I had not told him how special he was. Our goodbye had come a bit abruptly, as his mom had marched in and asked if he was done yet. It was time to go. But as I thought about him, in bounded the boy himself. I grinned widely and asked if I could sit with him. He nodded. We chatted some more. And then he bounded back out. But this time, before he went, I made a point of telling him that I thought he was pretty cool. And that I was pretty darn pleased that I’d been able to hang out with him today.

I most likely won’t see Christopher again—at least not in the waiting room. His Dad 2 was being discharged tonight and he was off, promised pizza to celebrate (which, he added, was being purchased by his dad’s friend, as Dad didn’t have the money for it).

My own Dad 2 will likely be in for quite some time yet. And the funny thing is that he is in fact my “Dad 2” too . . . for my PaCharley was, for all practical purposes, my dad from the age of 9 on. So I guess “Dad 2” brought Christopher and I together today, for a bit of a happy respite from the chilly reality of life on this chilly January day.

gentle

January 2, 2019

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“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,

The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;

And a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6, NKJV)

 

This passage has been hounding me: in various, apparently unconnected areas of my life, this same verse, or reference to it, keeps cropping up. And if there is one thing I have learned in my 4 decades of existence, it is to listen when this happens. God speaks to us in countless ways and I, for one, am of the hard-headed, stubborn-minded variety; so I suspect that He hammers me with repetition when there is something He wants me to hear. But for the weeks that this verse has been a theme in my life, I have not been able to figure out why. Listening to a New Year-themed podcast this morning, I heard the idea of choosing a word for the year.

This is not a new idea to me but, truthfully, my mental capacities have not been functioning very well. I’ve felt lost. And for good reason, I suppose. One does not lose, in one fell swoop, one’s identity of 8 years without significant ramifications; but that stubborn brain of mine does not like to admit any sort of loss of control—this being no exception. I’ve attempted to function as if nothing is amiss; going about my routines as best as I can. But even those routines are not accessible in this present setting, as my husband and I are being treated to a beautiful holiday week with generous friends. It is a gift . . . and an unsettling reminder to me of my intense habit of clinging to routines—to my idea of whatever it is I feel I “need” in order to maintain some sense of normalcy.

But I digress. My writing has lost focus along with the rest of me; bear with me, readers, if you will.

What I was going to say is that a word for the year hit this morning. Gentle. Yes, that is it. After years of pushing myself, and of striving to be someone I think I should be, to find myself here, now, incapable of doing so anymore. How can I strive for anything when my livelihood, my home, my community, and my identity, have all been snatched away? I should clarify here that we are not, in any sense, destitute. But what we thought our path would look like this year is not at all what it is. We are having to reevaluate the defaults and, most likely, make some significant decisions in the near future. It’s not going to be fun.

So what I am feeling spoken into my fearful, feeble soul right now is, simply, gentle. I choose to claim this as a promise. Come what may in this new year, He is GENTLE and He will be gentle with me.

silent night

December 24, 2018

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Are we gonna be ok? Yes. But this? This is most definitely not ok.
Over the course of three days last week we were to find out that we most likely, and then, finally, that we definitely would be losing our jobs. Immediately. This, considering our lives as foreigners here, means that we are also losing our homes, our community, and our country. We are being instantly uprooted. While this process was in place, we had to go about business “as usual” in our classrooms. I had to cheerily give my normal “See ya later!” as the children filed out of the library, choking on the words and fighting back the tears.
Tears flow readily these days, as I waver wildly from one emotion to the next: gushing a weepy goodbye one moment and snapping argumentatively over a minor complaint the next.
We are in a frightening no mans land, knowing that no one who cares about us is in control anymore. We don’t know when our homes will be repossessed, or whether we will be allowed back into our offices or classrooms on any given day to clean up, and clear out.
Today Peter and I decided to try to get into the school one last time, so that we could consider it done and walk away. I witnessed the library ransacked. I saw the ravages of a space in which anything considered valuable is carted out; all that I had spent years thoughtfully arranging has been left picked over, and strewn about. Shelves I used to agonize over, trying to make all the books fit, are now bare.
I used to remind students each day to use their “spot-a-books”: “Now it’s time to get your spot-a-book, & choose your book. If you decide not to check out that book, your spot-a-book is waiting right there to show you where it goes!” Tell-tale signs of forgotten spot-a-books now litter empty shelves.
We did not linger long. A few possessions collected, then it was enough. We walked back out and told ourselves we’d done what we needed to do, seen what we needed to see. We returned to our home, grateful to be back but too aware of the precarious nature of this respite. It is time to purchase one-way flights, give away possessions, and pack the suitcases that have claimed closet space for years now. It is almost time to say goodbyes. Almost.
But first we stop. First we acknowledge this particular night—this holy night.
On Sunday I closed our opening worship by speaking the words of the song we had just, as a congregation, sung together. I asked that we all let the words be our prayer. Tonight I ask the same of my own heart. Tonight we push pause on it all, celebrating with a dear friend. Our table is laden with fried plantains and jollof rice, big bread buns and (only because it was requested!) ketchup.
Tonight, It’s a Wonderful Life.
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Silent night, holy night
Son of God
Love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth

curmudgeonly chronicles

December 15, 2018

FullSizeRender (15)The school Christmas program is over. And this, my friends, is the only photo I took of the event. It was after proudly realizing I could tie white fabric in a way that would look official and nicely-decorated. The reason this is the only photo of the event is that I was fully enmeshed in logistics for the actual performance, monitoring my cues and actual performance issues so that I could do my job (running the lights) well. Yes, hubby and I are in our third year now as team Sound-and-Lights-Duo. This year added a new dimension to the festivities for me, in that I was also on the Committee for putting on the event; thus the added chair decor, making programs for the evening, projector distribution and other sorts of minor, but necessary, tidbits. After all, the show must go on! And go on it did. The kiddos were darling, parents were proud …and now, my small household is simply glad for a bit of a break in the action. Till next weekend’s church choir performance! ;-)

*Fittingly, the shadow in the background of this shot is hard-working hubby, in the middle of his own setting-up logistics

curmudgeonly chorister

December 9, 2018

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As of late, gratitude has been a stretch for me. The past few weeks have had me nursing a wounded pride, and trying to find the strength to move forward from a severe blow to the core of my identity. I have watched the seasonal celebrations with little interest in joining the chorus of thankfulness for all the joys of the holidays. Scrooge, the Grinch . . . name your curmudgeonly character, and I’ll trump it!
But today I could no longer cling to that curmudgeonly self; in spite of my will, the tears came when I saw the choir gathering up around the piano to continue perfecting their parts, long after I’d applauded how well they sounded (near perfection) and dismissed them. But instead, these teens and twenties (?) wanted it to be even better. So while others packed up to enjoy the remnants of Sunday, while stir-crazy kiddos interrupted them by climbing on laps and banging out “twinkle, twinkle, little star” in the middle of their accompanist’s efforts, and while I snuck behind them to take pictures, they carried on with diligence.
Wow, I mused, shaking my head. I doubt if I would have done that in my own high school choir days. And I certainly am not inclined to do it now, as I rush from one thing to the next in a state of amped-up anxiety and “urgent” to-dos!
There is so much for me to learn from this young Korean/Chinese/Ghanaian/American hodge podge tha,t for some reason, sees fit to call me “Pastor.” Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m doing; I have no proper training as a choir director . . . just a decent musical ear and a number of decades of experience with amateur musical activities. But here I am. And here they are. And, well, I say it again: Wow! There is so much talent packed into this small squad that pretty much all I have to do is pick some songs and wave my hands around in the air in front of them! Ok, so maybe I put in a good deal more effort than that—but they’d probably sound just as brilliant if that’s all I did ;-)
Yes—this is us. And thanks to the “us”-ness of it all, I’m a tiny bit less of an Eeyore at the moment . . . and a great deal more grateful.

on this day

November 30, 2018

in this season . . .

IMG_7356I have had a habit, for most of my adult life, of joking about how “old” I am. In part this is due to the fact that I have generally appeared much younger than I am; so it makes for a good shock factor in settings like the classroom, or when meeting people.
Thanks to this recent season of life, I am no longer inclined to joke about the failings caused by an aging body. I cannot exactly claim to be “old,” per say, at 39; but I’m certainly not a young woman anymore. And in this particular season my body failed me in a way that it never before has; I experienced a complete loss of control over my health and well-being. It was, granted, a temporary loss, & so perhaps light compared to that of others; but for me it was truly horrific—and truly terrifying. I wrote more about this in a string of recent blog posts. I have a new sympathy for those who suffer, and a new gratitude for the health that I am generally blessed with.
The one in my life for whom I probably have the greatest admiration, and the deepest love, is a woman who has suffered deeply. I cannot begin to imagine how she has managed, and how she still does manage. So today, “on this day” is in her honor. For my mama . . .
[incidentally—but I don’t think coincidentally—this year’s annual post coincides with Emily P. Freeman’s quarterly post So today I join her followers and add my “thing I learned” to the linkup]
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on this day
I remember, this day–November 30–in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited–no, more than that–I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.

It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister’s hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane–and have ever since–the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.

That day, however, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.

The 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly–3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother’s 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends–a teenage student of my Dad’s and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.

So that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn’t be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families’ arrivals, we all filed out the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom’s long arm waving out the window and Alex’s goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program–not to keep waiting for our parents there.

I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves–still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead–so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home.

Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were “Auntie” and “Uncle” to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch–”Anna, Helen–I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . ” Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.

I don’t remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point–nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments.

I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex’s discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn’t get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn’t know whether to blush, sob, or scream–I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t want to see my mother . . .

Somehow, time passed. My Daddy’s funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn’t know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books–in beautiful worlds of fantasy–to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my “nose stuck in a book” as a child.

And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don’t know for the life of me how she did it–a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.

On this day, during my childhood, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied note cards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them–as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like “Jesus loves me this I know . . .” and “My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too.” I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again.

I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. And thankfully my own mind clamped down firmly on all the memories I had of my times with him, out of a personal need for them and, I suspect, out of a nagging suspicion that someday, somehow, there would be a greater use for, outlet for, it all.

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.