Not a Germophobe

I’m not sure if it puts me at a higher risk in these pandemic days, but I’m not a germophobe.

I confess, I haven’t gone over every surface in my house with something meant to kill anything living on them in the past couple of weeks.

I actually have cleaned more than usual for me, but mainly because my husband is now four weeks past his hip replacement and it wouldn’t be a good time for him to pick up an infection of any kind and need to go to the hospital.

There are many places I could lay the blame, if necessary, but the reality is that I just don’t care that much about cleaning things.

I grew up having the most fun playing in dirt piles or sand, fashioning “buildings” out of branches and leaves, stirring up mud puddles and mixing up different things just to see what could happen.

I still love spring, sticking my hands down in the dirt, squeezing the lumps out of to make a smooth path for the roots of the plants I’ll put in my barrels after the 15th of May has passed.

Or pulling out the weeds that I let go the year before as they emerge young and fragile for a few weeks before really digging themselves in. I can spend hours just working through the soil with my hands. It’s very satisfying to me.

And when I finally need to clean up, there is always a nail brush and a sturdy bar of soap to get the job done.

So for me, I don’t get too excited about cleaning things. When I can see the dirt, it’s time.

And I am puzzled by my friends who clean obsessively. Since this pandemic started I’ve seen lots of Facebook posts about how much/often/vigorously people are cleaning.

In my mind I don’t see the need. I’m not saying we shouldn’t wash our hands often and well. But our reality is that we are not out and among other people hardly at all. We have been staying home, and when we do venture out we wash up good when we return.

I will clarify by saying I do know how to clean. And when I do it I do it well. The two and a half years I spent as a maid at a hotel taught me a lot about deep cleaning, so it isn’t lack of knowledge. Just personal preference of how I’d rather spend my time.

I don’t like to clean, but I like making lists about cleaning. I could write lists for a living. I love breaking things down into the component parts. And I can see that in order to get from point A to point B in a project things 1, 2 and 3 probably need to happen. And I can include all those details that will get the job done well.

I actually have wide-eyed hopeful lists of cleaning chores I wrote when I was brand-new married. They are something to see! (Yes, I kept the notebook I wrote them in, it’s somewhere in a box in a closet.)

We had just built our house, it wasn’t quite finished on our wedding day, so everything was fresh and new. I had lists of daily, weekly, semi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual cleaning chores to be done. Even a few five to ten year things like painting.

I sure had my work cut out for me.

It wasn’t until we’d been married ten years that my husband told me something I’d never ever known about myself.

He said I was a perfectionist.

Well. If that were the case, wouldn’t I have been able to complete all the tasks on all those lists?

But the reality was that I hadn’t.

And the context in which Dear Husband shared this truth with me was in talking about the household chores and how we split them up between us.

I thought about this new idea. Was I a perfectionist?

Well, I certainly knew in my mind exactly how I wanted things done. And I could see every step that needed to be taken to get the outcome I envisioned. But I had lived life with other people for so long that I had learned a basic fact.

If there is a way for things to stop your plans from being realized, it will happen. In my case someone else’s needs usually came in the middle of whatever I wanted to accomplish.

It wasn’t that their needs were more important than mine, just that they were important. They needed to be taken care of. So I learned to let the things go that really didn’t matter as much as I thought it did all those years ago when I made those starry-eyed lists.

So I don’t clean like I could, maybe even like I should. It’s more hit and miss than I’d like.

But in these times when things aren’t going the way they normally would, when grocery shopping has become an opportunistic hunt and work is slow coming in, when everyone is home and tempers flare and we all are more needy than normal, I’m okay with it.

I’m fine not being a germophobe. I have more important things on my mind.

Eye Contact

A couple of weeks ago I had never heard of the idea of social distancing.

And give it time, a few years maybe, and we will probably have fading memories of the March when we needed to isolate ourselves from most social situations, put physical distance between us and other people.

For all of our protection.

On the latest trek to the grocery store Baby Girl and I saw it in action.

Per the advice given, we had a list and a plan. Start at the pharmacy end, zip straight across to the produce/fresh meat/bakery, then around the edges for staples and down a quick couple of aisles for things we were out of.

As soon as we started across the main aisle we noticed neon-bright tape X’s at intervals down the floor. One at the aisle end of every checkout lane, one at the paypad end.

We soon saw a worker on his knees putting down the tape. I asked if the X’s were 6 feet apart – the distance recommended to stay away from others to avoid contact with anyone’s droplets – and he said yes.

I thanked him, and said I was glad the store was giving us a visual aid to help comply.

The X’s continued down the length of the far side of the aisle, so that when there are long lines like we ran into last week, people can stay a good distance apart while waiting.

Here in Ohio I hear we have a reputation for hoarding toilet paper. If the shelves in the store I usually shop are an indication, that’s the truth. I’m curious for someone to connect why that was the hot item in our state, though it is a convenience people don’t like to be without.

Also in Ohio we are gaining a reputation for a governor who has put forward some very cautious yet radical plans of action. Schools are closed, universities and colleges, day cares will soon follow. Restaurants are take-out only. Large gatherings are not allowed, though churches are deciding on their own. Most are complying and not holding in-person services.

Governor Dewine is being looked at as a template for other states from what I read, and I am glad if he is erring on the side of caution. I don’t mind being inconvenienced for a while to keep more people healthy and lessen the impact this pandemic will likely have on the health-care system.

And as far as social distancing, I’m afraid our modern age has taken care of that in many ways. We can sit in a crowded room and no one is talking to each other. Everyone is busy on their phones, as if there weren’t any real people sharing the space with them, only the games and apps and “social media” that lets everyone isolate while thinking they are still “connected” to their many friends and followers.

As my family is learning to navigate our new normal for each day, we are venturing out in very limited contact with anyone else. Trips to the store are the most exposure and infrequent compared to our previously normal daily stops.

Work has been the biggest adventure. We have a small family business that’s been around for 58 years, and as Dear Husband is healing from his hip replacement, he has been coaching our two youngest through some basic jobs they can handle.

The training had started long before the surgery, but it wasn’t until just a couple months before the date that they started planning this slow return to work for DH. So as the jobs come in, he picks and chooses the ones he thinks the kids are ready to handle.

The plan sounded great three weeks ago, the day of the surgery.

And then the world changed dramatically.

In the 34 years we’ve been married, we’ve seen a lot of change in the world. A lot of change in our business.

The one thing that has never changed is that God has always provided work for our hands, food for our table.

And no matter what is going on in the world, I have no reason to doubt his ability to get us through this pandemic, this game-changer that is reshaping the way we live our daily lives.

So on the days we have a job or two to take care of, I drive, the kids help their dad work in a garage or two, at the most they see one or two other people who stick their head out to check how it’s going, and pile back in the car to head home.

Way less contact with the outside world than they are used to having.

And I sit in the car and knit while they work, or run for supplies, or cancel appointments as they come to mind.

And I watch.

Workmen at a neighboring house, people walking their dogs, moms with kids on a bike or a stroller. Mail carriers, garbage men, homeowners checking for mail.

Almost all walking quickly, purposefully, eyes straight ahead or on the ground, that heartwrenching look of being on the edge of breaking on their faces.

So I’ve decided I’m fine with putting physical distance between me and everyone else. I can try to remember to stay six feet away.

But I will not distance myself emotionally from the fear and confusion I see on almost every face.

I tried it today, with the man picking up the garbage bags next to my car and the one backing the truck into the condo driveway. With the frowning man walking his dog. With everyone else I saw, mostly through the windshield of the car.

I made eye contact. Or tried to.

You see, I have hope. And I believe that I need to be ready to give a reason for the hope that I have. And I can’t begin to give you a reason if I am too scared to look you in the eye.

And I am not too scared.

I want you to see that Jesus is not a liar. When he says he will be with us always, he didn’t mean except for when the world is flying apart at the seams and we can’t make sense of anything.

I think he means that is EXACTLY when he will be most with us.

So if you see me across a store or parking lot, don’t be surprised if I attempt to catch your eye. I can’t touch your hand or hug your neck, but I can let you know that I see you, that you matter, that you are not alone.

It’s one way I WILL try to make human contact while we are encouraged to keep our distance from each other.

Making all things right

I don’t have any Y2K water left.

My three youngest kids have no memories at all of 1999 and the mass hysteria that eclipsed a lot of people’s time and joy, especially in the last few months of that year when the entire world waited to see which if any of multiple disaster scenarios might come true.

In case you don’t know, none of them did.

But people certainly let the doomsayers steal their contentment.

The worry, if I remember correctly, was about computers mistaking 1-1-00 as 1900 instead of 2000 and shutting down systems controlled by machines.

Midnight came and went, the electricity and gas didn’t go off, we still had running water, gas pumps still worked.

And many people’s garages and basements were filled with gas-powered generators, water filtration systems, canned goods of all kinds, dried and powdered survival foods, camping gear to cook on open fires if needed, extra blankets, toilet paper and paper products of all kinds, shelf stable groceries and cleaning and other dry products of every imaginable kind.

And Y2K water.

I hope whoever thought of the term Y2K (year two thousand) patented it.

While there was some fear that all of a sudden at 12:01am 1-1-2000 hospitals would go black and health care would be severely affected, those fears didn’t come to pass.

I happened to be nine months pregnant with a baby whose due date was 12-31-99. Fortunately he was born over three weeks late. When things were back to normal.

In the current worldwide climate we are facing a new fear that is all about the health and welfare of us all.

I don’t claim to know much about coronavirus (COVID-19), other than what I read in the many daily updates, hear in any newscast, see on the faces of the people around me. Even what is being reported changes throughout the day, so that the conversations I overhear in public are full of speculation and misinformation as often as not.

I am not making light of this pandemic. People far smarter than me have decided we need to take this disease seriously, so I am.

But I will not let it steal my hope.

This afternoon, the day after Middle Son was sent home from his university, the day before my weekly Celebrate Recovery will be indefinitely postponed for the foreseeable Fridays, Dear Husband and I trekked out to the store.

Yes, we actually needed to get some toilet paper. And basic groceries.

DH is now two weeks out from his total hip replacement, and we felt a short walk would be good exercise.

The parking lot wasn’t overly busy, and it didn’t seem that crowded, but after 40 minutes of increasingly hectic shopping where we were surprised to actually find only a few packages of some items still on the shelves, we waited another 40 minutes in line to check out and pay.

Dear Husband had to take a sit break after taking a few pictures of the chaos. We reminisced about the Y2K days, the uncertainty, the panic even. It seemed very familiar, but in a whole new category.

As we had made our way to the areas we needed to shop, others had intense looks on their faces. Frowns, scowls, wide-eyed surprise and consternation. Bent on a purpose, or maybe trying to calm a rising anxiety about why there were so many people in the store.

Depleted items were somewhat predictable: toilet paper, tissues, disinfectant wipes, bleach. We’ve all seen Facebook jokes about selling cars for a few rolls of toilet paper. It’s one of those things that doesn’t really make sense – it isn’t an intestinal virus – yet those of us whose parents lived through the depression still understand the sense of calm you get from knowing you’re prepared. Just in case.

Others, not so much: flour, butter, bananas. Although baking from scratch can be very therapeutic.

As we continued around I felt myself wondering if I didn’t need more groceries than I had planned on getting, you know in case things weren’t available to restock soon.

Then I started thinking about the Serenity Prayer that I’ve been missing the last few weeks as life has kept me from attending Celebrate Recovery.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

This midafternoon trip was supposed to be a quick in and out. Running errands.

But when we turned the corner and saw that not only were most of the available 25 regular lines in use as well as all the self check-outs, but the lines jammed the whole front aisle of the store, we had no choice but to go with the flow.

There was no reason to get mad or frustrated or anxious.

“…the courage to change the things I can…”

The whole spirit in the store was frantic. And I hated that. I couldn’t change the way anyone else was seeing this from their own viewpoint, but I could show that I wasn’t letting it get me down.

We saw people we knew and we chatted easily, catching up, poking a little fun at the craziness.

Yes, I was tempted to start piling ALL the remaining whatevers in my cart, but I chose restraint. I fully expect the trucks to bring more items, the nighttime stockers will replenish the shelves, and I will return to shop another day.

“…and the wisdom to know the difference.”

My real desire was to change the way some of the people seemed to be seeing this. I saw the fear on their faces, the concern, the anger. I wanted to look them in the eye and tell them that they would be ok.

But that isn’t up to me. It’s up to each one of us to choose hope over fear.

So I did what I could.

I smiled. Big and genuine. Full of the peace and calm I was able to feel in the middle of the madness.

“Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is; not as I would have it;”

If you’ve read my blog over the last year you know I’ve struggled a lot this past year with respiratory issues. Asthma, allergies, hospital admissions and emergency room trips. In just the past couple of months the respiratory flu and in the past couple of weeks now, pneumonia.

I know that I am in a higher risk category than many people. But I am not afraid of these things that can kill the body, and I will not live my daily life in fear of the what ifs. (And yes, my kids are scolding me about staying home and letting them do the running.)

I choose to look for the familiar faces and offer a normal conversation and a reassuring smile. We’re in a little time of hardship. Let it draw us all to a greater peace that only comes from trusting that God is not surprised by the nightly news reports, the canceling of public gatherings, even the deaths of those who have and will succumb to this new threat.

“Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.”

Make all things right.

Looking around the store today, that was my desire. To make all things right for all these people. If I had the power…

But I do. Because I intimately know the source of all power. And I know that Jesus is trustworthy, honest when he says he can meet all my needs.

My need for calm in any stormy situation, for peace when there is nothing but chaos in the world around me. Knowing I am loved and cherished when very real threats to my health, my life, may be coming, no matter what happens.

These are my needs. Not toilet paper or Y2K water.

And if you are feeling panic, anxiety, anger, take a moment and consider.

What is your source of hope?

And if you’ve never given God a second thought, now might be a good time to start.

We all can use a little serenity.

Ken Strings and Baby Steps

I didn’t watch the YouTube video showing how an anterior hip replacement surgery is done.

Shortly after he found out in late November that the cure for his pain was going to involve something more drastic than therapy, Dear Husband did what anyone with a smart phone would. He googled it.

He then proceeded to tell me in detail how the surgery is performed. How the leg is held in a ski-boot-like fitting on a moveable table that can position the whole leg and keep it in place. While the surgeon takes an electric saw and cuts off the head of the femur.

The surgeon had explained how they remove the arthritic bone and replace it with a titanium ball, plastic cushioning instead of cartilage, and fit a new socket into the bone of the hip.

His explanation, unlike Dear Husband’s, did not include pounding a stake-like piece of metal down into the center of the femur, and then attaching the new ball on top.

The colorful portrayal may be a little too much for some people. But it was not inaccurate. And while I’m not squeamish at all, I could tell it was a necessary part of wrapping his mind around it, that Dear Husband needed to make this inevitable change real.

The day finally came last Thursday. We set off at a decent hour in the morning for what is now considered out-patient surgery.

Three months had passed between the initial diagnosis and the big day. During that time they had discovered an unrelated medical condition that needed to be dealt with, and then we were back on the schedule for the hip replacement.

And we both had time to digest what we could of the changes to come.

I can’t really speak for Dear Husband, though I know a lot about how his mind works.

I’m not even sure I can articulate the range of thoughts that have gone through my own head since that day in the surgeon’s office.

Months earlier at his annual checkup Dear Husband’s primary care had strongly recommended a hip x-ray, which he eventually got to. But for years before that we had known there was an escalating problem.

“Ken strings” is what we called it. With more than forty years working with garage doors and openers, up and down ladders and scaffolding, balancing long sections while doing it, DH had developed chronic pain in his right hip.

Years of chiropractic and massage therapies gave him temporary relief, but never got rid of the pain. He’d even tried rolfing, which is a very deep tissue and organ massage.

And after a long day’s work, settling down into a comfortable chair ended up bringing on discomfort that he had avoided during his more active days.

At some point in my childhood I had discovered that if I tried hard enough I could take my Barbie dolls apart. Putting them back together was much tougher. There was a time when the legs and arms were basically held in place by little bands that caught on something inside the body of the doll as well as the end of the limb.

But once you worked an arm or leg out of the doll, it was almost impossible to put it back together and be able to keep it in place.

So years ago, when it was just an occasional twinge, DH would say if he were a Ken doll, it felt like his “string” was stretched too tight, or broken, or twisted, or some other descriptive word.

I’ve carried that picture around in my head for years.

When the surgeon put up his x-rays and pointed out how healthy the left side joint was, and then contrasted that with the right, I was looking for the Ken strings.

Arthritis had distorted the healthy design of the top of the right femur, which should be very much like a ball. The normal pinched in neck had layers of bonelike buildup that didn’t allow for much smooth movement. There was even a little hook underneath, a curious sight.

The hook for the Ken string.

And the cartilage was about half what it should be on the inside of the joint, diminishing to nothing on the outside. He was bone on bone.

Now that we could see what his hip actually looked like, I tried to put our word picture into play. The cartilage seemed to be the thing that allowed the joint to function, and since the long muscles of the quadriceps and hamstrings attach at various places on the hips and pelvis it made sense that when the cartilage didn’t function well, neither would all those muscles.

The cartilage must be the blasted Ken strings.

So now, though I haven’t figured out how I feel about all this yet, I get the basic anatomy.

As I thought about what the surgery would involve, I tried to put myself in my husband’s place. If I were in constant pain and there was a way to pretty much guarantee that pain would be gone, would I do it?

I couldn’t decide. Because it isn’t me, and I can’t make a decision like that without knowing how bad it feels and what I’m willing to endure.

Both Dear Husband and I have high pain tolerances, so for him to agree to having surgery told me that he had reached his own personal limit.

And now he’s home, a week after the surgery, and trying to get the new Ken strings to allow the muscles that have grown weak from years of not being able to stretch or contract fully working again.

Baby steps is his motto.

And like when our children were learning to take their first steps, tackle new skills, I watch in anticipation of the missteps.

Because while I know he’s determined to get back to a work as soon as possible, I want to guard against anything that could undo the good we hope the surgery has done.

The most amazing thing has already happened. The pain is gone.

I’m in no rush to test the limits of this new bionic hip. At least not until Dear Husband has been able to heal enough to enjoy his new normal of everything working together, put back in place and not likely to cause trouble for a long long time.

No Experience Necessary

It happened again. I missed writing my blog last week, but I have a good excuse.

A sewer pipe cracked in our crawl space.

So for our second night at a hotel I had quickly grabbed my laptop to give you a harrowing play-by-play of our saga of methane gas and uncooperative insurance adjusters.

Except I forgot my mouse. And I can’t turn the built-in pad back on without the mouse. I worked the next two days, so once again a week went by without a post.

It always could have been worse.

The pipe got replaced and the system is back up and running. Clean-up IS actually covered by our insurance, so at least that will be happening soon. And the smell is now mainly in the garage by the access to the crawl space.

Our minds have definitely been distracted from other more important things, like Dear Husband’s hip replacement surgery that’s happening tomorrow. (Not ready to talk about that yet, but I’m sure you’ll hear more soon.)

As I write this it’s almost the end of what would have been my dad’s 88th birthday. And all day I’ve been thinking about how he would have handled our little emergency.

If he was at all able physically he would probably have at the least spread some lime under our house like they used to do when the outhouses of his youth got too toxic. Or headed down with a shovel and bucket to start digging up the contaminated soil where dirty water had spread over about half our crawl space.

There were many projects Dad tackled that were far beyond his expertise, but that never stopped him. He was always willing to pitch in and work hard at any job that needed doing, in our home or for a neighbor or church member. If it could save someone some money he always felt it was worth a shot to try. No experience necessary.

Our current situation reminded me of two of the most distasteful jobs he ever tackled. Because of course when he started in on a project he expected us kids to help him. We worked cheap.

Like the house my family lives in, my childhood home had a septic tank and leach field. The house was built in the early 1900’s and the tiles in the leach field were made of clay. After many years the effects of tree roots and the pressure of many feet and lawn mowers and the occasional car or truck driving over that part of the yard had broken down tiles somewhere in the labyrinthine system.

If you’ve ever had a septic tank, you know that it is actually not hard to tell where the leach field is. It’s the lines of greener grass that snake back and forth across a yard. I do not remember him letting me in on his strategy, but I assume Dad looked for the green line to suddenly end because the waste water could no longer work its way through the pipes.

Or maybe not. Because it seemed like we dug all over the back yard!

Dad actually did most of the heavy shoveling, then us kids had to help him replace broken tiles and scoop gunk out of the rest. We filled buckets with thick, smelly sludge, and I think we then dumped it over the fence into the field behind our property.

Natural compost.

Along the same lines, I’ll never forget the day I got home from a two-week camping trip to Wyoming with the neighbors in 1976. I was done with being a wanderer and dying for a home-cooked meal that did not involve hot dogs or lukewarm lunch meat. I had presents for everyone, souvenirs from Yellowstone/Grand Teton or the Black Hills, the Badlands, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s ranch. I had rocks from every state we traveled through.

I had written a script in my mind that involved dramatic expressions of how much they had all missed me and how they couldn’t wait to pamper me.

So when I walked over from the neighbor’s driveway with my bags I was shocked to hear Dad’s voice coming from under the house. “Throw some old clothes on and help us here!”

Very sentimental.

They were inside the cistern, which is a concrete room under the house where the water from the downspouts collected. We used that water for things other than cooking and drinking. I’m really not sure how the pipes were connected, but I knew there were times we had the cistern “turned on” and other times the well was on.

After many years all the leaves and bugs and whatever else washed down in the rains had decomposed and settled into the bottom. I’m guessing it had built up high enough that it was impeding the flow of water out of the cistern through the pipes.

It was time to muck it out.

The only way a person could get in or out of the cistern was to take the small window out of the foundation. And crawl in.

Fortunately for me there were already enough people inside the underground room, shoveling the muck into buckets. They needed me to pull them up with a rope, then carry the buckets to the fence and dump them in the field.

Are you noticing a theme with Dad’s projects?

And I’m sure they were the same buckets.

In fact, I think I have a couple of those buckets in my garage or barn.

And I sure wish Dad was still around to laugh about this latest bump in the road in my life. He’d get a kick out of it. And I’d love telling him all the details.

It wouldn’t take him long to hunt down one of those buckets and a shovel.

And I would love nothing more than to tackle another filthy job, side by side with my daddy.

The Master Stroke

The women’s bible study at church is working through I Corinthians, and this week, once again, there was a phrase that sang out to me in The Message paraphrase that I’m using right now. It came after Paul reminds the people of Corinth that they’ve been cleaned up by Jesus, and that they have gifts and benefits given straight from God.

How often I lose sight of that. I mean, I am very sure of my salvation. I believe that God’s promises are true. But I don’t always act like I recognize his gifts and benefits to me.

For me it starts with knowing him. It’s a work in progress. One step at a time.

You might think that would be a simple thing. Just pray for God to reveal himself to me.

But I think it would be absolutely devastating to see God fully, all at once. I like his way better, giving me one glimpse at a time of new facets of who he is.

What gets me, once I “get” something I never could make sense of before, is how obvious it seems now that I recognize it. Why couldn’t I see what was right in front of me?

The Bible also says that the reality of God can’t be denied, that he is revealed in his creation all around us.

But that doesn’t mean I realize how it points right to God as the creator of it all. Sometimes I refuse to recognize the obvious.

When I was a girl there was a wildly creative and artistically talented woman in our church, Sister Dorothy. (Every adult was Sister or Brother to me.) If Pinterest had been around then she would have been the queen. In my eyes she could do anything you could imagine.

I loved going to her house and seeing peeled apples drying to become the faces of old men and women. At Halloween she would dress up as a witch and sit on our front porch in a rocking chair, totally still. Until someone walked up and she’d creak the chair.

I still have some of the Barbie doll dresses she made for us girls, with rickrack and sequins and rich feeling fabrics.

But my favorite thing Sister Dorothy ever did was what we called a “chalk talk” at church.

My dad was the pastor, and occasionally he’d ask her to do a chalk talk during his sermon. She would set up her easel on the organ side, and as he came up to preach she would pick up her chalk pastels.

I paid more attention to those sermons than any others. No surprise when I finally figured out I’m a very visual learner. I was engaged in listening because I was always trying to figure out what the drawing would be. She usually tied it in somehow to the topic of his teaching, and I wanted to be able to guess before anyone else.

She didn’t make it easy. It wasn’t obvious as she got started. Just nebulous blobs of color, never starting at one side and moving to another, but some here, some there, with no rhyme or reason I could see.

After the first layer of color, Sister Dorothy would build them up, one on top of another. I would suspect a sunset maybe, or a forest, but it was all still undefined, no recognizable shapes emerging.

As the sermon progressed, she would add shading to show light and darkness, maybe a hint of whether it was morning or night, indoors or outside.

And still I waited eagerly to find out what it all meant, what it was going to be.

But the thing is, it already was, before she put it down on paper. She had thought it out, knew how she wanted to draw it, had an order she followed, and could see the finished product before she ever touched chalk to paper.

At the end of I Corinthians chapter 1 Paul tells us that for those of us personally called by God himself that Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.

He thought this up, from start to finish, how that sin would enter the world because people make wrong choices, but even so God wanted us to be with him forever. So he made it possible for my sin to become invisible to him when he sees me through the blood of Jesus – a miracle. And then he lets me have a close and very personal, intimate relationship with Jesus, who leads me and teaches me every day to take hold of the wisdom he offers.

But looking at it with my little girl eyes I never could have grasped all he had done, all the things that already were and that I could have for the asking.

It has taken me all these years to be willing to ask and ask again, what else do you want me to see? Where am I looking and not recognizing your hand, God, in everyone and everything around me? What am I missing?

The scripture that blew me away always sounded a little corny to me, until God brought Sister Dorothy to mind as I read through it last week.

I Corinthians 2:1 – You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy.

What does that even mean?

I’ll tell you the picture that I saw in my head.

Sister Dorothy would have all this color, the different shades and values meeting and blending and flowing on the pad of paper, and I could almost begin to see it. But it wasn’t until the last few minutes that it all came together.

It was the master stroke.

She would pick up a black pastel and suddenly make a line, usually long and curving or circuitous, and I could see it! A stream, or a house, or a barn. A boat. A man. A tree.

A few more well-placed lines and the whole scene came together, and you could hear people all over the church catch their breath when they saw it. It had been there the whole time. We couldn’t see it without her master strokes at the end.

It hit me that God is like that. Laid out right in front of me, everything that is necessary. I just need to look for the master stroke, the detail that suddenly defines so clearly what God has been speaking to me in subtler ways for so long.

Or maybe I’m listening to the polished speeches and latest philosophies when I need to lift my face and look at the person God places in front of me today.

So I ask again. Where do I need to look today, God, to see your master stroke?

“Funny…sad…sick, Mom.”

I’ve been hearing these words a lot over the last nine days.

The Flu.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve had this version. The all-over-achy, coughing, fever, chest congested flu. Probably ten years.

I’m on day nine.

At least the fever part is over. I think. I stopped taking my temperature a few days ago when I hit my first almost 24 hours without feeling chills. Then I got them again for the next couple nights, but not during the days.

The days are reserved for resting.

Which is much better than the way I spent the first five or six days.

Writhing.

I don’t know about you, but the combination of fever and constant pain make me want to run for the hills. To have either on their own is much more manageable, but the two combined leave me totally conquered.

Look in on just about any of the last nine days and at least part of it you would find me napping on the couch, napping in my bed, napping in my husband’s recliner.

Can anyone detect a theme here?

Oh, oh, I forgot the best part! I can’t take anything for fever! I’m allergic to everything. And it wasn’t until day six that I remembered I have a new natural pain medication that actually works, so I did get a couple days of relieved pain.

So if you were looking for a post last week, I would normally have written it on Wednesday night, which was day two. My fevers were in the 102 degree range the first few nights, so had I sat down to write, you may have gotten quite the psychedelic story from me. Similar to when I had a reaction to a drug years ago and told my children stories of some of my darker days in college that I’d never shared with them before.

I did actually think of posting some pictures, but just the thought of trying to figure out once again where google photos hides my stash from me made me have to roll over and take a nap.

Earlier today, while being made fun of, I threatened to write about how moms can’t get sick because no one thinks to take care of them, and so they just waste away.

Yes, that was around naptime as well.

I’m not sure if it’s like this for every mom, or maybe my combination of control issues and emergency management skills mean that I don’t usually let others take care of me because I know better what I need, and I might as well just do it for myself instead of waiting for someone else to offer.

Except that when I’m sick, I lose the ability to communicate well.

I have long known this about myself. First I have a very high pain tolerance.

In my job as a standardized patient at our local medical college, students often ask where my “pain” is on the pain scale. (I’m only acting like I have pain.) They explain that 0 is no pain, then they usually say 10 is the worst pain you can imagine (or sometimes that you’ve ever had.)

In my real life I’ll give you an example of MY pain scale ratings. Every time I have been in labor I have reached a point where I could no longer speak or put thoughts together in the hardest part of a contraction.

That is my 5. I’m holding out for the 10. I’m tough. I can take it.

I think it goes back to being a stubborn girl with a shady dentist who “let” me have only nitrous oxide for fillings because I didn’t “want” a shot.

I have lots of those fillings.

Sorry. Getting a little psychedelic here.

Back to my point. First the high pain tolerance. Second, fever makes me fuzzy-headed. I can’t think in sentences, much less speak them. Third, I can’t follow through on my thoughts.

This is a big deal for me. And what brings on the new names as I try to make coherent ideas drift through the air.

Water.

Poptart.

Well that covers the menu for days one through four.

And most of the time I couldn’t say it loud enough for anyone to hear, so I got it myself.

Maybe I should write an instruction guide: “How to treat mom when she’s sick”, and post it on the fridge.

Did I mention I’ve lost 12 pounds in the last couple of weeks?

I’m really not high maintenance. I just simply can’t put my thoughts together to know what I want or need when I’m sick. It took me a whole day to get the word “popsicle” out. But had someone gotten down in my face, in that area where I could focus on their big lips talking to me, and start listing off suitable food groups, I bet I could have nodded gratefully and gotten one three whole days sooner than I did!

Yes, I’m saying it. I can’t talk good when I’m sick. Please talk for me! Because even though I don’t feel like eating, I need to at least have fluids going in. And though nothing sounds good in my head, that’s because I can’t picture myself opening the soup can, pouring it into a pan, turning on the burner… Nope. Too many steps. Not worth it.

Luckily for them I had bought a few day’s worth of dinner food so everyone else was able to eat. While I laid on the couch with my can of Vernor’s and a glass of water. And since what they were eating was too substantial, nobody asked if they could fix me anything light.

It made me think about my mom. When I was growing up I don’t remember being particularly coddled. When we were sick, we did get to lie on the couch and set up a tray table to have a place for our stuff, and Mom would sometimes bring us something to eat. I think we kids more waited on each other. Like playing restaurant.

But as a mom I’ve been the one to stock up on canned soup and gatorade and Vernor’s and poptarts and anyone else’s favorite sick foods, and to offer them throughout the day to whoever was prone on the couch.

I just want to be the one waited on once in a while.

Now, I have to say that once I was clear about what I wanted, someone would get it. It’s the being able to think clearly thing that took several days to get to this time around.

So I’m going to go crawl on the couch again, knowing this will post just after midnight. And maybe I’ll come back over and let you know on Facebook once it’s live.

But I’m not in a hurry to get up again anytime soon.

Not My GPS

control – noun – the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.

control – verb – determine the behavior or supervise the running of.

Yes, please.

Who wouldn’t want to be in control? I know this has been one of the biggest things I’ve struggled with practically my whole life. And it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago I was told that specifically my issue is safety-seeking control.

“safety behaviors (also known as safety-seeking behaviors) are coping behaviors used to reduce anxiety and fear when the user feels threatened. “

Thank you wikipedia, you’ve summed it up well.

From the outside maybe you wouldn’t be able to tell it, but I have spent my whole life running through scenarios of all the bad things I think could ever happen and figuring out how I would respond in those situations.

Up until just the past few years, I would have told you I like to be prepared for anything that might happen so that I have a game plan to put into action when the time comes.

Only the time never really came.

One of the big things my time with my mentor taught me was that I actually do have anxieties and fears. In itself that was a huge thing for me to own.

Another was that of all the numberless tragedies I’ve imagined happening in my lifetime almost none of them ever came true.

And those that did played out in a much different way than the stories in my head.

Even though I have learned many lessons about myself and the futility of living in anticipation of the next emergency, that doesn’t mean that I’ve totally conquered it. In fact, how could me controlling giving up my controlling behaviors show my ability to give up control?

I actually read Catch-22 many years ago, and this is one of those situations. I can’t make myself give up control once and for all and be done with it. If I could, then I would be totally in control of my lack of control. And my head is already spinning just thinking about it.

So how does a control freak stop?

In my case I can honestly say it hasn’t been because I decided I would give up running one thing after another and then followed a plan and checked things off a list.

In fact, I’m much more likely to discover that I only thought I’ve stopped trying to influence or direct someone’s behavior, or that I stepped back from trying to run the whole world.

What I’m less likely to take notice of are the times when I have no argument, nothing to add, no advice to give. But they are happening more and more.

In the past couple of months our family has been digesting Dad’s health issues. We honestly never knew he had so many! And as he puts it, “It is what it is.”

But…

Okay, I can’t argue with that. But I want to. Because in all my “choose your own ending” stories I never came up with the specific set of circumstances we find ourselves in.

And I can’t do anything to change what is.

So many things we don’t get until we look at it from where it ends up. And we’ve only begun this path, so we don’t know where it’s going to lead. But I can say with great relief that I’m so glad God has had me on the journey I’ve been on through my recovery from all kinds of things, because though I always said I trusted him with my life, I’ve been learning how to actually do it.

It’s like an experience we had last weekend. We took an impromptu trip down to see Middle Son and Third Daughter (Dad’s new name for our son’s girlfriend). Our plan was to not have a plan. We had agreed on a couple places for dinners, and we already have a favorite breakfast hang-out, so little planning was necessary. Just games, talk, relaxing, physically being in each other’s presence was what we needed.

At dinner time one day we headed out to find the restaurant. My Australian Siri-man called out the twists and turns getting us from point A to point B. And in the hilly, circuitous roads surrounding the college town, it seems he doesn’t take us the same way twice.

We found the directions telling us to take an uphill switchback on a narrow road headed into a forest. It was twilight and raining. Third Daughter remembered her GPS once taking her this route, so she told us what to expect.

The road was still climbing when we saw our first herd of deer. Slow and easy we drove by them, careful to look for more crossing from the other side.

Then a couple of young, skittish yearlings that made me, the driver, slow even more. In our hometown there are lots of deer/car meet-ups that don’t have good results for either one, so I was taking no chances.

Everyone but me was counting, and they estimated about 20 deer were in a very short stretch of road. All I knew was that I was NOT going to follow that same route back in pitch blackness after we ate!

Then we came to a 90 degree turn in the road, onto a one-lane covered bridge. Truly covered, painted red, taking us over what I assume was a creek. I couldn’t see it through the bridge walls. But the bridge itself was beautiful.

Eventually we got back out to a main road that took us to our destination.

In my life I have been able to look back at a lot of hard things I’ve gone through. Sometimes the only thing I can think about are the losses, the hurts, the unfairness. At least I used to think more about the tragic circumstances.

As we travel this current road, I want to be looking for the unexpected deer, the beautiful covered bridge on a path few people ever travel. I don’t want to miss the sweetness of just being together, savoring our life and our family, even with who knows what looming in the future.

In my intricate plan of how I thought life would go, I want God to be the one to call out the twists and turns for me.

Because there are things he wants me to see that I would never know if everything went my way.

Enough is Enough

The cat is the most honest creature in our house.

Our whole Christmas season had the looming knowledge of a still-to-come hip surgery for my husband, but we all wore brave faces and soldiered on.

The plan was once the out-of-town kids went back to their homes, he would have the procedure, which is basically out-patient if all goes well, and have several weeks of recuperation during which the kids could all call or visit or help out at home. There would be long days for him watching movies or finding projects for Dad to work on in the house, and all would be well.

The house itself was not cooperating with the plan.

Right before Oldest Son came home, our ongoing problems with water came flowing back. The new water softener was leaking in the garage, and the kitchen sink handle was not holding firm enough to shut off the water.

So Christmas shopping had to wait on the plumber, followed by finally being able to thoroughly wash the dishes again. I felt like I could never get everything done that needed doing, so I scaled way back on my expectations.

And then the excitement of opening presents and eating traditional foods, taking naps and eating some more. Spending lots of time with the people I love the most.

Once I am past it I’m fine with everything not getting done the way I wanted. There will always be more opportunities to give the perfect gift or try some new food to fix or start a new tradition.

The being together is always the sweetest part.

I guess if I could have one thing be different about the season just past, it would be that I wish we had all been able to talk more openly and honestly about the love we have for each other.

Because hard days will always come, even after surgeries and still-unconfirmed medical diagnoses are in the past. The days when you savor the memories of words spoken in love and deep affection.

There were great moments, don’t get me wrong. Several one-on-one talks with different kids, or just a couple of them at a time, where we were able to get real about how we felt about Dad’s impending surgery. Discussing possible outcomes and what he might not be able to do, things we could do to make the house safer for his rehabilitation weeks.

Those times were sweet, to hear my kids express their love and concern for their dad.

And while they all did express their concern to his face, I wish there had been more ease in talking about it. Because once you get past the fear, you can more easily express the love that huddles behind its fortress walls of protectiveness and anxiety.

The cat is much more transparent than the kids.

From back in October when the workmen started waltzing in and out on a pretty regular basis, leaving doors open, making noise with their electric tools, the cat has been on edge.

Her home has been invaded and plundered, and she had no say in it.

Strange bodies and voices in and out for day after day. Then a quick weekend trip before Thanksgiving when she had to fend for herself, eating her way through a massive bowl of only dry food. And T-day itself with too many legs to count sending her running to the farthest corner of the house.

Middle Son and his girlfriend home from college, then Oldest Son and his girlfriend, and her litter box was brand new and in a different part of the reconfigured laundry room, and there was paper carpeting the floor and then we took it away before she could play with it all.

Enough is enough.

She took to peeing other places than in her litter box.

She developed colitis from having to change her canned food (the old kind was discontinued), and once that was treated we thought she’d get back to normal.

But she didn’t.

Her world had been messed with one too many times, and our Sadie was not having it. Even the vet thinks it might be stress related, and advised us to get yet another new litter box after going through a course of antibiotics to treat what we all hope is a UTI and not spiteful behavior.

But you know what, sometimes a tantrum can relieve some of the stress. And I must say that the cat is not timid in letting us know when she is not happy with the way things feel in the house.

I can’t imagine how much stress she’s been picking up from us, but I know we’ve all been feeding on each other’s, and enough is enough.

I personally would like to be able to go somewhere and just throw things and break them. And not have to clean them up! Just yell or cry and get my frustrations out on some inanimate object that doesn’t care if I break it to bits. I’m sure there are more productive ways of dealing with stress, but for a few minutes I’d just like to be a confused and slightly vindictive cat.

If only we could all just have one big acting out day where we would all just nod and cheer each other on in our release of fear and anger and worry, and then we’d all move on feeling much better.

And then I come back to the real world, where in the last week we’ve had another leak from the new water softener. They think it’s fixed this time.

And during a really hard rainstorm the other night, our fireplace started leaking.

More water. Leaking, dripping, puddling. Just like all the others.

Like my tears, cried mostly in private, but the truly healing ones with friends and family who love me. Who see that I’m not handling this stress much better than the cat, and are willing to help me clean up the mess I feel I become sometimes.

I know this will all pass. I know God is in control. And I know I want to be able to talk about this all openly, and encourage my kids to express their thoughts and feelings as well, so we don’t all end up taking it out on each other.

And meanwhile, the cat is enjoying lapping water out of the container we used to catch the drip from the fireplace.

Gathered to My People

We’ve had a challenging week in our family.

I’m still debating, as I write, if I even want to get into this yet. It’s so fresh.

Someone out there needs to hear that it is possible to have impractical, unbelievable peace in the middle of emotional chaos.

Because I’m feeling it.

And at the same time, I’ve had bone-crushing uncertainty and stress.

A couple of weeks ago I thought this blog would be about my husband’s hip replacement surgery.

It was scheduled for yesterday.

We planned it more than a month ahead. We made changes in our house and prepared to possibly be without income for a few weeks, getting the kids used to the idea and spreading the word to friends and family.

The surgeon’s office was less thorough, so we found ourselves at a pre-op visit to the hospital the day after Christmas, as well as an impromptu stop at the surgeon’s to communicate some of our concerns.

And quite unexpectedly there was another visit last Friday to the primary care office to be released for surgery.

The call my husband got at the end of a long work day led to a weekend of contemplating his mortality. Surgery was put on hold because of high white blood cell counts, and after more tests early Friday, a couple types of cancer were mentioned.

Just enough to make your imagination go round the bend.

So of course we both did what we know to never do.

We googled the ugly words.

After thirty-four years of marriage with this man, I was not surprised by his “it is what it is” attitude. Or the silent funeral planning behind his brooding eyes. Questions followed about life insurance and his desire that all our kids be able to have college paid for out of it.

Covering all the bases.

Having all that time to think could have been devastating if it weren’t for this.

Jesus. And hope.

At first I didn’t want to tell anyone.

I was headed to Celebrate Recovery an hour after we heard the news. In the safety and support of my open share small group, I began processing my own thoughts and feelings before telling any of the kids.

My CR women freely put aside their own hard things to hug and love on and support me that night. And I found clarity that comes from seeing what really matters.

Over the next day all of our children heard personally about this new development, and we counted down the hours to Monday morning when we could make more appointments.

Our care group met Saturday so my husband and I both were surrounded by men and women who love and care deeply for us.

Our kids each took in the information in their own ways, and I’m sure are going through many different stages of understanding and processing. Those first couple of days were hard for all of us. They will ease up in time.

Uncertainty stinks.

By Sunday my husband and I had thought all the thoughts we could stand. And talked about many of them with each other. And each of us had expressed that we were okay with wherever God takes us in this, whatever lies ahead.

Because we know where we’re headed.

Even knowing, I still cried a lot of tears and held even more back. Who can understand God’s plans?

But in all fairness, do we ever question why we have good times, when everything is going right? Do we ever wonder why God thinks we deserve easy?

We’ve learned in our life together, this man and I, that God is in control. And that it is always better to obey and follow him, no matter how hard the path looks to us.

So we went to church and answered questions about the surgery and why was it canceled and what does this mean.

We heard about friends with those same scary conditions and how unlifechanging they actually are.

And we breathed a little easier by day’s end.

But not before I had an unexpected moment.

It was during the final song. I was choked up. So I just bowed my head and said the only words I could put together.

“Jesus, help!”

And immediately an image came into my mind. That even if … it’s all good.

Fourteen years ago our pastor was killed in a car accident. In the hours and days and now years since I’ve seen God provide for his wife and young daughters in intimate, personal, miraculous ways. It was hard. But there was hope.

I thought a lot about that time over the weekend, the strength that was given to my friend as she navigated the unthinkable task of telling her girls that their daddy was with Jesus in heaven.

She didn’t get that strength until the moment she needed it.

And as I cried out to Jesus to ease my own fears for my husband, standing next to him in our church, a picture came into my mind.

Even if my husband were to leave this life way sooner than any of us would want, there would be a beautiful result.

He would meet our baby first in heaven.

Monday came and God quite directly provided an appointment with the hematologist/oncologist for that same day – a sudden cancelation that was no big deal for God to arrange. And oodles of blood tests and orders for an ultrasound.

And the very positive opinion of the doctor that after all our worrying, this wasn’t going to be a big deal. Even the hip surgery will get rescheduled after a solid diagnosis and some monitoring of his blood counts.

Numb from the whole thing I decided to go to Monday night Bible study, and I read words that have always been a comfort to me.

“He was gathered to his people.”

An Old Testament saying I had always loved to read, as it gave even my little girl imagination a picture of people I knew had died greeting someone else at the time of their death, gathering them in to a family, welcoming them home.

I had always pictured grandmas and grandpas in the mix, but now I added babies.

I have no fear of death. For me or my husband.

I want it to be a long way off, when our children are all grown and settled into their own families, raising our grandchildren and teaching them the things that matter.

Because when they go through scary, uncertain times like the one we are navigating right now, I want them to know the bottom line.

That God is not just a nice thought, but a real and powerful being. That he created us because the idea of eternity with us pleased him. That when we choose to follow him we will have bad things happen, but we have the absolute certainty that when they do he is bigger and stronger than anything that comes against us.

And he WILL work EVERYTHING for our good.

So as we live the next day and week and month with no guarantees, we can know many things for certain.

God is real. His love is unstoppable. His peace is unexplainable. He has made a people for himself from all of us who believe.

And no matter when any of us who follow this amazing God die in this body, we will be gathered in to our people.

And living life with so many of them now is just a bonus.