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.

Out with the old (or rights, wrongs, and lefts)

This past year I have grown by leaps and bounds as a person.

I’m going to spend a few minutes letting you in on some of my reflections of where I began 2019 and the much different place I find myself at its end.

As a homeschooling mom, I’ve always enjoyed watching my kids grow into who they are becoming. They don’t stay the same, just like I don’t, and we were happy to see another one focusing on their future just before 2019 began.

Middle Son waited after high school until he was ready to pursue a higher education, and as he showed more interest in a particular college we encouraged it, even though the costs were projected to be higher than we thought we could afford.

My husband and I were beginning to discuss the feasibility of helping this child with college expenses like we had with the older ones. We knew this was going to be a bigger investment, so we did first what we have learned by hard experience to do: we took it to God and waited for his answer.

I was very thankful I had started meeting with a Christian mentor, another woman who helped pull me back down to earth week after week. I had written down what my biggest concerns were, what I struggled with and where I thought I needed the most help.

Even in the couple of weeks between filling out the form and our first mentoring session I forgot one of my main issues. I recorded it in a journal as “not being able to give up control”. That WAS a big issue with me, but it wasn’t what I had written down. At our 3-month review my mentor reminded me what my issue REALLY was: admitting when I do something wrong.

So I was headed into the new year actively asking God to help me see when I do something wrong so that I can correct it and make amends right away. And I was also digging in and asking him to show me why I have struggled so much with this my whole life.

Just before the end of 2018 I wanted to learn how to set better goals, so I started doing Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, and I was finding that I didn’t really have a clue about my own personal limits, much less how to set any meaningful boundaries.

I was just beginning to get a grasp on the concept that I can’t change the past and I can’t change any other person. These are obvious, and I knew them in my head, but I hadn’t taken them into my heart.

I was learning, finally, that my responsibilities, needs, condition of my heart, health of my emotions, and God-led decision-making are the things I needed to focus on.

So, how did I do over this past year?

My husband and I, after praying and both getting a clear green light, have trusted God to provide the funds needed to help our son realize his goal of going to college at a school we all love, where he feels called to be.

And God has come through exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we asked or imagined!

He received more than half his costs in scholarships, and we were able to make both his first and second semester payments in full! God is faithful, and we are in awe at how eager he is to bless us.

As I plunged into my mentoring sessions, I often talked about my safety-seeking control issues. It has plagued me all my life, this need to keep everyone around me safe. I have done many things that secluded or separated my family and me from the world around us thinking that if I had knowledge and the ability to get in between evil and my kids I could single-handedly keep everyone safe.

I’ve spent a lot of time and prayer this year wrestling this out with God, and I’ve found that every time I set myself up as being in control, I kicked God out of his rightful place. I’ve had to give up my right to control any part of my life so that I can experience truly following God. I’m glad to say I’m controlling less, though it may take the rest of my life to get where I’d like to be!

And my other issue of admitting when I’m wrong? I figured out why I have so much trouble with that. In my mind, the people who abused me as a child were deserving of punishment. They were wrong. They did bad things.

And I never wanted to be compared to them: to hurt anyone else, be responsible for causing harm to anyone.

So I could never be wrong.

I’m a work in progress on this one. Baby Girl patiently tells me when I overstep while lecturing a sales rep over the phone, or speak abruptly to a cashier at the grocery store. Out of all my children, this youngest daughter is in tune with my moods and is helping me see when I let my frustrations get in front of my better intentions.

And now I can stop and admit I blew it.

And my world doesn’t fall apart when I do.

Working my way slowly but surely through Boundaries has been a tremendous help in all of my issues this year, many more than I’m talking about here.

I began by finding that I never learned what good boundaries were as a child. God revealed to me many truths about how my parents didn’t either. So it’s like I’ve had revelation after revelation poured over me by God about what Mom and Dad’s lives were like as kids, why they struggled to set and keep boundaries with their kids, and how I’ve carried that forward into my life.

And I’ve been able to forgive.

That’s probably the most remarkable thing that has ever happened to me, this release from the need to see justice done, no more desire to have someone else suffer for what they’ve done to me or others.

As I write this I am seeing that there’s another side to the command Jesus gives us to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

I’m finally starting to FEEL forgiven. Because I’m finally able to give forgiveness to others.

Because no matter how far I’ve come in the past year, I’m not done, there’s more left to face and dig deep into and give back over to God.

And as a new year begins, I feel like God really does have a reason why he forgave me.

Because this is just the beginning.

Celebrating the Day

Blame it on Thanksgiving being late, or having too many major home repairs, or the flu knocking everyone off their feet for a week, but Christmas has come and gone way too quickly this year.

We didn’t beat last years record of six hours to unwrap our presents. We only took four. Although today we’ll finish up with Oldest Son and his girlfriend and we may come close.

Life moves too fast. The first semester of Middle Son’s college career, the holiday season, the clock ticking until Husband has a hip replacement next month.

Where can I find time and space for Christmas?

It’s not an easy thing. The world doesn’t value slow.

Yet I find I need quiet and stillness to receive the information I’m wanting, I’m needing to know exists. Because if I can’t get out of the rush that has been this Christmas season I may totally miss it.

I’m one of those odd birds that doesn’t like Christmas music, so listening to the radio has gotten tedious and irritating. The rare surprise is a handful of songs that DO stop me in my tracks and make me think about why we celebrate Jesus’ birth every year.

One in particular, and a poem that starts running through my head in the odd moment of quiet and calm.

This year it came together for me as I sat in the packed service of the church where I attend Celebrate Recovery. On Christmas Eve.

I’m a visual person. There was a powerful light and sound show depicting the incongruity of God, in his immeasurable pervasiveness, making himself so small as to zoom in to our universe, our solar system, this earth, and become a human like me.

If you can fully grasp that, try to explain the logic of it to me, because I cannot.

In the 2000+ years since that event happened, the world has written myths and folk tales of gods and superhuman heroes that we idolize. Just look at the top-grossing movies in recent years.

Heroes in stories have had humble beginnings only to at some point step into their places as the true leaders they were meant to be.

Jesus was born in a stable, laid in a feed trough, and died on a cross meant for the worst of criminals.

It’s hard to wrap my head around this. I mean, I’ve studied the Bible and I get the need for Jesus to die for the sin of the world. What I shake my head about is the means. The actual meanness of the place he was born.

The lack of a super power making clear he was Messiah, Emmanuel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords to everyone he met.

I have to ask myself, why did God allow his son to be born like this, among farm animals?

As a girl a farmer who raised sheep would use space in our big barn during lambing season. There are smells and sounds, a density to the air made up of animal body humidity and dust, muddy floors, fresh hay and buckets of formula with long nipples attached to feed the rejected lambs, layers of straw for bedding hiding the slickness of urine and manure.

This was the stable of my youth. What was that one like?

More importantly, what purpose did this serve, for Jesus to be born in this place, in this way?

How unlike a hero story the birth of Jesus was. He didn’t swoop down and single-handedly wipe out the evil forces threatening to destroy our world.

Or did he?

Because when I read the Bible I find that the goal isn’t to save the world. It’s to save you. And me. To make us impervious to the evil in this world.

Out of the stable of our lives where we nose around like sheep for a bite of something that appeals to us, choosing to ignore the filth we allow to fall around us, seeping into the ground or drying in the warmth of the day until we’re so used to our sin we forget how badly we need to be made clean.

And yet Jesus took us on. Took on our lowest, meanest places, literally at his birth. And in a more real and eternal way than I can imagine when he offers to come and live inside me, inside my heart, in this filthy, inadequate stable he calls the temple of the Holy Spirit.

So I read the poem “Let the Stable Still Astonish” by Lesley Leyland Fields, and I hope you will read it, too.

Slowly. Word by word. Sinking in deep.

“Let the stable still astonish
Straw — dirt floor, dull eyes
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough
Who would have chosen this?

Who would have said ‘Yes,’
‘Let the God of all the heavens
And earth
Be born here, in this place’?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
of our hearts
and says ‘Yes,’
‘Let the God of Heaven and Earth
be born here –
in this place.’

Let this sink in – this truth, this injustice, undeserved mercy, pure love looking straight at MY darker, fouler rooms and stepping in before I realized how much making me clean had cost him.

Even though I know Jesus conquered death, I tend to accept it as if I somehow deserve it.

So here’s the song, the one that always breaks me to tears.

As you click I pray you, too, will slow, taking a quiet moment to listen until you see it.

See the reason.

“I Celebrate The Day” by Relient K (written by Matt Thiesen)

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say to let You know how much You’ve touched my life
Because here is where You’re finding me, in the exact same place as New Years Eve
And from the lack of my persistancy
We’re less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

And so this Christmas I’ll compare the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That You were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life

All I want for Christmas

We’re less than a week away from Christmas, and I feel like I haven’t had a minute to just sit and think about it.

Yes, there have been hours spent searching for a relatively few number of items online compared to most years, but that’s been about the gifts I want to give, not the reason why I love to give them.

And if you read last year’s Christmas post I’ll give you a little spoiler: our time spent opening presents won’t be as crazy long this year, because we are skint and need to pare down on the buying.

But will we still be celebrating Christmas? And what is it that we are looking for in the boxes and wrapping paper? Whether giving or receiving, there’s an internal motivation that drives us to take time away from careers and schedules and gather with family and friends.

I cannot speak for you. I can only speak for me.

Because at its heart, Christmas is a deeply personal celebration.

As a child the cold weather always came first, the short days. Visits to Santa at some shopping center, and eventually Christmas Eve when we would open one present each: handmade pajamas from one of our grandmas.

Then all the rituals of Christmas morning. Sitting on the landing of the stairs while Mom and Dad started making coffee and prepping the turkey.

We would gradually scoot down one stair at a time, but we knew we were supposed to stop before the open railing to the living room. As we got older we took turns as to who got to go all the way down and run across the floor without looking too hard and plug in the tree lights.

And then we would crowd together on one stair and see what we could make out by the light of those big, colorful bulbs.

The tree would be set up by the front windows near the fireplace. It took a day to put it up every year. When it was new the individual branches were color coded, but over the years it took longer to see the specks of paint left on the hard wire stem ends. It often became a guessing game, stacking up like-sized pieces, hoping they would fit into the holes on the tube in the center.

We’d start at the top, poking each branch into the “trunk”, adjusting the angles as we went down to avoid large gaps that let you see through to the metal frame. There were extra rings of greenery to put on between groups of branches, and then we’d load on everything we could find in the attic boxes to fill it out.

And last would be the tinsel, my personal favorite, flung willy-nilly all over the branches and ornaments, many of which were handmade as school projects. I loved my styrofoam egg carved out to hold a tiny nativity scene with a background painted in art class.

When we were teenagers we would go get a cut tree instead of the fake one. Some years Mom and Dad would head down to North Carolina and bring back a Frasier fir tied on the top of the car.

That’s the version I’ve always preferred in my own home.

Our Christmas morning growing up would continue with Dad lighting the laid wood in the fireplace. And once they had hot mugs in hand and a crackling fire going, we took our places around the room to open presents.

I know some years were lean, some were more generous in the amount of gifts we got. Funny thing is I don’t distinguish between them in my mind. I liked getting new things, but even better I liked having Dad home all day, watching him help prepare food.

Up until just the last couple years I would have my time with Dad in my head as I made his cornbread for my dressing and chopped the onions and celery like he always did at the kitchen table. All on Christmas morning.

And I liked having people over our house. We almost never had anyone over. I felt like people saw the preacher’s family as untouchable, off limits for the normal interactions I saw them having with everyone else.

So sitting around the dining room table there would be a few true friends to our family that I loved and feared and felt honored to spend this day with every year.

We’d eat at 2, and play games and try on new clothes or try out new things, and add wood to the fire, and drink hot chocolate and eat dessert or leftovers or both.

I don’t remember the t.v. ever being turned on unless we knew for sure there was a special show we wanted to watch together, and then only in the evening. Our time was spent interacting and cooperating with each other in games, and cooking and cleaning up in groups. I’d sneak off for solitary times to avoid overload by reading a book or writing for a while.

If I had to boil those growing up days down to a few words they wouldn’t focus on things. Togetherness, relaxation, feasting, companionship.

It was a magical day, when we might complain about the tasks we were asked to do, but we did it eventually because there was plenty of work to go around and the day wouldn’t be as much fun if we were waiting for chores to get done before we could play pinochle.

So as I prepare myself for our several Christmas celebrations over the next week or so, I’ll be running around trying to get my gifts bought, but I always reach a point where I look at my lists of what I’ve gotten and say that’s enough. I could always get more things, but we could also be just as happy with less.

I get to a point where I have to look inside and ask what I’m really hoping to get for Christmas. And while things are nice, I really want what I got in my childhood home of modest means and hard-working parents,

I want to gather together with people I love.

I want to not think about the constant stresses of life, and instead consciously let go of the hold they can have on me.

I want to cook and eat food that satisfies my heart and my stomach.

And I want to be with people who are on this journey of life alongside me, recharging and refreshing each other as we look ahead to the new year to come.

And I hope you can take time to celebrate in a way that leaves you better for all the hard work and planning.

Because Jesus didn’t come to make a lot of work for us once a year. He came to give us life. Abundant life.

And I’m ready to enjoy that abundance.