Tree of Life

 

Last night after dinner, my husband and I rose from the table at the same time, and while still discussing the minutia that dominates most of the conversations of a long marriage, started clearing the table. He scraped the dishes, and loaded the dishwasher while I wrapped up leftovers. Suddenly, I noticed the way in which we moved together. We were doing different tasks, but working towards the same goal. No movement was wasted, we did not bump into each other, or reach for the ketchup bottle at the same time. The work was done quickly and easily, and when I pointed out what I noticed, we joked about working like a “well-oiled machine.” This is one of the many pleasures of being with someone for a long time. You know their strengths and their weaknesses, sometimes even better than you know your own.

We’ve had a hard year, the two of us. This is the first year in a very long marriage that we’ve ever questioned if we would spend the next one together. We have been together since I was a teen, and I never doubted that we would  grow old as a couple. I guess it’s a miracle in itself that we made it this far without questioning our relationship. Not that it has been easy. We have survived poverty; not the kind where we were starving, but the kind where our electricity was shut off and we were too proud to ask our parents for money, so we told our young children that we were “camping” for the week (they loved it), and the kind where we couldn’t afford toothpaste sometimes, so we had to use baking soda. We survived the death of both of his parents, one by suicide, alcoholism, jail, a diagnosis of bipolar, with its 20% mortality rate, and both of us attended college with small children, while working.

Through all this, we laughed our way through many a hardship. It wasn’t all fun and games, of course. There were many tears, fights, threats and even throwing of wedding rings on two dramatic occasions. But in all those years, neither one of us, even while the words, “that’s it! I’m done” were hurled at each, ever thought for one minute that we would ever actually be done. Not for nothing, did my then six-year-old niece proclaim, “you guys are always either fighting, or kissing!”

No, the real threat came quietly. Years of his bad boy behavior, and my long-suffering martyr act caught up with us. We finally outgrew the roles that we’ve played for decades. Roles that we fell into naturally and actually must have enjoyed.  There is something so satisfying about being the “good one,” in the relationship. I do believe that I actually relished the martyr role. It felt pretty good to be the forgiver; benevolent, strong and merciful. I would shower him with forgiveness, and snatch it back at the first signs of a disagreement, enslaving him to a lifetime of being the naughty child to my scolding mom.

For some reason this year, we both grew tired of our roles. I was weary of the burden, and after a summer of no sleep and a restless spirit, I abruptly shucked it off like an old coat. I decided that I did not want to be responsible for his happiness or lack thereof, something he never asked me to do in the first place. I don’t know why, but I also had no desire to hold our family together with an iron will and a clenched fist anymore. I let it go. I had no idea what would happen, but I was too tired of carrying our responsibilities, our happiness, and our salvation on my back like a figurative beast of burden, to care anymore. I thought that if I let go, everything would topple like a house of cards. I thought that I was so strong, that if I gave up control, he would go down too. It turns out that I’m not that strong, I never was. I was weak, because I thought I needed to hold on so tightly. God is strong, and he does not tire, nor does he hold on so tightly, he chokes the life out of someone.

Matthew 11:28 

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

 

So, I did it,  I told God I was tired of carrying all of this baggage and I asked him to take it from me. Then, of course, like a control freak, I plucked it back from him a few times, but ultimately I experienced the freedom that comes with letting go. I decided that whatever happened, and whatever became of us, it would be better than what we had been doing and the weariness that I’d been feeling for years.

So, what happened to my bad boy? Did he spiral out of control? Did he fall apart without me to hold him together? Nope, he stepped up. It seems that maybe my mother-role wasn’t saving him all along. I actually was standing in his way. By stepping back, and letting go, I gave him room to take his place. By not feeling responsible for his happiness and behavior, he became responsible for it himself. He is more content, and I feel unburdened.

What this means for two people who share a lifetime of memories and laughter, is that we are free to choose each other, every day. No longer entangled in a vicious cycle of dependent/co-dependent behavior, we are able to oblige each other, because we are happy to do it, not because we feel the other person will give up, or fall apart if we don’t.  It seems impossible to believe that after 28 years together, we are happier than we have ever been. We laugh, as we always have done. After all, having fun has always been the glue that has held us together, sometimes one of the few things. Now, enjoying each other’s company is more like fruit on our tree of marriage. A strong tree with roots of trust and commitment, a trunk of love and devotion, and branches of respect, loyalty and friendship, The fruits have developed over the years and have ripened for such a time as this. They are children, grandchildren, joy, fun and companionship. I don’t have to support this tree, like I always thought, I only have to water it daily and enjoy it for the beauty, shelter and comfort it provides.

 

Sometimes “Good Guys” Wear Black

When my kids were small, there was a lot of talk about “good guys” and “bad guys,” especially when my son was little. He, like many children, liked the idea of defeating the bad guys. After all, the good guys should always win, and they do, at least in movies and books. Luckily, they are easy to identify.  The “bad guys” are dressed in black and are usually ugly with snarls on their faces. They are mean and rude. They don’t say “thank you” or “please” and I’m sure they never pick flowers for their wives. Actually, they probably don’t have wives, because they are bad, and no one wants to even kiss one, let alone marry one.

The “good guys” are handsome of course. They are often dressed in white and have impeccable manners. They are excellent swordsman and probably call their mothers every Sunday, and they always get the girl in the end. It’s black and white, there is no gray. The bad guys do not become good guys and the good guys are good 100% of the time. They do not do good things 90% of the time and then occasionally slip up, due to a lack of judgement, or lapse in sanity.

So, when we grow up and meet “Mr. Right,” we expect that they will be good guys, and they are, for the most part. Certainly no girl sets out to marry a bad guy. No one wants to look at a snarl-face at the dinner table or buy the same black outfit for him whenever he needs new clothes. We have already started to become disillusioned somewhere between the happy endings of childhood and the harsh realities of adult life, and realize that there is more to life than good and bad, black and white. We know that there are many gray areas and we accept that these gray areas apply to our own lives as well as in others. But still, we search for a good guy, and after we are with one for a while, we start to appreciate the little things, like the things my good guy does for me.

A good guy picks wildflowers for you because he knows that your practical heart dies a little inside when you see expensive roses fold their haughty heads after only one day of extravagant splendor.

A good guy gives you his fortune cookie at the Chinese restaurant, not because he doesn’t like them, but because “you love them more.”

A good guy poses for selfies with you every time you pull out your phone even though he says, “I don’t know how to fake smile” and, “why do we bother, we always have the same faces?”

A good guy walks on the outside of the sidewalk, even if the sidewalk is slightly slanted and it makes him appear shorter than you, just to keep you safe.

A good guy will go shopping with you if you ask, even though crowds make him panicky, and he puts the groceries into the trunk, while you sit in the car because it’s cold/raining outside.

A good guy has sampled lasagna all over Rome, but thinks yours is better, and tells you that.

A good guy comes upstairs when you text him from the warmth of your bed to ask him to turn on the fan, even though you are 8 feet away from it, because you don’t feel like getting up.

A good guy tells you that you are beautiful and that you that you smell good even though you often forget to compliment him.

A good guy sometimes leaves love notes in your lunch box and doesn’t mind if you show your friends at work.

A good guy empties the dishwasher, because he knows that you inexplicably hate this task.

A good guy rubs your back, even though you rarely rub his.

A good guy makes you a grilled cheese sandwich, when you text saying you are craving one, while you are on your way home after a long day at work.

A good guy makes a headboard from a pallet, after you saw it on Pinterest and then strings christmas lights on it and turns them on every night, so that you will see it when you go upstairs to change after work.

A good guy makes you a huge walk-in closet, big enough to fit three dressers, and floor to ceiling shoe racks, and bars to hang an exorbitant amount of clothes, while he makes do with one bureau.

A good guy asks if you have “stencils” for your fingernails and offers to paint them for you.

A good guy washes your car for you, notices when you need air in your tires, and your oil changed, and does it for you.

A good guy repaints a whole room, without a complaint, after you come home from work and exclaim, “ohhhh, I didn’t know that color would look so bright!  Ummmm, I don’t like it…”

A good guy knows that a long marriage is like hiking a mountain. It requires endurance, strength and perseverance. Sometimes, you don’t feel like climbing anymore and you want to go back, but if you push through when you think you have nothing left, the view is so beautiful, all the struggles leading to it are forgotten.

A good guy calls you his best friend and makes you laugh.

A good guy is strong, loyal, protective and sweet. He stirs emotions in you like no one else. He can make you go from love to hate and back again in one afternoon. He is the only person that can make you so mad, you never want to see him again, then five minutes later, make you laugh. He might snarl at you at the dinner table, but kiss you goodnight. A good guy always has your back, even when he is mad at you.

A good guy does all this, but he also f*$#’s up occasionally. Sometimes he drinks too much or too often. He stays out too late with his buddies.  He can be irritable, especially in crowds and can be irrationally jealous. He throws his jacket on the kitchen chair instead of hanging it up and his boots always track in mud. He loses things all the time and absent-mindedly drives off with cellphones and Ipads on top of his vehicle. A good guy also admits when he is wrong, apologizes, and tries to do better.

My good guy, like so many others, wears black sometimes. He is not always good, but neither am I. Many times in our adult lives, we find ourselves in gray areas. Sometimes we wonder if the good outweighs the bad. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. The longer I am married, the more I realize that if my guy always wore white, I probably would tell him that he is boring, and anemic, and that I need a little more color in my life. Sometimes, my good guy wears black, but in the end, he still will always get this girl.

Bravery in the Face of Fear

To leave the safety of your bed, knowing that you must fight off a blanket of darkness, climb a wall of despair, and be pelted with boulders of hopelessness, all while negotiating a razor wire of fear, is not weakness. It is strength. I’m grateful that I don’t fight the battle of anxiety and depression, but for those of you I know and love, who grapple daily with these demons, you are more powerful than you know and I am proud of you.

 

I wrote this a year ago today, and posted it on Facebook. It popped up this morning, which was strange because I’ve had this subject in the back of my mind for a while. I’m so thankful that I have only felt a wave of panic well up in me twice in my lifetime, but those two brief episodes were enough to convince me that people who have felt that tidal wave of fear wash over them, and still carry-on, are freaking superheros.

The first time it happened, I was in a small plane which was experiencing an abnormal amount of turbulence, enough to make the attendants, whose facial expressions I always scrutinize for any signs of fear whenever there is a flight irregularity, quickly take their seats and buckle up. Out of nowhere, my heart started to pound, my palms got sweaty, and I almost started to pant as I fought off a sense of impending doom. I felt like there wasn’t enough air and my seat-belt was squeezing the breath out of me. This passed through me in a matter of seconds, until my brain realized that I was experiencing a natural reaction (ok, slight overreaction) to a potentially life threatening situation. Thankfully, I was able to calm myself down with deep breaths and the whole episode only lasted about 30 seconds.

The second time I nearly panicked, was when I accidentally swallowed acetone (long, ridiculous story!), and as I was washing my mouth out with water at the sink, I started to hyperventilate and feel like I was choking, a thought made even more scary by realizing that even if I wasn’t alone, no one could do anything because I wasn’t choking on anything except chemicals. Again, I was able to calm myself down, and think rationally enough to call poison control.  I was fine, and both of these autonomic responses were fairly reasonable, as there was at least a potential for harm. But what if there was no threat to my safety? Imagine how it would feel if anxiety welled up for no reason, unbidden and unwanted, and could not be rationalized away?

The two experiences I had, lasted only seconds, but they were so intense that I remember that feeling, years later. It is enough to give me empathy for the people in my life who experience sheer terror even when there is no real threat to their safety. I have seen people whom I love, experience this, and their eyes look the eyes of a person who is drowning. Pupils dilated, hands shaky, some have grasped my arm like it is a life raft.  Some of these people have been patients, rendered breathless from lung disease, and some have been family. I once had to take a panicky friend to the doctors, who would not leave the perceived safety of my car, so I had to go the appointment in her stead, and implore the doctor to see her in the car, which he kindly did. I’ve had patients grip my arm so tightly they have left crescent shaped fingernail marks in my skin, and say, “don’t leave me!” I didn’t.  I’ve escorted people to psychiatrist appointments, and one time was asked to go to the appointment myself because, “you can explain how I feel much better than I can.” Again, I didn’t, but I sat with this person, while they fought the urge to run.  I’ve had to drive two different people to the emergency room because they both were convinced they were having a heart attack. I’ve had children hide their faces in my neck, and cling to me like a baby monkey, and I’ve had family members lean their head on my shoulder, to try to slow their breathing and their pounding hearts. Why am I surrounded by anxious people? I can’t say. I like to think that calmness is a gift from God, so when an anxious person leans on me, I always pray that His peace will pass through me and bleed onto them.

“I wish I had your strength,” a dear person once said to me. “I’m not strong,  I’m just lucky.” I told her. This is true. It is not strength or bravery to feel no fear. Bravery is feeling fear and doing it anyway. To the people I know and love who feel anxiety or even full on panic attacks and yet quietly work, care for your children, pay your bills and live your life, in spite of your fears; YOU are the strong ones and I admire YOU.

Courage

I’ve written about addiction several times. I don’t have an addiction, except maybe to coffee and I do love sugar. Oh, and lately I’ve been addicted to my evening walk. I’m thankful that the things I crave are sugar, caffeine, and exercise but I realize that I could just as easily be under the spell of drugs or alcohol. This is a subject that is close to my heart and I hope I do the struggle justice.

The crazy thing about an addiction is that it is such a comfort. It is not what those on the other side would suppose, an ugly and ferocious competitor, a monkey on the back of the oppressed, something to be shaken off, trampled and kicked to the curb. No, that’s not how it feels. Your addiction is your friend, your confidant, no one understands you like your addiction. No one is as fun as your addiction. No one gets you like your addiction. It is a constant companion and a comfort. The thought of losing your security is terrifying. How do normal people function without it? How do they get up in the morning and face another day without the thought of it to alleviate the boredom and the fear? It’s not that the battle is just against the addiction. No, the real battle is within yourself to want to get rid of it. To see it how others see it, destructive and ugly, because that’s not how it looks on the other side. It is a beautiful sweet relief, and rest. To fight the battle of life without addiction’s armor to protect you seems impossible. The deception of it all, is that now that you have tasted the forbidden fruit, the rest of your life will seem anemic and hopeless without its color. Pale and dull. scary and empty. To realize that you are entrapped and need to free yourself is the mountain. To spend a minute, an hour living life and not letting your mind slip to the reassuring grove of your addiction seems like an accomplishment. “Well, I did it,” you might think it, “I went a whole day without it.” But then it hits you. Like a punch in the stomach, a day is not the goal, a week is not the goal. A lifetime without, is the goal. Forever, is the goal. How can you go forever without your friend, your comfort. How can you do this? What’s the point?

Here’s the point. Your family and friends are the point. They are depending on you, counting on you to pull yourself out of this slimy pit, because they need you more than you need your addiction. You are their comfort, their shield and their armor. You are what makes their life colorful and full. You are the comfortable groove that their mind slips to when they are feeling afraid or overwhelmed. Is this a burden? Will the weight of someone else’s happiness weigh you down and pull you under? No. Because someone’s dependency on you is not an anchor, it is a life jacket,  It will pull you up. even as your addiction will tell you that is pulling you under. These people, or this person is here for a reason. The reason is that they need you, yes, but more than that, you need them to need you. The thought of disappointing someone else, might be the only thing that keeps you going. You might slip up, you might run back for one sweet, terrifying minute, but you will be back, and the pull of being needed will keep you going, without your addiction. Some day it will hit you, that your loved one’s happiness, and need of you is truly what makes life colorful and worth living.

Traveling; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Traveling for pleasure is a strange thing, if you think about it. A lot of money, time and thought goes into planning and executing a trip. Approval must be granted for vacation time from work, airplane tickets, accommodations, mode of transportation must be considered, as well as practical home concerns; who will feed the cat and bring in the mail? Then, there is the travel companion, is this person a “good traveler?” Will this person enhance the experience and be a help, rather than a hinderance? After a whirlwind, fly by the seat of our pants trip to Italy, my husband and I, fondly (umm, maybe not! ) known to some as “the Bickersons,” can tell you, there is a good, a bad and an ugly to every family vacation.

The Good: First of all, Italy is awesome. In the U.S., history is old, but in Italy it is ancient. I’ve been to Washington D.C. and marveled at our progress as I strolled through the museums,  I’ve walked on the grounds of Monticello, and crossed the Delaware where Washington crossed. I live in a state that was established in 1820, and have discovered old foundations hidden in the woods of Maine, and have even dug glass bottles out of the ground, discarded by settlers 200 years ago. However, compared to statues, structures and roads thousands of years old, with cobblestone streets chariots bumped over, and marble steps, worn smooth and indented from the tread of millions of feet, U.S. history seems infantile. The experience cannot be duplicated anywhere, even at Epcot, whose “World Showcase” was the extent of my International experience, prior to traveling abroad (“Sad” my husband just scoffed, when I read what I had so far. He, having already traversed Europe, while stationed in Germany many years ago. However, as he was often under the influence of Oktoberfest, and the wonders of Amsterdam, I countered with my own “sad”).

More good? The food and the wine paired with the atmosphere and the company made mealtime an experience. Savored rather than wolfed, sipped rather than gulped, every part of a meal was meant to be enjoyed, and it was. Even the price was a nice surprise, every authentic Italian meal we ate, was less than what we have paid at Olive Garden. The service was excellent, as the host, a beacon of hospitality, waved us over, welcoming us to sit anywhere, “you like table outside, yes?” Then, with a flick of the wrist, an outdoor heater arrived to ward off the chill, while a man whose moustache was pointy and waxed, surely a character in a movie, took our drink orders and sent a young man over to help us order, as the best places we found, had menus written only in Italian. Laughing and gesturing, we made our requests known and sometimes ended up with a surprise, as when bruschetta (yum!) rather than bread arrived, and meatballs instead of a salad. Lingering is actually encouraged and one owner of an out-of -the-way, authentic treasure, with only four tables, covered with red gingham tablecloths and candles, actually exclaimed, after nearly an hour and a half,  “aww, you leave so soon?!?” The people were kind, and appreciated the smallest and even lamest attempt to speak their language. “Buongiorno, chiao, bagno? Grazie” all met with an indulgent smile. Thankfully, most spoke some English.

The Bad: Being sick while on vacation is never fun. Feeling dizzy and feverish is not only uncomfortable but apparently dangerous, as it led in part (the other part being a complete lack of grace and awareness) to my falling down some granite stairs at a palace, no less. Fortunately, I was not seriously hurt, just a bruised knee and rear-end, and I managed to walk a total of 13 miles that day, so it could have been bad, but maybe now, it’s just kind of funny.

Of course “The Bickerson’s ” had to make their appearance as they have on every vacation we’ve ever taken. The Bickerson’s are our alter egos. They like to show up whenever a fun time is expected and throw a bucket of annoyance, irritation, intolerance and aggravation on our heads. They take over for a while, and snippy comments, stalking off, and sulking ensues. The Bickerson’s always wear out their welcome very quickly though, and the Warner’s return before it goes from bad to…

The Ugly: Squashing into an airplane seat between a sleep and nicotine deprived, cranky faced husband and a plump, pinstripe shirt stranger, with no shoes on, who woke only to gulp copious amounts of fluids, then sleep, with his arm resting on mine and his pillow and blanket on my feet, is the ugly part of the trip. In addition, my leg room was commandeered by an oversize travel bag containing essentials such as receipts, train tickets, one half of a converter, binoculars and an empty Ibuprofen bottle. Never a good sitter, I am the person who jiggles their foot in work meetings, and who jumps up at any oppurtunity. Since sleeping beauty was in the aisle seat, both of these things were impossible. While I perched between these two, grimly counting the miles and the minutes,  I noticed that we were the only three who did not have an empty seat beside us, probably this happened when we were inexplicably bumped off the plane, and were thoughtfully put back on, in different seats, prompting an annoying and unnecessary “thank you” from me. Eight hours of hell later, we arrived in the U.S., still four hours from home to the news that our bags were in London, and are bus tickets were in the bags. All in all, just the usual travel annoyances; two flight cancellations, one very nearly missed connection, several swear words uttered in Heathrow no less, the land of manners, as well as three charges for one hotel room and the need to buy two more bus tickets, as ours were across the pond. The coup de grace, and my breaking point, came when trying to exit the bus station parking lot, we realized that it took every kind of credit card but ours, which made no sense as I had just used that same card to purchase our second set of bus tickets, three hours earlier. Marching into the dimmed and nearly closed bus station, I felt like the half crazed mother in Home Alone, who is desperate to get home, and does not even know what city she is in. I stalked up to the counter, as the attendant was putting on his coat, and informed him of our predicament. “Well, that’s alright, we take cash.” He said. I counted up my dollars, knowing full well that I would be three short. “I have five euros I can give you with it, but that’s it. Either you take it, or we are stuck here, which is it?” Twenty-two hours of travel had made me bold, and he knew I meant business. He took it, and off we went, realizing only after, that now we had no money for tolls. The irony of a vacation in Europe, ending in scrapping for change for tolls was not lost on us, and we laughed, after we found a dollar, of course.

The Best: I saved the best for last, which is visiting with family without the time constraints of work. Stay up until all hours (by all hours, I do mean midnight) drinking Sangria at possibly the only Mexican restaurant in Rome? Sure! Watch old movies after walking miles and miles while chatting and laughing and reminiscing? Absolutely! Wonder cobblestones streets with a dripping gelato in our hands? Yup. Admire the grit and antiquity of Rome, and the grace and beauty of Florence with some of our best friends, who also happen to be family? Yes, we did all that. More than that actually, we created memories that will last a lifetime. I’m so grateful for them, for my family and for the whole experience; the good, the bad and even the ugly. It is what life is made of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God and Softball

I wrote this piece over a year ago, about our church softball team. I’m not sure why I did, but it was prior to having a blog and I guess needed some creative outlet for how I felt. I gave it to my mother to read, who promptly gave it to my Pastor, who asked if he could put it the book he was writing at the time about the homeless shelter. I agreed and thanks to his book, I actually was published and got to see my name in print, although looking back now, I inwardly cringe at the quality of the writing. However, the sentiment is the important thing and I wanted to share it. Here it is…

Trinity has a softball team. Although a church softball team is not unusual for many churches, for a homeless shelter this may seem a bit ridiculous. Most of the players we have had on our team do not have a job, a home or even a bed to call their own, so why would God think its a good idea for them to run around a softball field, chasing balls and swinging bats?  Maybe because he loves us and wants us to have fun and because he knows that not every person who is lost will find their way into a church. He seeks us out and comes to where we are and so, he uses the things that we love to draw us to him. Never this has been more evident to me, than with our softball team this year.

In previous years, we have had plenty of players. Usually, 15-20 young men show up to our first practices, some with sneakers and athletic skills, many with cigarettes, most with the energy and bravado of youth but none with a bat, ball or a glove. The team is unique in that the players come and go throughout the season, as some find jobs or get their “vouchers” for housing and others come in. Someone who might have been a home run hitter and star left fielder one week, might be gone and could be replaced by a man who has never played the game but who wants to be a part of a team or maybe just wants to get out of the shelter for a bit. Because our team is so fluid, we have not had a winning track record by any means. Trinity has always been known throughout the church league as a “bad news bears” sort of team. The kind of team that cheers not when we have won a game, but for when we have not lost too badly. For this reason, and because we are disadvantaged in many ways, the league commissioner and other teams have been very kind to us. One team allows us to use their field as our “home-field” and games are almost always scheduled there for us, as transportation can be a problem, sometimes requiring multiple trips to and from the shelter or coordinated efforts on the part of the non-residents to bring the players back and forth. We have also been given bats and catchers equipment, and one time, a player from the other team brought over two pairs of cleats. For the man who was wearing work boots at the time, as that was all he had, this was quite a blessing!

This year was a little different. For some reason this spring, there seemed to be far fewer young men at the shelter, a wonderful thing except when it comes to a softball team. Determined to have a team, my husband searched outside of the church to recruit some people from our town to play. He knew of a group of young men who enjoyed playing softball so much that they organized a pickup game every Sunday. However, these games did not always end well as the participants were at times “three sheets to the wind” and disagreements and fights often ended the play abruptly. Several of these guys were excited about the prospect, even though they were warned that this was a “Christian league” which would not tolerate drinking, swearing or smoking on the field and that weekly church attendance was a league rule. We didn’t worry about them following any of the rules except the last one, as at least one of the guys was overheard saying, “church would probably catch on fire if I went in.” We shouldnt have worried though because God provided the answer for us. Of course he did!

One of the guys who was recruited was a huge red-head, named Scotty, who was 6’6,  280 pounds with size 18 feet!  Despite his hulking appearance, he was an encouragement to all and was never hard on anyone when they missed the ball except himself. He was having a rough game one night, early on in our season. He missed a ball he thought he should have been able to catch and was upset with himself. Because of his competitive nature, the next time the ball was hit to left field, he ran and dove over a fence in an attempt to catch it. The fence tripped him up and this big guy, with all that weight, landed on his side and on top of the fence, nearly impaling himself on the spikes.  We all ran over when he did not get right up. We found him struggling to breath and in obvious pain. He was helped off the field and the decision was made to bring him to the hospital to be checked out. My husband ran to get our jeep to bring to the field as it was a long walk to the parking lot. While we waited, I asked if we could pray for him. “yes please, anything” he said, as we gathered around and laid hands on him. We finished as my husband arrived with the jeep and they went to the hospital. We continued on with our game, although we missed Scotty and wondered how he was doing. Later that night we heard that he had been discharged and that nothing was broken. We were relieved to hear this, but a few days later we heard from his point of view what had happened. He said that he was sitting on the stretcher in the ER, in pain and struggling to breathe, with what he was positive were broken ribs, when suddenly he felt the presence of God. Immediately, the pain was gone and he could breathe normally. He knew that God had healed him and from then on, he started carrying a pocket bible with him.

As happy as we were about Scotty, we were concerned about the fact that many of the players were not going to church. This had never been a problem in the past, as most of the players lived at the church. Now, we were saddled with the task of telling these excited guys that they either attend church or they couldn’t play. Although we knew we needed to be respectful of the league rules, this seemed like a lose/lose scenario. We needed them in order to play, and more importantly, they were being exposed to the love and mercy of God, all while having a lot of fun. My friend, our scorekeeper, and I were discussing this quandary when she said, “too bad we couldnt bring church to them, you know, like a bible study.” What a perfect, God-given idea! Excited by this, she contacted one of the church’s elders, a man who also stepped in to play with us when we needed an extra player, and he graciously agreed to help us by leading the bible study. We told the guys that we would now be having bible studies before games, and if they wanted to play, they had to attend. No one balked or complained, in fact this information was greeted with quiet acceptance.

Before our next game, the whole team sat in the shade, lined up against the back of the dugout like good little soldiers. We shared Bibles that I had borrowed from the church and helped each other find the scriptures. We took turns reading, even one man who said “I’ll try, but I’m not that good at it.” All 12 of us, including 2 from the shelter, listened quietly as God, through the message, brought Saul to life, with encouragement that no matter what you have done, you are never too far gone for God. Throughout those 10-15 minutes, everyone was quiet, focused and listened intently, taking all the information in. After the final prayer, everyone jumped up, ready to play our game, but Scotty seemed stunned and was overheard several times that night saying, “I can’t believe this! My mind is blown!” To top off the night, we actually won that game and took celebratory pictures after.

Luke 19:10

For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.

Since that time, we have continued with bible studies before games. The players accept this and no one complains, from the 19-year-old, fresh out of high school to the 55-year-old grandfather. Jesus came to where these people were, and because of that, they have been touched. We were given the freedom to observe the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law, and in turn, seeds of hope were spread. Scotty still carries his pocket bible around and has been known to spontaneously start reading aloud, especially from Psalms. He is the first to remind us that we need to pray after practice, even leading the prayer once, after which he said, “I’ve never done that before and I was so nervous!” Oh, and our team? We won more games that year than in all our years as a team combined. Of course we did.

 

Afterword: Originally published in the second of two books written by Pastor Richard Berry about the many miracles happening at Trinity Evangelical Free Church and Homeless Shelter, available on Amazon.

 

                                    

Nurse

 

Rushing down the hospital hallway on Sunday, to get a shivering patient a blanket from the warmer, I suddenly had a sense of gratitude for my job and the ability to perform it so strong and so powerful, that tears sprang to my eyes and I had to blink them away lest someone think something was wrong. It was so unexpected and so intense that by the time I walked back into the patient’s room and put the heated blanket over her shoulders, I think she could feel it, because she said, “this feels so good, I could cry.”

A day (or night) in the life of a nurse is piled high with tasks. Patients must be assessed, medications must be passed, doctor’s orders addressed, treatments performed. Patients must be admitted, educated, discharged, and ambulated. Conversations with physicians, other nurses, nurse’s aides, pharmacists, physical and respiratory therapists, social workers, and family members take up a large part of the day. Everything must be documented (“if you didn’t chart it, you didn’t do it!”), often at the end of a 13 hour day because there was no time to stop caring for patients long enough to prove that it was done. Intake, output, weights, and vital signs need to be obtained, monitored, and addressed on each patient. A nurse must know the proper and safe amount of medication for every affliction, and question when an order seems unsafe, but must never diagnose, only make suggestions. The nurse must stay up to date on the newest technology and operate complicated life saving equipment with ease (never appearing befuddled in front of a patient).  They must remember policies and procedures and signs and symptoms of hundreds of illnesses, or at least know where to find the information and absorb it quickly, and well enough to explain it in layman’s terms so that anyone from a child’s level intelligence to a genius can understand. In addition, the nurse must weigh intuition against objective data. At times, this means imploring the doctor to intervene and possibly order expensive and unnecessary tests, based on a “gut feeling” or say nothing, and realize too late that although the patient’s numbers were good, the instinct that “something isn’t right” should never be ignored.

Meanwhile, the nurse must nod, when well-meaning managers appear with the latest and greatest piece of safety equipment, or a process change and must implement these things with a smile. A nurse must wait to go to the bathroom while assisting patients who need help to go, must eat when it can be squeezed in around the patient’s meals and must only sit in between tasks.  A nurse must always appear calm and in control, even when faced with gruesome injuries, children gasping for air, families grieving, or when aggressive patients attack, verbally and sometimes physically. A nurse should not tell a patient, “I’m busy” no matter what the request, and should try not to appear harried or overwhelmed, even when the tasks are piling up, and that barely treading water feeling has dissolved to the drowning feeling that every nurse knows so well.

Why in the world would anyone do this, you may wonder. Why would someone want to work weekends, nights, and holidays and have so much responsibility and yet very little say? Why would anyone want to put the needs and wants of others above their own? The answer is easy for a nurse and it can hit us when we least expect it. It is a blessing to make someone comfortable, to ease their pain and their anxiety. We are the liaison between birth and life, dying and death. With this heavy mantle of responsibility, comes the pleasure of knowing that we have made a difference in someone’s life, every day. We see people at their best and their worst. We see tragedy and triumph. What the patient sees and feels in us, is the joy and passion that comes through in every thing we do, from saving lives to fetching a warm blanket. It is a blessing to make someone comfortable, to sit with them when they cry, to make them laugh and ease their pain. I may not remember this every shift, but when I do, I am flooded with gratefulness that this is the job I have been given to do and that I have the ability to do it.

Dr. Bean, Dolphins and Dancing With the Stars

My granddaughter’s birthday is tomorrow, she will be five. How this is possible, so quickly, I do not know. I remember when my kids were babies, while I enjoyed them at least half of the time, the other half of the time I thought, A. “How long until nap time?” B. “When is it socially acceptable to put this kid to bed?”  C. “Will I get to sleep in until 5 am tomorrow, or will we play the, it’s-still-dark-go-back-to-sleep game for an hour?”  And D. “When will they ever go to school?!?”  Some wise person once said of the 0-5 years, “the days are long but the years are short.” As a mom of adult children, I swear that this is true.

But I digress, this isn’t about me and my love of “free time,” of which there is none, with little ones in the house. Rather, it is about our girl, Bean, She was named for her string bean-like appearance on her mother’s first ultrasound picture. She quickly became “baby Bean,” and has carried the moniker quite successfully ever since, except for that short-lived assertion of independence when she demanded that we all refer to her as “Chloe Madison,” instead of her God-given, or at least Mama and Noni given handle, Bean. She has had a successful career as Dr. Bean, and has treated stuffed animals, her babies, and most enjoyably, Noni and Papa. This has become, by far, our favorite game. This is how it goes. Someone (Papa or me), lies prostrate on the couch, a position that is rare in and of itself with a pre-schooler in the house, and even less frequently encouraged by said pre-schooler. At this point, Dr. Bean comes to my bedside to assess me, removes my real stethoscope from around her neck, and laying it on my stomach, demands that I  breathe. She then moves to the appropriate field for auscultation, and pronounces my lungs “good.” She looks in my ears, and in my mouth and declares that she will write a “scription to take to the medication store.” Now, this part is crucial if we are feeling extra lazy that day. She will either march back to her desk, bang on an old keyboard, answer a defunct cellphone with a curt, but believable, ” yes! This IS Dr. Bean, ” scribble on a post-it note and then demand that the infirmed fetch it and be on their way. OR, she might do a more thorough assessment if vague symptoms present themselves. “my pinky toe hurts,” I might complain, or “my elbow is itchy.” This will buy the indolent grandparent a few more minutes with her feet up, but eventually, as all medical professionals do when faced with an obvious milker of the system, she will sigh, and in her most professional voice, assert that I am fine. “Now, go home and let the next patient lie down.”

We have called her Dr. Bean since the age of two, when she received her first kit, thus she has already spent half her life caring for others and it seems that the good doctor is starting to show signs of caregiver fatigue. She has wondered on occasion, if this a profession that she will stick with for her whole life and upon meeting an emergency room physician while visiting  her mother at work, and after having exchanged professional pleasantries, Dr. Bean announced that perhaps she might choose another career path. “It’s either that, or I might become a dolphin, I’m not sure which one will work out,” she said seriously.  He was kind enough to nod solemnly, as if he too, while in the throes of med school had nearly tossed it all out and dove in the ocean, never to be seen or heard from again. The last time she saw him, while visiting her mother at work again, he nodded respectfully,  one healthcare professional to another, and said, “Hello, Dr. Bean.” “I don’t think I’m going to be a doctor anymore, it’s not working out,” she announced.  “Ahhh, dolphin then?” Bean nodded, but her mother and I know the truth; Bean clings to us like a baby monkey to his mother even in a shallow pool. Swimming unaided in an ocean for a lifetime,  is an unlikely scenario, at least for her.

You have to hand it to the girl though, she has dreams. Dolphin fantasy aside, she is now entertaining thoughts of a career in the dancing industry. Her plan is to be on Dancing With the Stars, as one of the professionals of course, not one of the stars. To that end, she has just entered her third year of dance. This career choice, although not likely either,  is still looking much more promising than the dolphin avenue.

She will do something interesting though, mark my words. She is plucky, spunky and as colorful as the season she was born in. She can be a challenge but she is always a pleasure. A lover of people, conversation, and babies, she never sits still and she rarely stops talking. She is the type of child who hugs you when you surprise her with a piece of gum. She is as sweet as she is sassy, She knows what is right and tells those who don’t know, how to do things. She is smart, and a natural leader. Future dolphin? maybe not, but this girl is destined to be great, and I’m not just saying that because I’m her Noni! Happy Birthday,  Bean

Horses are Love

My daughter lost her horse yesterday. From the time that she got the first frantic call that he was sick, until he was gone, only a little more than 24 hours had passed. It was sudden and unexpected, he was in the prime of his life. Everything possible was done to save him and ease his pain, and if love alone could have done it, he would be fine now. In the end, it wasn’t meant to be. A tragedy with no faults, no one to blame.

Her love of horses started early, actually, she was born with it, although we didn’t become aware of it until she could talk. From then on, that’s all we ever heard about. We indulged her when we could, pointing them out as we flew past fields in the car, her little neck strained to raise her head above the car seat to catch a glimpse of beauty. We bought her horse books and movies and read and watched them together endlessly. Her father let her climb on his back every night and transformed into a “bucking bronco.” She would clutch his shirt and hold on until they would both fall laughing into her bed and I scolded him for getting her “all riled up before bed.” She would line up the kitchen chairs and loop ropes over them for reigns. My door frames nearly always had a broom or a stick lodged in them for her to jump over, and outside, she pretended to trot and canter around in endless circles. A work friend, and fellow horse lover, gave her an old saddle when she was about four, and from that time on, my couch cushion was always on the floor, and that old saddle on the arm rest.

She begged to ride, and although I called everwhere, it was hard to find a stable that would allow a preschooler to take lessons. Eventually, at the age of four, she was given the opportunity and has never stopped, all through her school years and into adulthood. Through many broken bones, surgeries and several concussions, at least one of which gave her amnesia for two days and a poor memory for months, she never stopped. My Mother-in-law admonished me after her second serious fall. She wanted me to stop her from riding because of the obvious danger. I told her that this was her passion and her joy, and as a mother, I could never take those things away from her. I could only pray for safety, which I did, every time she rode. Eventually, we went to a different facility, with safer horses and the injuries ceased, but the life lessons didn’t.

Now at 26, the obsession never having waned, she has seen many horses come and go. All have had a lesson to teach, some more painful than others. Some have taught patience, some courage, one, how to pick yourself up after a fall. Others have shown love and forgiveness. All have taught dedication, physical and mental toughness and how to work hard. She has loved them all, but none more than Sam.

Sam was a dark bay thoroughbred with a small star on his head, who had done a little racing in his first few years, with limited success. He really wasn’t the competitive type, maybe because he had a different reason for existing. My daughter acquired him at the age of 18, after a friend spotted him for sale at a barn she was riding at. He was only a few weeks off the track but was not high-strung or anxious. He was not a show-off and didn’t prance around nervously.  She was immediately drawn to his kindness and gentleness. Scraping up the money to buy him, although in college at the time, was a risk, but he was worth it.

He was a patient life coach and confidant. He saw her through hard times and never judged. He sensed when she was pregnant before she even knew for sure herself.  He sniffed her belly one day and was extra gentleman-like instead of being frisky from not having been ridden recently. He was patient and sweet with Chloe, her daughter and allowed little hands to poke at him and would bend his head down so that she could brush his face. IMG_1028

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This passage in the Bible is one of my favorites. It came to mind when I thought of Sam, and of horses everywhere. If you substituted the word love for the name of a horse, in this case Sam, it would make perfect sense, at least to horse lovers. Horses are patient and kind, they do not envy or boast or are prideful. They do not dishonor, they are not-self seeking or easily angered. They keep no record of wrongs and do not delight in evil. Most of all, horses always protect, always trust, always hope and always persevere. They do these things for us, frail and weak humans that we are. They allow us to boss them around, although ten times our size. They let us borrow their freedom and allow us to soar through the air with them. They let us cry on their necks and are patient with us when we are learning. Horses are love. Is it any wonder that we love them back? Even people like me, not exactly “horse people,” can appreciate the beauty, majesty and humbleness that is a horse.

One of the last times that my daughter went to the barn, she brought her four-year old daughter with her to ride. Sam patiently endured her little boots digging into his back and no doubt too tight hold on the reigns. He was completely trustworthy and would never have allowed her to fall off his back, if he could help it. What he wouldn’t do though, was go where Chloe tried to steer him. Instead he followed my daughter, everywhere she walked in the arena, much to Chloe’s dismay. “Mama!! I want to steer him!! Make him stop following you!!!” He wouldn’t though. He loved her as much as she loved him, and although he would follow her anywhere, this time he went first, to Heaven. Because as any horse lover knows, Heaven would not be Heaven without horses there. Someday she will follow him, I’m sure he will be waiting at the gate for her. IMG_1029Addendum: After reading this, my daughter, ever the proud mother, would like to clarify that Sam was actually a decent racehorse, and actually did make some money. My apologies to Sam and his mother!

Purpose

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

My husband and I went to church two nights ago, and I must admit I really didn’t feel like going. It was a Saturday night, and although we are fortunate enough to have a Saturday night service, in addition to a Sunday morning service at our church, I was tired from a busy day at work. As a nurse, I have worked every other weekend for decades, so Saturday is just another work day for me, and since I had already walked over five miles in an eight-hour shift (Thank you for counting my steps Fitbit!), I really just wanted to sit on the couch and eat Cheezits. Anyway, he wanted to go, so we went, mainly because weariness trumps guilt, in my book, as the lesser of two evils. Like a trip to the gym, I never leave church feeling like it was a waste of time or that I wished I hadn’t bothered. This time was no exception as the message was just what I needed to get back on the blogging wagon.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
– Charles Dickens

For those of you who have read my blog from the beginning, you may have noticed that I have been a bit lackadaisical this summer. Gone are the twice weekly, or at least weekly published Spunkynoni rants, anecdotes or commentaries to be replaced with mental notes, half-finished drafts and slips of paper with cryptic words on them, meant to be future blogging ideas. Phrases such as, “youngest”, “Bean and the red balloon” or “sweater, sweatshirt, dress, skirt”, hastily jotted down on a scrap of paper and shoved into my nurse’s scrub pants or saved on my phone. Most weeks, this is about as far as I’ve gotten. Writer’s block? I really don’t know about that. I don’t yet consider myself a writer, although that is my dream. I consider blogging, or at least mine, to be an online diary, or a sort of diarrhea of my mind, which for whatever reason, some people read.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38 NIV

The newlywed period of writing a blog had worn off and the river of entries had slowed to a trickle by the end of summer. Never an overachiever, more a “just-getting-by” sort of person, I lacked the mental toughness and discipline to sit down and type, inspired or not. I felt guilty about it at times, but easily shrugged it off with the thought that there really was no reason to feel badly about it, after all, it’s just an outlet for me and a way to express myself, not a profession or a gift to anyone else.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. ” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sitting in church last Saturday night, tired, craving a salty snack and a little annoyed at my husband for a real or imagined offense that I can’t even remember now, I listened to the Pastor’s message with growing excitement and enthusiasm. It is a testament to the talent of my Pastor, and to clergy everywhere, or maybe it is simply God’s doing, that the sermon, at times feels like it was written just for me. This night he spoke of doing for others, each as we can, with what ever we have to give. He stressed the importance of not waiting until a huge act of generosity could be delivered, such as large sums of money being donated after a lottery win, and that giving to others sometimes does not even mean money at all. Quite often, it is the gift of time that is more precious than gold. He went on to say that we all have God-given talents and gifts. Some have money, some have musical abilities, some are good listeners, some can do no more than pray for others. Each gift is meant to be given away, not hoarded. He said he wished he could line up the congregation and tell each person what their gift was, that was meant to be shared, but that was not something he had the ability to do. I don’t think he had to though. I think each person there may have had a thought as to what they could give away. A few may have thought of money, after all my church is also a homeless shelter, and money is always in short, or nonexistent supply. But, some may have thought about a lonely person they could visit, or a struggling family they could buy a few items, or someone to add to theit prayer list.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

Me? I thought about writing. I don’t know if the words I type have any effect on anyone, except maybe my mother. But I believe that if God put this desire in my heart to write, there must be a purpose to it, and maybe someone, aside from Mom (LOL!!) might benefit from it. If that is the case, than the least I can do, is to put some effort into it. That means, weekly (gulp!!) entries. As my saintly (and overly referenced) mother always said to my sisters and me when we balked at housework or homework when we were little, “you don’t have to want to, you just have to do it.” I do want to. As is the case with a trip to the gym or sometimes church, writing for me is one of the things, that after I’ve done some mental foot stomps and whining, I always love. I come away from all three, feeling happy, satisfied and even a bit proud of myself. strengthening body, spirit and mind is not always an easy task but all are necessary for growth, and for me, happiness. The best of all though, is to find your gift within, whatever that is, and give it away because when your hands are empty from giving, you will have the ability to reach out and grab the Joy that God is handing you.

“Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy.”
– Buddha

P.S. By weekly posts, I mean that in the broadest sense, so please don’t hold me accountable. Actually, scratch that, if you have read all the way down to this point, you deserve the right to harass me a little! Thank you and God bless, dear reader!