The Gift

’twas nine days before Christmas
and my throat was so sore
my muscles so achy
I couldn’t ignore

So I drove to a walk-in
and waited a bit
before being ushered to
a new place to sit

With my butt on blue vinyl
and my foot on the step
I told the provider
“I need a rapid-strep”

Looking over her glasses
she tried to assess
this hoarse bossy patient —
should she say yes?

“I’ve no time to be sick,”
I tried to explain.
“A script for penicillin
and I’ll be on my way.”

A swab of my throat
a twenty minute wait
a knock on the door
then came the update —

No strep.

Dang. It was not the news I was hoping for. Not that anyone hopes for strep throat, but it’s a known quantity and a relatively easy fix.

“I could check for flu,” she said, but I declined. I doubted it was flu. I had no fever and I wasn’t feeling that bad. Just a sore throat and achy joints.

But the sore throat got progressively worse. Over the next few days I couldn’t swallow without pain. My children watched while I grimaced to swallow the Advil that brought some level of relief but I had to take twice my normal dose and repeat it every 4 hours.

I stopped eating. Well, mostly. Yogurt slid down with minimal pain. If I cut the thing I wanted to eat into tiny bits and chewed them a gazillion times, I could swallow, but it would take a good half hour to eat a single piece of toast with peanut butter on it.

Christmas loomed on the horizon. I really didn’t have time to be sick.

“Just make it go away,” I prayed. Surely God understood how inconvenient this was. I longed to wake up in the morning and swallow painlessly. But it didn’t happen.

I made an appointment, this time to see a doctor.

“Do you have a primary care provider?” the scheduler asked.

“No, I haven’t for a few years,” I told her. The older I get, the less I like to go to the doctor.

“Would you like to see a male or female provider?” she asked.

“I really don’t care. Just put me in with the next available,” I said.

She set up an appointment for the Thursday before Christmas with a new female provider.

When I met Dr. Cerna, I immediately liked her. She was pleasant and thorough. She listened well. She respected my concerns. Then she gave my problem a name: Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease.  She drew a little picture of it for me on the back of a piece of paper.

“I’m not a very good artist,” she said apologetically, but I could recognize the esophagus, the stomach, and the duodenum. Then she added little arrows showing the direction things should be going and more little arrows that showed the direction things were going.

Finally, she sent me on my way with a follow-up appointment scheduled, information about Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease which included dos and don’ts, and a prescription.

So here I am, one week later, and I can swallow again. I can eat without pain. In fact, I feel pretty darn good.

AND — I’m ready for 2018 with some new eating guidelines.

  • Small meals.
  • Small bites.
  • Chew well
  • No rushed eating

I’m going to keep a food diary, to hold me accountable, and to see which foods affect me negatively.

Over Christmas, when I failed to eat properly, my body reminded me. GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease) feels almost like a gift, forcing me to slow down, allowing me to gain control over an area of my life that I have often felt is beyond my control.

Sometimes gifts come in the most unexpected packages and arrive in the most unexpected ways. The quick fix isn’t always the best thing. Good things don’t always feel cozy.

My “theme” for 2017 had been “Leaning In.” I didn’t post every day, one of the goals I set for myself — but I did pursue relationships and I tried to train myself to find the beauty in things.

So finishing the year with GERD felt like a final exam. Lean in. Embrace this thing. Find the beauty in it.

I can’t wait for 2018.

 

The Journey of Tuga and Aleluja — part one

Part One of what I tried to say in church:

This past Lent I carried a little brown rabbit in my pocket every day.

I named him Tuga, the Bosnian word for sorrow. His purpose was to remind me of the season, of the pain in this world, even when we can’t see it because it is hidden in a person’s heart — or in a pocket.

Tuga had come to me as part of a set. The other rabbit, a white one, I named Aleluja, a word we aren’t supposed to say during Lent. I hid Aleluja on Ash Wednesday, planning to bring him out again on Easter Sunday.

So Tuga was my companion for 40 days.

I carried him with me on my walks.

He was with me when I cooked, when I did laundry, when I read.

He went with me to swim meets, staying in my pocket while I officiated from the bulk head or along the deck.

Often I would reach down to pat my pocket and feel the hard corners of his ears, reminding myself that he was there — and why he was there. Or I would put my hand in my pocket and turn him over and over, like a fidget toy.

You see, in 2014, in the early hours of the morning on Ash Wednesday, my oldest brother, Stewart, died of a heart attack.  I went through the Lenten season that year feeling numb. Everywhere I went, I saw people talking and laughing, but I felt like my heart had, at least temporarily, turned to stone.

Stewart

For me, the anniversary of Stewart’s death isn’t a specific date. It’s Ash Wednesday.

Tuga, in 2017, reminded me of that Lent.

In fact, I had hidden Aleluja behind a picture of Stewart. Life hidden behind death. Sorrow in the midst of life.

When I was packing to go to Bosnia some months later, trying to choose only the barest of essentials because I needed to fit two weeks worth of stuff into one backpack, at the last minute, I grabbed Tuga and Aleluja off the shelf in my bedroom where they had been since Easter Sunday.

While some people worried that it would be risky to travel there, I wasn’t afraid. I was going to a place that had been scarred by war. Tuga would remind that the people I would meet bore scars — but those scars may be hidden in their hearts.

(Tune in for part two tomorrow.)

Things I Would Have Done Differently in Bosnia

While I was in Bosnia, I began thinking of things that I would do differently next time.

First, I would bring my computer.  I intentionally did not bring my computer on this trip, so I could “unplug” a little. I had my phone which I thought would be adequate.

I learned something about myself, though. When I journal with a notebook and a pen, I tend to write little notes to myself. Reminders of the day. Conversations occasionally, but with minimal extras.  When I write on my computer, I write complete sentences. Or complete thoughts. (<– see what I did there?) I edit, delete, rewrite, and write a little more — because the process of writing helps me to unfold my thoughts more completely.

In Bosnia mosques and churches – side by side — something I’m still pondering

For two weeks, I didn’t do that. Now I am left with a hopelessly tangled knot. I try to write about an experience I had there and I can tell something isn’t right about what I just wrote, but I’ve lost the moment. Sigh.

So — next time, the computer travels with me, and journalling will be worked into the schedule.

Second, I would bring more gifts. I was overwhelmed with the generosity of the Bosnian women. They gave us clothes, jewelry, hand-made lace items, plums — not because we needed them, but because they wanted to express things that only a gift can express — Thank you. I appreciate you. I want you to remember me. I was thinking of you and I wanted you to have this.

Group photo — I’m holding some clothing given to me as a gift

Quite frankly, I wasn’t prepared at all for that. I had thrown a few things in my bag to give, and gave them on our last day. (Stay tuned for a future post about that.) But I really wished I had more, much more, because I wanted to say all those things that only a gift can express. (See previous paragraph.)

Third, skip the brick brigade.

Passing bricks

Ostensibly, we were there to help build a house. I was a little skeptical of my part in that from the get-go, but figured there must be something I could do. A prerequisite for the trip was the ability to carry bricks uphill. Well, we carried them downhill. And not even that. We formed a brick brigade and passed them down the line in the many-hands-make-light-work spirit. Moving a palette of bricks took, maybe, 20 minutes. It just felt like, um, fluff — well, as fluffy as brick-moving can be. Later in the week, I saw a truck deliver bricks much closer to the work site. It made me wonder how much of the original delivery site was so that the Americans could feel useful. I didn’t want to feel useful; I wanted to be useful.

Which is why, fourth, I would have volunteered more in the kitchen. On the last day, I went into the kitchen with the Bosnian women. Perhaps I should have stuck with moving bricks because I was pretty terrible at scraping potatoes. Had I started earlier in the week, by this point, I might have gotten the hang of it. Had I known I would be doing that before we left, I would have brought some peelers. As gifts. To say, I want you to remember me — every time you peel potatoes.

Cutting cabbage

But peeling potatoes and cutting cabbage were the highlights of my week. We communicated through hand gestures (when the translator stepped out) and demonstration. We laughed at my clumsiness – ineptness needs no translation and neither does laughter. The women asked if I wanted to make the traditional pie, but, if I couldn’t peel a potato well, I was afraid what I would do to the pie.

Our hostess making pie

Next time, though, I would head straight for the kitchen. I would help with the daily bread-making and soup-making. And I would learn the Bosnian way of rolling out pie dough. (It was pretty amazing!)

Last, I would leave the photography to other people. If I had left my computer home so I could be unplugged, I should have left the camera off so I would stay in the moment. I’m not the greatest photographer. One girl on the trip was truly gifted in that area. My pictures are adequate at best.

In addition to shoveling cement, Nicole took fabulous pictures

Once, when we went out on a boat, Amina, our translator, asked me to take a picture of her. The first three or four pictures that I tried to take were so bad that she turned to someone else. I should have warned her that I was lousy photographer.

As the week went on, I took less and less photographs. I tried to memorize the things I was seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling. All the pictures in the post were taken by someone else — proof that I didn’t need to take any.

A number of people have asked if I will go back to Bosnia.

I guess I need to, if only to do it better.

The Gift of Giving

About a month ago, I received a curious piece of mail.

When I opened the envelope, I found a folded-up piece of yellow construction paper. In red marker, the sender, Juliette, a little girl from our church in Greene, had drawn a heart, an elephant, a waterfall, and some flowers covered in dirt. (Her grandmother wrote explanations for me.) 

It also included a dandelion. I actually love dandelions. I loved when my own children were of the age of bringing me dandelion bouquets.

That letter made my day. It was so fun to receive something so unexpected. I knew I needed to respond, but, in the craziness of getting ready for France, I didn’t do it until the other day.

I made a card for Juliette. 

The rabbits were just a little too big to fit neatly on my card, so one rabbit’s ear and tail fold around onto the back. I guess you could say its back side is on the back side.

I asked her grandmother for Juliette’s address. She texted the address back and added, “She is fascinated right now with giving everyone the pictures she makes.”

 

Juliette is learning at a young age that giving is its own gift.

***

Last night at the dinner table, as my father repeatedly repeated himself, I found myself wondering at the wisdom of bringing my children here to live with him.

It can be frustrating and even, sometimes, a little irritating to listen to the same comments about the blueness of the skies and the greenness of the plants.

I’ve heard Mary patiently explain how to operate the remote control to the television and sometimes resort the explanation of “magic” when asked how she found the right channel. The other night I heard Karl trying to explain the remote control. Again.

My youngest children have to live in a house with rooms still full of items from previous occupants. My parents’ house became a repository for so many things from other family members that it’s hard to find space for its current residents.

I wonder repeatedly, is this good for them? Is it good for our family to be a little fractured for the sake of the eldest member? Is it good to stretch between two homes, and in so doing, to almost have no home? Is it good to see their grandfather needy and weak and forgetful?

But I remember my mother caring for her mother and mother-in-law. With patience, sacrifice, and great love, she did for them what they could no longer do for themselves.

I suppose I’m following in her footsteps.

It’s a different kind of giving from sending a sweet greeting in the mail.

Sometimes this kind of giving seems like a terrible gift, but I need to remember that it is a gift nonetheless.

I need to lean in. Embrace each moment. These gifts are good.

Play Your Game

I’m a fan of the synchronized sports shot.

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Karl (dark 14) and opposing 14 running for the ball

This is probably one of my favorite pictures of Karl playing soccer because he and the other player are right at the same place in their stride.

I loved watching Karl play soccer.

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Karl and Michael — high school doubles

Tennis was fun, too.

Karl and Michael made a good doubles team. In the picture, they’re sort of synchronized — weight on the left foot, backhand ready.

They did pretty well at tennis — for a couple of soccer players. Against the odds.

I heard their tennis coach give them the same advice over and over that year. “Just play your game,” he told them.

“Their game” was a fairly simple one. Return the ball.

While their opponents were trying to put spin and speed on the ball, not always very successfully, Karl and Michael simply returned the ball. Over. And over. And over.

Sometimes it aggravated their opponents. You could see them thinking, What the heck?! These yahoos don’t know squat about real tennis.

But Michael and Karl knew how to return the ball.

When one of them tried to get fancy, it inevitably failed. Coach would call them over. “Just play your game,” he reminded them.

It worked until they encountered a team whose skill was so superior that neither of them could return the ball. (See “Laughter“)

Coach’s advice was such good advice.

Be you.

Lean in to your strengths.

Don’t worry too much about what others are doing.

Play your game.

Weathered

Walk around the barn with me.

The side facing the road is red, the traditional color of many barns. My mother painted the Peace Dove around 40 years ago on a sheet of plywood. Bud found it in the barn this fall and decided to hang it for the holidays.

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The northern side bears remnants of the red. Also a few broken windows.

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And a tree with a cool twisty trunk.img_1080-1

The messy back side is a mish-mash of red, green (discolored plywood), and black, where the silo used to stand.

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Here is what remains of the old silo — metal bands and wooden staves becoming one with the earth.

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The southern side is all gray, discolored in the one corner where a truck cap leaned against it for years.

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I think this side is the prettiest.

I took a picture of it during the summer just because I liked the way it looked.

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It’s lovely, don’t you think?

Exposure to the elements and weather brings about changes — like the trials in our lives. We end up with some scars and a few broken parts.

But if we lean in, we might find some beauty there.

 

Trapped

In the spirit of “Leaning In,” I offered to help my father write some letters.

During December I felt trapped, much the way a mother of a toddler feels. I remember being home with small children and wondering what it would be like to be able to do and go without worrying about other people. Now I sometimes feel that way again, but it’s not because of small children.

I had asked Laurel some of the same questions I asked Mary (see Explanation). Laurel knew how old I was. She also astutely answered the what’s-my-favorite-thing-to-do question. “You like alone-time,” she said — and I felt a little lump in my throat because she understood me so well.

Alone time. I crave it. Like chocolate. Or coffee.

When I was home with toddlers, I would retreat to the bathroom — and they would stand outside the door, talking to me, trying to get in, asking when I was coming out.

In December, my father would sometimes stand at the bottom of the stairs. “Sally? Sally? Are you going anywhere today? I’d like to go out,” he would say. And I would feel so selfish that I just wanted to go out alone. All. By. Myself.

With toddlers, sometimes they would follow me everywhere. “Fred” used to sit on my foot and hold onto my leg. I would hobble around, my steps uneven because I was dragging a little boy with me. He simply wanted to be with me.  If I stopped to read with him or play with him, sometimes that would satisfy his Mom-time need, and, in turn, I would have a little alone time. In the kitchen. Woohoo.

Of course, I couldn't find a picture of Jacob hanging on my leg -- they do exist! -- but this him, the youngest at the time, at about the right age.

Of course, I couldn’t find a picture of “Fred” hanging on my leg — they do exist! — but this is him, the youngest at the time, at about the right age.

So — leaning in. I decided in 2017 that I wouldn’t try to escape, but would rather lean in. Embrace.

Instead of escaping upstairs, I asked my father if I could help him write a letter. He had been saying that he wanted to write to a few people, but, beyond the struggle of gathering thoughts into words, he also struggles with the fine motor coordination of writing.

Yesterday, we sat to “write.”

It took him a long time to formulate his thoughts, but his words revealed how trapped he felt, too. He told his friend why he couldn’t travel to visit her —

 … I feel like I should accept the wisdom of the rest of my family that I should not drive a car.  I agreed to this reluctantly, but there’s no way out.

No way out. What a terrible feeling.

He got frustrated with the writing process and we put the letter aside.

So today, we’ll finish that letter and get it in the mail.

And I’ll take him out with me.

It’s a lot slower running errands with a person with a walker.

Not unlike a child hanging on a leg.