Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, family, Life

Blessed are those with Open Hands

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my hands clenched and guarding my heart. I’m sure it’s stress, but it doesn’t change the little exercise I go through — opening my hands wide and spreading my fingers, willing them to stay open while I fall back asleep.

Open hands feel vulnerable. I have to be very intentional about it.


My son Sam went to British Columbia for school and adventure. Adventures like climbing sheer rock faces.

I had to ask him to stop sending photographs. I could handle ones like this:

But not ones like this:

Once he called me and said, “Mom! The coolest thing happened this weekend while I was climbing!”

“What?” I asked, thinking it would be a wildlife sighting or a beautiful vista.

“”I fell!!” he said.

My heart stopped. I felt my stomach squeeze.

“It was so cool!” he continued. “The rope caught me!”

“Don’t tell me stories like that,” I said.

Really. I can’t handle them.

But while Sam was out there, I learned to pray with open hands. I could do nothing to change what would happen — just pray.

And let go.

It felt very vulnerable.


I emptied a drawer in my mother’s dresser a month or so ago.

It was still filled with her things and the smell of my mother overwhelmed me when I pulled the drawer open. I don’t know that I can accurately describe what that smell is. Powder? Tussy deodorant? Sachets? Tissue?

I pressed my lips into a grim line and dumped the contents of the drawer into a large tote.

Then I did the same with another drawer.

And another.

Nearly four years after my mother died, I finally emptied her dresser.

When my sister came to visit, I pulled the tote downstairs for her to sort through.

Letting go of my mother’s things felt vulnerable. But right.


I’m worrier by nature.

And a breath-holder in stressful situations.

I don’t like change.

My tendency is to hold on.

Tight.

But…

Blessed are those with open hands, for they shall know peace.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Life

Blessed are the Laborers

One of my summer projects involves research at one of the research libraries in town.

The other day, I told Bud I was going to make a quick stop at the research library. Two hours later, when I realized how much time had passed, I hurriedly got up to leave. Joe the librarian asked me if I had found what I was looking for.

I laughed.

“There’s always so much more,” I said.

True about research.

True about life.

Nothing about research feels like work to me. But this research IS work-related.

*****

Helen calls me about once a week to tell me that she loves her job. She’s a nurse and works as a care coordinator. Mind you — I don’t think she ever called to tell me that she loved her job when she worked as a floor nurse in a hospital. But she’s found her niche and it’s very fulfilling.

*****

My father loved his work. He used to leave the house about 7 AM and get home after 6 PM. And then be on call. Or get calls when he wasn’t on call. And make house-calls. Or calls at the nursing home. Plus reserve duty one weekend each month.

He worked hard.

Honestly, I don’t remember ever hearing him complain about it.

I do, however, remember how special it was if he took time off from his workday to see me win an award at school — that one time I won an award. In fourth grade. For spelling.

But I knew my father loved his work AND his family. I never questioned it. His job was meaningful to him and impacted others.

*****

I married a man who loved to work. Until last October Bud worked as a dosimetrist, creating treatment plans for people who needed radiation therapy. Often he would stay late or go back to the hospital after dinner to finish up plans for patients who needed to start treatment soon. When he left that job to help me take care of my father, he tackled all the outside work around my parents’ house, much of it having been neglected for years. The property has never looked so good.

2015 before Bud
2019 after Bud — even the sky looks better

He takes great pride in the work he has done here. People notice it often and compliment him.

*****

Blessed are those who have found work that is fulfilling. 

*****

If you have a job you hate, I can relate. My three worst jobs:

1.) In college I signed on with a temporary agency and once worked for a week at a local factory. I stood at the end of a conveyor belt, caught syringes, and packed them in a box. My heart went out to the people on either side of me who caught syringes as a full-time job. The factory was loud. The work was thankless.

2.) I sold Tupperware for a time. Actually, I gave away Tupperware for a time. I felt so guilty at the exorbitant prices I couldn’t do it. I’m pretty sure I lost money on this venture, but ended up with a whole bunch of Tupperware.

3.) I took a secretarial job at a lumberyard in Cheyenne. The work may not have been bad, but the workplace was awful. At lunch on my second day, I drove to the hospital where Bud worked.

“I don’t want to go back,” I said, bursting into tears.

“Then don’t, ” he replied.

So I didn’t.

It turns out that 12 hours of crass and suggestive language in the office was my limit.

*****

Blessed are those who work at unfulfilling jobs.
Your story isn’t over yet.
Do your work heartily.*
Keep your eyes and ears open for other opportunities.
Let that hope keep you going.

 

*Colossians 2:23-24

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Life

Blessed are the Kitschy (or Kind)

Blessed are the kitschy
whose art is low-brow
whose writing is cheesy
who can stare at a lava lamp for hours
and whose kitchen clock is a cat with a wagging tail
and eyes that flit back-and-forth, back-and-forth

Blessed are the kitschy
for they are the salt of the earth —
Without them
life would be bland


The field where the cows have grazed the past few summers is planted in corn this year.

2017
2019

Nobody plowed the field or did anything to prepare it. In the spring and early summer, I kept watching for the cows, hoping they would bring them, not knowing the field had been sown with corn until it started to grow.

I said something to a friend whose husband had been a dairy farmer. “I didn’t know they could do that. I thought they had to get the field ready before they planted on it.”

She shook her head and frowned. “It drives my husband crazy to see those fields.”

There must be something fundamentally wrong with doing things that way, but I don’t know what that something is.

All summer, though, I’ve watched the corn grow and grow and grow. It seems to be doing okay.

When I started thinking about a “K” post, the first thing that came to mind was Kindness in a reap-what-you-sow beatitude.

Blessed are the kind, for those who sow kindness shall reap kindness.

The song from The Fantasticks — “Plant a Radish” — started running through my head.

Plant a radish, get a radish
Never any doubt
That’s why I like vegetables
You know what you’re about

Except, as usual, I started playing with the words —

Plant a kindness, get a kindness
Maybe you’ll get two
That’s why being neighborly
Is always good for you

I reread my words and thought, So cheesy. Ix-nay that.

Yes, I have my moments of thinking in pig-latin.

One of those most freeing things I heard at a Hutchmoot was when author N. D. Wilson said, “It’s okay to be cheesy if you’re on your way to being good.”

I don’t know if I’m on my way to being good, but I yam what I yam.

And if someone doesn’t like the way I write, they certainly don’t have to read it.

But, then, if you happen to have a Billy Bass hanging on your wall singing “Take Me to the River” or a garden gnome in front of your house. Or if you like reading Amish-vampire-romance novels, I’m not going to judge you.

And you may like when someone bursts out into a song from an old musical.

Kitschy and kindness may even go together.

Like corn seed on an unprepared field.

You never know.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Life

Blessed are the (un)Jaded

True (and somewhat dull) story about a vegetable peeler:

Once day my vegetable peeler fell apart. I was peeling potatoes and it fell apart in my hands mid-peel.

The next time I went to the store, I bought a new peeler — a fancier one with a swivel blade and a soft-grip handle.

I was in for a shock when I first used it. Not only was the handle more comfortable, but peeling itself was a dream.  I had  no idea that the old peeler was as dull as it was until I used the newer sharper one.

Sometimes life is like that.  We’re plugging away, plugging away, plugging away all the while growing duller and duller and duller.

And then we fall apart. Or reach that brink.

I realize I’m being very trite by comparing life to a vegetable peeler — but it’s my life that I’m talking about so I think that’s okay.

I didn’t realize how heavy my burden had been of late — until I found that I had lost my smile. I was snapping at people. I was unmotivated to do much of anything. I was becoming jaded to this privilege of caring for others.

As I binge-watched a British crime show and ordered Chinese take-out for dinner, I started thinking about that peeler.

“Lord, make me an OXO peeler,” seems a strange prayer — but God understands.

And lest you all start worrying about me, please know that I’m doing fine. Really.

Life jades us. God unjades.


Blessed are the jaded —
the weary
the worn out

the ones who have lost the joy
of cooking a meal

who add unopened mail
to the pile
in the back room

who cringe at watching
“Wheel of Fortune”
one
more
time

who have given everything they have
– fruit, branches, trunk –
and have nothing left
but an old stump

Blessed are the jaded
who have lost their smile
and want only to sleep
or watch crime shows on Netflix
or unscrew another Oreo

To them Jesus said,
Come unto me,
all ye who labor
and are heavy-laden
I will give you rest

 

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Life, swimming

Blessed are the Individuals

Blessed are the individuals
who have a sense of their own uniqueness
the set of gifts and talents peculiar to them
and who use those gifts
for the good of others
for they shall hear the words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant.
Enter into the joy of your master.”


When I was thrown into the role of high school swim coach in 2002, I had no idea what I was doing.

I’m sure I was a most unconventional coach. We had Wildcard Wednesday, where practice could be almost anything, and Thinking Thursday, where practice usually went homeschool-educational. (For example, one week when a hurricane was in the news, we “learned” about hurricanes. The eye of a hurricane can be 2 miles to 200 miles in diameter — so we did a 2 x 200 and they swam it fast because the winds around the eye are the strongest.)

But, honestly, I loved those girls. I loved talking to them and getting to know them — and the more I did of that, the more I realized that high school swim team isn’t about swimming. It’s about life.

I started working to impart life attitudes to them that would take them farther than their 10 week season with me.

Like all school sports, we have a rival. The rival was often spoken of in terms of evil, or like they were our enemy. I wanted to change that.

Over and over, I told my girls that after a race it was important to reach over the lane line and congratulate the girl in the next lane, no matter who won.

“That swimmer in the next lane is helping you to swim your fastest,” I told them.

We were at our rival’s pool for the championship meet. The second-to-last event in a high school meet is the 100 yard breaststroke. The meet was very close between Cooperstown and the rival team. My breaststroker, Becky, had little chance of winning. She was good, but the swimmer from the rival school was the top seed by many seconds.

Right from the start, the two swimmers were side by side. Every time rival swimmer pulled ahead, Becky pulled a little harder and brought herself even. During the last 25 yards, the screams from the stands were deafening. Those two girls were so close — and when they touched the wall, rival girl won.

Exhausted and smiling Becky reached across the lane line and congratulated the winner.

When Becky came to me after the race, she was beaming. “She helped me swim my best time” were the first words out of her mouth. Not a word about losing.

I felt like we had both won — and probably Becky was the greater winner because of what she had recognized.

By being our best, we help others to become their best.

Community and individuality walk hand-in-hand. We can’t ignore one for the other.

Becky and Olympic swimmer Jenny Thompson flexing together
Posted in Faith, Life

The Adult Swim Lesson

I stood in the warm water of the teaching pool helping Nahla (not her real name) float on her back. It was my second time giving adult swim lessons, and, honestly, I love it.

Nahla had grown up in another culture, one that didn’t have access to swimming pools and swimming lessons. She wasn’t the person who started me thinking about immigration, but it has been weighing on my mind. I’m too much of a news junky not to think about it, but I’m always frustrated with the one-sided telling of the story.

“What do you think of immigration?” I asked a wise friend a few days later.

Jonathan paused before he answered me. “That’s a big question,” he said.

I had made a quick trip to Washington, DC, and gotten together with some people I know from Hutchmoot. I knew that I would get a thoughtful answer.

My own experience is limited. It is, perhaps, a downfall of living in a small, rural community. A few weeks of international travel opened my eyes, but certainly has not made me an expert on much of anything.

Doug, the other person at the mini-moot in Washington, joined in by telling a story about something that had happened when he was working with refugees. Then he told a story about his father, followed by a story from Sweden. He strung the stories together with the common thread of immigration. Some revealed one side of the issue; others revealed the other.

Never once did he tell me what I should think. Nor did tell me exactly what he thought.

His and Jonathan’s stories made the topic of immigration multi-dimensional. I could walk around the issue while I thought about it — kicking the tires, tooting the horn, taking it for a test drive.

On the other hand, memes — and I feel like I’ve been inundated with memes lately — take a complex issue and flatten it into a pithy saying.  Sometimes the pith is crumpled, fed into a cannon, and fired at those with opposing views. Those who agree laugh and A-men. The targets become offended and angry.

Memes are not conversation, nor are they conducive to conversation.

Last week, a picture showed up in my Instagram feed that showed a young woman holding a sign that said, “Behind millions of successful women is a an abortion they don’t regret.” Frankly, I found it offensive.

I thought, I’d love to introduce you to some women who do have regrets about their abortion.

I thought, I’d love to introduce you to some women who didn’t choose to have the abortion, and yet are still successful.”

And how do you measure success anyway?

Then I thought about the fact that the woman holding the poster has a story, too. I need to hear her story — with open ears and an open mind. She probably won’t change mine, and I won’t change hers, but we’ll be one step closer to understanding each other.

I thought about the pro-lifers who wave posters showing gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses. I’ve wanted to tell them about my friend who 30-some years ago had a late-term abortion because complications with the pregnancy were causing her kidneys to shut down. She and her husband had to make a Sophie’s choice. They don’t need their noses rubbed in it.

Oh, how we need to hear each other’s stories!

So I stand in the teaching pool, gently supporting Nahla’s back, encouraging her that it’s okay because I’m right there in the water with her.

A thousand thoughts run through my head — thoughts on immigration and fear and courage and the struggles women have and how grateful I am for this moment.

Mostly, that’s it — I’m grateful.

 

 

 

Posted in Life, poetry

Unraveling

In the un-
ravel-
ing
perhaps
a (truer) story
is told
that may
(or may not)
include
roses
and warmth

essentials
remain
untouched

we die
are reborn

pulled apart
re-knit
by the sharp beak
and pointy talons
of a wee bird




Do I blame it on spring and the return of the birds —
These thoughts of “No Roses for Harry” —
Or is it
Simply the way my knowledge of Thomas Merton
Is unraveling —

Looping around
Traveling back
Covering the same themes
From different perspectives
Different times
Different media

Stories retold
Made new

 

Posted in dementia, elderly, Life

Update on Dad

I realize that I sidestep the issue all the time, dancing around, skirting the elephant in the room.

It’s far easier to talk about the brindle boxer that is about to be euthanized than it is to talk about my father.

“How’s your father doing?”

Golly, how many times a week do I hear that question? It’s such a kind question, too, coming from a sincere concern for a man who touched so many lives.

This road only goes in one direction, I want to tell them.

But I don’t.

Usually.

He’s having more trouble with incontinence, I think to myself, but don’t say.

That’s not the kind of thing one talks about in the lobby of the gym or the checkout of the grocery store.

He needs help getting dressed.

He’ll spend ten minutes scraping an empty bowl after lunch; he can’t stop himself from pursuing every last bit of soup that may remain.

He spends hours at his dresser, rearranging his military insignia and lapel pins and tie bars.

He has taken to sorting cards. At first I thought he was playing Solitaire, but it’s actually a sorting exercise and I marvel at the way he pushes himself.

He’ll have half a dozen books piled on the tray table next to his chair, but he’ll still scan the bookshelves and pull off another with that so-many-books-so-little-time mentality.

Even though he can still read, I don’t think he gets the sense of what he’s reading.

His favorite book to read: The Oxford Dictionary.

The dictionary that his father gave him before he went to college still sits on a shelf here. A few months ago, my father pulled it off and said to me, “We should probably get rid of this. It’s falling apart.”

But I know why he kept it all these years — and I’m not going to throw it away.

Some things you hold onto, and clasp to your heart, even though they’re old and falling apart.

“How’s your father doing?”

“He’s happy,” I tell them. “I’m so glad we can keep him at home.”

And they pat me on the arm, or look knowingly at me, and smile.

“Thanks for asking,” I say.

It’s nice to know people care.

Posted in Grief, Life

The Brindle Boxer

When I pulled in to the veterinarian’s office, the red-bearded man with the brindle boxer was standing out front.

Maggie was fluctuating between ecstasy and fear. She had been delighted when she got to go for a ride in the car, but she recognized the building when we pulled in. The dog out front delighted her — Maggie is very social — but the door just beyond terrified.

She jumped willingly out of the car. The boxer squared off in the middle of the sidewalk.

It was a big dog, solidly built. She laid claim to the sidewalk, blocking our way to the entrance. The man made no move to move her. I nudged Maggie to my right side so I would be between her and the boxer. I knew Maggie would want to give an exuberant hello and I wasn’t the boxer shared the sentiment.

The man watched me shift Maggie.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “she can’t see nothing.”

I had already launched into my usual Maggie’s-biggest-problem-is-she’s-overly-friendly line when I heard him add as we passed, “She’s dying anyway.”

His words seeped in as I took Maggie through the door.

I should go out and say something, I thought, as I sat on the bench in the waiting room, but Maggie had already started her shiver-and-shed routine. She really doesn’t like visiting the vet.

Maggie at the vet

While calming Maggie, I made small talk with a woman who had worked with my father. Her cat waited quietly in a red backpack cat carrier on the bench next to her. We waited and chatted while people dropped off and picked up their cats, mostly. Through a window, I could see the man with the brindle boxer standing outside, still owning the sidewalk, although it looked a lot less like ownership now.

A technician came out and called a name. Three people, a woman roughly my age and two young adult children, stood. The girl went outside and came back in with the man and the boxer.

“We have a private room here,” said the technician as she opened a door behind her.

I couldn’t see the other faces, but I could see the man, pressing his lips together, the corners of his mouth turned down, as he slowly led the boxer in. A few minutes later, the girl came out again, her eyes red and puffy. She went outside and came back with an older man, who walked very slowly.

The door to the room opened.

“Pop, we’re in here,” said the red-bearded man. His voice broke.

The girl followed her grandfather. She was openly weeping now. With her back to me, I saw the large sparkly letters on her gray hoodie — “LOVE LOVE PINK.”

I wished I could magically change it to read “LOVE LOVE BRINDLE” because I knew that’s what she was feeling.

The small talk ended. My father’s friend and I both watched the drama with heavy laden eyes as the family closed the door to their private room at the vet.

“So hard,” she whispered to me.

Yet, we were witness to a well-loved dog surrounded at the end by three generations.

Sometimes the most terrible things are also the most beautiful.

Posted in Life

The Dream Job

Not quite a year ago I challenged myself to learn the names of the early morning swimmers at the pool.

Yes, I was lifeguarding, which I suppose sounds weird — to be pushing 60 and standing on deck with a rescue tube — but it was a fun distraction from the weightier things in my life.

Plus pools are one of my happy places. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved swimming.

So I lifeguarded from 5:15 AM to 7:15 AM.

And I loved it.

Friday was my last day on that shift. It was a little bittersweet.

“Was this your choice?” one of the early morning crowd asked when I told her.

Yes, it was. Sometimes it’s important to review priorities.

But I had unfinished business — some names I hadn’t yet learned.

When I lifeguarded, I would scan the pool and repeat the names of the swimmers to myself — Bonnie, Karen, Louise, Jean, MaryAnn, Maureen, Scott, Mike, and so on.

One woman came every Monday, Wednesday, Friday — and I could tell you a lot of things about her, but I couldn’t tell you her name.

She was elderly.

She walked with a limp.

She wore a unique gold necklace that I asked her about once. It was a track medal that her father had won in 1916 (or something like that) and she had it made into a necklace.

She had limited range of motion on one side.

She always walked down the steps in lane 1 and then ducked under lane lines until she reached lane 8. It was like a game of Frogger the way she crossed lanes without interfering with other swimmers.

She swam a modified elementary backstroke.

She always smiled and said good morning as she backstroked past the lifeguard stand.

One morning a couple of weeks ago I saw her stop to speak with another swimmer. I knew the other person well enough to ask her the name of the woman I didn’t know.

She told me — and it was a name I immediately recognized but couldn’t place.

I asked my husband. He’s got a great memory when it comes to people.

“Oh, I know her! She was a pediatric neurologist,” he said.

Ah — my dream job. When I didn’t think I’d be able to have children, I wanted to be a neurologist. Specifically, a pediatric neurologist.

So, back in the day, my ears had perked up when I heard that the hospital had hired a woman pediatric neurologist.

I spoke with her last week.

“You know, you had my dream job,” I told her. “I used to want to be a pediatric neurologist, but instead I had a family.”

“And I always wanted children,” she said to me.

I was so humbled.

I’ve been haunted by her words and mine.

I would never trade any of my children to be a pediatric neurologist. As it is, my life is rich and full.

I imagine her patients, too, are grateful for the path her life took.

Life has a way of working out.

I love being a mom —

I’ve had my dream job all along.