Surprised by work…

(When you're not great at shooting selfies while driving, transform them into sketches.... ) While I did ask my son how I looked before I left for my first day on the job, I didn't think about shooting a photo -- until I reached my first STOP sign. I look more happy than anxious. :)

(When you’re not great at shooting selfies while driving, transform them into sketches…. ) While I did ask my son how I looked before I left for my first day on the job, I didn’t think about shooting a photo — until I reached my first STOP sign. I look more happy than anxious. :)

What surprised me about my first day of work was not what it entailed but the “when.”

I had long entertained the desire to work for my alma mater, and by the time my final year of teaching ended this spring, I already had numerous applications in the university’s system, all positions for which I was qualified. One job, in particular, caught my attention because it seemed to require every aspect of my eclectic background — an ability to understand technology and science, an ability to write and edit, and an ability to work with upper level students. I had taught middle and high school students Algebra and English for 15 years, often using technology to do so, but I had come into teaching through my journalism background, and I came into journalism through my passion for science and my desire to communicate environmental issues to the general public.

Within the job description was this detail: “translate highly technical information and scientific jargon into descriptions the general public can understand,” and I felt as if I were reading my own words. A large part of the job included acting as a writing coach to a dozen or so interns, mostly upper level undergraduates or law students. I believed that this position was a fit for me — but I had thought that about numerous job descriptions without much result.

As weeks passed after submitting my application, I wasn’t overly hopeful and was having communications with a couple other businesses that were displaying interest. Those potential employers scheduled a series of phone interviews, and I had just completed one of them when my cell phone rang again. It was the university’s Office of Technology Licensing.

Thirty minutes later, I had a paper filled with scribbled information and a smile on my face. I had been completely honest, completely myself; I had answered questions and then asked my own. I liked the voice on the other end of the phone, and the voice seemed to like me. I hung up with a face-to-face job interview scheduled three days later.

The interview was nothing short of miraculous. As a teacher, I enjoyed the knowledge that I was making a difference in the lives of my students every day, and the thought of doing just “any old job to earn a buck and benefits” didn’t excite me at all. (See “Why I teach…”   for more insight.) On top of my own efforts to make a positive impact while teaching, I had worked with my seniors on their Capstone Projects, projects in which they had to change the world in some way. In the interview, I realized that making the world a better place was the vision statement for this office at the university. Changing the world in some way every day would be my job.

So when the director asked me why I wanted the position, I honestly (and, perhaps naively) said,

“This job is like my fairy-tale ending. It is the culmination of everything I have done so far — the science, the journalism, the teaching, and even my desire to change the world. That has been the goal of my seniors’ Capstone Projects, and now it can be my daily goal, too.”

I felt confident and comfortable; the two women who interviewed me laughed with me (at appropriate times) and seemed genuinely interested in me as a candidate. Afterward, though I had some of those second (panicked) thoughts about my responses to questions, I thought if I didn’t get a job offer then I could never trust my senses again.

We had parted with a few, less-than-heartening statements: “We have a few more interviews” and the dreadful “If you don’t hear from us in a week or so, give me a call.”


The next morning, a Friday, at 9:42 a.m., I got the 4 minute and 29 second call, a job offer at the highest number in the advertised salary range.


The person I was replacing already had moved to another state, and I was wanted immediately. Of course, “immediately” translates into something more like “eventually” when a huge organization is involved. Or so I had been told.

Minutes after the phoned offer — even before I accepted the job — Human Resources called to start the background check. By Monday, I had passed. By Tuesday afternoon, all my references had been contacted.

“Could you start this week?” was the next question.

All I needed was to have the university vice president sign the paperwork — and then I could begin. But that was delayed by vacation time or sick time, and I got the word that the earliest I could start would be Wednesday of the next  week.

On Tuesday morning of that  week, I got word that the earliest start date would be Friday (doubtful) or the following Monday.

But that same afternoon, I got the official offer letter. Tuesday evening, a call from HR to schedule an appointment to sign paperwork the next day.

Wednesday morning, at 8:37, I got word that I could start. Immediately. As in that very day.

“Well, just give me a few minutes to change into something more professional,” I said.

They were more than gracious about the time. We settled on 12:30.

Timing is everything, as they say. God’s timing is an expression of His love — and so perfect. I had no time for nerves and no loss of sleep, anxiously anticipating that first day in the office.

Being surprised by the first day of work is a beautiful thing.

Being surprised by how much I could love a new job is even more beautiful. Each day I work is a reminder of how much God knows and loves me.

And that should be no surprise.


A teacher’s lament…

2014-05-29 10.50.17editedIt’s the calm after the storm. Exams are taken. Yearbooks are signed. Ceremonies and celebrations applauded. The countdown completed. The final day cheered. Hallways emptied of raucous students. Teachers have finished grading those final exams and stacks of papers, the office staff have mailed final report cards, and the toils and struggles of the school year – like memories of childbirth – have faded in intensity.

School’s out for summer.

In my classroom, the floor is cleanly swept but dull and dingy, lacking sheen, evidence of the sandy shoes that have shuffled across it these past ten months. The windows, the blinds, the shelves, the desks, the chairs, like the white board, are shiny clean; the room has passed its annual “white glove inspection.” The desks are stacked, the books and supplies are boxed, and the walls emptied of décor. Everything is ready for the summer renewal – the repairs, the fresh paint, the stripping and waxing of the tile floors. And like the classroom, we teachers anticipate a summer renewal – a chance to refresh our neglected homes and yards and diet and exercise plans. A chance to renew our minds, to fortify our resolve to do it all again – better – next year.

Because in between our goodbyes to students and that last box in which we seal the evidence from the past year, we pause and reflect and – perhaps – lament. I know I do. For no matter the accolades and appreciation demonstrated, the knowledge of some successes along the way, I feel remorse, that sense that I could have done more, I could have done better.

This year, especially, I feel I have failed my students. My school called me to different roles, exchanging my Algebra classes for administrative roles while continuing to use me as an English teacher and department head. I was spread thin (not physically, unfortunately… still have to refresh that neglected diet plan). But, to be honest, this feeling of remorse – a teacher’s lament – is not an isolated event. It has haunted me as long as I have taught. In the past, that lament has been constructive – pushing me to find solutions, to improve my craft, to better inspire and motivate my students come fall.

But this August, I am not coming back. My days in the classroom are completed. And so this year’s lament is not followed by hope and action.

Somehow through the years, I have managed to straddle my school supplies between my home and my classroom. Daily, I dragged a wheeled crate of supplies to and from school. But during teacher post planning, in an effort to leave a fully stocked and properly organized classroom, I united the items from home with what I had at school and created an itemized inventory before boxing them for the summer. As I entered each item one by one, I too often thought, “Wow. Now that would have been helpful when we were studying ____.”

What I had at my fingertips – or at least at home to bring within reach of my fingertips in the classroom – were valuable tools that might have helped me teach better and lament less. You can be sure I am passing those tools along to my hand-picked and personally trained successor. But I have to admit that finding those unused tools makes me wonder if I might be lamenting less had I, in fact, put those tools to good use.

Thankfully, they remind me of something that does offer me hope and spur action, something much deeper — my walk with God — and what Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:3:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Through the knowledge of Christ, I have all the tools I need as a Christian to live a godly life. To my replacement English teacher, I am passing along a full inventory of the tools that just might be everything she needs to be an effective teacher who has no need to lament next summer. But to myself, I am passing along the reminder that I have everything I need to lead a godly life.

I leave the teaching — and the lamentations — behind. In Him is hope.



The photos I didn’t take…

photos I did not takeDown at the beach, as the sun begins to set, the photography begins in earnest. Romantic couples and lovely families – bedecked in coordinated clothing — are stalked by professional photographers with mammoth cameras. You can hear commands such as “OK, Mom and Dad, get close together. Kids, do you know how to ‘Ring Around the Rosie’? OK. Join hands in a circle and run around Mom and Dad as fast as you can.”

Click, click, click. The sand, the surf, the sunset make a perfect backdrop to those perfect poses.

Perhaps if I considered myself more photogenic, I might be more inclined to hire a photographer to create beautiful images for my family. When my children were young, we did the occasional Olan Mills professional studio shot, but those captured images, not reality. I look at those old photos and note how we appear – how young we look or how hideous those styles of hair, glasses, and clothing were way back when. I don’t remember an experience or a special moment in a relationship.

My oldest son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law recently got engaged at a beautiful park. My son had gotten on one knee, nervously extending both a ring and a question, before a “Yes!” made his girlfriend his fiancé.  A passing photographer, who had just happened upon the couple, approached them, saying she had captured the whole thing on her camera and would happily email the photos. That is life well photographed.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often.

As I reflected on my recent beach vacation with my husband, I realized I had more memories than photos. No professional photographer chanced upon our moments of life to offer megapixels of memories. I shot the obligatory sunsets and captured a few of my husband’s finer moments – wading with the stingrays, enjoying dinner with his sister, and peeling after too many days without sunscreen.

But it was what I hadn’t shot that most touched my heart. It was what I couldn’t capture in photos that I most want to remember or don’t think I can ever forget.

I might have enjoyed capturing my face the moment I felt a stingray scurry out from under my foot, my urgent shuffling toward the beach as I fled the spot, or my fearful vigil on the beach as I watched for other stingrays while my husband defiantly remained  in the water.

But what I really would have liked to capture would have been that moment I really grasped how much my husband loved and cared about me.

That man is generally teasing me – and my rational fear of stingrays made great fodder for his jabs. But his persistent comments didn’t sway me from the shore; his insistence on finding a solution to the stingray problem tormented rather than relieved me. But when he put the plan into action, I saw love behind it all.

He ventured into the water first, scouting for stingrays. Then he returned to the shore, and he had me follow him, holding onto his sides, while he carried a raft and shuffled his feet dramatically in the sandy bottom. He instructed me to walk closely behind him in his footsteps. I did. Within mere inches. Safely. It was like a dance train of two – minus the music. When we reached deeper water, he helped me onto the raft, out of danger of the stingrays that might have buried themselves below, and we ventured out into the clear, deep water where swimming was pure joy. When we had had enough, we swam toward the shore. My husband then bravely stepped onto the sandy bottom, and I walked in his steps, his shuffling steps, “dance train”-style, until we were out of the water.

Did we look goofy? Was I embarrassed to be so fearful that it took my ingenious and brave husband’s act to get me back into the water?

Yes and yes.

Would a photo of our “dance train” be the highlight of a professional photographer’s collection?

Probably not.

But that photo I didn’t take says “love” to me as no photogenic pose before sand, surf, and sunset ever could. And that is the best backdrop of all.


Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13


One stingray a chicken doth make…

Me, this morning, with the trusty float destined to save me from all the denizens of the deep -- and the shallows.

Me, this morning, with the trusty float destined to save me from all the denizens of the deep — and the shallows.

In addition to my ability to return from a beach vacation as pale as when I arrived, I pride myself on my X-ray vision. My polarized, prescription sunglasses make me invincible on the Gulf Coast. When the sun is shining on the emerald Gulf of Mexico, my glasses allow me to see right to the bottom.

“Oooh, needle fish!” I exclaim, pointing. “Swimming in that direction.”

And, again, a little later.

“I see a school of fish with black-tipped, forked tails,” I say to my husband, who doesn’t wear sunglasses when swimming (or standing in water, as the case may be). And thus begins the Q&A in which we determine via my vision and his knowledge the types of fish swimming about us.

The first day of our vacation – after my husband had had the luxury of an hours-long bike ride while I had shopped for groceries to meet his every need and, thus, not exercised – we had gone for a swim. He was preheated; I was thawing after exposure to air conditioning; we did not approach the seawater the same way.

“This is how you do it,” said my dear husband. “One, two, three… “ and he dunked himself into the emerald coolness, surfacing to note that I still was only waist deep.

“You’re being disobedient,” he jokingly nagged. “Come, swim with me to the buoy.”

“Nope,” I said – keeping my two feet down. “I’m Goldilocks, letting the water feel ‘just right’ before I submerge.

“If I submerge,” I continued.

Eventually, I was floating, not standing, and basking in the water Mama Bear and Goldilocks would have deemed “just right.” And so we did make the trek to the buoy that designated the outskirts of the swim zone and had just made our way closer to the shore when I looked back and saw two large, dark shapes gliding underwater toward my husband.

“Look!” I pointed.

Even without X-ray vision sunglasses, my husband could see the dark shapes. We saw no dorsal fins and were intrigued rather than frightened.

“Manatee?” I suggested, though they were moving quite fast.

“Maybe manta rays,” Steve said. “But if they are manatee, we should see their noses surface.”

So intent on watching for the tell-tale noses, we watched, unafraid, as the dark shapes continued their swim past us and down the shoreline – toward a somewhat romantic couple, oblivious of anything but each other.

“Should we warn them?” I asked, clearly too late to play the Good Samaritan.

A family on the shore had noticed the shapes too.

“Sharks!” called the two young boys.

No blood bath followed, the oblivious couple remained so, and we never determined what the creatures were.

The next day, we entered the water again – me slowly, despite my husband’s “one, two, three, dive” edict. I had exercised but still wasn’t preheated enough to crave the chill, and so I stood in waist-deep water, where I could see clearly to the bottom. I watched a crab and a few fish, but mostly conversed with my husband, as I apparently shifted my feet unconsciously on the sandy bottom.

Suddenly, my foot stepped down on the smooth thickness of a stingray’s body.

“Aa-eek-yick!” I yelled (always clear and helpful with my exclamations), as I jumped and hoofed it for the shore before managing a more intelligible, “Stingray!”

Even without X-ray vision, my husband saw the small creature flit out to sea – while he stayed put. I made it to the shore unmolested but there, in no more than ankle-deep water, held vigil for our remaining time, no matter the level of protest from my husband.

“If I get stung, you’ll come and save me, right?” called my husband, as he swam about undaunted.


“But who will save me from the denizens of the deep? I need your X-ray vision.”

As if.

Eventually, he joined me on the shore, and we walked toward the pool area.

“Oooh. I hope the stingray didn’t make it to the pool,” he teased.

I knew I was being silly. I had lived in Florida since I was six, shuffling my feet through the warm summer waters, without ever once getting stung.

But I’d never actually felt one with my shuffling feet, either.

And one stingray this chicken did make.

Later that afternoon…

My husband, ever the problem solver, wanted a snorkel and mask to better appreciate the denizens of the deep, and he suggested we purchase a raft of sorts so I could soar above the stingrays instead of shuffling. We did.

The next morning…

I had my husband snap a photo of me with my new float, and then we headed toward the shore. As we arrived, a man and his wife approached us and told us the water was littered with stingrays.

“There’s a whole bunch of them,” the man said. “I stepped on one and felt it flutter against my foot.”

“Were you shuffling?” my husband asked.

“Well, if I wasn’t, I certainly started shuffling,” answered the man. “But that didn’t seem to make them move. Trust me.”

I did, and so I waded knee-deep in the water, content to allow my husband full use of the float while he enjoyed the underwater scenery with his mask and snorkel. I waded, that is, until I saw a stingray swim nearby, and then I hustled, shuffling, from the water. I congregated on the shore with other beachgoers, as they told their stingray sagas.

Eventually, my husband returned with stories of all he’d seen – no stingrays, of course – and he persuaded me to follow in his footsteps. I shuffled behind him, clinging to his suit, until we got about waist deep, when I happened to look to our left and saw not one but three stingrays camouflaged beneath the sand, their pink tails alone giving them away. I quickly shuffled back to the shore, certain that was the end of my swimming adventures for this trip.

My husband, however, ventured forth again, wearing his slides on his feet, contemplating yet another solution for this chicken who is his wife.

When we finally returned to the pool, my husband told me of the next plan. He would wear the slides, shuffling a path, then toss the slides to me, so I could shuffle after him. Then when we were deep enough, I could use the float, keeping me above the stingrays. His reasoning was that I would feel more comfortable shuffling away stingrays if I were wearing shoes…

Sigh. I thought I had X-ray vision, but I did not see this coming.

We are returning to the water for an afternoon swim soon. Yay, me.

Hurry up and stop…

The graduating class of 2014 as we neared the end of the ceremony. (Photo by Bill Thompson.)

The graduating class of 2014 as we neared the end of the ceremony. (Photo by Bill Thompson.)

I have issues with braking. Back in the early days of our marriage, as I would — rapidly — approach a red traffic light, my facetious husband would say, “Hurry up and stop.” When, in fact, he wished I would slow down and stop.

Meanwhile, I was trying to obey the speed limit sign AND the traffic signal. (I am a model citizen, after all.) Plus I didn’t want anyone to get in front of me before I reached the intersection. Apparently, this leads to brakes that wear out prematurely. Who knew? (I think I have mended my ways — or else my husband has stopped trying to reform me.)

It has been years since I’ve heard that sentence emitted, but it has been on my mind as high school graduation weekend came and went. My work life — especially my role as 12th grade English teacher and administrator with graduation duties – combined with my personal life — most significantly as the mother of a graduating senior — has been a bit hectic.

As the 12th grade English teacher, I am used to assigning students their speeches — a last will and testament, a thank-you speech, and a graduation speech on “What does my school mean to me?” All seniors actually go on stage to state their last will and testament and to thank those who have helped them make it to this point in life. Only a select few — this year, four students — say their speeches at graduation; the remainder’s speeches appear, shortened, in the program at the ceremony.

This year, the job of shortening (and editing) those speeches and the program fell to me, as did writing the lengthy narratives of student accomplishments read as each student receives his or her diploma. It took me days to get those completed to what I hope was perfection — all while doing my “regular” teaching and administrative jobs. The school year was winding down; regular classes had ceased and I only had finals to administer. But instead of activity winding down, everything went into high gear… graduation ceremony preparation, grade conclusions, house and food preparations for graduation guests and graduation parties. Plan, rush, work, stress, fret, perform, host. Hurry.

Because I had to remain in high gear (and didn’t want to cry while announcing student achievements as each graduated), I focused on the job at hand — putting out one fire at a time, as my dear friend Leigh always said — and tried to squelch the thoughts and the emotions that would follow.

For this wasn’t just any senior class. This was my son’s class. My youngest son’s class. For 11 years, he had attended this one school. We knew some of his friends since the moment of his birth. These were the athletes I had cheered on the playing fields and courts from second grade onward. These were the Algebra students — the worst class ever — that made me want to quit teaching before they got to my junior and senior English classroom. These were the students I stayed to teach English despite that rotten eighth grade year in math. They had matured — well, mostly — and we had managed another two years together. I had led each through his or her Capstone Project just months ago.  These were actresses and actors who had brought to life Disney’s  Beauty and the Beast  and  Fiddler on the Roof  and  Jane Eyre  and A Christmas Carol.  These were the children — my son’s friends — who had become young men and women before my very eyes. The ones who would leave the school — who would leave me — and head all over the United States in pursuit of higher education.

And these were the students whose parents had become my friends. The ones with whom I sat at sporting events and school assemblies and banquets and plays and church. The ones who loved my child as much as their own; the ones whose children I likewise loved. We had carpooled and fed and clothed and vacationed and even provided toothbrushes for each other’s children. We had traded advice and complaints and discipline techniques and recipes. We had shared in joy and pain, in laughter and tears. And we had done much of this, most of this while centered on our children’s activities.

Which were ending.

I hurried through the graduation preparations, the graduation festivities, the final cleanup of the enormous party eight of us parents had thrown in celebration of these eight boys, our sons.

Hurry up and stop.

For suddenly, I recognized that I have barreled down my son’s high school road at break-neck speed to get to the end. Only to suddenly stop. And wish I had learned the lesson my husband had tried to teach me so long ago.

Slow down.

Streamlined and frantic free…

515 am alarm clock distortedMy eyes popped open at the sound of my husband’s alarm.

5:15 a.m.


Panicked, I looked at my own clock. What had happened to my 4:30 a.m. alarm?

“Not on Aqua Zumba day!” I whined. Loudly.

Had it been any other workout day, I merely would have conceded my inability to work out. But I go to bed on Aqua Zumba Eve excited for my alarm. I simply love this pre-work, water workout. I did not want to miss…

And so I streamlined my morning routine — and managed to get the essentials done in 30 minutes instead of the hour and 15 minutes the tasks usually absorb. I didn’t think it possible, but I was able to leave just a few minutes later than usual; I figured I might be just a minute late for class.

I pulled out of my driveway and saw Charlie waiting at the end of his.

Groan. But did I roll down my window and yell “Sorry, Charlie!” while barreling down the road toward the health club? Did I pretend I didn’t see him and drive past him?

No. I rolled down my window and stopped.

“You’re late!” he said, cheerfully. “I can set my watch by you — and I knew something was up when I didn’t see the lights come on at your usual time. You are running late.”

I agreed. Smiled. Chatted and laughed with him — and enjoyed the time; then I drove down the road at a conservative speed. I now was going to be an additional 30 seconds late to Aqua Zumba — but I would get there, and I was OK. I had streamlined my morning routine and found myself frantic free.

However, as I went through the day — noticing how long my tasks were taking and the load of them I still had before me — the pressure began building, and I started stressing. I ruminated on all I needed to get done by Friday’s graduation and knew I would have to work days and evenings. In addition to being on the school administration with tasks leading to the high school graduation ceremony, I had my own son’s graduation celebrations and home to prepare for our guests. How could I possibly get everything done?

By the time my husband and I went to bed, I was wound tightly.

“I’m so stressed!” I confessed.

We talked about it – my husband offering solutions like picking up dinner the nights preceding the event so I could clean rather than cook. But I still wondered how I could get it all done.

Then I reached over to set my alarm and remembered the alarm I felt when I was awakened by my husband’s clock rather than my own that morning. I then thought of my morning routine — still completed though compressed by the loss of 45 minutes. How had I done it? I had set priorities, streamlined the tasks, and felt frantic free.

And I knew that God already had answered my wondering.

The next morning in my devotions, I read some verses that confirmed it:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

And so it is.


An afghan as a symbol of regret…

My sister and I found scissors everywhere... scissors we could never find when we needed them, of course. These are a sampling, with a backdrop of the afghan I saved.

As we packed my mother’s belongings, my sister and I found scissors everywhere… scissors we could never find when we needed them, of course. These are a sampling with which we awkwardly spelled out “MOM,” with a backdrop of the afghan I saved.

My husband noticed something was wrong.

At first I hesitated. Then I told him, “No, it’s stupid.”

“I can tell something is wrong, what is it?”

“You’re going to think this is stupid. Actually, it is  stupid. Ridiculous… [long pause]

“… Last night, I dreamed of an afghan.”

Lest he think I meant an Afghan rather than the knitted blanket I envisioned, I hurriedly clarified:

“I have been thinking of the afghan I didn’t take from my mother’s house — and wishing I had. Last night, I dreamed that I got the afghan back; this morning, I awoke and found I hadn’t… It’s stupid. It’s just a thing. “

At that, I promptly burst into tears.

Back in November, when we’d cleaned out my mother’s house to prepare it for rental (to produce income for her stay at a memory care facility), I’d taken very little. Some photos and other memorabilia, some articles my mom had written, a few practical items — dishes and the like — and one of the two wool afghans my grandmother had knitted but were unraveling.

Not really wanting two unraveling, useless afghans merely for memory’s sake, I took my favorite — and left the other.

Days after my visit, spent boxing up my mom’s memorabilia and other possessions to distribute among my siblings, a housekeeper came in and sent the rest of my mother’s belongings — including the second wool afghan — to a charity to be sold. She cleaned the house and prepared it for rental; in January, a family moved in. My mother — memory impaired and unaware despite being told of the house being rented multiple times — still invites me to stay every time I visit her. She lives in a single room in a beautiful memory care facility — her home away from home, she believes, as she ministers to others while her own mental health improves.

It isn’t and won’t. For the past two months, every time I call my mother, she tells me about the “conspiracy” taking place in her facility. The first time she discussed this with me, she sounded so serious and distressed that I called the facility and contacted my siblings to make sure everything was OK. (I am her only child not living in her immediate vicinity.) The facility attributed Mom’s fallacy to the full moon present at the time; she was sitting in her walker near the main door of the facility trying to make her escape. My siblings said that all was normal and well.

The other times my mother has mentioned the “conspiracy,” she has discussed it jovially, with delight. I have ceased to be concerned, though it is disconcerting, and attribute this current perseveration to her illness.

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. While she has lived a full and productive life, at 82 she suffers from a hip that causes such pain it should be replaced. My siblings and I have decided, after learning that 90 percent of Alzheimer’s patients who undergo surgery never recover completely from the anesthesia, that my mom will have to live with the pain.  Recently, the facility requested Depends, wipes, and gloves for Mom’s care. She has become incontinent and has thrown away most of her underwear.

Certainly, she is on my mind — along with the now-gone afghan.

It wasn’t until I had my favorite afghan in my possession that I learned my gym friend Connie would be able to repair it; she took it home on a Thursday and returned it on a Monday — perfect. I haven’t washed it; it still smells as it did when I was a child and my mother would bundle me beneath it when I was sick. It was a household item, not my personal belonging, but it provided the perfect weight and warmth needed when I had a fever to break. The two afghans together almost insured good health was just a few hours away; they certainly indicated my mother’s love for me — and her mother’s love for her, as my nana was the one who knitted them.

Before my mother’s mental condition deteriorated to the point that she needed 24-hour care, she remained in her home. I cannot count the number of times she asked me and my siblings to come to the house and “claim” what we wanted of her belongings. We came and put Post-It notes on a few items — the grandfather clock, the rocking chair, the ugly frog doorstop, the Santa Claus who resided on the toilet tank at Christmas, the spice cabinet — but most of the items remained unclaimed.

Maybe we undervalued her belongings. Maybe we thought it disrespectful to flock over “things.” Maybe we didn’t want to admit the severity of her illness. Maybe we didn’t recognize how important it was to her that we did this. The last “maybe” is what I regret most. I didn’t take Mom’s requests seriously — for whatever reason. I didn’t do the simple thing she asked; I didn’t recognize the importance for her  in sharing her beloved possessions, in having closure before she left her home for the last time. I certainly hadn’t foreseen the value I’d find in some old afghans.

I have been regretting the loss of the second afghan since Connie repaired the first and returned it to me. It is spread over my bed and seems so beautiful to me; I breathe in its unique scent and remember my mom as she was in her prime… which lasted until just a few years ago, actually. Mom as my nurse, my hero, my spiritual leader, my best friend, my confidante, my adviser, my cheerleader.

When I call her, she no longer asks about my life. If I mention any of my children, she passes over the comments without interest — not because she is rude but because she no longer remembers. She still remembers me and seems delighted with my calls, but it is getting harder to make them. She fumbles about, trying to find the right words. She rambles on, thinking she is making sense when she isn’t. She thanks me for updating her on my family’s life when all I’ve done is listen. She doesn’t remember that I’ve called, and so every call is a huge delight that I am finally calling. In fact, I’m not sure calling benefits her at all. It doesn’t seem to benefit me; in fact, it hurts, as much as I try not to make a simple phone call about me.

I don’t know how much time my mother has left here. When I consider her pain — and her mental state now coupled with the indignity of incontinence — I hope it isn’t long for her sake. For my own, I wish she could live forever — healthy and whole.

The latest news — of Mom’s incontinence — makes me think I won’t be able to take her away from the facility for lunches or shopping or any other delights. (I am probably overreacting.) It seems my mom’s world gets smaller and smaller — and my world seems bleaker for her losses. For my loss of her.

I find myself clinging to my memories and those few cherished belongings, including the afghans — both the one I have and the one I don’t. They both tell a story; one reminds me of my mother in better times; the other reminds me of my regret — which challenges me to live better.

Both are a blessing.


Now I lay me down to sleep…

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My feet, beautifully ensconced in socks and Crocs after a day of dressy sandals at work, happy despite the mysterious heat sensation.

Fear is a terrible thing.

Last night, as we laid down to sleep, I told my husband that the top of my toes were burning.

“Really?” asked the physical therapist and the knower of all things health-related. “That is a classic sign of neuropathy. Most typically something diabetics suffer.”

“I usually joke with my patients,” he continued, almost joyfully. “‘So your piggies went to market,’ I say to them when I’m evaluating them and notice some toes have been amputated. They usually laugh and think it’s funny.”

I didn’t. It was late, for me, 10 p.m. And now, instead of getting to think I had a little athlete’s foot fungus causing a bit of anguish, I had visions of my toes being amputated due to… I wasn’t sure, although I didn’t think it was diabetes.

“Thanks,” I said. “Now I won’t be able to sleep.”

“You should go online and do a search for ‘feet burning’ + ‘night’,” he suggested amiably.

Of course, this is the man who gleefully preempts BBC’s Doc Martin’s diagnoses and has counted how many “Call the Midwife” dilemmas he has pre-diagnosed as we watch.

Yea, me.

Especially since I awakened this morning with my feet still burning and find the sensation traveling to my lower legs and arms as I type this after work.

I’m thinking this could be a figment of my imagination. A psychosomatic disorder driven by fear. Or stress. I thought this has only gone on since an actual bout of athlete’s foot (attributed to the health club showers or my failure to towel dry between my toes) several weeks ago, but then I began to think of my sensitivity to cold and my preference to wear long sleeves — even in spring — and then thought maybe, oh, maybe, this has been going on much longer, and it has been an ongoing illness that I have simply not observed.

My late-night online searches — because, of course, I didn’t sleep last night — indicated the possibility that I could be Vitamin B-12 deficient, which could be a result of a digestive disorder, which claimed my father’s life early at 76, which could mean that I have some issues and should perhaps stop eating sugar and wheat and all things unhealthy…

And my student brought me a decadent piece of chocolate cake large enough to feed my entire family this morning. Sugar and wheat.

But God saved me from a certain car crash just Monday morning, when that early-morning driver totally ran a red light and pulled directly into my path, which should have meant certain death or at least tragic impairment, but I am alive and well and, well, now suffering from some bizarre illness.

So surely God has a good plan for my life? I mean, one that I also think will be good?


I worry. I fret. I feel growing areas of numbness and burning sensations. And I worry. I fret.

And then I think of my sister’s philosophy for health, “It will either get better or it will get worse.”

Meaning, I either have nothing to worry about or I will have something to worry about — and I might as well wait until later.

Comforting, but logic is not enough. What I need is God’s diagnosis or His advice. Which means I better get into the Word. Meaning, God’s Word, not my husband’s diagnosis or my sister’s advice. And what I find is this:

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).

Ah. So my husband may be right. So might my sister.  Regardless, I need to focus on God, who loves me more than I love myself. Who I can trust more than my husband, my sister, or my fears. Or, for that matter, a doctor and his diagnosis.

Which doesn’t mean I shouldn’t avoid sugar or wheat — or the luscious chocolate cake my student happened to bring me today — but I should do so without fear. Because whether this life is temporary in my eyes — or temporary in God’s eyes — there is more.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Amen and amen.



Packing it all in…

The contents of my baseball bag...

The contents of my baseball bag…

This week, my son played what could be his final baseball game. Certainly, he played his final game of high school, and (I’m fairly certain) graduation is soon to follow. The end of life as he knows it is near. Actually, the end of life as I know it is near too.

For years — I would say the nearly 20 I have known my husband and his children — I have been packing life in. I married into four children — ages 9, 8, 5, and 3 — and I immediately began “spinning the merry-go-round,” as my husband termed it. All of my children have been busy — including the one my husband and I added to the mix, who recently turned into an adult. Their activities, more than my own, have been my focus. It got easier when they began driving so they could drive themselves to their various practices and events, but I have been the parent who has attended every drama performance, every sports activity, every awards ceremony, every who knows what.

I am about to go from “be there; do that” to “been there; done that.” My mom skills — other than meal planning, grocery shopping, and providing gustatory delights, assuming this child attends college in town and remains at home — will no longer be needed.

After the last out of the last baseball game, I breathed a sigh of relief — and stifled a sob. I admit I am a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I thought of the mornings free of frantic packing not only for the day but for the evening’s game. For the evenings free of hurried traveling to various parts of the state for a game of baseball after a full day’s work. For a house a little better tended because of these free hours and reduced stress. For meals eaten off plates rather than out of a cooler or a fast-food restaurant. Oh — and for never having to scrub red clay and grass stains from white uniforms again. Those changes are worthy of a sigh of relief.

But then I thought of never seeing my son wearing his baseball uniform – Number 11 – or confidently taking the mound or making a double play from left field again. Of not stressing each time he stood at the plate, silently praying that he… Would. Hit. The. Ball. And hit it well. Of not paying attention to every pitch and every movement because keeping the score book kept me thoroughly engaged. Because there is no fan like a mother — right?

This Saturday afternoon, I took the time to clean my bedroom. I defrocked it of its winter’s attire — the hats and scarves, the heavy blankets, the heating blanket (mine), the portable radiator heater — and cleaned it well. It looked so empty — and, yet, so fresh and clean and good. The windows are open. The humidity is rising. Spring is here, and by the end of my winter-defrocking, I felt as if summer had arrived. I was sweaty with the effort and sat down to write a blog post — this one — with the ceiling fan higher than my husband will like. (But he is safely on a bike ride, and I am free to think, feel, and enjoy a hefty breeze from this electronic source in his absence.)

As a housekeeper, I said goodbye to one season and moved into another. As I did Tuesday, after my son’s last game.

When we arrived home, I unpacked my Vera Bradley bag and spread its contents on the table for a photo —  for I recognized the moment as significant. From the bag, I withdrew old team lineups, ours and our opponents. The score book, of course, open to the district tournament game just completed. (A record of a single elimination tournament loss. “Win or go home.” “Sudden death.” Sudden end to a baseball season.) My faithful pencils — one to use, one to share. Refill lead and erasers. Carmex. Binder clips — my personal “must have” for keeping the score book on windy days. The wrapper from a package of toe warmers. Game tickets. Tissues. My generic Imitrex packages… many empty. (Migraine or not, mom’s job must go on…)

After packing in my baseball game supplies since games started in February, I was unpacking my bag. After packing my children’s lives into my own for the past nearly 20 years, I am unpacking. Life can be a bit less about children, a bit more about my husband and me. Like my bedroom, defrocked of its winter attire, it looks a bit empty — but also fresh and clean.

And full of promise.

But while I breathe that sigh of relief, I admit tears are rolling down my cheeks. I will miss this season of life.


Whatever happened to Will Power?

The cake that sabotaged my will power... I went back to shoot a photo of the cake later in the day and saw the Diet Coke can parked beside it. How fitting!

The cake that sabotaged my Will Power… I went back to shoot a photo of the cake later in the day and saw the Diet Coke can parked beside it. How fitting!

By most accounts, I appear to have Will Power. After all, it’s 5:34 a.m. as I begin typing this. My alarm went off at 4:30 on Good Friday, a religious holy day, a holiday from work, and I am typing rapidly because I am leaving for the health club in 10 minutes. (Although truth be told, I only got up at 4:30 because it was preset on my alarm clock, and it was easier to get up than to change the clock.)

Typically, at this hour of the morning, I do tend to have Will Power. On week days, I get up, pack three coolers (only one for me, thanks) with breakfast smoothies, lunches, and drinks for the day; clean whatever dishes appeared in the sink during the night; put away clean dishes; deal with any laundry demands; and drink coffee. By the time I leave for the health club, enroute to work, I am packing some heat: specifically, a blow dryer and hair straightener — along with two bags of necessaries, my hanging clothes, my cooler, and my rolling crate filled with school tools. Today I am working out and showering at the health club but heading home, not to work, for the day. I left the cooler and crate at home.

Three hours later:

I am again at the computer, this time my laptop, having only constructed two paragraphs before the journey to the health club and having conceded the desktop to my son for his math homework. My husband is home from work for the holiday; my son has only his college class to attend, and he is resentful that he has to share the house with two annoying parents this morning. (I am finding all of us annoying this morning too.) I have made breakfast for three and dealt with the resulting dishes, have listened to too many conversations requiring answers or actions when all I want to do is write, write, write, and currently have a cat nosing her way into my lap, rubbing her head on my tapping fingers, and otherwise encroaching on my space. At my side is a now half-eaten bag of Target “Heart Throbs,” supposedly sour gummy hearts I purchased for my son for Valentine’s Day candy but are fair game two months later as they were still unopened. (They are not sour, but my stomach is. Why do I think sugar will help me focus or deal with stress?)

This is where I begin to miss Will Power.

In the mornings I have Will Power — and by “mornings” I mean early mornings, clearly, as it is not even 10 a.m., and I have already made myself sick on candy, demonstrating a certain lack thereof. I wake up, I work out, I determine to eat well so that I can fit into my clothes and generally live in a state of well-being. However, mere hours later, I turn to food — sometimes because I feel hungry, but often because I feel like my brain can’t function — and I seem to have no Will Power. And by food, I mean “food-like substances” or, generally, non-nutritive junk food.

I seem to be able to find it wherever I am.

This past week, it was the store-bought, buttercream-icing-covered cake in the faculty lounge. At home, I had a homemade feathery fudge chocolate cake (think luscious chocolate cake with real raspberry filling between the layers, covered in decadent dark chocolate icing). After the initial dose (at a birthday party for two of my sons), I never ate another bite, though half a cake remained in the refrigerator. But this boxed cake with artificial flavors and colors called my name.

I listened and succumbed. Three times, I believe.

The week before, when we had Capstone Project presentations by our seniors two nights in a row, the refreshments committee wanted a place to store the leftovers that could be served the next night.

“Don’t store it in the teachers’ lounge,” I said. “Those people [meaning me] are pigs.”

When I was a child, if I couldn’t finish everything on my plate, I would tell my dad I’d pay him a quarter to finish it for me. He usually did, though I don’t remember parting with any of the silver coins. He was sort of my human garbage disposal. When I now have leftovers — such as the chocolate goodies I make for Christmas packages — I leave them in the faculty lounge at school, where they disappear rapidly. Sort of a group human garbage disposal.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one who provides fodder for the lounge. And I am a willing part of the faculty — and an even more willing part of that human garbage disposal.

I need less of the willing part and more of the Will Power.

For years I have told people I’m on the Romans 7 diet.

“What diet is that?”

“You know. ‘For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Romans 7:15b). ‘For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing’ (Romans 17:18b-19).

Of course, Romans 7 doesn’t end in despair, and the writer doesn’t subject himself to a simple loss of Will Power. Instead, he claims victory through Jesus Christ and gives thanks to God for it.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25a)

I too often claim the Romans 7 diet — and stop at verse 19, complacent enough to succumb to a lack of Will Power instead of claiming victory. I am wrong to do so. When I started writing this post, I wrote the title first, crafting it as though Will Power were a person. Fictitious. Pretending. Overemphasized personification, perhaps, if I wanted to write as an English teacher.

But as I contemplate it now, with the end of Romans 7 in mind, I think Will Power is a person. Me — or, rather, Jesus Christ in me. And that should make all the difference.