A few years ago, my right knee started doing a funny thing. I’d be walking, and out of the blue, in one step it would feel like two of the bones in my knee shifted together and out of place in a “this is all wrong” kind of way. It hurt, but it didn’t feel like a crisis. Each time it happened, I just stopped for a minute and recalibrated, and generally there was nothing more to it. It was infrequent, and I was aware that “over 50” means new territory for general operations of the human body, per common lore. This went on for…six months, maybe?

Then one day the shift was different. The pain was piercing…debilitating. When I’d hit that unanticipated wrong step, it would leave me standing on the other leg, sometimes weeping, sometimes shrieking, but utterly unable to move. My husband G had to rescue me on many occasions, sort of dragging me to the nearest place for sitting down.

A coworker recommended seeing a chiropractor. Hers had told her that the body first whispers a message when something is wrong, and eventually shouts. Clearly my knee was shouting. Another coworker lined me up with her chiro, and I saw him something like 3 times a week for awhile until the situation stabilized. The combination of regular adjustments and starting each day doing a few exercises he had given me was enough for that season.

All was well. Then the pandemic hit.

Working at a Continuing Care Retirement Community (think nursing home + rehab + assisted living + independent living apartments for seniors) meant we never got even a moment to pretend the pandemic was anything but deadly serious business. What it meant for me personally was shifting from working a very manageable 40-hour week to something more all-consuming – for a number of months, basically I worked all my waking hours at a frenetic pace and under great pressure, then came home and cried in the shower and fell into bed, where I couldn’t sleep.

I rarely got out of my chair at work during those months. It just felt like there wasn’t time. The phone never stopped ringing. The virtual meetings with infection control specialists and regulatory folks were multiple times per week – sometimes literally daily. Everything was so important, so urgent. No time for getting up to stretch. I ate lunch (and supper) at my keyboard, working through. Weekends often found me still working. Any thought of “self care” seemed like silliness – there was too much at stake for too many people. I put my head down and focused on the work, praying the virus would pass quickly, though from the beginning I had enough access to information to never once believe it would be brief.

There was a series of health challenges for me. A probable case of COVID (though it was the first month of the pandemic in our community and I couldn’t get a test to verify it). A bout of pancreatitis the week after that, and an emergency gallbladder removal.

And then my knee started acting up again.

I saw that chiropractor some more. I saw the functional medicine practitioner who had fixed the pinched nerves in my elbow a few years back, hoping he could work his magic similarly on my knee – he was working on me about 3 times a week for a while there. The gallbladder surgeon had issued me a stunning number of muscle relaxers in the spring, which I had saved – I took those and Tylenol around the clock for the knee pain.

Nothing helped.

How much did it hurt, you ask? A few notes from roughly this time last year…

I couldn’t drive a car for more than 5 minutes, and even that sent me into tears. I couldn’t even ride as a passenger in a car for more than a few minutes – holding my knee at that angle reduced me to shouting with pain. Even getting into the car was often tricky – I’d find myself literally picking that leg up with both hands to drag it into the car, unable to lift it any other way.

When I had to use steps, going up meant leading with the other leg. Going down meant literally backing down the steps, as there was no forward option that didn’t shoot my pain levels past any reasonable threshold.

Sleeping at night was fraught. Sometimes I’d get my body all positioned just so and manage to start sleeping, and then my body would make just the tiniest shift, and poor G would be awakened by my hysteria from the knife of pain shooting through my knee. For awhile I was able to sleep sitting propped up with my knee carefully cushioned; G voluntarily moved to the bed in the spare room to give me space and avoid potentially bumping the knee. But then that sitting-up position stopped working. My solution after that was to stand beside my bed, resting just the top half of me on a pile of pillows on the bed. This allowed me to get at least some sleep.

Getting dressed was a minefield – the act of pulling up socks, hose, or pants could at any given moment push the knee into a position that would leave me sobbing.

Finally the functional medicine guy and I came to an agreement – though I was terrified at the idea of shots in my knees or knee surgery, we were out of options. He told me to see a back doctor first, as he thought the source was there. A coworker hooked me up with a very-next-day appointment with someone she knew (talk about saving the day!)…and he quickly identified one part of the problem – a spondylolisthesis, which is a vertebrae out of place in the lower back. The tech looking at my back x-rays and MRI results asked, “Do you have one leg that is a lot weaker than the other?” and I was astonished. Well, YES I DID, but I had been telling myself I was “just being hysterical” and imagining that the leg was weaker because of how much pain I was experiencing. Nope. The vertebrae was the answer for that, and the chiropractor helped me address it.

Still, the back doctor said, the problem was primarily NOT my back. He referred me to a knee doctor in the same practice. I will say his name here, because the man is my hero – Dr. John Hoffman at Orthopaedic Specialists in Davenport, Iowa. I first met with him in (I think) November of last year.

The first appointment includes x-rays of the knees. The tech stood me in front of the x-ray machine and told me to bend into a squat position, and she marveled at the noise she could hear my knees making from across the room. Then she saw the images and made a specific noise that has now become familiar to me, sucking her breath in a kind of horrified way. That is the sound literally every medical person who has seen those x-rays has made since then. That was the first that I started to believe maybe I wasn’t just “being a huge baby” about the pain in my knees…the first that I started working on shutting down the suck it up, buttercup narrative in my head on that topic.

The deal with my knees is that the kneecaps are wayyyyy off center – they kind of right along the outside edge, and had grown quite the bone spurs from operating in that position.

We started with shots in my knees. If you are having knee trouble and are afraid of the shots, please let me speak directly to you about this: DON’T BE AFRAID. I was just terrified…and then they were really not a big deal at all. I mean…it’s a shot, and I hate shots. But I expected horrifying pain, and it was pretty minor (the guy who did the first shot for me explained that there is plenty of room inside, so you don’t get the level of pressure pain for knee shots that you have for, say, shoulders). And it started helping almost immediately. If you are suffering, go get the shots. It’s not traumatic, and it IS helpful.

The other thing my doctor did was send me to physical therapy. Thankfully, we have a team that does that where I work, so it was close and convenient to my schedule, I worked with the therapy team in November and December; all that stretching and strengthening worked wonders.

Unfortunately for me, my knees are enough of a mess that the shots didn’t last long enough, even with the physical therapy factored in. My doctor will do them every 3 months, but I only get about 7 weeks or so out of them before the pain starts ramping up again.

My doctor has a weight limit for qualifying for knee surgery, and I was above that limit. He encouraged me – get that weight lost, and let’s get your surgeries scheduled. I have to say here – I’ve had some helpful weight conversations with medical folks over the years, and some very unhelpful ones. One thing I admire so much about Dr. Hoffman is that he was able to address the issue without offending me. He spoke to me as one person to another, not condescending. He was oriented toward solutions and let me know what has worked best for others in my situation, in his experience (low carb diet). I never felt judged – no hints that I’m unintelligent, or lazy, or greedy. A nurse that I was telling about this later said she knows him and that wasn’t just a feeling I had – he just doesn’t judge. BE LIKE THAT, WORLD. Be like that. It was a breath of fresh air.

I did try the low-carb thing – several versions of it, actually. I just couldn’t get there. I’ve been saying for years that I’d rather be fat than do keto (still my absolute stance)…but I couldn’t even manage other tries like Whole 30, paleo, etc. When you don’t have a gallbladder, digesting all the fat one is to ingest for low-carb is…uncomfortable, to put it mildly. Revulsion around the food I’m trying to eat is not a good plan for me. Eventually in prayer I was reminded that intermittent fasting had been effective for me in the past; I switched back to that and was able to meet the threshold Dr. Hoffman required.

I finally qualified in the spring, and then there was the matter of waiting my turn, as my doctor is really booked up. Meanwhile I had never stopped doing the physical therapy exercises – in fact I had kept adding to them, and by last month I was doing nearly two hours of exercises before I got out of bed every morning. I was never tempted to skip a day, as the exercises were keeping me mobile – besides, they felt great to do and I was watching my legs change as I did the work.

So, I had my right knee replaced on August 19th.

Getting ready for knee surgery is basically a part-time job in itself. There were tests and clearances from my other doctors. Dr. Hoffman uses the Mako robot to assist on surgery, so I had to get a CT scan done of my knee, which was used to plan the operation down to the finest details, based on my actual leg and not just some standard “this is how we do it for everyone” protocol. There are supplements to start and dates to discontinue all meds and supplements ahead of surgery. There’s a whole “bowel protocol” that starts before surgery, because there are so many pain meds afterward that a person could just kind of never poop again – I literally have a full one-page document on what to take and when to take it, before and after surgery, for that issue.

Guys, I was SO SCARED of this surgery. How you know you need a surgery like this is that despite the terror, the pain you are looking to escape still motivates you to move forward!

Here was a happy surprise for me: the knee surgery itself had exactly zero bad or frightening elements to it. I can’t speak for how all doctors do this, but mine had wrapped me around with information and support for literally weeks in advance, and at the surgery center I kind of felt like they wrapped me in bubble wrap to get me through. The pain medication management was flawless (and I would also say creatively done). The gentle encouragement and the thorough communication about every tiny little thing was incredible.

On the way out the door, they used an ultrasound needle to supplement all that other pain management stuff, injecting some kind of “blocker” into my thigh that let me keep mobility but protected me from the worst of the pain for a few more days.

Before I left the surgical center, they sent a physical therapist in to teach me how to navigate steps (literally at 7 AM the day after surgery) and assign me some exercises to do at home.

The doctor’s office went out of their way to make sure I understood I have full permission to call and talk to the nurse as much as needed (which I have done). The surgical center had a nurse call me several times the first week to monitor my progress and answer any questions.

The hard part has been at home, doing the real work of regaining mobility. There’s a foreign object in my leg that has to be integrated with all my muscles and tendons and such so they can work together. That means faithfully doing all the PT exercises at home, getting up and walking around A LOT (first with a walker, then with a cane, and before I hit the 3-week mark I was already able to walk on flat, hard surfaces without a cane).

I’m not gonna lie – the PT exercises at home have made me shout (a lot) and on a few occasions they have brought me to tears. A week after surgery I started working with my PT team at work, and they have been AMAZING at helping me work on extension, flexion, and strengthening. Every session is hugely encouraging (and for awhile they were also quite exhausting, but not so much now).

Even though the “working on it afterward” part is hard, here’s the simple truth – the pain is not worse than what I was experiencing at this time last year…but THIS pain is carrying me AWAY from pain, while that old pain was just promising more of same.

If you need knee surgery, don’t be afraid. I’m a huge baby and I did it – and I’m not even afraid about doing the second one now (scheduled for Oct 20). Wellll…I’m dreading the “recovery at home” part a bit, but I know the things to do and I know how very rapidly the improvement happens as I do the work – so I can push through and do it.

My biggest challenge right now is the swelling. If I sit in a chair, my leg blows up like a balloon and takes a lot of icing, elevating, and massage to get it back down. They tell me time will cure that, and recently a coworker told me that kicked in for her around 3 1/2 to 4 weeks in…so if I happen to operate on her timeline, I’m within a few days of great improvement with the swelling.

Don’t be afraid. And if you’re local to the Quad Cities, my vote is: USE MY DOCTOR. He’s a rock star – so thorough, so careful, such a good communicator. I’m sure there are other good ones out there, but mine…I think he’s the best!

thoughts on 39%

Posted: April 16, 2021 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

A friend told me recently she had read that we need to cut each other and ourselves some slack, because at this point in the pandemic, we are all operating at about 39% of the capacity we had pre-pandemic. It resonated with me in the moment, though I said it’s probably more like the people not working close to the COVID mess are at 75% and those of us who are are at 12%.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

39%. What a rich, luxurious number that sounds like to me right now! I’d love to have 39% of my capacity! I can’t begin to guess how long ago I sunk below that marker, but my hunch is it’s been awhile.

Today the end of most every work day finds me full of rage or next to tears, not at my coworkers or the residents, but just at the never-ending nightmare of navigating the impact of the pandemic on how we do business.

Lately I catch myself working at my desk and just plaintively praying without noticing to God, “Please just make it stop. PLEASE.” Or “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

I make errors, great and small, all the time…and then just kind of watch myself in dumb, numb horror when I process what I’ve done.

I have to process information in small bits – large chunks leave me with NO IDEA what was at the beginning or the middle.

I’ve been accidentally running traffic lights.

I hear myself ranting, “I HATE YOU SO MUCH” (often with swears inserted) at my computer when it hesitates or some other inanimate object does not perform to my expectations. I caught myself recently slamming my hands against the desk at the end of a day when our computer system had been glitchy since morning.

Too often I sit and stare at work I need to be doing, lost as to where to start. Too confuzzled to build sentences.

“I can’t even” and “I hate everything” are phrases that float across my conscience…sometimes daily.

I said to a coworker the other day…I love my workplace, I love our residents, I love my coworkers…and it gets harder every day to keep showing up and doing the thing. I have NO IDEA how people in our industry that don’t work at amazing places with fantastic coworkers are managing. I would have quit by now. Also, I WANT MY JOB BACK. It has been buried in the COVID mess for more than a year now, and I MISS IT. I don’t want to do COVID things anymore.

The rules of COVID have changed so much, so often, so quickly that I don’t even know what they are these days without pulling out my notes and studying them. This brain can only save so many changes and that capacity was awhile ago.

I’m tired of talking about COVID but my mouth steers there most of the time. It has been the dominating force for 13 months and I struggle to turn it off. And I’m tired of the sound of me ranting about it.

I listened to a podcast this morning that was about COVID fatigue for parents, who have their own separate set of challenges that I cannot even IMAGINE. This reminds me that I was arrogant to imply that only those of us who work close to COVID are on our knees right now. I listened to people sharing and I wondered…how do they keep doing it?

Home is my respite in this great big mess. My husband who makes me laugh every day and is a world class snuggler is there. My arch nemesis the cat lives there, and we continue to enjoy reviling each other and throwing one another shade. Our baby chicks are there in the basement, and my project in the garage to build their coop is coming along. It’s nearly time to plant the raised bed gardens, and my mom is giving us some perennials to add to our landscaping. We got the big tree down in our front yard, which opens that whole area up for a whole new design, that I’ve spent many hours contemplating. Home is my joy and my retreat, and it gets harder and harder to leave it.

What I know is that I am not special in having fallen into a morass over this pandemic that never ends. We are all going through this trauma together, and often I wonder what we’ll be remembering about it and how we’ll be evaluating how we came through in 5, 10, or 20 years.

39%. I didn’t write this to ask for pity or sympathy. For sure I am not looking for advice. No need to comment reassuring words. I guess I just came to say: we can’t know what percent anyone else is at right now – we can’t even know what the high and low numbers are for their range of capacity, here in month 13 of the nightmare.

We always needed to cut one another slack, make allowances, give grace, and assume good intentions. In a world where “reduced capacity” is surely the norm for the time being, our opportunity abounds to be reasonable, compassionate people who can give others who are struggling a pass.

Since I need it so badly these days, I’m keenly aware of my debt to myself, God and others…to offer it early and often.

It’s the best way forward.

2021: marking down the aims

Posted: January 2, 2021 in Uncategorized

Yesterday I only managed to write my annual end-of-year blog by sheer stubbornness. Happily, today I approach the writing of my beginning-of-year blog with more enthusiasm than that. Could be that I just worked the rust out of the gears by doing the thing, or it could be an infusion of positive energy I got yesterday from working on a project for work that, as Marie Kondo likes to say, “sparked joy” in me – something creative, something positive, something that wasn’t about telling bad news or setting unwelcome boundaries. Either way, I’ll take it!

To be honest, I approach the notion of trying to forecast ANYTHING for 2021 with no small amount of trepidation. Part of me is the kid under her blanket, eyes scrunched shut, whispering the desperate prayer please no more, please no more, please no more. But I’m a midwesterner, and so one thing I understand is seasons. I’m looking toward the next season, insisting that IT WILL COME.

So here’s what I’ve got in mind.

52 Snow Days, Redux

Last year I announced my intention to aim at “52 snow days” for the year, a phrase taken from a wonderful book that helped me get a vision for the gift of Sabbath. After a lifetime of utter disinterest in Sabbath rest, I found myself wildly excited about the concept after considering it from the perspective of delight that comes with a snow day.

It was very, very hard at first. I’ve become so oriented to productivity that it was almost painful to not just do a few little chores on my resting day. I had to talk myself down off the wall over and over.

Once the pandemic kicked in, I understood how perfect the timing had been in my learning the discipline of Sabbath. My workdays got very long and more stressful than they’d ever been. I counted on my Sabbath to be the one day I could lay it all down and just rest with a clear conscience. I was so wound up and so stressed during the week that I couldn’t sleep much at night, so my day off was the day to finally let it all down enough for deep sleep.

Before COVID, I had developed all kind of tricks and hacks to get my housekeeping and shopping stuff done ahead of the Sabbath, so I could rest in a tidy home. Once I transitioned to working most of my waking hours a whole lot of the time, that was not the case. My amazing husband really carried the workload at home six days a week this year, and one day a week I could do all my “fussy lady” stuff that is more on my radar than his. What this meant was I had to learn to just rest in the mess sometimes, and while I had mad skillz for that when I was raising kids at home, it was just…really HARD. But cranky perfectionism is a character flaw, not a strength, so I pushed into it and I’m glad I did.

Later in the pandemic, when testing got really cranked up and running hard, taking a day entirely of became impossible. With weekly and then semi-weekly testing happening, a report-results-within-24-hours demand meant stopping to do the reporting when it came, even on my Sabbath. What I did on those days was just try really hard to do only the minimum required, and then put it back down until another day.

When I started out aiming at 52 “snow days,” I thought it to be utterly unrealistic, but worth aiming at so that I could get the most possible Sabbaths squeezed in. I am pleasantly surprised to have come closer than I dreamed I might. I recommend the practice, and I intend to go for it again – 52 “snow days” in 2021!!

Writing for Joy

I love writing. If you had told me before 2020 that my job would transition to a huge part of it being writing something on most days of the week that I would then go on to record what I’d written and share it with hundreds of people…well, I’d have said that sounds like so much fun! That’s some of what I did this year, but it turns out when much of what you’re sharing is hard news, even adding everything helpful, educational or inspirational that I could think of didn’t really turn it into a *fun* exercise. I did come to see it as ministry, as every week people stopped me in the halls or called me on the phone or zipped an email over to me to thank me for how I’d done it, and I could hear in their words that it was helping them. But…fun? Not so much.

I’d really like to get back to writing for joy this year and not just for utility. My life is so results-driven right now that I’m not going hang that weight on this one by saying, “I will write x number of times per week.” Where’s the joy in that anyway? But I’m pointing my intention toward that goal.

Strengthening My Body

Doing physical therapy for my knee has reminded me how beautifully the human body responds to a little consistent effort. When use of my knee without wanting to scream returned to me, it got me so excited that I purchased a dipping station and am having a ball discovering all the ways I can use it with my elastic bands and balance ball and the new set of leg weights I also picked up to work on strengthening my body. I’m still weak and awkward in my efforts, but I don’t mind looking like an idiot in the privacy of my own home. I think I’ve latched onto this so much because it’s a thing I can control in a time when so much is beyond my control, but it’s good, so I don’t care. I’m excited to see what I can accomplish in the coming year with it.

Yard & Garden Goodness

The tree in our front yard has to come down – if we wait, it’s likely to fall on someone/something. We got the finances in order on it and in theory we have someone hired, though this year’s derecho set them back hard on their schedule and my biweekly pesty texts didn’t move us up on their priority list. I am hopeful that they’ll get it down by early spring. Then: OH BOY DO I HAVE PLANS. The front yard will be a whole lot of edible landscaping, once that shade-maker and all its unruly roots get out of my way. Every year I also make advances on my long-term plan to turn the back yard into an overcrowded wonderland of vegetation with a winding walking patch, and good golly I hope to take another big chunk out of those plans, come spring (it’s on the reasons I need to strengthen this body – there’s a lot of shovel time in my future!) And I’ve been scheming to put a lean-to shelter kind of thing on the side of our garage for us to sit under and do really ambitious things like watch the plants grow and the squirrels play, or maybe read books. I took pictures and mental notes this year when my parents built a structure like what I want beside their RV at the campground, and I suspect this might be the year that structure moves from fantasy to reality in our yard.

Bawk, Bawk, Baaawwwk!

Chickens. Our city does allow us to raise up to 6 laying hens (no roosters) if we meet some requirements. I have been reluctant to get chickens, because I know what raccoons and coyotes like to do to them, and I can’t countenance to idea of my husband’s broken heart if that would happen. But some friends of ours have a FANTASTIC chicken structure that looks pretty secure from predators, so I think we can maybe build a sufficient fortress. So if we can get our neighbors to okay us for it, we are getting chickens this spring so we can have our own home-grown eggs. THIS will be an adventure and I might have giggled while I typed it.

Hopes, Not Goals

The other things on my list are things I want to happen in 2021, but they are utterly dependent on how the pandemic plays out. We purchased flight tickets last spring for that summer course I ended up doing remotely; Southwest is holding my funds to be used later. I hope and pray that the situation will evolve enough that I’ll feel comfortable with flying somewhere before the deadline runs out on that. Maybe it will be for another training, or maybe it will be to visit my brother and his kids out in Arizona, or maybe we’ll do some other unexpected thing. I just hope we get there before the funds run out.

And I want to get back to in-person time with my loved ones. Sitting at a table with my parents, my kids, and others who don’t live in my house. REAL HUGS. Snuggles with the grandkids. Attending church in person, even. Honestly I feel very skeptical about the timeline on this, since so much depends on the willingness of all of us to do all the things we have to do to get there – the track record is pretty dismal thus far. Some folks I trust think it will start improving in the spring…I think we’ll be lucky if we get there by year’s end. I hope I’m just being a pessimist and can say this time next year how wrong I was about it.

Word for the Year: WAIT

Some years I struggle about what my word for the year will be, but 2021 is an easy one: WAIT. The aim is to wait with patience, joy, and hope for things to unfold and bring us up out of the morass of the coronavirus and the political nightmare scene that has been the last 4 years. There’s action and purpose in the waiting – it’s not just a passive stillness with expectation for magic to fall upon us. WAIT. It’s the theme for me, for sure.

2020 sign-off

Posted: January 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

Here we are, with 2020 behind us…I like to think of it as cold and dead in the grave. It will be a reference point for the rest of our lives, won’t it?

I hardly wrote at all this year. The pandemic swallowed my energy, my attention, my time, my will to reach in and find the words for the page. To be real here: while this annual year-end/New Year writing process is usually something I look forward to and relish like the most delicious of treats, this morning I had to MAKE myself start. That might sound like nothing, but it’s a pretty harsh measure of what the year has taken out of me.

It is wisdom, though, to stop and note the good gifts along the way – to pile up standing stones to remind myself, when I pass this way again, that there WERE good gifts. So! For my own self, and for anyone who feels like coming along for the ride…here we go!

People Time

As I did this process last year, I measured my time and priority spent on the people I love, and found it wanting. I resolved to be more intentional in spending real time with them, not just thinking fond thoughts of them while letting the daily grind suck up all my bandwidth. I got right down to business, my phone in one hand and my schedule in the other, messaging people to set up times to meet.

Almost all of it was shared meals, where it was either just me or us as a couple meeting people at restaurants, going to their homes, or even occasionally inviting them into our tiny little house that is not set up well for entertaining with its narrow kitchen and no dining room at all. While I know people who regularly do get-togethers, it has not been my/our pattern, and so I think many were surprised when I appeared in their text messages with specific dates in hand, looking to nail down dates. Surprised but delighted.

We kind of broke the bank that first ten weeks of the year, with just the expense of all those meals out or carryout to take with us to homes. We didn’t care – it felt like a priority that needed our focused attention and resources, and honestly it was a delight. There were days that the meetings took up two or even all three meals of the day. While we weren’t able to get to everyone we’d have liked to, we saw people we love but hadn’t sat down with in literally years. It was DELICIOUS, and my intention was to try to run quarterly rounds of this practice, and to hell with the budget. It was a people priority and everything about that felt good and right.

It wasn’t until the pandemic hit and we had to retreat into our own home and workplace for the rest of the year, eschewing almost all in-person contact with others, that I fully understood what an incredible gift we had been given with all that “face time” with friends and family. I really feel like the Lord saw our long isolation period coming (with still no idea when it might end, as the new year kicks off) and gave us a gift in the prompting to make that priority at the top of the year, while it was still available to us. More than once I have wept in gratitude as I’ve pondered that.

Streeeeetch

The spring also held an unanticipated gift in a job that I applied for with all my very best efforts (having not wanted to leave my current job really AT ALL) and did not get. I already wrote about that here, so I won’t go on about it, other than to say: the confidence that process instilled in me was a life-changer, and it came literally just in the nick of time, as I’d need that confidence to navigate all the pandemic stuff at work. I am grateful beyond words for my boss – this was just one more time that a challenge from him has been transformational in my life.

Poverty Coach

One of the things I was wildly excited about at the end of 2019 was my summer trip to Portland, Oregon for a week-long pair of trainings to become a Beegle Institute Poverty Coach. I was looking forward to the “vacation” part of the trip with my husband, but the two courses were a thing that just shouted to me as soon as I knew about it. I could envision ways to use it at work as a culture-builder and I COULD NOT WAIT to get at it, and thankfully my boss got right on board when I asked, not hesitating to approve the training for me. By late April I knew I was not going to be able to travel like that; the Beegle Institute did a fantastic flex and created an online option for those of us who needed to, you know, actually follow the recommendations for pandemic controls. So in July I spent a week at my computer in my bedroom, trying to bond over Zoom with my classmates and soaking up everything I could learn.

I’m frustrated about the timing for all of that, because I’ve not had the bandwidth to use even a little bit of what I learned yet in any kind of instructional or inspirational way. I completed the two courses and I have all the material, so hopefully when the dust settles, I can pick it up again and put it to good use.

The Hard Flex

The arrival of COVID-19 changed my job completely. Right before the pandemic hit, I had just begun to really push into new areas of my job and I was HAVING A BALL, excited to see how far I could go. As the coronavirus swept in, everything else fell in its wake. (I work in the senior healthcare field, which is among the most impacted by this nightmare.) Most everything had to be pushed aside so I could give my time, attention, and energy to helping our organization absorb the impact and protect our people. This year, most of what I ended up doing at work settled around 3 things:

  • Working with regulatory agencies, risk managers, and community partners to understand the virus and the ever-changing guidance around managing through it.
  • Making sure we hit all the marks for reporting to federal, state, and local agencies regarding our testing and other COVID-related protocols.
  • Keeping a running record of our status and daily decision-making process, and reporting that out to our team members, families, and residents. This includes almost daily written and verbal formalized communication to hundreds of people, but also taking the individual phone calls, which mostly involves saying “no” to requests that people really want a “yes” answer on – a hard demand for a lady who likes to give happy answers.

It’s a lot to absorb, and it’s a challenge to communicate, though I don’t do it alone – the value of teamwork has been more apparent to me this year than ever before.

The thing is, though: I am doing it. I am being given the grace each day to show up and give it everything I’ve got, and even though I’ve spent more time than ever this year at my desk praying desperately under my breath I don’t want to do this anymore about the pandemic, I’ve pushed through. I’ve cried, but I haven’t quit. I’ve lost sleep, but I’ve still gotten up every morning to try again. I am longing terribly for my “old job,” my “real job,” but for this passage, I’m doing what has to be done and I’m not folding.

So that’s all super-sucky – I’m not going to try to sugar coat it – but also I am deeply grateful to have discovered how deep is the well of resources that God will supply in me and for me when the chips are down.

Overcoming

A couple of years back, I had trouble with my right knee; I saw a chiropractor for awhile and got it back in order. Painful but not that big a deal. This past summer it started acting up again; I waited, reluctant to see either my chiropractor or my integrated functional medicine guy as it was easy to predict (rightly) that they would both be what I call “Iowa cowboys,” much too cool for the wearing of masks to protect other human beings. When the pain got so bad I couldn’t drive, couldn’t sit, and couldn’t sleep, I did a few visits to each of them in my full PPE and covered in prayer, just desperate to make it stop…the risk of the exposure to them was feeling like way too high a price and it also wasn’t fixing my knee. A coworker got me in to see her friend, who happens to be a spine specialist, and he got me into someone else in his practice, who is a knee specialist. What we found was 2 things: a spondylolisthesis (if you google it, it’s easy to understand what that is) in my lower spine was causing the entire leg to be very weak (like…the weight of my comforter on that leg would pin me down and vault me into a panic state), and not just one but BOTH of my kneecaps are at a level of deterioration that makes everyone who sees the x-rays of them make involuntary horrified noises.

Shots in my knees happened, and physical therapy was prescribed as well, which has been incredible for the knee part of the problem. I also found a new chiropractor who is willing to follow the science and wear the mask; she’s got things back in order regarding the spondylolisthesis and the bonus is that she works on the tension in my neck from all the long hours at the office. With all of this, it looks like I’m dodging knee replacement surgery for now.

When I started physical therapy, they put me on the mat table and I literally could not lift my leg up from a lying-down position without assistance. The team has helped me fight through that and these days I have a whole series of exercises I’m doing twice daily with leg weights and elastic bands. It got me so amped up in reminding me what it’s like to start at nothing and gain exponentially through pure stubborn daily effort that I bought myself a “dipping station” for home, to give me more options for strengthening my body, and I’ve been communing with it daily.

The other thing my knee doctor prescribed was weight loss, and then he talked me through that in an absolutely non-condescending fashion that gave me a way forward. I’m working on some stuff, but to be honest, y’all: I don’t want to talk about my weight. I’m tired of the notion that my weight is a good conversation topic for others – even with the most supportive of intentions. I’m working on what I’m working on, and it’s really nobody’s business but mine and my doctor’s. Let’s NOT talk about it, okay? That’s where I am at this point in my journey.

Still, big picture – the overcoming of this pain problem has been a real journey, and I am deeply grateful for every person and every resource that has been helping me navigate.

Broken

The end of 2020 left me broken from the fallout of the pandemic. I won’t ennumerate the level of pain and loss that December brought, at the end of what had already been one of the hardest years of my life. I’m not in a good place right now. It’s hard to get out of bed. I’m tired and frustrated and angry beyond words. I’m looking for a way to be forgiving on some fronts and right now I don’t see the way, at all. Everything feels big and inevitable and inexorable. My heart wants to harden and gives me reasons to shut people out, and the only resistance I can offer it at this time is to keep insisting not yet, not yet…I can decide this later when the worst of the trauma has passed, but not yet.

So where is the gratitude in that? It’s here: I’ve been to hard places before that felt like the end of everything. What I know is that if I keep holding my life, my heart, my thoughts…my everything up to God, a time and place will come when I’m ready for healing. Right now I’m not. Right now I’m all sadness and rage and helplessness. But I know I won’t stay here forever. So I keep lifting up my wordless prayer, my everything held on the open palm of my hand and lifted up to the God who loves me, and I rest in certainty that though I’m not enough for it all, God is. This too shall pass. <– It ain’t scripture, but it infuses me with hope, nevertheless.

We will rejoice again one day.

Oh boy, have I got a fun story for you today.  This is about an episode from my life – actually, a fairly recent one (its conclusion occurred just as the pandemic was breaking in early March.)  An amazing experience that kind of came sneaking up on me – one I wasn’t looking for or expecting at all.

Your story isn’t always only YOUR story – such was the case here – and so until everything was done and dusted, fully realized…it was not yet my story to tell.  Sometimes it’s even wise to ask another’s permission before telling what seems to be just your own story – this was one of those as well.  I asked and got a blessing.  Enough time has passed.  It’s finally time to tell a “how cool is God” story.

One day at work (earlier this year) I found out that the Executive Director of a really great local organization that helps people in need had decided to retire.  I’m familiar with these folks because at work, we partner with them to provide meals to seniors across our county…and also because years ago when I was a single mom, they helped me pay my power bill during harsh winters in a big house with drafty windows.  I had a phone conversation with the soon-to-depart Director, and then my boss and I talked about it when he came back from a meeting.  Just part of the information flow.

My office is right outside my boss’s office – we talk back and forth throughout our days.  Late that afternoon, as I was wrapping things up to go home, he tossed off a comment from the next room.  “Karen, you should consider applying for that job.”

I laughed.  “I’M NOT LOOKING FOR A JOB.”  What a goofball.  I shook my head as I worked.

He kept talking.  “No, I’m serious.  You should apply.  You’d be one of the top candidates, if you did so.”

“It happens that I LOVE MY JOB,” I retorted.  “I don’t really have any plans to go anywhere.”  Besides, this was DIRECTOR job.  I’m an ASSISTANT.  Obviously.  I just kept working to organize my desk before leaving.

“I’d support you in your application.  You could put me down for a reference.  You really should at least pray about applying.”

I plopped my papers down on my desk with a gasp and huffed into his office, gesticulating wildly.  “WHAT are you DOING?!” I demanded.  “It has been my plan that this is the last place I ever work.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

He was calm and steady, smiling as he enumerated for me the reasons why I’d be good at the job, the reasons why I’d love the job, the reasons why I’d be a strong contender.  He said that he would be derelict in his duty to me if he didn’t encourage me to do this thing, knowing how qualified I was to do it.

He stayed calm, meanwhile MY heart was pounding.  I was fighting to not hyperventilate.

The thing is, I love my job.  I OWN my job at this point – I shape it every day, and have been doing that so much over the years that we just rewrote my job description and title last fall to something quite different than where I had started.  I love my schedule, which I get to create.  I love my coworkers.  I love our residents.  I work for the best boss I’ve ever known or even seen anyone else have.

The thing is, I HATE being new at a job.  The learning curve is so long and so darn uncomfortable.  It’s so humbling.  It’s so unfamiliar.  My plan has been to never be new at a job again.  It has seemed like a great plan.

My boss had acknowledged aloud that if I were to leave, my absence would create a challenge.  I’ve customized my job so thoroughly at this point that it would be hard to find a person ready to step into it – I do pieces of this and bits of that, and the pieces and bits aren’t all that related to one another.  Thinking of leaving my coworkers in the lurch was a painful thought.

The thing is, though…I couldn’t just disregard his suggestion.  My boss has been a source of encouragement, growth, inspiration, and spiritual wisdom for going on ten years now.

He has invited/challenged me to do many things I haven”t felt like I could do…and it turned out I could do them…and do them well….and enjoy doing them.

When I was living in Chicago with a plan to never leave, it was my boss who asked me to pray about coming back to work for him…and even though I didn’t want to, I prayed, and then followed God’s lead to come back, and it has been the right thing for me.  A choice I haven’t regretted…one that has reaped great rewards.

When Gary and I hadn’t been married all that long, it was my boss who challenged me to pray about us becoming homeowners.  Can I just say…neither Gary nor I had any plan to EVER become homeowners.  We had lists of reasons not to do so.  I prayed about it ONLY with great reluctance and ONLY because my boss said the Lord prompted him to speak with me about it…and then Gary and I followed God’s lead and here we are, homeowners…and glad we made that decision.

I can’t just blow off a suggestion from my boss.  His counsel has shaped my life in too many ways that are way too good for that.

So I was a wreck when I went home that night.  I nearly cried in the car.  I nearly hyperventilated when I told Gary about the suggestion.  I hollered my boss’s name like some kind of swear word.  I yelled when I talked about it on the phone with my daughter.  I had a meeting at church that night…I stayed after to have my pastor pray for me, because the possibility seemed real that I wouldn’t be able to sleep for the rest of the week, with all the thoughts-and-feelings splooshing around in me.  She prayed that I would find peace, which sounded impossible.

But then I DID sleep…eventually.  And I woke up with clarity and peace:  all I had to do was apply and trust God.  The door would not open unless I was supposed to walk through it.  It was crazy, how fast that peace landed…the space of one night’s sleep!  Unheard of, where it comes to me and big-deal stuff.

My boss was casual when he got into the office the next morning.  “Did you send over your resume yet?” he asked as he put his coat away.  When I said that I hadn’t, but had decided to give it a try, he was enthusiastic.

Over the days that followed, he was the kind of mentor/coach people could only dream of having.  I did my research on the organization and he sat with me, helping me comb through information and fine-tune my questions and observations.  When the call came to schedule my interview, he told me to go buy a suit appropriate for the job I was trying to get (I promise you I wouldn’t have been able to give myself permission to spend that kind of money without that counsel).  The night before the interview, he even coached me through what to eat for breakfast for peak performance.

In the end, while I did get to interview, someone else got the job.  The joyous part of the wait between the interview and the job was the freedom I felt in it – there was no possible bad outcome.  If I didn’t get it, I got to stay at the best job I’ve ever had and keep all the great things that come with that.  If I got it, I got to move into an incredible new opportunity to lead a team doing stuff that lights a fire in my belly…complete with a six-figure salary.

The person who got the job….oh GOOD GOLLY, people,.  It is someone I admire beyond all description.  It is someone I count as a local hero…someone who will make his mark on the world in a way that history will celebrate one day.  Someone who, when he speaks, I just want the whole room to HUSH so I can soak in his every word.  When I heard who got the job, I literally broke out into spontaneous applause.  Though I had written the interview committee a thank-you note after meeting with them, hearing who who they managed to hire made me want to go find them and give high-fives all around.

So…no bad feeling there!  🙂

So what was the point of that whole adventure?  There may well be more to learn along the way, but what I know now is this:  it was life-changing for me.  While my boss has always been deliberate in giving me frequent praise in front of many witnesses, and while he has honored me in what he has entrusted me to accomplish on the job, finding out that he found me qualified to step into that position…WOW.  He believes I could run an organization with a $12 million budget and way over 100 employees.  He believes I could do the community building work, and manage all the interacting-with-government-agencies stuff.  He believes I could hold my own with a board.  And HE DOES THESE THINGS at his own job, so he’s not just some silly person who thinks I could do it because they don’t understand what would be asked of me.

That’s life-changing.  That’s a confidence boost at a whole other level.  My role on the leadership team at work is fun and fulfilling, but at least part of me has always measured myself as “the littlest one in the room,” where it comes to that team.  The only non-director.  No person has communicated that dimunition to me – it’s just a voice that has always been in my head.  This experience has BANISHED that voice and its estimation and has put away any noise inside of me that used to say I should sit down and be quiet because I have less to offer than the others.

And here’s the thing:  it happened just in the nick of time.  I had my interview, and then the pandemic hit before I could even find out if I was hired.  At work we went from business as usual to a whole new world in what felt like the blink of an eye.  There were weeks of 13 hour workdays, often followed by crying in the shower and sleepless nights.  (One of those days included coming home to open the piece of mail that let me know I hadn’t gotten the job, and honestly, I was relieved at that point as I couldn’t imagine taking on directorship of ANYTHING with the coronavirus here to impact every single decision for God only knows how long to come.)

What I knew instantly as the pandemic began to unfold was that my boss’s challenge to me to apply for that job and the whole process that followed…they were EXACTLY what I needed to give me the confidence to navigate this crisis.  Filled with new confidence in my ability and feeling the 100% backup of my boss having my back, I was able to move into roles and duties that I’m not sure I would’ve handled well otherwise.

My boss is amazing, and God is good, and  I LOVE THE ADVENTURE that is walking with the Lord, who always knows how to set me up just right for the next thing awaiting me on the road.

It’s a story too good not to tell.  We should do that when God works in mysterious and beautiful ways – we should TELL.  Often, loudly, in detail, without shame.  We should tell.

May my story awaken you to see where God is working in and around YOUR world, as well.

 

A week ago Friday, I was ready to celebrate.  I’d been back to work for a whole week after two weeks at home in my bedroom in quarantine with a virus for which I was unable to get tested, due to lack of fever, but which matched a whole lot of symptoms for the current trendiest virus around. I was still pretty fatigued most days, but I had made it through a full 5 days of work at the office – woo hoo!  I texted G to ask if we could celebrate with pizza from our favorite local place – our first food-not-made-by-my-own-hands since the pandemic hit.  We enjoyed it on the couch with bottles of rootbeer and something on Netflix.  It was a nice night.

Saturday morning the weather was gorgeous.  A little windy, but overall too nice to not get out in it.  I went out to futz around in the back yard with my raised beds, relishing the sunshine and fresh air, even though I had to zip my hoodie all the way up and tie the hood on tight against the wind.  Time out in the yard is at the top of my list for activities that refresh and renew me.  I was breathing it in joyously.

Then in the late morning:  pain.  It felt like my body had gone into acid-producing overdrive.  I changed positions, over and over.  Made bathroom stops.  Drank water.  I’ve been struggling with GERD for a couple of years now but have been able to control it with just diet and no meds for the better part of a year.  Once in awhile I lose my mind and eat something I shouldn’t; sometimes I pay for it, sometimes I don’t.  Generally some shots of Maalox and very good behavior clear it up within a few hours.  No reason to panic.  I was mad at myself for eating the pizza – I KNOW that can be a trigger, as it has been before..but not ALWAYS.  I lectured myself about the need to stop pushing the envelope as the pain increased radically and its sometimes–partner, a little thing I call “acid diarrhea,” joined the party.  I was incapacitated for the remainder of the day.

Sunday it was not better.  I moved around, trying to find a position less painful.  Standing leaned over my bed.  Standing with my elbows on the kitchen sink.  Standing bent over in the hot shower.  Nothing helped.  I was mostly not eating, but I remembered that if I get “too hungry” that can produce acid as much as eating too much does, so a couple of times I tried small portions of bland food.  It sent me into bouts of literally writhing in pain every time.

Monday I stayed home from work as it was still awful.  I was starting to worry – usually a GERD attack is done within 8 hours for me.  And it felt like an acid firehose was just spraying continuously in my entire abdomen, back, shoulders, chest.  I had been off Omeprazole for something like a year; I got it out and started taking it again, hoping it might shut off the firehose.  That night as I sat in tears, G begged me to go to the emergency room.  But the voice in my head was still letting me know that I brought this on myself with that pizza, it’s my fault, and I just need to suck it up.  So I put him off by promising to see my gastro doctor the next day…and if he couldn’t get me in, THEN I’d go go the ER.  I ate nothing on Monday, and by 5 PM that day I couldn’t even swallow water anymore.  I kept checking my temperature – no fever.  So….no infection…right?

Tuesday morning I woke up scared, filled with certainty:  SOMETHING IS WRONG.  I called the on-call number for my gastro, hoping to speak with someone before office hours.  I left a sobbing message.  The doctor called back in about an hour, asked a few questions, and then said he would check my chart when he got to work and his nurse would call me.

She did call.  Your chart says you haven’t been taking the Omeprazole.  Doctor says take two twice a day and call us on Thursday if you’re not feeling better.  I had no margin left for niceness.  I protested vehemently, listing symptoms and trying to describe the severity, and asking pointed questions.  Her words and tone left me hearing “You did this to yourself by not taking your meds.”  Maybe that’s not what she meant, but it’s what I heard…and I wasn’t having it.  Finally I asked, “Since I can’t swallow water, what does the doctor suggest for dehydration between now and Thursday?”  She left the phone for a moment and returned to say I should go to the ER.

Getting admitted to the ER during COVID-19 protocols is weird.  G had to drop me at the front door and leave.  They put me in a room with the door closed and it felt like I got way fewer visits from nurses than usual, which I guess makes sense.  This is NOT a complaint – the nurses and the nurse practitioner who cared for me were amazing.  Everyone listened.  No one acted like I was being a hypochondriac, which was good, because I was worrying that might be the case.  Even before they did labs, the nurse practitioner agreed, based on my verbal report of symptoms, that something was wrong and needed to be addressed.

The very first thing they did was give me a “gastric cocktail,” which I understood to be something like Maalox with pain killer in it – to relax my esophagus.  That helped suprisingly much, suprisingly quickly.

They asked for urine, which I wasn’t sure I could offer, not having water for so long.  When I managed, it looked like tea (I share this not to be gross but because it turns out to be an important clue!)

Blood labs were fun as always to draw, because I’m “hard to stick.”  The nurse compassionately brought the ultrasound when I told her, and didn’t even try to first dig around in my arm half a dozen times.  She is my hero for that!

When the nurse practitioner returned, she was blown away by my lab numbers – liver and pancreas, to be specific.  Something is wrong.  Let’s do a CT scan.

But then the CT scan wasn’t as much help as they had hoped.  Let’s do an ultrasound.  This all played out over the course of an entire day.

At the end of the day, a surgeon came in to speak with me.  They were pretty sure I had passed a gallstone (“the little ones can cause the most pain,” he said) and that this had thrown me into acute pancreatitis.

They could take my gallbladder out…maybe.  It would depend on pain level – it is sometimes considered elective surgery, and those aren’t allowed during COVID-19 protocols.  I’m not gonna lie – terror kind of shot through me in that moment.  The idea that I might need a surgery and someone might get to decide I didn’t need it “yet”?

But that was all moot for now – the pancreatitis was really bad.  Can’t do surgery with that happening, as it risks complications.  So…IF I wanted the gallbladder out and IF the pain was still enough to justify that after the pancreas calmed down…then I could have it.  Surgery might come Wednesday, or might have to wait as late as Friday, depending on what my body decided to do overnight.  Meanwhile, nothing but ice chips for me, to keep me surgery-ready.  They took me from the ER at the end of the day and gave me a room, carefully fitting my legs with velcro sleeves that supplied massage to reduce the possibility of blood clots while I lay there like a helpless turtle on my back.

My mouth was so dry, but I soon learned I had to calculate payoff.  If I stayed absolutely still and put nothing in my mouth, my pain stayed down between 7 and 8.  If I let an ice chip melt in my mouth, that pain shot up to 9 or 10.  I spent the night balancing the need vs. the pain.

The morning’s news was good – the pancreatitis had calmed enough to make surgery possible at noon.  I just want to say right here – everyone was AMAZING.  The doctor, the nurses, all the techs…everyone was so helpful and solicitous.  They were so concerned about the hardship of having no visitor to comfort me.

I hate waking up from surgery.  I had trouble waking up.  And the pain was worse than when I’d gotten to the hospital.  And I was nauseous.  And it felt like I couldn’t breathe.  All of that was making me feel panicky, so I was working extra hard in the blur of post-anasthesia haze to coach myself down off the panic.  I told every person who asked:  it hurts really bad.  I’m nauseous.  I feel like I can’t breathe.

Back in my room, the nurse came to discuss pain relief options.  I went for the big daddy – morphine.  I remembered about it that it doesn’t stop the pain at all, it just stops me caring about it.  That would be good enough.  As she put it in my IV tube, I felt it burning in my arm.  I gritted my teeth – ALL shots burn when they go into me, I’m just very sensitive that way, so I was trying not to be a whiner.  Then she did a “flush” syringe and that too burned like fire going into my arm.  She finally noticed me sucking my breath in and stopped instantly.  “Does that hurt?  IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO HURT!”  I was apologetic – I’m sorry I’m so sensitive.  It always hurts.  But she was adamant – it shouldn’t hurt, going into the IV tube.  She called in another nurse and they looked at my arm with dismay – that’s when I saw the bubble there.  The IV needle had “infiltrated” and all that stuff went into my muscle, not my vein.  She was devastated, noting that she couldn’t give me more morphine because technically it was in my body.

The nurse let me know that the doctor had filled out my paperwork to go home, which was what we had agreed to ahead of surgery, though he had noted that morning when we spoke that I could stay the night if I wanted.  I work in healthcare, so I know that getting out of the hospital quicker is smarter for the most part, so we had made the plan.  But the pain.  The first time they got me up for the bathroom, it left me sobbing.  I let the nurse know:  I am not going home tonight.  I just can’t do it.  She looked unsure about that but left it alone.

Later the nurse returned to ask:  WHY didn’t I want to go home?  I explained:  too much pain.  My bed is too high and my toilet too low at home; I can’t manage either right now.  There are 3 steps up into my house; I can’t do that right now.  I couldn’t even tolerate riding in the wheelchair to the door or the carseat to home right now.  I just can’t.  I can’t.  Too much pain.  Her eyes said I was being hysterical and needed to knock it off.  Maybe I was.  It was a lot of pain.

She pushed back on my plan to stay.  This was just my first time up.  Pain meds would help.  I’d be okay to go home.  And since the doc had written orders, it might be that I’d have to pay out of pocket if I stayed after midnight.  I was incredulous.  “Are you telling me I have to tell my  husband to come get me by midnight?”  She wouldn’t speak to it directly.  She just kept telling me that the pain meds were going to help and I’d be fine to go home.  I told her through tears that I probably wouldn’t have a choice – I’d just have to pay out of pocket, because going home was not an option.  She left the room.

Guys, I FELL APART.  I couldn’t stop crying.  She left and was gone a long time, and I was frantic.  I called my husband, I messaged my pastors, and I texted my boss, but I couldn’t stop crying through any of it.  My boss was quick to respond by fighting for me.  He called and gave me the words to say, and I called the nurse in and said them.  Her whole aspect changed then.  She was still trying to be firm, still letting me know, “I’ll have to speak with the doctor,” but suddenly it felt like something had shifted.  She came back in awhile and said simply that the doctor had consented to me spending the night.

Later she came and gave me a different pain med (I can’t remember the name but it starts with D and is a serious thing).  It did help with the pain, but it also left me feeling again like I couldn’t breathe very well.  Every time I would start to fall asleep, I’d suddenly jerk awake, sucking in air like I had stopped breathing.  I gotta make note of that one and tell docs that I can’t have it after surgery.  They put an oxygen mask on me and then my numbers did better after that, but it felt scary.

But a night of rest helped, even with the bad breathing.  I was able to come home the next morning.  I have thought a thousand times since then about how bad this would be right now if I were a single person without backup.  I have G, and as backup for that I have my sister who is a called-by-God CNA, and as backup after that I have adult children.  So someone would catch me.  But I have thought and thought about how awful this would be if I didn’t have that.  I’ve been utterly helpless.  I couldn’t get into our bed without major assistance from G until this morning.  When I arrived home, when I would sit down, I couldn’t even put my own legs up – G had to do it.  I couldn’t manage getting out of the shower and drying off without him until this morning.  He’s still blow-drying my hair, because I can’t.

He has helped me remember to do my breathing treatments (10 breaths per hour with a little device I of course despise).  He has massaged my calves, since the velcro massage thing didn’t come home with me.  He has helped me be accountable to getting up and moving around regularly to preserve my mobility.  Friends and family have brought food, and he has faithfully gotten my plate ready every time, brought me cup after cup of hot water, helped me track my pain meds.

Tomorrow we need to send him back to work, but I am ready.  But really I’m only ready because of all the work he has done to help me in the recovery process.

It’s still so much pain.  They talk about how the laparoscopic surgery is so much less pain than the old kind and I’m sure that’s true, but it’s still SO MUCH PAIN.  I have to wonder if staying in the middle of the attack for 4 days instead of getting help right away is part of why there is still so much pain.  I think I might be recovering better/sooner if I had been quicker to ask for help.

That’s really the lesson I’m taking from this:  be quicker to ask for help.  I can now see in retrospect that a whole bunch of what I’ve been attributing to “occasional GERD attacks” in these last couple of years was probably actually the passing of gallstones.  I am SO EXCITED that this might mean I won’t have any more of the half-dozen or so episodes I’ve had in the last year, always in the middle of the night, of pain that has left me standing bent over in the shower, sobbing – I think those were all gallstones, not GERD.  I should have been asking the doctors more questions and not just trying to be a good, non-complaining patient.

Today was the first I’ve been strong enough to sit at the computer to write it down.  This is way too long and way too personal to think anyone is going to read it all the way through…UNLESS someone sees something familiar and wants to keep reading.  I write it down here mostly to help myself remember, but also for anyone else who is stumbling through, tolerating way more hardship then you should be, because you don’t want to be a whiner.  We gotta ask more questions, yo.  We just have to.

on tap for 2020: rhythm

Posted: January 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

And now…(drumroll)…bring on 2020!  Here’s what I see from my current vantage point.

My Word for 2020

Back in 2014, I got my first “word for the year” quite unexpectedly.  Friends who were on our church’s leadership team had been challenged to ask God about a word for their year, and when they had tried to challenge me to do the same over supper one night, I had just laughed.  I wasn’t on the leadership team, I noted, and that was JUST FINE WITH ME.  It meant I didn’t have to do leadership things.

Rereading some notes from back then, I see I wrote that I heard God laughing as I shot down the idea…and shortly thereafter God did indeed give me a word for that year:  SPEAK OUT.  Then I was given “opportunity” after “opportunity” to do the same, to the point where I kind of felt like 2014 was the year God spent a bunch of time smacking me in the back of the head to get the words I was withholding to pop out.

Oh, it was good.  But it was not EASY.  And then afterward I could see that I’d been changed for the better.

2015 brought TWO words:  DISCIPLINE and INTENTION.  At the end of the year I was able to look back and see the fingerprints of both words on my life.

2016’s word was REST and good golly, did I ever need it.

2017’s word was PRESENT, as in being present in the here and now, and not drawn continually into distraction and future-think or what-if think. That was important as I coped with election results from November 2016; though I’d been through plenty of elections that ended in ways I didn’t prefer, that one felt (and continues to feel) starkly different.

I heard no word in 2018.  Was it not there, or was I not listening?  No idea.  I hardly wrote at all that year, so I can’t pick through the evidence and backtrack to determine a possible answer.

2019’s word was ORDER and for sure I see how some of the pieces of that fell together.  While I spent the first ten months of the year kind of maxed out, overwhelmed, running behind, and a bit desperate about when – or IF – things might finally slow down, sticking to order and doing the usual “put your head down and keep moving forward” got me to the last two months, where I regained an equilibrium I had not experienced since the fall of 2018.

I got the 2020 word several weeks ago (almost immediately after that equilibrium returned) and guys, I AM EXCITED.  I mean, it doesn’t SOUND exciting, but maybe as I spell out the particulars that I see, you’ll catch it.  This year’s word is RHYTHM.

52 Snow Days

Our church leadership team has been reading a book together called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality…subtitled “It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature.”  It has led to powerful discussions and some good soul-searching; I’m not all the way through it but I already know that I RECOMMEND IT for everyone.  We did my very favorite chapter thus far awhile back; it included discussion about Sabbath.

I’ve been in church all my life and I can’t remember ever NOT knowing about Sabbath.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  I can’t remember it ever being a thing that called out to me.  It sounded like a “should,” and one I just am not destined to achieve.  Considering it, I’ve always pictured old-timey people being rigid on Sundays about not doing work, but also about not having fun either.  Just basically sitting around being holy in stiff church clothes, trying to earn God’s approval somehow by doing so.

It didn’t interest me.

Marrying G gave me a different look at the Sabbath; because he is Jewish, he is very serious about it.  The Jewish Shabat is on Saturday; when he’s off work on Saturdays, that’s when he takes it.  If he has to work on Saturday, he takes it on the weekday he gets off work.  He rests, but not in stiff clothes or projected holy piousness.  He relaxes, he reads, he enjoys his favorite foods.  He rides his bike in good weather.  He listens to music and watches his favorite dorky shows.  He mostly tries to stay off of social media.  What I have seen is:  he ENJOYS it.  And I suspect that part of the reason he can go so hard the rest of the week is how fully he changes pace on his Shabat.

You’d think I’d be drawn into that, but I have not been.  At this point in my life I am more driven than a younger me imagined I would ever be.  A day off is for doing big projects in the house or yard; my average day off ends with me in a lot of physical pain from having pushed so hard…but also satisfied at the feeling of achievement at “gettin’ it done.”  I have had to really work hard on myself (sometimes unsuccessfully) to not press G into service when I’m on a Saturday project.  I’ve done the work, because I so deeply respect this thing about him, even as I have not much genuinely hungered to match it myself.

Then came this book.  The author made the most compelling argument for Sabbath that I’ve ever heard!  He hearkened back to snow days.  Who doesn’t love a snow day?  I mean, I don’t get them anymore – we live a mile from work and can literally walk there if the roads aren’t good enough for driving.  But back when they were a thing, they were the best thing in the world!  A day set aside from the usual routines.  A day of fun, rest, joy.  A day of relishing life.  My parents are exceedingly hard workers, but even my mom always respected the snow day.  She didn’t use those to demand that we kids do big household projects.  She let us revel in them.  Dude.  I LOVE SNOW DAYS.

The author pointed out this:  God wants to give us the gift of 52 SNOW DAYS each year.  I can’t even type this without getting excited.  It literally speeds up my pulse and respiration.  52 SNOW DAYS EACH YEAR!!  People.  That is one extravagant gift!  I WANT THAT GIFT!  I mean, at this point I don’t even remember how to chill for an entire day (reference my recent not-feeling-well Saturday when I resolved both to rest and also to deep clean my living room, and the fact that I did a hustle-hard-for-3-hours compromise rather than choosing one or the other) and honestly it’s likely gonna be a bit of an awkward battle as I relearn…but I want to get there.

The author rightly points out that taking one full 24-hour period off each week takes planning, if you don’t want to just kind of fall into disarray.  Saturday (and it does have to be Saturday for me – Sunday just won’t work at all) has been my “catching up” day when I do all the things I didn’t get done during the week and I do the prework to lighten my load in the coming work week.  If Saturday can’t be for catching up, then some things have to change.

It’s not impossible, though.  I’ve been really prayerfully examining all of that.  For instance, one Saturday in November or December, I spent two full hours opening mail I hadn’t opened and sorting it, along with sorting all kinds of papers I had piled up around the house.  I produced an entire wastebasket of recycling that G had to take out, as it was too heavy for me to carry.  Then a week or two later, I spent two more full hours on a Saturday filing the stuff I had sorted and putting it away, or dealing with the issues on the pages so that I could toss them out.  If I had handled each piece of mail or other documents just once, dealing with them in the moment, it would have been mere seconds per item for the most part, barely impacting any day at all…and it wouldn’t have piled up into four hours of really-not-fun work.

There’s a lot of that for me – things I toss aside to deal with later, things I toss in a pile rather than putting them away right now, and then they are twice or more as much work when I finally get to them.  I think I can eliminate A LOT of what would be Saturday projects by just refusing to let my procrastinating self have her ridiculous ways.

I’ve added a layer of accountability with another person for the coming year, starting today, wherein we will check in to basically make sure we’re doing that.  We’ve got a checklist because that’s kind of my way, and because my procrastinating self will refuse to see what needs done if it’s not spelled out, at least for awhile.

This, together with some good self-coaching on Saturdays and definitely being prayerful about it, will hopefully help me push hard toward 52 “snow days” in 2020.  I know how life goes and I don’t suppose it will be 52.  But the best way to get at least close to that total is to aim hard at the whole thing.

People Priority

I am a very productive, highly task-oriented person.  I mean, I wasn’t always.  I used to be good at chilling and also at silence, meditation, etc.  Somewhere along the line I pushed myself so hard and so consistently that I seem to have lost that.  A place I really noticed it was when I lived at Jesus People USA (JPUSA).  There we were, living in intentional community.  I had a (volunteer) job that only took up like 6.5 hours of any given weekday.  I shared a room with a roommate, so there was almost no housework and definitely no yardwork.  We dined communally, so there was no shopping, no meal planning or meal prep, no cleanup other than when it was my turn to do dishes or mop floors or whatever, and that was not very often.  I didn’t belong to any outside organizations and JPUSA is not about creating meetings and other things to do – it’s about following God and embracing community, and it’s amazing.  In other words, there was plenty of room to BE and not only DO.

What I noticed, though, was how task-oriented I still was.  I’d come home from my volunteer job at the shelter just down the street, and there would be people hanging out in the dining room chatting – people I liked.  People I wanted to know more.  People I enjoyed talking with.

But did I just plop down with a mug of hot tea or coffee and talk?  No.  I was Karen-on-a-mission.  I needed to go up to room to put my coat and bag away and to do my end of the day futzing around.  It was all stuff that didn’t matter.  I lost count of how many times I got up to my room and realized that I’d just once again walked by an opportunity to embrace the very fellowship that was my reason for moving there.  I’d been so much about “doing” that I’d just, in my own robotic way, bypassed relationship opportunities.  I’d like to say I did better over time, but I was only there nine months and no, I did NOT do better.

So darn task oriented.

I’m still that person.  Most days when G and I talk about our days, I triumph at what I GOT DONE, ticking off a list of chores, documents, etc.  This does not impress me, when I stand back and really examine it.  The tasks aren’t what matters – the people are.

So part of my RHYTHM in 2020 is to ease myself away from my obsession with task completion and intentionally spend more time with the people I love.

My daughter and her family just moved.  They were 30 minutes from us, now they are 2 hours and 15 minutes from us.  The grandkids are growing up with all the speed that children do, and I WILL NOT MISS THEIR CHILDHOOD.  So I’ve been doing the preliminary work, in the last quarter of 2019, to clear the way for regular weekend-long visits to where they are now.  It will mean I’ll show up a bit less for some of my task-oriented stuff.

My son and his wife live three hours away from us, and we just don’t see them enough.  Three hours is not so far, but the visits are few and far between because it’s not a reasonable day trip.  I’ve made a plan (and confirmed it with them) for meeting in the middle at least monthly.  We work hard, they work hard, and life has had its fun with keeping us from spending time with them.  No more.  That changes this year.  I can’t get back the years that I’ve let slip by, but I can change the rhythm going forward.

My parents live 45 minutes from us and we have too often gone a month or more without seeing them.  Once upon a time I’d have at least picked up the phone, but apparently I am now allergic to the phone or something (good golly, do you hate talking on the phone as much as I do?)  Ditto for my sister and her family.  I made some progress on that last year with some scheduled meeting-for-meals, but it wasn’t enough.  We don’t get to keep our parents forever; I’d rather see them now than be sorry later.  I will push hard against what keeps me from them in the coming year.  Maybe the Sabbath will help with that, since I am not putting any prohibition on “time with people” for my 52 snow days.

My brother and his genuinely lovely significant other (who would be someone I’d want to hang out with on the regular, if it were possible) live across the country.  Financial limitations are there, so there’s only so much I can do about seeing them and the kids/grandkids from that part of the family.  But I can be more intentional in my remote contact, at least.

And there are a whole host of other friends-and-loved-ones that I don’t see enough, don’t talk to enough, don’t spend enough time with.  I want to push more on that and less on the little surge of triumph I feel at getting things done.

Miscellaneous

There are other things for 2020, of course.  Aggressively paying down debt and working on savings.  Some house and yard projects.  Some stuff at work I want to stretch into, including a week in Portland this summer to do some training that I’m so excited about, I can’t even maintain a non-crazy conversation pitch when I get to talking about it.  Some church related stuff.  I have those in my mind, but…I’m choosing to keep the list-of-aims short this year, as doing what falls under my RHYTHM focus (52 snow days and the people priority) will require all the things from my other words from other years – speaking out, discipline, intention, rest, being present, and order.  The other stuff is just details.

And finally:  no, I’m not marking down food, weight, or fitness goals.  Perhaps if I get a proper rhythm in place, I’ll hear something from God that will direct me.  Perhaps I’ll resolve some internal battle or be delivered from some infernal lie.  I don’t know.  But this is not the place for that.  Not this year.

 

So BRING ON 2020.  I am wildly excited about it!

here’s to the 2010s

Posted: December 31, 2019 in Uncategorized

I saw a video today from my pastor, summarizing his 2010s (it was cool), and my  mind immediately went there:  I MUST DO A LOOK AT THE DECADE AS WELL!  Then tomorrow I can have all my “here comes 2020” fun.  Here we go!

Lots of Addresses – at the opening of 2010 I was unemployed for the only time in my adult life, having been laid off from my job at a Christian domestic violence shelter due to budget problems there.  Between my part-time job (oh yeah, I was still working – just not full time!) and my unemployment checks that were really nice-sized based on the fact that I’d worked 2 full-time jobs for a good chunk of the previous year, I was doing fine.  I was staying busy and able to pay my bills and yeah, looking for work, but not in a big kerfuffle about it.

The list of moves over the decade goes like this:

In January 2010, I was hired at Friendship Manor.  Within a few months I moved from my duplex in Aledo, Illinois to a cute little apartment in Rock Island, Illinois, just a mile from work.  In the fall of that year, I found a way out of my lease and moved in with some friends just a few blocks away for a few week, in a transition to following following my dream to live and serve at Jesus People USA (JPUSA) in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.  On August 11, 2011, I followed God’s leading (very much against what I had planned and wanted to do, but utterly at peace because God was leading) to return to the Quad Cities and Friendship Manor – I lived at the Manor itself until March 2012, when I moved into a fantastic corner apartment in a building in Davenport, Iowa that had been a hotel in its heyday.  Some time in the next year (I don’t remember the exact month) I moved back in with those friends I had lived with right before JPUSA, as part of my effort to reduce expenses so I could pay down debt and get my financial ducks in a row.  I got married in August 2013, but my husband Gary and I elected to remain with those friends until the spring of 2014, when my need to have my own kitchen and a place for my kids to stay the night drove us to rent a place of our own, just a few blocks from those friends.  And then in August of 2016, we became homeowners, buying a house just a couple of blocks from the place we’d been renting.

I count that as 9 address changes inside a single decade.  We’re hoping the home we bought is our final address.  I say hoping because of course if God leads a different way, ever…well then, all bets are off.

Body Journey – I came into 2010 in the midst of a struggle about my weight – oh, let’s face it – a lifetime struggle.  I had a blog called “naked dieting” where I was tracking all the things – calories, exercise, weight, size, feelings, blah blah blah.  In re-reading the 2010 blogs tonight, I discovered something I have zero memory of – apparently our then-Bible-study group decided to form a weight loss/food accountability group.  I was tasked with naming it, and 2010 me wrote there about my great pride in having the worst attitude in the group.  When I was appointed to name the group, I chose:  Christians Overcoming Weight Slavery.  Yes…COWS.  I am not kidding!

I took up bicycling that year, and took my bike with me to Chicago when I moved.  Thereafter began an incredible journey of “letting God teach me to love my body” that had the best results I’ve ever, ever had where my relationship with my body is concerned.  I’ll be going back and re-reading that journey in the coming days, as I suspect old Karen has some things to say to today Karen on that front.

2012 included more than a thousand miles on my bike and a bunch of running too – that was right before arthritis kicked in and changed all the rules for the moving of this body.  Somehow in the midst of all that running and biking, I was miraculously healed of my phobia of heights.

Meanwhile, arthritis arriving in 2013 did a hard derail on the “letting God teach me to love my body”…one I’ve still not recovered from.  I did manage to run the Bix in both 2012 and 2013, and then my running journey ended shortly thereafter.  I am grateful beyond words that I got to have that experience of the 1000+ bike miles and all the running.  It was AMAZING.

Along the way I’ve done an extended elimination diet in 2015 that taught me a lot about my body, and did a juicing jag for awhile after that.  I’ve gone off of sugar a couple of different times, and discovered that when I’m not eating sugar, my entire relationship with food is a different deal altogether.  I did a special diet (the most restrictive one ever!) in 2018 to heal my gastric reflux and get off of/stay off of medication for it – lost a bunch of weight yet again, and found most or all of it after.  And last year I tried intermittent fasting for awhile, determined that it was easy and made me feel fantastic and multiplied my energy exponentially and was key in healing my gastric reflux…and then I quit that too.

I’ve walked for exercise and done all manner of YouTube video-led exercising and worked out with the Wii and used an exercise ball and elastic bands and hand weights and a kettlebell.  I’ve stayed in the battle, though I haven’t always fought well.

Here at the end of the decade I’m in a different place.  I want to be more fit so I can feel better and move better, but I’m over the “lose weight to look better” thing and I’m semi-hostile to listening to others go on about it as well…so much so that I mostly had to work on not getting salty during the gastric reflux diet when people heaped praise on me for “looking so great” when I was not TRYING to lose weight, I was just trying to not feel like I was having a heart attack 24/7.  At this point I just want the world to get over my weight…people are kind and don’t say much at this point, but one of my items of dread, should weight start to come off me again, is that people are going to want to talk about it again…and I don’t.  I’m just pressing into being at peace with who I am and continuing to make healthier choices.

And I don’t want one more word of diet advice.

On a non-fitness/health related note, in 2016 I gave myself for my 50th birthday:  a tattoo to make my melanoma surgery scar a much less unlovely thing.  I am so glad I got it, and also:  it took three hours, and felt like sliding down a gravel road directly on my arm continuously for the last two hours of that, and it is 100% for sure my ONLY tattoo, ever.

Mr. Right Appears on the Scene and Falls into My Clutches Forever – at the opening of the decade I was single and bummed about it.  Later that year at JPUSA, I fell into overwhelming-but-secret-infatuation with a super hot guy there, but followed the rules and didn’t say a word to him in the nine months I was there.  One of the hard parts of leaving JPUSA was walking away from the hope I had that we’d one day be an item.  In 2012 one of my best friends blabbed to him about how I felt, and by August 2013 he had chased me down, moved to Rock Island, and married me.  He is better than I asked or dared to hope for in more ways than I can count, and my loving joke to him is that if he ever tries to leave me, I will hunt him down like a dog in the street.  Happily, he’s not looking for the exit door.  He’s a delightful best friend, a thoughtful roommate, a person of faith who inspires me and humbles me, leaving me wonder if I’ll EVER grow up to be as cool as him.  He’s a superstar grandpa and a reliable coworker and I still can’t believe I landed someone so amazing – almost 7 years into the marriage, I still ask God regularly how that could be.  All of that and he makes me laugh literally every single day.

Finally Home – I’ve been a bit of a wanderer for my whole adult life.  Perpetual change on all fronts, wandering from one “next thing” to another.  These past few years, though, I feel like I’ve finally found home.  Gary and I shocked ourselves (and others) by growing up and becoming homeowners.  We are settled into a church that fits me in too many ways to count here.  I’m learning the advantages and pleasures of being at a job for nearly ten years – I OWN THAT JOB and have been shaping it at least as much as it’s been shaping me, for awhile now, thanks in large part to a boss who has grown me into the kind of person who CAN own it, and do so unapologetically.  I’m in my 7th year volunteering with Royal Family KIDS, a movement that aims to intervene in the cycles of neglect, abuse, and abandonment in the foster care system, and there too I am very much at home, fully lodged, in for the duration, and having fun finding ways to do it better every time.

I guess I’m kind of settled in.  And…I love it.

The Kids – It’s been a pretty neat decade, where my kids are concerned.  I came into 2010 with a fairly new son-in-law (just 5 months into being  married to my daughter) and this decade has brought two beautiful grandkids from that household.  My son was still dating various girls who for some unknowable reason generally tended to hate me back in 2010; this decade has gifted me with an amazing daughter-in-law who is good to my son and loves me back as I love her.  My son had a wild journey early in the decade, including at one point literally living “in a van down by the river;” since then he has pressed in and done some pretty great things.

Earlier this year, pondering how my kids have come out despite a whole lot of my getting it wrong along the way on the parenting front, I was overcome with joy.  They each live out the values I hoped to impart to them in their own different ways.  They work hard and give their best.  They question and don’t just swallow what they’re told.  They buck against conformity and being ordinary.  They place high value on the people in their households.  They try to make the world better.  They keep on learning.  They laugh and they speak the language of friendly sarcasm quite fluently.  They walk in integrity and they don’t take themselves too seriously.

It’s amazing, really, how well kids can come out even when parents aren’t as great as they think they are.  THANK GOD.

Also:  when my kids were little, I felt sorry for the parents of adults, as I thought the fun part of parenting was over for them.  The 2010s reinforced for me what I had begun learning in the previous decade:  having adult children is every bit as cool as having babies or toddlers or teens.  IT IS AWESOME.  I love relating to my kids more as equals.  They pushed me to grow when they were kids, and that’s even more true in their adulthood.  It’s very, very good.

Writer – one of the things I did while pondering this blog was scan back over the the blogs I had written in this decade.  There were 766 of them on my WordPress site alone, plus another 416 on the naked dieting site.  Somewhere (right now I can’t remember where) I blogged the first 100 days of my life at JPUSA, mostly to help some of my loved ones rest at ease, as they feared I had joined a cult and given away my freedom and possibly my sanity all in one fell swoop.  I need to find those blogs again, as I’d love to re-read them.  Maybe I did them on Facebook.  In 2013 I wrote every single day of the year, successfully keeping my resolution to do so and ensuring I would never make such a promise again.

Scanning over the titles and reading just a few bits and pieces was hard – I want to re-read it all, yo!  I see it all and I remember…I’m a pretty decent writer, when I hone my skills (though I do almost no editing on my blogs, which always comes back to bite me when I re-read later, but I’d rather ship than dither, so this is how it goes).  I’ve fallen away from most non-work-related writing since I got married; Gary came in and filled the solitary spaces that I had for so long filled with wordcraft.  Looking through it all makes me a little homesick for writing for pleasure, and I’m wondering if I’ll make any sort of resolution tomorrow on that front as I peer forward into 2020.  My boss tells me regularly after I compose one thing or another at work, “You should be a writer!”  I chuckle at him and point out that I kind of AM….a decent part of what I do at work includes the craft of writing…for which I am paid.  But yeah…maybe I want to push back into that more than I’ve done since getting married.

 

So there’s that.  Roughly 2300 words on what is my thousand-and-somethingth blog this decade about life as it is.

So long, 2010s.

YOU.  WERE.  AWESOME!

 

 

It’s that time of year again – time to do the work of sucking the last bit of marrow from the bones of this year before surging forward into the next.  To be honest, it’s hard this year for me to stop and do this part first – I’m just SO EXCITED about some of my 2020 things!  But I hate to toss a year out with some goodie still left in it.

Last night we had our second annual “praying in the new year” retreat at my church, so I got to do some early work on thinking this through there.  Basically we had three full hours to look both backward and forward prayerfully, thankfully, and with an open spirit.  It’s not enough…but it’s a good start.

The Gifts

While some years I look back over giant changes and big, memorable events, this was more a year of routine.  I thought maybe I’d forgotten some things, but I spent some time with my planner this afternoon, re-reading every square from 2019, and nope…there were just no “great big things.”

The nice part about considering the year’s gifts, then, was that they are almost exclusively time-with-people oriented.

Probably biggest was the thing that DIDN’T happen:  my husband G didn’t get seriously hurt in his spectacular mosh pit incident that ended with 15 stitches in his head in January.  We were about 5 minutes into a Flatfoot 56 show when G, sprinting in the “circle pit,” got some kind of body check that sent him sliding across the floor and head-first into a pole.  It was a lot of blood and the venue folks were quite traumatized, but we chuckled our way through the whole thing and it wasn’t until he pulled the bloody towel off his head in the emergency room that I realized how close we had come to our whole lives changing.  People can die from head injuries.  He could’ve come out paralyzed, or just “not right in the head.”  There was some serious processing of the near miss, laced through-and-through with gratitude, and he’s now officially retired from the mosh pit with a scar that healed so beautifully it’s almost undetectable.  There is nothing I can say, really, to quantify my gratitude for my amazing husband, whole and intact and still at my side, fully himself.

Other gifts are mostly moments or hours.

The joy of watching the grandkids literally jump up and down for joy in the doorway as they peered out to see our car pulling up.

The satisfying work and companionship of canning salsa with my daughter.

Building a new trellis and garden box with my kids on Mother’s Day weekend.

Meals and conversations with my parents.

A new intentionality in getting together regularly with my sister.

Family text messages with my brother, who lives across the country.

Working hard to acknowledge birthdays of loved ones for a change- something I’ve always been a spectacular failure on – and getting it right more than I missed it.

Our friends the Shaws coming to stay with us for a few days, making our home even more “home” for us in their presence.

Coffee (or not) and conversation with a few of my girlfriends in a semi-regular scheduled way.

Felafel, baba ganoush, and prolonged, passionate political diatribe sharing with my son and his wife.

Unexpected phone calls with my son-in-law.

Three different “children of my heart” resurfacing in my life after prolonged absences.

Laughter, tears, and real talk around the table with my church leadership friends.

Standing in office doorways talking about real stuff with coworkers who are deeply trusted friends.

Making new friends while serving in a new group that came together to work toward good things for Rock Island’s 11th street corridor.

Connecting with like-minded people of faith at Audiofeed Music Festival, and feeling the rush of joy that there are other oddballs like me.

And so much more – I can’t touch on it all.

This pleases me greatly.  EVERY YEAR I end up with regrets about not spending enough time with people, about letting the busyness of life run the details too much, about the guilt of feeling like it’s never enough.  And honestly I DO still have some of that – it turned up on the pages of what I wrote last night – how much better I want to do on this front, and how short I fall.

But looking back:  this was a year of progress.  Yeah, I stayed awfully busy but also:  I got out my planner and scheduled the time with folks a lot more than I have done previously – and then followed through.  I feel good about that, and I want to press into it some more in the coming year.

There are some work things that went very well too, and I’m awfully glad about them…but they pale in comparison to the things listed above.

The Challenges

Every year has its challenges.  I remember a year where I had a tension headache that lasted for something like several uninterrupted months.  There have been multiple years where I was pretty sure I had cried most every day (not always BAD tears, but it’s a little fatiguing to live on the edge of that much emotion, even when much of it is good.)  I had two full years of exhaustion that I couldn’t get help on awhile back.  2018 was the year of the gastric reflux crisis.  Some years are hard.

Considering all of that, I look at 2019 and I am grateful.  For sure I have a mobility challenge, from arthritis in both feet that has been especially bad for a few months to arthritis in a knee that plagues me if I’m on my feet for awhile to a combination pinched nerve/tennis elbow/golfer’s elbow that left me unable to pick up even the remote control without crying for awhile there.  But along the way there have been solutions – an amazing holistic nurse dude that I call the “magic doctor” for what he could do to that elbow, and more recently the discovery that heated insoles make a real difference for my feet.  Sure, I grouse at God a bit about this “wear and tear” thing, but overall I’m intensely aware that it could really be so much worse.  So I’m able to focus on the joy of the solutions and not get bitter, and that’s a pretty big deal.

The other challenge that I started to write down was our finances.  We spent 2019 aggressively paying down medical debt from the whole gastric reflux war, and we have some other homeowner-related debt we’re working on, and just generally I’m not satisfied with where we are on our short-term and long-term savings.  BUT.  Before I got too far in measuring that an obstacle, I was reminded:  OH, BUT THE PROGRESS.  Yeah, we’re squeezed a bit and I have to pay attention.  But honestly – we’ve got everyday regular bill-paying kind of down to a science now, almost fully automatic…and if you had asked me five years ago if I might one day come to the place where the bills are paid mostly before they reach me, so that I mostly just get “paid up” statements…well, I’d have laughed at you.  We still have room to improve, but compared to the past, there’s no reason for negativity.  And I got a promotion at work that’s kicking in for 2020, so I’m about to have more to work with for knocking down debt.  That’s exciting.

The Growth

I look back over 2019 and I see marked growth.

I took ownership on some things at work on a whole new level, and I (successfully) advocated for myself in ways that I’m still kind of surprised by.

I grew up a bit more, where managing finances is concerned.

I stretched in some neat ways related to my church stuff.

I came to a place of a bit more peace on the battle with my weight.

Growing’s what we’re supposed to do, right?  If we’re not growing, we may well be regressing…or at best stagnating.  There’s tremendous joy in growth, even where it’s expensive.

 

I wrote more in my little notebook last night, but not all things are for the entire world to read.

I’m ready for 2020.  BRING IT.

 

 

 

 

 

There are people who seem to have an innate “safety radar” that they don’t have to work at – they just look at situations and see what’s safe (or not) in the mix.  I have generally not been one of those people; I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times I’ve had to learn the hard way about the safety pitfalls for myself and others.

So back in 2010 when I first started working where I do now, the Safety Committee meetings were my least favorite thing.  My role in the committee felt minor – create an agenda with my boss directing that process and send it out ahead, and take notes to create minutes and send out after.  Still, the meetings overwhelmed me and I often wished I could produce a good reason to be excused.

Rarely does life go the way I expect it will; one of the many evidences of this is the fact that 2019 me owns the Safety Committee process and is continually picking up momentum on that front.  We are a team and for sure I don’t do all or even most of the work, but I have kind of grabbed hold and made it mine over the years…and have been surprised to find myself interested, challenged, and satisfied in the midst.

As part of that role, I attend all manner of meetings and trainings throughout the year – imagine how important that is for someone who isn’t intuitively oriented to safety!  This past couple of weeks and culminating with graduation yesterday, I’ve been taking a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course.  This enables me to be part of a team that can be called out by Emergency Management Agency officials to help during emergencies and disasters, not as an official “emergency responder” but as their support.  That’s not really the main reason I took the course, though…I did so partly to solidify relationships with some key emergency management officials who might be helpful to my organization when the going gets rough, but mostly so I can simply be a little more useful to my community when things go sideways.

Because I did licensed daycare in my home for more than a decade, I’ve had CPR and First Aid classes over and over again, which I think helped prepare me for much of the course.  A lot of the stuff was somewhat familiar.

What was  hardest for me was learning the process of triage.

Triage is the quick evaluation you do when you arrive on the scene to figure out who needs help and how much help they need.  As we practiced we heard about scenarios that local teams had been to that involved maybe dozens of bodies, both living and dead, and all the chaos of the precipitating incident.  Just thinking about it stressed me out and made me doubt my ability to serve on the CERT.  When you triage, you DON’T treat people.  You spend 30 seconds maximum with each person.

You’re looking to see…are they breathing?  And if not, can simply realigning their head and neck get them breathing?  (Not CPR – just moving their head.)  You get 2 tries, and then you move on.  Also, if they are breathing, are they breathing way too fast?

You’re scanning to see if they are bleeding, and if so, how much – spurting, flowing, oozing?

You’re measuring their capillary refill rate (press your fingernail and then see how fast it turns back from white to your natural color.  That’s capillary refill rate.)

You’re rapidly assessing their mental state – are they conscious?  Disoriented?  Can they follow basic commands?

You have 30 seconds for each person to assess and tag them in one of four categories:  green (fine, or walking wounded), yellow (need some kind of treatment, but delaying it won’t kill them), red (need immediate treatment to stay alive), and black (dead).

You don’t stop and solve their problems, during triage.  You are literally just doing an assessment and marking them by color, for quick identification.  Afterward, maybe emergency responders are coming to get busy, and your tags will show them where to start.  Or if you get done triaging and no one is there, then at least you know who needs your attention first.

As a “helper” type personality (hello, enneagram 2), triage is kind of torture.  Even in a simulation for the final exam, knowing the actors were just fine, it was hard to assess, mark, and keep moving.  Everything in me cried out to stop and solve the problem for THIS ONE before looking for more.  The guy who’s not breathing – can’t I stop and try CPR?  The lady stuck under 450 pounds on her legs, who’s not gonna die but is in pain and terrified – can’t I stop and help her out of there?  Triage says no.  Triage says assess the entire situation first, rapidly but completely.

So I’m doing the mental work now, while I’m not in an emergency or disaster, to help my little helper self not lose her sh*t in the middle of the mess, should I be called upon to use what I’ve learned.  While the instructors did a good job of saying over and over that the reason for doing it this way is to ensure doing the most good for the highest number of people possible, my little mind needs to pick that up and play with it for awhile to make it real.

This morning I realized that what I have to do is remember to care about the people I can’t yet see.  The person in front of me, I can see.  So they feel like the whole world.  But if I’m in a room with dozens of wounded and potentially dying people, there could be others further down the line who are even worse off, even more urgently in need of help.  And they’re not gonna get that help if I let them die because I’m distracted with what’s in front of me in this moment, who I maybe can’t save at all, or who maybe is in no danger of dying but is LOUD in their pain and fear.

So in the end, I don’t have to smash the helper in me.  Doing triage is not as cold-hearted as it seems at first blush.  It’s that lovely lady compassion with her brains still intact…and that’s something of worth.  Something that the “well and whole” enneagram 2 in me can see, even if the “still in her sickness” codependent can be blind to, without intentionality.

I’m still processing.  (A better blogger would no doubt wait until there’s something more profound to say!)  I’ll be curious to see what me a little further down the road makes of what me today thought, looking back.