Choosing Hope

January 26, 2019

Writing is difficult these days. Our family is going through cancer trauma and much of what I need to tell is too personal. Other things I might write about seem so trivial in comparison. That doesn’t leave much left.

It is easy to keep busy because we are forming a team, coming together to share necessary tasks and watch out for each other emotionally as well as physically. Only one of us has the serious physical suffering, but we all feel the shock as we try to help. Everyone worries about how everyone else is coping. Tears come easily and often. We cling to anything that reminds us of normal and we are often grateful for mundane tasks that occupy our minds and bodies.

We do have faith in our God who has said that it’s times like this that he carries us through. We are waiting to see how that looks. Now we are finding out what it means to have it be “well with our souls” while bad things are happening. Some days our “souls” are not doing so well and we realize that this work is not just physical, not just emotional, but very much spiritual.

Realizing that we live in a world that has gotten ruined in many different ways, we have done what we can to think about and prepare for the worst case scenario. As I went through my own worst case imaginings (which I am always doing – seems to be a habit) I found it kind of liberating to have faced the most feared things. It seemed to free up the energy and motivation to fight back.

When something comes upon me suddenly, unexpectedly, I spend more time with my fear than I do with my hope. There are those two different views to any perceived threat and I do have a choice about how much time to give to each of them. With God’s help, I’m choosing hope.

With God there is no rule about how these things must go. There is the possibility of surprise and blessing to come where I least expect it. God can take care of us in the darkest of places. Isn’t that what I’ve said – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me”? Now I get to mean it for myself, and for someone else.

Another biblical phrase is “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”. I’m not yet at the place where I can say I’m glad our family gets to go through a trial. None of us are glad for this. It was not a chosen path, but since we are on it, much better that we accept the offer of Jesus, our creator and greatest healer, to go with us. How could we not? Once again, just sayin’…

Pep Talk for Myself (and maybe you)

Is something scaring you? Whenever I am threatened with something scary, and given time to think about it, it is a time of examination, a time of rehearsing what I have believed in less threatening days.

I think first of what I believe about God. I believe he exists and created everything out of nothing, can be everywhere, and knows all about everyone. As hard as that is to imagine, I have a harder time imagining him not existing – given all I see around me. I don’t understand how this works and I don’t have to explain it to anyone else, thankfully. I’ve never heard anything bad about God from anyone I thought credible.

Then I review what I’ve heard about me and God and our relationship – from an old and reputable source. The people who wrote down the information claim to have gotten it right from God. It’s mystical, but I don’t think that discredits it. Anyway, I believe that he wants me to be kind of like an adopted kid, one that he’s willing to devote himself to raising and loving no matter what.

He’s got this plan for a family that has a lot of complicating features, because everyone in it is different. It’s a lot like a super rich Dad who has decided to raise special needs kids, a whole bunch of them. One important difference is that he is incapable of making a bad parenting decision. His parenting style is “love them into loving back” and he doesn’t use guilting and shaming as tools. He has really wonderful plans for all his kids.

So what do I think about the scary situation? God might decide to yank me out of it – sometimes good parents do that. He might decide to hang on to me while we go through it together. It all depends on where he thinks I’m safest. See, I believe all this and have decided I’m in if he wants me.

Now I’m going to believe he hasn’t lost track of me. He hasn’t been distracted or forgotten about me. He has never made a bad, unloving decision. He has me in the best place, no matter what it looks like to me – and believe me, the way some things look do not make any sense. Except maybe after. Things don’t have to be good to turn out good.

Another thing to remember, (sigh) there’s an adversary, an antagonist, a bad guy, a predator who wants me to believe exactly the opposite of all this, and he wants to remain incognito himself. The minute I remember that he could be orchestrating things, I can just feel the power coming back to me. I get so mad I forget about being scared. I remember whose family I’m in and who is really in trouble. It’s not me.

This is the most simplistic way I can put how I’m feeling right now. I am so thankful for the peace and relief that comes in bad times when I remember these things. Oddly, sometimes it’s harder to watch someone else go through a crisis than it is to go through one myself. I just want to make all the bad stuff go away, right now!

Instead I have to know God isn’t just taking care of one kid. He’s looking out for every one of them, better than I could – although he might send me to do something for someone. Fortunately, I believe God wants everyone in his family and he tells his kids to treat everyone like they were a new brother or sister. There is no one more inclusive than God.

There is so much more to think about than there is time to think, and that is what makes life seem so interesting (and so short). Even in hard times, I’m glad to be here. Just sayin’…

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers how he made us. The Bible, book of Psalms 103:13-14

Hand Surgery – 3 Months and Counting

January 12, 2020 (Don’t you love typing that year? So easy.)

It has been, literally, months since I had CMC arthroplasty (basal thumb joint surgery) and I want to update the world of arthritis victims on my progress. This is such a common surgery, and any of you with pain in that thumb joint will consider it at some point. Maybe this will be useful for you.

Last week I had what will probably be my last follow up visit with the surgeon. It will be three months since surgery. If I had to say one thing that stands out in this experience, it’s this – I never expected it to take this long to heal. Outwardly, there is no problem. Inwardly, in the wrist where all those little bones and tendons have to get around and through each other, there is still swelling, stiffness, weakness and pain with some movements. But, I am told this is normal and it will continue to heal and get better in the next three months. Tendons take a long time to heal.

I have been bad. When the cast came off, and the removable splint was put on, I removed it whenever it bothered me. It bothered me a lot. When it came time for therapy to start, and I told them what I was doing, I was warned that doing things too soon could give some bad results. I did better after that and wore the splint most of the time. It got dirty. It got smelly. It made the nerves on the inside of my wrist burn and I would wake at night with shooting pains going up my arm for no reason I could determine.

My hands are really not this colorful. It’s the camera.

I’m now weaning off the splint. The therapist I saw this week knows my history of poor compliance. She kind of moved quickly through the “very light” and “light” activities (see sheet in picture) because I had already been doing those things and more. Although I’ve probably caused myself more pain by moving too fast, the doctor didn’t think I had displaced any of her work – my hand looked right from the outside and that was comforting. I fully expect the next few months to bring complete recovery of my thumb. I wish I could say the same for the other joints on both hands.

For those problems I am going to try something called palmitoylethanolamide, let’s just call it PEA. It’s a medicinal food, so I don’t need a prescription for it. It is getting a reputation for helping chronic pain from many sources, osteoarthritis among them. The research is compelling. You can read about it by clicking here. There are several sources but one that is known to be reputable, sourced in Europe, is peaCure. I have some coming from Amazon and will certainly be spreading the news if it is helpful. Thanks to Esther in Seattle for the alert on this product.

I don’t think I’ll be getting new hands this side of the grave so I’m planning on taking better care of the ones I have, in any way I can. (Bought a RoboTwist for lids – it works!) Just sayin’…

Forty-Seven

I am so glad I went through the exercise of writing this “sequel”. Anniversaries are for reminding us of truths that keep us going, just sayin…

Five years ago, on January 11, 2015, I sat writing as I am now, on the same subject – the anniversary coming up in a couple days. I took a picture of my diamond and thought about all it meant to me, being married for forty-two years.

The ring looks a lot different now. Since it no longer fit me, I had the diamond reset. My preference changed to white gold somewhere in the last thirty years, and I worried about the prongs wearing off and losing the stone. The price of the gold in the old ring wasn’t enough to pay for the new one, so it cost me. I could only afford to replace the engagement ring with the stone in a secure beveled setting, but it was good to be able to wear it again.

The new setting suits me. It is plain, safe. It doesn’t collect garden dirt or catch on my sweaters. It fits, although I don’t know for how long. My hands keep… growing.

Life has changed. We are changing with it. It’s been a little over a year ago that my husband got his diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. That day wasn’t when the problem started but it did mark the change in his focus. How does one think about anything else when faced with a prognosis like that? His world has gotten smaller in so many ways, limited in large part by his dependence on me. Today, at home, he was relatively quiet while we ate a meal with some friends and listened to a sermon on the internet. He spent most of the day in his recliner in the corner of the living room, looking very tired. He asked me once what I was doing. He went to bed early.

It means a lot to me that he is not ungrateful. He is not a big complainer. He puts up with me dusting him off all the time and fixing his clothing. He eats what I fix for meals and tells me when it is good. He willingly follows my suggestions. He sits still while I trim his beard. He doesn’t get mad when I easily do the things that are hard for him. He doesn’t criticize my decisions about money, or schedules. He is still here, a sweet person, a nice guy, thinking, trying to manage his daily existence as much as he can. But there is very little that he can contribute to us, to our marriage, to our future. His executive functioning is not working well.

Most of the time, I cannot imagine what he thinks about. I even have trouble describing my own feelings about what has happened to us. For our anniversary, should I not be able to put words to what’s meaningful for us?

It is for times like this that we make promises to each other. Our marriage vows had the old-fashioned words “in sickness and in health, till death parts us”. We had no idea who would be sick, no one does, usually. Few have the ability to think about what that means when the excitement of marriage and all it entails is new. But now, forty-seven years later, the promises have become meaningful. It means that we own these new circumstances together.

Now it makes sense to me what covenant marriage is. There were three of us making promises on the day Dennis and I married. God, who heard my promises, now helps me to keep them. God, who knows all about grief, loss, dread, panic, and everything else I experience finds ways to support me. He assures me that promises kept will be worth it, and that growing in personal integrity will be satisfying and rewarding. Our days now are part of something bigger, better and soon coming (relatively speaking). They are not the end!

So, on Tuesday the 14th, I will remind the husband that he is not alone. I am keeping him company as long as I am able, and I’m going to do my best to keep life from being dull (I guess he kind of does that for me too…) There are gifts all around us that we can point out to each other – maybe that’s how we’ll spend our “Happy Anniversary”.

The Last Day

12-31-2019

This morning is my cry time. It just hit me hard that this time I looked forward to so much is ending already. One daughter has left already, in the dark, on the trip to the airport three hours away. The other one leaves this afternoon. We have spent a week together, wearing ourselves out with talk, food, and as much activity as we could pack into a week of weird winter weather.

I am not put off by stillness or being alone, but the contrast is so vivid right now that I can’t not think about it. I’m looking at the special things they bought to eat and drink, but didn’t finish. I’m putting away the last puzzle we agonized over before we found out that one piece was missing. I’m trying desperately to think of what adventure I can plan next to mask this feeling of missing people I love.

I want to hug my kids again and tell them how much they are loved, and how much I hope they will always love each other. I want them to see how beautiful they are, how unique, how disarming and precious in those moments when they struggle.

There are always a few struggles even in the coming together. This winter gathering seemed characterized by the words “awkward” and “ bizarre” which we heard a lot, and said a lot in our conversations. Even in our commonness we are awkward and bizarre, and memorable because of it.

We are family, with the chance to display a special kind of love to the world. God help us to do do that.

December Reads

What I’m reading:

Do you ever find a certain topic coming up again and again in your reading and discussions with other people? I could call it accidental but it almost seems like God is sending me messages. It started this month when my brothers wanted to share “Waking Up White, and finding myself in the story of race” by Debby Irving. They wanted us to have family discussion about the topic.

Shortly after, the husband and I met an author, Ray Drake, at the hospital where we exercise. We started reading his book, “Dancing With the Fat Lady”, which has a lot to do with race and our local Native American population.

There’s even more. I’m in a small group book study starting in January and to get ready I’m almost through with the book we’ll be doing. It’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero and I’m getting a lot from it. It also has sections that deal with the things we learn from our family of origin concerning race and culture.

And now it gets a little spooky. On top of the kitchen cabinets, where I was cleaning during an insane moment, I found “The Grass Dancer” by Susan Power, a Native American. Her novel is full of Native American lore and story. I can’t wait to put this all together and see where it leads.

It was so much fun to trade books with Hope*Writer Sara Stevens. We missed out on the official book exchange so partnered with each other. She sent me “The Road Back to You” by Cron and Stabile. I want to see what this enneagram thing is all about.

Last, not least, I’m planning on finishing “The Next Right Thing” by Emily Freeman, because it will be the next right thing to do. She, and Hope*Writers are my encouragers when it comes to the art and craft of writing with purpose.

They say(and I’m sure they are right) that to be a good writer, you must also be a good reader. I’m planning on ramping up my reading program over these long winter months ahead. I could use suggestions too. What have you read lately that you loved?

Wesley and Buttercup kissing, eeww!

Movies

This re-post from June 2012 is especially appropriate since I just watched “Princess Bride” again last week. It’s all part of reviewing past writings looking for that elusive book that might be in there somewhere…

The truth is, I don’t really remember lines from movies the way I sometimes pretend to do.

I remember one quote from “Star Wars”, “the Force be with you”, or at least I think that was said there.

I remember several things I loved from “Princess Bride” but I can’t quote them exactly, something about a peanut, and something about the RUS’s.

I remember the shrubbery in “Monte Python’s Holy Grail” and the blood spurting hand (which I’ve tried to forget and can’t).

“UHF” is responsible for my love of enterociters (spelling?).

 Lastly, I remember laughing till my sides hurt during “Three Amigos” but I’ve watched it since and couldn’t quite relive the experience. I sort of remember being sick and having a fever while watching it the first time and that may have accounted for it seeming so funny.

That’s it for movies. That’s all I remember. Not impressive.

But I do enjoy a good movie and can get caught up in a thought provoking plot, if it’s not too weird and unbelievable, and if the characters are compelling.  I also have an emotional memory of how I was affected by most movies, even when I don’t remember the plot.

I rarely choose to watch a movie a second time though (exception – Princess Bride). I guess I just don’t want to clog my neuron pathways with most movie content when I have trouble remembering my own life that I’m actually living.

And then there’s the actors … I put them in the same boat with sports figures. They simply get paid too much for what they do, even when they do it well. If they’re a high salaried actor it should be part of their job to go feed starving people in Africa with a lot of their money. It’s ridiculous, and no wonder so many of them end up getting disillusioned with life in general. That being said, you must be aware that this is an opinion and you are entitled to feel differently. 

Yep, here it is.

Vitamins

This was written February 18, 2011 but surprisingly, not much has changed. Our vitamin experiment is in its eighth year. So far, we have both gotten older and are wearing out. This will have to go into the book about the husband…

Have you taken your vitamins today? I haven’t. I’m having a morning cup of coffee. I’m so thankful they’ve discovered some antioxidants in it along with the caffeine. I have probably survived this long because there are antioxidants in my coffee. I can taste them and they are good.

There is an experiment going on at my house. It’s the Grand Vitamin Survival Experiment.

Both Dennis, my husband, and I have read a lot of books about nutrition and have some newsletter subscriptions to Mayo Clinic and several vitamin companies and as a result we do think there are some marvelous discoveries out there – magical things in our foods that were designed to make our bodies function at their peak of performance. I don’t doubt this at all and the evidence of malnutrition is out there for anyone to see. The questionable part is this – are we really capturing that magical element and transferring it unharmed into a pill? And, assuming that, if we’ve already ruined our bodies, will taking the pill help us?

There are so many untrustworthy types out there and 98% of them have a vitamin company… The good thing is, we don’t really have to know if vitamins will help us, we just have to be able to afford them, eat them, and hope they don’t kill us. If we’ve covered enough bases, they might help. This brings me to the experiment.

One of us at my house is covering ALL the bases. The other one of us can’t remember to take vitamins two days in a row. Which one of us will die first?

Okay, I’m the one who can’t remember to take the vitamins. It’s a fear/hate thing.  I “fear” macular degeneration, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, blah, blah… so I think of the bottles of lutein and zeaxanthin up in the cupboard and take them, sporadically. 

On the days when my hands HURT (not just hurt) I get out the arthritis support and pain relief magical elements and take them – also sporadic. Is it merely a memory problem? No, I remember my coffee without any trouble.

 It’s the non-foodishness of them that I can’t get past. If you wanted people to eat something you were selling, would you make it like a small rock, with sharp edges? We spit out cherry pits and watermelon seeds. Why do they think we would swallow these things that leave furrows down our throats, get stuck halfway down and dissolve for the next three hours on the delicate lining of our esophagus? You don’t have to tell me all the tricks either. I’m a nurse – I’ve ground up every pill there is and polluted good applesauce with the powder. That’s the “hate” part when my applesauce gets ruined.

So back to the experiment – Dennis has a supplement/vitamin for every part of his body and every function possible. We have a three shelf cupboard in the kitchen devoted entirely to bottles of pills. New ones arrive by UPS on a regular basis.  It takes a good five minutes to dish them out which he does faithfully a couple times a day. He has to have a special bowl to contain them and I have no idea how he eats them all and still has room for a meal.

And on the other extreme I sit with my cup of coffee and whatever I can eat in the car while I’m driving back and forth to work. Who will survive longest? 

Unfortunately, it’s the cumulative effect over long, long periods of time in which vitamins produce the most difference. WHAT KIND OF EXPERIMENT IS THAT!? I want to know now, or at least in five or ten years.

I’m just glad it’s the weekend and I get to have a second cup of coffee.

He has managed to cut down – most of them fit into this very full box… most of them.

I Shall Start

Why? Why is it that for nearly 60 years I have written letters to friends and relatives, written in journals, and written my blog posts? I’ve always told myself that it was for my family – so that someday they would have a book. Someday they would be able to read what it was like for their mom/aunt/grandma to live in the last half of the 20th century. I have relatives who have done this for me, and I have been grateful.

I seem to have found too many reasons for putting off the task of compiling this book, in spite of promptings that I would say have come from God. Yes, God wants me to write and I feel his partnership in this project. This is the year that I will do something, every week, every month until there is something to show for it.

I’m starting by reviewing and reposting old blog posts that are still meaningful to me. I didn’t have many readers back in 2012 and most of you have not read these. Here goes…

Furniture

February 2012

I don’t normally give furniture much thought – my house is a decorator’s nightmare – but I love to rearrange what I have. Really, tell me that something is too big and heavy to be moved and I will rise up from my death bed to prove you wrong. And it’s tricky work so you want to wait until you have little to no interference. When I’m in the middle of a complicated move the last thing I want is someone second guessing my strategy, the only exception being someone who is a kindred soul and has a good sense of humor.

 I started young and probably learned furniture rearrangement from my mother. She moved things around a lot to avoid boredom and because it was cheaper than buying new stuff – you just put it in a different place and it looks new, kind of.  I always loved it when things got moved around and required new patterns of sitting, walking, etc…  The only drawback to rearranging is that you have to give people a little time to get used to where things are, and even then, if it’s night and they’re half asleep they might make a mistake and dive into a dresser instead of the bed (sorry Dad, had to tell it).

Yes, Mom was a kindred soul and a mentor to me.  I came home one summer when Mom was “rearranging” and wanted to move an old mahogany dresser out to storage. It was slightly smaller than a compact car and nearly as heavy, and it was on the second floor of our old farmhouse. Many times since I have looked at those 20 steep steps and that narrow stairwell and wondered how we did it without being permanently injured.  My clearest recollection is of being stuck part way down in a very awkward position and having to wait until we stopped laughing to continue.

Carpet and other floor coverings are in much the same category as furniture. Changing what is on your floor can be liberating, and I have been liberated two or three times in my career. The same farmhouse, a downstairs bedroom with old wall to wall carpet with stains and probably at least fifteen years worth of dust mites… I found some decent looking wood floor under a corner of this carpet and decided to get rid of it one day when my husband was out of town. He is not a kindred soul.

Carpet requires as much or more skill to remove as furniture. Think about it. You either have to move all the furniture out of the room, or you have to move it all to one side, roll up the carpet and then move the furniture over the roll. No small matter. I don’t remember which I did because it was so awful, my mind erased all the memory of it in self defense.  Furniture amnesia is what keeps me doing these things. Once rolled, carpet is very stiff and surprisingly heavy. I could barely lift one end of it and there was no way it would bend around a corner and out the doorway. I had to go out the window with it, and it was a serious rival to the “dresser in the stairwell” for being ridiculously funny and somewhat dangerous. Most people probably don’t remove wall to wall carpet until they’re willing to cut it up in small pieces, and that is the way I have done it ever since.

And all this came to mind while I was moving furniture today. Twenty years ago we bought our first really good set of living room furniture – a large, heavy Lane sofa with recliners on each end (still in the living room) and a rocking love seat with reclining function also.  The love seat has been in a rental unit and has seen better days … kids, dogs, garage storage have all taken a heavy toll and I’ve decided at least twice to put it out by the road on it’s way to furniture heaven. But it was still in the garage and recycling is so “in” now that I decided to give it another chance. I pulled two pencils, a TV remote and a dirty sock out of the cracks, vacuumed and scrubbed the fabric with carpet cleaner and cleared the way through the house.

 I use physics principles when I move furniture; levers, friction reduction, and obstacle avoidance. And I have plastic sliders, which my mother never had but I could not live without. When I made it through the first doorway, I knew I could get it all the way into my bedroom on the other side of the house. It was really a pretty piece of work, especially since the recliners kept unfolding and rocking kind of like a ship at sea. I had to stand it on one end to get it through the narrow places.  It’s now sitting at the end of my bed under the ceiling fan, smelling like a dirty dog as it dries from the scrubbing.

All this to say that it may not stay there long.  It makes the room seem more crowded, and my designer friend, Arlette, says I never should have gotten furniture more than 37 inches deep in the first place. Who knew? If I don’t like it I can always get rid of it, and just like carpet, I may have to cut it up in small pieces this time.

Wisconsin Winter

There is no getting past it – we are definitely into winter now. It looks so much like last year’s many months of winter that I’m wondering if my hazy recollection of summer was just a dream. Maybe the snow never goes away. That’s how it seems as we anticipate the fourth snow in the last two weeks.

Every day when new snow has fallen I hear the plows starting to work, early before light. The major highways, two of them, near our house have to be kept as clear as possible. There are also quite a few big parking lots. It is early in the season and more snow can be expected, which means that room must be made for it. My brother plows our subdivision and he pushes the snow as far back on the lawns as his machine will allow. He makes the road as wide as possible.

On the other side of our back fence, the Walmart Alps are forming. The parking lot is rimmed by white peaks, large enough to be dangerous should they tumble down on someone. I had to take pictures, amazed at how much they resemble real mountains with cliffs, abutments, scree and all.

Walmart Alps

On Monday I tried to get into town during a snow. Our drive had been plowed but when I got to the slight rise onto the highway my wheels just spun. I back up and tried several times with no better results, so I turned around and went back home. I do not have 4 wheel drive. Even though the back of my truck is loaded with sand bags, it doesn’t provide enough traction to match the slush covered ice. It is an every day occurrence to feel the vehicle fish tailing on corners. A different set of driving skills is in order.

The wetland fields are getting a deep covering too. I walked there this week, thinking there would be a packed trail from a snowmobile, but no. Nothing had been out there but the deer, leaving trails where they had followed each other. I didn’t have my snowshoes so I cut that walk short. You can get a lot of exercise walking in snow.

Shadow the cat is still wanting to go out, but stands in the snow shaking her feet and licking them. She can’t decide if snow is something she can dig a hole in, or not. Finally she jumps in the snow, squats quickly and comes back to the glass door. Her meow sounds a bit frantic if I’m not there to open it right away.

It was -12 degrees F. last night.