Though You Slay Me…
April 29, 2016 | My Jottings
A young family in our town lost their three month-old son to SIDS recently. Two of my daughters know the family. The obituary the young mom wrote was powerful; full of gratitude at having been entrusted with Isaac for his short life, and saturated with their faith in Jesus, and how more than ever they still believe He is good and kind and completely trustworthy.
Carolyn sent me the link to this video this morning, saying this was one of the songs/messages played at the funeral. I was so thankful for the reminder of this truth, in the song and in the short message by Pastor John Piper. If you know anyone going through really hard times, this might be a video to pray about sending to them?
I want to make these words my own prayer….
A day of mercy and mitochondria
April 25, 2016 | My Jottings
Well, it looks like we might finally be done with snow in our northern part of Minnesota, but the rain and wind has come in with a vengeance. Sara optimistically put our deck furniture out last week, which consists of two white Adirondack chairs, a navy and white outdoor rug with a chevron pattern, some blue and turquoise weather-safe decorative pillows, and a weighted, navy blue patio umbrella. All pieces went flying at some point yesterday, and when I woke this morning and fed the dogs, the umbrella (not open, of course) was on its side. And there it shall stay until things calm down.
So, we had a fire in the hearth yesterday, watched the choppy gray waves on Lake Superior, and enjoyed the coziness of our home. And that made me thank God over and over for the way He has taken care of me. A home! A couch! Water to drink! A bed! Food to enjoy! I wrote it all down in my gratitude journal and told Him out loud several times yesterday that I just can’t get over His goodness. I watched a show on beavers recently on our PBS station and cried at His genius and humor and care in the animal kingdom. Even when God’s goodness seems questionable, when babies die and good people are tortured for their faith, when others don’t have homes and food and I can’t wrap my mind around that, I still believe in His goodness, and know there will be answers someday.
Speaking of food, here’s something I’ve done for years now. When they finally come into season, I buy one of those smaller, seedless watermelons every 4-5 days, and cut all the rind off right away. It’s so much easier to store that way. Then I cut it up in spears that measure approximately 1 inch by 5 inches, and stack them in Rubbermaid containers and stick them in the fridge. We all have a few spears for dessert, or if we’re craving a little something sweet. They don’t last long around here!
A couple of days ago I was trimming all the rind off a melon and saw something I’d never seen in one before. At first I thought “Oh, that looks like an enormous paramecium!” and I took a picture with my iPhone. Then I realized that paramecia don’t have those horizontal lines inside their walls, that they’re more granular looking, and this pattern looked more like a mitochondrion.
Do you remember studying mitochondria in your high school biology class? I do. Maybe I can recall this because our teacher at Covina High School, Boyd Smith, was such a dynamic guy. I remember that these tiny organelles are what give cells their energy because Mr. Smith danced around in excitement as he told us about such things. Here’s a mitochondrion photograph, magnified by an electron microscope:
Can you see the resemblance between my watermelon design and the little cell powerhouse? I love stuff like this.
Was that a yawn? Okay. Moving on.
Yesterday was a quiet Sabbath. I’m trying to be intentional about how I spend my Sundays, and while I’m not always faithful, I continue to try. I did my CBS study, read, prayed, wrote a little, and hunkered down and watched the storm outside.
The Schnauzers are firmly committed to observing the Sabbath as well:
Fourteen year-old Edith is on the left, and ten year-old Millie is on the right. I don’t like that Millie messed up my cotton throw on the bed. You can click to enlarge if you like.
And this song is on repeat in my home and heart these past days. I hope you’ll take a minute to click over, not just to listen, but to let it fill your mind, heart and spirit with its truth and beauty. His love is so great. Jesus has done so much for me, and has sustained me through so much. Dear friend, if you don’t usually do this, would you please consider just calling out to Him? Ask Him to reveal Himself to you and help you?
I know He will see you through whatever you’re going through too…
Braces: bravo or boo?
April 20, 2016 | My Jottings
In a few weeks, for the second time in my life, I’m getting braces on my teeth. It’s hard to believe that I need orthodontia at 58 years old, but using my CPAP machine has shifted my teeth in the twelve months I’ve had it, and if something isn’t done, my teeth will keep moving into a nice cantilever and look like they did when I was eleven. I’m trying to be matter-of-fact about it, and be thankful that something can be done, but it’s a little disconcerting to be honest.
Almost immediately after Michael died, I started not breathing about 100 times per night, and I’d wake up gasping with my heart pounding so hard I could feel it beating in my upper arms. My toes and fingertips would tingle from lack of oxygen. I suspected sleep apnea but was surprised by that since I’ve never been a loud snorer or had issues with sleep. I wondered if it was stress. I went to the doctor, then had an overnight sleep study where I learned I was strangling (I like to use dramatic words but it’s pretty much true) on the average of 20 times per hour each night. Or over 100 times per night. I wasn’t getting any Stage 3 or 4 sleep, which is dangerous since lots of important healing and restoring things happen during those stages.
I was so thankful to get an official diagnosis, thankful to be able to have a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine prescribed for me, and almost delirious with gratitude for the relief it gave right away. I knew it was working when I started having vivid dreams again, and when I’d wake up in the same position as I’d been in when I went to sleep the night before, blankets undisturbed.
However, the nasal pillows I was encouraged to use with the CPAP (rather than a full-face mask) brought on a damaging phenomenon for me. Almost every morning I would wake up with my front teeth aching, which didn’t make sense because the mask I was using didn’t touch any part of my mouth. It was a mystery. Within about six months I noticed a gap between one of my front teeth, and felt the difference when I flossed. A couple of months later all my front upper teeth had slight gaps between them, and I finally figured out what was happening. One morning I woke up and realized that I was pressing my lower teeth and tongue against my upper front teeth — hard. I knew then that for months while sleeping, I’d been pushing against the back of my front teeth, probably all night long. Like reverse braces. Gah.
My dentist couldn’t help me and had never heard of such sleeping behavior. But when I finally went online to search around, I found many people who had experienced the same thing. “Braces at 53!” one woman lamented, and went on to write about almost the exact same things I’d gone through. Apparently when an apneic person’s airway closes in sleep, their strangling body will do anything and everything to breathe, and this is one of the unconscious responses, jutting the lower jaw out and pushing with the tongue against the upper teeth.
Weird. And sort of icky, I think.
I wish I had figured it out early on, and saved myself from the coming two years of braces. All I would have had to do was abandon my nasal pillows mask and wear a full face mask. The full face masks aren’t as comfortable and they take some getting used to, but not as much getting used to as not being able to breathe, in my humble opinion. And not as much as not being able to breathe and having your front teeth sticking out so far you can set your teacup down on them.
Once I decided which orthodontist I would see, I made my consultation appointment. They did a panoramic x-ray and took some really strange pictures of my teeth using metal instruments (retractors?) to pull my lips away from my teeth and gums as far as is humanly possible, and I learned that the movement forward was farther than I thought. When I learned it was affecting my bite and wearing down my teeth, it helped me make the decision to have things corrected.
It was a bit jarring when my orthodontist brought up these photos on the huge computer screen on her desk in the consultation room:
I don’t think I was prepared to see myself with no lips.
There are several more shots, but I’ll spare you.
My options are metal braces (like I had in sixth grade), ceramic braces the same color as my teeth, and Invisalign. Click here to see the difference between the metal braces and Invisalign. Invisalign braces are clear plastic trays that are worn over the teeth, 22 hours per day, removed only for eating. I will get a new corrective tray every three weeks, and at the end of two years my bite will be corrected. I chose these kind of braces because I like the idea of being able to take them off in the mornings and evenings to brush and floss my teeth with ease.
I had my Invisalign impressions taken at the orthodontist’s office yesterday. I had to bite down into these rounded plastic trays filled with bright green goo, that turned into pliable molds in three minutes. (These aren’t mine, but they’re what mine looked like.)
I’m thankful for teeth, for options, for provision from my heavenly Father, for the robins in my yard, for the approach of spring weather, and for family and friends.
Now, I’m wondering…how about you? Have any of you ever had braces? Or CPAPs? What were your experiences?
Wednesday’s Word — Edition 127
April 13, 2016 | My Jottings
I dreamed about Michael
April 11, 2016 | My Jottings
Ever since Michael died fourteen months ago, I’m been anxious to dream about him. I have had three or four dreams with him in them, and they’ve always been sort of fleeting and odd, rather than something I can try to remember forever.
In my dream I was walking down 58th Avenue East in the Lester Park neighborhood of Duluth, MN. I was walking on the sidewalk on the left side of the street, heading toward Lake Superior, which was less than a block away.
This area isn’t far from the neighborhood Michael and I lived in with three of our daughters for almost 25 years, so I recognized it right away in my dream.
It was summer I think, because there was green grass on people’s yards and on the boulevard by the sidewalk. I was walking at a moseying pace, looking down at my shoes, which were a light brown suede, like nothing I own at all. They looked a little like this, except they were shiny from being worn a lot.
As I got closer to London Road, which is right on the edge of Lake Superior, I heard two male voices behind me, going the same direction I was, and I could tell they were walking at a livelier pace than I.
I stepped to the right to allow them to pass, and looked over my left shoulder as they drew near. One man was a person who used to attend the same church many years ago, named Peter Niss. The other man was my husband Michael.
I dug out this photo of him, because this is about how Michael looked in my dream; in his late thirties, curly brown hair with hardly any gray yet, a bit of a beard. And strong and vigorous and always in motion.
I gasped and cried out desperately as he and I made eye contact, “Michael!!!” And he looked at me as he passed with his two-sets-of-teeth grin that I loved so much, and then I asked breathlessly, “Are you okay?” He nodded and said emphatically, still smiling, “Oh yeah!” Like, If only you could know how okay I am…
In my dream I knew this was some kind of visitation, that his presence was unusual and I was not to touch him. Neither one of us moved toward each other as he passed and he didn’t slow his steps.
I asked him three or four questions as he and Peter (who doesn’t figure into this dream aside from walking with Michael) strode along, and I can’t remember all of them. I can only recall the last thing I asked him before my dream ended. Michael was about 15-20 feet ahead of me now and I was crying, from joy and sorrow both, and I called out as I sobbed, “Michael!!! Can you see us?”
And he again nodded his head and responded cheerily, “Yes!”
And then I woke up.
I have told a couple of people about my dream and each time, I’ve wept. I’m wiping tears as I type this now.
I’ve often wondered if the people who’ve gone on to heaven before us can see our goings on, and if so, how much God permits them to witness here on earth. Hebrews 12:1-2 says:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I’m grateful for this dream, even if the source of it was my longing heart rather than from God Himself. It felt like a gift.
It was so wonderful to see Michael again!
Our First Assignment
April 7, 2016 | My Jottings
Today was my second class day at the University for Seniors. I feel my brain stretching already. It’s a wonderful thing. Our first assignment in the class “Memory to Memoir” was to write about a neighborhood I’ve lived in. I chose the second house I lived in, beginning right before I turned three years old. I lived there for 12 years and have very clear memories of that time. Isn’t that how it is as we get older? Someone in my class today said she couldn’t remember what happened yesterday, but all the events of her childhood are right there in great detail. I relate to that. I thought I would share the assignments I do here on the blog, and this is my first one.
We were to draw a map of the neighborhood we wrote about. Here’s my map of the block I grew up on in West Covina, California:
I put the last names of the neighbors I was acquainted with, and as you can see I certainly knew who had swimming pools on my block, since our family did not. You can click on the photo to enlarge it if you like.
I’ve written about some of this before on the blog, but this piece is slightly different. We all read our memoir pieces out loud for the class members to comment on today, and one of the constructive comments I received was that I might have wanted to include more smells. We are encouraged to write using all the senses — what did we see, feel, smell, hear, etc?
I didn’t title my paper, but I guess for now I’ll call it:
Water (I’m off to a stellar start!!) 🙂
One of my earliest memories is when I first saw our new house on Eckerman Avenue. I was almost three years old. I was holding onto the side slats in a rented, open tow-trailer as our copper-colored Buick LeSabre station wagon slowed to a stop in front of the three-bedroom ranch-style home numbered 1923. My dad was driving, my mom was in the passenger seat, my thirteen year-old brother Steve steadied me in the trailer, and our aging family dog Duchess sat with us among the boxes.
There were nine houses on our street and I would eventually come to know every family. The Pelchers, Bouchards, Langs, Sooters, O’Neals, Spiros, Prestons, Rathfons and Wepplos.
Across from us was the back field and running track of Traweek Junior High School. Just inside the tall chain link fence surrounding the school block was a line of towering eucalyptus trees. For years I ran, skateboarded, biked, and later motor-scootered up and down the sidewalk and street under them; I can hardly recall a childhood memory without picturing the slender shadows of those trees, or how they filled my bedroom with the scent of Vicks Vap-o-rub when the Santa Ana winds blew.
I made my first friend when we lived on Eckerman Avenue. Her name was Tauni Booth, and she lived directly behind me in a house just like ours, except the floor plan was reversed. Tauni’s family was one of four on our block who had a built in pool. After I learned to swim at the Covina Park Plunge when I was five years old, being in the water was all I wanted to do. I took an old, rusty step stool from our garage and dragged it to the far left corner of our back yard, where I placed it against the pink concrete block wall that divided Tauni’s house from mine. When my chores were done I’d climb that stool and sit conspicuously on the top of the wall, hoping one of the Booths would come out to swim and invite me over. Many times they did; I must have spent hundreds of hours in their turquoise heaven. I never knew it was impolite and presumptuous to perch up on that wall, watching them swim and putting my yearning on display like that.
Over the years my love for water deepened. Swimmer’s earache, raisin fingers, and burning lungs from the mix of smog and chlorine never deterred me. I swam whenever possible, and by the age of ten I was swimming out past the breakers at Huntington Beach, then pouting when the sun would begin to set and my parents would say it was time to make the hour-long drive home.
At the beach my parents always wore their regular clothes; I was a lone participant in my swimming passion. Mom sat in the car and Dad walked to the water’s edge with me and eventually sat in the sand.
I used to tell him to raise his arm up in the air when he thought I’d swum out a mile. I didn’t know then that he wasn’t about to go along with that, but he let me believe he would. I would run into the greenish gray, opaque surf, wade my way past the little waves, front crawl past the bigger waves and the waiting surfers astride their boards, and just keep swimming. I would swim ten or fifteen strokes, and then tread water and look back toward the beach. There was my father in his brown pants and white sport-shirt, legs wide and knees bent, with both arms resting on his knees, watching me. I’d turn and swim toward the horizon again, noticing the pockets of warmer water here and there in the cold. My feet would brush against the slimy bulbs from the Pacific kelp forest and I would always shudder and hurry to swim away from them. This was before the movie Jaws, so the kelp forest seemed like the greatest menace I faced. A shark never entered my mind, nor my father’s, apparently. Swim… turn around again… look for his signal. I just knew I was a mile out because his shirt looked like a white dot against his dark pants now. There was his long arm raised above his head, slowly waving in a left-to-right arc, telling me I had reached the mile point.
Before I swam back to shore I always took a deep breath, squinched my eyes tight against the salt, and dove down, down to see how deep the water was. When I couldn’t touch the bottom I was satisfied I had gone far enough.
I liked coming home to the yellow house on Eckerman Avenue even though it didn’t have a pool. After a day of hard swimming in Tauni’s pool or in the mighty Pacific, I’d make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and settle down with a Nancy Drew book in my pink bedroom.
Years later it felt like the ground beneath that house opened up to devour our family, and we all moved away in separate directions, never to be truly mended.
Today I’m still irresistibly drawn to water. I don’t swim as much as I used to, but every morning I sit in my dining room and look longingly out onto the largest freshwater lake in the world. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to swim a mile out, and not look back.
* * * * * *
So now I need a title. “Water” won’t do, I don’t think. What do you think the title of this paper should be?
Thank you in advance for your suggestions!
April 1, 2016 | My Jottings
It’s still dark in the mornings when my iPhone alarm goes off on my nightstand, which I’m not crazy about, but I did notice a change this week: I can hear birds singing now. The robins have returned, along with the goldfinches. A couple of days ago I could hear rain hitting the roof when I woke, and the birds were chirping anyway. I can’t remember if I’ve ever noticed birds singing in the dark and the pouring rain, and I thought there was a message for my soul there. Are things dark? Sing to the Lord. Are there storms right above your house while other homes are in sunshine? Give the Lord your praise.
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
I love that last verse. The thought of exalting God’s name with sparrows and cardinals and finches and chickadees makes me happy.
Yesterday I set out on a new venture. I attended my first day at The University for Seniors at UMD. (The University of Minnesota-Duluth). I loved it. Loved, loved it. All the things I had an inner niggling about turned out to be nothing. I was surprised at how well attended it was. You have to be over 50 to enroll, and there were lively old people everywhere. Now that I’m 58 my idea of “old people” has changed dramatically, so it was refreshing to see so many seniors of all shapes and sizes and hair colors and ages. I admired the folks I saw with walkers, getting out to “live and learn,” as the US motto says. People were friendly, curious, and welcoming.
My first class is called “Memory to Memoir” and I learned more about writing in those two hours than I can ever remember from the classes in my youth. What a fabulous instructor we have. She’s retired from teaching high school honors English and she was so encouraging and dynamic. I’m excited to begin my first informal assignment (there are no grades or tests at University for Seniors) this week, which is to write 1/2 page about a neighborhood I’ve lived in. We were encouraged to write more if we could….har har har.
The second class I took is called “Great Books” and 25 of us sat around a large rectangular table in a cheerful classroom with huge windows, discussing the first short story we read by Margaret Atwood, entitled “The Man from Mars.” Some people didn’t speak, most did. It was a fantastic discussion and I learned so much. Half the folks brought their lunch and ate it while the discussion went on, so I might do that next week, since I’m at UMD for five hours on my class day.
I’ve wrapped myself up in a healing/grieving cocoon for the last 417 days, and have spent many days quiet, reading, crying, praying, grieving, wailing, staring, resting, writing, praising, wondering, and trusting God with the remainder of my life. I still feel the need for quiet, rest and contemplation. My friend Carey would say that part of this is likely the adrenal exhaustion my body is healing from after the sorrow and struggle of Michael’s last years. I believe that.
And I still do a mental fist pump and say a vigorous inner “Yessss!” when I look at my calendar and see a blank day, completely free of any appointments. I still cry every single day as soon as I have one thought about my beloved Michael. Even now just typing that sentence brings tears. What is he doing right now? Does God allow him to see us, to cheer us on like the “great cloud of witnesses?” Sara and I like to imagine that whatever he’s doing involves birds, building, and praising Jesus, but I know that our minds can’t conceive of how magnificent life is for him now. Our anemic ideas about heaven will be exposed someday and I look forward with hope to being bowled over by what Jesus has prepared for those that love Him. And my husband sure loved Him. One of my frequent prayers is, “Lord, help me to love you more!”
Today I will grocery shop, buy some concert tickets for one of my Fosters and her boyfriend (the Beach Boys and the Temptations are coming to town), and start on my essay about my old neighborhood.
Have a nice weekend, dear friends and family….