Respite

Today was my one “free” day of the week. I got off to a very slow start and savored my morning tea as I worked on paperwork. I also went out to the carport about once an hour to do some spray painting on two different projects.

This afternoon I had a couple of errands to run. It still feels like a “treat” to get to drive Quicksilver. I am looking forward to next week’s road trip.

I bought a few groceries because I need to make more chai mix this weekend and because I have plans for tomorrow which preclude my going to Aldi at the habitual time.

My husband had a busy day because Homecoming started at the university last night and this is a big one to celebrate the university’s 75th anniversary. We are pretty jaded about university events, to be honest, although we are both alumni. I do look forward to seeing one friend from my college days this weekend.

I had an enjoyable walk this evening and was glad to get another two miles along on the wall. I’m actually a little ahead of schedule, which is good since I have traveling days coming up.

Improvement

Today was a big day at the dentist for Walter and Jasper. They both got their permanent crowns put in. It will be a little while before we can afford more dental work.

Meanwhile, I was preparing for and teaching my class with my tutoring student. We’re off to a pretty good start, I think.

This afternoon my friend Robin was supposed to come over, but she was delayed for quite a while due to a crisis with her mother-in-law, who has been in the hospital for several days. Robin did eventually make it over for tea and a visit, and that was a much-needed respite for me after a tough day yesterday.

I made it to the track for a walk tonight and although my pace was slow, I enjoyed the exercise and knocked out another two miles on Hadrian’s Wall.

Courage

Normally, after a socially active day like yesterday, I need a couple of days to recover, but this week I don’t have that option. I’ve got something going on just about every day, and today was the scariest event of the week for me.

We have been attending our current church for a full year now, and will probably soon join as members. However, I have found it so far to be a virtually impenetrable community. I have not gotten to know even one person that I didn’t already know before we started attending. I had thought that maybe Sunday School would be a place where we could make some connections, but this has not been the case. It’s like going to a college class. The teaching is excellent, but there is very little social interaction, and there have been no social activities for the class—just the class itself. We knew one couple in the class when we started going, and we still know just that one couple.

The church does have a Wednesday evening meal and service, but I don’t know if that’s something we’ll pursue or not. It has been a long, long time since we even considered midweek activities, due to my husband’s work schedule.

But anyway, I thought that if we’re serious about attending this church, perhaps I should explore some other means of getting to know people, and I thought maybe a ladies’ Bible study might be an option. Today was the first day of the ladies’ Bible study for the fall, so I made a commitment to go. Just to be clear—I was absolutely terrified, but I went anyway. This kind of thing is very hard for an introvert.

My fears were well founded. It was exactly what I expected it to be: a gathering of prosperous Southern Baptist ladies with perfectly coiffed hair and expertly-applied makeup and fashionable clothes. They were very sweet. They had a table full of pickles and preserves and freshly-picked produce for everyone to help themselves to. They had a ton of okra but I didn’t get any because I’ve got plenty. And there I was with my flip-flops and capris and hair whose style could most accurately be described as “combed.” Not to mention my completely natural face. And as I’ve mentioned before, I suffer from SFS (stupid face syndrome) which is a terrible handicap in situations like this.

I did not know a single one of those ladies. I am never going to be one of them. By the time I sat down, I was already fighting tears and telling myself that I’d made a huge mistake in coming. But I’m also not a quitter—at least not until I’ve actually given something a chance. So I stayed in my seat.

Obviously, the main reason for going to a Bible study is to study the Bible. Duh. And I am looking forward to spending the fall focusing on the book of Genesis. I can tolerate an hour and a half of social misery once a week if there is a real benefit in it for me.

After it ended, the leader came up and introduced herself. She was shocked to hear that I didn’t know even one of the other ladies in the room. She thought maybe I was new in town and I think further surprised to hear I had been attending the church for a year and had lived in this community for four decades. Apparently they all normally go out to lunch together after the study, and I was invited too. I may do that next time, since I’ll know about it in advance and have time to prepare for the emotional stress. By the end of the class today, I had used up all my “peopling” capacity for the day and couldn’t face going to lunch with a large group of total strangers—not to mention that I don’t even eat lunch. So I slunk out the door and drove home through a glorious light rain. (We haven’t had rain for quite a while.) I’m sure I’ll recover, but I worry that next week will take even more courage than today did. I feel like I should stick it out for at least a few weeks because I ordered the book and it hasn’t even come yet.

Just to be clear—these are all wonderful, kind and gracious Christian ladies. They happen to belong to a really different world from my perspective and I struggle to see how I could ever fit into that world.

I thought that at least I could look forward to seeing Lucy and Tanner at supper tonight—but once again, they canceled. When one of my kids says they’re coming over, I tend to really get my hopes up, so when they end up not coming, I struggle with the disappointment. I packaged up the lasagna I had intended to serve and put it in the freezer. Then I came up with a whole new supper plan—chicken curry! I had a chicken that needed to be cooked anyway.

That gave me plenty to do. I realized I hadn’t bought any bell peppers on Friday, which I needed for the curry. Then I also realized I had two lovely bell peppers in my garden just waiting to be picked. Problem solved. I also made a salad using all homegrown greens, the very last homegrown cucumber slices, and homegrown tomatoes. If I had had time, I would have cooked some okra too, because we have a LOT right now.

I took off to walk in the gym, only to find out that there was a volleyball game going on in the arena. Walkers are no longer allowed on the track during games, so I turned around and came home. Now I’ll have to work very hard to catch up on my Hadrian’s Wall challenge. This was not one of my better days, for sure. In fact it was pretty rough. Tomorrow will be better—I hope.

Friends and Relatives

Yesterday was a very quiet Sunday around here. We went to church and came home. We had a Zoom with Flynn and Paisley and Lina, and Paisley was very entertaining.

Today was much more intense. I spent the morning tidying up in preparation for the arrival of my aunt and uncle. These are the ones I normally stop to see when I go to visit my dad. Today they were on their way from Nashville to Austin, where they will be visiting my other aunt and uncle for a while.

On their way into town, they stopped and picked up some Chinese food for lunch and brought it with them. I was so tickled they took time out of their trip to stop and visit with us. It is always so good to see them.

After they left, I had a few minutes to relax before my neighbor Kim came over. We have decided to start watching a video series together on Monday afternoons. That way I get to see Kim and it give me another hour of knitting time.

Please note I have now admitted to having two social interactions in one day. That is a lot for an introvert. However, more was yet to come. Some friends of ours from way back in the day came into town early for the university’s Homecoming this weekend. Another friend organized a get-together at a local Mexican restaurant for people who knew the couple when they used to live here. So we joined the throng for supper at the restaurant. Some of those faces we had not seen for many years—most of them former co-workers of my husband, and in one case his former boss. I was at the end of the table, which was right next to a rather loud waterfall, so I wasn’t able to participate in much of the conversation. I was grateful to the two people who came down to our end to talk to my husband and me. And it really was good to see so many people from our past all in one place.

As soon as we returned home, I changed clothes and took off for the gym. I didn’t want to get behind on the Wall! Even though I was tired and also stuffed from supper, I got my two miles in.

Parting Shot:

My aunt and uncle in front of my asparagus plants.

Come, Ye Thirsty, Come, and Welcome

Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy

Joseph Hart

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

Refrain

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Refrain

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

Refrain

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Refrain

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Refrain

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

Refrain

Another Hard Anniversary

Today is a big anniversary of a horrific attack on our country. Jasper was just a baby when it happened and remembers nothing about it. He has no memories of a pre-terrorism USA. That makes me sad. Thinking back to that day twenty years ago has made today a little somber. I miss the world that was, the one I grew up in.

Yesterday I spoke at a writers’ group meeting—not the one I personally lead, but the other one. We had to move to a different restaurant due to the closure of the dining room at the “old” one. The new location is much better for me thanks to a more varied menu which has several items I can eat. (The number of breaded and fried options is a little stunning to me though.)

I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation, so that meant I had to lug my projector, projector stand, and laptop with me. The group’s president brought a screen. When I got there to set up, though, it turned out the new meeting room has a big screen you can use for presentations. It was a bit of a hassle getting hooked up to it, but it worked in the end. I don’t feel like the presentation went well. It kind of fell flat, as far as I could tell. *sigh*

Afterward, I rushed home for family movie night. Because of the late start, it was almost midnight by the time the movie ended. Still worth it.

Jasper again went to work on his own today. I am loving this new life. He has even run errands for me a couple of times.

Today I had to double up on my Ten Tome Toss because I forgot last Saturday. I tossed 20 books instead of only 10. I am trying to be ruthless, but it is hard. The goal is to eventually be able to fit all the books we own onto the shelves we have—stacked only one row deep. Can I do it? Maybe . . .

I also made a run to Kroger to buy distilled water. This is something I use a lot of these days because I need it for my bi-pap machine. Yet there seems to be a mysterious shortage of this product which is normally very easy to find. Aldi hasn’t had any for months. Walmart is completely out. Kroger is more expensive, but thank goodness they had it. I bought four gallons and wonder if I should have bought more.

I also dried another batch of tomatoes, as they are starting to get away from me again. The okra has slowed down dramatically now that nighttime temperatures sometimes fall into the 60s. I worked on planning my fall garden and am looking forward to it.

For dinner I made a massive pan of lasagna, thinking that Sammy would come to eat some of it, but he didn’t. I will freeze some and save the rest for the next time Lucy and Tanner come over. Gone are the days when I could bake lasagna and it would all be eaten in one meal!

I’m also working on a painting project. I bought a box to put our CD binders in for Quicksilver. There isn’t any obvious place where they would fit and I don’t want them just sliding all over the floor.  Yes, we are so old we still use CDs. I didn’t need to paint the box but why not? It’s fun.

The Long Dark Shadow

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, and today specifically is Suicide Prevention Day. My daughter Mary has been blogging about it very eloquently, and my daughter Mercy has also posted a poignant account of her struggles. This is a topic I struggle to write about because it hits so very close to home. Suicide has cast a long, dark, heartbreaking shadow over my life. In the past few years, I have lost a nephew, a dear friend, and a friend’s son to suicide. Another close friend attempted suicide twice but survived.

It seems like this tragic choice is becoming more rather than less common. Several of my children have been suicidal in the past, and all have struggled with depression, as have I. My broken heart struggles with hopelessness at times. There is no way to “fix” someone else’s despair, is there? Yet that is the one thing we want most desperately to do.

I’m know I’ve mentioned it before, but perhaps I should mention again that I also was suicidal as a teenager. A series of events occurred at my boarding school that made me believe life was not worth living and that I had no hope of ever getting to a better place in my life. Then, one of my closest friends tried to kill herself and came within a hair’s breadth of succeeding. When I received that news, I gave up. If she couldn’t bear to stay alive, then how could I? That same day, I was asked to do something that I didn’t think I could survive emotionally.

I had been toying with the idea of suicide for months by then. I felt the time had come to follow through with it. I was pretty sure that if I took all the medications in the house, they would kill me. I waited for everyone else to go to bed. That way, I could take the pills and no one would find me until morning, when it would be too late.

But first, I wanted to listen to music one last time. We had one of those record players where you could stack up to five records at a time, and it would drop and play them one by one. What kind of music did we have in our missionary home in Africa? Hymns and classical music. So that’s what I listened to. I lay on the couch with the headphones on and listened, while I felt the pills calling me from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Everyone else was asleep.

I listened for an hour. Two hours. Three hours. I chided myself for delaying. I walked into the bathroom and stared at my sad face in the mirror. Then I walked back to the living room and listened to some more music.

There were two things that stopped me from following through with my plan for that night. First was the fact that if I did it, my mom would be the one to find me. I couldn’t bring myself to do that to her. But secondly, as I listened to hymn after hymn, I began praying. I had to believe that God had made me for a reason, and that reason was not to kill myself while still in my teens. I didn’t want to be alive, but ultimately I didn’t feel I had the right to reject the gift of life that God had given me, even if I couldn’t figure out what the purpose of it was right then.

By the time I turned off the record player and walked to my bedroom to get a couple hours of sleep, I had fought a terrific mental and spiritual and emotional battle. I know it doesn’t happen this way for everyone, but that was a defining moment for me. I had made a commitment to stay in the world, whether I saw any point to it or not. Sure, I would be tempted to backtrack on that resolve, especially in the ensuing couple of years, but each time I would remind myself of that night, and draw back from the brink.

Did my life suddenly get better? No. It got worse. I went through two years of deep depression and despair. But the key word in that last sentence is “through.” I somehow got through it.

Since then, depression has hounded me for most of my adult life, but I have clung desperately to my commitment to stay here. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things, from my own experiences and those of others.

Virtually every suicide prevention post I’ve ever read urges people to reach out for help. I agree, that is what you should do if you are considering taking your own life. However, if you’ve ever been in that spot, you know following that advice is all but impossible, because you don’t believe anyone cares or that anyone can help you. So first of all, if you’re reading this, and you’re in that dark, dark place, please make the call to a hotline or your granny or your pastor or someone. I promise you, there are many people in this world, including me, who want you to stay here. Sometimes just hearing a caring voice on the phone makes all the difference in the world.

Secondly, in my decades of dealing with varying degrees of depression, I’ve learned that for me at least, focusing inward does not help. Dwelling on your misery and despair (or past trauma) is kind of like Gollum crooning over and polishing the ring which he knows is destroying him. Despair becomes like a dark, poisonous jewel which you cling to because you think it’s all you’ve got.

As a committed Christian, my first move is always to cry out to God for comfort. Does that fix anything? No. Not in a tangible way. But it’s the first step in pulling me out of a downward spiral by forcing me to focus “up” and think about things I can be grateful for. Hymns are still a tremendous comfort to me and I am grateful that I know so many.

The next thing I do is try to identify someone else who may need encouragement of some kind. So many times in my life, I needed someone to be there for me—and they weren’t. Many other times, though, someone was there for me right when I needed it most. I want to be that person who is there when someone needs me, without them having to ask.

When I was still in school, I would look for the kid who sat alone in the cafeteria, the one who never had a friend to walk between classes with, the one who sat in the back row and never made a comment or asked a question. I would sit next to that kid and start talking (this took a lot of resolve for an introvert like me). The rule was that I couldn’t talk about my own problems or struggles. My goal was to learn about the other person and be a safe person for them to talk to. I made several friends this way, and I believe I succeeded in being an encouragement to them.

Sometimes people need to hear that you care enough to pray for and/or with them. I have been moved to tears by friends who sensed my distress and stopped to pray for me on the spot. I have a long list of people I pray for every day. In fact, if you need prayer for something, message me and let me know. I will follow through. Prayer has become a lifeline for me in recent years. As I’m sure you can guess, trying to be an encouragement to others always encourages me also. And the wonderful thing about it is that it doesn’t cost me anything except a little time. Kindness is free! There is no need to hoard it. Spread it around wherever you go. You’ll never regret it. And you never know when your act of kindness might make all the difference in someone else’s day.

Not My Favorite Anniversary

My brother tells me I’m very “date-aware.” He’s not wrong. I do remember dates. Two years ago today I was excited to be leaving for the UK the next day. Everything was packed. I had so much to do but somehow I got it all done. I was in the best shape of my life and eager for my bucket-list adventure.

One year ago today was quite different. That morning I had an online consultation with a nurse. I had not been feeling well for some time. In fact, I had been having dizzy spells since January and hadn’t been able to figure out what caused them. I realize now my heart was trying to get my attention.  By the time I talked to the nurse that day a year ago, my legs had roughly the size, weight, and flexibility of tree trunks. I couldn’t even walk from the house to the car without being exhausted and out of breath. When I explained my symptoms and my horrific sudden weight gain to the nurse, she agreed with what Lucy had told me—that I should go to the emergency room. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe I didn’t realize how very sick I was. It didn’t really sink in until they took my vital signs in the emergency room and suddenly everyone sprang into action. Within minutes they had me hooked up to multiple I.V.s and had admitted me as an inpatient.  

Over the next few days and weeks, I learned that I had atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure—just like my mom. And pneumonia and a pleural effusion. And that I’d already had a heart attack. Since that day a year ago, I’ve had two electrical cardioversions, a heart catheterization, a thoracentesis (draining the fluid from around my lungs), and a cardiac catheter ablation. I went from taking no meds to taking four or five prescriptions every day.

I no longer take my health—or my life—for granted. Statistically, there is a fifty percent chance that I’ll be dead in four years. I have worked very hard to regain some semblance of normalcy. A year ago, walking a few feet in the driveway exhausted me. Now I’m walking two miles a day and I don’t even feel particularly tired afterward. I hope and pray that the ablation “fixed” my atrial fibrillation. So far my heart seems to be staying in the right rhythm. I would love so much to be able to get off some or all of my meds—but not enough to risk triggering a stroke. So I am doing everything else I know of to stay healthy and get even healthier.

Frankly, it’s been a long, hard, difficult year. I have struggled to claw my way back to where I am right now physically. I continue to research ways I can improve my odds of surviving and have a reasonable quality of life. And I am so, so grateful for every single day, even the painful ones.

Today my friend Darlene came over for tea and as usual I talked her poor ears off. If you’ve only encountered me in group situations, you may think I am virtually mute, but when it’s just me and a friend, you can’t shut me up!

Parting Shot:

These tall yellow flowers are blooming under our pecan tree again, like they do every September. I don’t know what they are. They were given to my husband by one of his Hispanic workers.

Back to School

I didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago that I’d even be tutoring this year. I’ve had to scramble to start putting a plan together for my student. She is in eighth grade now so my job will be to challenge her more than in the past so she will be ready for high school.

I worked on preparation right up until the moment she arrived today. I think we’re off to a pretty good start. She liked the vocabulary words. I know she’ll like the first book we’re doing because she requested it. Then it will get harder!

This afternoon I drove up to Hobby Lobby to look for a few items. I did not find the three specific items I was looking for. I did, however, find some other items that were on sale. This is why I tend to avoid that store.

I didn’t find much to pick in my garden this evening. Even the okra seems to be slowing down. But the days are still in the 90s every day. September may be my hardest month. I suffer through the heat of July and August, knowing it can’t last forever. Then September comes and every molecule in my body is screaming for fall—but fall doesn’t come. When I was a young child in Michigan, September was sweater weather. Here I may not need a sweater until November. I am so ready for the heat to go away.

Now that I am walking two miles a day, I am trying to increase my speed. I am a steady but very slow walker. This is one reason I’ve never even considered a walking partner. They would leave me in the dust! Today I really tried to find another gear and ended up cutting five whole minutes off my time from Monday. I feel that is a pretty satisfying win. I’d like to eventually be able to do the distance eight minutes faster than I did today. That would bring me to a “normal” walking speed.

Gearing Up

Today was mostly about trying to prepare to start teaching my tutoring student tomorrow. I had a lot of stuff to figure out, some research to do, some writing to do, and a couple of things to laminate. I think I am mostly ready to get started on the school year.

This afternoon I had to go pick up a prescription, and after that I went to the gym and got in a quick walk as I knew I wouldn’t have time later. In the past I have just skipped walking on days when we have company for supper, but I don’t want to fall behind on the wall!

Lucy and Tanner finally came for supper, for the first time in about a month. It sure was good to see them. They didn’t stay very late, because they both had homework, but at least we got to catch up a little bit.

I also watered my garden and watched a video with my husband before going back to work on school stuff. Life is about to speed up.