Learning to Savor-From the Hospital Room

Last night I got to hug my oldest friend. Not old in age, but old in friendship. She’s in my first memories, my earliest recollections of her being when I was around 3 years old. She taught me how to dress up kitties, and play church with them as our deviant, sulking children, she taught me the game Dead Possum (which I now suspect may have been an original with her), how to suck the pimento out of a green olive, and how to ride double on a banana seat bike. We went on vacations together, spent many summer nights camping with our sleeping bags side by side in a tiny tent, shared (and fell out of) a twin-sized top bunk bed, loved animals together, answered each other's phone calls of “Houston, we have a problem” so many times Houston became a nickname, went on double dates, sobbed on each other’s shoulders through break ups, were bridesmaids in each other's weddings, got ourselves into countless conundrums and embarrassing moments, laughed ourselves into paralysis, and scared each other stiff in the dark nights of many a sleep over.  

  Time rolled on as it has a habit of doing, and we started families and our lives took different paths and we saw less of each other. She is so often the one I think of when I get myself into an absurd situation, or the laughter I hear ringing in my ears when I reminisce about days gone by. But I don’t do a very good job of letting her know how often she is present in my thoughts and her absence is felt in my heart. The past few years have held some dark days for both of us. We’ve sat at each other’s kitchen tables a few times while the kids played, and spoke quietly of fear and depression and longing and loss. She has endured throbbing pain in her body and heart that I can’t imagine, shouldered heavy responsibilities that it still seems like we should be too young to be presented with, and seen too many hospital rooms in the last 2 years.


  Last night she was in one again. This time she sat in a chair beside the bed of her man, smiling softly while he slept the heavy, distant sleep of a body trying to recover from a brain injury. She told me of her last few longer-than- life days, of going from the needs of her tiny infant, to the needs of her Kindergartner sick with a stomach bug, to the bedside of her husband suffering in the ICU. I tried to keep my eyes from spilling over when she said it was as if all the hardest things were happening at once, and we both acknowledged having had words with God because it was all too much. And yet there she was; her baby softly sleeping on a waiting room sofa, oblivious to his family’s crisis, her smile ready and her words clear as she spoke of good reports and better days. Though I saw anxiety in her eyes for the future with all the unknowns a recovery like his holds, she was present, showing up each day for her scariest season yet.



I wish that prayers and a hug felt like enough. I wish that faith in God’s goodness overpowered the fear of suffering and loss and life as we know it being upended in a flash. I wish the cliché “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” was actually true, that we could be spared from seasons that are too much. I wish it wouldn’t take seeing one of our goofiest, favorite friends silent and still on a hospital bed to make me stop and take notice of the callouses on Dave’s thumb resting against mine, or the strength in his steps when he chases the girls up to bed.


  In reality, friendship is a lot easier when the struggle is over who should sit in front and steer the banana seat bike. Friendship in motion is so much more natural than friendship in stillness. Banter feels more friendly than silence. Comfortable friendship is more a vase of fresh flowers, low maintenance and easy, lovely to look at, but unable to endure seasons. Friendships that endure the seasons are more like a deep, rooted perennial. A tulip blooming and vibrant in the spring seasons, but in other seasons simply present and green, nothing flashy or fancy, and in the winters, silent and still in the dark and the cold. Believing together that the sun will warm the earth again, bringing forth laughter and hope and brighter days.


  I don’t know much about being a good friend in the winter seasons. I want to string up an artificial light and avoid the dark days. I feel frustrated that I can’t fix the broken things. I can’t prevent the pain. I can’t pretend my faith is unfaltering.


  I do know this. I saw my friend smile by her husband’s hospital bed, and it looked like courage. I saw her there, in her hardest days yet, and it looked like faith. Not because she wasn’t scared, but because she was given the strength to show up. I saw her parents there, sitting with her through the difficult days and nights, and it looked like tender love. I saw a life spared, a breath of relief and a light of hope. It all looked like grace, and I a thankful witness. I saw the way Dave’s eyes lingered on the girls and I last night, the way we held each other’s hand a little longer when the lights were turned out, and it looked like savoring.




  If you have an oldest friend, one who’s stories and fears you know by heart even if time has altered the landscape of your friendship, make a call or meet for dinner. Savor the smiles and the sound of her voice.





**The best news of the day is, no hospital room tonight. he's coming home!

Why You Should Get A Dog

She had her belly split wide open last week, two incisions red  against her white fur. I stood beside her as the injections made quick work, causing her worried eyes to glaze over, and her head to droop and then fall onto her paws. It was an absurd sight, her vigilant face suddenly sound asleep on the cold metal table.



When I came back, she was huddled in a cage, disoriented by medication and cocktail of smells. We lifted her carefully into the car, and as always, she stood looking out the window the whole way home. Sheer determination or an avoidance of the pain of lying down kept her upright, but this time there was no smiling, panting face hanging over the back of the seat. We made a bed for her in the laundry room. I had to convince her to lay down. She would close her eyes and then suddenly sit up wide-eyed. I tried to imagine what it must feel like to be her. Still disoriented from anesthesia. Terribly thirsty. Two slices on her stomach, hours fresh.

  I wondered what it must feel like to experience such suffering with no explanation. No words. No way to ask for an extra pillow, or a spoonful of ice chips. I wanted to brush it off with “she’s just a dog”, and convince myself it surely must mean her suffering was less intense. But her desperate eyes told me otherwise. They would open abruptly and stare long into mine. She is the epitome of long-suffering. I’ve been by her side after a neighbor’s shotgun filled her back end with birdshot. I’ve watched her get an ingrown dewclaw cut out. I’ve seen her gaunt from days with no food. And in the hours and days following her surgery, she was the same as always. Not one whimper. I’ve never heard her yelp. She doesn’t cry or bark or growl or whine. She endures in silence. I laid beside her in the laundry room. She rested with her head on my hand. There was not even the sound of a pant or sigh, her whole body was engaged in the silence of suffering. The only movements were her eyes following me, and the shaking of her abdomen, the bruised and swollen skin flinching if the blanket so much as brushed it. As I lay there watching her, my stomach aching at the thought of what hers must feel like, imagining how frantic I would be if I knew I had a whole night to spend alone in the dark on a tile floor in pain, I realized the one aspect of suffering that dogs are free from: dread. She had no dread of 3 am desperate thirst, or 7 am burning pain when she would have to get up and walk herself outside. She was just enduring the moment. Taking comfort from my presence in the moment. She can cope with suffering because she only has to carry one moment’s worth. No reliving the horrors of the operating table, no dread of tomorrow’s soreness and nausea. Just the pain of right now. Today she’s bouncing around chasing blackbirds out of the freshly harvested corn, standing guard of the house when the semi and tractors pull in, tail wagging everywhere she goes, a white flag of peace and happiness. She has no worry about last week’s surgery results. She entertains zero concerns about how numbered her days are, how many more ailments may await in her near future. In the context of bearing life’s burdens, she is “just a dog”. But really, isn’t that what we love the most about our friendships with these furry, rowdy, behind-sniffing creatures? Their ability to live in the moment that is so incomprehensible to us? Whatever moment they’re in, they are fully committed. If it’s fetching or eating or sleeping or suffering, they are fully present in the moment, no worry for the future, no regret of the past. (Unless the previous moment was full commitment to frolicking in the trash, and now Mom’s home and shouting “Mess!”. At this point there may be regret, but I doubt it. I think it’s simply momentary sorrow because Mom’s mad. But tomorrow sorrow will be forgotten and trash frolicking will sound like a swell activity again.) There is about as much chance of humans being able to fully live in the moment as dogs do, as there is chance of dogs being able to worry about retirement as humans do. Our brains are wired differently, and for good reason. But I think about life differently when I’m with Jazz. I think about how I want to fear pain less, take hard things a moment at a time. I want to run and laugh and enjoy the sunshine or the rain or the blackbirds with freedom. Free from thoughts about what I did wrong yesterday, what might go wrong tomorrow. I guess the moral of the story is, if you don’t have a dog, you should get one. They are brave and funny and more present in the moment than any creature I know. Plus they’re really soft.

Boots and Stuffed Manatees

I was just drifting off when I heard the spoon in my ceramic mug move. Cereal is my bedtime snack of choice, and it’s best when eaten out of a ceramic mug. The mug was on my night stand, a few inches from my bed. My eyes popped open when I heard the small but distinct sound of metal on glass. Ebby was a dead weight at my feet. Dave had taken his snoring self out to the couch (as he does many nights to make peace with my fragile sleeping abilities and his tossing /snoring/shouting habits). So I knew it wasn't him trying to steal my phone charger.

I told myself I was dreaming and tried to go back to sleep.

As I started to doze off again, I heard something under the bed. I froze, and put my feet on Ebby to see if she was itching or something. I asked her if she heard it, but she was dead to the world. Guarding is not her strong point.

I lay motionless.

And heard an undeniable scratching.

I flew as if launched by a slingshot straight out from blankets and landed half way across the carpet. I lunged for the light switch and looked under the bed just in time to see a dark shadow flee beneath my night stand and confirm one of my worst nightmares.

My vulnerable face had just been inches from a rodent.

The bedroom, my place of solitude and escape, was suddenly a disgusting, violated, mouse-infested sty. The survival part of my brain that turns red with flashing "Danger! Danger!" Signs lit up like the fourth of July, and fear gripped me and shook me silly. It missed the memo that the threat was only 4 inches long and harmless. When panic overtakes a body, those primal psychological and physical responses do as they will with little to no heed given to rational or voluntary controls.

When my fleeing feet landed me wailing on Dave's sleeping body, my whole being shook like I'd just escaped the clutches of the Grim Reaper himself. I clenched Dave's hands so tight he flinched.

Fear is like pain, it shows up in all kinds of ways; nagging, sharp, paralyzing, and wildly out of control. And there’s a whole spectrum of intensity that makes it impossible to accurately compare one person’s exact feelings to another. I’m still figuring this out, how we can’t really make any claims on someone else’s pain or fear, because it is so individually unique.

Ironically, as much as I feel out of control fear over a few things like mice and puke, and carry with me a shadow of anxiety most days, I have found myself scoffing at others’ fears. “Seriously, how can it be scary to pet a little shark in the zoo pool?” “What is your problem? It’s just a nice little dog!” I re-heard some of my own words when I was cowering under Dave’s sleeping bag while he went to investigate.

“You know they can’t hurt you, Carrie,” he said. Getting hurt by them was the least of my concerns. When I said so, he asked what I was afraid of. I can’t explain. There is no rationale for this fear. No amount of persuasion can talk a person down.

I’m not here to wrap up the story with some simple fear solutions. I’m so often gripped by it, I hate it, and I wonder, especially after weeks like this, if there’s more I should be doing to combat it. I’m talking about it because saying things out loud is a pretty good way to find out you’re not as alone as you feel, which is a real throat punch to the shame voices.

If you’re one who feels the bone-aching fear hijack your person from time to time, maybe this will remind you that you aren’t alone, maybe something I say will help silence the shame you’re listening to. If you’re not one who’s a victim of hulk sized fear, I’m glad you made it this far and maybe this will help you in relating to one of your people who likely does experience it.

Here are some things I’ve concluded from this week: Acknowledging the frustration, both of the one gripped by fear and the one whose hand is being squeezed to death, is better than accusations. I’m frustrated because I feel a total loss of self-control; the shaking, the tears, the nausea, the absolute inability to function in the presence of these disgusting little creatures. A major looser status takes over my brain.

I certainly don’t feel better about myself when one darts by my feet and I bolt from the bathroom, slamming the door back and hitting my 3 year old’s head as I go, leaving her hysterical- not because she saw a mouse- but because her head and feelings are hurt by my carelessness. I think I would throw myself in front of a train for her? Run into a burning building for her? Place my head between a loaded gun and her? Yet something as minuscule as a mouse has me not only leaving her in the dust to fend for herself, but also giving her head a blow in the process. It sure as heck doesn’t make a strong case for fierce, protective Mama Bear.

I know a little about various psychological theories for addressing fear. But sometimes it seems like it’s good to ease up on the analyzing of where the fear originated, what might be wrong in my brain, and what treatment might free me, and spend time thinking about how to be honest and gentle, how to receive grace within these weak moments.

Like when Dave looked at me, shirt soaked in tears and snot, erupting in raw emotion like he’d never seen, and didn’t scoff or try to talk me out of my feelings, but rather said,

“I’ll sleep by you wherever you decide feels most safe”.

He didn’t complain when I gripped his arm with both hands until I fell asleep. He did, however, point out that I love animals of all sorts, and mice were just scared little animals. “They’re not animals, they’re Satan’s spawn!” I retorted. But I felt mad at my own inconsistency. I take pictures of neighborhood ground hogs and give them nicknames, for crying out loud. Last summer I brought a dying squirrel in the yard fresh water and a blanket.

There is no rationale.

One of my friends (who’s seen more than most of the hard and soft and slightly rotten pieces of my soul and yet keeps showing up), was over when I had the bathroom encounter and left Sami behind for mouse bait. She saw my wide-eyed gasping and when I said “I saw one”, she said “Where?” and started moving toward it before I’d even answered. She calmly searched the scene and led my sobbing baby down for me to comfort. After she heard the full details of my yellow-bellied behavior, said “You did good, now you go outside and cry or whatever you need to do.”

My littlest siblings came to help clear cupboards and set traps one night. Dave was going to be working until nearly midnight, and I knew I didn’t have the strength to handle bedtime and a dark evening alone.

I was frayed to the point that feeling my own hair fall on my shoulder was making jump and sweat.

When I got home, Landon and Kj had already checked all cupboards and bathrooms. They stepped in to help me get the girls tucked into bed. And when we went to the kitchen to clean up and heard shuffling in the snack cupboard, Kj moved towards it as I rapidly backed away. Landon, the sibling of mine most acquainted with feelings that get too big to handle, looked at me with tender-edged amusement and said,

"You can just go outside.” I didn’t need to be told twice. I took the dogs out and sat on the hood of my car, because I’m pretty sure even the grass was infested.

While I am thankful that thus far my girls haven’t seen my full-force hysteria, I’m not pretending I’m not scared. I do worry that they will inherit my fear issues, and I work hard to save my breakdowns for times they aren’t present, but I don’t think false pretenses will do them any favors. So when the moments are calm, I tell them about my fears, how it feels inside to be very, very afraid. I hope it gives them language and courage to express it when they feel its grip.

We talk about how we get to take turns being brave for each other since our fears are all different. They see my eyes darting around to every corner, how I walk with curled toes. Sami saw me hesitating at the bathroom where we’d had the utterly non-heroic incident the day before, and said “Mom, the mouses went away! I like to pet mice. And I like to pet cats and frogs and praying mantises. But not dead praying mantises.”

Everywhere I turn in motherhood, the message seems to be “bend your knees.” Bend low to receive their forgiveness time after time, kneel to their level and allow their hands to wipe my tears, admit my wild fears and receive their words of comfort and courage. It’s so upside down from what I’d imagined.

And Jesus says “mmmhhhmmm!”

Yesterday I wore my knee high riding boots all day. Faux leather can do a lot for cringing and curled toes. The girls were thoroughly impressed by my clipping around the kitchen while I cooked dinner. The boots gave me the boost of confidence needed to show up and feed and bathe and bed down the kids on my own again.

My friend told me this week about how her daughter, typically a carefree socializer, has suddenly been afraid to leave her side, even for a fun morning with friends. It seems fully out of character, and there is no clear explanation her sudden anxiety. This week, when it was time for her to go to preschool, my friend said her daughter asked if she could take her blanket and favorite pet manatee to school. My friend said as long as she left them in her backpack, she could take them with her. Her daughter was so relieved to stick her two favorite things in when it was time to go. A few tears welled up but didn’t spill over, and she waved goodbye just a little bit braver with her blanket and her manatee on her back.

When you’re four maybe it’s a stuffed manatee. When you’re 28 it might be faux leather boots. Of course I knew the boots wouldn’t change much of my panicked reaction if an intruder appeared. They just help me show back up, and I suspect that has a lot more to do with bravery than we tend to think.

Maybe courage is about more than just being fierce and unshaken when the really hard things do happen. Maybe it’s as much about dusting off, wiping tears, and showing up again because there is more of life to be lived, there is hope for better days.

Maybe it’s more about being honest, admitting the things that do knock us down and flood us with fear and drive us to flee the scene, lowering down to receive the kindness of the people near us, and then standing up to offer the same kindness when they’re flattened from something that seems insignificant to us.

If you’re feeling the paralysis of a hulk sized fear, I hope you turn away from all the shame talk and allow yourself to be loved by your people a little more, accept their warm grace, even in your wildest moments, without thinking too long or hard about it (overthinking grace never does us any favors).

If you have a story to share of fear or grace or courage, I’d love to hear it!

Keep showing up,

Love C