No One Really Has it All Under Control

It’s hard for a perfectionist to live with ‘good enough’ but it’s even harder for most people to live with a perfectionist. Neil and I had different ways of doing things. I always folded towels into trifolds; Neil folded them however they fit in the drawer. I washed the dishes right after dinner; Neil washed them before bed, or even worse, before breakfast. I can’t even count how many arguments we had about whether the toilet paper should unroll from the top or the bottom. It was hard for me to relinquish control of the household when I went to work, just as I am sure it was hard for Neil to always be under my watchful eye.

One night I came home after a long shift in the ER and crept upstairs to kiss the girls tonight. I saw a strange chunk of hair on the steps, but didn’t pay much attention to it. I set it on the handrail to throw away on my way back down. My two youngest daughters shared a bedroom back then, and both were sleeping soundly as I tiptoed in and blessed their foreheads. I checked my oldest and blessed her, too. All was peaceful and quiet as I went in to the bathroom, until I noticed what I thought was a mouse behind the standing towel rack. It turned out to be another chunk of hair. I didn’t scream loud enough to wake the girls but I did get Neil’s attention downstairs. Continue reading →

What To Do When You’re Stuck On The Rock Wall Of Life

We were guests at a Memorial Day celebration. Children ran around laughing and playing, and adults sat chatting and sipping cool summer drinks. Curiosity captured the crowd’s attention when a huge truck backed up the long, narrow driveway. As everyone watched, the drivers got out, adjusted some mechanical gadgets, and slowly raised a huge, portable rock wall.

The kids swiftly lined up to give it a try, and with the complete fearlessness most children possess, scrambled to the top and rang the bell of success. There wasn’t really anything to be afraid of since they were all belted into place, and three people could climb side by side and talk to each other, so gradually the adults tried it, too.

“Come on; let’s go get in line,” Neil urged. “No, you go ahead without me.” I had all sorts of good excuses: I don’t have the right shoes, I forgot my sunglasses, I have to help the hostess, but as I watched everyone else having fun, I gradually convinced myself to try it.

With all the nerve I could muster, I started the climb. The belt wrapped around me like a diaper so there was no way to fall. Yes, I thought, this is fun and safe! Concentrating on each foot and looking closely at the wall’s indentations in my path, I slowly made my way up. I specifically avoided looking down just to prevent any sudden panic and within a few minutes I made it to the top and proudly rang the bell.

“Woo hoo!” My daughters called up to me. “Way to go, Col!” Neil yelled. I enjoyed my success and the fabulous view of fields and farmland until I realized there was a line below me waiting for a turn. It was time to go down.

Oh dear, it was time to go down. Continue reading →

The Truth Is We Are Never Really Alone

Before Neil and I were married, we often talked on the phone for hours in the middle of the night. After he closed his restaurant and sent his staff home, he relaxed with his feet up and called me. Sometimes I was at work in the ER, or sometimes I was sleeping at home. Either way, the world was generally fairly quiet at three in the morning.

During one of those calls, when I was home in bed in the dark, I thought I heard a strange sound in the house. Neil insisted we hang up and call 911, but I refused. What if it was just the pets, or Gina thrashing around in her crib? It didn’t really sound like that, but with Neil still on the phone I decided to search the house.

I grabbed the flashlight from my bedside table and tiptoed out of my bedroom. From that angle, I could see the entire first floor. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and everything seemed to be in place. I stood quietly for a few seconds, waiting for another noise or flicker of movement, but there was nothing. Next, I climbed the stairs, Neil breathing in my ear on the phone, but conversation halted to minimize any noise. Continue reading →

It’s All in Your Perspective (And How to Keep It)

Neil loved water: oceans, lakes, pools, showers, hot tubs, steam rooms, he loved it all. And he enjoyed being in it in it, whether to swim, kayak, sail, float or simply sit in the sand feeling the tide wash over his toes. I enjoy looking at water, but I don’t need to touch it. I’m perfectly content to watch a waterfall from the path or feel the rhythm of the ocean from the shore. How you feel about water depends on your perspective.

My water hesitance is based on several things. First of all, water is often cold. I hate cold. Second, water is often deep. I can’t swim. Neil coached me for a while, but I couldn’t master it. I could probably float well enough to save myself or one of the kids in an emergency, but to swim for fun is beyond me. That brings me to the third reason I don’t go in water very often.

I was taking swimming lessons at our local park in the summer after third grade. I did fine until the day it was time to jump from the diving board. Continue reading →

Twenty Years Ago Today: No, You Can’t Know the Future

When I went to bed on December 27, 1996, with Neil reading quietly in bed beside me, I had no idea that Jordan would be born the next day, or how much drama would be involved in her arrival. After struggling with preterm labor for two months, dealing with medicines, bedrest, and frequent doctor visits, I should have known things wouldn’t suddenly become easy.

Neil and I woke up leisurely to weather that promised to be unseasonable warm, and then sipped coffee in the living room, admiring our enormous Christmas tree. As I got up to refill our mugs, my water broke, and after the initial shock, it was a relief to know the time had really come to go to the hospital.

As we drove the hour to the medical center in Roanoke, the contractions started coming hard and strong. I distracted myself by singing along with the radio. When Celine Dion’s powerful voice noted, “It’s all coming back to me now,” I belted the words loudly right along with her, thinking it was ironic that I had forgotten until then how painful labor really was. Continue reading →

Wisdom From the Meowing Mouth of a Cat

The smaller of my two cats is Kitty Girl. She appeared on our fenced-in patio shortly after sunrise one hot summer morning. I was awake early that day, sipping coffee at the picnic table, and saw a flash of black and white inside the flower box. At first I panicked, thinking it was a skunk. I studied it for a minute, and deciding it was too small to cause much damage, went over to investigate. Peering into the box, I couldn’t tell what I was seeing. It was a tiny blob of coarse dirty fur, and when I reached out to poke it I heard an almost imperceptible meow. Within a few seconds, the ugliest kitten I’d ever seen unrolled itself and looked at me with a combination of curiosity and desperation. Fleas hopped all over her, and yellow green drainage from her swollen eyes matted her face. I brought her inside, cleaned her up, treated her eyes, and fell in love with the perky, petite cat I call Kitty Girl.

Fast forward 13 years. Kitty Girl is no longer an ugly duckling. She is a dainty, lively, sweet cat who loves adventure and has used up at least six of her nine lives with exploits.

Once she wandered about a quarter mile away and climbed a tree. She was stuck there for three days and we were resigned to the idea that she died. Unwilling to accept that, Jackie and a search party of eight-year-old friends set out to find her. Continue reading →

When God Doesn’t Answer our Prayers

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My last post was about answered prayer. But what about the times when God doesn’t answer my prayers? There are lots of those, and I’m often jealous when I hear other’s miracle stories. “The cancer just disappeared!” or “I am so blessed; God gave me just what I hoped for!”

The Gospels often mention God’s desire to answer our prayers. Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24). In Matthew 7:7, he says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and the door will be opened to you.” In Luke, we read about the widow who nagged the judge so much he finally found in her favor so she would leave him alone. Jesus tells us God will not be slow to answer those who cry out to him.

So what am I missing here? Why are some people miraculously cured and others not? Is it because they are somehow more worthy or because God loves them more than others? Did I not pray hard enough for Neil to be cured? Was I not persistent in my prayer? Those questions lead me to feel guilty, believing that if I said one more prayer or did one more good deed Neil would have survived. Continue reading →

A Tale of a Morning Miracle

clockThis is a true story about a miracle. I think miracles happen every day, but we’re too busy and distracted to notice. Every now and then, though, something marvelous catches our attention. It may not even be dramatic, but it breaks through our usual deafness.

I usually start my day with a cup of coffee. When Neil was alive, he often delivered a steaming hot mug to me in bed. Sometimes we went outside to the patio, but frequently he sat in bed with me and we chatted about the day ahead. After he died, I missed those morning moments more than anything else. Gradually, I learned to fill that time with prayer, and began to chat with God instead. (I’d love to say the miracle was that God brought me coffee in bed, but no, that’s not it.) Continue reading →

Ouch, Am I a Gossip Girl?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about gossip. I have definitely been a victim of it; haven’t you? More important though, I have been trying to pay attention to how much I participate in it, and wondering if I am a gossip girl. I don’t want to be!

Over the years there was a lot of gossip about me and Neil:
“I heard Neil didn’t go home last night. I guess Colleen made him mad – she is so bossy!”
“I heard she was pregnant before they got married. I guess she’s not that Catholic after all.”
“I heard he moved out. I guess Colleen finally had it with his drinking.”

Like all gossip there were nuggets of truth in these comments. For example, Neil struggled with alcoholism and sometimes it was safer for him not to drive home. I wasn’t pregnant for nine months since I went into preterm labor at thirty weeks instead of forty. And, our typical argument involved retreating to separate corners until we cooled off. Sometimes that was an hour, sometimes a night, sometimes weeks. But all the gossipers saw was the way things appeared  to be – not the way they really were. I loved Neil despite his faults and, thankfully, he loved me despite mine.

So what makes a conversation gossip? It isn’t simply talking about other people. In a small town and among friends, that’s how we keep up with each other, how we know who needs extra prayers and who might need a casserole. Continue reading →

Love the Life You Have (Not the One You Wish For)

“I can’t wait until I retire,” my friend said at lunch one day. “Then I can do all the things I want.”

img_2035-jpg“ I can’t wait to finish the semester,” my nephew said during my visit. “Then I can relax and enjoy life for a while.”

“I can’t wait till this chemo is finished,” my patient said at her appointment. “Then I can get back to normal.”

We’ve all said things like this, haven’t we? We’ve all imagined how much better the future will be when we get past the present.

My house is quiet these days. My two younger daughters are away at college and my oldest is married and building her new life. My empty nest is far emptier than I ever imagined without Neil to share it. I often find myself saying, I can’t wait till the girls come home so the house feels alive again.

The other day I came across the very famous Scripture reading from Ecclesiastes that talks about a time for everything. Our lives have seasons just like the weather does – the college season, the work season, the retirement season.
This is my empty nest season. Continue reading →