Savor Today

Today has been a great day…I’m in a cleaning mood, the weather is great outside, and believe it or not, all is right with my world.

“So what?” you may think. Well, I’ve learned over the years to be grateful for the days when I have sufficient energy to do housework. You see, I have an autoimmune disorder, and I never know quite when something will wreak havoc with my body and I can’t function for a day.

One way I deal with this is by thinking, “Things could always be worse.” I know many who are struggling with cancer and other horrible diseases.

I faced my own mortality at the relatively young age of 30. It was a fluke. My liver enzymes were high in some blood I donated to the Red Cross. I got a letter from the RC informing me of that fact and urging me to see my doctor. I followed their suggestion.

My doctor scheduled me for a liver biopsy, which in 1989 was not the most fun outpatient procedure. John took me to the hospital and stayed with me. I got a shot of local anesthetic, and then a nurse came in with a big horse needle (I nearly came out of the bed when I saw it, because I really don’t like needles) and punched it in the space between my ribs.

It felt like what I imagine a horse kicking you in the ribs might feel like (minus the broken ribs). Crap!

After a couple of hours, my doctor came into my room with another doctor and I thought, “Uh-oh. This can’t be good.” My doctor informed me that I had primary biliary cirrhosis. When I heard the word “cirrhosis,” I thought back to my college days and figured that my drinking had come back to bite me. I really didn’t drink THAT much…although sometimes I overdid it.

John and I were at a loss about what to ask the doctor. I said, “So…what is that?” and the other doc, a gastroenterologist explained that it is a liver disease in which the bile ducts eventually become filled with scar tissue. I blinked back tears and looked at my doctor.

Next question: “What is the life expectancy?” My doctor said, “Well, it’s usually found in middle-aged women” [“Middle-aged?” I thought. “But I’m only 30!”] …” You will probably have a normal life expectancy.”

I was still reeling from the news and trying to figure out what this meant for my life. Our son, Daniel, was 18 months old at the time, and we wanted to have another child. I asked the doctor, “Will I be able to have any more children?” He said, “I’ll need to consult with someone about that…and he contacted (later) a liver specialist at Johns Hopkins.

In the meantime, our pastor at the time (Joel Snider) came by to visit. John and I told him about my diagnosis. I remember his saying something like, “This is one of those bumps on the road of life.” At first I thought, “Yeah, buddy, that’s easy for you to say.” Later those words comforted me.

You see, Joel introduced me to a young woman in our congregation who was on the waiting list for a heart & lung transplant. We met at a church picnic. She and I talked about our respective diseases, and after I talked to her, I felt much better. I was shocked to hear, a few weeks later, that she had died waiting for her transplant.

Nothing I have read on the Internet about this disease has been encouraging. Everything sounds dire. I was a member of a Facebook group for people with PBC for a while, and the posts were so depressing, and the people sounded so much worse off than I.

After panicking for a few weeks and thinking, “I’m gonna die!” and worrying about the future of our family, I finally calmed down. Maybe it was the news report of a young pregnant woman being hit by a bus on Church Street (and killed) that got through to me. Or maybe it was the realization, after talking to my doctor in a subsequent visit, that I could take life one day at a time and there were some medications available to help my condition…and best of all, I could have another baby. (I asked him a lot about that. I didn’t want to bring another child into the world if I wasn’t going to be around to help raise “it.”)

I also need to give credit where credit is largely due: God calmed my fears. I gained much hope and comfort from reading the Psalms. When I prayed, I felt like God listened and even had the sense, “It’s all going to be okay.”

Regardless of how things turned out, at that moment I decided I was going to look at life differently. I have read accounts of many people with life-threatening diseases who say they are actually grateful for their disease, that it changed their lives completely.

I know that my autoimmune disorder has taught me to slow down and smell the roses, so to speak. It made me appreciate…so much…my children’s laughter and activity and yes, even the challenges we went through when they were teens. It’s made me feel incredibly lucky to be married to a sensitive man who loves me for who I am and who has stood by me all these years (nearly 30).

So if you wonder why I believe in God, why I think faith is important, why I try to live each day as if it’s my last, now you know the “rest of the story.”

Now to get the bathrooms cleaned and the floors vacuumed….I need to take advantage of the energy I have today! Life is good.

We Get By … with a Little Help from Our Friends

Like many, I struggle at times to know how best to respond to people who approach me asking for money. I am an avid supporter of our local street paper, The Contributor, that supports many homeless persons and gives them a way to earn money and potentially change their lives.

A couple of days ago as I was coming out of Starbucks (I don’t go there very often, just when I need a real jolt to make it through the day), a man asked me if I could spare a dollar or two. He looked me directly in the eye. I don’t usually carry much cash, but I gave him a dollar. I think I have gotten past worrying that he might spend it on booze or something else. He’s a human being, he has dignity, and sometimes we all need a hand.

It seems that such encounters don’t happen just once but several times for me in the same week. Yesterday was a gorgeous day in Nashville that just begged to be enjoyed. I had been in meetings all day (except for delivering Meals on Wheels at lunchtime) and resisted the idea of going back to my office without enjoying some sunshine. Besides, I had this craving for a McFlurry, a decadence I allow myself every now and then.

So off I started to McDonald’s, thinking I’d hit the one at Vanderbilt Hospital. Alas, it has been replaced by a high-end coffee and baguette shop. Ugh. As if we need another around there.

I often walk the Vandy campus, so I thought, “Well, the McDonald’s on West End isn’t THAT far away,” and I made a bee line (so to speak) for 28th Avenue and West End. By the time I got there, I was nearly worn out and considered calling one of my colleagues to come pick me up…I’d just about used all my energy just to get to Mc-y D’s. I got my McFlurry and a cup of water and decided to sit alongside a bed of roses at Centennial Park.

It was such a gorgeous day that the socks and shoes had to come off. As I was reveling in the feeling of my bare feet on the grass and the delicious ice cream mixed with M & M’s sliding down my throat, I noticed the not-so-welcome aroma of cigarette smoke. I scooted a little farther away from the smoke.

Soon I was greeted by the smoker, who told me he’d just gotten out of the hospital, where he’d had seizures the day before. He said his wife was at work at Trevecca (which isn’t close to Centennial Park) and that he was hungry. I looked around and saw 2 cups of soft drinks on the ground beside him.

We chatted a bit. He remarked, “I’m really hungry. I wonder if you could spare some money so I can buy food at McDonald’s.” I told him I didn’t have any cash on me, but I’d be glad to take him there and buy him something with my debit card. He said, “I’m not a drunk.” Then he told me he attended a certain Methodist church in town and went to AA meetings at my church. (As soon as he said he wasn’t a drunk, I knew he was.) I talked with him a little more, telling him about my experience with someone close to me who had been through a 12-step residential program. I finished my McFlurry, which was getting pretty soupy at this point, and he shook my hand and told me his name. Then he pulled out some old pictures he was carrying with him of his wife and then-young children.

This tore at my heartstrings, as it was probably intended to. It also said to me that he must be separated from his family and that his alcoholism had come between them. He said he hadn’t had a drink for a long time, but I smelled booze on him. Still, the man was hungry. And I couldn’t walk away from him knowing that.

I said, “Okay, I’m ready to go back to McDonald’s now. Come with me.” He hesitated. He said, “Do you mind just going in there and ordering something for me?” I said, “Oh, they’ve thrown you out before, huh?” He nodded a little sheepishly. So I went to McDonald’s and bought what he requested: 2 McChicken sandwiches from the dollar menu and a cup of water.

As I gave him the food, I told him, “Keep working the program, brother.” Sometimes I feel compelled to say, “God bless you” but I didn’t feel like I needed to say anything about God to him. If he’s indeed been inside the church he said he attended, he has heard the love of God proclaimed over and over.

I just feel heavyhearted for that man and for all who struggle with addiction. They need to know someone will take time to listen to them. They need to know someone cares. They need to know…oh, Lord, what can I say here? … that they have dignity as persons. I hope this man was uplifted just a little and that he finds the help he obviously needs. God, today that is my prayer.

We’re Not So Different, You and I

“We’re not so different, you and I.” These words were on my mind when I awoke early this morning. In the past few days the song “What the World Needs Now” (is love, sweet love…) has been playing in the background of my thoughts.

The day after my last post, which unfortunately was all about me and the wrongs that had been done toward me (just call me a drama queen), one of my colleagues got fired. Reality check #1.

Reality check #2: Yesterday a dear friend called me out on some comments I’ve made on Facebook. I confess, I have made derisive comments from time to time about Southern Baptists. This friend told me that it sounds like I think I’ve found a “higher way.” Oh Lord. And oh, friends … forgive me. I really do get on my “high horse” from time to time. I really don’t mean to sound as if I have found all truth. I have discovered a few things in this spiritual journey called life that work for me, but I don’t mean to imply that they work for everyone.

I’m not that different from any of you. Pardon me as I launch into a brief explanation of the needs we humans share. (Blame my mom. She was a teacher, and I have inherited her tendency to want to lecture about subjects that interest me. If you want to skip the lecture, scroll on down to the bottom of this post.)

Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified 5 levels of needs (remember that hierarchy of needs from Psychology 101?), and he pictured these as a pyramid.

1. At the base of the pyramid are physical needs such as food, water, sleep, and warmth.

2. Once these needs are met, we move on to the need for security: shelter and safety.

3. Only when the above needs are met do we move to the next level: social needs. The need to belong, the need for friendship and affection, the need for love. Our relationships with our family and friends satisfy part of these needs. We meet our social needs in other ways, such as belonging to civic or religious groups.

4. When we are able to satisfy our social needs, according to Maslow (and his theory is much debated), we move to the next level: esteem needs. These include the need for things that make us feel better about ourselves, such as social recognition and accomplishment.

5. And finally, at the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, which means a person is more concerned with personal growth than the opinions of others and strives to fulfill his/her potential.

Hmmm. I wonder if we all move back and forth between levels in this hierarchy of needs. Sometimes I feel as if I’m on top of the world: everything seems hunky-dory. Then something comes along that threatens my sense of security. Inside I’m really just a quivery mass of insecurity. I think a lot of people are; some just hide it better than others.

Here’s what I dream about/wish for: I wish that we could find more commonalities than differences with our fellow human beings. I wish I would refrain from judgment. I wish I would pause and see, really see with my heart, that person who acts so obnoxious or that person who looks so different from me. I wish I would be quicker to listen and less hasty to react. I wish that we lived in a world that is not so consumed with hatred.

There are many things over which I have no control. Sometimes I despair at the hatefulness I see us all inflict on one another, even in small ways. I wonder, what would happen if we all took responsibility to make our little corner of the world a better place?

This reminds me of a joke my mom used to tell (she had a few jokes, and they were corny, but they made me laugh…and sometimes they had a point). Did you hear the one about the old woman who peed in the ocean? She said, “Every little bit helps.”

So today, with God’s help, I will do my little bit to not spread pollution in the ocean (lame joke) but to “water” my corner of the world. God, help us all to be more loving persons. Help us to have wisdom to know when to bite our tongues. Some things just need to be left unsaid. And help us know when to say an encouraging word to others. We may unknowingly make a life-or-death difference to someone. God, bless us every one. We just can’t do it by ourselves.

On Being Politically Correct (Grrrr….)

Some days I can truly understand what drives people to drink. In fact, I’m sitting on a step-stool in our dining room-turned-John’s-office with a glass of white Zinfandel nearby on the floor. I have to move enough that it stops me from drinking too fast.

Today was my first day back at work after a week off (plus one sick day, the details of which you don’t want to know). It took nearly the entire day just to catch up on e-mail.

On the positive side, it was a beautiful, sunny day and the scenery outside my office window was fine enough (considering that I look out at Taylor Swift’s condo) and am surrounded by tall buildings. I do have a view of a nice bell tower that reminds me of Italy, if I look in just the right direction.

But I was blown away by something that happened at work today. I sent an e-mail to my colleagues about an hour and a half after my arrival. I thought the tone was light and faintly humorous, but someone got offended. The offending term? “Kitchen Nazi.” 

I discovered my offense when I received a phone call from our HR director. She asked me to send out an e-mail of apology to everyone who’d received the first e-mail and to copy her. I was dumbfounded.

Here’s basically what I’d said in the first e-mail:


The Kitchen Nazi has returned from a week of vacation, and I smelled something rotten in our refrigerator. After going through the contents, I think I have narrowed it down to a styrofoam container of rice & chicken (or something) in a Publix grocery bag. If this is your container, please dispose of it, or I will toss it by the end of the day.

Thanks so much!”

I have learned from experience, you see, not to toss something without giving fair warning. Once when I went by my keen schnozz and thought I’d found the source of a bad smell in our refrigerator, I threw out someone’s lunch for that day. (Far be it from me to say this person must have a really bad sense of taste and smell.)

And I was prompted to send the e-mail after I discovered….ewww, gross! that coffee grounds were still sitting in the coffee maker and actually had spots of mold on them. That led me to think that no one had made coffee in the entire week I was out.

Anyhoo, I did send an e-mail of apoplectic apology, but not until after I’d thought of quite a few curse words and even said a mental “Go to hell!” to the person who was so offended by the term “kitchen Nazi.” My reasoning went something like this:

1. Really, do we have no sense of humor? Those who know me know that I am usually a friendly person who does her best to be gracious to others and would never knowingly hurt someone.

2. Is that really an ethnic slur, and if so, who in our workplace would be offended by it? I mean, we don’t have any Germans that I know of. Maybe some of German descent, but I really wasn’t using the term to refer to the German nation (at least it wasn’t my intent). Besides, my LAST NAME is German. We hosted an exchange student from Germany in our home for 3 months. Why would I shoot myself in the foot?

3. Aw, hell, it sure is hard to be nice sometimes. Even when you try your best, there are people who are watching and waiting to jump on the slightest thing and who actually want to raise a ruckus about NOTHING.

4. Being asked to apologize, while I am willing to do so to keep the peace, makes me feel like a 6-year-old who’s been in an argument with her brother…and Mom just told us to make things right with each other. I really don’t want to.

5. I am mad. Pissed would really be a better description.

6. I’m tired of being politically correct. Don’t most of us have the common sense to treat our colleagues as ADULTS?

7. I sure wish that someone else cared as much as I do about the kitchen, but really, I kind of enjoy washing the dishes and the counter and making coffee.

Well, that’s how my day went. I guess I’ll get over it, but I wish that our office morale was just a tad better. I will come back tomorrow and smile and do what I can to make a positive contribution. And I’ve already asked for forgiveness for my obviously highly offensive personality.

89 and Still Kickin’

John and I just got back from a quick trip to see my dad. He’s 89 and is doing very well for his age, though I can tell some differences every time I see him. His balance is a little off, his hearing is getting worse, and his eyesight is growing dim.

Daddy is the lone survivor of his family. He is the next to youngest of 5 siblings who survived to adulthood. His dad died when my dad was 9 of “silicosis,” attributed to his occupation of working in a sand quarry. Daddy had twin sisters; one of them, Etta, died at age 18 months of diphtheria. His younger brother, Bob, died of stomach cancer several years ago; his sister Callie died of ovarian cancer several years before that. We haven’t stayed in close contact with his sister Marie’s family, but she passed sometime in the last decade, as well as his oldest sibling, Kate (who lived into her 90s, I think).

Daddy reminds me a lot of his mother (Mary Maggie Blessing Leonard) except he is not a “sad-sack,” as my mom described her. He has seen a lot of loss during his life and has had many health challenges in the past 10 years. I never realized how strong and determined he was until I saw him fight back from quadruple bypass surgery at age 80 (followed by prostate surgery a month later…talk about a shock to one’s system).

I am well aware that each time I visit him may be my last time to see him, so I’ve vowed to get to North Carolina as often as I can (considering that I still have a full life in Nashville). I so wish that we could move him here to Nashville, but his wife, Helen, is still alive and in a nursing home. She turns 94 on April 15. She has dementia…deja vu for Daddy, as my mother, Niece, had Parkinson’s-related dementia and was in a nursing home for 2 years before her death in 1991.

Thanks be to God for my dad and his longevity (and his stubbornness, which I think has added years to his life). As an only child and his daughter, I have been blessed to have a close relationship with him. He has a sense of humor that I have only discovered in the years since my mom died. I hope I am like him when I get old…joking about “old Arthur,” his constant companion (arthritis) and how getting old isn’t for sissies.  We’ve had a good life together.

Time Away

I am taking this week off from work. I saw the signs coming that I needed to take a few days off:

* Me arse be draggin.’

* Physical symptoms indicated that my body needs rest.

* Couldn’t stop my mind from racing. Was awaking at 3:00 in the morning with stuff on my mind. If I’d gotten up and written down those thoughts, I think they would be crazy.

* My attitude toward work was getting a little “iffy.” Decided it was time to practice Steven Covey’s 7th habit, sharpening the saw. I expect to be much more productive next week when I return.

* I started feeling this need to get out of town. Sometimes you just need to shake off your daily routine, if only for a few days.

* Spring fever has set in in a big way. Maybe I should call it summer fever, ’cause the temps are certainly summerlike. Roses are blooming already, as are the azaleas. Unreal.

Yesterday I found myself driven to do one more thing. Today I am going to shower and pack for a trip, load the dishwasher, and get out of town as soon as our car is ready. It’s nice to know that Daniel will be here to care for our cat and see that our garden gets watered (I hope).

For the rest of the week, who knows? We might take some back roads, chase some rainbows if there are any to be found, read some, meet some interesting people…and I will catch up on some belated gifts.

I do have one goal for vacation: dive into organizing small corners of our house. If I can get our junk mail and bills sorted, that will be a major accomplishment. Just about the time I think I’m on top of things, more paper arrives in the house. I can’t keep up with it all. I try to throw away junk mail daily, but sometimes it lands on the basement steps (John beats me to the mailbox) or other strange places.

Speaking of getting ready for trips, it’s time to close and go get my shower! TTFN (as Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh says). Ta-ta for now.

Spring Break!

Last week I had a stomach bug for 3 days, and it was dragging me down. I managed to make it to work (not knowing it was a bug but thinking it was something I ate) for 2 of the 3 days but finally surrendered on Friday when I began running a fever and my symptoms grew worse.

I had planned to take today (Monday) off so I could chauffeur my husband home from his colonoscopy. Had been toying with the idea of taking a few days off this week, because he’s on spring break from substitute teaching. Friday sealed the deal. Seemed like my body was telling me it’s time to rest.

So since I have a holiday on Good Friday anyway, this week seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a few days off and enjoy the beautiful weather we’ve had lately. We’re going to North Carolina tomorrow to see my dad. At age 89, he’s doing pretty well, but at that age you never know how long someone will be around.

Holy Week seems a good time to be off…more time to slow down and contemplate all the events of this week 2,000 years ago when Jesus was crucified and arose from the dead on Easter morning. I guess you could call it the High Holy Week for Christians. But to get to the heights, you have to journey through some dark valleys.

I am humbled and awed when I think of Jesus’ sacrifice for people he didn’t even know. It’s one thing to be willing to die for someone you know and love; it is another to take upon oneself the sins of the whole world. May we all appreciate our God-given gift of life and the sacrifice of his beloved Son. “Amazing love, how can it be that thou, my God, would die for me?”  (Charles Wesley’s hymn “And Can It Be”)

Blessings to all this Holy Week.