The Comforts of Community

Feeling more than a wee bit smug, I  put the finishing touches on my presentation about persevering through the storms of life. (I should’ve seen those yellow warning lights flashing, right?) I was scheduled to speak  to a gathering of women at my church  in 7 days  and was elated to have completed the preparation. (‘So unlike me to be ahead of the curve)  Except for that  nagging little voice in my head  telling me  there was still  something I needed to add. Never the less,  I  had a week to polish and prune and a wide open schedule if adjustments were needed.  No problem.

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Right…

I arrived home that  Thursday evening  to find my husband in significant pain, but chalked it up to the fact that he had consumed an entire container of salsa with chips, so  we went to  bed praying he’d be better by morning.  When the sun came up, it was clear that was not the case.  His pain had intensified.  I called his physician and although he was overbooked for the day, they fit us in.   His pain was off the charts by the time we arrived at his office and his doc. urged us to go immediately to the ER for further evaluation.

We arrived to a bustling ER and were seen immediately, despite a lobby teeming  with sick and injured patients. He was quickly evaluated and though there  was “no room at the inn” he was moved into the patient area  where he was put on a gurney, in a hallway just across from the desks where nurses and physicians took calls and input information onto their computers. Eventually he was whisked off for an ultrasound and later a CT scan.  Blood was drawn and pain medication was administered.  And we waited.  For hours and hours.

The thing about an emergency room is that you are reminded that many others are far worse off than you are and that gives valuable perspective.  As results came in, it became clear that his gall bladder was the offending organ, an uncommon form of infection as most are caused by gall stones. He had none.  The CT scan showed a lot of inflammation around the gall bladder-  known as acalculous. Initially we expected surgery that night or early the next day.    It needed to come out immediately, but, because of a daily  medication he took, we would need to wait 5 days until that medication was out of his system in order to avoid excessive bleeding.   His white count was 29 which is 3 times the ideal,  indicating a serious infection was raging.  Although the surgery was impossible in that moment, the inflammation needed to be addressed.  As we approached midnight, he was moved to the med-surg  floor and prepared to be  taken into radiology, where a catheter was inserted to draw out infected fluid in order to bridge the situation until surgery was prudent.  The procedure had similar risks, but because it was less invasive there was less risk involved.  It was a short term fix.  In the days that followed, there were heavy doses of antibiotics, painkillers and  intravenous hydration.  Three days later, his  white count finally began to descend.

Over the next several days, I spent long days that morphed into nights at his bedside.  In the midst of this I learned a little more about the meaning of persevering through storms.  I learned that there are gifts to be found.  I learned that the gifts of community are in full bloom when we are confronted by such storms.  Via text messaging, I started three prayer/update chains, one for immediate family, one with Bible Study friends and one with some cousins.  The responses and reassurances of prayers going up on Mike’s behalf were an enormous comfort for me in the long hours I waited alone. Although I wasn’t able to respond in detail, I was able to show my appreciation quickly in most cases.

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By Sunday, the word was out.  Our senior Pastor came and spent an hour with us, encouraging and praying for healing.  Over the next days multiple church staff members came to pray, deliver chocolate and bring encouragement. My girl brought hot tea.    My sister-in-law and niece came briefly, and later delivered a sumptuous meal for me to take home. And one  night when I left the hospital after nearly 12 hours, I asked a security guard to escort me to the 3rd floor of the parking structure. His name was Jesus.  The significance of that was not lost on me.

So. Much. Kindness.

So. Many. Blessings.

The hospital experience was spectacular. The nurses, the nursing assistants, the physicians, the respiratory therapists…without exception we were bathed in kindness and grace. Each new morning I was made  aware of everyday heroes, quietly doing their jobs and blessing those  in their path with  their faithfulness to the tasks given them: worker bees, all –  nursing staff, housekeepers, facility staff, volunteers, cafeteria workers, security guards, parking attendants, lab technicians and pharmacists- the list is long.   Even as I rode the elevators up and down, every employee made eye contact and spoke intentionally. Every single one.  It was like it was a job requirement.  Volunteers played piano in the lobby as I entered each morning and one such morning I found myself singing along…

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God bless the volunteers…

“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, everything’s coming up roses, everything’s going my way.”  Bringing joy and uplifting hearts, one song at a time.

Over the next week, my  days were spent spoon feeding my patient  bland, pureed food, assisting  with grooming , adding blankets and taking them away, adjusting heat and bed up and down,  calling for more medications or to stop beeping machinery,  meeting with physicians and sending out updates to our prayer partners.  Friends and family came bearing  chocolate, hot beverages, books, cards , plants, dinner and prayers. One such angel walked and fed our pooches twice a day as I manned my post at the hospital.   Encouraging texts flowed in throughout each day, surrounding us with friendship and love even though I was hard pressed to respond with specific updates.  Prayers from Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California and more and phone calls from concerned friends and family.  We were so covered and felt so loved.

Although he was assigned a shared room, we were blessed with privacy for the first five days.  It was a blessing to have time  and space to spread out with my books and laptop and a chair to rest in.  Then, by divine intervention, an 85 year old Syrian man came in to claim the other bed.  His daughter visited her Father that night and overheard a conversation about my niece who had visited earlier. When the woman got up to leave later, she apologized for overhearing but she had heard the names I mentioned and wondered… long story short, we realized she had actually cared for my nieces two decades earlier when they were very young.  Though she no longer  lives  in the area,  she  had come to see her Father in the hospital and our Heavenly Father ordained that he should be placed in the bed next to my husband. Another reminder that our  God  is in the details of our lives.  She  shared with me that my  nieces had recently been on her mind and heart and after I updated her on their lives she vowed to keep them in her prayers, knowing the Lord is faithful to provide for all their needs. Isn’t our  God so personal  and so kind? I am astounded at His intervention in our lives.

Six days after we first arrived at the hospital, a successful surgery was performed and on day seven, the patient came home, very grateful to be sprung from the annoyances of hospital life while appreciating every individual there who made his return home possible.

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Sometimes community springs up where we are, as it did in the hospital that week. But, deep community is built in the monotony of everyday life when things are going well.  It happens in our neighborhoods, in our churches and in our interactions with others.  But, it doesn’t happen without our making the effort .  The time to build community is now, not when you’re en route to the hospital in an ambulance.  Because when you’re sitting in a hospital and day becomes night and then day again, that’s when your community will prop you up.  When you are fatigued beyond your breaking point, they will deliver a much needed cup of coffee when you don’t even realize your body is craving caffeine or,  a meal when you didn’t realize how hungry you were.  They will close the windows you left open in your mad dash to get help and they will walk your dogs when you can’t get home to do it yourself.  More importantly, they will send up prayers on your behalf when you are at a loss for words to pray yourself.  They will bring comfort by waiting with you in the surgery waiting room and be a balm to your weary soul.   These are the priceless gifts of community.

Get one.

Build one.

 

Enter one.

Tomorrow you may well reap the benefits from the one you built today.

Falling in Love Again

Growing older often  brings with it,  gifts that can only be  wrapped and delivered with the passage of time.

This post isn’t what you think it is.  And maybe you will think me a little “off” once you hear what it  is.   But, the title of this blog is the one that best describes how I feel about  the events of this past weekend.

Nearly fifty years ago, I met a friend, by way of our mutual friend and then we became friends.  We were both single and for a minute contemplated a romance, but quickly came to our senses.  Not one to let a good friend be lost to a romance that wasn’t meant to be, we  both persevered in our friendship, now for almost half a century.

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My dear old friend and I

He, a quirky guy,  married a beautiful woman with a heart-shaped face and a heart that welcomed me. ‘Bless her.  I married my own  quirky guy (whom I  later  divorced and  re-married.)  In between,  Steve and his wife travelled from Tennessee with their first-born and spent time with me and mine. Later, they came to visit us when we lived in the DC area.  When my girl and I returned to California to reunite with my  guy, the drive across the  country included a detour to  Nashville specifically designed to spend time with them before continuing West.

That was 26 years ago.  It was the last time we were in the same place together. But, now they were headed West for a wedding and my far away friend  announced via an unexpected email, that he and his beloved would be dining with us on August 4.

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They arrived at LAX early early Saturday morning, texting me that  their rental car wouldn’t be available until noon. Yikes!   I jumped out of bed and  dashed out of the house, sans make-up and in  the clothes I’d had on the day before. They are  those kind of friends–no need to impress, only to  show up.  So, show up I did.

He was mildly disappointed that I was driving a Ford and not a European sports car but, agreed to get in with a promise of breakfast to come.  We headed to a small community adjacent to LAX where we shared a meal, took some pictures and then drove  along  the coast so they could soak in the sparkle of the early morning Pacific. We  headed North on Vista Del Mar as  beach goers claimed their turf for the day.

Their rental was ready, so I deposited them just off Century Blvd. and they headed East  to one of the Presidential libraries they’d planned to visit.  As for me,   I returned home to prepare for their return for  dinner around our table. When they arrived just after 6,  they met my husband for the first time and everyone was instantly at ease.  If you’d been a fly on the wall, you’d have assumed we were all long time friends in the habit of gathering together often.   We meandered around our kitchen island drinking cold beverages and the years and distance melted away with the summer  heat.  There was no lack of ease  in the room, no extended silences, no aloofness – only the comfort that comes from knowing and being known and believing down deep that  you are welcomed as you are.

We sat at our table and ate too much food.  We  talked for hours, not about superficial things but about the many things that had transpired in our lives since we’d been together last.  There were the expected “catch up” conversations about our children and their lives today, our families and how they’ve evolved.  We came current as we  took in   braised short ribs and strawberry shortbread dessert. There was a lot of laughter, and then some  sorrow too, which morphed into deeper conversations.  We shared joys and sadness because the best lives are  full of both.    And- because there was no sense of risk involved.  We were safe together.

My husband, still recovering from a recent illness, said goodnight early,  but the three remaining compadres sat up late, sharing more stories , unwilling to let the one night we had together end too soon. They had a full day planned for Sunday and it was unlikely we’d meet again before their departure on a train early Monday morning.  Still, as I stood at the front door  sending  them off to their hotel,  I couldn’t help interjecting (okay, I was kinda pleading)  that “IF” they were up to it after another day at another library on Sunday, we’d be so happy  to meet for another meal at a local  restaurant. (a girl can dream, right?)

I fell asleep with a full heart and a prayer that  it might possible to reunite just one more time.  The next morning we texted and I was thrilled to receive her response, which said in part,

“…Such a precious time last night. I hope we’re up to dinner tonight.  We are planning to unless the day gets too long.  It’s good to be here and to be near you guys.  ‘Don’t want to miss the opportunities God has for us…”

My heart swelled with hope.  I prayed for a burst of energy that would bring them back to us.  By 5:30 there was a text that they were headed our way.

BINGO

So there we were, once again, sharing a meal and our lives for another three hours.  And, then,  at the end of a long day,  we said good bye knowing it would be our last for a  long while.

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“Re-united and it feels so good” The husband and I along with our beloved far-away friends, Prilla and Steve

 

It was more than a little heartbreaking for me.  You see, I was reminded anew how very much I love them.  I realized that though 26 years and 2,022 miles had come between us, the closeness I felt for them had never gone away.   Added bonus:  the husband now had come to know and  love them, too.  Although I knew I loved them, it felt  like “falling in love again.”  I was reminded afresh, how very special they are, how like-minded we are, how we share values,  faith and  perspectives on so many important things.  It was a little glimpse of Heaven.  For reals.

WINNING

“I felt my heart strangely warmed.”   -John Wesley                                                             First love.

 I had forgotten what it felt like.

But-then, I was reminded.

They arrived back  home just yesterday.  We  now have a group text going and  I vow it’s going to keep going.  They are the next-door neighbors we’ve always longed for.  We’ve rediscovered a long-lost love and it has left my heart bursting with joy.

May it burn strong for all my days.  And, Lord, if it’s not asking too much?   May they be our next door neighbors in Heaven, if not on Earth? Please and thank You.

Amen and Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Blessings of Friendship Through the Seasons of Life

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My earliest friends, aside from my maternal cousins,  were Pam Peluski and Donna Todd in Three Forks, Montana,  followed by Susie Haggerty and Johnny Mike Wilcox when we moved to Butte.  They were the first  friends who have marked my life of  64 years.  I am no longer in touch with those early friends,  but they comprise my earliest memories of friendships  and are forever engraved in my heart.

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I have been blessed with a long line of friends-most certainly more than I deserve.  Some have come for a season and others for a lifetime.   Some have moved far away geographically and others, emotionally, but all of them are together  in my collection of treasured memories.  Each have blessed me in their own unique way.  A few have ended badly- not many, but there is still some regret for less than happy endings along with gratitude for the gifts they brought.

There were many friends in my elementary school years, mostly from our So Cal neighborhood. We spent hours playing Barbies, tether ball on the playground,  roller skating, bike riding and going to the beach when our parents gave in to our craving for the sand and surf.  Through the blessing of Facebook, many of us have been able to re-connect despite most having left the neighborhood we grew up in.  Our childhood was sweet for the most part and we share many  fond memories of growing up in a simpler, more carefree time.

In my  high school years, I made  new friends, some  from far away places-Indiana, New Jersey and Tennessee.  Billy, Deb, Stephen and Evie all opened up new worlds to me.  With Evie I visited New York City for the first time, went to Carnegie Hall and fell in love with the Big Apple.  While Billy and Stephen travelled throughout the country, I travelled vicariously with them and engaged in copious letter writing through the years.  Because of them, I visited Nashville for the first time and also fell in love with Music City.  Although I see them rarely, I still consider both to be dear friends.  Stephen and his wife Prilla will visit us next month, some  26 years since  I last saw them in Nashville and I am beyond excited to see them.   Deb and I have never lived in the same state, but through the years we have managed to meet once or twice a year in places wherever we found a good airfare.   We have shared the joys and sorrows of life together for nearly half a century.  (We are OLD!) She has been a shelter to me through many storms.

At home, my local  bestie was Cindy.  Her family lived in another town,  a few miles from my home. We were the closest  of friends through high school.  I spent many a weekend in her home, with  the two of us sleeping in her small bedroom at the top of the stairs in a single bed.  I travelled with she and her sisters in their own bus, as they travelled from church to church singing their sweet harmonies as The Hammond Sisters.    We had the best of times.  I remember gathering around their kitchen counter for breakfast and her Dad reading from “Our Daily Bread”.  Her mom was an anchor and always welcomed me with open arms.  She was strong and unyielding in her faith, but warm and loving at the same time.  I felt at home in theirs.   Through a long series of life’s challenges, Cindy and I  lost touch.  She went through some very hard times and ultimately moved away and settled far North of us.  Though there were occasional letters and brief visits through the years we have not been in touch in over three decades.  Though time and geography have come between us, my affection for  her remains strong and I know one day we’ll be reunited, if not on earth, in Heaven.  That will be a day  of  great joy for me.

As an adult, my closest friends have blossomed under the umbrella of my faith.  So many women have grown to be so dear to me.  Karen and Patricia, my Maryland besties who blessed me extravagantly with their hospitality, like mindedness, listening ears, prayers and humor.   Jules, who is a bestie to everyone who knows her and who taught me how to set a beautiful table among other things.   Tracey, who has modeled a life of prayer and who makes me laugh hilariously in the dark hours of the night with  her texts as we both battle insomnia.   Nancy, who  has rescued me from my impulsive actions more than once and whose wry humor makes me laugh out loud.   Paula, who is an example of self-less service, devotion to knowing the Word of God and a sense of  humor that I adore.  Cindy, who believes me to be far better than I really am and encourages me to walk in faith believing God CAN.  Jean, who has taken on the mantle of great-grandma to my littles in the absence of my own mother, and who has been a constant source of encouragement from the day I met her.  My walking group and my Bible study partners who urge me to press on to the good…the list goes on…

They say you can’t choose your family, but you can, your friends.  Some of us are blessed with family we also call friends.   My husband, who has grown to be the dearest of the dear through many trials and heartaches and who is now my  exemplary husband and friend.  My closest cousins,  Shelly, Linda and Dona,  are literally lifelong friends, woven into the fabric of my heart.  Not a week goes by that I’m  not in contact with one and sometimes all of them. My sisters and sisters-in-love, Debi, Dona, Christine, Nancy and Stacie are not “just” my family, but friends in whose presence I am always at home because of the history we share.

Each friendship is unique.  Some are full of laughter and others are full of heartfelt conversation, exhortation and encouragement as we share our lives.   I have always struggled with the question, “who is your best friend?” My friend Betsy once asked me that question and I responded, ” I cannot narrow it down.”  The truth is, I have been blessed with an abundance of good, good friends.  At any given time, they have each been my “best” friend.  When I am in their presence, the  designation of “best” belongs to them.   Each, “for such a time as this.”  I marvel at the goodness of our loving God, to gift my life with the right one at the right time.  Through joy and suffering, through laughter and tears, through successes and failures, this cadre of friends have walked with me through the sunshine and storms of life.  They have inspired me to press on through the heartaches and trials and have rejoiced in the delights of this life.

I cannot choose one.

I choose them all.

If you have one true friend, you are fortunate.  If you have a handful, you are blessed.  If you have more than a handful, you are rich indeed.

Rich, indeed.

#agr8fulheart