Learning from Railroad Jargon

My husband, Scott, is a train conductor for Union Pacific Railroad. In any town or state that has a UP railyard, this sign is found all around the tracks.

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Know Your Red Zone.

In other words, know where the hazardous parts around the train are. Know where your blindspots are that might include pedestrians or other railroad workers.

I think that is one of the greatest attributes of growing older. I am more well acquainted with my strengths, but equally important, I know my weaknesses. For instance, I know that I tend to open up to just a few close friends, instead of a wide variety of friends. There is usually a wild, outspoken friend, a quiet, introspective friend, a creative, inspirational friend…parts of my own personality that I am drawn to in them.

I am absolutely certain (after trial and error), that I do not have to watch Meryl Streep decide which child she will give to the concentration camp and certain death. I do not have to know how Patricia Cornwell solved a particularly gruesome crime. And ‘It’s a Beautiful Life’? Uh, yeah…not if I watch that. But it’s an Academy Award winner, right?? Fabulous. But I can’t process it well. Watching particularly sad or ‘heady’ movies, sticks with me for days. I’m moody and unexplainably sad. Studying history is one thing. Watching a dramatization of it…something entirely different for me.

I know that if I don’t get enough sleep, I’m irritable the next day. I know that I have a tendency to want to go to bed early, but if I stay up a little longer, I will sleep better through the night.

I know that fake garlic kills me, but cooking with a garlic clove is totally awesome.

I know that I love salsa, but hate the feel of a raw tomato in my mouth.

I know that when I am feeling restless, it probably means I need a short day trip out of town somewhere. And after that little drive, I am a completely different person.

I know that I obsess. And by obsess, I mean ob.s.e.s.s. I get excited about something and I want to do it immediately and learn everything there is about it. I then can get really burned out so I should step away occasionally and let my brain settle down from its creative storm. But I also now know, that momentary interests in things that might not last a lifetime, is okay. It’s okay to enjoy something for awhile and then move on. It’s not inconsistency or flightiness. It’s simply who I am: not enough lifetimes to do and experience everything I want to see and live. I’ve learned to give myself a break about that.

I know there are toxic people with which I don’t need to associate closely. Some, even at all.

I know there are times I can run with vast energy, and other times that I am slow and methodical. Both states should be recognized and used appropriately. Just go with it.

As a person gets older, they begin to know their red zone. They recognize the whos and whats and wheres. They begin to embrace how their particular hard-wiring functions best.

Know Your Red Zone.

Troubles and weaknesses can’t always be avoided (nor should they be.) But knowing that you’re in a red zone puts you on full alert to recognize the typical pitfalls, allowing you to plan ahead for them before you’re in the middle of them and confused. Each time that we do, we strengthen our confidence in what we know. And what we don’t know. Building blocks of a functioning train – and a well-rounded human being!

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All I was doing was enjoying a DQ sundae…

It was a beautifully sunny day in my city, with a cool wind keeping everything wonderfully balanced. As I drove by Dairy Queen, I decided to go through the drive-thru and get a chocolate sundae. Instead of schlepping it home, I pulled into a nearby parking lot, rolled down my car window and enjoyed the treat right then and there.

I dipped my spoon into the creamy ice cream mountain.

Sitting quietly, enjoying my impulse buy, I watched people come and go from a nearby market. I noticed how some people were very methodical in the way they emptied their carts into the back of their cars. I began trying to guess who would simply toss their groceries inside their car, without a care – and who would have a meticulous system to their unloading routine.

…as I dipped my red DQ spoon into the chocolate-covered vanilla.

Maybe it was the loveliness of the day, or perhaps it was the lulling of the nearby robins’ song that took my mind deeper into thought. Similar to the Casablanca line, I found myself wondering, ‘Of all the parking lots in all the states, how did I find myself in Omaha on this day and at this time?’

Scooping ice cream as I thought.

I began looking back at the trajectory of my life. I thought about the many things to which I keep returning. The things that so solidly make up the core of who I am. I thought about the ways in which my thought-patterns and ideals and beliefs have melded and shifted and changed over time. It was an interesting birds eye view of stability mixed with organic fluidity.

All the while, I was slowly dipping my spoon into the ice cream and enjoying my sweet afternoon snack.

Because art and creativity have been such a constant in my life, I began to notice the patterns evolving in my ice cream cup.

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Whereas I was mindlessly eating my chocolate sundae before, I began to purposefully watch as I dug in and lifted out a spoonful of vanilla, the chocolate syrup, mixed with melted ice cream would slowly creep into the void like lava, and fill in the empty place I was leaving behind. The patterns were ever-changing and constantly moving as they found other places in which to trickle into.

It didn’t take long for my mind to make the connection. Throughout my life, as things and places and people were removed, others began trickling into their place. Work opportunities arose when others were removed. Friends rose up and filled the void of others that left, or from which I moved away. As difficult times crept in, joy would inevitably follow suit.

I sat there, in this market parking lot on a sunny-but-cool Midwestern day, filled with joy. My heart was brimming with the gratitude that this evolving, ever-changing, void-meets-lava life I have been living is God’s loving gift to me. I understood the platitude, ‘When one door opens…’ in a whole new light.

Be still and know… Sometimes moments of holy connectedness happen in a busy parking lot, surrounding an indulgent treat, in the quiet moments of simply being alone with yourself and with your thoughts. I’m glad I allowed my mind to wander aimlessly for just a few minutes.

God seized that simple moment to throw His arms around me and remind me that He knows me. He knows me well. He knows the voids I have feared and has always refilled them with things and people and opportunities that far surpass anything I could ever hope or dream.

I am standing in a moment of deep and abiding thanksgiving.

“Welllll…at least there weren’t any bugs…”

June 1. (keep that in mind, JUNE 1st). I had the day off and it was lining up that Scott would have the majority of the day off as well. So while he was finishing up work this morning, I sent him a text…

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Okay! Picnic time FINALLY! Of course, this was before I had stepped outside.

Windy…
Raining…
And temperatures in the 50’s.

Did I mention it was JUNE?!

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I didn’t care. We went to the store to get what we needed. Came home and made the sandwiches…wrapping them in wax paper because for some reason, picnics must include sandwiches wrapped in wax paper (and no…we didn’t eat ALL the sandwiches, but they were cuter in a large quantity.)

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I put Scott’s name on one bag and my G on the other. Then I wrote descriptive words using the letters S-C-O-T-T and Scott wrote words starting with a G on my bag. We packed our picnic blanket (first giving it a good shake out for the season), put everything in a cute little “picnic basket” ala Paper Source bag and set off for the park/lake. We were so excited to find this lake last month, so near our house.

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We drove up to the lake, as rain splattered our windshield. We were both shivering in our respective jackets and weren’t quite sure what our next move would be.

Problem solved.

We threw the picnic blanket over the steering wheel and dashboard and set up shop, safe and secure in our car with a view of the lake through the trees.

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(Also. Picnic sandwiches need to be with white bread. I don’t know why; I don’t make up these rules. It is just the way it was meant to be.)

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Good’nuf.

Our washi tape-wrapped wax paper sandwiches, cheese sticks, baggies of chips and chocolate chip cookies were perfect (alas, no juice boxes though.) We ate. Talked. Listened to the radio. Packed up and drove back home.

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A very uneventful First Picnic of 2013.

I’m already looking forward to the next one.
Perhaps it needs to be the Second First Picnic of 2013.

some stuff going on…

I believe strongly in the power of prayer.

Let me recap the past few months:

Two things simultaneously happened to me around the middle of February. My back started hurting which turned into a sciatic nerve pain that made it impossible for me to walk more than a few steps at a time. The pain was truly horrific. Sitting on the floor or a hard surface, thankfully, relieved the majority of the pain for small periods of time. Lying down was the worst position, making sleeping next to impossible.

Then a tooth that had a piece broken out of it developed an infection. Have you ever had a tooth nerve infection? Holy cow!, right?! Pain shooting to the front of my mouth or up through my ear. Unbelievable what happens when a small little nerve gets infected. Wow!

On February 18 I went to the dentist for some relief. He inspected my mouth, took some x-rays and determined that two teeth needed to be removed and put me on penicillin for the infection and hydrocodone for the pain. He sent me to an oral surgeon to have my teeth removed. Since I have a heart condition, they were concerned with the amount of bleeding (due to heart medications that thin your blood) as well as any stress to my heart. I had the extraction surgery last week. The recovery has been amazing! Scott has been a constant rule follower for me and a gifted and loving caregiver.

Over the course of the last few weeks I have been to a primary doctor, a physical therapist, the urgent care and the emergency room – all for my back. The pain in my leg was unbearable!

Eventually I ended up at a spine specialist. I immediately liked Dr. Trinh, orthopedic surgeon. He ordered an MRI for that afternoon. {Sidenote: Have you had an MRI? I was extremely uncomfortable and claustrophobic. A very uneasy feeling. I don’t want to ever have to do it that way again!! I would request an open MRI or some kind of anxiety something to calm me down. It lasted for a half an hour (did I mention how uncomfortable it was to lie down?!)}

The results from the MRI showed a sizeable cyst located in my spinal column and laying on my spinal nerve (which included my sciatic nerve.) All the exercising and treatments I had been going through would never have relieved my pain. The cyst needed to be removed in order to relieve the pressure.

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(looks like I swallowed a round marble!)

But first, Dr. Trinh wanted me to get cardio clearance for surgery. As a new resident to Omaha, we had not yet established our various doctors. I quickly found a cardiologist who was accepting new patients and met with her this afternoon (Monday). She was extremely thorough then ordered a stress test for me tomorrow morning at 10:30am as well various bloodwork tests. After reviewing those results, she will call me tomorrow afternoon to let me know whether or not she will clear me for surgery on Wednesday (everything we have done for the past few weeks has been back to back and puzzle pieces that had to fit a certain way and within a specific and short time period. So far, everything has fallen into place exceptionally well.)

Should all those tests come out okay, I am scheduled for surgery at 9am Wednesday morning. I refer to my first statement: I believe strongly in the power of prayer. I covet your prayers on Wednesday as they perform this delicate surgery of “messing around with” my spinal cord and spinal nerve. Of course two words are floating through my mind: paralysis and cancer. Dr. Trinh is very sure it is not a cancerous cyst. I will be happiest when we find that out for sure. But it is most likely a result from an injury to my back.

I have my pre-surgery instructions laid out and ready. My overnight bag is packed. It is impossible for me to communicate the level of love and respect and appreciation I have for my husband, my children, my family, my friends. I am hoping I will be able to play out those feelings of love and gratitude for many years to come.

Mostly, my soul is ready. It is securely scrubbed and packed and ready for the days of recovery ahead. For whatever lies ahead.

I am thankful for the deep support I have received from family and friends. Texts asking not how I feel physically, but how I am processing internally. Notes of encouragement. Words of love. Sarcastic jokes of norm.
I am grateful to finally have answers as well as receiving more answers shortly.
I am happy for the tooth surgery healing which was much better than the surgeon expected.
I am scared. I would be remiss to not include that reality. It has all been a little overwhelming. The chemical stress test tomorrow is not pleasant at all and a very scary feeling! The idea of spinal surgery……
I am anxious to be off pain killers. I have taken them every 3-4 hours since February 18 (increasingly stronger drugs as the weeks progressed.)
I am blessed – for too many things to express.
I am ready. All the i’s have been dotted all the t’s have been crossed.

If I cross your mind in the next few days, please say a prayer of healing. Say a prayer called Calm Down G’s Crazy Worried Mind (I’m not sure how many beads on the rosary necklace that would take up!)

I would love to hear from you on Facebook or however it is we communicate. I will be increasingly bored over the next few weeks of recovery. They predict 6-8 weeks. I am stubbornly hoping for much less than that.

As my old pastor, Tim Isley, would say: “God is good. All the time. All the time…” (…you finish it.)

A promise I never question and stand on securely.

My love to each of you…
g

Resurrection Rolls with Hannah

This Easter was certainly different. With all the surgeries and doctor’s appointments lately, Scott and I needed to stick close to home. This meant that for the first time in 48 years, I didn’t have an Easter basket. For the first time in 25 years, I was not with my children. I was not around any family.

Yet God, in His infinite wisdom, allowed Scott to be home the entire day. His work schedule rotation just happened to allow him to come home the night before and not work again until the next morning. Absolutely perfect timing.

So Hannah and I planned a cooking time together on the phone. We made Resurrection Rolls. I read about them on a blog somewhere and we gave it a try.

The concept was to dip marshmellows in melted butter then roll them in cinnamon and sugar. We then wrapped the croissants tightly around the marshmellows, sealing all the edges.

As we worked through the above procedure, we talked about the service Scott and I attended that morning (different blog post). We talked about things going on in each of our lives and plans for the immediate few days ahead (yet another blog post!) We gave suggestions back and forth about what was working and what was not.

Then we put our wrapped marshmellows in the oven and hung up the phone while they cooked. As the oven buzzer went off, we called each other back. We laughed over the results and ate the yummy rolls.

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The marshmellows (representing Christ) and the butter and cinnamon sugar (representing the ointments placed on Christ’s body) ‘disappear’ when they’re cooked leaving any empty roll that is filled with delicious sweet cinnamon.

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Mostly though…Christ’s body kind of oozed all over the cookie sheet. A slightly disconcerting feeling. (The edges need to be VERY tightly squeezed together before cooking. Oops!)

Marshmellow body resurrected or not, the rolls were VERY, VERY yummy!

And the conversation on the phone…the shared experience of trying this new tradition out over the phone…hearing my daughter’s laugh and voice…

truly a sacred experience.

Thank you, Hannah, for sharing such a silly new experience with me! It felt a little, like I was at home.

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(view from Hannah’s side)

no. 48

Yesterday was my 48th birthday. It was kind of an ordinary day in many ways, happy and pleasant – and a bit contemplative as well.

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I found this picture of myself at 18 years of age. 18…whew, I knew it all back then! I’m sure this picture was probably snapped before I went to school that day.

In looking back, I can honestly say there is nothing I would change. Truly. Without a doubt, I am certain that I would not be who I am today without the valleys and controversies of my past 30 years. It makes me curious to think that on the day of this picture, God might have looked ahead and thought, “Is she prepared for the life that lays ahead of her?” then I wonder how he answered his own question. It must have included the thought, ‘then I will prepare her the best that I can.’

At 48, I feel immensely blessed. I am living at an interesting time. I feel like I am moving into a reflective time; not necessarily a starting up time. I certainly don’t mean to imply I am finished and need to sit in a rocking chair and reflect back on my life. No! I have many more miles to travel and people to meet.

But there are changes.

I am a different candidate when seeking a new job.
I am a different clothes and apparel consumer.
Make-up is geared differently for me.
Transitions take a few minutes longer for me to react to.

I do believe, however, that I feel things deeper. I take longer to savor situations and people and experiences. I let them settle down into my soul before moving on to the next leg of the journey.

“My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.” – Colossians 2:6-7 The Message

There are patterns of thought which have been developed over the last few decades. There are some I would like to eradicate or at the very least make significant adjustments to them. Yet there are many for which I am thankful as well. I am entering an age and time in which I know what I know. I know the things I do really well. I know the things that I should always seek counsel on since they are not my strength or forte’.

I am…achem…a worrier. I am. I obsess. I over-analyze. I do pros and cons lists in my sleep and can tell you the worst case scenario far quicker than I can just ‘roll with it’.

Because of this I have been lingering around two words recently: trust and thanksgiving. Trust is difficult for many of us. And you know what? I have reason to distrust trust. Life has knocked me hard in ways that have raised the bar on my trust meter. But even though I have reason and can argue and justify those reasons, God doesn’t care. He says ‘trust me.’ I say ‘but here are the reasons I have trouble with that’ and he says, ‘yes, I understand. But trust me anyway.’

And thanksgiving. I know I have trouble trusting, but when thanksgiving was brought before me, I was a little surprised to see that I had trouble with that one as well. I’m pretty good at sending thank you notes to people – for the big things and for the little things. I thank my husband, Scott, quite often for loving me and for how he loves me.

Yet I don’t do a very good job of thanking God for working that out. Or bringing that person into my path. Or acknowledging that the ‘accidental’ thing that just happened was not coincidental, but a very God-directed and purposeful outcome. I need to remember to give props to God. I need to change that thought pattern.

I recently read, ‘Trust protects you from worrying and obsessing. Thought patterns of trust become etched into your brain. Relegate troubles to the periphery of your mind, so that God can be central in your thoughts.’

Trust and Thanksgiving – those are the words running through my mind this 48th birthday. Changing the patterns and rhythms of how I think. My husband happens to be very good at both. I’m hoping some of that rubs off on me.

I was a happy 18 year old.
I am a happy 48 year old.

I am still surrounded by people who love me and care for me. I still enjoy creativity in various forms. I still believe that God desires to hang out with me on a daily basis – hanging together and talking.

I like 48. I’m curious about what the year will unfold. I am confident it will include mountains and valleys, confusion and certainty. I pray that I am malleable enough to bend and break where necessary; stay solid and true where needed.

It’s been 30 years since I left high school.
And I am learning more now than ever before.

the art of surrender

Reading Courtney Carver’s blog, The Soul Shaking Practice of Surrender this morning was perfectly timed. She concluded her post with the question, ‘What do you need to surrender?’

I didn’t have to ponder or figure anything out.
I knew.

Surrender mixes pain with joy; that magic elixir of growth. I have been hanging on in a desperate fashion. Determined movements that kept me firmly attached to the past.

My husband and I have recently moved to a new state. I saw it happening before we moved, but it has only increased since being here. Friends – and family – have pulled away. I have gone through various stages of separation: bitterness that they let me go so freely. Determination to keep the lines of communication open. Denial that our relationships could remain unscathed. Desperation. Sadness. Loneliness. And now….surrender.

I started my new job this week (excited, but dotted with the realization that no one from back home even asked about it), I realized there are new people for me to meet. Church-finding has been a long and tedious process, but there will be new friends in the place God has in mind for us.

People are busy. Their intents are not malicious. But I need two-way relationships. If I’m not getting replies or questions about my life as we discuss theirs, then I need to gently lay them down. I need to take a step back and say a deep and genuinely-felt prayer for them. For their families. For their goals and dreams. And then, I need to walk away.

Surrendering unmet expectations.
Surrendering any lingering bitterness.
Surrendering my understanding that my friendships should be rooted in the past.
Surrendering the idea that the best has already happened.

Surrendering those that have not stayed in contact with me.

Then happily and contently begin the anticipation of what friends are ahead for me to meet.

I have told many a friend in a difficult relationship, “Dating shouldn’t be this hard. Something is clearly not right.” I am employing that same theory to other relationships. If I feel desperate’y and grippy’y and resentful’y…then something is not right. Friendships/family relationships shouldn’t be this hard.

It is easy to walk away.
It is more difficult to surrender any resentment before walking away.

I am committing to surrendering those ugly feelings I’ve been white-knuckling and am looking toward the potential friendships that are just right around the next curve…

In surrender you can stop thinking and plotting and planning. You can stop changing people or believing you can. Surrender allows you to trust that things in this moment are the way they should be. You are ok right where you are. ~Courtney Carver