Making connections

I think this is my biggest problem as an author, blogger, person in general: I struggle to make connections with people. Once I make a connection, it’s there for a long time, thankfully. I have a handful of really close friends I’ve managed to make and hang onto over the years. But there’s so much going on in my head when I first meet someone (face to face or virtually) that I basically set myself up to fail at making a genuine connection.

The desire is there. So what’s the problem?

Well, first off, I’m an introvert. My ideal day off is staying home and reading, writing, painting Dungeons and Dragons miniatures, playing video games, or watching some TV show, all while sitting next to my husband. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we run errands together or work around the house, and end up having a good time. But mostly, it’s in the quiet moments of simply being together that rejuvenates my soul, makes me take a big contented sigh and smile. Ninety percent of the time, I’m okay with this type of day or weekend. And then there is the ten percent of the time when I crave something different.

I get these spurts of adventurous cravings where I want to go try a new activity or do something I haven’t done in a really long time (like Escape a Room, go rock climbing, go hiking, drive out to the lake, go to the zoo, go to an amusement park, go mini-golfing, go swimming, go to a new restaurant, watch a comedian live, watch a play or a musical, drive until I run out of road). And I want to do these things with other people.

There’s something appealing about the idea of calling up my friends, being surrounded by a group of people I care about and am comfortable around, and striking out together. Going out on the town, hanging out somewhere public, goofing off, taking pictures, making memories. TV shows and books with large casts of lovable characters who treat each other like family (despite the fact that none of them are actually related) are my favorite. I love the interactions between everyone, the different relationships and personalities, how their strengths and weaknesses play off each other.

 

The closest thing I ever came to having something like that was when I was in high school. My cousin and her then-boyfriend, now-husband started a youth group at their church, located a town over from where I lived. There were ten to twelve of us at any given meeting, ranging from sixteen to twenty years old. I was the youngest and the outlier at fourteen, but I was “mature for my age.” Plus, my older brother and sister were kind enough to let their kid sister tag along. Some of us were related but distantly, while others were just friends. We’d get together for a time of Bible study but then we’d go on to do other things like play board games, go bowling, go to the movies, or to go to the county fair (when it was in town). I was even more shy back then than I am now so I didn’t participate very much, but I loved it. Simply being there, witnessing deep moments, listening to hilarious conversations, being included…it made my teenage years bearable. Then, of course, we all grew up and moved away or got married and the group was disbanded.

But I haven’t forgotten that group or the memories we made together.

Life is different in big city Phoenix, Arizona than it was in little town El Centro, California. (“Where is that?” you might ask, to which I would answer, “Exactly.”) As I mentioned earlier, I have a small group of friends I’m close to and hang out with as time allows but I’ve never managed to put them all together in the same room. I’ve never managed to recreate what I had with that youth group from my high school days. And maybe that’s a good thing. These friends aren’t the friends I had back then. I might have some unrealistic expectations for them, for people in general. And, as I also said earlier, most of the time I’m perfectly fine with hanging out with two to three people at a time and just doing what we always do.

The desire to be a part of a larger group of people still crops up when I least expect it. But I’ve never liked meeting new people. I hate small talk and I think strangers can pick up on that subconsciously.

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People generally ask about work, school, and family when they first meet me. Those conversations usually go something like this:

I’m a receptionist at my church. I’m currently finishing up a Creative Writing Program…Why? Oh, I’m an author. No, I haven’t written anything you’ve heard of, just a young adult romance novel called I Dare You to Love Me and a new adult paranormal fantasy about werewolves called In the Dark. No, that last one is not like Twilight. I have a new adult epic fantasy coming out in April called Asta and the Barbarians. Yes, that is interesting, thanks for saying so. What types of books do I like reading? Fantasy mostly. Books like Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series and…Oh, you’ve never heard of them? Well, they’re great. You should try reading them sometime! Yeah, those are basically my two past times. I’m kind of boring. *insert nervous laughter here* I’m currently married, have been for two years and nine months. No kids yet, soon though, maybe. I have a dog and a fat cat that I adore. They’re basically my children. What about you? Uh-huh…Oh, I see. That’s so cool! Yeah, I’ve always wondered about *insert career or job or major here.* What can you tell me about that? Ahh…

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Once we’ve exhausted these routes, the awkward silence descends. I flounder for other questions to ask or things to mention (the weather, the event we’re at, the location), all the while smiling and hoping they don’t notice how terrified and small I feel, or how boring I sound to myself. After that, it’s been my experience, they come up with a polite way to excuse themselves and then I’m left standing there alone, feeling like an idiot, psychoanalyzing every word that was said and whether it was positively received or whether I could’ve done something differently.

My sister, who is more extroverted than I am, once told me to simply talk about myself, maybe even make fun of myself a little. “It will help you loosen up,” she said. “And usually hearing about someone else will prompt a stranger to talk about themselves. Then the conversation gets going naturally.” Thing is, I hate talking about myself. I hate being in the spotlight. I’d rather talk about anything other than myself. I think about the friends I currently have, wondering what I did that could’ve made them stick around and whether I could do that again when trying to make new friends.

Honestly, I think I just got lucky with those guys…

It’s slightly different meeting people online, but not by much. Scrolling through my Facebook or Twitter news feeds, I click incessantly, liking or loving or laughing at posts. Then people post questions about writing, publishing, marketing, blogging. I’m tempted to answer but, what knowledge could I possibly share? I’m still learning! Reading other people’s blog posts is fun. Most of the time I just have to say, “Great piece!” or “I agree!” with two to three sentences on why that is. Some people respond with more than a “Thank you!” but not very many. And how do you continue a conversation that way without coming off as sketchy or weird?

Uuuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhh.

When did making friends become so complicated? My first day of third grade there was a little girl sitting next to me who was crying because she didn’t want her mother to leave her. I was terrified too. Second grade had been hard enough; I wasn’t looking forward to third. I felt a connection to that girl. I was a little embarrassed for her to be honest, but I could understand how she was feeling. I don’t remember the conversation that followed, but I remember that her tears prompted me to talk to her. And we were friends from that day until sophomore year of high school.

I guess the moral of that story is don’t try, right? It’ll come naturally. Follow Kyoko Honda’s advice from Fruit Baskets.

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But sometimes that backfires and I end up pushing someone away with a careless word or phrase that wasn’t even intended to be offensive. So it’s kind of hard no to be paranoid.

How do the extroverts do it? No, seriously, how do you guys do it? I could use some tips here. I think it would help me become better at small talk.

A much kneeded break

Back in September I wrote a blog post about my husband tearing his meniscus. It just occurred to me last week that I never followed up. After the official diagnosis, my husband went through approximately seven weeks of physical therapy while we waited for his work insurance to approve corrective surgery. During that whole time, he was limping along on crutches and on “sitting duty only” at work.

The week of Thanksgiving, we finally got the approval we needed. The surgery was scheduled for Cyber Monday. I drove him to the surgical center at five in the morning. My grandparents very graciously offered to sit with me while he was in surgery. Because neither my car nor my husband’s truck could fit him with his new, rigid knee brace, they drove him back to our house in their car. And ever since then, I’ve taken on his responsibilities on top of mine.

It was easy at first. He was in pain and physically incapable of doing even little things on his own. I could see how miserable and frustrated he was. I was willing to do anything it took to make him comfortable. I happily served his food and jumped up to get his drinks or his medicine. I did all the chores around the house. I even scooped the cat litter, something my husband has done without complaint since we got married, something I abhor doing because of what it does to my sinuses. I changed out the five-gallon water bottle and brought in the groceries all by myself. I often forgot to put the trashcans on the curb on Thursday mornings but I got better at remembering.

My husband was so appreciative, apologizing repeatedly for not being able to help.

But, the more time has passed, the harder it has been to do everything with a good attitude. Because it’s exhausting. I feel like a kernel of corn popping around in a corn popper, rushing around to get things done, finally sitting down to rest, only to realize I forgot to do something or get something for him. And up I get again. He is still appreciative and he still apologizes, but (if I’m honest) those words are starting to lose their impact. Him being appreciative or apologetic doesn’t change anything. I still have to do everything.

Traveling to Wisconsin was what pushed me over the limit, I think. I’ve come to love traveling with my husband because he’s so calm and collected at the airport. Plus, he packs lightly and efficiently, which helps. But this time around, I had to do the packing for both of us. All of his winter wear is in boxes, scattered in various closets around the house, so I had to do a lot of scurrying and searching. Once everything was assembled, I was the one dashing from window to window to door, checking locks. I was the one hauling our dog and her kennel to a friend’s house. I was the one pulling our enormous rolling suitcase around while carrying the large backpack carry-on plus my purse and my heavy jacket. I was in charge of our tickets, checking in our bag, and getting all of our things through security. I was stressed out. He got to ride a wheelchair.

Then we got to my mother-in-law’s house. We had a blast with our family, but I took an hour long nap every day we were there. At the time, I was confused as to why I was so tired. Looking back now, it’s obvious. I was in the kitchen with my mother-in-law half the time, whipping up eggs and waffles and french toast and bacon and cookies and pie. When I wasn’t in the kitchen, I was rushing around the house, getting things for my husband. I had two evenings where I got to sit and enjoy a card game or a movie. Then we flew back home and went right back to work. I didn’t get much rest while on my vacation. Still, I comforted myself with the thought that I had the Friday before New Years off, which meant a long weekend of resting.

But it wasn’t really. I spent that time cleaning and cooking some more and helping my husband. Another week is almost over and I’m still as tired as I was before. I need another vacation, one where I don’t. Do. Anything.

Anyway, the good news is that my husband is healing. He’s not in pain anymore, which is good. He can comfortably bend his knee to ninety degrees and even put some weight on it. We have another doctor’s appointment this upcoming Tuesday. We’re both hoping the doctor will give the “okay” for him to ditch the crutches and start physical therapy. Then life will slowly start going back to normal. I think.

I’d like to say that this experience has grown me as an individual and has strengthened our marriage, but I don’t think I can. Not yet. What I can say is this: I have a new found respect for women whose husbands have a disability. I mean, I always admired them but now that I’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like…they’re definitely on a pedestal. At least in my case, there’s an end in sight. I can’t imagine doing what I’ve been doing every single day for the rest of my life and keeping a good attitude throughout. That takes a kind of patience and endurance that I clearly haven’t developed yet.

And maybe that’s the lesson to be learned here; I still have some growing up to do.

White Christmas

For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter, my husband and I went to Wisconsin this year to spend Christmas with his mother. She is originally from Phoenix, like us, but she moved there two years ago for a job. She treated us all by purchasing our plane tickets to come see her. My husband’s three brothers were there longer than we were, but we had five whole days together as a family. There was food, games, naps, Christmas music and movies, lots of laughter, and snow.

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The breakfast of champions cooked by my mother-in-law and yours truly.

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Bailey (Duncan’s girlfriend) and I decorating cookies.

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 The fruits of my labor. I don’t think I’ll be quitting my day job anytime soon.

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My mother-in-law’s barn.

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A fallen log on the side of my mother-in-law’s property.

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The view from my balcony.

I’ve only been in the snow three times in my entire life and I have to say, this was the best time of them all. The key to comfort in below zero temperatures? The proper attire. Thanks to my mother-in-law, we had snow jackets, snow pants, hats, mittens, and the thickest socks known to man available in many different sizes. We each had a layer that fit us so, when we went outside, we were comfortable. It was great.

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My husband and I, ready to go out into the snow!

While we mostly stayed indoors and enjoyed each others’ company, we did go out a few times…

To see A Christmas Carol, the play.

20171222_153810The Children’s Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, during intermission.

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My husband, the recovering cripple, and I.

To pick out our live Christmas tree.

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BTWs: it was fourteen degrees outside.

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This is where we went to get our tree.

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From left to right: my husband, Devo (otherwise known as Tiny Tim), Donevin and Duncan (the twins), and Dallas.

 20171224_103253My husband and I being all cute and stuff.

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From left to right: me, Joan (my mother-in-law), and Bailey (Duncan’s girlfriend).

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Me and my mom-in-law.

As you can see, we had a lot of fun choosing out our tree. This Happ’s place was amazing.

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It was basically an enormous evergreen field.

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Can’t decide between a live tree and a colored one? No problem at Happ’s! They’ll paint a live tree for you.

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Don’t ask me how they do it because I don’t know. But it sure looked pretty!

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This is Dallas dragging our tree to the car after it was cut.

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And this is our tree after we brought it home and decorated it.

We also went to Christmas Eve service at my mother-in-law’s church but I didn’t get any pictures of that. Suffice it to say that we had a lovely time singing Christmas carols and remembering the reason for the season. It was also super cute to see my mother-in-law glowing as she introduced us to everyone.

On Christmas morning, we read about the birth of Christ from Matthew and then opened our presents. (Please excuse the poor quality of the following photos. It might have been mid-afternoon but I was half asleep when I took them.)

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Duncan and Bailey.

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Donevin, Dallas, and Duke (the dog).

 

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Joan and my husband.

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I was there too, see?

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Yeah, we can’t take serious pictures. #sorrynotsorry

We were blessed with new clothes, shoes, books, games, Amazon giftcards, and Star Wars action figures, but I’d like to shed a spotlight on the gifts we received from Bailey.

20171225_124631This talented gal made ceramic mugs and cups for all of us.

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See how the glaze runs and fades into different shades of color? She did that herself! So cool.

And just like that it was over, this long awaited holiday, this merry get-together. My husband and I rolled out of bed on Tuesday afternoon, packed up our gifts and clothes, and got into the car. Two hours later, we boarded our plane and flew back to Phoenix, back to sixty degrees and reality. As we lay in our own bed that night, we started listing the things we already missed.

“The snow,” he said.

“Driving around in the same car with everybody,” I said. (We had the funniest conversations.)

“The sound of my brothers talking in the next room,” he said.

“Not having a schedule,” I said.

[insert big, nostalgic sigh here.]

Now we’ve entered that strange time in-between Christmas and New Years. We’re going to work and slowly getting back into our regular routines, but the upcoming holiday is sure to make things a little screwy again. We usually drive down to California to spend New Years with my family but we’re doing something a little different this year. My sister is going to Europe with her boyfriend so we’ve postponed our New Year’s celebration until the second weekend in January. That way we can all be together. My husband and I are spending New Years with friends for the very first time. We have no idea what we’re going to do but, by golly, we’re going to do something.

And then 2017 will be over.

Wow.

I heard it said once that days go by slow but years go by fast. That saying becomes more and more true the older I get. It’s incredible.

Well, I hope everyone had a fun Christmas! Be safe during New Years! I’ll check back in on the fourth of January.

A lesson on pride

“Adventure is out there,” my husband said Saturday morning, holding his fist out so that I could bump it with my own.

Despite his knee injury, my husband is going hunting next weekend. I’ve tried talking him out of it but to no avail. He’s been planning this trip with his cousin for months and nothing is going to keep him from going. (Unless, by some miracle, his surgery is scheduled before Friday). So Saturday was his prep day. He hobbled around the house, gathering all the supplies he would need on his trip. (“Babe, could you look for my brown and blue boots? I can’t find them anywhere.” “Have you checked the box labeled shoes in the guest room’s closet, love?” “What box?” “Never mind. I’ll go look…You mean these?” “Yeah! Where’d you find them?” “In the box labeled shoes in the guest room’s closet.” Lol.)

Next order of business was getting his rifle sighted in. Instead of paying to go to the shooting range, my husband figured we’d be able to find a secluded spot in the mountains somewhere to shoot for free. So we loaded the truck with his rifle, some targets, shooting earmuffs, and ammunition. After a pit stop at Sonic for Limeades, we turned up Pandora and then hit the road.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been on an adventure,” he said with a grin full of child-like excitement.

Three hours, three “No Target Shooting” signs, and a half a tank of gas later and the  excitement was replaced by annoyance.

“Sloppy shooters ruin it for everyone,” my husband grumbled as we pulled into the shooting range. “They take their old TVs and refrigerators and shoot them up in the wilderness, and then leave the pieces out there for rangers and boarder patrolmen to find. Maybe if they cleaned up after themselves, we wouldn’t have “No Shooting” signs all over the place.”

By happy coincidence, the shooting range was offering to sight in rifles for the upcoming hunting season. My husband had the opportunity to sit with two old timers who knew a heck of a lot more about guns than he did. They had a great conversation about hunting, gun cleaning and assembly.

“I thought they were going to be jerks at first,” he told me as we drove home about an hour later. “The guy told me I had the wrong set up for hunting, talked to me like I didn’t know anything. Turns out, I don’t know anything.” He chuckled. “It didn’t feel to good but I’m thankful we ended up at the shooting range. It was totally a God-thing. He knew I needed to talk to those old guys and get a pride check.”

“Well, hey,” I said, “at least you learned something new.”

“Yeah, but still…my ego’s bruised.”

I laughed. “Oh, I understand. Take it from someone who lives with you, a guy with much knowledge about things I can’t even begin to understand; it’s not easy to just smile and say, ‘Thank you. I didn’t know that.’ But it beats staying upset about it. Be humble, babe. Have a teachable spirit. You learned something new today and are better for it. Now you can pass on that new knowledge to someone else.”

It’s true that when we first got married, I’d get upset whenever he proved to be better at something or know more about something or have a better way of doing something than I did. He’d beat me at cards, prove one of my facts wrong, show me a quicker way to get to work in the morning so that I could avoid traffic, all with a good attitude and good intentions. I’d sit there simmering silently, feeling like a dumb loser, until I could let it go. It took time and God gently tapping on my heart, reminding me that I once admired this man for his skills and his knowledge. If I let my jealousy and inadequate feelings get the better of me, it would poison our marriage. So I worked on praising my husband instead of looking down on myself whenever he proved to be more knowledgeable than me.

I feel I’ve become a better person and a better wife for taking on this new attitude. On Saturday I was able to pass that little lesson on to my husband. It’s amazing how that works. We might not have had that conversation at all if it weren’t for those “No Target Shooting” signs, so I’m thankful for them.

A true account

Sunday, 7:45PM:

“All right, babe,” I say as we get ready for bed.

“Tomorrow we get back into our workout routine?” my husband assumes.

“You got it. We’ve slacked off for too long.”

Monday, 11:40AM:

‘So I hurt my knee at work today…’ he texts me.

Doesn’t sound too serious, I think. Maybe it’ll be all better by the time I get home.

Monday, 5:50PM:

“It hurts to walk,” he says as he plays Destiny 2. “I can’t put pressure on it.”

“What?” I gasp. “It’s that bad?”

“Yeah. My boss said to go to urgent care if it doesn’t feel better by tomorrow morning.”

“So how does this work? You’ll get up tomorrow at the same time you always do, get out of bed, and if you can’t stand, I take you to urgent care?”

“Sounds about right.”

I try to remain calm despite the ringing in my ears. “Okay.” As soon as my back is turned, I text everyone I know and ask them to pray.

Tuesday, 3:45AM:

The alarm goes off. I crack an eye open to watch him crawl out of bed. He tries to put weight on his injured knee and collapses back into the mattress with a groan.

Looks like we’re going to urgent care…

I throw the blanket off and hurry around the bed to help him.

Tuesday, 4:00AM:

“Can you grab my shoes?”

“Yes, love.”

“Oh, and a hat too, please?” His hair is so long and unruly; he’d rather cover it up than try to fix it.

You’re so cute. “All right. I’ll be back.”

“Don’t forget my wallet.”

“Yes, dear.”

“Oh, babe? Can you get some socks too?”

“Here you go.”

“Um…” He holds out the right sock. “Can you give me a hand?”

I suppress a smile as I bend down before his injured knee and carefully slide the sock over his foot. I can see myself doing this in the future, when he’s old and has arthritis or something. In sickness and in health…

“I’m sorry I’m such an invalid,” he says with a sheepish smile.

“Don’t worry about.” I’m supposed to take care of you, silly. I’m your wife.

“Your car is too low to the ground. I don’t think I could get in or out of it,” he says. “Are you going to be okay, driving my truck?”

The thought makes me nervous, but I say, “It should be fine.”

I sit in the driver’s seat, scooted all the way back to accommodate my six foot two hunk. I scoot it forward and adjust the mirrors. I’m tiny when compared to him. The key slides timidly into the ignition. With a roar, the truck comes alive and rolls out of the garage. It’s still dark outside.

“If you were the one injured, I could just carry you,” he murmurs, using me as a crutch to get to the idling car. “I’m sorry you have to do this.”

“Stop saying sorry. You’re fine.” At least, I hope you’re fine…Please, be fine.

Tuesday, 6:30AM:

“We couldn’t find anything on the x-ray,” the doctor tells us.

My husband sits in a wheelchair.

I swallow hard. My rock, my bear, my safe place…in a wheelchair. It’s almost painful.

“We’re going to schedule an MRI but it could take up to two weeks.”

My husband exhales. He hates getting MRIs.

“If your knee heals on its own, we’ll cancel the MRI,” the doctor continues. “I’m going to give you a prescription for naproxen and a muscle relaxant in the mean time. The muscle relaxant you’ll take before you go to bed. It’ll help you sleep.”

“Thank you,” my husband and I both say.

Tuesday, 7:00AM:

My husband leans on his crutches as he talks to the nurse at the front desk. I watch him from the other side of the waiting room. He nods, accepting the papers she hands him, and then starts ambling carefully toward me. I jump up and hurry over to take the papers from him.

“Thanks. I have physical therapy tomorrow,” he says.

“What time?”

“After work.”

I blink in surprise. “But you’re not going to work.”

“I might.”

“You should be resting,” I protest.

“I need to work,” he says seriously.

I bite my tongue and hold the door open for him.

Tuesday, 7:45AM:

A headache is building behind my eyes and across my forehead.

“Are you going to work?” my husband asks as we wait in the drive-thru for our breakfast.

“I don’t know. There’s technically nothing wrong with me. Now that you’re on crutches, you don’t need me as much anymore…But I am tired.”

“Do you have any vacation days left?”

“No, but I have sick days.”

“It’s up to you, hon.”

I glance at the clock in the radio. “Well, even if we got home right now and I rushed to get ready, I’d still be late. And I don’t feel like rushing.”

“So stay home with me.”

“All right. I’ll stay home.”

Tuesday, 9:00AM:

“I’ve got your drugs,” I say, setting them down over the counter. “Do you want to take anything right now?”

“I’ll take some naproxen,” he says, his eyes on the TV screen.

I wait until he’s done battling robots before I hand him the pill. He swallows it dry and smiles.

“Thanks.”

I love you.

Tuesday, 12:15PM:

I reach across from him to place a soda on the chair he’s using as an end table. “Need anything else?”

“Not right now.”

“All right. Let me know when you’re hungry.”

Tuesday, 1:30PM:

“What did you say was for lunch?”

“I have chicken thawing in the fridge,” I say. “I can fry it for you and make mashed potatoes or I can make you a salad.”

His mouth works for a moment as he processes his options. “Neither sound really appealing right now…”

I chuckle, reading his code. “Would you like to order in, love?”

He grins. “Pizza sounds amazing.”

I whip out my phone and start the order.

Tuesday, 7:00PM:

I lower the book and poke him in the side. “Hey, are you falling asleep on me?”

“No,” he says drowsily.

“I’m almost done with the chapter.”

“I’m listening,” he insists, eyes closed.

I smile and continue reading out loud from The Order of the Phoenix.

Wednesday, 4:00AM:

“I’m taking my phone off of do-not-disturb mode,” I tell him, handing over his lunch box. “If you need anything, call me, okay?”

He puts his lunch in the passenger’s seat and gives me a kiss. “All right, babe. I love you.”

“I love you too.” I close the door and step back.

Please, keep him safe, I pray as I crawl back into bed.

Wednesday, 11:00AM:

My phone buzzes on my desk and I flip it over to check the text. Finally, he answered my text from this morning.

‘Yes, babe. I did get to work okay.’ Smiley face.

I breathe out a long sigh of relief and text back. ‘Was it hard to drive?’

‘Not really.’

‘That’s good! What did you do at work?’

He tells me and I smile. I was worried they wouldn’t find anything he could do while sitting down. I can’t wait to see him.

Wednesday, 5:35PM:

“How was physical therapy?” I ask, falling into the couch beside him.

“It was all right I guess. Painful. Oh, and there are little pieces of bone floating around in my knee.”

“What? I thought the doctors couldn’t find anything on the x-ray.”

“Well, the physical therapist took another look at the x-ray and said he saw what looked like pieces of bone floating around my knee.”

I shake me head. “How…?”

“No idea. The therapist thought the bone pieces could’ve been there since I tore my ACL and had surgery to fix it.”

“Wow. Okay. So how are we going to get those out?”

“I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. “But they’re not going to do anything until I get an MRI and they can confirm that’s the only problem.”

I lean back into the couch. Lord, have mercy on my baby.

Wednesday, 7:10PM:

“What if you have to have surgery on your knee again?”

“Then we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. You just have to trust God in these situations.”

He says it so easily! I roll over to press my cheek against his chest. “What if it takes you months to recover?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“What if–?”

He gives my hand a squeeze. “We’ll be fine, babe.”

I shut my eyes. I want to believe, God, but I’m so afraid. Help me not to be.

Thursday, 3:55AM:

The truck’s lights disappear around the corner as I pull the trash cans out to the curb. I want to go back to sleep, but the dishes are piling up. I plan on making fried chicken and potatoes for dinner. If I put it off until I get home at 5, it won’t leave me much time to hang out with my husband before we have to go to bed again. I could make it all now, put it in the fridge, and just reheat it when I get home from work. I amble into the bedroom for my glasses. The world sharpens into focus and so does my mind. Squaring my shoulders, I march into the kitchen and start the day.

Faith, love, and hope remain

“All attempts have failed
All my heads are tails
She’s got teary eyes
I’ve got reasons why

I’m losing ground and gaining speed
I’ve lost myself or most of me
I’m headed for the final precipice

But you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll sing until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet

These days pass me by
I dream with open eyes
Nightmares haunt my days
Visions blur my nights

I’m so confused
What’s true or false?
What’s fact or fiction after all?
I feel like I’m an apparition’s pet

But you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll run until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet

If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break your heart
It isn’t love
No, if it doesn’t break your heart
It’s not enough
It’s when you’re breaking down
With your insides coming out
That’s when you find out what your heart is made of

And you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll sing until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet
Cause you haven’t lost me yet.”

-Yet by Switchfoot

(Thank you, AZLyrics.com)

I heard this song numerous times growing up, but I never truly understood what it meant. I assumed the writer was talking about a relationship of his, maybe a difficult time he and his girlfriend were having. Despite the sad tune, the words are hopeful. He sounds as if he’s reassuring his girl that no matter what happens, she’s not going to lose him. It should make me feel happy, right? Somehow, that’s not what I felt when I heard this song, and it’s still not what I feel when I hear it today. Because the words I tend to focus on are, “If it doesn’t break your heart, it isn’t love.”

Boys have broken my heart in the past and I’ve come to realize what I had with them wasn’t real love. My husband, my true love, has made mistakes and has hurt me before. But I can honestly say he’s never broken my heart. So maybe this isn’t the kind of love the song is talking about. Now that I’m older, going through a difficult time with my sister, I’m thinking I might understand what kind of love this song is talking about. (I might be totally wrong. I don’t know the artist so, obviously, I can’t confirm it with him. But the more I think about this song, the more it applies to my situation.)

No matter how much we talk, neither seems to truly understand the other. No matter how desperately we might want to fix our situation, we do more harm to each other than good. What one perceives as help or enlightenment, the other perceives as an attack on one’s character. But because we’re friends and, more importantly, family…we still love each other. We still want a relationship. And I think that’s why I can finally understand the song writer’s struggle. I can see him searching for ways to fix his situation. I can see him being so burdened by what he’s going through, so depressed because there seems to be no solution. But he knows he can’t give up hope.

I looked up the meaning of this song, and found a quote by the writer, Jon Foreman:

“The song is about hope. Hope is always reaching towards the future, reaching for what has not yet come to pass…Hope is a “holding on” of sorts, an expectant belief, a desire as of yet unfulfilled. I wrote this song from a really dark place, looking for some form of hope. And maybe searching for hope is a form of hope in itself. There’s a moment of honesty when your mask drops, when you can no longer pretend to have it all together. When this pretense is gone, you breathe in your first real breath. When you’re no longer pretending to be something you’re not, you’re left with a truly honest assessment of the situation. Very little is left, [but] “Faith, hope, and love remain. But the greatest of these is love.””

(See full quote here.)

I love that Mr. Foreman tacked on that quote at the end. It’s from one of the most famous passages in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, titled the Love Chapter. It’s funny; this passage is often read at weddings and quoted to people who are in a relationship. Originally, this chapter was written by Paul to the Corinthian church, which had several different issues, the chief of them being selfishness. Paul was reminding the church that without love, none of their great works was worth anything. Because talent, skill, words, and actions can fade away in time but things like faith, hope, and love never will.

This conflict between me and my sister has gone on for a little over two years. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe it will ever come to a peaceful resolution. I feel as if I’ve tried everything. People keep saying our story isn’t over, God’s work isn’t finished, and so long as the two of us keep trying to understand one another, eventually we’ll find peace. I’m sure they’re right. It’s times like these, after failing to bridge the gap yet again, that I can’t help but wonder, “Is this what it’s going to be like for the rest of our days?”

I’m tired, I’m breaking down, I feel like my insides are coming out…again. But my faith, my love, my hope, will remain.

The plight of the married couple (I think this counts as poetry…)

They march about the house,

Soldiers pacing their designated wall.

With barely a glance at each other

They go about their business, big or small.

You wouldn’t know it if you peeked in,

But they’re married and madly in love.

A slip of the tongue, a word unsaid,

The wrong gift or lack thereof

Upsets the wife, frustrates the husband.

They stew and huff and grumble and then

An argument pushes them over the edge.

Where is your tolerance, your ability to bend?

It must have died at the end of your dating.

Didn’t you marry him because he was the best?

Didn’t you marry her

Because she was kinder than the rest?

How easily you both forgot!

Remember the silly girl you fell for,

The one who obsessed about her hair.

Remember the guy who opened the door

Let you go in first, let you have your way

Happily you once apologized and forgave

So she said the wrong thing to your mother,

So he left the sink dirty after his shave.

You were human then and you are human now.

Don’t yell, accuse, or bargain

Remember how it was then, let go, forgive

And try again.

My husband

My husband isn’t like the men in those romantic comedies we women like to watch.

He doesn’t send flowers and balloons to my office or give me little gifts just because. He doesn’t whisk me off on elaborate dates or nights on the town. He doesn’t plan big vacations or surprise me with plane tickets to some romantic destination. He doesn’t take it upon himself to make the house spotless when he notices that it’s dirty. He doesn’t welcome me home with a foot rub or a full bathtub or a three course dinner. He doesn’t willingly jump through a thousand hoops to make me happy. He doesn’t have the power to read my mind and know exactly what I mean when I’m being cryptic. He doesn’t humiliate himself for me or change the way he thinks to best suit my needs or allow me to be the one who’s always right.

It’s just not in his nature. And you know what? That’s okay.

Because he’s real.

He works hard at a job he doesn’t particularly like because he knows it provides for our needs right now. He fixes things that break so that we don’t have to hire someone else to do it. He talks me up when I don’t think too much of myself, and knows what to say to get me to stop stressing out. He supports my dreams and cheers me on through every endeavor. He listens to me talk until I’m all talked out. He isn’t afraid of my tears and will hold me for as long as I want. He isn’t afraid to be open and honest and vulnerable with me. He laughs at my mistakes, but doesn’t make me feel stupid for making them. His infectious sense of adventure and child-like trust in our God challenges me. He pushes me to try new things, dig deep, and find out things about myself that I didn’t know before. In my Sunday best or in Batman pajamas, he thinks I’m beautiful either way. He knows the value of my love and trust, and would never do anything to betray them. He’s always willing to help, to be my safety blanket, to walk with me through whatever comes our way.

And really, what more could I ask for?

My worst nightmare

“I feel it physically—half of me turns to smoke. The corners of the room go dim, and from about the rig cage down, my body feels numb as the ghost limb of an amputee. It’s what happens when I’m about to write something that frightens me. Freaking yourself out is an occupational hazard for a horror writer. It’s also, if you rise to the challenge it presents, a great opportunity to hone your craft.” -Michael Marano


Something woke me up that night. To the day, I’m still not sure.

When I opened my eyes, the room was completely silent. It wasn’t until I rolled over that I saw the clown standing at the foot of my bed. He wore a pale white face mask with a big, red nose, pink cheeks, crazed blue eyes, a large eerie smile, and frizzy orange hair attached to the back. He was even dressed in large, colorful clothes. My heart leapt into my throat and still I managed to scream. I’d had this nightmare before, but this wasn’t a dream. The knife in his hand glinted in the moonlight, revealing a smear of blood. My first thought went to the children. Which one of them had been ruthlessly murdered in their sleep? But then I remembered the silence. The dog! The intruder must have killed her first to be sure she wouldn’t warn me.

My stomach turned at the thought of my Australian shepherd, but I couldn’t dwell on that. I had to act. I threw myself over the side of the bed, snatching my phone from the bedside table before I could hit the ground. The clown was on me in a second. His knees hit the floor as he straddled me and then proceeded to jab the knife at my face. I squirmed and screamed some more, releasing the phone to wrestle the knife out of his hands. We struggled, but not for too long. He was stronger than I was. The knife came down before I could stop it and nicked my cheek, burning like a deep paper cut. I twisted my hips, yanking his wrists down and away from my face. The clown crashed into the wall with a curse. I scrambled away, crawling as quickly as I could on my hands and knees until I reached the door. Then I jumped up and ran out of the room.

“Simon! Corey! Deliah!” I half-sobbed, half-shouted. “Wake up!” I dashed across the shadowed living room, almost tripping over the ottoman. I made it to my eldest’s room and threw the door open.

Simon sat up, instantly alert and afraid. “Mom? What’s going on?” 

I gripped him by the shoulders, heart hammering painfully against my ribs. “There’s someone in the house. I need you to get your brother and sister, and—”

Simon’s blue eyes bulged as he stared at something behind me. I spun around, arms out to my sides to protect my ten-year-old son. The clown’s mask was hanging crookedly on his face, revealing curly black hair and a sliver of pale skin. Despite his terrifying appearance, he was human and able to be reasoned with.

“We don’t have much, but you can take whatever you want,” I said, voice wavering. “Just, please, don’t hurt my children.”

“I don’t want any of your crap!” the clown growled. “Pedro Hernandez sends your husband his regards.” And then he lunged. 

I heard my son cry out and hoped he was diving out of bed. I tried to duck around my attacker, but he snatched me by the front of my nightshirt and threw me back onto the bed. The knife was coming down again. I blindly reached out, snatched the first thing my fingers touched (it felt like Simon’s batman alarm clock), and smashed it against the side of the clown’s head. He roared in pain and dropped the knife. I elbowed him in the face and kneed him in the groin as I wriggled to get free. My son was crawling frantically for the door once I had disentangled myself from the clown.

I raced after him, grabbed him by his armpits, and hauled him to his feet. “Get your brother and sister to safety, and call your dad!” Then I gave him a shove out the door.

The sharp end of the knife burst from my abdomen, splattering the back of my son’s shirt with blood. I gasped as my brain registered the pain. I stumbled forward.

Simon must’ve felt the wetness on his back because he turned and screamed. “MOM!”

I collapsed against the wall in the hallway, struggling to breathe, heart stuttering in fear. The knife was roughly tugged out from behind me. I tried to keep moving, tried to get away, but a hand grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked me back. This time the end of the knife pushed through my chest. The world was growing fuzzy at the corners, my mind wild with panic and pain. My son stood frozen just a little ways away, face pale, mouth open in a silent scream. Then anger was twisting his mouth into a snarl and he came charging down the hall to take out my assailant’s knees. 

I wanted to yell at him, tell him to run away, tell him to find his siblings and run. Instead, I made a strange gurgling sound and slumped to the floor. I could hear them wrestling behind me, my son shouting, the clown swearing. Then two other pairs of feet were running toward me. I looked up into the faces of child number two and three. Deliah was crying as she fell to her knees and reached out to take my face in her little hands. Corey, dark hair falling in to his eyes, looked around wildly, as if searching for some way to help me.

“Get…Dad,” I managed to croak. “Simon…stop…”

“Call 911,” Corey told his little sister and then he was running over to help his brother.

“No.” I clawed after him but he was already out of reach. 

“Daddy,” Deliah sobbed as she jumped to her feet. “I-I’ll call Daddy.” She ran into the kitchen, bright pink Hello Kitty pajamas fading into the darkness.

It was getting increasingly harder to breathe. I knew at least one lung had to be collapsing or filling with blood. I coughed and wheezed and fought to remain conscious. I had to help my children. I had to do something. But then, quite suddenly, the darkness swallowed me up.

 

I came to when my husband called my name. I peeled my eyes open to see him sitting beside me, holding my hand, leaning in anxiously. He was still in uniform; his badge winked at me in the bright fluorescent light shining from above. He looked exhausted. There were stress lines across his big, handsome face, his blonde hair was askew, and the hazel eyes that were always so quick to smile were dark with worry. Wherever we were was rocking and rumbling. There were two other men in there with us, hooking me up to machines and pressing wads of gauze against my wounds. I could distantly hear the wailing of sirens.

My husband let out a choked laugh when he saw that I was awake. He kissed my forehead and managed to say, “You’re all right. Everything’s going to be all right.”

I couldn’t speak. They’d put a tube down my throat or something. I wanted to ask about the children. He must’ve read my mind because he added, “The kids are fine. One of the neighbors heard the screams and called 911. Some guys from the station got there just in time to pull Simon and Corey away from that creep. We got him, babe. We got the clown.”

That was all I needed to hear. I gave his hand a squeeze and closed my eyes.

On branches and weeds

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?”

A casual glance through the front window. “Nope.”

“Okay.”

My husband and I had been having this same conversation for four months. The two trees in our front yard were so over grown that the leaves were only inches away from the ground. One exceptionally long branch was hanging over the street, waiting for a strong wind to knock it into one of our neighbor’s cars. Our yard was a hazard and an eye-sore. We both knew it and we both wanted to do something about it. We looked into hiring a landscaper. We had seen several trucks on our block and they had all very helpfully stuffed their cards through the screen door. Still, every offer seemed too expensive. In my eyes, the logical thing to do would be to trim the trees ourselves, but we didn’t have the tools or friends we could borrow the tools from.

“Besides,” my husband would always say. “Our trashcans are too small to fit that big branch and all of those leaves. They would just end up in a big pile in the back yard, and I don’t want to have to deal with that.”

I asked if he could borrow some tools from work since they sometimes have to do landscaping around their billboards. I volunteered to help him so that we could get the task done quicker. I suggested renting a dumpster to put the branch in. I did everything in my power to make the job sound easier than it was. There was always a good reason why he couldn’t ask his boss about the tools or why this weekend wasn’t a good weekend to take care of the yard or why renting a dumpster wouldn’t work. Meanwhile, the wind kept blowing and the rain kept coming and before we knew it, there was a jungle of weeds in our backyard tall enough to touch my hips. I started pulling them myself but the task was daunting, especially since four hours of pulling weeds had barely put a dent in the sea of plant parasites in our backyard.

I didn’t want to nag him. Nagging men doesn’t ever seem to work. I watched my mother do it and it only ever seemed to make my dad angry. He would make his decision/do that one chore/buy that one appliance/paint the fence/file that document/get rid of the clutter in the backyard when he was good and ready, and no amount of complaining or begging was going to change that. (He always did get it done, just not when my mother wanted it done.) I tried nagging my little brother about his chores in the years after my older siblings were out of the house, my parents were both still working, and it was just the two of us on Saturday mornings. Mom had given us both responsibilities and I had done my share. I didn’t think it fair that he got to laze around and told him so. It would take an hour of his day tops to do his laundry, clean his room, and take out the trash. But no! He didn’t feel like doing it right then so he wasn’t going to do it. I would yell and scream until I had no voice and no dignity, and he would still sit there, very calmly, and say, “Nope. Don’t wanna.” (My little brother and I get along great now, by the way.)

The same thing pretty much happens with my husband. Neither of us have ever gotten angry enough to yell at each other, but we’ve gotten frustrated and annoyed with each other when I ask him do to anything repeatedly and he doesn’t do it immediately. Every time, he has stated very clearly that he heard me the first time and he does indeed plan on doing that thing I asked him to do, just not at the exact moment I would like this thing to be done. At times, I’ve been able to remember that I love this man and I chose to marry this man and, with that choice, I also vowed to respect this man whether he drops what he’s doing to do what I want him to do or not. And at other times, I simply stew in the corner, muttering under my breath about the “stubbornness of dwarves.” (Hobbit reference to those of you who are raising your eyebrows right now.) As you have probably concluded, the former response is the more mature and loving response, and the one I think we should all strive to achieve in situations like these.

So I decided to be patient despite the fact that the yards made my stomach turn every time I looked at them. He knows it bothers me, I reasoned. To some degree, it bothers him too. I just have to wait until it bothers him enough to push him to do something about it. That’s not to say I didn’t gently prompt him now and then with the, “Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?” question. But I don’t think he considered that to be nagging because he never became frustrated or upset with me when I asked.

Finally, the blessed day arrived when I pulled into the garage and looked over at my husband’s truck to see heavy duty gardening tools. Once inside, I saw my husband sitting before the TV, playing his video games, with the curtains drawn away from the sliding glass doors. (Usually, he keeps the curtains closed because he claims the light from outside causes a terrible glare against his screen.) It was a wonderful sight to behold; a clean-cut back yard without any sign of weeds. I expressed my joy by falling into his lap, throwing my arms around his neck, and kissing him repeatedly. I might have been a tad overly dramatic, but I have no regrets.

He trimmed the trees the next morning. I raked up all the leaves and thinner branches for him and we filled our trashcan plus two large garbage bags. He took out the chainsaw and cut down that dangerously long branch. Then he cut it into smaller pieces and we loaded them into the bed of his truck. We took a little trip to the landfill and bid a very short farewell to that branch. Then it was off to Smashburger for a date we couldn’t afford. While I’m usually very frugal and disciplined about going out to eat when we really shouldn’t, I was happy to charge it to the credit card. And while I’m usually very self-conscious about the way I look in public, I sported a messy high pony tail, an old Spider-Man T-shirt, jean shorts, and my running shoes without a care. Because our yards were clean, our trees looked beautiful, my husband was in a good mood, and we were eating great food.

“In the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” I don’t know who Khalil Gibran is, but he’s a wise man. I think sometimes I get so caught up in being a wife that I forget to be a friend. I could’ve said something along the lines of, “Finally!” or “It’s about time you finally got this done!” or “If you’d just listened to me four months ago, this would have been done by now!” but that would’ve changed the day completely. It would’ve led to an argument. Instead, we were able to work as a team and enjoy lunch afterwards, teasing and talking and just being together. As a couple but also as friends.

I’m so thankful that my husband and I can do things like that. We can work, run errands, do chores, even sit together in the same room (him playing his video games, me watching Gilmore Girls on the laptop), and be refreshed. Together. And I think it’s because of the way we choose to respond to one another in potentially upsetting situations. Did I have a right to be mad? I think so. Did he have a right to lay into me for asking him about the yards every so often? No matter how gentle or nice I was about it, I was still repeating myself so, yes, he probably did have a right to become frustrated with me. But I know my husband; he’s not a lazy, good-for-nothing, moocher who waits until I get tired enough to just do whatever it is I want done myself. He had a timetable that was different from mine, and respecting that brought forth good results. And he knows me; he knows my intentions are good, even if I sometimes let my emotions or other circumstances get the best of me. The key, I think, is remembering the truths about each other and using those truths to shape our responses.

I don’t pretend to know everything about marriage. After all, I’m still a newly-wed. (We’ll be celebrating our second anniversary at the end of May. Woohoo!) But I think we’ve got a good thing going on here, and if I can share it with others, maybe even be of some help, I will.