Fallow Ground

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And the principle of diminishing returns…

Farmers have known for centuries that eventually the land becomes depleted after supporting crops for an extended period of time.  Nutrients from the soil grow up into the plants and down into their roots, until the soil itself is left empty of the elements needed to support vegetation.  In order to renew the soil, the farmer moves crops to another spot, leaving the exhausted one fallow for a time so that it can recover.

People are like that, too.  YOU are like that.  So am I.

Sometimes we need to lie fallow for a season.  Our emotional soil has sustained everyone around us for so long that our nutrients become depleted, leaving little to fuel us for our own lives, much less to feed into the lives of others.  We are dry and empty.

Every now and then, we need to take some time and space to allow our own souls and hearts to be replenished, renewed, restored.  A season of stillness and self-care, however brief, can pour back into us the nourishment we need and crave…and deserve.  It is OK to receive, to absorb, and to recover.  It is not only OK, it is vital, and the more exhausted we are, the more important it is to allow ourselves the time and space to rest.

We cannot grow ourselves or anyone else until we renew our soil, and sometimes in order to renew…we need to lie Fallow.

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Do Not Assume

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Things are not always what they seem…

Do not assume that you know the whole story; the truth has many sides.

Do not assume that a smiling person is a happy one; smiles often hide deep pain.

Do not assume that a wealthy person is truly rich;  abundant money does not equal abundant peace, nor does a thin bank account equal poverty of spirit.

Do not assume that a person who is “disabled” is broken; many disabled people are more whole than those of us whose bodies are intact, while many physically healthy people are sick inside.

Do not assume that the life of a gifted person is easy; often the most gifted people are also the most tortured.

Do not assume that because a person believes in God, he has everything figured out, or she knows all the answers; most believers also question.

Do not assume that my tender heart makes me a weak woman, and that, because I am a soft touch, I am also an easy mark;  my power lies in my ability to feel everything deeply.

And do not assume that smiling eyes don’t cry.

 

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Lines

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Keeping them open…

I am not a seasoned traveler by any means.  But the week after Christmas I traveled, on a plane, by myself, to visit with my friend, chosen family and #firsteverworkhusband Martin.  My local airport is not enormous and checking my big bag and passing through security went smoothly enough, as the lines were fairly short and moved quickly.  Then I went on to my gate and eventually to board the plane, where I waited in another line.  I have a sweet and understanding husband who graciously allowed me to take this trip, and escorted me as far as he could before kissing me goodbye and probably experiencing some stress about me proceeding on my own.

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Airports are poignant places as I look around at the other travelers.  I wonder what their stories are, who or what they are traveling to see, if their trips are carefree vacations, happy reunions or sad goodbyes.  It’s the storyteller in me, I suppose, that craves to know these details, the storylines of the people around me.

After a quick and smooth flight I landed at my destination, a much larger airport than the one I had left behind less than two hours before.  Text messages from Martin told me that he was waiting to meet me at baggage claim.  After almost 5 months since seeing each other in person, his warm smile greeting me made all the angst and craziness melt away, as it always does when we see each other.  Hugs exchanged and my suitcase retrieved, we got into his car and merged into the lines of traffic headed back to his apartment.

We laughed and talked nonstop the entire time I was there, never once encountering an awkward pause or running out of things to say.  Friendships like this are priceless indeed, the connection of soulful, goofball kindred spirits who understand each other well.  Conversations started forever ago and new ones begun, like lines in an ongoing play or novel.

Part of our time was spent at the clinic where Martin undergoes hemodialysis three days per week.  As an ESRD (end stage renal disease) patient, he must dialyze regularly in order to survive until he can receive a kidney transplant.  As much illness as I have seen among my family and friends, I have had little experience with kidney failure or dialysis until now, and Martin kindly arranged with his clinic for me to be able to sit with him during his treatments.  Usually visitors are discouraged but since our visit allowed us limited time together, I was permitted to be there.

Because of possible blood contamination, biohazard and liability concerns, I was not present when he was connected to, or disconnected from, the dialysis machine, and I  was required to gown up while I sat with him.  I joked about how flattering my “prom dress” was, which got laughs.  I was able to observe him and the other patients, his clinic family, as they sat through treatment.  On Friday, the man in the chair next to us had an episode of chest pain resulting in a bit of quick, efficient scrambling by the team in order to stabilize him and get him feeling better.  Sunday’s treatment brought Martin the news that one of his fellow travelers on the dialysis path had passed away, the first time he has lost a member of his clinic family, a woman only a few years his senior.  The ride from the clinic was a little quieter, and a little bit somber as we both tried to wrap our heads around the news.  Had he learned of her death in time he would have attended her memorial service, but it had already taken place.

For several hours after treatment, the possibility of bleeding is a concern so he has to stay bandaged up.

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Among the other painful aspects of treatment, pulling the tape off a hairy arm sometimes smarts!  After he removed the tape and gauze, he let me photograph his arm…it bears the marks of several years’ worth of puncture wounds and the scar from where his fistula was created.  His access is apparently a bit tricky; the arterial line is near the surface and not usually a problem for the technician to find, but the venous line goes deeper and has a turn, so it sometimes makes for a difficult “stick”.

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Once connected, he rests (or attempts to rest)  in a reclining chair for approximately 4 hours, during which every drop of blood is removed, scrubbed free of toxins and then the clean blood fed back into the body.  It’s really remarkable technology…but it is a punishing process.  Martin’s minimum removed fluid since we have reconnected has been 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) and he has had as much as 5 kilos taken off, which is 11 pounds and change.  In four hours.

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I sat silent for a few moments and frown lines must have shadowed my face, because Martin said, “Don’t look at my access with sadness; it is my lifeline until I can get a kidney transplant.”  Still, I remember him telling me about times when his access has been blown out when one of the needles infiltrated, leaving its assigned spot and forcing treatment to be halted…bruising, swelling and pain in the arm, and the itching that sometimes aggravates him after treatment.

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Storylines…waiting in lines…lifelines…my holiday got me thinking about the lines of our lives in a whole new way.  Five days of nonstop talking with Martin reminded me that the most important lines are those of communication between us and our loved ones.  Life is short.  Talk to the people you care about.  Keep the lines open and clear.

 

Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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Decision Points

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That moment when…

Recently my friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin and I were discussing our respective artistic disciplines, mine music and his acting/directing.  In the course of that conversation he began talking about how Hamlet has a couple of moments in the play when his course of action is set, or “decision points”.  I’ve been ruminating about this concept off and on since the initial conversation, and recently I messaged him again to elaborate on the idea from the actor/director perspective.

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I LOVE that!  “The get off your a$$” moment.  We went on to discuss how art imitates life and how sometimes the decision point is actually the result of a lengthy process of evolution.  As I am prone to do, I applied this to life in general, my life in particular.

In another conversation recently, I remarked that I feel like, in some ways, I’ve spent the last year or so in The Twilight Zone.  There has been, in my internal world, change, stress, upheaval, as well as love and great joy.  I have had decision points—moments of clarity that came after a process of evolution, in my feelings, thoughts and expectations.

Reaching that “get off your a$$ moment” can be painful.  But eventually, the decision has to be made.  Anything can prompt “that moment when…”

You get the answer to an important question…

or that question goes without a response.

After feeling ill for months, you finally get a diagnosis.

You realize a person, relationship, habit, job, whatEVER, is unhealthy for you and a change has to happen.

Or you discover love in the most unexpected of places.

The Decision Point is the result of a process.  However long the process takes, the moment of decision is just that—a MOMENT.  One that can alter the trajectory of the rest of your life.

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The Three “R’s”

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Not the ones we learned in grade school…

The world is filled with turmoil.  Sickness, discord, violence and tragedy fill the nightly news.  Just this week a gunman opened fire on a huge group of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing dozens and wounding hundreds more.  I am still trying to wrap my head around the depravity, sickness, hatred and evil that could cause a human being to inflict such violence on a crowd of innocent strangers.

I am not a political person and this is not a political post.  This is just a collection of my thoughts about how very tired I am…tired of the anger and violence that bombard us all with increasing, and alarming, frequency these days.  I need some R&R…& more R.

“R&R” is an old expression for “Rest & Relaxation”.  We ALL need those things from time to time, especially nowadays, in this world where we are constantly overloaded with noise, lights, motion and nonstop stimulation.  It is easy to become burnt-out, frazzled and fried, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  Rest and relaxation sound wonderful, but they can be difficult to achieve.

For me, this is where the third “R” comes in…RETREAT.  In order to achieve rest and relaxation, sometimes we need to RETREAT from our normal surroundings, even if it is only for a few days, or hours.  Even 15 or 20 minutes to change our scenery during a hectic, stressful day can be a lifesaver.

I’ve always been a big believer in the benefits of aromatherapy and how pleasant scents can make us feel better.  The right fragrance can calm or energize us, improving our moods and bringing us back to center.  Candles, potpourri, incense and the comforting aromas of favorite foods cooking can all provide a sense of retreat from the stress of the world outside, facilitating the ability to rest and relax.

Recently I have been lighting candles again, a small indulgence I have always enjoyed but in recent years have neglected.  The mesmerizing glow of a candle’s flame, and the peaceful scent that lingers even after the candle is extinguished, change my environment…and thus, change me.  I can focus my eyes, my breathing, and my heart and mind, on that flame and that fragrance.  I can retreat to a place that relaxes me.  And I can rest.  And after that, I can go back out into my world and do what needs doing.  I can be who and what I need to be, both for myself and for the people around me.

It’s a small thing, really…but it is also huge.  Especially in a world that depletes, attacks and bombards us with so much sadness, noise and frenetic activity, we need to find ways to rest, relax..and retreat.

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“Rest and self-care are so important.  When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow.  You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”—Eleanor Brown

 

Time To Go Home

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Timing is all…

Wednesday, August 30, 2017, was an intense day.  My emotions ran the gamut from profound sadness to overwhelming love to incredible joy, over the course of both hours and moments.  I’m actually still trying to process it all, and in doing so, I’ve spent a bit more time lately just keeping to myself and being still.

It was the beginning of my work week as Wednesdays always are, but with a distinct change in the middle of the day when I took a 3-hour lunch to go and sing for a funeral at Messiah Lutheran Church, where I sang and served from 2013-2016.  The associate pastor’s mother had died, and I adore both pastor and mom.  Being asked to offer music for this occasion both honored and humbled me, as I would have attended the service even had I not been singing.

Even the most seasoned of musicians sometimes feel nervous, especially when called upon to provide music for funerals and memorials.  It is only natural.  And nerves visited me as well.  My friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin, knew how much I love this family, and how important the service was to me.  We exchanged messages first thing in the morning and throughout the day.  I had gathered a little token of love for Pastor Pauline to take with me and give her prior to the service, along with a big hug.  A reminder that she has not lost her marbles.

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As I had predicted, my singing was not easy or perfect, but it was, as I told Mother Farrington’s grandchildren afterward, with my speaking voice breaking,  “…a way for me to love your family…”  Reuniting with my former “choir boss”,  Joan, to make music for this service comforted me, and being back among this church family warmed my heart and made me feel loved.  As I have come to understand, musicians and people of faith are all part of the same family;  we never really say goodbye and we always recognize and welcome one another back.

I left the fellowship hall and I walked to my car with tears of sadness, gratitude and love…and I thought the intense part of my day had passed.  Knowing that Martin had held space for me meant the world to me, especially with everything he has endured this year…a transitional period in his relationship, his health, undergoing medical procedures, and his living situation, including being without a home for months and staying with friends/family, and in shelters ranging from tolerable to hellish.  His, and my, fondest wish, had been for him to find a place to live, and that process seemed to be taking longer than forever to happen.  Until this intense day.  Almost the minute I returned to work, Martin ping’ed me with a message.

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Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that feathers are for me a symbol, a powerful reminder that God is there, looking out for me and my loved ones, sending comfort when I need it in a language I can understand.  When this teeny feather floated down after the funeral and landed on the program, I assumed it was just for my benefit…turned out to be a harbinger of Martin’s wonderful news as well.  That his housing came through at the same time I sang and we were commending Mother Farrington to her home in Heaven…seemed, and still seems, especially poignant, and fitting.  For her, and for Martin, it was time to go Home.

Home.

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