Thursday, December 31, 2015

Finish it.

So many people make New Year's resolutions that are gone within less than a month.  I used to do that, and always found the resolutions slipped away.  This year, instead of creating resolutions, I am going to relax and enjoy the year I just completed.

You see, MS really does change everything.  Even before MS entered my life, I was on the brink of things that became impossible due to MS.  As a junior in high school, we won the state championship in cross-country, and  I finished in the top 15 or so.  But at that meet, even with us winning and me placing well, I didn't feel 100% - I didn't feel like I gave it 100%.  That spring I placed second in the 2 mile, qualifying for state.  It was really unknown whether I could get in the top 2, given the field of runners.  I started in front and led the whole race before fading while my friend raced past me in the final 200.  I was ecstatic to get second!  Who knew I could do that?!  Another friend of mine got sick during the race so I am told that people were either attending to her or celebrating the victory of my other friend who passed me.  My coach at the time, Jean Ann, was probably the only one who came up to me after the race.  She said, "you know you could have won that race, right?"  And that continues to follow me through life.  My coach Jo Ann later got ALS and her baptismal journey was ended when she was only 44.  And then the following year I was set to run a race under 19 minutes, but after coming within 10 seconds, MS had crept just enough to end my "under 19" dream.  The next spring's track season was somewhat mediocre but I was headed to college which was an exciting time.  But college running was filled quickly with failure, as I didn't make it through the cross-country or track seasons.

So there has been this "not quite there" state of reaching goals in my life.  I have done some things.  I finished my masters program; I bicycled up Vail Pass; I swam a mile.  But these didn't feel the same.  I could finish so much but it wasn't the same athletically as the failed mishaps in running.

But then there was this year.  My goal was to do the best I could do in PT and get as good as I could.  And what makes this different than the other things is that my MS hasn't gotten worse.  In fact, I have grown stronger.  It has taken all year, but I have made advances.  I can stand straight, finally.  I am walking 1.9mph on a special treadmill at PT, which is faster than I have walked since the downward progression of my MS.  On the last session of PT this week, I did the 1.9mph and made it.  Through my head while walking are thoughts of "you have to fight through this," someone has got to win, and "you could have won that race."  These thoughts allow me to break the walking  into small pieces.  And I made it.

But there was one last thing.  We have a treadmill at home and I have been increasing the time I have spent on that.  I had walked for 15 minutes straight there twice, and I wanted to finish with a third time on New Year's Eve.  This made me nervous because it could become one of those things I just couldn't make.  So I broke it up, minute by minute.  Right at 15 minutes I stopped the treadmill.  Done.  I finished.  You never know how far your body will go.  But this cycles back to all the things that have haunted me and to which I think I did not finish.

Finish it.  This time I did, with Jean Ann urging me ("you could have run that race") almost every time.

Finish it.

But those Christmas card left...  I have done some but have run out of stamps.  That project just may not get done tonight.

Finish it.  The walking part.  and move onward!
And  Happy New Year, all.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

In the silence

Every morning I wake up early, get a cup of coffee, and sit alone, in the silence, contemplating whatever is on my mind at the time.  When the weather is nice, I sit on our deck and listen to the birds.  During the winter I sit in the dark kitchen.  I enjoy this brief time I have to myself, with my thoughts (even though I generally don't like to be alone), purposefully leaving my electronic device somewhere else.  The only interruption, usually, is our cat who meows because he like to hear himself talk a lot (I think).  In the process of writing this blog entry, he has attempted to wake the entire house, despite my offers to call him, pet him, and hold him. But I digress.

Lately I have been remembering my godparents and in particular my godfather.  Though we never spent time with them in a religious sense (except my godmother Helen who would send me religious cards and constantly praise God, and when my brother and I were confirmed and our godparents all journeyed to Denver to celebrate the occasion), they had a huge impact on my life, always there, always.

One set of godparents lived about 10 minutes from us and had kids about the age of the kids in my family, and we spent what I remember as every Thanksgiving and every Christmas with them.  My mom's parents lived far away and I never knew my dad's parents (only that my granddad baptized me).  So this gathering really felt like family and we had great times.

My godfather, one of the gentlest and kindest people I will ever know, was known to our family as the best cook...  ever.  Every Thanksgiving and Christmas we anticipated what new appetizer he would make, enjoyed "his" special potatoes, his" sweet potatoes, and "his" fill-in-the-blank.  At their house (which we preferred because they had a basement where the kids could retreat), I remember him always choosing the (classical) music, deciding on wine for the adults, and pouring the wine. He always seemed so calm in putting everything together right before we ate, at a time that can create total chaos.  He was often the calm in the midst of chaos.

At the end of each meal, the kids had to plot to be "excused," so we could go to the basement to play a game, or watch a movie, or do whatever.  It had to be just the right moment - if someone asked too early, then we would have to sit for longer and listen to the adults talk about something boring.  So we would exchange eye-contact - who was going to ask, and when.  Then we would politely (so as not to have to sit again) get up...  and then Dart!  To the basement!!  These were the best of times.  At the end of the night, it was my godfather who would come determine if the movie we were watching was done and if we were ready to go home, or he would make us aware that it was getting late.  He was always calm, the voice of reason.

Outside of our twice-a-year traditional gatherings, he taught in my dad's department and my godmother taught in another department, while my mom taught at a different university.  We were the kids of the university professors, and so I suppose we had the same sorts of schedules, meaning our parents tended to have the same breaks as we did.  So we would see them at other times.

One year, when I was an adult just after graduating from college, their family found what seemed to be a kitten huddled in the back of their garage.  They rescued the malnourished kitten and brought her back to health, to discover she was old enough to be pregnant.  Right before I moved back to Colorado, her kittens were born and they gave one to me.  He was a very special cat who died too young, but we had special times.  They kept the kitten who was born with 3 legs, but who outlived all the other cats in that family.  Like me, they were "cat people."  We love our cats.

Etched in stone is the image of my godparents walking hand-in-hand down the bike path that was very near their house - the same bike path where I often rode my bike, ran, or walked.  My mom and I would walk on that path almost every night during the summer when I was in high school and college.  But that was the image of happiness - my godparents hand-in-hand, not in a hurry at all, walking along that path.  They never saw me watching this - I didn't want to disturb what seemed special.

Near this Thanksgiving I had a moment of panic.  I was making "his" sweet potatoes (we continue his" recipes! but where was the recipe?).  Crisis!  I called my brother who didn't have it but told me to give him a call.  So I did and he told me I was lucky because most recipes now are with his daughter.  Yes!  The tradition could continue.  We went to my brother's house with "his" sweet potatoes and my brother made "his" mashed potatoes.  Our daughters sat through dinner and at some point made the move - "can we be excused?"  And then they retreated... to my brother's basement.  And the rest of us continued our adult conversation (which I imagine thegirls considered boring). And so the cycle continues.

A few days later my godfather was hospitalized.  I went to see him. Although he never opened his eyes, I held his hand and sensed a connection.  He knew someone was there - he probably didn't know it was me but it was someone he knew.  As I was about to leave, not realizing there was a connection because he had taken his hand away from mine, he reached out and took my hand, in the gentle way that perhaps he could only do.  And some time after that, I left and told him his daughter would be there the next day. And she was.  Thanks be to God for that.

I often have regretted not seeing someone at a time when they needed to be seen, not sending a card when a card needed to be sent, and not being able to say "goodbye" to someone.  But with my godfather, I got to talk with him days before he was hospitalized.  I got to see him in the hospital, to hold his hand, knowing it was probably the last time, and to tell him that I loved him.  Moments like these are where we find God.  In the silence.

Merry Christmas.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

... pause ...

Where I work there was some confusion about when time needed to be taken off by the end of the year.  Turns out the end of the year is December 12, and I had 2 days to use.  I took them last week, during Thanksgiving break.  My daughter was out of school so that seemed ok.  But what I did not expect was to realize, in the process of these days, that my body needed a break.  Funny how when forced to pause a bit, with no plans, you can realize that pause was what was needed.

What I had not realized was a bunch of stress I had was triggering migraines that did not want to leave.  Continuing to look at the computer screen was not helping.  Yet when leaving for a few days I wanted to take my laptop with me to get some work done at home.  I talked myself out of that.  Something told me to leave everything and take a break.

With that break, migraines decreased.  There was a feeling that a migraine was just sitting there, waiting to be triggered, but those feelings diminished.  I had to take a day off from the treadmill due to the "migraine about to happen" feeling.  It's a ticking feeling in my head that is hard to describe.  It's a reminder that the migraine can return with one bright light, one loud noise, or something else.

And so what did I do with the pause time?  I realized I am not used to it.  My daughter had no activities so there was nowhere we had to go.  There was no reason to wake up early.  Usually I get up early even when not working due to leg spasms, but those just didn't happen, so I found myself lying in bed at peace, paused, and finding it very strange.

We went to the mall.  We didn't have a big reason to go which was also strange.  We meandered, not really feeling comfortable without some kind of agenda or list of things we needed.  We discovered that Black Friday sales really start the whole week beforehand, when stores are pretty empty.  I walked on our treadmill at home and felt good.  I thought a bit less about work and that is a good thing.  Family time.  I realized the importance of being with family.

I watched perhaps too much of the news and got annoyed, bothered, frustrated and sad.  I got to send messages to Facebook friends more regularly and have missed that connection source.  I got caught up on some phone calls that always seem to accumulate.

I thought more about what is most important in life.  In the end, going full-speed at work is overrated. Spending time with family, meandering with no place to go, and doing general catch-up is a good way to find that pause.  I tried to explain that to someone today but they didn't see it.  Maybe some don't see it?  I have a few close friends who have very significant health concerns right now.  I want to be with them.  I pause to reflect time spent with them, one who knew me when I was born - our closest family friend - all those good times we had - the laughter, the smiles, knowing I could always count on them for support.  Pause.

This was right as we approached Advent - a time to watch, wait, listen - and I experienced it a bit early.  The work of God is everywhere if we just pay attention.  And now we are here - Advent - a time when pausing can continue, as we look around us for glimpses of God.  And those glimpses are everywhere.