Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Struggle is Real

I started off the month of June in the Emergency Room. A panic attack or acid reflux sent me to the ER in the middle of the night. I had to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack. I wasn’t. But Todd and I lost a night of sleep and started the summer groggy and delirious.

The first half of 2016 brought a lot of heartache to our community. Some I’ve written about. Some I’ve kept to myself. But it all contributed to intensifying my battle with anxiety. A lot of the time, I feared the worst. I kept seeing the worst happening to people around me. I don’t understand it. I’ve seen too many young people die this year. Ergo, I couldn’t ignore the chest pains that night and possibly leave my three children motherless. Not if I could prevent it.

Therein lies the rub. I can’t prevent pain. I can’t control life and death. None of us are getting out of here alive. It’s all about eternity. Sometimes I can’t wait till we’re there and this is all over. But I know I’m called to something greater. I'm called to have joy in the journey.

I keep coming back to this: I know my Father loves me. He holds all His children in the palm of His hand.

I repeat these words to myself sometimes. 

I have other mantras, too.

Psalm 91: “Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night . . .”

Song Lyrics:
Good Good Father “You are perfect in all of Your ways.”

Whom Shall I Fear “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind.” 

A beautiful song my niece wrote: 
“Oh, how I love You, how I love You.
Oh, how You love me, it’s how You love me.
And I can’t do anything but praise You, Lord.
And everything You do is for my good.
And I just want to sing Your praise,
And I just want to shout Your name in all the earth.”

Following the advice of some wise friends, at bedtime I read some scripture, turn off my light, and go to sleep speaking in tongues. Yes, I’m one of those crazy Pentecostals, too. Surprise!

“Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  Romans 8:26

I don’t want to dwell on my infirmity. Some days and nights are worse than others. God is guiding me through this. I feel as though I’m walking in dense fog. I can just make out His shape as I follow Him. Sometimes it clears a little and I can see better. I’m praying the sun will come out and burn the fog away altogether.

June came to a close with my biggest struggle yet. My eldest child was having two teeth extracted July 1st. All the evidence directed me to let anesthesia put her to sleep for the procedure. She didn’t want to stay awake with just Novocain and nitrous to take the edge off. But fear gripped me in its unrelenting vise.

“What about that heart murmur she used to have?” I thought. “What if the anesthesia kills her?”

I couldn’t seem to stop the parade of images and possible scenarios that flooded my mind. The oral surgeon was in the same building as my obstetrician. The same place I’d discovered my third pregnancy was over at 7 weeks. Was I going to lose another child in this building?

I know. I know. Some of you are thinking, This woman is really crazy!

On the other hand, some of you can identify with this pattern of thinking.

Deep down I knew I couldn’t let my fears dictate what was best for my daughter. Making her endure an awful experience because I’m afraid of losing her would be wrong. The breakthrough came when I spoke to my counselor and she talked about neural pathways. It wasn't the first time I'd heard about them, of course. My very simplified way of understanding these pathways is to picture deep ruts in a dirt road. My anxious thoughts get stuck in a destructive pattern the same way a vehicle's wheels get stuck in the tire tracks. I can observe it happening and I have to retrain my brain to have positive thoughts.

I believe Satan plays a role in this. He watches us daily. His goal is to steal our joy. He knows my weaknesses and attacks me in every possible way. In order to establish new pathways, I need to rebuke the Devil and turn my thoughts to things of God. Repeat my mantras. Read the Psalms.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  Ephesians 6:12

I went to the oral surgeon with Camilla on Friday, July 1st, armed to fight my fears and determined to hide them from her. I made sure the doctor knew about her innocent heart murmur before he started the anesthesia. I counted the minutes and prayed as I sat in the waiting room. Before long, I was ushered back to the recovery room where I sat by her until she was ready to leave. She was perfectly fine. No ill effects whatsoever. She wasn’t even sore.

That afternoon, I was so exhausted by my sleepless week, all I could do was lie on the couch and make a pact with myself that I was not going to let this—Satan, my anxiety, my neural pathways—get the best of me anymore. I was done.

The sun came out that Saturday. I was kayaking on my parents’ lake, my two-year-old tucked in front of me. I was myself again. Sunshine on my shoulders. Water dripping from the paddle onto our bare legs.

As I turned the kayak to head into shore, Eva’s toddler voice reached up to me. 

“No, don’t go back yet, Mommy. Go around the whole circle!”

That’s when I felt it. That unmistakable old friend.


I’m not letting go of it this time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What I’m Into: June 2016

We are very much in summer mode here in the Treat household. June 1st was the last day of school for Camilla and it seems pointless to try to continue Adrian’s schooling while she’s home. So we’re sleeping in these days and following a very relaxed routine. Too relaxed, maybe . . . we’ll try to up our game in July so we can fit in all the fun stuff we plan to do before school begins again.

What I’ve been doing . . .

The first few days of June, we helped Camilla’s school move into a different building. 
Hold it! 
I ought to say, we helped Camilla’s and Adrian’s school move into a different building. That’s right. We’ve officially registered Adrian for school next year and I’m leaving the ranks of the homeschoolers. For now. We’re all excited about the new location—and about Adrian attending with Camilla in the fall. I’ll probably be a puddle of tears the first three days of school again, but I’ll get over it. It’s the best path for our family right now.

We attended a Shakespeare in the Park play—Julius Caesar. It was a satisfying interpretation and especially poignant during such a polarizing election year. (Yeah, I’m not going there right now. Not in this post, anyway!) I realized that Julius Caesar is one of the few Shakespeare plays I have not actually read, so I had to really pay attention during the action. The play is the thing, after all!

The second weekend in June, I took off to Austin, Texas for a writing retreat. Three out of four of the women in my old writing group got together to talk and write and plan for three days. I so needed this time to actually hear myself think for a change! It turned out to be much too short, but I made it work and came home with a plan. I’m writing more often and I’m more focused because I decided what projects to work on with the blocks of time I have. I’m not carrying out my plan perfectly, but it has helped immensely. On top of that, it was lovely to hang out with my friends, Demery and Pauline. We challenge each other and love each other in spite, or maybe because, of our differences. My life is richer for having the two of them in it.

Missing our fourth wheel.
When I got home from Austin, I had to face the reality of a kitchen that was still under construction.  Folks, I did not think it would take this long. Thankfully, we are able to use the kitchen for the most part. But the granite company measured for the countertops June 3rd and we’re still using our old Formica sitting on top of our new cabinetry! The new countertop is supposed to be installed Thursday. I thought we’d have moved on by now . . . Ah, well! This too shall pass. And the privilege of being able to remodel our kitchen is not lost on me. I just need to shake myself every now and then to realign my perspective. I’m kind of like an Etch-a-Sketch. Or maybe a Kaleidoscope?
We're so close! Still in the works: countertops, backsplash, pendant lights . . .
What I’ve Been Reading . . .

Upon reviewing my Goodreads profile, I realized June was a pitiful month in the reading department! The kids and I finished Prince Caspian. I think we were less enthralled with this installment, or perhaps just getting tired of Lewis’ slightly archaic language. We decided to take a break from the Chronicles for a little while and began Old Wolf by Avi. Unfortunately, Avi’s writing style did not impress me at all, especially when it came to dialogue. I willingly surrendered this one to Todd and he ended up reading most of it to the kids without me. He’s usually not a literature critic, but he wasn’t impressed either.

Somehow, we started TheVoyage of the Dawn Treader in spite of our resolve to read something else for a while. I guess we couldn’t resist the draw of Narnia for long. I’m enjoying this book, but we’re finding ourselves reading together less often because of all the other fun things vying for our attention. Picnics! Fireworks! Late nights!

As part of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge, I started a book recommended to me by my child. BalletShoes by Noel Streatfeild. I had a hard time getting into it. Perhaps I heard too much of the plot while Camilla was reading it for school this spring. Or perhaps I’d heard it recommended by too many people (including Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail) and thus my expectations were too high. Whatever the reason, I’m enjoying it more now that I’m halfway through. And I’m determined to persevere to the end. Camilla and I want to watch the movie version together and I have to read the book first!

I’m in a haphazard book club—we meet once in a while to talk and drink tea or wine. We decide on a book we’d like to read, and some of us read it ahead of time. And sometime during the four or five hours we’re together, we might discuss the book. For a few minutes. Anyway, this is how I came to read Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend. I knew the concept of “boundaries” (and I recommend everybody learn about that!) but I’d never read the book. I’m listening to it now, on Overdrive, but it’s due tomorrow and there are holds on it. So maybe I’ll finish it when it comes around to me again. I forgot that I’m a visual learner, though. Self-help might not be the best genre for me to read via audio book. And our “Haphazard Book Club” met last week to discuss it. So I don’t have that incentive. But I hope to finish it one way or another.

In other categories, we’ve been . . .

Playing at parks.

Splash Pads, too!

Potty Training!

Waiting in enormously long lines to pay good money to have our faces painted so we could wash it off the next day. (Well, that was only one of us!)

Hiking in the woods.

Hanging out on the back porch with friends late into the night.

Ah, summer! Sadly such a short season! (Alliteration intended.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Story from Haiti

We slipped out of the gate and quietly made our way down the street. Following Richard, our host. Two black boys walked with us. They’d been playing at Richard’s house, but I didn’t know their names.

“We’re going to your neighborhood,” Richard said to them, in his gentle Kentucky drawl. “You gonna show us your house?”

The street narrowed to an alleyway between two high walls. Then the walls ended and we stood in an open spot the size of three or four parking spaces. Below us, the neighborhood stretched out in a ravine-like area hemmed by shrubbery and walls of larger homes on either side. The area took up half the space of a football field. The roof of the boys’ house was right in front of us, even with our feet. Several sheets of metal, held in place by half-blocks thrown on top. The house measured about 8 by 12 feet.

“They have eight people in their family,” Richard said. “Living in that house. I want to build them a new house. Right on this spot.” He tapped his foot where he stood.

The “neighborhood” was filled with similar homes.

A home in the boys' neighborhood.

“This is as far we go,” Richard went on. “This is where they live. We’re intruding on their privacy if we go down and look into their homes.”

We nodded. Silent.

“Your kay?” I pointed to the house below us, trying out some of my limited Haitian Creole on one of the boys.

“Oui,” he replied.

“They speak English,” Richard said. “We’re putting them through school. They don’t want to stay here. You ask them, they’ll tell you.”

He lifted his eyes to the houses beyond the walls bordering the boys’ neighborhood. Coral-painted block walls with flowering vines climbing over them. Gated, two-story homes, with verandas.

Another home in Port-au-Prince.

“They can see a better life,” said one of my companions. “Right there.”

“They want to get out of here.” Richard nodded.

I snapped a couple photos. I didn’t want to intrude, but I wanted to remember. Our friends back home had to see this. We all turned around and walked back to Richard’s house together. We didn’t say much. But we couldn’t feel the same as we had when we left the house. In the space of a fifteen-minute afternoon stroll, everything had changed.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ode to my Smooth-Surface Electric Range

Yesterday marked 16 years since the love of my life popped the question. I just realized this a moment ago.

I was thinking about the date because I wondered just how old our range is. It was a wedding gift from Todd’s parents, so it's nearing sixteen years in our possession. And it is moving to a new home soon.
Feeling a little out of place already.
Of all the tasks and decisions involved in renovating the kitchen, choosing a new range may have been the most exciting for me. I love to cook! I love to bake even more! I’m not sure if that’s come across on this blog very well. It’s not a food blog. While I may have blogged about food occasionally in the past, I think I’ve gotten away from that in recent years. Honestly, I haven’t exercised my baking love as much as I would have liked in recent years, either. A friend of mine was present a few weeks ago when I asked Todd what kind of cake he would like for his birthday. She noted that she buys her family’s cakes at the grocery store.

Side Note: There is no shame in that! If that is you, I applaud you for getting off the Pinterest-perfect train. Good job!

“That’s fine,” I replied. “But I really, really like to bake.”
“You do?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I want to bake our cakes from scratch!”
Weird. I know.

Back to the range—I thought I wanted a pro-style range for a while. We even laid out our kitchen with a 36-inch space for a larger range at first. But then we started reading reviews and yada, yada, yada . . . we eventually determined that THIS was my dream range.

I was so excited about switching to gas and we found a good deal on this range, so it was one of the earliest items we purchased for our kitchen reno. It’s been sitting in the garage for two months. Since we need to install the hood before we can use the range, and the backsplash needs to be finished before we install the hood, and the countertop needs to be installed before we can do the backsplash . . . the range will be the last thing to go in the kitchen. Sigh.

But! This has given me a chance to wish Sweet Sixteen to my good-old smooth-top electric range. I chose a smooth surface to make cleaning it easier, knowing I would detest scrubbing out drip-pans. Wasn’t I clever? In those days I thought I could streamline my cleaning and make my life easier. I didn’t realized that eventually three kids, a dog, and a husband would take over the house and cleaning would be far from streamlined and closer to futile. Ah, but it has been fairly easy to clean the stovetop. I’ve just gotten used to the burn marks. They’re part of the story.
One of my canning adventures. Who says you can't can on a smooth top?
The range has served me well, though. I start thinking about this and I get sentimental.

I remember the first dinner I made the day after we got home from our honeymoon. Saucy chicken and roasted potatoes. (I hope I made a vegetable, too. I’m sure I did.) So many meals have been cooked on that stove-top, so many birthday cakes baked in the oven.

We learned to make cheesecake together, this oven and I. Desserts so delectable my friends told me I should go into business.

“And take all the fun out of it?” I said. “Never!”

When I was pregnant with Camilla, during a flurry of intense-cleaning-sparked-by-nesting, I knocked over our knife block and nicked the porcelain edge of the stovetop. I was aghast. But thankful I hadn’t cracked the whole top. I kicked myself for months over my clumsy mistake. Now I’m rather fond of that nick. It’s part of the story, too. There’s another nick in the porcelain, and I can’t remember how that happened. Funny how things like that stop being so important.
Chocolate Chip Pancakes for Camilla's Second Birthday. note the chip in the porcelain.
But the oven . . . the oven! Pies. Banana bread. Carrot cake. Hershey’s Perfectly-Chocolate Chocolate Cake. Baker’s One-Bowl Brownies. Gluten-free versions of everything. This range fueled my culinary prowess from its humble beginnings. And now we are going to say good-bye. Sometime soon.
Pumpkin Pies baking in my dear old oven!

If we ever get the countertop and finish the backsplash.

It’s like saying good-bye to an old friend. The stove will grace the kitchen of our rental property, the house we lived in when we were first married, the place where it all began. So perhaps it’s really going back to its rightful home. Or perhaps it’s like moving the mother-in-law into the apartment over the garage.

“Thanks for all the help over the years, but you’ll be out of the way here!”

Either way, we’re getting a newer, shinier model.

I just hope it can live up to its predecessor.