Category Archives: From the Gut of my Soul

Me unfiltered.

The Day My Appendix Died

I just read one of those clickbait articles on Facebook titled something like “I prosecuted serial killers all my life but never really understood until this one came for me!”  The story is about a very physically healthy prosecutor who almost died of a heart attack.  There was the bit about her feeling okay but her husband being worried when she vomited so took her to the ER, then all of a sudden she was swarmed by people ripping her clothes off, hooking her up to IVs, etc.  In the middle of all this the surgeon takes her hand and says, “I’m the boss of all these people. I’m going to look at your heart and do what I need to do to keep you safe and healthy.  I will treat you like my own family.”  That part made me cry, and I knew that – even though it’s late – I need to write this.  I wanted to share the article I read with you, but as usual… Facebook swallowed it whole and left no crumbs.  But if you see it, click the bait.  It’s not long.

So here is the story of the day my appendix died…

Exactly one week ago (11:30pm, 3/7/17) I was walking laps around the post-surgical unit at Good Samaritan Hospital at the instructions of my awesome Filipino nurse, Cef, who taught me that when there’s a kink in the hose gas will work its way UP your body until you think you have a pinched nerve that is numbing your neck and sending shooting pain down your arm. That’s right: the treatment for post-surgical neck pain was to walk and fart. He was right. Drinking lots of ginger ale quickly and belching loudly was also helpful.

I spent a lot of money on nursing school, and the better part of 9 months in 1997/1998 memorizing the tiny words and drawings in my very expensive and heavy Anatomy and Physiology book. I know what I’ve got going on inside me. For the past 6 months or so I’ve been having random expectant thoughts of appendicitis (God prepares me for important things because He gave me an awesome brain that just doesn’t handle surprises very well).

So when the indigestion I’d been having for a couple of days suddenly focused itself on a specific point deep inside my lower right belly last Monday evening, I knew exactly what it was.  I also had a plan.  I BARELY had symptoms. I was in no pain except little sharp bursts when I laughed, coughed, or pressed on that specific spot. No fever. No nausea. I was hungry. None of the things that happen when your gut is in trouble had happened yet. I called an advice nurse and my doctor’s On-Call doctor. I told my closest friend to keep her phone on in case I needed a ride to the ER. I updated my parents and told my coworkers I might be out on Tuesday. I cleaned the litter box and filled the cat’s food. Then I went to bed. I was not remotely afraid, but I knew I would be in surgery the next day.

The next morning I was at Urgent Care at 8:30, dressed for work just in case I was wrong.

I would like to take a moment to say how much I love absolutely everything about Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

Things moved faster than expected, but only because of efficiency.  In between the nurse and the doctor and the blood thief I was busy cancelling my morning sessions, communicating with my work team, prepping a list of what I would need my friend to bring to the hospital.  They made me do a urine test to prove I wasn’t pregnant.  I had a cat scan, which was kind of cool. Those machines talk to you! My IV tubing wasn’t connected quite right, and the whole thing exploded all over me and the machine when she did the trial with saline (before iodine). It was hilarious! That poor VERY pregnant tech with long curly hair was mopping me up and I just couldn’t stop laughing!

I told her the story of my very first day in nursing clinicals… my patient was an extremely obese woman (over 400#) who took up the full width of the bed. I managed to dump an entire tub of water (maybe 2 gallons) into her bed with her. It was like slow motion, watching that rose-colored rectangular tub tip over.  I will never forget. My instructor was right there. I was mortified, horrified, just… yeah. “Honey, I am one fat woman who can’t bathe myself. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last!  Trust me, this is the most interesting thing that’s happened to me in awhile!” Then she just laughed and laughed while my instructor and I (and probably a 3rd person) struggled around her giant body and big naked bottom to try to get everything clean and dry. That woman taught me one of the most important lessons I’ll ever learn: I’m going to screw up. Laughter will make it much better!

So I laughed on Tuesday with the very pregnant tech who sprayed me out of my IV tubing. And surprisingly (because by this time my belly was getting pretty sensitive), I don’t remember that laughter hurting.

We got the IV fixed and within an hour I was congratulated on my very early-stage appendicitis.  I cancelled my life for the week, and started an email to a coworker who always steps up to help coordinate these sorts of things because in my office it takes 5 people just to make the phone calls in all the right languages.  The doctor at urgent care handed me a stack of paperwork and a CD and told to drive myself down the street to Good Samaritan Hospital, and hand these things to the surgeon waiting for me.

(Note: this is a graphic paragraph about surgery and body things.  You are warned.)  It’s a very surreal thing to drive yourself alone to a hospital for an operation.  Because I understand operating rooms, too.  I have explored them, studied them, watched incredible things happen in them.  I have seen babies and organs and bones and blood come out of human beings in them.  I have watched in awe as artists who have mastered the human body practice their craft, each focused on a specific part so that the mechanism can work smoothly and efficiently.  If I had been a nurse, I think I would have been an OR nurse.  But you can’t drive yourself to surgery without imagining yourself on the table.  I know I won’t feel or remember it, but I know I will have a tube down my throat.  They might give me a catheter.  If they cut me they will cauterize me.  I remember the smell of cauterizing flesh; it is the second most disgusting smell I’ve experienced.  Adipose tissue was the worst.  I have a lot of adipose tissue.  If my appendix bursts, how big will the incision be?  Will they put my intestines on my chest like in the bowel resection I observed?  I hope they get their gauze counts right.  I was not scared.  Not at all.  But I could see myself on the table.  I remember the patient’s perspective from the surgery on my leg.  Good Sam has free valet parking, which was awesome and super convenient and a relief that I wouldn’t have to try to tell Michelle where to find my car in the parking lot later.

So I showed up at registration with my stack of papers.  “Hi! I came to get my appendix out!”  I’m not walking quite so easily now, but the older Black gentleman behind the desk smiles back at me.  I wish I could remember his name; it was a grandpa sort of name, like Walter or Reginald.  He reminds me of William on “This is Us.”  He seems like the kind of guy who would get to know his mailman.  He looks at me oddly; apparently this is not usually how appendicitis patients show up for surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital.  So I sit for 15 minutes on the lovely couches with built in USB charging ports.  He figures stuff out and sends me down the hall and to the left to the surgery waiting room.  I go down the hall and to the left to the place that says “Surgery Waiting Room.”   There is only a volunteer there, no doctors or nurses.  There is coffee and tea there, and magazines that everyone is touching.  That doesn’t seem to match my expectations, but I’m starting to feel a little tired and fuzzy so I’m not quite sure why.  I tell the volunteer I’m here for surgery.  She looks at me oddly, too.  I don’t think volunteers process surgical patients.  Apparently this is the place where non-sick people wait around for sick people who are currently being mended.  She sits me down and bustles around trying to figure out what to do with me.  I am not emailing anymore.

Ten minutes later the volunteer and a nurse come rushing up to me.  “We’ve been looking for you everywhere!!”  She takes me another 20 feet down the hallway to the left.  Just around a little bend is another place.  It has a sign that says “Surgical Waiting Room.”  Subtle difference in name, significant difference in presentation.  There is no coffee or tea or magazines here.  People in this room are not dressed for outside.  Half of the people in this room are in beds behind little curtains, some have family members speaking quietly to them.  This looks more like it.

WHOOSH!!

We’re so glad you made it!  We’re getting all your authorizations.  The OR has been booked for you.  Just relax here.  Take off all your clothes and put this gown on.  Let me close this to give you some privacy.  Put this gown on.  Just relax.  I am alone in a space in a room full of people.  It doesn’t quite dawn on me that I’m changing into my surgical gown until it surprises me that it’s made of paper and the inside is lined with plastic and there are slits all over it and the plastic against my skin is actually some sort of tube thing.  It slowly dawns on me that they have clearly developed a more efficient body heating method since the days of separate tubing, and that the slits are placed strategically for examining and exposing various parts of the body while keeping the rest covered and warm.  “Bet this thing costs a fortune, but it’s really cool.  Wait.  I kinda feel like I just dressed myself for my funeral.  No, I’m not gonna die.  But strange things are gonna happen in this thing, special events completely focused on me, my body will be there, and I’m gonna miss it all.”  Okay, then.  I guess this is happening RIGHT now.

This is where things got interesting.  And funny. And really busy and fast.  And I was hungry and dehydrated and had appendicitis and no Ritalin.  So most likely this is not a direct account.  But it is as I remember it.

First they trickled in.

The nurse checked that I was changed and comfortable, then suddenly realized that I was never registered!  They put me in the bed so fast, before all the authorizations were done, and then made me get naked!  “Is there any chance you’re pregnant, honey?” No.

The anesthesiologist came in to introduce himself, make sure I understood all the things he was going to do to me and for me, get a history. I assured him I wasn’t pregnant.  I was reciting my medications to him when the surgeon came in.

Dr. Danagra Ikossi

When I broke my leg in college I got to take an ambulance ride.  I thought I could do it without pain meds.  Half a mile into the ride I swiftly and most robustly changed my mind.  That EMT put a morphine drip in my veinless arm without a tourniquet on the first try in a moving ambulance in less than 15 seconds.  His name was something normal like Matt or Chris, but I call him Toby.  I will swear to my dying day that a bright supernatural light shone over him inside that ambulance, reflecting off of his glorious blonde locks and making his crystal blue eyes sparkle like the stars over the Amazon rainforest.

Dr. Ikossi wasn’t quite like that.  Toby was magical.  She was sunny and bright and playful and calm, simultaneously curiously excited and in complete control.  Like a laparoscopic appendectomy was her version of a day in Half Moon Bay.  Dr. Ikossi is the doppleganger of my college friend, Mindie.  This is her, but her hair wasn’t all tight like that in real life.  She is funny, relaxed, natural, and made me feel in 2 minutes like she’d known me my whole life.  Like sucking an appendix out of a belly button is as normal and uneventful for her as pumping gas or putting her kid to bed.  In retrospect she probably wasn’t wearing jeans, but I remember her like that in my mind.  And she had this great black handbag over her arm.  I admire women who skip the shoulder strap.  It’s just classy, makes me think of the Roaring Twenties for some reason.  Women who can carry their bag on their forearm aren’t carrying around loads of extra stuff.  I’m a shoulder strap girl myself.

Dr. Ikossi checked first on whether or not we were on schedule, and was surprised the anesthesiologist beat her to me, and wondered why I wasn’t in the computer yet.  Then she kicked everyone out (or maybe they left, but we were definitely alone) and, after making sure I wasn’t in pain, asked me about my life.  She asked me where I work and what I do there and how long I’ve lived in San Jose and who I live with and where my family is and who my people are here and my cats’ names.  She spent what felt like a long time learning about everything except my appendix.  Then we talked about my appendix and my medicine and all the weird stuff going on in my body.  And how I’m definitely not pregnant.

Once we agree that surgery is the better option over antibiotics or denial, she leans toward me against the foot of the bed and says, “So here’s what I’ll do: little cuts here, here, and here.  I’m gonna blow your belly up like a balloon from here.  From your belly button I’m going to go in, scootch over your colon, tie off your appendix, cut it off and pull it out.  Risks: in the rare chance that something goes haywire, I will make an incision so I have more room to work and I’m going to make everything okay.  If everything goes to plan, you’ll be home tomorrow.  If not, it will be at least 4 days.”  I knew all of this already.  She didn’t smile, but she wasn’t stressed.  Not one bit.  That look of her leaning against the foot of my bed is frozen in my mind.  That was one confident woman.   I have only met one other person in my life who had this power to instantly absorb anxiety and replace it with peace just by being in a room.

I wasn’t anxious about the surgery at all, so it took me a few days to realize why she had such a calming affect on me.  I wasn’t alone in the hospital anymore.  There was someone else in that great big clean building full of experts who knew that I was a therapist who worked with refugees and lives alone with two cats and my family’s far away but my friend is close.  She said, “I could send you home today, but I think I’ll just keep you in so you’re not alone tonight.”  Magic words.

Then mayhem ensued.

Right now, before you go any further, create different voices for Nurse #1, Nurse #2, and IV Nurse.  You will need them.

IV Nurse: We need to put your IV in.  What’s your dominant hand?  I’m right-handed, but the only veins you’ll find are my right arm or left hand.  Okay, then let’s do your left arm.  Let me warm it up first.  Warm blanket on my arm. (huh?)  She walks away.

Nurse 1: We need to take your history.  Oh, you’re still not registered!  (I still have no wrist band or Medical Record # at this point.  I’m very glad my name is so unique.)  She goes to get the registration guy.

Registration Guy: Looks at me and realizes I’m naked under the gown.  Hmmm… let me just ask you some questions.  Asks questions.  Writes down answers.  Walks away.

Dr. Ikossi: I just tried to dictate my note, but she’s not in the computer yet.  I guess that will have to wait!  Laughs and leaves.  Calls back, “We need to hurry or we’re going to lose our time slot!”

I am frantically texting in the few seconds between all these people to make sure the people who need to know I’m about to go into surgery know I’m about to go into surgery.  The warm blanket has fallen off in this flagrant use of technology.

IV nurse looks at me like I’ve let her down terribly by not keeping the blanket on my arm.  She can’t find the vein in my left arm.  It’s clearly all my fault.  I guess we can try your right hand.

“Um, is there any chance I could use the bathroom before I get hooked up?”  She just stares at me as if we just drove out of the gas station 5 minutes ago.

Nurse #1: You need to take off your jewelry and hair clips.  Who’s taking your phone, do you have money or IDs?  You don’t have anyone here? (I’ve said this 5 times.) Then we need to call security to get your stuff.

IV nurse: Puts warm blanket on my right arm.  I do not understand this warm blanket business.

Registration guy: Brings me a tablet with a touch screen.  Okay, I need you to sign here, here, here, and here.  He explains briefly what they are.  I know what these documents say: I promise not to sue the hospital if I die.  I sign.  I never did get copies.  I always tell people to keep copies of these things.

Nurse #1 is on the computer on my left taking my medical history.  Nurse #2 is on the computer on my right getting whatever she needs for whatever she’s filling out.  IV nurse is stressing about the stupid warm blanket as she eyes the veins in my right hand; this is convenient, as Nurse #1 is now blocking her access to my left side.

In all fairness, hospitals can’t blow off OR time slots.  I cost us 15 minutes of precious prep time by getting lost, and everything was out of order.  No one was disrespectful to me or unkind, not in the slightest.  These nurses were awesome, and they did their job.  In surgical prep, their one job is to get all the information the surgical people need to know to keep you safe and alive.  But it got a little crazy for a bit.

In my imaginary replays, this is how it all plays out: I sit up tall in my bed, shake off the stupid warm blanket, and commandingly say, “Okay everybody, let’s all take a deep centering breath.  I know we’re in a hurry for the spot in the OR and I know all these questions are important.  Let’s pause for 40 seconds while you guys get organized and I pull up my list of medications.  I take a lot of pills in a day and that’s the only way I’ll get it all right.  Woman, for the love of mercy, you need a tourniquet, NOT A BLANKET, and the IV needs to go in my left hand or my right arm.  My left hand would be much more convenient. But before anything else happens, I am going to pee!”

Here’s what actually happened, in rapid succession.  I drew on every second of group home experience and greatly benefited from my ADHD to actually keep both of these conversations running separately and simultaneously.  I was rather impressed with myself.  And for the record, I take 3 vitamins because of specific deficiencies and several prescriptions.  Two of these prescription medications are most commonly used for seizure disorders and diabetes – I have neither.  Answering the medication questions is not a simple thing.

Nurse #1: What medications are you taking?

Nurse #2: So you told me what medicine you take, what did you take this morning?

Nurse #1: Did you take those today?

Nurse #2: What time did you take them?

Nurse #1: How long ago did you take them?

IV Nurse: Finally decides to use a tourniquet. On my right hand.

Nurse #1: Do you take the Lamictal for seizures?  No, for depression. What?  They use that for depression? Yes.

Registration Guy: Here’s your wrist band! He puts it on crooked because he has to reach over the IV nurse.  The adhesive messed with me the whole time I wore it.

Nurse #2: How long have you had diabetes?  I don’t.  The Metformin is for PCOS.

IV Nurse: Just a little stick!

Nurse #1: Is there any chance you could be pregnant? Not in the slightest.

Nurse #2: Do you take insulin? I don’t have diabetes.

The IV needle is digging into my bone.  There is no vein in my right hand.  Seriously, I promise you, God just drew a faint blue line with a magic marker.  I know this.  It has been proven multiple times by other IV people who like a challenge.  Right now, this hurts worse than my appendix.  Much worse.  I grunt and close my eyes.

Nurse #1: Have you ever had… she starts going down the list of every possible major illness.

Nurse #2: Do you think there is any way you might be pregnant?  (These women are literally 6 feet away from each other.)

I literally cannot speak.  I manage to grunt out “ooowwww.”

The IV nurse looks at me.  My eyes are welling.  “Maybe we should try your left hand.” Ya think?

“I would really like to use the bathroom before I get hooked up to a bunch of things.”

IV Nurse: Can she do that?

Me: (Looks left) No, I do not have any of those illnesses.  (Looks right) No, I am absolutely completely 100% NOT PREGNANT.  I’ve been on birth control for 3 years, don’t have anyone to make babies with, and the clinic sent you documents of the negative urine test they did this morning.  Not pregnant. NOT. not.

Nurse #1: Do you take insulin for your diabetes?  I’m not diabetic.  The metformin is for PCOS.  Oh gosh, you haven’t eaten today.  When was the last time you checked your blood sugar?  Calls out: Did anyone check her blood sugar??? Does she need glucose?! I’m NOT diabetic. Oh.  You’re sure?  I’m sure. (Again, these women are literally 6 feet away from each other.)

Security lady comes to collect my things.  She just stands calmly at the end of my bed.  Clearly, she has seen this mayhem before.  I start pulling out hair clips with my free hand.

IV Nurse: Hunched under Nurse #1’s elbow.  Just a little stick!

OR nurse arrives: Is she ready yet?  The OR’s prepped.

IV slides perfectly right into my left hand, like a miracle from Heaven.  Without a warm blanket.  IV nurse reaches for tubing and a bag of saline.

Me, pulling off my jewelry and dropping it into a zip-lock bag: I would really like to use the restroom before you hook me up to all that.

IV nurse looks at Nurse #1, who looks at Nurse #2, then all 3 look at the OR Nurse: Can she DO that?  I know they’re thinking I’ll be knocked out in 15 minutes and the OR nurse can just cath me.

OR Nurse: Yes, she should absolutely use the restroom.  Dr. Ikossi wants all of her patients to use the restroom before surgery if they can, it simplifies things later.  He winks at me.  I like this man.

Security guard is staring at me, looking at my phone.  I’m feeling pressured now to hand over my only link to the people who know more about me besides whether or not I’m pregnant or diabetic.

This time I do make everyone stop for 90 seconds while I call my mother to tell her I’m headed in and will have Michelle call her when I’m out.

Security guard lady, curiously: Is your necklace a snitch?  Where did you get that?

Me (quite proudly, because it’s actually really cool): I won it at my monthly Harry Potter Trivia Night meetup.

She smiles and I watch as she silently unbuttons and rolls her left sleeve up to her elbow.  Her forearm is tattooed with the word “Always.” We have connected on a much deeper level, sisters of an alternate universe in which this whole situation could probably have been avoided with a few drops of essence of murtlap, carefully chosen words, and a fancy stick.  The moment shatters as I hand her my phone and am brought back to this world of firing questions and increasingly firey belly.

Then they let me pee.  People, it was wonderful.  It had a door and no questions were involved.

Dr. Ikossi arrives in green surgical scrubs and a flowery cap, with her black handbag over her arm.  Big sunny smile on her face.  I have a sudden reverie to the world of Amelia Bedelia.  But I save it to enjoy later.  I’m honestly not quite sure when she got there, because I know she helped tape down my IV.  Something about some new kind of adhesive IV strips and shirt and pants parts of them.  The point is… I went to the bathroom, the IV went where it was supposed to go, my happy surgeon showed up, and people FINALLY stopped asking if I was pregnant.

IV nurse is hooking tubing and saline to my arm.  She puts the bag of saline on my pillow.  It rolls down under my neck.  I ask if it’s okay to use it as a pillow.  Her eyes get wide.  I think she might still be upset with me about my not buying in to her warm blanket system.

Dr. Ikossi: Is she ready yet?  We need to hurry.

And then we are off: Dr. Ikossi, the OR nurse, the anesthesiologist, and me, headed down the hallway to the operating room like Dorothy and her friends on their way to meet the wizard.

I really really did love my OR rotation.  I felt again the rush of cool sterile air as we went in, the sparkly stainless steel.  The trays of gadgets, the glass cabinet doors behind which is stored sterile versions of pretty much anything you might need if anything goes haywire.  Operating rooms are prepared for both the plan and the possibility.  A lot like me, how I structure myself within the context of ADHD.  Careful planning is the only way to have any sort of control over situations that can fall apart in an instant.

Falling asleep in an OR is a strange thing.  My mom told me that they had her count down from 100.  When my leg was repaired the anesthesiologist told me it was coming and watched me.  This time I was literally having a conversation with the anesthesiologist and Dr. Ikossi.  I don’t remember what about.  Normal non-appendix things.  The clock said it was right around 2pm.  I was talking…

And then I was in the recovery room, waking up very calmly from a remarkably restful nap.  Dr. Ikossi was there, watching me wake up.  She said things went perfect and I could go home tomorrow.  The anesthesiologist was watching over me, too, but disappeared pretty fast.  I hope I thanked him.  And there was a nurse.  And another nurse who called Michelle.  And really quickly I switched into a nicer hospital bed.  Next thing I knew they wheeled me into my room.  And it was done.

Dr. Ikossi stopped by the next day.  She checked my belly and everything.  But we talked about refugees and the executive orders and her kids being aware of these things even though they are young.  She said goodbye and I said thank you.  When I next saw my nurse she told me that Dr. Ikossi had told her I was a therapist who worked with refugees.

Dr. Ikossi never needed me to have a medical record number, and that meant the world to me.  I looked her up, there are lots of reviews online about her amazing bedside manner and how she treats all of her patients like people.  I loved one quote: “She is a beautiful tornado with a ferocious drive to make her patients whole again.”  Because I strive for the same thing in my own practice I know that this is not something she does for me, but for herself; she does it because that is what excellent practitioners do, it is how we maintain our integrity and keep ourselves out of the mental mire of red tape and politics and the power of expertise.  She will see me a total of 3 times and maybe never again, but she wrestles with her own methods every day.  Authentic caring is how helpers sleep at night certain that we have made the world a better place.  We do it because it is who we ARE, not just a skill we have learned.  But I also know that even though I was alone in the hospital and even though we were on a schedule, that afternoon she never let me feel alone.

So this processing exercise turned out a lot longer than I thought it would.  The whole recovery process has caused stirrings in my mind and these things are still settling into thoughts.  I have, however, learned that tiredness is not the same as weakness, and weakness really sucks.  I am overwhelmingly grateful for the help I received from friends, but also grateful that I only received the help I truly needed.  It was important for me to spend this time alone with my body, and in solitude.  Change happens deep within our souls when we are in a weakened state, much like my external weakness was only a reflection of all the microscopic work happening deep within my belly.  I hope I will write about these things later.  For now…

I am so very grateful that I took the time to listen to my body, and that I didn’t ignore that little pain.  Every doctor I saw last Tuesday was really surprised to learn that I caught this before I had any other symptoms.  Don’t trust google.  I googled my symptoms for kicks – she said I was fine.  Don’t trust what you know: knowledge is fallible.  Please, people, TRUST YOUR BODY.  If something feels funny or different, check it out.  In my case that was the difference between pain/nausea/fever/infection/invasive surgery and a simple procedure that was technically outpatient, the little healing cuts hurt more than the actual appendicitis, and me walking laps 5 hours later.

And I am so very grateful for a surgeon who knew exactly how to bring herself into her art form.  I never doubted her skill, but her humanity was what brought me peace more than anything else.  Please, people, BE YOU.  Yourself is what sets you apart from every other cookie cutter version of people who do what you do.  Do things expertly, your way, in your style.  Be memorable because you are authentic.

I realized yesterday… I totally forgot to tell them about my Vitamin B12.

Distracted on Purpose

Distracted on Purpose

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I want to share with you about a chat I had with God tonight…

See, the last 3 weeks have been rough. I am a professional secret-keeper, and things happened that I can’t talk about. I’ve had a huge number of deadlines in the past few weeks. I had a birthday. There was an awful bombing in Iraq. Innocent people have been killed in America. I’m completely not registering that I brushed my teeth or have my lunch sitting next to me. I totally forgot a really important day in my friend’s life, that I had planned to highlight. I really need to avoid people for a day or two, but there’s all that adulting stuff like the dentist tomorrow. I’m actually fine, and not exactly stressed (at the moment). But it’s been rough. 

Let’s put that on the back burner.

Not many people know that my mouth is really sensitive to strong mint flavors. They burn my lips. This is SO not a big deal. But, after years of trial and error I finally discovered that Crest ProHealth Advantage in Smooth Mint is the one for me. Yes! This is life-changing, folks. So of course I ran out. I’ve been using the nasty Scope-flavored stuff until I get more. Tonight I went to Target, the supplier of the 17 wonderful things not better found on Amazon, and ventured forth into the toothpaste aisle. After 5 minutes I accepted the dreadful fact: despite having a wall of about 20 different varieties of Crest toothpaste in every variety of descriptive mint flavors you can buy (including a flavor simply called “Extra Whitening Power” that would no doubt burn my mouth faster than dry ice), none of these were smooth. It was really annoying!

“WHAT is the problem with this week, God?”

“This is a first-world problem.”

I thought backward a few hours. Just after eating the lunch I’d forgotten I had, I met a man 2 years younger than me who has a Ph.D. He refused to return home to Syria from the country where he studied because he refuses to participate in mandatory military service that could potentially land him in the ISIS army if his region is taken over. His family lives in a city that is constantly under attack.

A little later in the afternoon I met an Iraqi woman 5 years younger than me. Her sister worked for the US Army in the 2000s, so the family has been targeted by terrorist groups for over 10 years. She was injured in a bombing. Fortunately, her family was not at the mall last week.

These two people are amazing, resilient, we laughed together, it was an enjoyable afternoon. These are actually very typical stories, and I hear different versions of these several times in most weeks. For me, this is just a Friday.

There I was annoyed in the toothpaste aisle, remembering. Now I was more annoyed with myself than with Target.

“This is so stupid!”

“What is?”

“Well, you’re right. This is such a little first-world problem. Why do all these annoying stupid little problems happen to me all the time?”

“Because I let them.”

“Well then what’s YOUR problem?”

“I give you the little problems so that you can bear the big ones.”

That took me a minute. Then it clicked. God DISTRACTS me. With stupid stuff. On purpose.

He’s right, He always is. I am called to absorb the stories and pain of others. Those stories and that pain are not mine, but easily can become mine if I don’t release them. If you know me, you know that I don’t like to let go. So God made my brain distractible. When we’re weighted down with stuff – our own or someone else’s – it’s really hard to get distracted by flowers and sunshine. So God takes away my toothpaste and gives me deadlines sends me way too many emails of random stupid stuff, then he cancels the Monday morning training so I have time to get it all done.

God distracts me.

And now I’m sitting on my couch crying because when I go through really rough weeks it can get really hard to remember that I’m not broken when I’m stressed and forgetful and taking forever to get things done and having to make jokes to my coworkers about having forgotten my meds to help them understand why I’m talking so much or failing to filter properly or hear everything they say or having such a hard time getting the sentences in my head to turn into words. But I’m not broken.  

I am made on purpose.

My brain was perfectly designed to do what it’s supposed to do.

God made me distractible so he can throw my attention and memory around as if He’s threshing wheat, tossing away what is useless or destructive and leaving behind only what HE sees and remembers. He helps my own emotions about something blow away so I can see more clearly. He refines my memories of what I have heard and seen until it is as close as possible to what He sees and hears. THAT is really cool.

God made me distractible to protect me, to empower me, to keep me tender and strong, to help me forgive courageously and love without prejudice.

“Wow. You really knew what you were doing.”

“I ain’t no fool.” 

image

Sallie’s Miracle Car

I wrote this blog for my official Go Fund Me Campaign page.

Lety’s Story

When I moved to California in 2002 for my first post-college REAL job, I excitedly bought a brand new Dodge Neon.  It was a fabulous car, and I named her Michelle after my new best friend.  And it did an amazing job of protecting me about 2 years later when a woman cut me off on a country road, I slammed on my brakes, and proceeded to flip end over end and land in a ditch.  RIP Michelle the Car.

I got lucky when I went to the Honda dealership because I was assisted by a new sales guy who didn’t think to actually check my credit before selling me a new Civic.  This was also a great car.  Even though my credit was lousy, I could afford it.  Unfortunately, I was in the midst of a very serious bout of very poorly treated depression… a time during which even simple tasks like setting up an automatic payment or opening the envelopes containing letters threatening to repossess my car were more than I could handle.  One morning in January 2006 I woke up and she was just gone.

Embarrassed and humbled, I was taken by a friend to a used car dealership where I bought my dark green 1995 Toyota Camry.  She was definitely a step down, but I made my payments faithfully and she became mine on August 8, 2007.

The Camry received no name… in some ways she has always been a reminder of my weakness, my utter failure, the lowest point of my depression, my shameful lesson in fiscal responsibility.  Despite this purpose and her namelessness, Camry has prevailed.  Despite all odds, this Gift of Redemption has persevered.  Despite all the many things I couldn’t afford to fix, she has kept me safe and her wheels keep rolling for 9½ years .  Let me tell you about her life with me:

1. A few weeks after we were brought together, we were traveling at about 5mph through a parking lot.  A massive truck was parked in a compact parking spot, blocking the view between myself and a car on the other side of it.  We couldn’t see each other so the other driver backed into me, crushing the corner of the car.

Side note: there is a reason parking spots are marked “compact!!!”  Big vehicles come with big responsibility!

2. A couple of years after I got her, Camry developed a slow power steering fluid leak.  I have attempted to have it fixed a couple of times, but it always comes back.  No big deal, but I’ve probably spent a few hundred dollars on ATF over the years.

3. There was about 2 years when the driver’s side window motor was broken… I held it up with Monster Tape until it was finally fixed.

4. The driver’s side lock does not work, so it can only be unlocked from the passenger’s side.  It was fixed for awhile, but then it quit again.

When I moved to San Jose in 2012, the plan was to replace her within 6 months.  But it turned out that my increased salary wasn’t worth nearly as much in the city as I thought it would be, so we continue to forge ahead through many small trials…

5.  Both front door handles broke off, so you have to dig your fingers under the levers to open the doors.
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6. The antenna broke, so now we only get one radio station.  Thank God for those cassette tape adaptor things you can use to run sound from other devices through car speakers!

7.  The middle light in the dashboard is out, so I’m never quite sure how fast I’m going at night.

8.  Sometimes the lights on the gear shift work, sometimes they don’t.  If she doesn’t move, she’s in neutral.

9.  One of the backseat seat belts is stuck.

10.  The side mirror was knocked off by the post in my carport (another shout out to Monster Tape!).  This means that she can’t be washed in a car wash, and since I live in an apartment building with no access to outside water which doesn’t matter since CA is in a drought and washing your car in a driveway is illegal right now anyway… we pray for rain.

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11.  The door over the gas tank got ripped off.
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12.  The trunk leaks when we get that rain we pray for.
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13.  The windshield washer fluid reservoir has a giant hole, so while the wipers work… we pray for rain some more.

14.  Not to mention the classic 1990’s Camry paint job that looks like a peeling sunburn!

15.  My left high beam doesn’t work, and no matter how much I twist the little knob the headlights refuse to raise.  I get about 20 feet of visibility on a dark night.

But despite all of these little things, this car just keeps going and going and going.  She commutes 66 miles a day with me at California freeway speeds with no trouble.  Nothing major has ever broken down.  She lives life to the fullest.  And she was finally named Lety:
Little
Engine
That
YOLO’d (In case you don’t know what YOLO means, Wikipedia does here.)

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Lety is my reminder that what God gives might not be what I want, but it is always enough.  And God’s gifts are lasting.  Like manna to the Israelites I might be bored of her, she might humble me and remind me of what I lack, but she is also constant daily proof that God is my provider.  He gives good gifts to His children, gifts that are good quality and meet the need and do not bring hardship or pain or stress.  I am so proud of this little car!!

In November I discovered that Lety had an oil leak.  When I asked the guy at Speedy Lube where the leak was, he opened the hood and waved his arms over the whole engine.  “Here,” he said.  The sealant inside the engine is breaking down, causing oil to leak through all the joints and seams in the metal.  He told me not to put any more money than absolutely necessary into this car, and to start saving for a new one.  Turns out Speedy Lube offers free top-offs between oil changes, so I am a frequent customer every week or two.  The guys there are awesome!

Believing for a Miracle Car
Lety and I entered 2015 knowing that it would be our last year together.  And I firmly believed in my heart that God would give me a car.  Yet, we are almost 6 months in, and there is no car.   She’s not getting any younger, and my faith is wavering… enough that I’m ready to pull an Abraham and fix this situation on my own.

I estimate that next Monday (maybe Tuesday) we will hit the 300,000 mile mark.  Really, this was my stubborn goal.  When we reach this, I will be ready to let her go.

In a few weeks I’ll be starting a new job that will require a lot of driving and probably transporting clients in my car.  Lety is no longer a safe or professionally presentable vessel for this task.

In the last week I realized that in mid-June I’ll be blessed with a little extra money.  Between that and the $1000 that California will give me to junk Lety, I should have about $5000.  This is a very good start, about half of what I plan to spend on a new used car.  I was going to be satisfied with that, knowing that upcoming changes in my income will cover a car payment.

My wish is for a car like this 2010 Honda Civic  that costs about $10,500.

My greater desire is to pay cash for a car, and use the new income to finally start paying off student loans.

This morning I woke up with a thought in my mind.  I don’t wake up like this very often, but when I do I know it’s God.  Usually these thoughts are for other people, but today it was for me: “Why do you keep settling?  I promised you a car.  Ask, and you shall receive.  GoFundMe.” (Literally, He said GoFundMe!)

I have a personal philosophy that if someone says “no” then I’m no worse off than I started, but I will never hear “yes” if I don’t ask.  So I always ask.  This tends to be a bit annoying to my supervisors, but eventually they realize I don’t necessarily expect to get what I want and stop cringing whenever they see me.  But somehow… Why is it so hard to ask God???  Along the same lines… Why is it so easy to ask God, then sit back, do nothing, and take no responsibility when nothing happens?

Then I went to church and heard a sermon about believing for miracles.  Again I heard, “Ask.”  In Mark 2, Jesus did the forgiving and the healing, but the dudes who wanted it did the heavy lifting and the carrying and the tearing up of the roof…

So here is me, asking.  Stepping out.  Believing that God’s word is true, that He will keep His promises of blessing.  That I will receive a Miracle Car.

I ask you to believe with me.  Donate, share… most of all, pray.  The beautiful thing about blessings is that they are boomerangs… they never return empty-handed.

The GoFundMe Campaign site is here: http://www.gofundme.com/salliesmiraclecar

NOTE: While GoFundMe was the best fundraising site that my research uncovered for this type of purpose, there are two disadvantages: 1) Donors are not charged any fees, but there is a small processing deduction for all donations, and 2) Paypal is not an option.  If you would prefer to contribute through PayPal, there is no fee for either of us if you select “Send Money to FRIENDS OR FAMILY” and deduct money through your checking account.  (There is a small fee if you use a debit or credit card and/or select “Pay for Goods or Services.”)  Paypal donations can be sent to sallie.rupe@gmail.com 

#stopthewedding

Fierce OneAn amazing cause… so sorry I didn’t know about it sooner to help spread the word!

This video is clearly an automated voice, probably because the original is in Norwegian and whomever wanted to get it up on youtube didn’t speak English.

These pages can be easily translated to English in Google Chrome by right-clicking and selecting “Translate to English.”

Thea’s blog is here.

You can show support on Thunderclap here.

Read about Plan Norway here.

 

 

 

 

While we’re at it… October 11th is the UN International Day of the Girl Child…

One Girl With Courage Is A Revolution!!

 

Thirty-Five Things it’s Taken Me Thirty-Five Years to Learn

IMG_1062Today’s my 35th birthday.  I think it’s supposed to be some kind of a milestone.  It’s quite annoying to look for an image for this blog and find the internet full of things like “Trying to keep calm – I’m 35” or “I’m too sexy to be 35.”  But I’m happy.  I think there can now be no more doubt that I am actually an adult and that surviving this long is quite an accomplishment.  Although it’s an odd day.  I’m sitting on the couch in my pj’s at 4pm, my leg still a bit jacked up, thinking about how birthdays are less and less of a deal every year.   Maybe this is why people have kids… so that days like this will be more exciting.  Regardless, I have thoughts.  I thought it would be hard to come up with this many, but hey… have I met myself?  Here are 35 lessons I have learned, epiphanies I’ve had, or life philosophies I have come to embrace in the last three and a half decades…  There are so many I left off… I’ll save them for my 40th birthday… when I will probably give you 80…

  1. Embrace your weirdness.
  2. Don’t apologize for enjoying food.  If you don’t want it, just don’t eat it.  Don’t try to make me feel guilty about enjoying mine.  Gosh, that’s annoying!
  3. My story is different than your story.  That doesn’t make it easier or harder or better or worse.  It just makes me different from you.  But we’ve all felt the same feelings.
  4. I know of nothing more powerful than a good hug.
  5. Feelings come and feelings go, and they never ask permission.  This applies to the good and the bad.
  6. There are relatives and there is family.  Hopefully the former is embraced in the latter, but the two are not interchangeable.
  7. The older you get, the younger you realize you actually are.
  8. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.
  9. Don’t be afraid of time.
  10. Work with your flaws.  Use them to find creative solutions.  I can’t tell you how many compliments I’ve gotten on my bathroom shelves that are intentionally designed so that “put away” means “leave out.”
  11. Define success in terms of people.  The happiest people I’ve ever met all have one thing in common: they all live their lives to invest in others.  Most of them are dirt-poor, but somehow that doesn’t matter.
  12. Parents don’t know everything, but they sure do know a lot.
  13. Legacy is a ripple-effect, and you might never know what yours is.  Don’t worry about it – just live how you want to be remembered.
  14. Teenagers are very often difficult grumpy mouthy know-it-all little humans who want to grow up.  Parents of teenagers are very often difficult over-reacting lecturing NO-it-all big humans who (75% of the time) worry too much.  It’s okay.  Everyone’s doing their job.  (And there’s always that 25% outside chance your difficult grumpy mouthy know-it-all little human is actually quite stupid.)
  15. God has better ideas than you.  If your life is turning out like you expected, then you need to figure out what the heck went wrong.
  16. Keep nursery rhymes alive.  Do you know about the man on his way to St. Ives?  Can you sing all the words to “London Bridge is Falling Down?” Does your kid know anything about Little Miss Muffet?  I rest my case.
  17. If you want to be an explorer, stay off the sidewalk.
  18. Learn about love languages, and learn to speak them all.  Fluently.  Love others with wild abandon.  The way Jesus did.  Just remember that true sacrificial love always hurts in the end… that’s why it’s called a sacrifice.  But yours will never hurt as much as Jesus’ did.
  19. British English is bloody brilliant.  Especially in Harry Potter and Doctor Who.
  20. There are times in your life when you just have to say, “I’m always alright.”
  21. Exercise, eat healthy, sleep well, keep your house clean, obey your budget, and don’t work too much.  And if you can figure out how to pull off more than 2 of these things simultaneously for more than a week you are a hero.
  22. Keep an eye on the people nobody notices, the ones who keep their head down and just do their thing.  These are the people who change the world.
  23. Seriously, girls, date the nerds.
  24. Don’t expect people to be as honest as you are unless you want to get burnt to a crisp, and forgive them ahead of time.  Unless you are not honest; then expect most people to be just like you.
  25. Life really does get better after 30.  So much better.
  26. Don’t spend your life waiting for “that thing” to happen.  If it does, great.  If it doesn’t, you just wasted your whole life waiting.  Go kill that bug yourself.
  27. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Be that person who is shockingly transparent and honest.  Be that person others can count on to actually keep their promises and not pass the buck and do what they say they will do.  Be that person that makes everyone mad when you actually do what you said you were going to do because they ignored you because they didn’t think you would and then they weren’t ready.  But if you’re going to live with this kind of integrity, stay out of any work environment where there are more than 3 supervisors above you… unless the guy on top takes the time to know and respect you as an actual person with feelings and ideas and stuff.
  28. Resting your mind is not the same as resting your body.
  29. Don’t confuse honesty or integrity for good intentions, professional conduct, or a smile.
  30. Mistakes are only failures if you don’t get back up and keep going.
  31. The only thing in all of His perfect creation that God said was not good was that Adam was alone.  So God made Eve so more humans could be made.  Because God made us with a need that He could not fulfill Himself.  Love people – you need them.
  32. Everybody matters, but everyone seems to think that rule applies to everyone except themselves. Or that it ONLY applies to themselves.
  33. Life is tough.  So what?  Embrace it.  Cry and feel sorry for yourself sometimes.  Ask for help if you need it.  If you give yourself permission to simply be, being will have a lot less control over you.  And it’s okay.  Feelings really do come and go, and they mean you are a living beautiful textured vibrant multi-chromatic feature of humanity.
  34. If you are the kind of person that has to obsess about things, embrace it and allow yourself to choose your obsession.  Pick something silly and unnecessary that makes you smile.  It’s much better than worrying about everything all the time.
  35. God is.  This encompasses all.  My favorite stanza of my favorite hymn, written by a madman:  Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade… to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.  Amen.

 

Plus 4 screws and 2 pins...

Plus 4 screws and 2 pins…

Daring to Dream

Dreaming

When I think of this word I think of imagination and fantasy.  I think of lofty and most likely unrealistic goals.  I think of red Nyquill-induced sleep punctuated by psychedelic animations; or better yet, those dreams that leave behind a sense of a pending something… that feeling that you have just been privy to some great knowledge but you’re not quite sure what.   But in most cases, when we think of “dreaming” I think most of us immediately think about the things we always wanted to do and are sure we never will.  We think of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” detailing the ideal world of peace and love that we all know simply can’t be.  Those of us who are older gaze compassionately at idealistic college students, shake our heads wistfully, and think about how much we could have accomplished if real life had never happened.  We call someone a Dreamer while simultaneously feeling pity and jealousy.  Maybe annoyance. But I think we’re wrong.

Last year I met someone who is the dreaming trifecta.  He is the triple-threat that all Dreamers aspire to be.  Have you ever seen “The Magic School Bus?”  That cartoon where a class of kids gets into a yellow school bus which is imaginatively transformed into whatever type of transport is necessary to vividly exploreVehicle of Imagination whatever their minds think up?  Everything from purple aliens on a warm planet to Mayas in the Yucatan jungles?  This guy can do that; he can keep you entertained for hours with vivid descriptions of whatever world he dreams up.  But because of this unbelievably advanced imagination he sees the world differently.  Things as ordinary as a piece of furniture become vibrating molecules and electrical charges.  And because he sees the world as this thriving habitat of law and electricity and music… he can imagine what these building blocks might become… and what he might be able to do with them.  He has big dreams.  On top of that, he dreams dreams.  I believe in prophetic dreams – I have them.  But what he dreamed about me was so random until it happened, and that’s pretty crazy.  I know the Super Dreamer.  And in getting to know him I learned that the power behind his dreams is his imagination, that thing in the back of our head that defies all reason, that voice that is shushed by logic and learning and common sense, the best friend that most of us leave behind when we grow up.  Somehow, he kept it close.  And because he kept his imagination alive he can resist all the people who try to turn his dreaming into a joke… because he can imagine the day when his dreams will be reality and what all their faces will look like when that happens.  I am beyond inspired by his imagination, and would do almost anything to have such a protector of my dreams.

God's plan is way more exciting than mine!I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately.  About how my own dreams are like a roller coaster.  They come and go and change and twist and shift.  They excite and disappoint, they fly and crash.  Exactly one year ago today I was in Oakland learning how to help severe trauma victims who cope through dissociation, a retreat into imagination to protect the mind from traumatic memories (loosely speaking).  That evening I had a session with one of my favorite clients of all time.  I really thought I finally found my spot.  The dream job I never knew I dreamed of.  Yeah, that didn’t pan out, either.  But now another dream is slowly forming.  It’s confusing, this whole evolving process of dreaming.  You think you’re aiming for one thing, and you end up in the one place you never wanted to be… and realize you’re exactly where you need to be.  God is weird like that.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think about Joseph.  The iconic Dreamer of the Bible.    Joseph, the 11th of 12 sons of Jacob.  While he was Jacob’s favorite, he was still a baby brother with pretty much no power except to annoy.  You can find the story in Genesis 37-50.  I shall share with you my interpretation, in five acts.

ACT I:  Joseph is working for his half-brothers, shepherding out in the field.  (This, by the way, makes me think that he had a great imagination and faith.  Think of King David – the quiet great outdoors is the very best place to develop an imagination and an awareness of a Great Creator.)  Then this 17-year-old daddy’s boy tattles on his big brothers.  There is only one sentence about that, that sticks out like a sore thumb.  No real point of that sentence except to call him out as a narcking suck-up brown-noser.  To top it off, Dad gives Joseph a super-special, VERY expensive, fancy coat of many colors.  He has 10 older brothers, and it’s no surprise they hate him.  Maybe Joseph is a brat, maybe he isn’t.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that his brothers “couldn’t say a kind word to him.”

You’d think that the hated baby brother would at least learn to keep his mouth shut.  Not Joe.  He has a Joseph's Dream dream and has to tell everyone about it: We were all tying up bundles of grain and all your bundles bowed down to mine!  Now I’m a big sister, and I know that if my obnoxious little brother came up to me and told me something like that all I would hear (regardless of what he said) is “Nanner nanner, I’m better than you-oo!”  No surprise, Joseph’s brothers hate him even more.  But does he learn his lesson?  Nope.  He has Joseph's Dream 2another dream and runs right over to tell his brothers again: The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to me!  Good lord.  Saying that to 10 angry big brothers is practically suicide.  This time Joe tells his dad, too.  Something about how he was telling the story got him in trouble.  “What kind of a dream is that?  Do you think we’re actually going to bow down before you?” If I was his therapist, I would have thought that Joseph spent a little too much time outside feeling inferior to his brothers.

I wonder about Joseph.  I have to assume that he must have been a bit cocky.  He was 17, the favorite, and had the cool clothes.  It’s very possible that he had recently lost his mother, who died in childbirth to the youngest brother.  As a therapist, I can imagine how confused and angry he must have been.  How lonely he must have felt.  Big brothers are supposed to protect you, not hate you – even if you are annoying and cocky.  I imagine that he was clinging to something that would make him special besides just being a daddy’s boy.  How could he compete with so many big strong brothers?  These dreams were all he had.  They were cartoons, really – grain and celestial bodies don’t bow down to each other.  I think he knew they meant something but the only feedback he got was ridicule.  He was rejected and hated because he had dared to hope there might be some truth in these silly ideas that could never be.

Then the world comes crashing down around him.  Joe’s brothers decide to knock him off.  “Here comes the Dreamer… let’s kill him… Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”  In the end they decide to sell him to a caravan of traders on their way to Egypt – after stripping him of his trophy coat, which they drench in blood to convince their dad he was killed by an animal.  So Joseph walks across a desert and gets sold as a slave in Egypt to Potiphar, captain of the palace guard.

ACT II: So our Dreamer Joe is a slave in a house he’ll never be able to escape from in a foreign country where he’s all alone, can’t speak the language, and probably doesn’t like the food.  He’s not 20 yet (probably).  Dreams crushed, heart broken, all alone, just a kid.  With no special coat.  Stripped of everything that matters or makes him remotely significant.  Not his best day.

So much for the “My grain is better than your grain” dream.

But somehow, he pulls it off.  Things go really well.  Joe gets noticed, not because of his coat or his dreams, but because he’s really good at his job.  His boss likes him and makes him a personal assistant.  He’s a good guy, smart, responsible, well-liked.  I bet that when he goes to bed at night and remembers his brothers there is definitely a part of him that sticks his out tongue and sings, “Nanner Nanner!”  (Except now he can do it in another language!)  And a part that wishes his dad could see him now.  He’s still a kid, very early 20s.  Of course he’s tempted to be cocky.  Regardless, he is blessed and because of him Potiphar is blessed.  Joseph is given more and more responsibility until he’s in charge of administering the entire household.  Things couldn’t be better!  The dream is coming true!

unfairOh yeah, he’s also good looking.  And the boss’ wife is a cougar.  She goes after him every day but he has integrity and says no; he will not betray his master’s trust.  But one day she actually grabs him.  He wriggles out of his cloak and races out of there… only to have her say that he tried to rape her but got scared when she screamed, so he ran away and left his clothes behind.  Good grief.  Joseph – responsible, appreciated, trusted, respected, handsome – defeated because someone was selfish and dishonest and took no consideration of the fact that he was a person, too.  But wait.  He wasn’t. He was just a slave.  Disposable Hebrew trash.

And because he was just a slave, and because of another dumb coat used as proof of a lie, Joseph was thrown in prison and forgotten.  So much for the good food and the nice bed… traded for bread, water, and a blanket on the floor.  So much for that stupid dream.  Not his best day.

ACT III: If I was Joseph, at this point I’d be curled up in the corner of my cell and ready to give up on the world.  All I would be asking is WHY.  Other than bragging about his dreams (that seem so silly now), he hadn’t done anything wrong.  What is this great price he must pay?  He’s bright, responsible, a fast learner, everything he does turns out great.  For crying out loud, two days ago he was in charge of EVERYTHING in the house of the captain of the Egyptian palace guard!  If he had just given in and slept with the woman he’d be in his nice bed in the nice house with his nice job and nice reputation.  But he had to have integrity and now he’s in prison, hatefully rejected by the very important man who had trusted him completely.

And maybe Joseph did get depressed for a bit.  But it didn’t last.  I’d like to think that his imagination saved him from the darkness.  That the days he spent in the fields, studying flowers and watching ants be magnificent, came back to him in that dark place and gave him strength.  Maybe Joseph was catching on to reality: it bites.  Maybe he was giving up on his dream.  But he didn’t cower.  He knew that a fall is only failure if you don’t get back up.

Next thing you know, Joseph is Head Prisoner, in charge of all the prisoners!  The warden kicks back and relaxes, because he knows that Joe’s got this.  And he does well, and finds success in everything he does.  Think about it: that means he has the respect of all the prisoners and guards.  The guys down there are real criminals, but they trust him.  Prisoners can be troublemakers, but Joseph kept it all under control.  (On a side note, there’s mention in Genesis 40:3 that Joseph is in Potiphar’s prison.  The authority he was given implies to me that he never lost the respect of his old boss, and makes me wonder if Potiphar always knew he was innocent but had to keep him in jail to make it look right.)

So then there are these two important guys, direct servants to Pharaoh, in prison under Joseph.  They both have weird dreams.  They tell Joseph, who interprets them.  Correctly.  The one guy dies, and the other gets his job back.  The lucky one promises to tell Pharaoh about Joseph and hopefully get him out of jail.  Hope, again!  The whole “bow down to me” thing probably seems pretty distant and silly by now.  At this point, I’m guessing Joe’s dreams have shifted to simply living in daylight, feeling full, and sleeping in a decent bed.  It’s amazing how our dreams can change.

But the dude forgets all about it in the blink of an eye and never tells Pharaoh.  Sorry, Joe.  Not your day.  I don’t think there would have been any way for Joseph to really know what happened.  So he waits.  And waits.  And waits.  A full two years go by.  And he’s down there in the prison, doing his thing (and doing it well), with that WHY???little voice of doubt in his head wondering if he has been forgotten or rejected or if simply nothing he can accomplish will make him more than a slave.  He is owned, and it sucks.  But again, he’s no coward.  He keeps going, and I must imagine that his imagination is still his salvation.  Does he remember his childhood, running around the fields with the animals, picking fruit from the trees, playing with his brothers (before they hated him)?  Is he angry?  Has he forgiven?  Do their names make his skin crawl?  We can’t know.  But my guess is a little bit of everything.

ACT IV: Finally, two years after the guy gets his job back, Pharaoh himself has a couple of dreams.  Disturbing dreams.  Not exactly nightmares, but so real and vivid; the kind you wake up from KNOWING that they mean something important.  But none of the smartest and wisest and most magical advisers have a clue what they mean.  Suddenly things click into place for the ex-con.  Ummm… whoops.  There was that one guy… he got my dream right.

Boom!  Joe gets a shower, shave, clean clothes, and an audience with the most powerful man in the world.   Can you imagine what’s going through his mind?   THIS was his day.  I can hear his thoughts… Seriously?  Pharaoh?  Don’t get your hopes up.  I’ve been burned – no, fried – before.  Not worth it.  Maybe someone lied about me again and they’ve called me to kill me.  But maybe not… there was that dream.  Stop it, don’t be silly.  Just breathe.  Egypt doesn’t like me no matter what I do.  The fields of his homeland flood his senses, and his imagination brings holy peace.  The air and warm breezes, the smell of the fields and the sheep, the voice of his father and grandfather… honor God.  Your great-grandpa left everything to honor God.  This is your purpose.  Cool beans.

So Joe makes it clear that only God interprets dreams, Pharaoh tells them, and God answers.  The dreams are not happy dreams.  Egypt will have 7 years of great prosperity, but then there will be 7 years of great famine.  Famine that will devastate Egypt and all the surrounding lands.  But Joseph doesn’t stop at the interpretation.  This bold young man tells the greatest king in the world what to do about it.  He needs to find someone to collect all the food for the next 7 years so there is enough to eat during the famine.  Pharaoh talks to everyone important, and they all agree that Joseph is the only one intelligent and wise enough to do the job.  So he puts Joe in charge of his court and makes him second in command.  The only person in the entire country who doesn’t have to obey Joseph is Pharaoh himself.  Pharaoh takes his signet ring (essentially his personal signature that makes any order official), puts it on Joseph’s finger, and lets him know that he’s in charge of Egypt (no biggie).  Again, a fancy new robe.  Oh, and a wife.  Joe gets a wife.

For those of us Sunday School graduates who have this story memorized and animated in our minds, let’s pause.  Think about it.  Joseph is 30 in a world where people live to be over 100.  He’s a baby.  He’s not Egyptian.  He’s not even free.  He’s a slave with a criminal record of attempted rape of the wife of the captain of the guard.  He has been betrayed by his brothers, horribly accused by the man who most trusted him, forgotten by the one so grateful to have his dream interpreted.  He’s been in prison for more than 2 years because of a lie.  And in one day he went from prisoner to ruler of the whole land of Egypt, because Pharaoh thought he was good enough.  The realistic grown-up part of me wants to scream at Joseph not to do it because it’s political and they probably just want a good fall guy.  The therapist in me says “See, good things can happen if you hang in there and make good choices” (ugh, could I be more sycophantic?).  But the dreamer of faith buried deep within me just says, “Duh.”

ACT V: So Joseph keeps on keepin’ on.  He does his thing and he does it well.  He stored up so much grain he can’t measure it all.  Which tells us that even though this convict from another land suddenly got an awful lot of power… people respected him and followed the rules.  That’s sayin’ somethin.’  Seven years later the famine hits, but things are okay because there’s a plan and everything is right on track.  Then the famine spreads to the land of Joseph’s dad.  This is where things get interesting.  All of Joe’s big brothers get hungry.

So they travel to Egypt, and bow before the tall man in charge of distributing the food.  They have no idea it’s the baby brother they think is dead, the victim of their jealousy and bitterness.  I can imagine this… Joseph is standing there in his fancy robe and suddenly those dreams of 20 years ago zoom back into his head as if he just woke up from them.  Those pesky little dreams.  Suddenly, in one moment, looking at 10 brothers on the ground before him, it all makes sense.  The dreams and the adventures and the purpose all clunk into place to answer why. It all makes sense!!! Can you imagine what’s going on in his head???  The fury, the joy, the relief, the wonder, the shock.  The triumph of faith within him.  The little brother who wants to shout “BUUUURN!”  The abandoned, sold, betrayed slave who seeks revenge.  The love at seeing family for the first time in over 20 years.  What a boiling mix that must have been.

Joe, your day has come.

Like every good little brother should do when given such a golden opportunity, Joe messes with them.  Badly.  They don’t have a clue, and he milks it for all it’s worth.  He accuses them of being spies.  He threatens them.  He uses an interpreter so they don’t know he can understand them.  He puts them in jail for a few days.  Then he lets them take food home (they are family, after all), but hides their money back in their bags so that they’re scared of him the whole time they’re back home.  He keeps one hostage… how much you wanna bet it was the meanest one?  It is the epitome of sibling rivalry, and Joseph is the champion of little brothers everywhere.

So the brothers (minus the hostage) go home but, of course, eventually run out of food again.  They have no choice but to go back and beg for more, terrified that they will be accused of stealing that money since they were already accused of being spies.  This time Joseph is much kinder.  He invites them to a banquet at his house, which freaks them out even more.  But Joseph feeds them well and is nice to themThe Art of Getting Even.  He cries a lot – hearing their voices must bring up so many memories and emotions.  He messes with them a little more until they are all properly intimidated.  Finally, he breaks down and there is a beautiful reunion.  Joseph brings his father and whole family to Egypt, where they are honored by Pharaoh and given a beautiful giant piece of the fertile land of Goshen.  Lots of years go by, and their dad dies.  The big brothers are really scared now, afraid that with their dad dead Joseph is about to go all Pharaoh on them.  Finally, so many years later, they apologize.  When Joseph hears this he breaks down and weeps.  I imagine this had been his new dream – to hear an apology.  I imagine he often wondered how he would respond, that sometimes he fantasized about chopping all their heads off and other times about joyful restoration.  When the day finally comes, forgiveness washes over him and through tears he says those famous words: “Don’t be afraid of me… You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many.”

EPILOGUE: So Joseph died when he was 110 years old, and embalmed in Egypt.  I don’t know much about embalming, but I do know that it was a long and expensive process reserved only for royalty or the very rich.  So we know one thing about this ridiculed Imaginative boy, the Dreamer of impossible dreams, the betrayed brother, the falsely accused man of integrity, the forgotten champion… one thing we know without a doubt:

He mattered.

It strikes me that we have nick-named him “Joseph the Dreamer.”  The man lived 110 years, saved the whole part of the world from starvation, and was second in command over all of Egypt… but we remember him most for two weird little dreams he had when he was a teenager.

Joseph always mattered, because God had a plan for his life.  But for many many years it sure didn’t seem like it and it didn’t make sense and there were no answers.  But Joe somehow held onto these dreams, these silly crazy impossible dreams.  I choose to believe that his imagination fueled his faith.  It is only with imagination that we can find the light and hope and purpose in the middle of prison darkness.  Joe hung in there.  He kept doing his best even though no one could tell him why his story was so painful.  Even though he got interpretations to every dream but his own.  Could I do that?  Would I be so strong?  Would I remain so faithful and live with such integrity?  I hope so.  I don’t know.

When I look behind me, my path is littered with bits and pieces of once-beloved dreams.  I think back over my own adventure… I have been rejected, kicked out, betrayed.  I have failed miserably.  I have excelled and felt like I was finally on the brink of “making it,” only to be knocked back down again.  At this point in my life I have immense respect for Joseph.  I’m just a few years younger than he was when he got his answers.  And I’m learning.  The longer I live the longer I realize life really is.  I feel less rushed and more patient.  The energy behind my dreams is slowly fading, but my passion and determination is growing.  Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be.  The youthful energy propels us through the stupidity and foolishness we must endure to gain experience and wisdom… which really can only come through making mistakes (and lots of them).  Joseph learned to dream as a child.  He learned to administer as a slave.  He learned to command the respect of others as a prisoner.  Each chapter felt like a failure, but without these experiences he would not have been a good ruler.  And it was as a ruler, with the power to imprison and punish, that he learned to forgive.  He never guessed that his dream would turn out the way it did.  There was no way, as a kid watching the sheep in the field, he could have ever in a million years imagined that things would have fallen into place the way they did.  You just can’t make that stuff up.

So may we dream long.  May our imaginations protect our fragile dreams through the tough times.  May we never forget what it was like to play barefoot in the dirt under a hot sun.  May reason never overpower our hope.  May we never give up on the impossible.  Most things were impossible once.  But above all else, may we never trade our dreams for apathy.  Because maybe today isn’t your day, but tomorrow might be the day that everything suddenly makes sense.

Dream shamelessly.  I dare you.
dreamer

 

 

Hope in Hardship: a New Twist on Christmas

I’m sitting in my Grandma’s kitchen in South Bend, Indiana, trying not to feel sorry for myself.  My brain is swimming with so many thoughts, conflicting and colliding…

This was supposed to be THE vacation.  The one time I’ve taken vacation all year where I actually got to use my vacation hours because I didn’t end up working through it.  I planned an extra week after my parents left to spend time with my Grandma, my brother, my friends from college, maybe my uncle if he’s in town.  I’ve been looking so forward to this trip for months.

Then I got laid off.  Off.  Laid. Off.  30-day notice, with this 2-week vacation smack in the middle.  This sucks more than words can say.  If really Christian people didn’t read this blog, I’d use a lot stronger language.  I could just blow stuff off, but I’m not like that.  I could never live with myself if I didn’t use every waking moment to do everything I can to make sure my kids have everything in place when I leave.  I just can’t.  So I will work as much as I can.

I feel guilty.  I feel guilty about not working when I’m spending time with my family.  I feel guilty about not spending time with my family when I’m working.

I’m worried.  I’m worried about my life, my income, my cat.  Mostly I’m worried about my kids who have taken such a risk to learn to trust me, who have dared to hope that I’ll really be there, only to be ripped away through no fault of theirs or mine.

I’m scared.  I left my whole world for this job, and now I’ve lost it.  I’ve worked an average of about 50 hours a week for the past year, and I haven’t taken the time to really build relationships outside of work.  It’s a very lonely feeling.  I’m terrified I will lose this new passion that I have for foreign-born youth.  My ADHD hyper-focuses me, and it’s so easy to just move on; the idea of losing this scares me to death.

I’m grateful.  I’m pretty sure I have a job.  I’m so grateful.  And I have peace about being employed.  I truly do.

I’m so irritated that this layoff happened right at Christmas.  My greatest Christmas joy is giving gifts, and this privilege has been ripped from me this year.  My mom says I should write – give the gift of words, she says.  She’s probably right.  But it doesn’t feel good enough for me.  I don’t write well on command, and I’m not feeling it.

I’m happy.  It is so good to see family again.  My brother is doing better than he has in years.  His house is clean and healthy.  He has staff who actually do their job and care about him.  I got to see my aunts and uncle and 5 cousins and my two little cousin-nieces.

I got to sit around a table on Sunday with 5 dear friends from college, meet their families, children.  Awkward at first, everyone staring at each other.  I think I would have been happy just staring at them for 3 hours.  I love them so much.  Why don’t we keep in better touch?  MK problems.

I’m in awe.  God provided miraculously for my dad’s party.  Miraculously.  The generosity He showed for a simple birthday party is a display of his great Fatherly Love.  I see Him up there with a party hat on and organizing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, just throwing His kid a birthday party.

Mom’s passports disappeared, two days before her flight back to Mexico.  She was seen today at the US Passport Office without an appointment (anti-policy), and will have her new passport in a couple of hours.

I’m sad.  I had to say goodbye to my cousins and nieces for the last time before they return to Korea and Kenya.  I don’t know when I’ll see them again.  That’s the missionary life, it’s part of the “system,” but I’m still sad.  And I said goodbye to my parents this morning, who knows for how long.  Again, part of our system, but no fun at all.

So here I am, sitting at this table, trying to focus on work, unable to pull out of this melee of thoughts and emotions happening inside my echoing mind, when suddenly I remembered.  I remembered one of my first unofficial blogs that I wrote in the form of a FaceBook Note five Christmas Eves ago.   My situation was very different then, but the general idea was the same: things were frustrating, overwhelming, and out of my control.  I was crying a lot that day.  Then God said, “Girlfriend, I’m not a baby in a manger anymore.  Choose peace.”  And I did.  And I got an A.

So here I share with you my thoughts of Christmas Eve, 2008, unabridged.  May they encourage you as you face whatever your holiday season holds for you.  May you be challenged along with me to trust, shamelessly and fearlessly, that God is great and grown-up and bigger than whatever giant boulder stands in our way today.  And may this season prepare us for the mountains that will come later, as my academic pebble prepared me 5 years ago for today…

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December 24, 2008

I am NOT a fan of school. And yet, I’m working at this feverish pace to finish my master’s degree in May. In September my cousin got engaged; I immediately bought a ticket to Albuquerque, requested the week of Christmas off of work, and focused on nothing but this week. For the last two months my one motivating drive has been Eliot’s wedding and a week of nothing but resting and enjoying Christmas at my mentor’s house. And two weeks without any homework. My parents have been wonderful about purchasing my textbooks for me. . . I am so incredibly grateful, there aren’t enough words. But my mom goofed when she ordered the book for my December class. The book ended up sitting in Kansas City for a couple of weeks, then she mailed it to me book rate which meant that I’d eventually get the book the day before all my papers had to be turned in. I tried to stay calm and make the best of it, but I was pretty mad about the whole situation. I ended up borrowing some older books from a friend, using the internet, doing my best, and getting my assignments done in time – even though I had to take an extra day off work to do it. I worked really hard and I was really proud of myself.

The wedding was wonderful. I came back feeling more rested and relaxed and happy than I have in a very long time. Yesterday was very nice. I helped my mentor run some errands and clean out the garage, and we watched 3 Christmas movies. It is SO WONDERFUL to be here without having to do homework. Then last night I got a phone call and email from my professor telling me that 4 of my assignments were way off-base and that if I didn’t redo them my grade would be barely passing. The semester was over on Sunday, but she’s giving me the opportunity to redo them because of my textbook situation. I should be grateful, but I’m not. This means that after all of my excruciating work I have lost the vacation that was my main motivation for the last three months. Pissed is an understatement. I have spent most of the last six hours sitting on my bed alternating between trying to figure out how to decipher whether a WAIS-III subtest score is significant based on the mean standard score of the category and furiously crying my eyes out because it is so incredibly confusing and I was not given the WAIS-III Standard Report Form that tells me clearly how to do it. Tomorrow will be more of the same. I was thoroughly hating this Christmas.

Then this evening I got an email from an old friend (whose new blog you can visit here – definitely worth the read!) sharing his conflicting thoughts about Christmas. His words triggered many of my own philosophical musings. . . Forget the horrors of materialism, why must Christmas be such a warm fuzzy time? Why does culture dictate our emotions and behaviors so much at this time of the year? Jesus was born and laid in a manger, but He didn’t stay there. The focus of Christmas seems to be on being and staying comfortable, on having things be just so, preserving tradition, feeling good. Christmas doesn’t “feel right” if we don’t feel happy and peaceful. It’s almost like constantly seeking that “first high,” and the “feeling of Christmas” seems to become more elusive each year. It really has become such a self-serving time.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday. I love the music and the food and the families and the shopping and the presents and tradition. I so love the tradition. When I think about it, though, I love Christmas because of the memories it conjures, and I am repeatedly disappointed every year when the experience falls short of the memory. Christmas is no longer about Christ. Christmas is about tradition and memories and eating sugar and watching “White Christmas” and opening presents. It’s about dressing up for a meal and taking pictures and looking at colored lights. And setting up a manger scene that – every year – returns Jesus to his little bed. Christ is a TRADITION of Christmas, but He has been relegated to the position of a supporting actor rather than the main hero. I have fallen into this trap of focusing on the feeling rather than Christ. The main thing I have noticed this year: I have said several times that Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow; the irony is that only 11 of my 29 Christmases have included snow.

And then there’s the manger thing. Oddly, I am reminded of Harry Potter. (Stay with me, it will make sense in a minute.) In the 5th book, Harry and his friends enter the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic where they find abstract concepts such as death, love, thought, and time tangibly studied. Time is represented by an hourglass full of a sort of sandstorm. The sand swirls down: this is time progressing. Then a wind comes and blows the sand back to the top: this is time regressing. A chick hatches from an egg at the bottom of the hourglass and begins to grow until the storm swallows it up; when the storm calms the chick has returned to an egg and the process repeats itself. Over and over and over again. Every December our culture puts Jesus back in the manger in a big way. What a sneaky way for Satan to fix in our minds an idea of Jesus as a helpless homely infant. We are such a visual instant-gratification society. . . the mighty words of Gabriel are nothing compared to the timeless image of the manger.

So. . . I make the following proposal: the meaning of Christmas is “hope in hardship.” How foolish we are if we neglect to imagine the hardship of that miraculous yet dreadful night. The rocky barren trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary’s sheer uncomfortableness. Joseph’s frustration at the timing of the census. Mary’s disappointment at having to put her brand new baby to bed in a feeding trough. Joseph’s fury at having no better option than a stable for Mary to give birth to this Son of God, with whom HE had been given the responsibility to provide for and protect. How weak and ashamed Joseph must have felt; I can only imagine the knot in the pit of his stomach, the overwhelming powerlessness as he watched things unfold so very utterly against his plans. How clearly God gave the message that He would be the ultimate provider. Yet through it all there was hope: rugged, but sheltered; hungry, but warm; tired, but safe; anger, but joy; fear, but comfort. Hardship, but hope.

And I am no longer angry. I hate doing homework on Christmas. I hate having to give up my vacation for this stupid 2-unit class. But I have been given the opportunity to preserve my 4.0, and that gives me hope. This whole thing will be done in May, and that gives me hope. And those things that make it onto our Christmas list: a car, a good job, a spouse, degrees, enough money, friendships, nice bookends to hold up my Middle Earth collection. . . those desires are symbols of hope, too. As long as we are not focused on the things themselves but on the blessings that they are. They come from a God who focuses not on the gift but on the blessing. A God who provides a manger when it is enough and gives great wealth to those who seek wisdom. A Lord who chooses shepherd boys to lead His people and fisherman to lead His church. A Lover who touches the heads of children and notices the longing reach of the desperate. A Father who recognizes the hardships – no matter how petty – and extends hope to pull us through while He chuckles quietly about our desperation to claim the rock He sat on and our frustration at not being able to find the perfect Christmas cards from the wall of them at Target.

So tonight I skipped the turkey (ah yes, the traditions of others) so I’d stay awake and I’ll miss the Christmas movies, and I’ll muddle through the WAIS-III and the MMPI-2 and the MCMI-III and the Rorschach into tomorrow. But I’m not angry anymore. I marvel at the creativity of a God who confuses my mother’s ability to select appropriate shipping options so that I would remember this Christmas that HE is in control and that HE is the One who provides hope in the midst of my most minor hardships. And I am grateful for my wise friend who had the courage to share his controversial ideas about Christmas so that God could use them to pull me out of my reverie of self-pity.

Merry Christmas. May God reveal to you great hope in the midst of the hardships and trials that persist, even at Christmas. May you know His joy and peace, and may you find blessing in the most unexpected of places.

With the hope and overwhelming joy that comes from knowing that Jesus is no longer in His manger,

Sallie

He was a baby . . . and then He grew up.

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