In the car, map in hand – I lost us.

To shave off time and miles (maybe) and avoid traffic frustration (probably), we decided to exit the interstate and take an unfamiliar series of highways to our destination: a small town off the beaten path.

I’m a great map reader.  Going from point A to point B?  Not a problem if I have an up to date map and I did.

The problem with reading maps is that it’s necessary to take your eyes off of it and look at where you are actually going. It’s important to verify that where you are matches where the map says you should be.

Not a problem if you keep your finger on the map to mark your progress and location.

On a long stretch of road, my mind wandered as Hubby and I talked about the scenery around us – much of it dating back to the Civil War days.

We came to a crossroads and Hubby asked which way. “Straight”, I answered from memory of what came next on the map and glanced down to verify and realized I had lost our place on the map.

My eyes took up residence on a piece of the map that looked similar to where we actually were. Several miles slipped under us before I realized my mistake.

It was only when I attempted to give direction that I realized where we were did not match where the map said we were.

We were lost.  The question was – were we physically lost? or virtually lost?

A quick check of the map – in relation to where we exited the interstate, our current physical location, and our desired destination – revealed my error.

We had not deviated – yet.

Darkness was descending and had the error not been corrected when it was, we would truly have become lost, way out in the “middle of nowhere” with the bright stars as our only guides.

“Lost” is not a happy feeling.

Lost Myself

A recent trip requiring an overnight hotel stay became an insightful, educational experience.

Hubby was occupied with a client/friend and it was necessary that I drive to the hotel and check in alone. My first time to do so.

As I stood at the front desk waiting for the manager to pull up our reservation, I allowed my mind to wonder, “What if?” To my knowledge, my name was not on the reservation – Hubby’s was.  And, Hubby was not here.

I’ll admit, I felt a bit like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2  when she handed me the room keys…”Wow! It worked!”

At first, I had no qualms about checking in alone.  Walking from the car to the front door was no big deal.  Standing in the lobby at the front desk felt safe.  But with keys in hand, I suddenly felt alone – very alone.

And, I felt a bit lost.

Instructions were given:

  • when you leave the front desk, turn right
  • go through those doors
  • turn right at the hallway
  • take the elevator up to the 2nd floor
  • turn left
  • go to the end of the hall
  • room 202 is on the left, one door from the stairwell

Knowing I needed to check the room first, I tucked my purse under my arm and headed right, through the doors to the hallway.  When I came to the intersection of the hallways, my chest tightened.

I was leaving the safety of the open occupied area and entering the unknown and the unseen.

The fact that I was alone became acutely obvious to me. And, the need to be vigilant in knowing my surroundings became urgent as I became aware of potential dangers.

My visual acuity increased – I noticed everything and everyone.  My hearing tuned in to every sound. My mind, alert, captured it all.

The elevator ride was solo and uneventful except for the rush of adrenaline I received as soon as the door closed and I began my brief journey up one flight to the second floor.

When the elevator bumped to a soft stop, I reminded myself to focus, remembered the directions to our room, and gathered myself to take another step into the untried.

The door opened and I glanced into the hallway – empty.  With door key in hand and purse tucked securely under my arm, I stepped off the elevator and turned left into the hall and began a quick walk down to room 202.

I noted the rooms that indicated occupancy

  • TV noise
  • conversation
  • water running
  • children crying/laughing

The rooms on either side of 202 were empty, and so were the two across the hall.

With a quick glance up the hallway, I unlocked my door and slipped inside, leaving the door open long enough to find the light switch and make certain I was alone in the room.

I assured myself I was not afraid, I was wise and careful.

At that time, I felt no fear, but I did feel vulnerable and that was enough to prompt caution.

Women travel alone all the time.  I wondered if they experience the feelings I was experiencing.

A quick check of the room for signs of resident or past bedbugs assured me all was well and this room would be sufficient for our needs.

I opened the drapes and looked out the window to see where the room was in relation to where I had parked.  Our room was on the front of the hotel. I had parked the car just beyond the front door.

It would be an easy thing to unload the car and bring our suitcases into the room.  I had seen a luggage cart in the hallway outside the lobby.

A quick text to Hubby that I was in the room and all was well prompted a call from him.

He assured me there was no need to unload the car until he arrived (his client/friend would drop him off at the hotel when the meeting ended) and that I should relax and enjoy the time alone.

I cared nothing for the TV – wanted no noise.  Reading interested me, but my backpack was still in the car.  In it was all I needed or wanted for my alone time.

With a glance out the window, I decided to go down to the car and get it.

Out the door I went, down the hall to the elevator, and onto the elevator – all without seeing another soul.  The elevator door was closing when a man’s hand caught the door and pushed it back.

In he stepped, with a glance toward me.  I nodded a greeting and watched him.  Perhaps I made him nervous, or maybe he was in a hurry – when the door opened he was off like a flash.

Things had picked up a bit since I had checked in. The hall outside the elevator was crowded.  I slipped through and headed out the front door, car keys in hand.

Hubby had said there was no need to carry things in until he arrived, so I selected a few items to carry in by hand – my backpack, a small cooler, our hanging clothes and his pillows.

Back to our room I went with arms full and confidence increasing.

The second floor hallway was busy. Several doors were open and I could see life happening within the rooms – and without – as children played and parents scolded. The rooms nearest ours were still empty.

Back in the room, I settled in to relax and await Hubby’s arrival.  We would unload the car and then dine out for dinner.

A text from Hubby indicated a delay that would prove to be substantial.  As daylight dimmed I knew I needed to grab a luggage cart and head down to unload the car.

For the first time I felt a twinge of fear. I gathered my courage and my wits, then as I exited our room, I looked back and called over my shoulder to no one – “I’ll be right back!”

As I walked to the elevator I wondered why I had said that…did I really feel that vulnerable?  Was I afraid?  And, if so, what did I fear?  And, I wondered how women who travel alone deal with the fear/concern they feel.

I rode to the 1st floor alone and exited to find several people standing in the hallway. As I passed the luggage carts, I snagged one and headed out with it and car keys in hand.

As I exited the front door, I paused.  Parked on the left of my car was a large truck, and to the right was a large white van – the back doors of which were standing open. I glanced around to see who was in the parking lot and where they were located. Then, I looked back at the van.

Seeing no one in or around the van, I headed off to the right and slipped between two cars, turning left and walking behind the van as I approached the trunk of my car.  Sitting on the floor of the van with his legs dangling over the bumper, was the man who had previously ridden the elevator down with me.  Between his knees was a blue bottle of beer. In his hands he held a guitar and played softly, eyes closed…head drooped.

The rattling of the luggage cart alerted him to my presence and he glanced up.  I nodded and continued past him, stopping at my trunk.  The guitar music stopped momentarily and I wondered if he would be too shy to continue with me near. But, as I busied myself loading the cart he began to play again.

As I pushed the fully loaded cart from the car to the elevator, several stopped to gaze at me and I’m sure wondered why one woman would need so much stuff.  I smiled and continued on to my room where I unloaded the cart.

I started to slip the empty cart into the hallway outside my door and let someone else worry about returning it to its rightful place. But, I knew what it was like to need a luggage cart and for there not to be one available. Frustrating!

So, I grabbed the cart and headed for the elevator. Down I went and when the doors opened I saw a varied group (age and gender) standing in the hallway and a lone woman – a little younger than I, carrying a small suitcase and a briefcase.  She stood with her back against the wall, slightly down from the elevator.  Others in the hallway entered the elevator as I exited with the cart. She, however. remained.  I assumed she was waiting for someone.

I slipped the cart into its slot and returned to the elevator. The woman had not moved…still appeared to be waiting. I punched the elevator button and waited for its arrival.  The door opened and I stepped on, punching the 2 button.  As the door was beginning to close, the woman stepped on and stood facing the elevator door. I asked what floor and with a quick look at the panel gave a simple nod to indicate floor 2 was her floor as well.

I looked her over – a business woman traveling alone.  She was aloof and cautious.  Apparently she had waited until she was certain she would be traveling on the elevator with another woman…until she felt safe. Ram rod straight she stood and stiff as a board. When she exited the elevator, she turned right and hurried down the hall to her room where she fumbled with her door key before entering.

I wondered how often she travels. I wondered if she felt afraid. And, I wondered if she would leave her room before check out time the next day.

Back to my room I headed – this time with a spring in my step.

I had faced my fear and watched it flee.

I felt more myself – in charge, in control, facing the world head on, daring anyone to challenge me – or to prevent me from accomplishing my intended task.

I was alert and aware, but not afraid.

And, I was glad I would not need to spend the night alone in the hotel room and said a silent prayer for women who would be.

Lost in the Familiar

It’s an odd feeling to reenter your old life and be drawn to repeating old habits, but immediately sense they no longer fit and are no longer appropriate.

Such was our experience last Saturday at the Quarterly Association Meeting of churches in the mid-state area.  Hubby had been an active participant in it for 30+ years – voting, taking part in business decisions, serving on boards, leading, etc.  Last Saturday he/we sat with still hands and silent mouths as votes were cast and business attended to.

It was unbelievably difficult to remain silent when the moderator said, “All in favor say ‘aye….'” My mouth, and that of Hubby’s, wanted to speak “aye” as it had countless times before.

It was an odd sensation – a feeling of having lost our positions…of having lost self.  And, this prompted a question: Why am I here?

Everything was familiar to us.

  • the church we met in was the one Hubby pastored when our son was born
  • we had history with everyone there
  • the ebb and flow of the meeting felt natural
  • friends had not changed
  • the pattern of business was the same
  • lunch, provided by the membership of the church, was delicious country fare
  • discussion during and conversation following was typical of meetings past

We quickly and easily fell into the rhythm of it all without thought of what to do or what comes next.  We had done this countless times before and nothing had changed in our absence.

Nothing had changed….

Our absence and our life experiences had changed us in the months since we moved away.

Even though all was familiar, we felt a sense of being on the outside, looking in.  We were welcomed and accepted, greeted warmly and treated as though we had never left.

But, we had left – and our leaving changed us.

I looked around during the meeting and afterward during lunch – and I realized I had moved out of this world and on to another.  And, though I could visit, I would never truly be at home.

Perhaps in a sense we had lost ourselves – or replaced those selves with another.

To answer the question asked earlier in this post (Why am I here?):

  • We were invited by the association.
  • Our friends and members of the association wished to honor Hubby (and me) for many years of service.

Looking back on our trip and experiences, another question begs to be answered.

What’s next?

He Lost Himself

Hubby’s dad has dementia and resides in a nursing home because he requires more care than he can receive at home.

It was a sad day last November when the decision was made to place him there.

He was lost – out of place, away from everything familiar to him…no doubt afraid.

In five months time, he has lost himself.

It’s one thing to be lost and not know where you are or how to find your way home. And, it’s another to lose yourself and not know who you are.

Who are you when you lose your identity?

We know who he is.  He looks the same, sounds the same, and recognizes us.  But he doesn’t know who he is.

Since 1956, his designation and identity has been “minister”.  Now, when asked what he did for a living, he says, “laborer.”  He doesn’t remember pastoring churches, preaching, ministering to people, studying his Bible….  He remembers that he was a laborer – serving as a carpenter, working the field….

My dad had dementia for many years before he died.  He got lost, but never lost himself. The panic that ensued when he became lost and the confusion that resulted from it was heart breaking.

Hubby’s dad doesn’t appear to experience the same panicky confusion with his forgetfulness.  Instead, he seems detached…like something is unplugged somewhere.

Memories hard won and long cherished are lost and then forgotten – that’s dementia’s thieving way.

What does one think about when there’s nothing left to remember?

Lost Hearing Aid

Hubby’s mom has hearing loss and wears a hearing aid.

She recently acquired a new one.

We visited her recently, arriving after dark and well into one of her favorite TV shows.

The noise level within the house screamed to be let out. And, when we opened the front door to enter, it did its best to exit – blasting our ears on its way out the door.

I tried hard not to put my hands over my ears as Hubby yelled his greeting to his mom over the din and she yelled her reply, “What? I can’t hear you!”

Hubby suggested she turn down the volume of the TV and she complied. He then asked if she was wearing her new hearing aid.

She assured him she was. And, yes, it was working.

He then asked why it was necessary to have the TV so loud and she told him she couldn’t tell how loud things are with the new hearing aid – couldn’t tell how loud the TV sounded to other people, or even how loudly she was talking.

Hubby suggested that if she felt the need to yell to be heard, then the TV was probably too loud.

She laughingly agreed.

We three visited a bit and then called it a night – she retiring to her bedroom, where she removed her hearing aid and slept in silence.  Hubby retired to the back bedroom and slept on the small bed there.  I stretched out on the short sofa, stuck my ear plugs into my ears and my feet over the arm rest, and slept soundly.

Morning arrived and we woke to the sounds of Hubby’s mom scuffing around in the kitchen.

“Good morning, Mom,” Hubby said.

No response.

He tried again – a little louder – “Good morning, Mom!”

Again, nothing.

Hubby looked at me quizzically. I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head, and indicated he should try again.

He moved to where he was certain to be within her line of sight and said loudly, “Good morning, Mom!”

She looked up, saw him, and said “oh, you’re up – do you want breakfast?”

Hubby said breakfast would be fine and opened his mouth to say more, but his mom held up her hand and said, “I can’t hear anything! I don’t have my hearing aid in” and hustled off to her bedroom to get it.

With her hearing aid turned on and in her ear, things proceeded noisily. She turned on the TV to watch it while we ate…we talked over it…listened to her complain about her new hearing aid….

Hubby’s dad is in a nursing home and our plans were to visit him following breakfast. She was to accompany us.

Following breakfast, Hubby’s mom seemed drawn to the noise of the TV (like a moth to an electric light) and settled herself in her recliner to focus on the TV…or on the noise itself.

Hubby reminded her of our morning plans and she headed to her bedroom to freshen up and change clothes.

She appeared a bit later with shoes in hand, talking about whatever and focused on getting the day underway.

As she put her shoes on, she chatted non stop.  And, we answered her. She suddenly stopped, put her hand to her right ear and said, “Wait a minute, I can’t hear. I must not have put my hearing aid back in….”

I looked at Hubby and wondered how we had been conversing with her…and IF we had been conversing with HER or just commenting amongst ourselves and thought she heard us because she had continued to talk.

A quick search around her yielded no hearing aid, so she headed to the bedroom to pluck it from the dresser where she had left it.

Or, where she thought she had left it.

“I’ve lost my hearing aid!” was the cry that met our ears. “It’s not where I put it! I put it on the dresser and now it’s not here!!”

Hubby and I joined in the search for the illusive hearing aid.  We looked everywhere she could have placed it and some places she couldn’t have. And, after a long, thorough search, she declared it lost…utterly and irretrievably lost.

She sank onto the sofa and said, “You might as well go without me.  Without my hearing aid I can’t hear a thing.”

I slipped back into her bedroom and uttered a brief prayer, “God, please, show me where to find her hearing aid.”

A definite urge to feel around on the corner of the bed near where I stood prompted me to place my hands on the blanket and gently rub over the sheet and coverings. I felt a small, odd lump and reached up under the layers of coverings until I felt the small, hard plastic shell of the hearing aid.

I called Hubby and asked him to bring his mom into the room.

Upon her arrival, I gently turned back the cover and revealed her lost hearing aid. She quickly gathered it to herself and inserted it into her ear with a smile, then headed back to the living room where she busied herself with final prep for our trip to see Hubby’s dad.

Hubby said something to her and she gave him a blank look. Then she held up her right index finger and said, “Wait a minute…I forgot to turn on my hearing aid.”

Hearing loss – there’s nothing funny about it.

Hearing aids, however, are another story!

And, when you put hearing aids and Hubby’s mom together it can be quite (not quiet) a noisy affair.

Circle Back and Do a 180

This past weekend, Hubby and I took a road trip that led us into our past and circled back to our future.

We looked in on a world we left behind and on the lives of friends who have not missed a beat in the cadence of life in our absence.

Life marches on and we tend to forget that progress is not determined by or motivated by us.

In the game of life, we are a player and there is always someone ready to step in and finish the game should we decide to give up our place and move on to another table.

It’s reassuring to know that our way is not the only way and those who were dependent upon us proved resourceful beyond our wildest hopes.

As we turned our thoughts and car toward home, we found ourselves eager to lay aside what was and embrace what is and who we are.

Always thankful for those who influenced (and impacted) our lives and rejoicing over those who allowed our lives to intersect with theirs, we look forward to new friendships, new opportunities, and new experiences.

In some ways, we came full circle this weekend – in others, we did a 180.

That life is gone. And, more importantly, the “we” that lived that life no longer exists. We can revisit and remember, but for us life happens here, not there.

And, so, as I close this piece my thoughts turn to how best to focus my “light” (energy and activity) on “here” things – and on how to effectively scatter my “light” into areas I wish to influence now and in the future.

The Garden – in the Beginning

This past week I began a personal relationship with the yard tools in my dad’s shed.

With April in full swing, I knew it was time to dig up Dad’s garden plot if we were going to enjoy fresh-picked, sun-warmed, home-grown veggies this summer.

Last Spring, Son tilled Dad’s garden, but Dad’s health declined quickly and he wasn’t able to prepare it for planting.

Mom loves home-grown tomatoes and I enjoy gardening.  The two of us put our heads together and decided it would be good to have a garden this year: tomatoes, okra, gooseneck squash, zucchinibroccoli, brussels sprouts….

The ground stayed too wet to work for several weeks.  And, then last week we had light rainfall and then several days of warm, sunny weather – perfect for digging the garden.

Dad’s old garden tiller is in his shed – in the same spot Son placed it last Spring after tilling the garden plot.  I looked it over, attempted to move it and decided quickly that I was not interested in using it.

My brother’s Honda lawn mower, the kind that pulls itself, gave me enough of a work out last Saturday when I cut Mom’s lawn.  I could only imagine what the tiller would do to me.

If I didn’t use the tiller, how would I break up the soil?

Grass had grown thick over the plot and it would be like starting over.  I wasn’t crazy about using a spade to dig it out…dig it up…break it up.  But, I would if necessary.

I stood in Dad’s shed and looked around.  Hanging from rusty nails was a selection of gardening tools.  All clean…not a speck of dirt on them.  Dad took care of his tools.

What would Daddy do?  How had he broken up the garden before he bought the tiller?

Memories came and I smiled as I selected a garden fork and a hoe, then headed across the yard.

Mom, curious about my undertaking had a front row seat on the patio and sat rocking, watching me.

Her next door neighbor noticed the activity in her backyard and dropped by to comment and share memories with her (bags of fresh tomatoes waiting for them when they got home from work) and hopes for this year’s garden (bags of fresh tomatoes waiting for them…freshly made salsa, sliced tomatoes on perfectly cooked burgers…).

Breaking up soil is hard work.  I’ll spare you the details. If you’ve never taken a garden fork in hand and used it to break up sod, I encourage you to do so.  There’s ample opportunity in the task to learn – about the soil…about yourself.

It took me two afternoons to prepare the garden – just in time for the rain on Thursday.  Hubby and I spread a tarp over the fresh dirt so it wouldn’t wash or be too wet for me to work and plant this week. (Broccoli and brussels sprouts should have been in the ground by the end of March.)

Breaking up the sod and getting the ground ready is just the first step toward eating home-grown produce.  It’s also the hardest.  And, that chore is now behind me.  Next I will smooth the soil and create rows.  Then I will plant.

And, then Mom and I will count the days (seeds take X days to germinate) and watch for signs of the soil cracking open as seeds come to life and reach for the sun.

That’s when the real work begins – and the fun starts.

Dogwood Winter

Monday morning, as Hubby and I walked in dawn’s early light, I noticed the local dogwood trees were sporting a little color and I suggested we were in for a cold snap later this week.

I knew the buds were larger Sunday afternoon, but no color was noted and I assumed it would be several days before they began to relax and open and a few beyond that before the petals began to grow and lengthen.

But, warm nights and warmer days tend to speed things along and each day I noticed the color becoming more prominent and changing from a dark creamy off-white to a clearer/cleaner white.

Dogwood Winter couldn’t be far off and all it took was a glance at the forecast to know that a cold snap was set for this week’s end with temperatures dipping to the upper 30s at night and dancing around 60 in the daytime.

Redbud Winter is past.  Dogwood Winter is upon us.

I smile as I watch life emerge around me, as I feel the brisk air and the warmth of the sun, as I hear Spring’s impromptu jam session swinging in the tree tops.  🙂

Judge and Jury

In church this past Sunday morning, as the pastor preached from John chapter 7, my mind wandered over verses visible in my open Bible.

Chapter 8 of John caught my attention – the first 11 verses are about the men who brought the woman to Jesus who was “caught in the very act” of adultery.

I could linger here, but I won’t.  The point I wish to make comes a few verses later in the chapter.

“You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.”

John 8:14-20, ESV

We who claim to follow the Way of Jesus, who profess to be disciples of Jesus, who wear the tag “Christian” need to remember that Jesus did not judge.  And, we shouldn’t either.

I think of conversations I’ve heard, and of those I’ve initiated, and participated in – and I remember judgments passed, condemnations declared, fingers pointed and words whispered.

We need to remember the words of Jesus to the woman’s accusers

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:1-7, ESV

and, to the accused woman

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:11, ESV.

Can’t Never Did Nothing For You

Conversation overheard between Grandfather and Granddaughter.

He: “Try.”

She: “I can’t.”

He: “What do you mean you can’t. You haven’t tried.”

She: “I can’t. I know I can’t.”

He: “You think you can’t but you don’t know until you try.”

She: “I can’t! I can’t do that!”

He: “You don’t know until you try!”

She: “I can’t. I CAN’T! I can’t do it! I know I can’t!”

He: “It’s not that you ‘can’t’, it’s that you ‘won’t.’ You won’t even try.”

She: “I can’t!”

He: “Why can’t you?”

She: “Because! Because…I can’t!”

He: “‘Can’t’ never did nothing for you!”

My daughter went through a stage where “I can’t” was her mantra that she repeated to everyone who asked anything of her, especially if it required her to do something she didn’t want to, or wasn’t interested in, or felt it would require something of her (such as moving out of her comfort zone).

“I can’t” became an excuse and lead to a way of life.

It’s the same with me.  And, my guess is it’s the same with you, too

Saying “I can’t” is often easier than rolling up our sleeves and getting busy.  It’s safer than taking the risk, easier than taking action, requires less than accepting the challenge.

But, “I can’t” does nothing for us.

“I can’t” doesn’t propel us forward.

“I can’t” doesn’t produce growth in us.

“I can’t” doesn’t provide for our needs.

“I can’t” doesn’t promote well-being.

“I can’t” closes the door on opportunity and says “no” to making an attempt.

“I can’t” does nothing for us and it speaks of immaturity, lack of faith, failure to embrace change, misunderstanding of our potential and ability, and a general disconnect with life and relationships.

We say “I can’t” when what we should say is “I prefer not.”

The next time an opportunity comes along that threatens to stretch you in ways you’ve not stretched before, be honest with yourself.  Don’t say “I can’t.”  Say, “I don’t want to” instead.

And, then ask yourself why you don’t want to.  If it’s fear – face it.  If it’s lack of understanding, understand it.  If it’s due to something you need or lack, ask for assistance.

“I can’t” often becomes “I did” when we open the door of possibilities and push ourselves beyond our perceived limits.

What are your perceived limits?

You don’t know until you try.