Shackled

I spoke at a women’s retreat today. It is a group of amazing women who are changing their lives by improving their health.  Several of them requested a copy of what I shared…so here you go girls!  Go and walk in your FREEDOM!

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When I asked the Lord what word he wanted me to bring today…I got the word shackled.  Really, Lord?  I thought it was an interesting word choice for a freedom conference. I was hoping for an inspiring word like victor, or conqueror, or warrior.  Instead, I got shackled.  After my initial whining to the Lord, which was met with silence from him, I decided to do some research.

Shackle- (noun) a pair of fetters connected together by a chain, used to fasten a prisoner’s wrists or ankles together.

I pictured a criminal walking into a courtroom in an orange jumpsuit. Shackles on wrists and ankles. Doing the little shuffle step. Head down.  Hands tied in front.  This person is going before the judge to be sentenced. The shackles jingle with each step forward.  A reminder of sins committed. Standing before the judge knowing the proper plea is guilty. The person looks up at the judge and sees her own face staring back. Angry, disgusted eyes stare and bang the gavel, shouting guilty!!  The sentence is life in prison…in shackles.

This is how we see ourselves, isn’t it?  We deserve the punishment for our overindulgence.  We are guilty of lacking self-restraint and we bow our heads in shame.  We pronounce our life sentence and declare it over ourselves in anger and disgust. We cannot control our appetites for pleasure and therefore we deserve to be punished. This is the opposite of Freedom.

Then there is the verb…Shackle- to restrain or limit.

Synonyms-restrict, constrain, handicap, hamper, hinder, impede, obstruct, inhibit

Being shackled for life, means we cannot move in ways we used to.  We cannot take big steps of faith.  We cannot reach out for our dreams.  We cannot walk the path Jesus set before us, because we are limited by our weight, and our view from the prison cell we have put ourselves in.  We are angry and defeated.  We have resigned ourselves to be watchers instead of doers.  Life passes us by because we are hampered.  God calls us out and we look at our shackles and say no, I can’t.  I can’t go.  I can’t be on a stage. I can’t direct.  I can’t lead. I just can’t.  We say to anyone who dares to ask us, ‘Don’t you see my shackles.  They are obvious.  Don’t ask me.” The problem with that is usually God is the one asking.  We are paralyzed to move.  Our chains bind us from obedience.  Yet, God goes before the judge as our defense.  He is not an excuse maker, but a true defender.  He uses his words to try to convince the judge, with our very own face, of who we truly are.  Daughters created in God’s image.  Worthy. Valuable.  Beautiful. Pure. The judge plugs her ears, not wanting to hear.  But this defense attorney is not giving up, no matter how many falls off the wagon we have.  No matter how tight we make our chains.

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The scene changes. (close your eyes to picture this)

Jesus is standing beside the prisoner, and they are no longer in a courtroom.  They are standing in front of a closet.  Jesus asks to go inside.  The prisoner says no.

Jesus gently says, “If you want to get rid of your shackles we have to go inside.” The prisoner ducks her head in shame, as she opens the door.  Jesus turns on the light and begins to examine the clothes. He passes by the items in the front of the closet.  Instead he goes to the dark corners in the back.  He pulls a large jacket off the hanger.

“What is this for?” He asks.

The prisoner answers, “That is my favorite coat.”

“But what is it for?”

“To cover me.”

“But it is too big for you.”

“I like oversized jackets.”

“Precious one, you are using this to cover your shame.  It is not becoming on you.  It hides who I have created you to be.”

“These clothes are my fat clothes, for when I am big.”

“They do not fit you.  You are carrying that which you were not meant to carry. The load is too heavy for you.  These clothes represent your insecurities.  You hang onto them like a child holds onto a blanket…just in case.  Just in case you need to hide yourself.  Just in case you need to disappear.  I do not want you to be invisible.  You need to be seen.  Please let me take your shame away.  Please give me the burden of guilt you carry. It will break your shackles. Can I take these clothes from you, beloved?”

“Yes.  Please take them away,” the prisoner said slowly.

Jesus makes a pile of fat clothes on the floor before he moves to the next section of the closet.  He removes a shirt that is covered in stains.

“Why do you have this shirt?  It is covered in stains.”

“I can’t get them out.  I have tried everything. I can’t just throw everything away that has a stain.  It would be a waste.  All the clothes in this section have some stains on them.”

“My love, these clothes mark you.  They show mistakes made in your past.  Drips and splashes that have become a part of your fabric.  They are soaked in.  When you wear these clothes, it is a reminder to you of your past, and every time you see the stain it floods your mind with things you need not remember.  If I don’t remember, why should you? They do not represent who you are to me. I can take the stains away. Do not hold onto these clothes anymore.  Another link in the chain will break if you let me take your stains away.”

“Okay.  You can have them,” said the prisoner feeling a bit lighter.

Jesus used his scarred hands to take each article of clothing that was stained and drop it to the floor. He moved back further.  And pulled some pants that were ripped out of the closet.

“Why do you keep these?  Don’t tell me because they are in style, because there is another reason.  A deeper reason.”

“What? They are in style.”

“They are…but what about the others here.  There are many torn garments, of all shapes.”

“I keep them because they can be repaired and fixed and used.”

“That is not the reason you keep them. My child, you feel you don’t deserve better.  You feel if you wear torn clothes it is because you have never measured up.  When you were broken and torn, you came out with scars.  These clothes remind you of your scars.  They are broken as you are. Some of the wounds never fully healed and now there are gaping holes.  Holes that show your hardest moments.  The times when others ripped you, the times when you felt crushed by life’s weight.  Do not keep these garments precious one.  Let me take them from you.  Let me remove the holes left behind.”

“Please take them away.”  The prisoner wept.

“What about these things?”  Jesus said as he removed an old letter jacket, a mini skirt, gym shorts, and some other out of date items.

“Those contain memories.”

“No, they contain identities.  They are ways you identified yourself in earlier years.  They are no longer appropriate.  They are too small for what I have for you.  Your identity is in me now, and these items cannot contain what I have for you.  They do not fit anymore.  You are a new creature whom I have poured into.  Please let me remove your shackles by taking the old pictures of yourself away. It is no longer who you are.”

“Go ahead and take them.”

“While we are at it, please give me your orange jumpsuit. You put this prisoner identity upon yourself as the judge.  I have just taken your shame, your insecurities, your brokenness, your stains, your past, and your false identities.  Your chains are broken.  You are unshackled.  Please give me the jumpsuit.”

The prisoner removed the orange garment and stood exposed before Jesus.  All the doubts and fears fled.  There were no garments left in the closet.  All of them had been put into the pile on the floor.  Jesus removed his outer garment.  His white robe. And he put it onto the prisoner.

“This is what I have for you to wear…a pure garment, made of white.  It is my robe of righteousness, and it belongs to you.  It highlights who I made you to be.  It is just the right size and shape.  It brings out the sparkle in your eyes and the color in your cheeks. I have set you free…so you are free indeed.”

“Freedom looks good on you!  Go, my unshackled one.  Go and take wide steps.  Reach far for what I have given you.  You are free to move in my plans and purposes.  You are no longer a prisoner.  Move forward. Watch what I will do for you.  Keep your head up.  Do not hide in the shadows.  Do not be hindered, or hampered, or inhibited to do what I have called you to. I will bring you to the place I have for you…but you have to be the one to step out.  It will feel scary at first, but then the exhilaration will take over and you will find yourself in places you never dreamed of. You will be radiant because you are FREE.  Free from all the old.  Lifted up by the new.  Energized by my call on your life.  Hope will fill your lungs like you have never known.”

Then Jesus turned, took all the clothes piled on the floor in his arms.  He walked away from the closet and closed the door behind.  The clothes were burned, and he buried the ashes.

“Beauty for ashes… quite a trade don’t you think, beloved? Go and walk in your Freedom.”

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Lessons of 9-11

911I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to a sky that was crying.  It seems to me each year it weeps on this day, as if the heavens are grieving all those lost 17 years ago.  The clouds hang low, full of tears which overflow.  The gray blanket covers the land creating a kind of shield of sorrow.  I used to could feel it coming weeks ahead.  My heart is my calendar, but each year the time has shortened, until today I didn’t realize what day it was until the rain on my roof reminded me.  I remember not being able to comprehend the statement which came knocking at my classroom door that morning.

“America is under attack.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Many planes have been hijacked.  New York is under attack. Do not tell your students.”

My brain wasn’t able to process this information, because hijacked planes where not used as bombs before this day.  Hijackers flew planes, threatened governments, and made demands.  They did not fly into buildings.

I continued to teach. Children were being checked out by the dozens.  Because I was a co-teacher and there were two of us in the room, I left my students to go see what was going on.  Walking down the hall, a teacher whispered, “The tower fell.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  It was like thick fog in my head, grasping at ideas that were un thought of…could not be referenced to any past experiences.  No connections.  No reference points.  Going into the office where a TV was on in the back room was surreal.  Watching the tower fall on a repeated loop seemed intentionally planned so that the visual could inform the brains of the audience.  This wasn’t a movie.  This wasn’t a prank.  This was reality.  A new reality.

Nausea inducing reality.

My pallor silently announced things were not well to my team teacher when I returned. I took over the kids so she could go watch the nightmare. By the time she got back, the second tower had fallen.  We plodded on through our lessons with pretend smiles.  Over the lunch break, we camped in front of the TV, not the least bit hungry. It was the longest school day I have ever been through, caring for my students and praying my own children were safe.  The unknown dimension and scope of what might be coming was a wisp that floated through my thoughts until banished forcibly.

The next day was worse.  Scared children arrived looking up to the sky.  They couldn’t concentrate on their work for worry that a plane would fly into the school building. There was still so much unknown at the time, we didn’t know how to explain to 8 year olds what was happening.  We didn’t even know ourselves. The order to keep all televisions off was heeded.

We taught all day, and watched news all night.  This went on for months.  We were traumatized as individuals and as a country.

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Then, many years later, our first students arrived who had never heard of 9-11.  They were born after 2001.  They hadn’t seen the news clips, or experienced the trauma.  There was only a vague sense that something important happened on this day.  A moment of silence, the closest thing to prayer you will find in a public school, was the only indicator that whatever happened was bad.  As I bowed my head and prayed during the minute, I felt their little eyes on me.  When tears rolled down my cheeks each year, they responded with stunned silence that the teacher was crying.  Afterwards, they quietly asked questions about my tears and I answered them as best as I could.

The memory will never fade, even though the events pass on down into history. The unimaginable made real.  The loss of life. The remembrance, year after year as time marches on. What happened on 9-11 changed our world to pre and post.  It made it a scarier place to live.

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Yet, it also brought us together as a country.  It demonstrated the best of us…as people caring for people.  Unlikely heroes were created that day.  We loved our neighbors more than before.  There may not have been unity in all the governmental offices, but there was unity among the people.  We were kinder to one another.  We cried more easily.  We knew our hearts were broken and we extended grace.  There were tragically beautiful stories which helped us to truly SEE one another, perhaps for the first time. The treasure out of the tragedy.

Unfortunately, healing has been elusive. The goodwill short lived. Division has torn our bonds of unity apart.  Rather than reach out to one another, we turn our backs and walk away, or yell in each other’s faces.  It is a sad day, indeed.  Meanwhile, the evil that invaded and violated us is laughing, knowing he is winning the day.  Celebrating our discord, because he knows when we are separated we are weak, and when we are weak he wins.  He doesn’t have to lift a finger, because we will destroy ourselves.

On this day of sorrow and grief, I choose to remember the unity.  As an act of remembrance to those lost, I look for the goodwill and heartfelt connection which pulled our country out of the pit.  The thousands upon thousands who worked together for one cause.  The ones who reached out to others in need.  Those who fed the hungry, and clothed the weak without question.  It was a moment of clarity, of what is truly important, and what doesn’t matter.  It is my prayer that our country will choose to remember what we learned on 9-11.

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Losing Things (Guest Blog)

Memory issues– a multitude of obstacles having to do with different types of memory.  Depending on which part of the memory is affected, the difficulties can be wide in range and scope.  The resulting behaviors cause frustration and can affect day to day life in jobs as well as family relationships.

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As told to me by Bill Gunnin.

I spend more time looking for things than doing things.  I think I have everything together, but then I don’t.  Lately, losing things and trying to locate things has been more stressful than anything else I am dealing with. I am trying to organize my life because of the new piano tuning business I have started, but there are specialized tools and small things and I have trouble sometimes finding what I am looking for. My stuff is spread all over the house, which invades your space and that won’t work.  I organize and organize and organize, but it always seems I am overloaded. Then I can’t remember my organization or which file I put something into.  There are times I am doing my very best to have everything together, but there is always something that isn’t where I need it to be, like a tool, or a file, or my glasses, or my phone, or some form or paperwork.

One of the problems, and I don’t know how to change it, is that I get obsessed on locating on things.  Because of that, sometimes I lose perspective on how important the item is.  I get fixated, and I forget what I am working on. It is hard for me to realize the thing I am looking for might not be as important as what I am supposed to be doing. I feel if I have the item then I will be ready and I have a desire to be ready for anything.  Sometimes it causes me to go slow, like with packing for a trip.  I have to consider every possibility, and when I can’t remember where something is that I might need, I have to stop and turn the house upside down looking for it.  Then once I find it, whatever it is, I can go back, but then everything is out of place because of my previous looking. My difficulty making decisions jumps into the mix and it just causes stress and frustration, and takes me forever to do things that most people can do in five minutes.

It reminds me of my mom and her brain cancer. Remember how she was always unsettled and had to go somewhere? She was looking for something, but she couldn’t name it and she kept walking in circles. I might not be as severe as she was, but I feel that.  I have to be ready; I cannot be unprepared.  I may not accomplish anything because of getting ready all the time, but I will be prepared.

I can lose something sitting in one place. Like in the car the other day when I lost my sunglasses. They were just gone.  I had not even left my seat and they just disappeared.  I was to the point of insanity in my frustration.  I honestly believed I might be going crazy. I couldn’t stop looking and let it go until I knew what happened to those damn glasses. I have no memory at all of putting them into your purse. That doesn’t even make sense to me, but at least we found them, even though it took 45 minutes of looking in the car first. I get so frustrated, and by the time I find what I am looking for I have wasted so much time, and then I usually have misplaced something else.

As much as I resist order, I know order helps me rest. So, I can’t rest until I find what I am looking for and put it in order.  I think this may happen because it’s not just one thing; it is memory, indecision, feeling like part of me is missing and I can’t find it…just like all the stuff I am always losing, I have lost myself.

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It helps the turmoil when you come to my aid and help me look. Having someone to share the difficulty with makes me feel less like I am crazy. Having you help me makes me not feel so alone in it.  I know it’s frustrating to you to always have to stop and help me.  I know I depend on that a lot and it’s not fair, but I don’t know what else to do when I am in a tizzy.  It is in the moment, and I get stuck there.  Not to mention if we are going somewhere it slows down everyone else.  Plus, you have done this for so many years you are an excellent finder, much better at it than me.  It does makes me mad though when I have been looking for something for hours and you can walk right in and find it in a minute.

I think the problem may be a memory thing rather than an organizational thing. It is because of my need for organizational systems that my memory issues are exposed which increase my anxiety.  I can’t let it go, because I have a system in place.  When I can’t remember, my system doesn’t work at all, and this makes me feel crazy and stupid.  I haven’t left the room, but whatever it is I have misplaced is not there. Things cannot just disappear. I have to keep looking because if I can’t find it now, the search will get bigger tomorrow. At least I know where I have been today, so it limits where I have to look.  Tomorrow my memory will be even worse.

I get angry when I can’t remember things.  When I can’t remember something like the name of the trail I was trying to think of today…Raven Cliff Falls…I have hiked that trail so many times, it is discouraging not to be able to remember it.  It causes me anxiety and fear of what I can’t remember. I should be able to recall more. I wrote and wrote and wrote things down so I wouldn’t forget.  I have notebooks full of stuff, but that doesn’t work because all I do is write, but never accomplish anything.  I don’t throw them away because I am afraid I will forget all of it.  Now there’s a new app to help file notes and things in your phone.  But then I can’t remember which file and it turns into another thing to distract me.

My memory gaps cause so much distraction for me.  I am spinning wheels, because I never feel ready to do it, whatever it is.  It is like when you go somewhere and you feel like you are forgetting something, and you are wracking your brain to think what it is.  You trace your steps trying to make sure you have everything.  It is common for me to feel that way at some point every day.  It drains my pool of mental resources. Getting ready…trying to remember where I put things. Memory issues prevent me from moving forward.  Shame is involved.  It makes me feel embarrassed.  Angry at myself, and I get tired of it all the time.  I just want to be able to get my stuff together.

I have tried to make some systems to help.  I check when going in and out of buildings to make note of what I have with me when I go in, so I can check to make sure I still have them with me when I leave. I have made it a habit most of the time, except when I forget.  As soon as I realize something is missing, I try to call all the places I have been to find out where I left it.  The sooner I call the sooner I can go pick it up and get back on track. I am trying to be intentional in what I am taking with me and where.

I feel like I live my life on a roller coaster. I feel very capable and smart sometimes and other times I feel like a total idiot. I mean, who loses things without even moving out of a chair?  That is crazy. And now it takes a long time to get prepared for things, and I know it used to take less. That scares me a bit.

I have a new thing I have tried to do more recently. I am consciously trying to find a place where things belong.  I am trying to get into the habit of putting things back where they go. I know other people do that, but it has always been hard for me to remember where the place is and believe it is the right place to keep it.   I’m frustrated, because when I haven’t found a place for something to go, I lose it. Do you think that could be why I get so frustrated?  Is that possible?  Does it make sense?

You ask me does it feel like being a little boy again, since my tears and anger seem like that to you. My first thought is what does it feel like to be a little boy? I have trouble remembering. When I think about that, it isn’t a feeling I want to have.  I’m afraid of not being able to express frustration with words…just feelings without names and my inability to figure them out. As a little boy, there was confusion about my feelings…the usual development part of being a kid…until I learned how things worked. I guess, in a way now, it is like the confusion and pent up emotion from when I was a kid.  I know the embarrassment feels the same, only now I am not a little boy. It seems like the shame is bigger, because a grown man should be able to remember more than I can.

Sometimes I am certain I have a memory of something, but then I can’t figure out if it is a true memory. Is it from this day or years ago?  If it is vivid and I KNOW it happened, I still might not be able to figure out when it is from. Sometimes the memories are clear, but knowing when I had them is not. I can be certain I put something in a place, but I cannot be certain that it was today when I did it.  No matter if I make notes on paper, or in my head, I still cannot always tell if the memory I have is the most recent one.  Like, I remember putting a tool for my piano in a certain place, but the tool is missing; it is not there.  So, did I not put it there? Or do I remember something I actually did, but I have done many things with the tool since then? Or did I put it there when I first got it and not yesterday like I thought?  These are the questions that go through my mind to torment me while I am looking in every possible place.  And I still haven’t found it, so I cannot finish working on my piano. It is maddening.

People do not know how this kind of problem can affect daily life.  It seems to me that everything I do takes three times the effort of other people.  It is hard just for me to get through the day intact sometimes.  If it was only the memory issues maybe I could adjust better, but throw in all the other things that are silent parts of my injury and how they affect my thinking, and I feel like I will never get to where I want to be.  I will try, very hard, but I will not succeed.  That is the worse feeling in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kayaking

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In an effort to keep my body moving, I have desired to take up kayaking for a while now.  My legs still work, but some days I am not sure how long that will be true.  The cartilage in the joints is disintegrating thanks to chemo, so hiking can sometimes be painful.  Being a paddler in my younger days, it just made sense to me to find another activity I enjoy to mix things up from time to time and to give my legs a break.

We were going to rent boats the last time we were in Seattle to go out on the Sound, but we never did.  In fact, I have been wanting to rent boats for the past couple of years, but have never gotten Bill to agree.  This time, when we decided against it on our trip, I made him promise me we would do it when we got home.  And so, when I drove past a sign at the Olympic Rowing venue in Gainesville advertising kayaking classes, I signed us up.

My intention was to learn how to get in and out of the boat as well as to learn the differences between canoe, raft, and kayak strokes.  I mean, how different can it be? Since we both have paddled everything except a kayak in our pasts, I figured it would be a big review for us. I dragged Bill to our first lesson and he was a good sport since he had promised me we would do this.  We were supposed to have 6 people in our class, but 3 dropped out, so it was us and one other guy.  When we met our instructor, an Olympic kayaker, it should have been my first clue this was not going to be the beginner class I had imagined it to be.

First off, the boats were not the little recreational kind you rent at different lakes around here.  They were “real” kayaks with cockpits, and they did not have flat bottoms for stability.  Our first lesson was what to do if you capsize…save the boat from sinking by turning it over. I guess they assume since you are wearing a life jacket you will not need saving.  The next lesson was getting in.  The instructor was showing us, very slowly, how to move from standing to sitting in the kayak.  My mind was watching his movements and knowing my knee couldn’t do what he was doing. Fear crept into my throat.

Bill, on the other hand was just ready to get on with it, and was halfway in his boat.  The problem was he didn’t finish watching the lesson…brain injured ADHD doesn’t really allow that…so he was jumping ahead of the instructor.  The boats are unforgiving of such things, and it tossed him right into the water.  He remembered lesson number one well, and reached for his boat to turn it over as I was yelling to forget the boat and get his brand new very expensive glasses, which were floating to the bottom of Lake Lanier.  Meanwhile our instructor, still giving his how-to-get-in-the-boat lesson, turned around and said, “I wasn’t finished with the lesson.  You have to listen first, then do it.”  He was quite patient as Bill tried to get the boat, save his flip flops and hat, and get back onto the dock.  Lesson #1 was quite a bit more expensive than we had planned.

Everyone was in their boat but me, so the instructor had me get into the boat on the dock, because I knew I could not do what he had demonstrated. When he pushed me into the water he said to pretend I was going down a rapid. I gripped my paddle and swallowed hard.  I made it in without going over, and I felt accomplished. I wondered, ‘Can I get out now?’  Our lesson was 1 ½ hours and it took us 45 minutes just to get into the boats.

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Next, the instructor got in a little motorized boat so he could film our technique and show us how we were doing. Great, just what I wanted. Documentation. I was just happy to be upright.  He showed us the proper strokes, and how our arms needed to be placed, while we were twisting our core, and catching the water just so.  There were, like 10 movements to think about, all happening at the same time.  The guys were moving right along, and my kayak was veering left.  I was reverting back to canoe strokes to line it up again.  Then I would veer to the right.  I could not go straight to save my life.  How did I know this you ask?  Because it was all being filmed by the instructor in his little motor boat, as he shouted, “head up and straight, twist your core, move your arms further apart on the shaft, elbows down, catch the paddle by your feet, shorter strokes, etc…  He was trying to help, but I was going in circles.  When the lesson was over, I rolled out of my boat onto the dock, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Lesson # 2 was with a Paralympian named Nik, who had a prosthetic leg, lots of tattoos, and muscles for miles. He is ranked one of the fastest kayakers in the world, and he was very passionate about his sport, and he wanted us to be as well.  He was really quite amazing, taking off his leg and jumping all around, carrying his boat to the water.  I felt a bit stupid telling him my leg doesn’t bend very well so it is hard for me to get into the boat.  He just laughed at me, but said he could give me pointers…which he did. He had me sit on the dock and then just scooch over into the boat on the water.  So much easier than holding my breath and hoping whoever pushed me off the dock would do it correctly.  However, I continued to go around in circles the entire lesson and he followed me in his kayak, trying to help me figure out what I was doing wrong.

Then he got out a tandem boat, that looked like a rocket in the water.  I got in the back and he was in the front paddling us around.  It felt like it was going to flip and anytime I tried to paddle I thought we were going in.  He kept it in balance the whole time, using his back and core muscles…the ones with the flaming skull on them. Turns out kayaking isn’t only about the arms.  We all had turns with him so we could feel what a competition boat feels like. Then he got out another one which was super streamlined and completely round on the bottom. He had Bill get in, which lasted about 10 seconds before it threw him in the water.  He taught Bill how to climb back in the boat from the water, which was quite impressive. His intention was to show us how much more responsive the other boats are so we wouldn’t get discouraged with the ones we were using because “as you get better you will graduate to the better boats.”  He said this as if we were going to continue past the three lessons we paid for.  It had the opposite effect on me, I decided I never wanted to move past the boat I was using. Bill was all in as usual, and I thought- ‘What have I created?’

Our last lesson was almost canceled due to rainy weather, but when we arrived our instructor was ready to go, even though he was leaving early to compete in the World Championship in Portugal that afternoon. He gave me some tips on how to fix my arm positions, and told me just to practice only arms…not to worry about going in circles.  He filmed some more from his boat and then worked with Bill quite a bit from the dock. I had a bit of a breakthrough, in that it seemed all of the different things came together and a couple of times I actually went straight!

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Our instructor had to catch his flight out, so we wished him well and said our goodbyes.  I’m not sure he made me into a kayaker in our lessons together, but he certainly has two new fans who will follow his career. As for us, we will continue to kayak, but I think we will stick with the little rental places around here. Even in the unexpected level of lessons, I reconnected with my love for being on the water that I have missed. I don’t think you will see me in any competitions any time soon…but if you do, I will be the one going in circles.

(I got all of these pictures from unsplash.com)

True Love

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I had the privilege of being raised in the overflow of True Love.  My parents set an example, which has inspired me on the toughest days of my own marriage. Their relationship started when she was 13 and he was 16, and going steady was the way things were done.  Their young love never wavered from that path, growing steadily until they eventually married.  If you look back in time, which we did last weekend going through slides from their courtship, it is evident from the sparkle in their eyes how much they loved each other.  You can see it as she pinned him at his commissioning ceremony.  You can see it in pictures of the two of them at a picnic. You can see it in the wedding photos, and in their young hope-filled eyes on their honeymoon. You can see the sparkle of love in each stage of life along the way.  If a picture paints 1,000 words, then boxes of pictures paint a lifetime of words that can be summed up in three…I love you.

Notice I didn’t say theirs has been a perfect love.  It has not.  They bicker.  They have their differences of opinion.  Their personalities sometimes rub each other wrong.  But in the tough times, the sharp edges have worn off leaving behind a gem which is even more beautiful than it was in the very beginning.  It is a love formed by decades of shared life, and now is needed more than ever before. As Mom’s memory begins to fade, Dad has to step in more and more.  It is a role reversal for him.

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If you know my Dad at all you know that patience isn’t his thing.  He is a go-getter, type-A.  Work is his love language.  Getting things done, in high quality and as quickly as possible is his measuring stick for life.  We have called him the bulldog, because when he gets on a task he doesn’t let it go until it is accomplished. That pertains to our tasks as well.  He is laser focused, until we finish what we start.

Mom is the nurturer.  She is the slow-down-and-smell-the-roses to his full-speed-ahead.  She is the color to his black and white.  She is the one who had the insight to know he needs a task to be happy, so she signed him up for photography classes as he neared retirement to give him one. His beautiful photography is the result of his hard work, but it started with her intuition. Her wisdom is carefully thought through, her roots go deep. She is the encourager of the family, which glues us all together.

To see Dad slow down to take care of Mom, is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. The way he lets her go at her own pace. The way he helps her when she can’t find words.  The way he plans things so she can still do the things she wants to do.  He is becoming her memory.  It is amazing to watch him be patient, when I know that is the opposite of his natural tendency.  And even though sometimes her eyes look confused, when she looks at him the sparkle rises to the top.

Growing old together isn’t always the fun we all imagine it to be.  It isn’t all rocking chairs and grandchildren circled around.  In fact, the more I watch, the more hardship I see in the “golden years”.  Yet, even through all that aging brings with it, I am still living in the overflow of True Love. It is still an inspiration to watch my parents love each other well.

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Today they have been married 60 years, which was proceeded by several years of growing up together.  They have been together so long they are bonded together and even their bickering is cute and sweet.  In our culture, 60 years is a milestone of significance, but in our family, there was never a doubt they would make it this far. Their love is deep enough to weather storms and wide enough to keep all of us in its embrace.  True Love is like that. It spills over and rains down on all those who come into contact with it.  I have lived in its mist my whole life and I will be forever grateful to my parents for their True Love.

Winnie the Pooh

img_6071.jpgI have always been a Pooh fan.  I remember the books as a child and the wonder they created when the pictures and text danced together upon the pages.  They were unlike “regular” books and, because of their creative formatting, little girls and boys would be curious enough to turn and discover something new on the next page and the next.  The images blended with the story until neither could be separated from the other. Generations of children were mesmerized by the humble little bear who had no idea how wise he was. As kids, we didn’t know he was wise either.  He just seemed to be kind and gentle, as well as continuously in predicaments where it took all his friends helping to work things out.

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Now, I can see the genius of the work.  Now, I can understand the two brilliant men who brought the characters in the Hundred Acre Wood to life.  I went to the High Museum of Art to see the Winnie the Pooh exhibit on Friday.  It was a fitting tribute to the artistic ability of both the author and the illustrator.  Quotes lined the walls, and framed sketches of the pictures in the books immediately summoned old feelings to the surface of my imagination.  Warm and fuzzy doesn’t begin to describe my sentimental journey back in time.  The drawing of Pooh holding onto the balloon brought the story of him trying to get the honey to the forefront of my mind. The one of him stuck in Rabbit’s hole did the same.  I don’t think I really understood the visual impact the illustrations had on me as a child until “re-seeing” them as an adult.

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The quotes were filled with wisdom beyond the understanding of a young child. I think it is one reason the stories have lived so long.  Adults appreciate the word play with the characters to teach their young children about life.  Here are a few from the bear of very little brain.

“You’re braver than you believe and stronger and smarter than you think.”

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

I could add a million more of the humorous and profound lines to the list and most of us would know them.  They are etched in our memories from spending time visiting the Hundred Acre Wood.

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When the stories came to life on the television screen, the voice of Pooh was added.  It became part of the intertwining of text, illustration, and then audio which made Winnie the Pooh a beloved iconic character loved by millions of children.  That unassuming voice communicating honestly with viewers won us over.  I haven’t been to the new movie yet.  I hope it does justice to the original work.

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I think our culture is longing for the simplicity of Pooh these days.  We trust his gentle ways and the authenticity of his character.  We all relate to the band of friends in one way or another.  We know a negative Eeyore or a pretentious Owl.  We have Tigger friends, or we bounce around ourselves.  Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. The connection we make to those long-ago characters reminds us of the simplicity of friendship, the uncomplicatedness of love, and the importance of believing in ourselves.  We seem to have forgotten those things.  We all need to revisit the Hundred Acre Wood. Leave it to a stuffed bear, named Pooh, to revive these things we have been missing.  The character who wakes us up is as unassuming as ever, and the perfect vehicle to give us some food for thought…covered in honey of course.

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Cave Rescue

caveOur Uber driver told us they found the boys in the cave alive. “Isn’t that amazing?” he asked. I had no idea if it was or not, because I had no idea what he was talking about.  I stopped watching the news a couple of years ago, around the same time I removed political opinions from my posts. I pulled out of the cycle of fear and being force fed disgust of anyone not like me.  It was a decision to protect my thoughts and my mental and emotional health.  On vacation, we never even turned on the TV, so I made small talk with the driver and tried not to be ignorant, which of course I was.  In the airport, I did a Google search on my phone and was immediately hooked on the unfolding story of the boys team trapped in a seemingly impossible situation.

The next few days I followed the rescue attempts and the weather.  It seemed a race against time. I told Bill, “I can’t wait for the movie to come out, because someone has got to make one.”  I was on the edge of my computer to see how they would save these boys. After they were free, I saw some of the video of what they did to get them out and knew I would have not be able to do it, yet here was an international team of rescue personnel all working together…in unity…for one cause…in a life or death situation.  It did not matter what country, what race, what language, what gender, what religion, what political party, what background, they all worked together.

It occurred to me how much different the world would be if we could work together like that on everything.  In our own country…it seems our oxygen is running low and the floodwaters are rising.  The passages out are at an impasse.  Fear is the primary emotion, and rather than coming together, we are splitting apart.  Are our differences so great that we cannot put them aside in a life or death situation?  Our country is starving. It is in the dark.  In a dire circumstance, with no way out but to trust.  Only we cannot trust.  Anyone.  Left. Right. Red. Blue. Black. White. Men. Women. Gay. Straight. Christian. Muslim. Jew. We are blinded by the darkness. We are weakened by our lack of nutrients.  We are fed a steady diet of animosity which we eat hungrily on all sides, but it does nothing to satisfy, it only increases our appetite.  Bitterness wreaks havoc and sucks up our oxygen, which is already in short supply.  Superiority turns away humility and refuses to allow it entrance, because it is a foreign concept.  Trust cannot be found.  The motto is “We know best.” (Insert, your group name for the we.) But what if we don’t? What if, we are all wrong, focusing on the unimportant and we are wasting our breath?

It will take a rescue effort of enormous proportions to get us out of the cave we are trapped in.  I wonder if there will be any effort on our behalf to supply food, or oxygen, or to pump the sludge out.  I wonder if the tiny spaces that must be traversed will allow for passage as long as there is abhorrence and revulsion of one another. I fear the aversion we have for those breathing the same air will not lead to a solution in which all are rescued.  We can watch the drama unfold, from our viewpoint in the cave, not fully realizing the danger in which we have put ourselves.  My hope is a resolution like the one in Thailand, where unity was victorious because it was top priority, and where they walked out by trusting each other.

Under the Bus

We went to Seattle to see our shy, quiet little girl walk across the stage to receive her Masters’ degree in counseling.  The bold and beautiful woman she has become is a wonder to watch.  The transformation from her childhood to now is amazing and proof of what it means to be led by God each step of the way. She has grown and blossomed.  Each step has led to the next and the next, until now as she stands ready to walk others through their own steps in life. Proud doesn’t begin to cover my feelings.  I am in awe. It is my greatest sorrow and my greatest joy to watch my adult children struggle and wrestle through life and then land in their desired place.  The place where they feel they fit.  Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but on days where things come together and you see the fulfillment of some of your deepest heartfelt prayers it is a good, good day.

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In addition to the graduation, we had a whole week to vacation together. Almost. All but one of our kids was able to get off work and rearrange schedules to come celebrate.  Parents with young kids…enjoy the freedom you have to be together.  That goes away when your children become adults.  Getting 24 hours together at the holidays is my highest hope now.  Even knowing about this graduation 6 months out, we still couldn’t get them all there.  However, this is the closest we have come to a family vacation in 10 years.  More than one day all together was a celebration all on its own. I only wish Peter had been able to come, too. Hannah was an excellent tour guide, showing us all her favorite spots around Seattle.  Now that I have been three times, I feel like I am beginning to know the city a bit, and the surrounding mountains.

We went on a hike to Lake 22 in the Cascades.  It was only a 5-mile hike round trip, but it was a climb.  I took a million pictures, which do not do it justice…waterfalls all along the way. It was like Raven Cliffs meets Blood Mountain…times 10.  I don’t know why I continue to try to document nature…photos never show the true beauty…but I keep trying. My body did great until about half way up, when the nice kept trail turned into a billy-goat path full of rocks and boulders.  I have climbed these kinds of paths before, so I knew to take it slow on my ankles and knees. I knew to use my trekking poles and my husband’s shoulders for support.  On this trail, however, the rocks and boulders lasted for what felt like years. In actuality, it was probably maybe ¾ a mile. I slowed to a crawl, and have never felt like such an old lady before.  The combination of the climb and the rocks had me whining.  Fortunately, I was still on steroids from a nasty sinus infection, so my joints didn’t hurt too badly.  It was the fear of twisting my ankle or falling on my knee that caused my snail like pace.  My family was encouraging me, sweet people they are.  🙂 The young ones would go ahead and then stop to wait on me. Then they would give me a pep talk and move on again.  William kept saying, “Mom, you are doing it.  How many people do you know who would even attempt this?  Not many. You are going and you are doing it!”  Bill stayed by my side reminding me that a few years ago I was sitting in a chemo chair thinking I would never hike again.

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At the top, I did feel a sense of accomplishment, and the views of the lake and snow-covered mountains were worth it. We had our picnic and enjoyed the lovely rain free day. The trek down, took me even longer.  Those of you with knees that do not bend fully will understand why. At the bottom, my legs were mush.  I was overjoyed to sit in the car for an hour back to the city.

Because of my slow pace, we were running very late for a party at the Columbia Tower.  We had 5 minutes to get changed from our hiking clothes to our party clothes.  Fortunately, in Seattle everything, even swanky parties, are casual in dress.  It was a matter of taking off the muddy and sweaty clothing for something clean. We jumped back in the car and headed downtown.  After finding parking a block down, we made our way to the tower in a hurry to make our time. (They didn’t want everyone to be on the elevator at the same time, so they gave out specific staggered times.) By this time, my legs had set up and climbing the hill in my flip flops proved that my joints were going be sore for the next few days, from the hike.

We made it to the crosswalk right in front of the tower just as the little hand was counting down 5, 4, 3….we were almost at a run trying to make it across in the last 2 seconds before the light changed.  There were people at all four corners, some of them crossing, some of them standing waiting on their turn.  There was a bus revving getting ready for the light to change so it could deliver its passengers to the next stop. Cars were slowing to a stop on the cross street, as the ones already stopped on the main thoroughfare got ready to spring forward.  For a split second, everyone was at a standstill.  Except us.  We were running.  I was trailing behind, as usual, and since my legs were like bricks, it seemed as if I was in slow motion compared to the rest.

What I didn’t realize is the lines in the crosswalk were slightly raised…maybe an eighth of an inch. Not visibly raised, but enough to catch the toe of a flip flop of a woman who could not lift her legs because of hiking all day on rocks.  I felt the skin coming off of my left big toe, and it set into motion a most ungraceful chain of events which ended with me face down under a bus…close enough to feel the heat from the engine. I guess the noise my body made when hitting the ground was loud, because when I managed to look up everyone in the surrounding intersection was stopped and staring at me.  My tears came quickly, but more quickly came my desire to get out from in front of a bus ready to move, now that the light had changed. My family had turned back to assess the damage to the old woman lying in the street. Strangers were asking me if I was okay and what was hurt.  My headband was off, my shirt was askew, my instinct was to GET OUT FROM UNDER THE BUS. My brain was screaming it over and over.  My x-ray technologist son was trying to assess if I had any broken bones. I tried to jump up…I use that term loosely…and move out of the street.  The crowd who had gathered helped me get to the opposite corner, where a little girl looked on with big eyes full of concern.

By this time the adrenaline was shaking me pretty hard and it was difficult to tell what was hurting.  I was simply glad the traffic was moving again. I was no longer the center of attention of the busload of people staring out the windows to see what (or who) was holding up their route.  Passersby were still unsure if they needed to move on, or call 911.  I think the fact that William seemed to be knowledgeable medical personnel, and he was assessing me one body part at a time, convinced them that I was in good hands and they began to disperse and move along. The little girl told me how loud it was when she heard me fall and she was sorry I got hurt, as her mom waved her on. I wanted to move on too, to erase the embarrassment now flooding my cheeks, but William was having none of it.  Pain was beginning to break through the adrenaline rush, so I let him do his job.

My left knee had a knot it in and was bleeding, but I could bend it and put weight on it with no problem.  My right knee (the fake one) seemed fine, which led me to believe that somehow, I had twisted to protect it as I went down. Both hands were bleeding from scrapes and my right wrist was already swollen and bruised.  My right ribs were sore as well.  He checked my head for bumps and thankfully there were none.  Of course, the most damage was done to my pride, but that is something that cannot be helped in such circumstances.  His focus quickly became my wrist, as it looked the most damaged of all my injuries.  He had me move it in all different directions, move my fingers, and decided that for now, it seemed not to be broken.  We cleaned up my bleeding parts, and decided I was good to go to the party.  We arrived a bit past our allotted time, but were allowed an amazing ride in the newly renovated elevator.  I have never ridden in an elevator with a movie in it.  At the top, we had a 360-degree view from the highest point in the city.  It was amazing to say the least. I could even see the spot where I had fallen, and I wondered if I had been the entertainment for all those in the tower.  Hopefully, they were looking out at the view… and not under the bus.

A Closed Door. An Open Book.

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I closed the door to my Aunt Betty’s home for the last time today.  Locked it up.  Said goodbye to the cherry tree she loved so much.  A few weeks ago, the grounds crew came and pruned the tree.  Melinda and I cried, and as our tears flowed, we were ready to go to battle for the beloved tree, but they didn’t take the whole tree down, just cut it back away from the roof. It was too soon.  Too fresh.  Too painful.  Today, two buildings down, the pressure washers were in high gear, getting the condos ready for a new coat of paint.  We are leaving all that to the new owner who came by to talk to the paint crew about what he wants them to do.  But now, after a few months of digging and sorting and trashing and giving stuff away, it is time to close the door. The essence of Betty doesn’t live there any longer.  Without her organ, instruments, music, magazines, newspapers, books it is a vacant empty place.  Somehow, that makes it sadder than when all her things were still there even though she wasn’t.

We have dispersed as much as possible to friends, family, and organizations.  I have one remaining meeting with the Atlanta Historical Society to look through some of her Olympic memorabilia and historical Atlanta stuff she had in her collection. The new owner said he would get rid of anything we left behind, so I left a few things that were iconic Betty items. Her organ shoes. Her 1960 bathing suit cover up made from a towel, that she still proudly wore at family summer gatherings. Many of the wall hangings, which she made herself were left in their places because it seemed like they should always be there, like they belonged to the dwelling place.  I am aware that these items are sentimental and it grieved me to leave them behind, knowing they will probably get tossed.  I just don’t have the space to keep every item, and I didn’t have it in me to be the one to throw them out.

As I left, I gazed at the front door that has belonged to her for 50 years, and I thought how appropriate it for it to get a fresh new color.  It would seem somehow disrespectful for it to still be Betty’s door with a different owner.  The new paint inside and out will revitalize the place and bring life to it again.  The cycle of life…seen in the paint crew simply doing their jobs in the summer sun.  The perspective gained looking through those windows will change.  The door will open and close to different viewpoints.  The inside and the outside will begin again to embrace the next generation. The Cherry tree will remain, pruned but very much alive, to provide beauty to those who come and go through the door…the door, I just locked and walked away from.

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However, the last load in my car gives me the feeling I am carrying Betty with me.  Boxes of old pictures with antique and unknown family members in them are overflowing.  Files of family history yet to be gone through.  And then there is the big family Bible, a treasured artifact passed on to my generation at Betty’s death. There is a linage and a history that cannot be ignored by my heart. An open book.  It sits upon my table calling me to come with my curious spirit and soak in the history of me.

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Within its pages, I see letters from family members, just sharing their daily activities back from the days when long distance phone calls were luxuries. There are beautiful Easter cards pressed in between pages.  Then there are some messages, older still, Western Union telegrams, “Arrived here ok. Stop. Stopping at Viking Hotel. Stop.” (And I have trouble getting my kids to text me!) There is an obituary that begins with “The death angel visited us again this week…” and another one that says “The Lord in his wisdom, love and goodness has seen fit to take from our midst another one of his children to join the heavenly family where there shall be no more separation.”

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A letter from my grandmother that says, “Ossie is leaving today to pick cotton.  I sure will miss her, but she can make $1.25 a hundred and I sure don’t blame her. She will be back in about a month I suppose.”  There is more about canning green beans and melting peppermint candy to mix in with the ice cream to make it flavorful.  Those long-ago times, were so very different. These letters are like windows. There are poems, both handwritten and printed.  A fiftieth wedding anniversary napkin is pressed flat between the pages of 1 Cor. 13.  A faded purple ribbon with the words Our Mother in the center snipped from a funeral spray as a memento.  In the center of this enormous book is the family linage handwritten in the script of one of my ancestors.  It goes all the way back to the birth of my great, great, great grandparents in 1827.  Marriages are recorded, and each page has a list of all the children born.  My great grandmother is among them.

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Along with the Bible is a notebook full of letters that are brown with age.  Brittle and fragile, I must take great care to make out the lettering from back in the 1880s.  Some of the oldest pictures I have found in treasure hunt Betty left for us are in this notebook.  They are pictures of those listed in the family Bible, along with poetry between lovers, letters between sisters, and notes of parents to children.  One is a handwritten marriage invitation from November 8th 1887!

The faces on my dining room wall seem to almost smile I as peruse these family artifacts. After all, the poetry between lovers was written by some of them.  Their serious demeanors in the photos don’t give away these things, but their hearts are clear in their written words of love for one another.  What to do with them?  How to preserve them?  I do not know, but I plan to find out when I go to the Atlanta Historical Society.  While today was the time to close the door, it was also the day to open the book.

 

My Apologies

I owe my sons an apology.  Allow me to explain.  In the refugee camps, they have squatty potties. I will try to paint a picture, for those of you who have never travelled to a place with these kinds of potties. There is usually a building with a stall or two. In each stall is a hole in the ground, over which you squat in order to defecate.  In nice ones, there is a concrete floor with a place for your feet. For a westerner like me, this was a whole new adventure.

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First, there was the smell that greeted me way before I arrived. I switched to mouth breathing and left my nose out of it.  Otherwise, I might have had to use the hole for throwing up as well. I have learned this trick using porta-potties and state park bathrooms for years while hiking and camping. Who knew I was being prepared for this moment?  Then, I stepped into the oven…I mean stall.  It had a tin roof, which absorbs the heat of the sun making the tiny space 1,000 degrees. As soon as I was inside with the door latched, I saw I was sharing the space with a lizard and quite a few flies. I asked the lizard to please stay put while I took care of my business. I knew, if it climbed my leg or raced over my foot, my hosts might get a screaming-potty-dance like they had never seen before.

This being a nice latrine, there were places to put my feet. If I placed my feet there, and then squatted, I should be lined up to properly hit the correct spot…in theory.  I have peed in the woods a million times, so this should not have been hard, however, there were no trees to lean on so I found out my quads were not as strong as I thought. Not to mention, my undergarments were soaked with sweat, so getting them down and out of the way was quite a challenge.  Fortunately for me, the first day, I was wearing a skirt and not pants. Skirts can be pulled up and even tucked into your shirt so they don’t fall into the stream.  The second day, I wore pants and quickly realized that pulling them down so that they do not touch the floor, where there are puddles, while at the same time keeping them out of the way, was too much of a challenge for old lady quads.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lizard was moving slowly towards me, and I was trying to get properly lined up, while not forgetting to breathe through my mouth.  Our hosts knew there were westerners coming, so they were gracious enough to put toilet paper in one of the stalls. Fortunately for me, it was empty when I arrived so I didn’t have to use the Kleenex packet I brought with me. I got my TP before squatting, which proved to be a wise move on my part. I was anxious to complete my task before the lizard made his way to my feet.  Armed with my TP, holding my nose, skirt tucked up into the neck of my shirt, feet on the correct spots, I assumed the position and hovered over the hole.

Somehow, I missed. There was splatter happening.  My feet were the first to notice, and so they shifted away from the hole I was missing.  Still, not lined up properly with the new wider stance, the splatter was on the increase. I leaned more forward, and was able to make it to the desired spot…for a few seconds.  As my stream weakened, it no longer hit the same spot and so the splatter started again.  I now understood the puddle on the ground.  Sweat started to drip into my eyes, because holding a squat this long is what people in America pay trainers to help them do for exercise.  I think I heard what lizard laughter sounds like. Meanwhile, I was swaying in order to find the correct position to hit the hole.  I never realized how much I use sound to guide me, but in the tiny stall the sound was delayed as the liquid had a long way to fall.  Who knew I would need to know physics to pee properly?

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Finally, I got to the correct spot…just as I finished. Grateful, and dying to get out of the heat, completed my task and wiped my feet off with more TP.  I exited without a lizard incident. However, my skirt was still tucked into my shirt. Fortunately for me, the latrines are far from the main buildings, and I was able to recognize my error before anyone saw me.

All of this led me to write this apology to my sons. I had no idea hitting one spot was so difficult.  I know my equipment is different from yours, but getting it right involves much more than I realized. Please forgive this mama for being exasperated with you while you were learning to pee in the toilet.  Now I understand practice makes it better, but there are adjustments and variables each time you go, which I knew nothing about.  I get it now.  I offer my sincerest apology to you all.