An Old Chair and an Unanswered Prayer

The mental replay of a conversation with a struggling friend pulled me out of my bed tonight and settled me beneath the stars. I found myself with no choice but to count them, along with my greatest blessings.

I shifted my weight awkwardly; a person was only meant to kneel for so long, especially on cheap, rough carpeting. As if to compensate for the rug burn on my knees and legs, I buried my head in the worn velvet of my favorite chair and pictured its elegant curves in my mind as I spit my most precious desires into the accomodating embrace of the aging cushion.

“Father,” I pleaded, “tell me what to do. I feel as though I have tried it all, and everything I do is wrong. He won’t budge. I see the love he once had for me draining from his eyes as he wipes out the sleep before trudging to work. I feel the weight he carries on his shoulders as they cover my own, the desperation of his body pressed against mine. I know that he is trying to feel something, anything, to replace the numbness that has invaded our life together…” 

Here I paused to blow my sorrows into a tissue and wipe the hope draining from my eyes. I had been praying for hours, ever since he left for work, pouring out my angst and wishes, alternately railing and begging. “Please, Father. Soften his heart towards me. Help him to see that I’m trying my very best. I know that it’s not good enough, but it’s all I can do. Please lend me peace and help me to save my marriage.”

I could no longer continue. The sobs stormed my vocal chords: speech wouldn’t come; only keening sounds escaped my beseiged throat. My shoulders heaved under the force of this release, my heart straining to push the heartache through my bloodstream until it engulfed my entire body in anxious heaviness.

I fell asleep that night on my knees, my head buried in the forgiving cushion, my hands embracing the cool wooden curves carved so long ago. When I called my feet to action the next morning, I found them dead. My legs were as weak as my battered soul. I was emotionally and physically drained, but I had faith that my prayers would be answered.

They weren’t.

Instead, years passed and life got worse, and I felt powerless– stuck in my own stubborn web. My parents, you see, had divorced when I was young, and my eight year-old self had firmly promised never to follow that path, come what may. My terrible marriage was nonetheless mine, and I gripped it as fiercely as a football: cradled tight against my ribcage, one arm ready to strike at anyone who tried to force it away.

That someone, it turned out, was my teammate– the very subject of my pleas. To this day, I’m not sure he realizes that he was the answer to what had become my nightly ritual of desperate chair prayers. He left me when I was broken, at the lowest point in my life, and then he filed for divorce… and it was the kindest thing he could have done.

Once we had separated, when I realized that I had indeed done my best and had therefore completed my prerequisites, the peace I’d begged for finally arrived. I saw, for what felt like the first time, a life that was mine to shape. I could go anywhere, do anything, sculpt myself into anyone.

Most importantly, I could breathe by myself again. I’ve lived since that moment, instead of merely existing. I’ve made my own mistakes, instead of paying for his. I’ve fully celebrated my own triumphs, no matter how insignificant, knowing that no one would roll eyes and diminish my worth. I’ve stretched out in bed each night, grateful that I can finally take up as much space as I need: I can finally expand to my potential, even alone.

Tonight, I tried to sleep, but instead, after a trip outside to visit my starry friends, I found myself in an oddly familiar place. My faithful chair and I have trekked wearily across the country, but the aged cushion still cradles my head just right as I spill my soul into its stuffing.

“Thank you, Father, for giving me back my life. Thank you for knowing me and loving me well enough to provide just what I never knew I always needed. Thank you for not answering that prayer. Or maybe, thank you for answering instead the prayer I hadn’t yet thought to pray.”

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The One in Which Einstein, Sparrows, and Blood Have Something in Common

lonely sparrow
lonely sparrow (Photo credit: manitoon)

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
–Albert Einstein

A small but amazing miracle happened in my life today: I successfully finished a plasma donation. I have donated once before, and that went off with only a minor hiccough, but today was different.

Everything started out well, and I felt sure I’d be off the bed and on the way home within forty minutes or so. I lay calmly in the bed, reading and squeezing a stress ball, occasionally breaking to check the little green light that indicated my blood was flowing quickly. All was well. After about ten minutes though, the light changed to yellow. I squeezed harder and faster, trying to force my blood quickly through my veins. This worked for awhile, but my hand quickly began to cramp from the effort. I silently said a little prayer for strength to continue rapidly.

Another 15 minutes went by, and the light started vacillating between yellow, where it had hovered, and red– indicating that there was zero blood flow. I tried to wave over a phlebotomist for help, but they all were busy, so I pumped my fist harder and faster yet, squeezing that ball within an inch of its life. Sweat dripped down my forehead, and I could feel my body temperature rising exponentially with each pump. My legs began to cramp, and I realized that I’d been tensing them anxiously… but I couldn’t get them to relax.

I prayed again, more urgently this time, calling on my Creator to strengthen my hand and thin my blood before I passed out. Just as I concluded my prayer, the draw cycle ended and the machine began to return my filtered blood back to me. That meant that I got to stop pumping for a bit, and as I watched the blood flow into my body, it was as though I was watching my strength return, drop by drop. I was renewed, and I sent up a prayer of thanks. After a short reprieve, the next draw cycle began, and I pumped vigorously… and was rewarded with the coveted green light! Huzzah!

Then, the worst happened. My hand, which had been cramping unceasingly, began to tremble and spasm in protest. I was unable to pump my fist at the same rate any longer, and my blood flow slowed and then stopped completely. By this time I had subconsciously equated the firm and rapid squeezing of the stress ball directly with the green light. Blood was rushing from my head and I found it difficult to think, and in my confused state I had to fight the urge to squeeze the ball with the other hand, having irrationally reasoned that I’d be able to squeeze the ball harder and thus regain green light status. I watched donors who had been behind me in line come and go, while still trying to politely ask for help and growing more and more frustrated and resentful as I was ignored.

Eventually, I caught the attention of another donor, who alerted a super-helpful phlebotomist to my plight. She hustled over and informed me that the filter was completely clogged, and that all the pumping I had been doing was not helping, and could have damaged my vein. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at her timely wisdom, and instead, I prayed. I felt prompted to ask for both patience and water, and as I slowly sipped, I felt strength and logic return.

I calmly asked her what could be done, and she decided to massage the filter manually, since I was almost done with my donation at this point. So I gathered my resolve and gave my hand a firm (but silent) talking-to, and off we went. Pump, massage, pump, massage, pump, massage…. it felt interminable, and it hurt like the dickens! It felt like I was trying to push cement through my veins, but eventually the machine let forth a heavenly BEEEEEEEP… and I was done. Almost.

The last phase of plasma donation is a final return of blood diluted with a saline solution to re-hydrate the body. The saline makes you feel cold, and I smiled as I started to shiver, anticipating my approaching freedom. But though I continued to get colder and colder, the blood flowed more and more slowly. This time the needle was clogged. I’d been in the bed for over an hour and a half at this point, and I wanted to cry. I asked them to just let me go without the final return, promising that I’d take things easy — but no dice. So again, I prayed.

Eventually, the three phlebotomists and one nurse who had surrounded me decided to give up on that vein and complete the return in my other arm, which apparently was a breach of protocol and required enough delay for the saline-induced cold to set my teeth chattering and extremities quaking. My toes went numb, but eventually the decision was made and approval had, and the needle went into my other arm. A mere five minutes later, the machine beeped again, and I was done. Finally, my ordeal was over, and I silently thanked my Father as I made my way home.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is infinitesimal. People die and get serious illnesses and face all kinds of challenges that make my measly blood flow problem seem completely ridiculous, and the multitude of times I prayed may seem frivolous. But I very much needed a reminder today that my Father loves me, and that even my insignificant problems matter to Him, and I got it.

A warm feeling filled my chest on the way home, chasing out the saline cold. It felt like an inside-out hug, and tears of joy filled my eyes as I remembered that His eye is on the sparrow, but it is also on me– every part of my existence… even my blood.

My Two Dads

Every little girl needs a good daddy, and I’ve been especially lucky, because I have two. I’ve been thinking about both of them a lot this Father’s Day, and trying to narrow down my remembrances, because I could bore you for hours with stories about the special soap Dad had to use to scrub his hands after work, or Grampa’s gleeful chorus of “You’re playing the WRONG note!” whenever I practiced piano, but to really understand the impact these two men have had on me, you only need to know two things: the constancy of the newspapers, and the trick to singing alto, because they tell the same tale of two fathers’ gentle, unspoken guidance.

The alto part seemed lacking in church today, so I filled in for a bit. I normally sing soprano, but once upon a time, a wonderful man taught me, in the most lasting way, how to sing alto.

You see, when I was a teenager, I wanted to learn to read the alto part, but sometimes I would struggle to pick it out, especially in Sacrament meeting. Hearing my attempts, my Grandfather would switch over and sing the alto line in his octave to help me out. Then, when I was on track, he’d go back to tenor or bass or whatever he was singing that day. If he noticed me faltering, he would emphasize my note in his own part, and give the tiniest nod of his head when I got it right.

We never spoke about it; he never even made eye contact with me while he was doing it, but I always felt loved and supported, and even today, when I sing alto, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to my wonderful grandfather, who saw my need and stepped in to guide me gently and without any hesitation. I miss him. I love you more than a hog loves slop, Grampa. 

(I’m the baldish one)

Then there’s my dad– a hardworking, no-frills kind of guy. He wasn’t always around when I was young, and our relationship has not always been smooth, but he was there for me in the best way on the hardest day of my life, and his presence made more of a difference than I think I will ever be able to express.

On February 26, 2004, I came home from class and got a phone call from my mom. Not even a minute after she called, my dad, who lived a couple of hours away from USU, knocked at the door. I laughed at the coincidence, until my mother told me the reason why he was there: my grandfather, the alto tutor, had died earlier that day. I turned my head and wept into my dad’s shoulder, feeling as though the grief would tear me apart. And he held me as I talked to my mom, and waited patiently while I packed a bag to go home. It took awhile, and we were driving in the wee small hours of the morning.

We didn’t talk much on the drive down to Salt Lake; I was in shock, and I don’t think he quite knew what to say. I wasn’t paying much attention to where we were going, until we stopped in downtown Salt Lake in front of the Tribune building. The surprise must have registered on my face, because my dad just said, “Come look,” and led me to the plate-glass window in the front of the building, where we could watch the next day’s edition being printed and assembled.

I was a journalism major at the time, so this was right up my alley, and I was fascinated. It was pretty impressive to be able to watch the construction of a newspaper from beginning to end. But the real blessing came from watching the cogs and belts of these huge machines spit out news sheet after news sheet. My entire world had just imploded, but that didn’t stop the presses. The machines kept clicking and clacking, not missing a beat, in a rhythm that seemed to pay tribute to the steady, constant nature of the huge heart the world had lost that day.

Hypnotized in those moments, I forgot my grief. I forgot everything, actually. I don’t remember the rest of the trip home to Ohio. I don’t remember anything until the day of the funeral. My dad, without saying more than a few words, gave me peace. He distracted me, yes, but more importantly, he showed me how steadily the world turns, even in the face of great loss. He knew just how to remind me that the stars would still shine and the news would still print, and that lesson has never left me. I can still smell the warm ink, hear the cogs turning, and see the printed sheets stacking up. I can still feel the bite of the air on my face, the smoothness of the glass under my hands, and the unconditional love of both my fathers. Thanks, Dad.

(Dad– or, since I know how that household works, Natalie– you need to send me copies of some old pictures. I have none.)

I hope you had a wonderful Father’s Day, dear reader, and that the next time you hear an alto or read a newspaper, you’ll smile and think of your own dad. I know I will.

The One in Which I am Flawed

Once upon a time, someone I trusted and loved deeply described me as “one huge character flaw.” For awhile, that broke me, because I believed him. I internalized that hatred, and used it to continually flog myself. For a long time, I would hear that refrain in my head whenever I had a bad day, or week, or month. I hated myself, because every screw-up was just proof that he’d been right. Only now, with the benefit of a little distance and LOTS of time, do I feel more like this: Image

Yep. I’m flawed– maybe my flawed parts even outnumber my perfect parts.  But I mean well, and maybe, just maybe, I’m okay the way I am.

The One in Which Facebook Shows Off Your Ugly

I have some acquaintances going through an ugly divorce. My divorce was finalized a little over a year ago, and I remember how emotional it is and how hard it can be. I also remember making a conscious choice with my ex husband to be respectful and kind to each other, and I’m proud to say that we have both kept that commitment throughout the breakup and subsequent relationships. Little did I know just how strange we were for making that choice.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

As I’ve been paying attention lately, I’ve seen so many people air their ugliness on Facebook, with one or two particularly awful examples prompting this post. Divorcing couples, bitter dumpees, jealous exes, etc. It’s sickening. Many of us were told as children (say it with me now…)

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. 

So to Facebook users the world over, a thought. Trashing your ex to your best friend over dinner is one thing… broadcasting your hatred online is another. It makes you look small-minded and petty, and it makes everyone around you uncomfortable. Plus, it’s just plain mean. The world has enough mean in it already. So if I can paraphrase for a digital world…

If you can’t post anything nice, don’t post anything but cat memes.

Image

P.S. This is my 100th post! Thank you for sticking around this long, dear readers. I’m grateful for you, and I promise to never say anything mean about you on Facebook. 🙂