The first feeling that registered as I broke the surface of consciousness was irritation. There are few sounds in this world I hate as much as a dog whining, and this was the intense, “the house is on fire and you need to wake up” kind of whine.
The house wasn’t on fire. But my poor dog was whining his head off. I couldn’t figure out why until I woke up just a little bit more and registered a second feeling: pain. The nightmare keeping me under must have been a doozy, because my bottom lip is chewed so raw that it resembles a manhandled package of ground beef. There’s blood all over my pillow, and my neck and chest are a maze of scratches from my perpetually-bitten nails.
I don’t remember any details of the dream that held me prisoner, but it must have been intense. Nightmares go hand in hand with my depressive phases, but as often as I have them, I generally stop short of maiming myself. Thank goodness for my doggy alarm clock. This isn’t the first time he’s gone to extremes to rescue me from dreamed danger.
We took a starry walk to clear our heads, and now we’re cuddled back in bed. And by “cuddled,” I mean that he’s stretched out over 98% of my bed’s surface area, and I’m huddled in a corner. I don’t mind– at least I know I’ll be safe, from threats both real and imagined. I’m not sure how I slept at all before my Woz came along.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I’m a bit of a bookworm, and that when life gets hard, I pull out a book. I’m so grateful for the written word, for the collective knowledge and imagination of those who have walked this earth before me, for the opportunity to shed my skin and try on another, if just for five hundred pages or so.
For that reason, I love this picture, of a bombed library at Holland House, in Kensington, London, 1940. Amid the devastation of the Second World War, these men knew exactly where to turn for peace.
I don’t know whom to credit for the photograph, but it was recently made popular by James R. Benn.
What do you read when you need to keep calm? Share your favorites in the comments, please, dear readers!
Every night, as I walk my dog Ozzie, I like to count the stars and name for each one a blessing. Sometimes I share those blessings here.
I am SO EXCITED!! On Saturday, my good friends the Shadles are driving all the way down from Phoenix to visit me!! I haven’t seen them since Christmastime, and I can’t wait to catch up with them and just soak up their goodness.
Don’t you love how just being around some people can make you feel peaceful and smiley? The Shadles are people like that. I think you should get to know them, reader. You won’t regret it. I’m so grateful for the knowledge that such amazing people care enough about me to drive three hours out of their way. I’m smiling already!
Each night, while my dog Ozzie and I walk, we like to count the stars. Each star represents a blessing, and I like to share them here.
I live alone. I have great neighbors and a safe neighborhood, but still, I live alone.
Back in Ohio, when my ex and I moved so far out into the country that no one would have heard my screams, he worked the night shift, so I was all alone at night. That was the catalyst behind my search for a very big dog with a very scary bark, and when I found Ozzie, I hit the jackpot.
He’s a Great Pyrenees mix, so he’s bred to guard and protect, and that’s exactly what he does. All. the. time. He protects me, his cat, the truck, the patio, the tree in front of the patio, the apartment complex in general… you get the idea.
Mostly, he protects the apartment from anyone who might be thinking of looking at it for too long, and lately, from my water glass. I can’t take a drink and set down my glass without the resulting clink setting off a chain of barks… and I’m getting dehydrated!
Still, I’m grateful to have such a good protector. I’m grateful to have such a good protector. I’m grateful to have such a good protector. (I may have to repeat that a few more times, because I just had the audacity to fill a glass with ice water. Either that, or don some earplugs.)
Every night, as Ozzie and I walk before bed, I like to number the stars. I count each one as a special blessing from Father, and I like to share some of those blessings here.
I said goodbye to Charming late Saturday night, as he headed to Phoenix for this month and Idaho from there. We stood outside by my truck, stretching the goodbyes as long as we could, and I couldn’t help but turn up my head to look out for my stars. We were outside for maybe half an hour, and I counted nine shooting stars before I realized that I was actually witnessing the Perseid meteor shower. One good thing about the general lack of stars in Yuma is that the bright ones REALLY stand out. ‘Twas gorgeous, and also comforting. Honestly, I’m having a hard time remembering any difficult event in my life that didn’t come with a beautiful starry hug from Father. I’m so grateful that Saturday night was no exception.