Friday, January 29, 2016

Gracefully Skiing

Forty years ago Marty and I went skiing in Breckenridge Colorado for our honeymoon.  I had never skied before so you might think that wasn’t the best thing to do on a honeymoon….pish posh.   Marty was a good skier and did end up teaching me a thing or two.  Actually, she ended up having to dig me and my skies out of a four foot snow drift mid way down the beginner slope.  

Forty years later, last week, I went skiing in Deer Valley Utah with our two kids, their spouses and the oldest three grandkids.  I can still ski, I’m better than I was 40 years ago but I'm older, fatter and slower.  I still remember getting rescued from the snow drift so I try really hard to avoid big piles of soft snow because of that lesson.

I’m a bit of a sentimentalist (duh).   I carry a small blue canvas case Marty always had with her when we skied.  Marty always had it tucked into the inside pocket of her ski coat and it always carried gum, chap stick, a lighter and a pack of Doral Menthols.  It’s old, dirty and torn so much that it is no longer functional, but I carry it anyway.  I stick it in my inside jacket pocket, with nothing in it because of the holes, but it’s there and it reminds me of Marty when I am on the mountain.
When we ski, when I watch our kid’s ski, I think of Marty, I think of ski trips with friends, with family, but always with Marty.  She brought skiing into my life.  She brought that graceful feeling of gliding along soft snow into my life.  

More importantly, she brought a real feeling of grace into my life and I’m never more aware of that than when I am in the mountains.  I never feel more connected to my faith, my God’s grace than when I’m standing at the top of the world with a brilliant blue sky above and soft white snow below.

Every time I ski I find myself at the top of the mountain looking down remembering going down the slopes in front of Marty as she expertly glided behind me.  I can’t, I don’t want to get away from those very familiar feelings of her laughing at me as we skied and as I fell into piles of snow, over edges into mud or down a steep slope upside down.

As I watched our children ski I was struck, first by Erin, the daughter and then Matt, the son, how much they skied like their mother.  Matt skies fast, Erin skies slow, both ski with the same pace and control of their mother, both ski with their arms and poles out from their body, both ski from an upright position.  They ski like their mother and I absolutely love that.

On the last night at the resort as we sat eating a dinner cobbled together by my resourceful daughter in law Sarah we all got to talking about things we enjoyed on the trip and what we were grateful for, something my children often ask of their children.  We went around the table several times and we were grateful for skiing together, spending time together, our feet, our food, pizza and family.

I took one turn and looked at the three kids four, four and six. I told them I was grateful to their Grandmother’s mother and father who took their Grandmother skiing and taught her how to ski, to find grace on the mountain.  I told them I was grateful for their Grandmother who taught me to ski and find that same grace and how we taught Matt and Erin and how they were teaching them how to ski and enjoy God’s grace.
I don’t think, actually I know they didn’t get what I was talking about or how this act of recreation connected our current family to our families history.  They don’t really get it that their Grandma, the one in the chair, is the one who kept this whole thing going.  

They don’t get it yet.  

It’s a skiing lesson I will continue to try and teach until someday they get it, until some day they stand at the top of the mountain and watch their parents ski or watch their own children ski.  I will continue to ski and teach them about the grace of skiing and finding God’s grace in the beauty and magnificence of creation.

It’s what Marty taught me.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

January 3....Forty Years and Counting

On January 3rd 1976 the USA performed a nuclear test in Nevada.  It was called the Muenster test, which is funny because Marty and I lived in Muenster Texas.

On January 3rd 1976 and Marty and I got married in Dalhart Texas.  It was a perfect blue sky day.  It was cold, clear and we had our first argument as a married couple.  I was driving too fast, she was right.

On January 3rd 2006, on our 30th anniversary, after surviving a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2005, after returning from a Christmas trip to Dalhart to see her mother, Marty had a devastating ischemic stroke.  It kind of takes the fun out of anniversary celebrations.

On that day, when she sat in her chair and slumped over, her face slack with no tone I wanted to drive fast, to the hospital.  It was dark and cold as I stood behind the ambulance looking in the back as they secured Marty’s gurney to the floor of the vehicle.  

The thought of it still makes me epically sad.

On January 3rd 2016 (can you believe its 2016, as my son says, “Where’s my flying car?”) Marty and I celebrated two things, a long marriage and survival from a devastating illness.  I guess when you really get down to it if you do anything for 40 years it’s about survival.  I know for a fact if you make it ten years from a big stroke, it’s about survival. 

Marriage is all about love, caring for one another, self-sacrifice, partnership and acceptance of another person with other opinions in your life all day every day.  It’s about hard work, getting down in the dirt with someone, loving them past the anger and ignorance and accepting them in spite of what they may or may not do.  

Marriage is about relationship survival and it often isn’t easy but having a partner, that other beating heart is worth the fight.

Living through a cataclysmic illness is an endurance contest.  It is about love, it is about self-sacrifice and partnership and acceptance.  To live through strokes you get down in the dirt and find yourself doing things you never thought you would do.  You have to get through the anger, the denial, the resentment and you have to find a way to accept the care giver and the cared for in spite of what they may or may not do.  

Just like marriage, it is about survival and it isn’t easy at all but having your partner continue, having that other amazing beating heart next to you is worth the fight.

In 40 years of marriage I have learned a lot.  I know for certain if I had listened to Marty all of the time, if I had done what Marty had said all of the time, if I had done what Marty said when she said it all of the time….well who knows, that was never going to happen.  I have learned to ask about feelings, I have learned to identify my own feelings, and I have learned to not let “no” be my first reaction to everything.

In the ten years post stroke I have learned a lot and tried my best to make the changes necessary to survive and help Marty survive.  I’ve learned and try to live one day at a time and one issue at a time, I have learned to not over look or procrastinate about care giving stuff, I have learned to listen and to watch and to pay attention, I have learned to be nice to doctors and health care providers and I have learned to touch Marty’s cheek every day and say “I love you”.

Mostly, I have learned I have never loved anyone the way I love my bride, I have learned she is the most amazing person I have ever known, I have learned to understand and admire what real survival is and I have learned she is the person I was destined to be with for the duration.

The strange thing is, I knew most of that, it just really hit home the last ten years.  Walking the fine line between here and not here really focuses what you know.

Here’s to another ten…..

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016.....Looks Like We Made It

Ours is not an easy life.

It is a life full of anxiety, fear, isolation, loneliness, intrusion, boredom, exhaustion, anger, abject sadness and grief.  It is a life that is physically and emotionally draining that can suck the happiness and satisfaction out of your soul.  It is a faith breaking questioning experience.

I wouldn’t wish this existence on anyone.

I know how we make it; I don’t know how others do it.  People in other countries, people in other states, people in other cities have strokes.  I don’t know how they survive.

We survive, we thrive, we live life because of our support system.  We have a good life because of that support system.  I don’t know how people do this alone.

We have four remarkable women who care for Marty and I every day.  Nykkie, Erica, Renee and La Shonda are an omnipresent part of our life.  They are with us every day, every moment, high and low.  These women make our daily lives better; I don’t know how people do this alone.

Our care givers, our family, parents, children, grandchildren, siblings have been remarkable in their patience and love.  Our health care support has been remarkable in their care, availability and love.  When you add it up, and I did, weird guy that I am, there are well over 50 people, 50 loving, amazing people, 50 family, friends, clergy, doctors, nurses, administrators who care for Marty, who care for me, who support us in our daily lives.  

How many people get to say they have 50 care givers?

I don’t know how others do it; I don’t get how they make it without the help.  Without each and every one of those people who care for Marty, who care for me, who make me exercise, who feed Marty, who play golf, who listen to her breathe, who get us into see Great and Wise, who offer comfort, who offer wisdom, who offer love our hard life would not be a life at all.

Because we have people who draw blood who wipe chins who offer God’s blessings who watch over us who pray for us our life, our life is an actual living breathing miracle.

If you ever ask yourself the question, “How does this amazing Marty’sHusband do it?”  Well, first you have a warped sense of amazing and second it’s a matter of support, it is all of the people who do it, it’s the family, the friends, the care givers who do it, that’s how you make a life livable in difficult circumstances.

On this first day of a new year I want to say thank you.  I want to say thank you to Nykkie, Erica, Renee and La Shonda.  I want to say thank you to Matt, Erin, Lyle, Sarah, Noah, Lily, Emma and little Lucy.  I want to say thank you to Larry Sr. and Bettye Lou and Martha, Jeb, John, Liz, Ken, Kate, Lee, Will, Jerry, Luan, Kelly, Bill and Berkley.  I want to say thank you to Great and Wise, Melissa, Jessica, Angie, Annetta, Patsy, Pey, Maydee, Keith, Leslie, Ann, Steve, Dee Dee, Gretchen, Robbie, Skip, Pete, Dean, Sheryl, Tom,  Dick, Sue, Elizabeth, John, Andrew, Leah, David, Amanda, Jackie, Bob, Aemelia, Joe and the countless others who love us, who pray for us, who think of us and who in so many ways support us.

Our life, at times, is full of really bad stuff.  I spend time afraid, unrelentingly anxious, isolated and angry. 

 My personal faith does not allow me to believe God put us here to test us, to make us feel this way, I don’t think God was leading us to this spot.  I do believe, my faith demands that we understand that God has put all of you in our lives to give us faith and show us love.

Our life at all times is full of love and I got news for you, love really does make all of that other stuff manageable.  

Thank you for making a difficult life better, thank you for caring for my bride, thank you for caring for me.