Thursday, December 20, 2012

Santa's Helper

This was Allyson's second year to help Santa pass out gifts at a local nursing home. This time Bill got to go with her, and he said she was very popular with the residents. She tells me she gave out a lot of hugs.

This year the nursing home requested gently used stuffed animals. Allyson donated about five from her ridiculously large stash. She could have donated three times as many, but as we sorted through them a week or two ago, she just couldn't part with most of them. "That's one's special," she said. "That one too."

No matter, they had plenty to go around.

Here she is with the best Santa I've ever seen, our coworker Mike.

Yes, that beard is real. And he keeps it all year long.

My Next Kitchen Gadget
On Tuesday night, I took a pasta cooking lesson with my brother Rick and his daughter Mindy. Working in groups of eight or so, we made a thick dough from all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and LOTS of eggs. Then we rolled it through a pasta roller a total of 11 times, at 7 different thicknesses. Each portion started out about the size of a paperback book (only thinner) and ended up over 6 feet long.

As the dough got longer, it became a two- or three-person job. One person pressed the dough into the roller, one person turned the crank, and a third person caught and straightened the dough as it was extruded from the roller.

We cut the pressed pasta into six-inch segments and then ran it through the other side of the pasta roller, cutting it into fettucini.

Rick, Me, Mindy, and Our Fettucini

We also made a gorgonzola walnut alfredo sauce. Technically all I did was strip some thyme leaves off their stems; Rick did most of the work.

The best part was eating our freshly boiled pasta and sauce. Good times!

Rick and I are going to buy a pasta roller soon and have family pasta nights. I'm sure you will hear about it when the time comes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Many Hands Make Light (But Stinky) Work

The oddest thing has been happening as I've taken on some unpleasant new responsibilities in recent weeks. Take yesterday, for example. It was the first time Ethan helped me pick up dog poop. I braced myself for a big battle, but Ethan just said, "Okay, I'll be down in a minute."... And then he actually came!

I told him the shovel was a little heavy for me, and would he please do the scooping while I held the grocery bag for him? He shrugged. "Sure."

Just like that, my 15-year-old boy calmly scooped up a week's worth of poo, literally about 15 piles. There was even a sense of camaraderie as we commented over each new find. "Shoo! That one really reeks.... Did that seriously come out of Lola's butt?... Man, that's a big one."

And then we were done. No big deal. It was almost fun. (But ask me again in the summer, when the smell will surely be much more rank.) I was so proud of my boy!

Fluffy's Contribution
Next came my first time to clean the hamster cage. Bill had shown me how to take the cage apart, replace the bedding, and clean everything up. He made it look really easy, but apparently I didn't pay close enough attention.

After two weeks, the cage was smelling pretty ripe, and I knew there was no more procrastinating. I asked my mom and Allyson to help me, or at least to provide moral support.

The first task was to snap the top off, catch Fluffy, and put her in her ball. Allyson eagerly volunteered for this, and I was happy to let her do it. She got the job done, but first she gave me a heart attack when she squealed, "She's getting away!" Not to worry, Allyson scooped her up and set her gently in her ball.

The rest of it was pretty easy and not all that gross, except when it came time to put it all back together. Getting those thin wire walls to line up inside the grooves on all four sides was tough! And while it seemed there was only one way to put the second floor in, the way we initially chose wasn't it. We sweated and grunted and shoved, but that piece would not fit. Just when I was about to call Bill and have him come get Fluffy and her stupid cage, Allyson said, "Mom, the food bowl goes on this other side. Turn it around."

I narrowed my eyes. "No, because then the slide's pointing the wrong way."

Allyson grabbed the slide and twisted it into position.

"Ah, you're right," I admitted. And the three of us managed to screw it into position. But it took another ten minutes to figure out how the exercise wheel went back in. Whew!

After that, Allyson expertly chopped a bit of carrot and some lettuce into tiny fragments and set them inside the cage on a tiny Tupperware lid. There! Now that wasn't so bad, was it?

I have to say we made a pretty good team. I certainly couldn't have done it without Allyson, who obviously paid much better attention all those times she watched Daddy clean the cage.

Some Things Don't Change
In addition to cleaning pet excrement, I did a few more enjoyable things this weekend. On Friday, I went to Ethan's Christmas concert. Mom, Allyson, and Bill came, along with Ethan's father Byron and stepmom Jen. It felt so good to sit there all together clapping for Ethan, just like we do every year. My heart was positively bursting with pride during his band's first song, in which Ethan expertly set the tempo on the lone snare drum.

I was very moved by the symphonic band's performance of Amazing Grace, which was dedicated to the families affected by the school shooting in Connecticut that same morning. I wanted to lift my hands to heaven like I do at church when we sing that song, but I was afraid I'd scare off Ethan's girlfriend, who sat on my right. Instead, I grabbed my mom's hand and held it as tears of sorrow and peace trickled down my cheeks.

Byron and Ethan After the Show - So Handsome!
On Sunday, I went to Allyson's annual choir concert with Mom, Dad, my sister Amy, Ethan, and Bill. And I felt the same joy and pride I always feel when I see her singing her heart out and concentrating fiercely on her dance moves. But this year, the songs about family were a lot more poignant than ever before. There were happy tears and sad tears and I-don't-know-what-I'm feeling tears. But it was all good.

Life goes on, doesn't it?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Joy in the Struggles

Doggie Duty
In the short time Bill's been gone, I've gained a new appreciation for all he did around here. Now I get to gather the trash, clean the leaves out of the pool, clean the hamster cage, and... pick up doggie doo. This past Friday was my first time to take on that unpleasant task. Ethan made himself scarce, but Allyson eagerly volunteered to help. The only problem was that the shovel was too heavy for her, and she just about conked me upside the head. Plus she flung poo dangerously close to my ankles.

So I took the shovel from her and handed her the plastic grocery bag full of poop. She stuck with me through the first three or four of Lola's "deposits," but then the stink was too much for her, and I was on my own. I held the bag in one hand and the shovel in the other. It wasn't nearly so easy as Bill makes it look, but I managed to get the job done.

I was just putting the shovel into the shed when Allyson shouted, "You missed one! Over here!" I shouldered the shovel with a sigh and plodded over to the swingset, from which Allyson gleefully pointed out the pile I'd missed.

I set the bulging grocery bag on the grass and headed back toward the shed. I hadn't gone three steps when Allyson got Lola riled up, so that she tore across the yard and right over the bag of dung. It split down the middle. Argh!

I got another bag and gingerly eased the broken bag into it. Whew! And Pee-u!
Allyson and Lola on Poop Scooping Day

A More Pressing Concern
Doggie doo is really the least of my concerns right now. My biggest problem has been insomnia. Although I've felt at peace in the daytime, trusting God with all of my worries, I've passed hours and hours of sleepless nights in my big, empty bed. The first night I realized we were going to separate, I was not at all surprised to be up the entire night. My mind whirled with thoughts and fears.

But over the subsequent two weeks, the insomnia did not subside. During that time I got only one full night of sleep. The other nights I would sleep from one to four hours, or many nights not at all. I can't explain it. I don't lie there worrying or even thinking. My mind is mostly still, and if it's not still I'm praying or praising God. But my body refuses to let go and drop into sleep. If I do manage to doze off, I usually jerk myself awake with a violent kick.

About a week in, I saw my family doctor, who prescribed a sleep aid which worked wonderfully.... at first. And then I seemed to develop tolerance.

This past Thursday night, I asked my mom to come stay with me so she could help me get Allyson ready for school the next morning. Before bed, I soaked in a lavender-scented bath, took a preparation of melatonin, lemon balm, and chamomile, and then prayed over the phone with my friend Rhonda while my mom hugged me.

I was so relaxed! I felt like a limp noodle, deliciously drowsy. I fell right asleep.... and was wide awake just 30 minutes later. At first, I was calm. I read over the scriptures about rest which I'd copied down during the day, and I read over the prayer my friend Gentle had emailed. Here's a portion of what she wrote:

"I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint." (Jeremiah 31:25)
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
He doesn’t say, “Let me think about it, maybe tonight, maybe another night.” No. Your Father says “I will give YOU, my sweet daughter, the rest you seek.” Believe it Sarah. All your HOPE is in Him for everything else. Put all your hope for sleep and rest in your Father…who will surely give it to you.
"I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me." (Psalm 3:5)
"In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8)
I lay down again, comforted and quieted, and waited for sleep to take me. It didn't. I prayed, thanking God for sleep. I praised him for the rest that I knew was coming. I felt that rest, but there was no sleep for me.

At 1:00 I climbed out of bed and knelt in my bathroom. (I think I was too aggravated with God to go in my prayer closet.) I rocked back and forth, in a full-on panic attack. My chest was so tight that I felt the knot of anxiety as a physical pain. Tears trickled from my eyes, but I didn't even have energy to cry.

"Why have you forsaken me?" I whined. "Why don't you help me?"

I don't really remember what happened next because I was so tired. But I remember rereading Gentle's email and turning to the book of John. In chapter 4, I read the story of the official who asked Jesus to heal his son. He wanted Jesus to come with him, but Jesus said, "Go. Your son will live." (John 4:5)

Here's what caught my eye and set my heart thumping, in the next verse: "The man took Jesus at his word and departed."

"Okay, Jesus," I said aloud. "I'm going to take you at your word. Your Word says I can come to you when I'm weary and burdened, and my soul will find rest."

Kneeling on the bathroom floor, I sang a song that has brought me much comfort these past months. "Just as I am, I come... Oh, Lamb of God, I come."

After four choruses, I thought maybe it was time to go to bed, but then I felt the need to open the Psalms. My Bible fell open to to Psalm 62, and my eyes were drawn immediately to verse 1: "My soul finds rest in God alone."

"Yes!" I said. I meditated on that whole chapter until my eyes felt too heavy to read anymore. My mind was calm, but my chest still felt tight.

I climbed into bed anyway and asked God to wrap his love around me. Within moments, I felt absolutely soothed. The pain in my chest dissolved, and in its place was a warm sense of security. As I dozed off, I woke twice with a grin. I clearly felt God saying, "I'm taking care of you. This is my plan." And then, "I'm taking care of Allyson too. This is all for your good."

This was around 1:30. I'd like to say I slept peacefully until morning, but I didn't. When Allyson joined me at 3:30, I woke up and couldn't settle back down. But I was able to enjoy the warmth of her sweet body against my chest, which had grown tight again. I breathed with her breaths and delighted myself in this time with her, and again the anxiety melted away.

It wasn't until morning that I was awake enough to recognize the sacred echo God had given me. First  there was Gentle's email about putting all my hope for rest in God, and then the same message in Psalm 62. In retrospect, I know it was worth a sleepless night to hear so clearly from God.

 All the next day, the peace and love I'd felt in the night stayed with me. I knew God was close to me, and He was giving me strength. Since then, I've continued to struggle with insomnia, but God has given me grace and comfort. I'm also taking a different prescription sleep aid, and that helps too.

Life Goes On
In the meantime, life goes on. Christmas is still coming, with all the joys it brings. Last night my family and my friend Elizabeth came over to decorate sugar cookies. We had such a wonderful time together. We ate a crazy meal of cheesy beans plus asparagus, sauteed zucchini, and a delicious salad that Elizabeth prepared. Plus lots of sugar cookies, of course.

Allyson Pouring Lots of Sprinkles

My Sister Amy and My Silly Niece Savannah

My Sister Emily Cleaning My Wreck of a Kitchen

Allyson with Beautiful Cousins Hillary and Savannah

Nephew Charlie Being Cute

So many treasures in the darkness!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Alive in His Hand

There's no easy way to say this. Bill and I are separated. I didn't choose this path, and I don't want to walk it, but I have to believe God has a purpose for me that I don't understand right now. It'll be a week tomorrow, and up until last night I was taking it pretty well.

Over the last six months, and again in the last few days, God has led me to these verses, which give me great comfort:

  • And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

  • I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

  • Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Over the last week, I have definitely had the peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). I have a lot of wonderful people who are loving me and taking care of me and my family. Many of them have told me, "You are so strong, Sarah."

I let myself believe I was strong, and maybe I even patted myself on the back now and then. 'Round about bedtime last night, though, I realized the truth. I am NOT strong. Not at all. I am absolutely weak. But that's a good place to be. For when I am weak, then He's strong. To quote a favorite song, I'm empty handed but alive in His hand. And that's a start.

Please pray for all four of us. Pray that God continues to make his comfort real to me, that I feel his unfailing love even now when the pain is so strong it takes my breath away. Pray that I will have strength and wisdom and love to walk with my children down this hard road. Above all, pray for God's mercy on us.


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