I’ll Have a Large Diet Coke

Getting Refreshment at McDonalds

I have always been a diet soda drinker.  Yes, even as a kid there would be empty glass bottles of diet soda that I would sneak the last slurp out of before they were taken back for recycling.  It was of course not recycling like we have today, but you would take your glass bottles back to the store, get a cash refund and then watch them head down a conveyor belt of unknown destination while you planned how you would spend the $3.96 you received for your 47 bottles.  It took me awhile to learn to love diet soda.  I tried to love lemonade, and the 5 flavors of Kool-Aid offered in the early 80’s, I tried to drink tea (but at home it never tasted like it did at my grandma’s heart stopping chewable with sugar tea) and I even tried to drink…water.  Water as it turns out was only tasty when it was 117 degrees, you had been in the sun for 4 hours and suffering from first form of dehydration like weakness…inability to think straight, and the solution was drinking water out of the garden hose in the back yard. That water was delicious.

While taking a break from the water hose, I noticed that my family was drinking this cool new drink called “Tab”.  It had a cool label, a cool color and an aftertaste that left a memory. But as some children who’s parents drank various alcoholic beverages, I was a kid of diet soda drinkers…and I loved it.

In the early 80’s the world changed as we were introduced to the idea of “Diet Coke.”   My parents continued to buy diet soda (Diet Coke included) but it was just for the adults.  My dad would tell us, “That one is for your mom when she gets home.”  That’s alright…I would sip the left overs from the bottles before recycling.

The world of soda changed in the 80’s.  Max Headroom was on the scene and well…it worked.  There were actually talking Coke Machines.  Okay let me break it down for you.  A coke machine is like a vending machine and this machine talked to you while you bought your soda.  It was AMAZING! As I inserted my stolen quarters, I was also experiencing culture, coming of age…who am I kidding, it was an electronic vision that spoke.

My grandpa was a preacher in a small Ohio town of Degraff Ohio.  I’m sure they were known for 100 things, but to me they were known for the IGA having a Max Headroom soda machine.  Every time we would visit my grandparents my cousin Jenn and I would also visit the soda machine. We would insert our quarters, wait for Max Headroom to speak too us and then walk down the street sharing that soda. We were the ultra-cool 10 year old’s, and carrying that soda proved it.

My cousin was ripped away from this world too early.  She left behind her best friend of a husband and her grieving young children.  Her legacy was so full and so rich in the lives she has touched, including mine, she has left behind a daily reminder of who she was and where we have come from.

She and I shared a love of Diet Coke.  And while most Diet Coke would do, McDonald’s Diet Coke was the best.  I would call her with random times I was going through the drive thru and she would call asking that there be no shame in packing up her young boys to get a Diet Coke through the drive thru…maybe one or two or one also for the afternoon.  During my step sons graduation I drove 35 minutes off a mountain to get a Diet Coke and I had to call her.  She was the only one who could possibly understand.  Today as I continue to adjust that she is not here, I know that God has provided her with the perfect Diet Coke in heaven.  I believe that it is full of chipped ice, a Styrofoam cup, and the perfectly carbonated beverage. I pray that Max Headroom is somewhere saying nonsense that makes her feel like a million bucks.

Jenn was never made for this world, she belonged to a home with Jesus.

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“Praying” and other phrases that make me cringe.

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Do you ever have one of those years?  You know what I mean, one of those years that left an impression on you that cannot be erased and will someday have a nickname like, “the year I was pregnant”, “the year I got married”, “the year my cousin died”, “the year I lost my job”, or even “the year I got sick.”  There are just years that fundamentally change your life.  I remember the year I became a mom like it was yesterday.  I was a young mom, and yet as soon as the doctor handed me this precious baby girl, everything changed.  The way I saw the past changed, the way I viewed the present changed, and the future was nowhere close to what I had envisioned.  I was a mom at 20 years old.  Determined to be fiercely independent, determine to prove to the world that I could do it, and determined to love this baby with the kind of love that she would never forget, I put my dreams of college and success on hold.  I began to invest in my ex husband’s education, helping him write papers and occasionally attending class for him.  I put a pause button on “Michelle” and a “Play” button on being a mom.  I was 20 years old and financially managing a household, a baby, a 3 month old Doberman (which at the time felt like a risky decision, but turned out to be one of the best things I could have ever done), a husband who worked 40 hours a week and went to school full time, college papers to write for him, middle of the night feedings, a baby who didn’t sleep and cried 16-18 hours a day, and me lost in the inertia of life.  I remember that year like it happened yesterday.  I can still smell the staleness of being in an unairconditioned house all day with a newborn.  I can still hear the calls to the pediatrician telling me to put the screaming baby down.  I can still see the walls closing in around me as I spent everyday at home, without a car.  Inside I was dying but told the world I was okay.

It was a strange year.  With a baby that didn’t sleep, neither did I.  I was young, but new to not sleeping.  Not only did she not sleep but she screamed for 8-10 hours at a time.  Seriously…8-10 hours at a time.  Even in the hospital she was kicked out of the nursery because she screamed too much.  Screamed until she would vomit, choke on the vomit and then scream some more.  Laying her down wasn’t an option.  She was 2 weeks old and would aspirate vomit and die.  I remember tremendous guilt about not being able to breast feed well, looks of judgement and condemnation from doctors and other professionals about her constant crying, and I also remember being a rock.  That year changed me.  I knew that I would have to be strong enough for my daughter and that weakness was not an option.  I was impenetrable and strong, because I was her mom.  I knew my calling.  I knew that God never calls you to anything that He doesn’t provide provision for, and I knew, I had work to do.

This year has been a life changing year for me.  This has been “the year I had migraines.”  It’s been a humbling year of slowing me down…well who am I kidding literally stopping me.  It’s been a year of being a medical pin cushion of trying more medications than I could even name,  of seeing neurologists, of not showing up in the world as I want to, and learning to adjust to the effects the medication has on my ability to be a rock, strong and impenetrable.  It’s been a year where I have been a shitty wife, a shitty mom, and truthfully just hard.

I do understand that I’ve been hard.  What I will say is that this year has absolutely revolutionized my idea of what it means to walk with one another.  I’ve had several people who will “text in” support and encouragement, but honestly, I feel like I’m connected to so many people, but surrounded by no one.  If I send out a text saying that I’m having a hard day, people are sending messages to tell me they are praying.  And I appreciate that.  But what I need is to not be alone.  What I need is to figure out a way to reacclimate into the world.  What I need are people willing to sit in it with me and walk beside me.  It’s a Big Ask.  It’s probably unfeasible for most, but it is true discipleship.

This year I have learned that sometimes the facades that we surround ourselves with about taking care of people, is only as strong as our willingness to be uncomfortable.  How uncomfortable are you willing to be?  While I am not destitute, not dying, certainly not the worst of the worst, I am hurting.  I am struggling, and I am looking around for people who will surround me, support me, and lift me up.  Aside from my husband and my mom, what I see is my phone full of “Praying for you” text messages, people asking “how are you doing?” at church, but my house, and my life completely empty of authentic Christian Community.  What I see is the isolation, the loneliness, and the void growing, not shrinking.  Is this all we have to offer those who are in pain?

Are You Ready To Order??

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I love going out to eat.  There’s something about being at a restaurant watching the waiters and bartenders scurry through their evening that just draws me in.  I love watching other patrons as they interact with each other, watching them sometimes immerse themselves in their phones regardless of the person they brought with them across the table, and I love trying to guess what is going on in their lives.  Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I love people watching.  I love it when I can be seated at a table that gives me a great view of the room so that I can see as many people as possible.  I love the white noise of hundreds of active conversations, the sound of silverware hitting plates, the overhead music in the background, the voices of the staff organizing their assignments, and even the occasional jolt of dropped dishes in the kitchen.  I love being handed a menu and getting to peruse through appetizers and entrees, and desserts.  I love reading the descriptions of each dish painting a picture in my head of what truffle infused olive oil looks like on Foie Gras and trying to imagine if I would like it.

As I read through the menu, I find myself less interested in the line by line food descriptions, and more interested in the food being served around me.  I find myself sitting up taller so I can see what the waiter is carrying on that tray across the room or leaning back just a touch to see what the table beside me ordered. I start wondering, is that the chicken, or is that the fish?  Is that what they meant by parmesan dusted potatoes or is that something different.  I want to see it.  The description and words are great, but what does it actually look like.

Maybe sometimes we just can’t know until we see it.

I can’t help but think this is what marriage is like.  I’ve spent so many of the past few years of my life being an active proponent of transparency and honesty in relationships.  I’ve read the description, I understand what must go into it to make it happen, I acknowledge the consequences of transparency and the courage it takes.  I know what’s in there.  I’ve looked around to see what transparency looks like in others lives.  I’ve compared the description with what I see played out in others.  And so, I’ve ordered, and I decide that I want that.  I want transparency.

Maybe sometimes we just can’t know until we taste it.

There’s always a moment at the restaurant when the waiter puts my plate down in front of me where I find myself asking, “Is this what I really ordered?”  Transparency isn’t much different.  Did I really say that I would be completely transparent with my husband regardless of his reaction?  Did I say that I would share my fears and struggles with him even if I desperately wanted to appear strong?  Did I promise not to keep things hidden and not handle things on my own even if I knew telling would hurt him?  Did I really order that?

I know that transparency leads to intimacy and that without transparency we get stuck in surface relationships and find ourselves always ordering off the three ingredient kids menu.  I know that I am blessed to be able to practice transparency and intimacy with a God who never turns his back on me, who sees my pain and my potential, and who loves me unconditionally, but He wants more for my marriage.

As I sit starring at what I ordered, I see the man I love sitting across from me.  I know that I must be totally open and honest with him, both about my joy and gratitude, and about my struggles and temptations.  I know that even if I am sharing with him something I’ve said before, even if I’ve said it 100 times, that I need to say it again. But, I can feel God’s hand on my shoulder encouraging me to keep going, to be strong, to be courageous. I can hear God whispering in my ear to trust in Him, and to allow myself to be vulnerable, reminding me that it’s important to be fully known.

As I review the menu one more time to see exactly what’s in the dish I ordered, I gently lay a napkin on my lap, and without second guessing, I just dig in.

Let’s Try This…

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As a little girl, I had horrible ear infections.  They would usually start with a normal cold and before you knew it, I couldn’t hear, and then debilitating pain.  They made me unable to concentrate, barely able to have a conversation, and just praying for relief. As a child of the 70’s, this ear pain would get me straight to the doctor.  The doctor’s office was full of children with different ailments, and the large room was divided by an imaginary boundary of “sick children on one side and well children on the other.”  I knew that the invisible divider was really there to pacify over protective moms into believing that the sick air of children never entered the clean air space of well children.  Even as young as 4 years old, I was never really bound by rules and so regardless of why I was at the doctor, I sat on the well side.  I was never really a rule follower on the inside. The well section was closer to the door, and if you got the seat right next to the door, you could watch “As the World Turns”. I found myself diagnosing each child as they came in and would turn to one side or the other to try and prevent breathing in whatever they happened to be coughing up at the time.

 

We would sit there and wait, and wait.  We waited while I could feel the beat of my heart through the pain of my ear, I could feel the nausea rise up and fall from the pain, and I just keep praying every time a nurse in white scrubs opened the door that she would be calling my name. “Kristin”-they would call and I would internally wince.  Who names there kid Kristin anyway I thought?  I would lean hard into my mom’s shoulder hoping that the outside pressure against my ear would help alleviate the inner agony.  Each time the door opened, I was anxiously hopeful and the nurse would say “Ashley”.  Again not me.  This would go on and on for sometimes hours, with the door opening, some other kids name being called, my leaning against my mom, and listening to my mom try and read me something out of highlights magazine.  All I wanted to do was sink down in the chair and cry.

Finally the door swung open and the nurse said, “Michelle.” And I barreled up out of my seat immediately feeling dizzy and throbbing pain almost made me lose my breath, but I held tight onto my ear while we walked back to an exam room.  The first comment was almost always, “So you have another ear infection.  What are we going to do with you?”  And with that one sentence, I knew that being sick was a problem. I knew my mom had to take time off work again to take me to the doctor, that appointments and medicine were expensive and that if I could only be stronger, none of us would have to be here.

After a quick exam, we were sent off with two prescriptions, and antibiotic, and a narcotic for pain.  Yes, a narcotic, it was the 70’s, and that’s how they treated ear pain in 4 year olds.  After filling my prescription and taking my first dose, I was able to sleep and woke up the next morning feeling so much better.

It was just that easy.  Take the medicine they give you, you will feel better, and all will be right as rain.

Today, I am tired.  I’m exhausted from bottles and bottles of medication, with side effects, and concerns.  I am exhausted from seeing this doctor, then that doctor, then another only to come home with another bottle full of pills and no definitive answers.  Today I’m exhausted because my migraines aren’t really getting better and every appointment and conversation seems to be sealed with the words, “Let’s try this.”  Today I’m exhausted because I am sitting on the sidelines of life, watching the people I love moving through their day, accomplishing, being in the world. Today I’m exhausted of having to once again send that message to my boss that says, I just can’t be there.  Today I’m exhausted from sounding crazy on the phone because of embarrassing side effects from trying so many things, and I’m exhausted because at the end of the day…nothing works. Today I’m exhausted that I have become a burden to my husband. While he delivers sacrificially, today I want to be more for him.  Today I’m exhausted that starting tomorrow we will once again be in “let’s try this” mode, and I’m just exhausted. Fighting the urge to just quit.

Today, I look back over the last year and I’m just wondering what lesson I’m missing out on.  I know that God’s hand is in this and that no pain is wasted, and I know that this is just a season.  As I scan through the pill bottles, and the doctor visits, the missed work, miss time with my kids, asking my husband to pick of my slack and the deafening loneliness that accompanies being sick, I just want to say…enough already. As I lay down tonight in anticipation of tomorrow, I’m praying for the strength to change my mantra.  Instead of “Let’s try this.” I’m going to remember that “God’s got this.” He’s in it with me every step of the way, even in this, knowing this is just a season.  And God has plans for a new one.  So what medicine am I auditioning today??

Migraines

tunnel eye

You know the worst thing about the unexpected, is it is just that…unexpected.  It started out like every other morning complete with me standing in front of the Keurig, utterly annoyed that it was taking so long to warm up.  As I stood their piercing that green circle flashing around what was clearly the largest acceptable cup of coffee Keurig ever envisioned, I began to wonder if maybe when this cup was finished if I should go ahead and brew a second cup to be on standby.  As the water poured out the machine, an aroma begins to fill the room with whatever delicacy flavor happens to be in that plastic tube, and I begin to settle down.  See, just what I said, like every other morning.

I run into work carrying mugs full of coffee that are roughly the same size as military canteens taken into the desert and throw my stuff down.  I quickly sort through my things and run toward my first meeting of the day, feeling confident that I am creating a “Pig-Penish” mess of paper disaster in my wake, but I don’t turn around.  As I sit across from the woman in my meeting, I feel the tension in my body lock up.  I’m immediately irritated, why did the Keurig take so long?  The coffee will help, but I put it in a mug from my Father-In Law that I swear must keep it approximately 400 degrees, so drinking it is almost guaranteeing in ability to taste for the next 5 days.  As I sit there swirling the coffee, I’m considering whether this, burn your palette off could be a new diet plan, and so I audition names in my head. “The Hot, Hot, Hot Diet” or maybe one of those trending one-word diets like “Scorched.” I decide to not drink it because as I was running by the break room, I saw muffins, and now I kind of want one. Having the roof of my mouth seared would remove most of the joy in eating it.

I breathe deep, allowing myself to listen to the woman sitting with me and just accept that maybe, just maybe I’m being taught a very remedial lesson in patience.  As my meeting ends, and I fearlessly take a swig of the coffee, I begin to plan for the rest of the day.  I subtly pick up random things that I have dropped down the hallway and it feels like the room gets smaller.  I sit in my chair and breathe, but there’s a tunnel in my vision.

I can hear every word said around me, almost as if you were playing a 45 speed record on 33.  The words are easy to make out, but it sounds slow.  I want to respond.  Words almost flow in front of me with bright colors and various game show fonts and brightness and I begin to grab for them.  I’m trying so hard to grab the right ones, to organize them correctly, but the tunnel is getting smaller, my language sounding more slurred and my thoughts jumbled as I hold one hundred words that make no sense together.

I must go home.  I know I don’t feel well, so I quickly gather my things and race my continued tunneling vision to my car and home, and I know that a migraine is coming.

It’s beyond the point to stop it, so I breathe deep until I get home. I push open the door and head straight for the medicine cabinet, begging out loud that I can start the medicine before the nausea comes.  I fumble with the secret service style pill protection on my medication.  I cannot get it open.  There are layers upon layers that can’t be peeled or broken through, so I do what anyone in my situation would do, and I grab a knife. With pseudo Samaria sword precision, I bust open that medicine and swallow that pill, and immediately lay down.  As I lay as still as I can, I close my eyes and see all the words that were floating by fall to the ground and the tunnel closes around me.  I can’t see anything, I have no clarity in my language, all I feel is pain.  Pulsing, crushing pain. With every heart beat another surge.

I must have fallen asleep because at some point I wake up.  I gently rub my head looking for some sort of machete still sticking out of it, or a bruise from a level on head trauma, and I know that the pain is better, but not gone.  I open my eyes to more jumbled words and a blackness covering everything.  Still need more medicine.

As I simultaneously grab my head and my stomach I practice every controlled breathing exercise, like a Lamaze meets hot yoga, and begin to drift into sleep. My last thoughts are, I wonder if this is what dying feels like.

As I wake back up again, the tunnel of my vision has widened, the nausea has subsided, and I can move my head without feeling the need to hold it in place.  Only one piece left, I’m still not thinking clearly.  My words are jumbled, out of order and my thoughts are on the satellite delay and not I can’t correct them. I still see them moving in front of me in giant block letters, still see them dancing around me and I grab at each one.  I fumble to speak and try to use my words slowly, carefully, intentionally, but I sound like a science experiment gone wrong. But the pain is gone.

I just want to sleep.  Praying as I do every time, that this is the last one.  That I will never again have the tunnel take over my vision and my words reign free over my head. I pray as I do every time, God, let this be the last one. Praying for no more migraines.

When Is Enough, Enough???

Buckeyes

I’ve spent my whole life living in central Ohio.  Our logo has been “The Heart of it All”, but I’m going to be honest with you…if you’re in a crowded public place in many places in this country and you shout “O-H”, you will most assuredly hear the liturgy cadence of “I-O.”  I’m a midwestern girl who grew up in Buckeye country.  It’s not that we had to be Ohio State Football fans, although it has truly become the “professional” sports team of Columbus, but growing up here and living here, you just kept getting swept away in the intoxicating nature of the spirit of being a Buckeye.  In most jobs I’ve had, Buckeye gear was encouraged before games and people around me are always scurrying to find tickets to any and every game.  It’s a camaraderie.

This week I have been overrun with news concerning an Ohio State assistant football coach and his alleged domestic abuse.  It’s horrifying.  The story continues that the head coach of the football team knew as well.  Then perhaps the athletic director.  So much news coverage and so much press concentrating on our next season of football, the fate of one fired coach and another on administrative leave, and an athletic director who is an icon in Columbus.

What I wish we were talking about is why the clarifying question of domestic abuse is “Did you hit her?”  Why do we see domestic violence only through the lens of one hand striking another person?  And why are we not using this moment of national attention to discuss how sometimes women don’t have a voice.

I hate what this has done to my city, but more than that I hate what it has revealed about my city.  I hate that as a woman who was mistreated by a man who never hit me, mistreated in the workplace where speaking would get me fired, and numerous occasions of unwanted interaction I am forced to see that…I was right.  Speaking would have gotten me nowhere.  Talking about what I went through would have been met with a barrage of sympathetic amnesia, concern for disturbing the flow and horrific isolation.

So today I wonder, can we focus on what domestic abuse means.  What domestic violence is?? Can we look beyond the phrase, “did you hit her?”  When can we admit that domestic abuse is difficult and complicated, but not ignorable?  Can we sacrifice our team record to save our morality even though it supersedes our legal obligations?  At what point do we agree to worry about the woman mistreated and less about a football record.  When is enough, enough?

Dreams Come True

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I grew up in the seventies.  I feel like that statement in and of itself should paint a vivid picture of long hair and in turn, for reasons I have never understood long carpet.  It was referred to as “shaggy” to feel hipster, which my family never was, but I was also desperately wanted something so cool in my house.  I should mention…we never had it.  Our house was covered in varying shades of brown and orange and a color green that resembled pea soup, not like the green that Mr Crayola intended. It was however covered by a showering of love, and that’s where my older brother and I grew up.

My mom had a best friend.  Conveniently, her best friend was her sister, so it made family gatherings easy.  Both my mom and my Aunt Carolyn spent the summers home with the kids and so often, we would pack up the station wagon and head over to the Cassidy’s for the day.  The Cassidy’s lived on the “other side” of the big road, and although no one would ever confirm or deny, somewhere deep within my five-year-old brain, I knew that they were rich. They had brown faux leather chairs in their kitchen that swiveled and their house had multiple stairs.  It smelled of laundry detergent and most portably Calgon, although I had never actually used that.  There was this incredible hair product in the bathroom called “Tame” that helped you brush out your horribly long hair without…okay with half as much screaming.  Plus, we went to hang out at their house because that had this amazing thing…full house air conditioning.

When you opened the door, you were overcome by cool tones in the house, cool air, and the coolness of the people living there, with one very small mighty exception.  My cousin…Jenn.  Let’s be real.  She was more than a cousin…a sister  She was a powerhouse.  Not in a take over the world way but in a, I’m going to soak up everything life has to offer.  Jen was sweet, bubbly, cute, she had freckles that were replicated on Cabbage Patch Dolls.  She was charming…a skill I still struggle to pull off, and she was my best friend too.  We would spend summers soaking up that air conditioned coolness, running the Slip and Slide down the metal backyard slide, playing kickball where if you hit the buzzing electric wire you were automatically out,  planning our lives, and dreaming about what we wanted in our future.  At the age of 6 Jenn had corporate aspirations, in not being a “stay at home mom” but working in an office somewhere.  Maybe even being a secretary.  She was young and going places. Although slightly older, I looked up to her.  She saw the world full of sunshine and grace.

Above all, that freckled face would start and end every “dream” scenario with, I’m going to have a husband and take care of my kids.  I mean yes, she may have to pull a “9-5” movie scenario and sneak rat poison into her boss’ coffee, but she would be going home to her husband and children. That was her dream.

While there are so many memories of garage sales with lemonade stands, countless hours at the pool, Halloween nights when I was terrified and she was well…3 houses ahead of me, cookouts, broken mayonnaise jars, and so many other things.  The dream, no matter how it evolved it always included a husband and children.

Today as we mourn the unexplainable tragic death of Jenn, I know that the freckled face little girl had her dreams come true.  She met a man that fell hopelessly in love with her, married her and they had two baby boys.  While I could tell so many stories, I don’t want to take away that Jenn’s husband Daren made her dreams come true.

Today as we mourn her ended life here, we celebrate where she is in this moment. We celebrate her amazing opportunity to be face to face with Jesus, and we know that God’s grace is sufficient.  While we pray for all things we cannot express in words, we know that God is working in it.

So today I pray for her heartbroken parents, I pray for Daren, and I pray for her children, and I thank God that my sister’s dream come true.