Down for the Count Up, 1

INTERESTING, THE STORY OF SEPTEMBER 2007

The Subtle Start

On October 1, 2006, my husband passed away. As I was approaching the first anniversary of Jeff’s death, I began to get more and more stressed. I felt like I was speeding toward a brick wall at 200 mph and knew darn well that nothing was going to keep me from slamming in to it.

Standing in the coffee hour line after church one Sunday, a friend of mine asked what I had planned to help myself cope during that anniversary. I told her I was taking that week off from work. I knew I was already having trouble keeping it together, and I pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near work.

She then asked me which week it was I was taking. “The 1st through the 6th of October,” I answered. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “You have the wrong week off!” I was pretty sure I had those dates right. Jeff passed away on the 1st and his funeral was held on the 6th. October 6th would have also been our 5th wedding anniversary.

She went on to explain how she and her son were planning to travel to New Orleans on a recovery/rebuilding trip from October 6th through October 14th. She suggested I travel with them. I did not hesitate to quickly, and emphatically, decline. I couldn’t take two weeks off from work. I didn’t want to be away from home. It just wasn’t going to happen. I wiped it from my mind.

Monday “Alive”

Monday’s work day came and went normally.

I had been reading Stephen Baldwin’s “The Unusual Suspect,” in my normal fashion; just a few pages at a time. So, when Monday evening came around, I grabbed my book and my tea, and prepared to pick up where I had left off the night before.

The sub-chapter title was “Alive”. It recounted how Hurricane Katrina had coincided with his reading of Mark 13, and how the author knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be in his journey of reading the bible.

Interesting, I thought. Maybe I am supposed to be reading this chapter in his book right now.

Tuesday “Guideposts”

Tuesday was just a frustrating day at work.

When lunch time came around, I grabbed my lunch bag and locked my office door. Over the weekend, I had finally gotten around to sorting out the many magazines that had piled up, and had thrown one into my bag, just in case I needed some inspiration. I definitely felt I was in need of some grounding, so I pulled out the August 2007 issue of Guideposts, and opened it to a random page.

Page 49 revealed a story about a couple who had participated in a recovery/rebuilding trip to New Orleans, and the effect the trip had on their lives. The story was based on events that had occurred an entire year earlier; one year after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Interesting, I thought. It’s now been two years, and there is still work to do.

Wednesday “Trucks”

Wednesday, I decided not to get on the treadmill.

I had ambitiously bumped up both the speed and the incline on Tuesday night, and had spent most of Wednesday waddling around like a penguin. So, I grabbed the TV remotes and decided it was a good time to go through the DVR programming my husband had created. I began deleting many recorded episodes of programs I would probably never watch. Jeff was a knowledge sponge. He recorded programs like Forensic Files, How It’s Made, and pretty much the entire History, Discovery and National Geographic channel line ups.

Towards the end of my deleting frenzy, I came across about 10 episodes of a show called Trick My Truck. As I scrolled through the information blurbs, I came across a show description about a pair of grandparents who wanted to include their grandchildren in their trucking life. That sounded rather harmless and happy, so I hit the play button.

After the intro and a few commercials, the theme of the episode was revealed.

I immediately hit the stop button, went back to the description and read again about the grandparents. However, when I hit play once more, the same story came up about a trucker from New Orleans who helped many Katrina victims in his neighborhood and city.

Interesting…. Ok, I thought, what is going on? I sent a late night email to my friend asking her to send me the information for the mission trip.

Thursday “Paperwork”

On Thursday, the information I received back was well planned, included…. insurance? Interesting.

Uh, oh, I thought. How am I going to work this out? They’ll never let me take two weeks off from work.

Am I even stable enough to consider doing this?

What will Jeff’s family think if I’m not here to go through the one-year mark with them?

What will my family think?

I printed the forms. I even filled them out, and then put them aside.

During my 45 minutes on the treadmill, I managed to reason myself out of it again.

Friday “Early Morning”

I woke up about 2:30 am Friday morning, wide-eyed, just sitting upright in bed.

I made a cup of tea, plodded to the den, flipped the tv on again, and this time I landed on Food Network. Just in time to catch the last part of a show called Road Tasted.

This show features brothers Jamie and Bobby Deen traveling throughout the US, visiting locally owned restaurants and shops. This episode…? They were in New Orleans.

Ok, I thought, now this is getting too weird.

I grabbed my note pad, and jotted down all the events that had occurred since I’d been told me about the trip.

I looked over this list, and thought, interesting.

Friday “Mid-Day”

Friday, I asked my coworker how it would affect her if I were to take two weeks off.

Shocked and close to tears, she said that she had made plans for that second week in October to visit with her sisters in Iowa. They hadn’t been together in nearly eight years, since their father passed away.

I quickly said it was ok. Feeling it was crazy idea, anyway, and probably for the best that I wouldn’t go.

Later on in the day, she came back and said that I should go if I wanted to. I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

But, I felt the wheels really starting to roll now.

I copied my filled-out forms and placed them in an envelope to mail on Saturday.

Saturday “Smacked”

Saturday, my older brother arrived from Massachusetts, visiting with me for the weekend.

We hadn’t spent any time together since Jeff passed away. I thought I’d try to explain the trip and my experiences to him before I mailed out those forms. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be talked out of going or not.

He’d arrived with a National Geographic, finished on his trip. He immediately began to explain to me the importance of restructuring the wetlands around the Gulf Coast and New Orleans to act as a natural buffer between water storms and inland areas.

Interesting. It was at this point, I had to finally consider myself thoroughly God-smacked. I finally got the message. I was going to New Orleans in October.

Change of Plans “Alone”

I took my brother to church with me, Sunday. That’s when I learned something bad happened.

My friend’s son, a roofer, fell off a roof he was working on. He was to be laid up for a few weeks, which was a real blessing, considering what could have been. However, that meant they were no longer making the trip to New Orleans.

If I was going to keep my commitment to the mission trip, I would be completely on my own. At that point, I figured why not? I’d already been doing everything alone for a year, anyway.

So, I actually went ahead and made that trip, along with 48 other volunteers from all over Michigan. I didn’t know anyone else, and I was looking forward to being with a group of people who knew nothing about me. I was running away from the past year, hoping to help heal New Orleans, and perhaps heal a little part of me, as well.

Down for the Count Up, 5

HOW DID I, OCTOBER 10, 2011

So, have you done it, recently? Have you asked yourself, “How did I get here?”

October 6, 2007, I was on my very first mission roll, far from home, in the company of 48 strangers, asking myself over and over, “How did I get here?”

Every year for the past five years, on October 6th, I ask myself this question again. And every year, the answer seems more and more obvious. If you would have told me 10 years ago today, October 6, 2001, on my wedding day, that I would be a Christian, I would have doubted it. If you had told me 5 years ago today, October 6, 2006, at my husband’s funeral, that I would survive, and my Christian faith would be stronger than ever, I would have doubted it. There is no doubt in my mind these days, yet every year on this particular day, I take stock. I do so in amazement, and marvel at how GOD has brought me to and brought me through. Joyfully, this year, HE has brought me to you. Whether after a long while we’ve crossed paths again or we’ve intersected for the very first time, we’re solidly on the same journey, and have been for quite a while.

Please know that today, I am praying for the safety of your heart and body. I am praying for your guidance to be strong and bright. I am praying that the life you are living, will become sustaining memories that hold you close, reminding you of hard times and sacrifice, of love and hope, and those you share each experience with. May the LORD bless and keep you, always.

Ephesians 3:17-19
Then He will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of God, though it is too great to fully understand, then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Cass Community Social Services, 500 Biblical Meatballs & 375 Memorial Challah Onion Rolls.

RE-POST from April 2014:

There are at least six, solid, Biblical references regarding meatballs.

“Hi, we were wondering…”

I received a significant, mid-week invitation from a dear, don’t-get-to-see-often, friend. It was one of those jump-to-it, second-chance, “you don’t want to miss this,” opportunities. The last time I rode along became a scary freeway ice-dancing event featuring sliding cars, sudden lane-swerving, and frightening brake pumping. A few near-accidents in, a committee of concerned participants made the reluctant decision to head home before reaching our destination. It was a hard call to make, because individually and as a group, we don’t take volunteering lightly. In this case, it was clear a no-show would have serious consequences, but the severity of the travel conditions could not be ignored.

That’s how a recent early Saturday morning found me munching a Clif protein bar, hanging in the far parking lot of Sam’s Club, waiting on another ride.

In mission work there are sometimes great gaps of knowledge. This one wasn’t much of a mystery. We knew where we were headed, and what we would do. Still, the informational brochure I was handed filled in a lot of unknown blanks in my perception of the project. The impressive scale of Cass Community Social Services in Detroit is something to behold. The volunteer schedule is equally as impressive.

The Saturday kitchen schedule was filled by a church confirmation class from Alpena, a church youth group from Northville, the Detroit chapter of One Brick, some Michigan State-ers on spring break, and a women’s church group from Tecumseh. It started off slowly, but at one point I counted 24 people in the kitchen.

We had arrived believing we would be making sandwiches, and left not having made a single one. The new first order of kitchen business was slicing semi-frozen flanks of meat. The first problem I encountered was a lack of latex free gloves. By default, I became the dishwasher.

A volunteer named Bobby, who has been washing dishes at Cass for 9 years, so far, demonstrated the basics. Food down this shoot; rinse, load, fill, sanitize, stack, and re-shelve. I really wanted a bit more instruction from Bobby, but he wasn’t inclined to give it. He walked away and I proceeded to process dishes, utensils, pots and pans for two hours straight. Bobby would fly by every once in a while, saying the same thing, “You’re doin’ alright!”

During one of those passes, another volunteer pointed to my cleaning stash and requested an aluminum scrubbie. When I turned for it, Bobby was in my way, so I asked him to please hand it over. He didn’t. “The scrubbie,” I reiterated, thinking perhaps he hadn’t heard my quiet voice in the ruckus. He just stood there, shaking his head at us. I tried again, carefully explaining and renaming the item, “She would like that scouring pad, please.” Finally, he cracked a semi-smile and pointed behind her. There, at the exact spot where the question had originated, in a rather obvious place, was another one. 

In those two minutes, my pile had grown to overflowing the staging-space allotted to dirty items. but went back to work with a conquer-this-mountain attitude. Eventually, I was relieved of dish duty. I didn’t want to be relieved, but Miss Lonetta – head cook, kitchen orchestrator/coordinator, menu planner – insisted. She handed me two bowls with bananas, oranges, and grapes, pushed open a door and told me to go sit outside. A few minutes later, I became the fruit sharer, offering fruit and fresh-air seats to the also forced-to-take-a-break cooking crew.

The beef slicers also chopped a lot of broccoli and garlic, grated carrots and cheese, made rice, cracked dozens of eggs, and melted butter. From 9:00 AM until Noon, the principles hustled us along. It was about then that some of the volunteer shifts had ended. There were only about 6 of us left. Lonetta told me to go grab some parchment paper, and pointed in the general direction supplies. I wasn’t exactly sure where to look, but eventually I spied, grabbed, and delivered.

Then she wanted to know why I wasn’t making meatballs, with the few remain-ers who were also running out of time. I explained about the latex, and she gleefully cried. “Grab an apron and suit up!” One of the volunteer groups had shown up with a box of latex-free gloves. On my first grab, it was interesting to discover my right hand was reluctant to roll anything. It was sorely sore from squeezing the hand-held faucet. Still, I did my best with the sticky stuff. Out of 500 meatballs needed, jumping in at the last minute, I probably rolled somewhere around 50.

During the course of the morning and early afternoon, Lynetta changed her meal plan three times while we were prepping. Due to a lack of peppers, Pepper Steak turned into Steak ala Cass, which is actually pepper steak minus peppers, plus onions and mushrooms. Ten trays of garlic bread were prepped for the oven. For the most part, those who come for Cass meals, don’t eat vegetables if they’re presented as a side. Miss Lonetta devised a way to sneak them in. Meatballs were beefed up with carrots, broccoli, and onion, and stretched with crumbs, eggs and cheese. At the last minute, we learned a vegetarian entry would also be needed. We reviewed ingredients available, put our thinking caps on, and came up with a very improvised veggie stir-fry.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: each person’s mission experience will differ. I can’t say this is an accurate reflection for anyone else but me, but, the 30-second do-this dishwashing brief, the here’s-two-bowls-go-sit-outside directive, and the frantic search for parchment were unnerving in a successful, hyped-up sort of way. There is something to be said for being available and able to fumble around, change directions, and do whatever has to be done. It brings a little self-pride, a little coping confirmation, and an absolutely miniscule idea of what may be expected next time.

My unofficial three-part summary of Cass Kitchen philosophy:

Be aware of your surroundings.

You can find whatever is needed, if you look.

If you can’t find it, improvise.

Quote for the week:

Cass Community Social Services: http://casscommunity3.wordpress.com/

Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens.

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Out-do one another in showing honor.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

That Looks Easy….

Jeff’s penchant for home improvement shows came in handy, sort of.

If you watch enough of them, you’ll absorb some basic knowledge. Most of that will need to be supplemented by online videos, step-by-step instructions or just jumping into the deep end to see how it goes.

Basic knowledge was enough to get me through numerous post Hurricane Katrina rebuilding missions with a construction based Michigan team, and various issues at home alone, later.

If Jeff was still here, he’d be telling humorous stories about some of our least successful attempts at home repair and renovation. We’d always start out thinking, “That looks easy enough.” We’d always end up bickering, and then, laughing at our bickering.

In mid-September, we finished an attempt to ‘easily’ replace the gate at the top of the back deck stairs. We needed one that  our dog, Sadie, wouldn’t be able to plow through, wiggle through or accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally) open. She’d managed to escape a few times, in all those ways.

The installation, actually, went pretty well. We had it done in a little under an hour, and tested our work. That’s when we realized we’d installed it to open the wrong way, by setting it in place upside-down.

“I thought that seemed a little harder than normal,” Jeff commented. Also, more difficult than ‘normal,’ the hardware wasn’t easily removed. Parts of screws broke off or were stripped, nuts fell between the cracks and tumbled down our long flight of stairs.

A lot of banging, two trips to the hardware store and four hours later, we were finished. To celebrate, Jeff suggested we fire up our newly repaired grill and cook-out.

The grill had been another frustrating fiasco. A 15-minute fix turned into two-hours of gentle Jeff cussing while installing a new lighter thingy.

I was inside cutting tomatoes and onions and gathering impromptu picnic supplies, when I heard Jeff shout.

“What the?”

“WHAT the?”

“Hey!”

“HEY!”

“Come here, YOU!”

As I ran to the slider, his voice volume was over-excitedly escalating.

“HEY!”

“Ouch!”

“Come HERE!”

“OUCH!”

Stupefied, I watched him pull and throw chucks of sizzling beef over the 5-foot drop at the back of our deck.

“Jeff!” Alarmingly concerned about his mental state, I slammed the screen door open. Suspecting he was having some sort of serious negative medication reaction, I blurted out, “I’m right here! What are you doing?”

Startled, he turned quickly, giving me a incredulous look, like I was the weirdo in this situation.

His stop-arm reaction time was a bit slower than his body turning time. Set in motion for an airborne release, he lobbed a glob of barely cooked ground in my direction.

I watched it wobble in a somewhat graceful arc, my mental slow-mo calculating: no – that’s not gonna happen.

It happened. Direct hit to my face.

Quote for the Week:2019 03 19 Nothing is ever fool proof jakorte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

half-truths, whole lies, and the doubts that remain.

Reprise: The clinic visit biopsy result was clear.

Warning: You may not like what I have to say.

The container I discovered had a September expiry date. The package at the gas station,  also had a September expiration date; just a handful of days later.

The chew wasn’t old and I wasn’t angry. I was astonished and livid. I went directly to the den where the tv was blaring. Jeff was sleeping, so I startled him awake by shouting his name. “What! What?” he came awake, swiveling his head in a panic.

“Here’s what!” I slapped my evidence into Jeff’s hand. “The expiration date.” I clipped. Not completely awake, Jeff stared at me.

“Within a week of Speedway.” I continued. Jeff continued to look puzzled.

“I took it to Speedway, Jeff! It’s NOT old!”

Shaking his head from side to side, he rolled his eyes, and very rhetorically and quite dejectedly, asked, “Why’d ya have to do that?”

My reply was a throw-back, “Why’d you have to?”.

“Don’t do it again, Jeff,” I warned him. I didn’t specifically define which one he shouldn’t do – lie or chew. I assumed he knew it was both.

I have a weird sort of smile on my face as I look back at this one. My warnings were weightless, useless, and void of consequence. If he did it again, it wouldn’t result in any drastic action. I wouldn’t stop loving him. I’d never leave him. It happened. Again, and again. I’d be angry and he’d be sad. He’d be sorry. I’d be forgiving. That’s how it went. Every time.

The thing is… I can’t just leave it on that loving note. That’s not how the story ends for me.

It was a mission trip discussion that clued me in. I have no proof. I’m the only eye-witness. Everything I know, leads to an unpleasant theory.

One of the ladies I evening coffee’d with began a conversation about smoking that revolved around a male member of our team. I mentioned how I’d bugged Jeff to quit smoking way before I think he was really ready to. I shared that the next step for him, in order to avoid smelling like smoke, was a clandestine move to chewing tobacco.

I reiterated the mouth cancer biopsy story and how that’d turned out. Then, went on to share that he never did quit and that it became a sore spot between us. One of my friends asked, “Even after the doctor said it was benign? He didn’t quit?”

“Nope.” I said. “He just couldn’t do it.” I don’t think that he didn’t try. I think he truly did. It just took me a few years to recognize it for what it was; an unbreakable addiction.

Hours later, I thought about the word ‘benign,’ and the fact that I’d never heard it.

1.     Jeff went to the desk, he said, “To ask a question.” I assumed it was about the wait.

2.     He insisted on going without me. “You stay here.”

4.     Body language: as far across the room as he could get from us, arms crossed, looking at his feet, lips pursed, seemingly annoyed. 

5.     The doctor, curtly reporting, “The results were clear.”

6.      He never told us in what way, or which manner, they were ‘clear.’

6.     Those few words used did not include: cancerous, non-cancerous nor benign.

7.     The abrupt end to our meeting. One sentence, and we were dismissed.

8.     I hear the attending’s voice in my head in a different tone, now. A warningly sarcastic parting shot. “Good luck to you, Sir.”

Two years after Jeff passed, on a bunk bed in Slidell, Louisiana, I put two and two together and came up woefully short. I no longer believe we dodged a bullet.

I wonder if Jeff told the clerk that he didn’t want the doctor to say it in front of me if he did have cancer. I wonder if he maybe said, “I don’t want my wife to know the results.” I wonder if he already knew the results before we even got there. I wonder about the doctor visits he went to with his father. I wonder if he confided in anyone. I wonder if it didn’t matter anyway; if he was already too ill for treatment, or if it was just too late.

If it wasn’t for 8 years of tobacco half-truths, little lies and bigger lies, I wouldn’t wonder.

 

Quote for the Week:   (ps. yes, that’s a real onion. made a pot roast.)2019 02 26 You don't know what you dont know jakorte