You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2008.

Tonight we’re going to burn the 2008 calendar. And yes, we’ll add the phrase that they use in Crested Butte during their big fall festival—“Burn the Grumpy!” We don’t know what that means, but we can understand the emotion.

After one previous year that didn’t seem to improve from January to December, we also did a burning ritual. Heck, maybe we did it two years in a row. Was it both 1995 and 1996? All I know is we burned little scraps of paper that held all the problems we wanted to move on from.

We wanted to end the power of those worries and disappointments and open ourselves up to possibility again. And the truth is 1997 did bring cataclysmic changes that improved our lives in so many ways and led to the much better years that followed.

Some years are like that one in 1996. No matter how hard you keep thinking the next month will be an improvement, it’s not so. Might as well just bundle up the whole year and believe that, magically, beginning on January 1, things will be different.

Maybe it helps to feel so broken that you stop wishing for what you had and then start looking for what comes next. And, miracle of miracles, those things that were so hard on you bring about good times that never would have happened if you hadn’t been forced to change your path.

New Year’s Eve 1986 I found out my former boyfriend had died. As the designated driver for the evening, I got to contemplate the news, stone cold sober, amidst the party hats and tooting of the horns. Not ten days later I met my future husband.

I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten. Joel 2:25.

Burn the Grumpy—and bring on 2009!

Happy New Year!


Often it’s just the simplest things that let you know you are home. Not that idealized home where everything is perfect, but just that place where you feel comfortable. Too much time away and too many worldly troubles make home so much sweeter, in all its messiness and with all its complications.

Today I got to go for a run, during the best most sunshiny part of this December day. I washed that pathetically dirty car that made it so hard to see out the windows on these overly bright days. I have the dirty clothes separated and a load in the washing machine. I am working on the last minute analysis of my mother’s prescription plan.

These are not the most exciting things I can do, but they say that, for a few minutes, I can breathe. I get to do normal things on an ordinary day. As much as I could use a little fun in my life, it’s these little actions that say my life is less disrupted than it has been. It gives me hope that some day there will be more peace—and fun—in my life again.

And that’s a hope I need to sustain. Because just as my world has been spinning out of control, so have other people’s little worlds. I used to be certain that the fact my mother didn’t open her Christmas cards meant that she was depressed.

Now I think maybe she just needed to maintain the fantasy that everyone she has loved in her life could stay forever in the same happy place in her memories. People’s Christmas letters tell the tales of life and, sometimes, people’s lives don’t go as planned—in big ways.

Our family does not have the only home where just doing the normal things in our normal ways would seem heavenly.

Chris has a brain tumor. She’s OK, but will need chemo for another year, just to be sure. She feels blessed that they found it in time and that so many people reached out to take care of her and her family. The girl who could not get her hair perfect enough is a woman learning to do without any hair.

Jennifer’s husband died in an avalanche. Before I heard the name, I wondered if it could be him. That long ago stormy July night driving all night through Kansas gave us plenty of time to share our stories and dreams, as well as tales of what our normal lives were like.

So many more friends have had to reassess their definitions of what normal everyday life is. As kids, my friends and I had no idea how many unwanted changes our parents were facing in their middle years. We thought we were the only ones charged with creating new “norms” for ourselves.

Apparently there are many times throughout life when all we can do is give in to the rebirth of our so-called normal lives. But if we do the simple things enough, some day we’ll travel far enough through the tough challenges to discover another place that feels like home.

Tim* said that he keeps hearing that he needs to focus on fixing what’s going on now without worrying about the future. But I heard what he was saying. It’s wasn’t so much the worrying that was right, but the believing that if he had a plan for the future, then he’d get through what was going on.

Today I read a Christopher Reeve quote that reminded me of what I think Tim meant. I wish he could hear it.

When we have hope, we discover powers within ourselves we may have never known. Once we choose hope, everything is possible.

If we’re making those plans, we’ve chosen hope. Our future opens up again and is full of possibility—and maybe even specific possibilities. Then we might be able to dig within and find the courage to deal with our own personal hells—even if they can’t be fixed in the way we want.

And sometimes, making plans isn’t about us. Maybe we’ve been so stuck on our problems that we can’t figure out a way out. It’s when we turn our focus toward caring for someone else that we can finally begin those steps.

That’s what makes the movie Little Miss Sunshine so powerful. All the people in the movie are mired in their own problems, everyone except for Olive. Despite how they all treat one another, Olive loves them and sees them for their best sides.

For that kind of love, they finally turn from their own problems to get Olive to what she has wanted to do, even as they discover it is not what she had believed it was. When they see her in trouble, they are willing to jump on stage and surround her with love and dance to protect her from experiencing her own disillusionment.

I don’t know where the people in the movie are headed on the way home from their breakthroughs. All I know is that they’ve finally started their journeys toward something better, all because they cared about someone else.

In that they find hope and can believe in a future again, even if it means accepting that their previously expected futures have been changed by their pasts and the present.

What I know is that some kids are going to receive some artwork that never would have been created without the heartbreak that occurred first.

I pray that kids like Tim find their own redeeming plans that will kick-start the next step in their journeys.

*Not his real name.

I know it’s here somewhere. First of all, it’s about the birth of a child who was born into a time filled with despair and repression from conquerors. It doesn’t matter if he was born in December or April or whatever. What matters is that he came when people couldn’t see the light. He didn’t just come to the powerful. In fact, the news first came to people who had more contact with animals than humans.

The rich and powerful who did get the news in the form of a star had to follow it for two years to understand what they sought. The journey was long and must have seemed, at least on the surface, hopeless. What did they say to their wives? “Honey, I saw a star and I must follow it. I’ll let you know if anything comes of it. Take care of the kids and I’ll see you when I know what it’s about.”

If we don’t feel Christmas this year, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have the memories of those years when Christmas shone as bright as that long ago star. The traditions and decorations have a way of reaching what we can’t reach on our own. Maybe all that really will matter this year is that we can raise our candles on “Silent Night” and watch as all those other people, many of them trapped in their own hearts of darkness, raise them, too, despite whatever makes them think it might just be a waste even to light those candles.

We won’t be skipping Christmas this year. Christmas isn’t what the world would like to sell us about it. In many ways it’s personal to each one of us. But in other ways it’s simply hope. Nothing more, nothing less. Hope that the Romans won’t always rule in our lands. Hope that God’s Kingdom will come. Hope that one day we’ll wake up and notice the beauty of the sunshine.

Until we reach that morning, I’m going to continue to follow that star at night. That’s what true north is—and that’s where Christmas is—this year and every year.

I saw a car with that bumper sticker on it and, I thought, I should have one of those. If nothing else, just so my kids will have to have it on the car when they drive! Bwa-ha-ha-ha.

Still, the caution sticker is true about my driving. That’s one of the first things I decided after I moved to “the city” from Nebraska. Heck, I don’t know most of these people. Who cares if they think I’m odd for singing?

I may have lived here in “the city” for almost 25 years, but I still don’t like highway driving. My prescription for that is to sing along with music at the top of my lungs. And since I’ve been doing a lot of driving on 225, one of my least favorite highways, I’ve been putting my considerable lungs (well, considerably better thanks to Dennie, my yoga teacher!) to plenty of good use.

That’s me crooning the harmony to Simon and Garfunkel or James Taylor. But, I was tired of music I could only play on cassettes in the Grandmamobile. That’s why I decided to drive the CR-V instead—because it has a CD player.

Yesterday I was channeling my inner Aretha. That’s Franklin, you know. Not for R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but for her powerful connection to the Big Man. Aretha and I and the large choir were climbin’ up that mountain trying to get home, telling Mary not to weep, and letting me know that God will take care of me. Don’t worry—I kept my hands on the wheel and only tapped with my left foot.

Trust me, it was less distracting than feeling despair. And I can’t afford to feel despair or to feel weary from the battle with health issues or people who are supposed to help with those issues. Too much of those kinds of thoughts would drive me off the road. The caution sticker would need to read Caution: Driver Not Singing.

And so, I sing.

Only I feel like I’m the one living in operations hell. Sometimes I think the things I learned in my MBA classes are only nice fables, things I only believed because I was young and naïve.

You know, things like management cares about customer complaints or plans to treat the customers with respect, etc. This should be especially true in the service environment. The truth about service operations is that people aren’t widgets. You’re not manufacturing something out of metal. Your product is your service.

That means that it’s up to you to be aware of the customers’ condition when they are in need of your service. And in healthcare, that means setting up support and systems for disseminating information so that you’re able to meet people in the fragile condition in which they arrive.

You should assume that a person who arrives unexpectantly and in a crisis situation does not know all your rules. Expect that such people may not have their normal listening or reading skills available to them since they are so focused on just trying to get through the moment. Know that and create your systems around that.

If you’re not going to be really good about individually going through the facts with the patients or their families, then be prepared to have people make mistakes and be prepared to give them reminders and explanations. This may be your job day in and day out, but for many of us, it’s our first time in your system. With any luck, we won’t come back to become experts at how you do things.

Please don’t assume everyone is trying to get away with something. In fact, remember that even your staff can forget to follow the rules. Unless you have an airtight system, mistakes can occur on both ends.

Hear us out when we have concerns. Validate what we’re feeling even if you’re going to point out why you disagree. Perhaps with your knowledge and experience you really do know better than we do. However, it is possible that our personal perception of our family members or ourselves may be accurate. You may be working from a preconceived notion that is true for many people, but not for all.

It is hard enough to have to utilize emergency healthcare in the first place without having to feel unheard when we have concerns. This is your everyday life but our lives are in the balance. We shouldn’t have to apologize for being passionate about that.

Maybe it’s because I have a unique name, but I really think people should be called by their given names or by whatever else they choose. It’s not up to us to decide who people should be. That’s why, when my friend wanted to stop being called Liz and start being called Elizabeth, I worked hard to get there for her. And now, it would never even occur to me to call her Liz.

Our names are at the core of who we are. I can forgive someone who accidentally mispronounces my name, as long as they are willing to call me what I ask to be called. But I do not tolerate people who deliberately defy my wishes. If I can’t trust you to care about what I want to be called, I definitely can’t trust you with bigger requests.

Sometimes Life sets up the perfect situation for you to demonstrate what you mean when you encounter people who refuse to listen. OK, maybe I shouldn’t blame Life because it was the guy himself who chose to walk right into my sharpened wit.

Rich worked with payroll and found out that my full name was Patrina, not Trina, as I was known by. Now, I don’t mind my full name but so few people read how it is spelled that I get tired of correcting people and telling them it’s not Patricia. That’s annoying, but when they assume I want to be called Pat or Patty and do so even after I ask them not to, I am so over them.

“Hey, Patty!” Rich shouted as he came in my office.

“That’s Patrina or Trina to you,” I replied.

“Right, Patty,” he grinned.

This continued for a few minutes until I realized that with a nickname of Rich, his full name was probably Richard. And another nickname for Richard is . . .?

“OK, call me whatever you want, Dick,” I responded.

He turned red and said, “I’ll stick with Trina.”

My daughter’s name is not Christina. It’s not Chris. And if you make that mistake, I’ll correct you, nicely, the first time. Last night when the staff member yelled, “Chris!” at Christiana, I told her she goes by Christiana. The woman said, “I know that, but I’m going to call her Chris.”

When I told the next staff member about her being called Chris, she asked me why I didn’t tell her to call her Christiana. I relayed what happened. I guess the first woman calls her Christiana now and the other kids let Christiana know they thought I was one “bad” mother . . . for taking her on—in a good way.

It’s just incredible to me that someone in a helping profession would ignore someone’s name. If we can’t get you to respect our names, do you expect us to trust you with our deepest problems? That’s Christiana and Patrina to you, Ms. What’s Your Name.

I do realize it is December and no one makes hay in December, but that’s the phrase that runs through my head. There’s another phrase often passing through my head, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” No rosebuds outside either right now. In fact, after a day in the 40s, the temperature dropped to nine below early Sunday. How very December of the weather.

I went to college in Ohio where winters were uniformly very cold and very gray. I also remember the way Decembers used to be in Nebraska when I grew up. We didn’t expect to have temperatures in the 40s and warm sunshine, but we do now.

The weather seems different these days—that is until an arctic front comes through and reminds us of what winter is really supposed to be like. Nonetheless, this late fall season (not quite winter yet, is it?) I have been repeating those two expressions in my mind. Usually it is related to running and trying to get out at the best part of the day. With the short days, it’s often hard to do that, but I try my best.

Although I do crave those temperate running moments, I wonder, though, if the persistent phrases aren’t about living with someone else’s depression. I can’t predict when the sun will set quickly on a person’s optimism and I don’t know when summer will frost into deepest winter—of course, neither does the person in the midst of the depression. The forty to fifty degree temperature changes lay me low and I find I can’t be the sun I’d like to be for them.

As the sun sets outside our home and the natural light starts to fade, I am reminded that the darkness is the hardest part of any December—whether daytime temperatures are in the 60s or hovering around zero. The only way to approach such gloom is to break out the lights.

Just try to focus only on despair in a darkened room illuminated by twinkling lights on the Christmas tree.

So maybe we don’t have enough sun to make hay right now, but we can unpack hope and plug in the lights.

and provide real information. Do many students abuse AD/HD medications to do well on finals or make it through all-nighters? I believe it is a problem on college campuses today, but at the same time I believe the front page article “Studies on Steroids” on the 15 December Denver Post article leaves out a lot of truly important information—and unfairly slams students who have been diagnosed with AD/HD and receive regular oversight treatment for their condition.

Oh man, even the link sets me off. Breaking news? Give me a break.

First of all, if people would stop acting as if AD/HD were solely a performance condition that affects only school, work, or the ability to organize a home, then we’d all be better off. But it also affects relationships, self-concept, and the ability to handle stress. See the CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) website at for more information.

The article did not take the time to explain what AD/HD is. It’s not really about having 10 chapters of biochemistry to read and needing some super-human force to read 10 chapters in one sitting. That implies that it’s solely about choosing not to do work and then wanting help to push through the work when you need to.

In fact, some of us with AD/HD do have enough hyperfocus (our own version of super-human force—one possible AD/HD positive for some with the condition) to get through finals week on things like corn nuts (sorry, Chris—you were a good roommate—you didn’t deserve that!) and brownies and sheer determination. Still, not everyone with AD/HD can live that way—or live that way forever.

Those are the students whose story must be told. It’s not “cheating” for them to take prescribed medications when they’re under the care of a doctor who has done the evaluations that show that this person cannot focus in the typical manner. If that were cheating, then it would be “cheating” for me to use my inhaler to run even though my doctor has determined that my lungs cannot function at the typical level without that medication.

As for the student who called the meds a crutch, is he aware that when a person needs a crutch, it is not a weakness to use one? Do we tell people with broken legs to keep up with us, without their crutches, even if they have to crawl to do so?

The article did have a doctor explain what students being treated for AD/HD at the University of Colorado’s health center must do to be provided prescriptions for stimulants: be evaluated by a psychologist and psychiatrist, prior to before being followed every three months by a psychiatrist for medication management. However, the article did not explain the medical risks associated with the medications, even under a doctor’s supervision, let alone the bigger risks of taking these medications—or any others—willy-nilly.

Still, my biggest problem with this article is that it provides more hype than information. Sometimes when we have more details, we can feel empathy even when we don’t have a condition.

I’m reminded that before I had mono, I thought that people kind of milked it to get out of things. After a week in the health center and reduced energy and immunity for over a year, I changed my opinion.

Before I had a son who has more severe AD/HD than I have, I thought maybe people just needed to try harder to control themselves or focus. After all, I have a master’s degree and excelled in school—but then I look at my house and know that I cannot will myself enough to keep it organized on my own.

I’ve watched the effort involved in trying to focus when a brain doesn’t fall in line as easily some other people’s brains. Sometimes a person fails, despite the hours of work put in, and sometimes, despite success, the cost of using so much energy is too high.

When AD/HD is diagnosed correctly and treated under supervision, it’s not cheating to use the medications.

This fairly long rant was written with the aid of both hyperfocus and medication. I’ve always been able to write—it’s just it took me so much longer so that once I took care of my other obligations, I didn’t have much time left for fun or other people. Maybe that doesn’t matter to you, but it does to me and, with any luck, to those around me . . .

Despite the fact I was quite angular in my younger days (ha, ha—I got over that!), I have always been anything but edgy. Some people might even think of me as conventional, but that’s only if they don’t know me very well.

I admit that I am a church-going at-home mother of two kids, married for twenty years to the same guy, who has lived in the same house for twenty years. Our family holds regular birthday bashes with other family members, we attend extended family reunions, and our own family eats dinner together most nights. We volunteer, vote, and believe in giving to others. Not edgy.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have troubles or make mistakes. I’m not here to point out all my past and current transgressions, but just know that there are plenty. I need grace because I fall all the time. I am thankful that sometimes mercy prevails over justice.

I believe in happy endings, but not necessarily that things will go well for people all the time or that they’ll always make the right choices.

My creative writing professor, back in 1982, wrote on my stories that nobody believed in happy endings anymore and people didn’t find stories with those endings to be realistic. For example, he liked another student’s story about a man who put his hand in a blender to be more like a stripper who had no hand. That professor was and still is very edgy.

He can choose to live in his existential realities, but I know the reason I believe in the possibility of change and hope—in anyone or any situation—is because I believe in redemption. In fact, I might argue that believing in redemption is edgy in a world where many focus on unhappy endings and lack of possibilities.

As much as we might need to leave behind certain hopeless appearing endings, we know that sometimes redemption comes when it’s least expected.

Many happy endings to you, deserved or undeserved.

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