Tag Archives: work

Hiatus

It came gradually. Like the spring storms in our region, what began as slight awareness became genuine concern. I admit, during the first few days I considered this was all about me giving up coffee. Only I didn’t plan this. I couldn’t stop or defer it either.

My usually reliable creativity began waning. My dwindling reserve of scheduled posts concerned me. And yet strangely, I felt remarkably calm. For years I’ve worked faithfully on my dailies. And for days I sent it all to the recycle bin.

I resisted, desperate to complete my lists of tasks and projects, unwilling to yield a smidgen. I wondered if this could be some mysterious new virus or bacteria. But I had no symptoms of being sick. I was not sad. My thoughts were clear. There was no hint of any crisis du jour or impending doom. I slept well and napped soundly when I felt tired. And yet I felt weary. I soon began to wonder if I was literally going mad.

I fought it every way I know how, resolved to forge onward, determined to regain my pace.

Soon I realized that for months, years actually, I’d practiced systematically slicing fragments of personal time wherever I could to produce more, serving the greater good, thinking I must work harder, do better. I hurried from one task to another, rarely pausing.

It’s not that I felt drained. Still, sparks of joy had become rare, no longer the integral element of my life. And I hadn’t noticed.

Days later, vanquished, I cried out loud, “God, I don’t understand! What am I missing?” Immediately I heard, “You.”

With that I surrendered.

I cleared my schedule, stopped work and began doing only rudimentary activities. It was hard, but I persisted.

For the time being my only assignments are animal and self care and Bible time. Even prayers are more about listening for God. After a few days I realized, I am literally living by faith, hour by hour and not by my strength or determination. This had long been my heart’s desire, but something else always seemed more important. Until now.

And the world kept turning!

This morning as I returned to the cottage, livestock munching alfalfa, the dogs happily running circles around me, I giggled. Then we circled back out to the pastures – for fun! I noticed with delight new bird nests here and there, clover flowering, tulips are opening and brand new lambs in the neighbor’s pasture.

Again I ignored the lure to work. It feels strange, but I’m okay with that today.

I don’t know when this hiatus will end, I didn’t call it, but I’m confident in the One that did.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

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Filed under A Door Ajar

Something Good

The morning came painfully early. Literally. As the weather report predicted four inches of snow fell overnight. Covering. Everything. Here.

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On a ruler four inches doesn’t look like much. But four inches covering the snow that fell days before on ice where some melted, it equaled a lot of hard labor here at the ranch.

These are chores that can’t wait, even when other time-sensitive work calls. The plowing, shoveling, removing ice – yet again – seemed like the aftermath of a blizzard requiring all hands on deck.

 

After a hard day’s labor Eleven-Year-Old and I made snow angels – a fun debriefing for him, icing my neck and back was therapeutic for me. And I had my full day-job agenda to meet.

At age sixty-something, the next morning I regretted having abused Younger Me’s body – sorely. I felt every old injury. I’m not old, but this morning I sure know what old feels like. Compound that with more snow, ice, the additional physical activity I haven’t done in well over three years; I’d earned a good whine.

Instead I groaned quietly reminding myself this too will pass soon as I pulled up my big girl boots.

20161215_074333As the livestock thanked me for their morning meal, I continued moving through more new deep powder to the lot. Passing the truck I remembered I must help unload the rest of the wood as well as meeting a deadline – Yikes! Today.

Rather than telling myself everything is as it should be, with the backlog of work awaiting me, the voices in my head recalled negatives people spoke into my life over the years; You at a ranch? In business for yourself? Really?

Here we’re all still getting our heads around my first fall and winter back home, under new circumstances with a different household. I desperately want to help more, but I’m still learning how to. I already learned how not knowing enough can cost everyone more time and cause additional work.

I normally ignore Cole mumbling, not realizing anyone’s nearby. But this morning, without realizing it, I took his murmuring personally and felt like a burdensome slacker. However, instead of rushing to help with his chores, with my head down, I stayed my course and headed back to my cottage – for tea and prayer.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and who carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.*”

20170110_100153I don’t know about most people, but for me learning to do just what’s needed for the day, maybe the next takes time. Safe at home now I can learn to enjoy life more, rather than constantly brain-storming, considering every possibility for the coming months – or years. For the first time in years I don’t feel like I’m in this alone. This is strange to me and requires considerable adjusting – daily.

As I prayed the Small Voice reminded me I’m in better shape than anyone but God could expect. I began recalling some of the feats the Holy Spirit and I did together since I arrived, the times we met challenges alone and mastered them, let alone my amazing history. My guys and I not only survived, but against all odds, God and I exceeded expectations of anyone that matters.

Getting lost in all the negatives, the what-ifs and the should’ve-would’ve-could’ves in life is too easy.

Isn’t life better when we look at positives instead? I’m positive I’m not broken. I’m mended. We’re all patch worked together into a beautiful, marvelous story.

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Kendra and Cole 2016

 

You’ll have to excuse me for now; Cole just came in asking, “Do I even have to come get my own coffee. Sheesh.” Translated that means he’s glad I’m here too! 😉

 

 

 

“… For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NLT)

*Matthew 11:28

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Filed under Notes from the Apex

Good Call

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Kendra taking a moments pause

Here at the ranch we observed Veterans Day with deep gratitude, heartfelt prayer, revisited photos of the valiant service members throughout our families (including Cole, three of my offspring…), tribute posts to Facebook, and lots of labor. At sunset our Friday gathering of friends and visitors left Kendra’s Cowboy Caviar long enough to salute the flag in honor of our veterans.

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Feeling a bit drained I decided to recline with a DVD for the later part of the evening, American Sniper. But minutes into it Kendra and Cole burst through the door, Kendra giddily declaring, “We have a calf!”

Jumping up from the couch, I grabbed my jacket and was on their heels, out the door and westward to the paddock. Cole had already moved Girlfriend, the mare and Nickel, the steer to the south pasture. The cows, C’mere and C’mon furtively chomped alfalfa while eyeing the fence yards away where the newborn calf rested comfortably.

Cole wandered off to points east while Kendra and I ooh and aah-ed over the new arrival. Wrapping our coats more tightly around ourselves, Kendra thought aloud “How funny; weeks of great weather and she waited to birth on a foggy Veteran’s Day.” I replied, “We’ll call him Grunt, maybe?” And then, “Nah. What’cha got?”

After a nano-second pause, Kendra said, “Hero.” “Bam,” I replied. Much fist bumping ensued.

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“The Lord your God will bless you as He has promised.” Deuteronomy 15:6 (NLT)

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Total Recall

human-1138004__180You probably don’t experience moments when your brain seems to freeze up. I do. I can easily imagine what a car overheating would feel like; you’re suddenly stuck where you are, unable to move and it’s all you can do to understand what just happened. You’ll get around to wondering why.

I’ve moved around a lot lately. Having driver’s licenses from three states over seven months, that brain fade lately happens to me frequently. I experience the phenomenon especially when I encounter people I haven’t seen or thought of in years. Maybe it’s a normal homecoming thing. Maybe. It has nothing to do with aging.

This week a woman visited our Small Home Group adding a fresh touch to our 6 members. I noticed upon entering the house she looked familiar. I assumed I’d seen her in church. I’ve only attended for 5 weeks, so familiar-but-unplaceable faces are commonplace. Hand extended toward her I crossed the room, when she surprised me by standing, opening her arms to me. I welcome hugs among the brethren, so a hug from a newcomer was nice.

Before letting go she said, “Eva.” And then she repeated, “Eva!” I looked more closely and suddenly recognized the woman I’d worked with at the radio station some fifteen years before. Unlike me she hasn’t aged a day! Nice.

With jumps, squeals, more hugs and lots of oh-my-goodnesses, we derailed the meeting for a few moments covering the broad strokes. I doubt anyone realized I sat across the room from her so I could see her clearly without glasses (mid-range works best for me). Through the study we bounced ideas off each other like we’d done brainstorming ad campaigns. And the memories kept on coming. Please don’t ask me for any minute details about the lesson.

Later at home, during my prayers I marveled over how well she’s done. She married, just sold and bought a new home in town in one of the newer, upscale neighborhoods, her boy grew up and did time in the Service, she and her husband have a growing business and she still screen writes their advertisements, only at the local TV studio now.

I also realized she drove the late-model Cadillac SLT that was parked where Kendra’s Chevy typically awaits us on Wednesday evenings. She and her husband have been charter members of our church since its early beginnings – the one I diverted from, going to Illinois instead of joining ten years ago. The girl’s done well.

Strangely, sleep didn’t come easily that night. I debated whether or not to start a fire, settling for setting up the stove for the morning. I couldn’t even keep my mind on the latest mystery novel I’d begun the night before. So I paced around the apartment looking for little tasks. The rustic character of the place affords them in abundance.

For the first time since my arrival, I wasn’t entirely enchanted with my life. Soon I realized I’d wandered onto the slippery slope of the comparison game. Certain my prayers didn’t get past the ceiling, I decided to burn the midnight oil. Before long at all my mind slipped back into how well my former workmate’s done and I began pacing the open spaces of the apartment trying to clear my mind – again.

As I drug my hand across the polished chrome of Cole’s custom Harley Davidson (yeah, in my living space), feeling the smooth, cold metal against my fingertips, I imagined my far more traditional, conservative workmate’s face upon seeing my new digs – and the jokes about the pair of immaculate Harleys inside my home. For the first time I questioned if I actually liked them here.

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I normally enjoy the bikes wintering indoors. Both my brothers cherished not only the exceptional machinery and stunningly beautiful detailing, but the memories they made riding them all over the country side, just as I enjoy envisioning their stories, usually seated one of them.

But I realized I don’t hold title on either bike.

Looking around the rustic apartment, the stained concrete floors (artfully colored, of course), mismatched area rugs, the shabby chic tables (Joanna Gaines would drool over – jus’ sayin’), boxes wrapped with contact paper for storage (and temporary makeshift occasional tables), the dated sofa, love seat and my late brother’s recliner I won’t disown for love or money, strangers would imagine I’m impecunious. Of course I am, but that rarely bothers me or even slows me down.

Sure, I don’t own a motor vehicle or real estate today. I drive Cole’s vehicles and occasionally Kendra’s car. I actually like hanging my wash to dry rather than run the meter with the dryer and I don’t mind the workout from foraging and chopping wood for heat – yet. It’s been a mild autumn.

With microscopic record-able income, six years after near financial ruin my credit score is now average. Still, on paper my estate’s essentially worthless.

But any time I walk out my door, the pack of dogs are happy to greet me. Girlfriend neighs from the pasture and the cows moo whenever they see me walking westward (they’re always happy to receive any tasty offering). A couple of times a day, no matter what’s going on in the shop, Cole bursts through the door, “just counting noses,” often tossing out some task for me to reinforce I’m wanted – I know, awww… Kendra is always nearby to lend an ear or a shoulder to lean on if ever I need one, the boys help fill the gap when I find time to miss my grand kids and I can text or talk with the rest of the family.

“If you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life.*” 

I spend most of my days doing what I love, so it rarely seems like work. I can walk the acreage without speaking to anyone or find a kindred soul to chat with any time I need to or work on my Spanglish. My age-old dream of a living on a self-sustaining property is gradually becoming a reality.

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Life could be better, but I’d need some serious time to think how. I’ll rest well tonight.

 

It’s good to be home.

 

 

 

”Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.” Galatians 6:4 (NLT)

*Ancient Chinese Philosophy (or Marc Anthony)

First Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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Filed under Notes from the Apex

Back Home Again

Two particular things stand out from my recent trip for a family funeral.

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Stormy Daybreak, Valley of the Sun

 

First is the astounding amount of time I need to resettle after such a trip.

 

CA-AZ 1981 001CA-AZ 1981 001Not long ago we’d take up any opportunity to hit the road. Regardless of my boys’ ages we thought little of grabbing our packs on the way out the door, not knowing when exactly we’d actually walk back in. We’d cross a state line or two for a weekend adventure if for no other reason than because we could. What’s more, I recall only one instance where an eight hour drive through the night rendered me incapable of working my first shift. In all fairness that was the day after my niece took her sweet time being born – 355.7 miles from home at the time. Maybe that was long ago. That niece is in her thirties married over a decade ago.

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Now, days after returning from the last trip I am amazed at how much time has actually passed.

This morning, thinking I had a pretty good handle on things, latte in hand, I sprang to work and immediately felt blindsided by the bulk of email awaiting me, some now six days old. I slouched leaned back in my chair, sipping my steamy, comforting mug contents, listening to the uproar in my head:

  • The Nano-Organized Micro-Manager Voice screamed End-of-the-world-NOW prophesies,
  • The Artist Voice called for blues, greens and reds all to be mixed with black,
  • The Comptroller Voice demanded we audit all accounts immediately,
  • The Editor-in-Chief voice demanded I post something, anything, NOW
  • Suzy Sunshine’s Voice feebly interjected about how popular we’ve become…

This took place mere nano-seconds before I noticed the figure “3” next to the Gmail Drafts folder (meaning something most likely did not go out as I thought before I left for the airport).  A loud scream, initially remote, rapidly pierced its way to my frontal lobe, nearly breaching Central Dispatch before I arrested it, saying instead, “Voithos, where are you?”

Though I actually had internet access the entire time I was away – time away with family being the operative term. Such occasions happen rarely in our circles, so they’ve moved up the priority scale dramatically. This morning I sipped, calculated and reminisced events of the past two weeks. I determined to break tradition, and not stay at the laptop until all two-hundred and some-odd items were opened and sorted, and then take time to catch my breath. That memory alone made my neck and shoulders stiffen.

Instead. I. thought.

I decided upon the well-considered, conscious choice to sort all email into three categories (four including the Drafts folder) to address after I returned from a walk and shower with  a fresh pot of tea:

Absolutely First: Check Draft folder,

Folder 1: Stuff to open first to avoid apocalyptic catastrophe (stuff that could cost me money),

Folder 2: Stuff to deliberate over after sorting through Drafts and Folder 1,

Folder 3: Put other stuff here only if doing so won’t cost me money,

Folder 4: WordPress notifications. Get strong coffee, and then proceed.

Greens Dec 1960 Sdale 001The second thing that stands out is the very many gatherings with my siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews where we all emphatically agreed we must get together before another funeral summons us. At our advanced age, as approximated by no sign of our elders (until passing a mirror) and the horde of young people that look only vaguely familiar now, we should not press our luck as to when that gathering will happen.

So, dear readers, this post is not only me checking back in, but is also my figurative gauntlet landing solidly in the dust, a cloud billowing gently on the grass before my dearest relations. I shall again attach a link to this post in another round of family emails reminding us all that tomorrow is not promised. We must set a date.

I’ll get back to you on that.

 

“You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times.” Matthew 16:2,3 (NLT)

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Filed under The World According to Roo

Falling In To Place

I must confess. For me the New Year didn’t actually begin on January the first. It didn’t start on the first Monday in January, or the first work day of the new year as I’d intended either. For me it dawned on the 7th – an otherwise nondescript Thursday.

Most notably that day did not go as I planned – something that would normally feel to me like the earth tilted on its axis. Instead I welcomed the change.

I’d been laboring over a book manuscript during my first year of blogging. Learning more about the mechanics and enjoying the experience, I wanted more – more followers, more comments, more feedback… I down-shifted. Ambition took over and before I realized it, I had become obsessed. I didn’t feel like the world was falling apart, so I felt better.

I’d been staring into the monitor till my eyes dried and my head hurt six days a week, letting my fitness and health care slide for days in a row. I’d been constantly thinking, reading, studying, cyber surfing until I realized I hadn’t even walked outside the house in too close to a week – yet again.

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What’s Next followers might remember The View From Ground Level. And you’d rightly assume I’d learned from that experience. Or not. My breakthrough moment came the day before Christmas Eve. I realized I had performed the rudimentary holiday preparations my phone apps hounded me to do, but not much else to welcome in the season. This is very not like me. Instead I worked, telling myself I was about to reach my dream.

Right about that time I noticed an old feeling lurking around just outside the shadows. It had grown bold, stepping closer into the light. I wasn’t enjoying my life or my chosen career. Instead I had been working it, telling myself I must work harder so I could get where I need to be, and then I could relax and enjoy my life.

Blind ambition had taken over. I banished that little monster after surviving a heart attack in my mid-thirties. A little ambition, in check is typically good. This time around I was plain stupid. Literally, doing the same thing again and again expecting different results. This past year I’d be hard-pressed to prove this is not my typical MO.

During my year-end break I realized my main concerns were work and want. Although I celebrated Christmas Day with my household, thankful that hard times hadn’t robbed us of that joy, I was pensive, intense and remarkably not joyful.

My Ghost of Christmas Future appeared to me in the form of the “God-hat” I had tossed away long ago when I gave my life to Jesus. I realized I’d walled myself in and despite all my positive self-talk, laborious prayer rituals, and my enlightened perspective, I had become stale, dismal and worn.

At that point I put on the brakes. The next day as tornadoes swept past our neighborhood, I pulled some post ideas from my drafts folder, added a little bling, ran the proofreader, named the files with post dates and saved them as drafts to publish from my phone. And then I walked away from my desk for the year.

Josey coffee Annie SprattFast forward to the first work day in January. Within minutes I noticed my neck and shoulders immediately tighten with that familiar, old pressure to perform, produce, provide. Instead of rowing in my chair to loosen up, I walked away holding my hands skyward. I made a cup of chamomile, and then sat in my prayer closet. I hung out with God till we were good again.

Rather than diving into my projects, the Reader or my manuscript, I started up the old laptop I use for business records.

I created a workbook; month to month spreadsheets detailing my financial plan for the year. I scheduled out the birthdays I’d observe, travel allowances and holiday budgets. Then I compiled my tax paperwork. I allocated every available dollar, checked the super-coupon site, purged my coupon folders, and drafted a back up plan to cover any ‘what-ifs.’

Relieved but not entirely satisfied, I overhauled my digital files and reformatted my back up drive. When that was done I wrote a long letter to my brother and his fiancee. I gave myself permission to not work. I lived.

What’s unique about that first day of this new year is I felt fine taking my life at a my pace again. I liked the unfamiliar, but comfortable peace, knowing what I have to work with and what must wait for residual income – essentially anything but food and shelter. But as billions around the globe can attest, my circumstances could be far worse.

Instead of my daily dread, that nagging drive to produce a monumental, world-changing post and manuscript, tabled and annotated, by my self-imposed deadline, I coasted. Rather than cracking the whip, screaming for the muse, I snapped my fingers to Pandora Radio and cruised through the day. It felt great!

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The next morning I slid into my work-out garb, slammed down some nutrients, stretched and walked out the door. After a luxurious shower and prayer time I ate a legitimate breakfast, made a pot of tea and calmly walked to my clean, orderly desk. Yes, I pinched myself to be sure I was awake.

Instead of my work day starting at five, it was nearly nine a.m. and I wasn’t falling apart. I felt like the over comer I’d been most of my life. Blind ambition put to rest, I’m enjoying life with God in control again. As I watched the birds and the squirrels quarreling over territories, I listen for orders from my High Commander. Knowing they’ll come in the perfect time, I can relax and work on my manuscript – at my pace – in God’s time.

 

Just Be Held, Casting Crowns
YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIZitK6_IMQ

 

“So don’t worry about these things… your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT)

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Filed under A Door Ajar, Longreads

One Unforgettable Day

As the morning light crept across the floor I noticed black, wavy hair had already collected under the dining table. I took the Swiffer from the broom closet and wiped the floor from the front room carpet to the back door – again. As I tossed the sheet, fluffy with dog hair into the waste basket Hopi, our black, Golden-Aussie dog trotted into the room and stopped. She sensed my anxiety and studied me closely. 
 
I clicked my tongue and extended my hand toward her. She came near and sat beside me, leaning on me. I stroked her head as if doing so comforted her more than me. Hopi somehow knew what we all felt – something was not right. Nobody wanted to think about it. But we all felt it.
 
It was Tuesday, April 14, 2003. My second son deployed for Iraq on His grandpa’s birthday the end of February. By the second week of March, Nathan was able to send short emails every day or so. He phoned a couple of times, briefly reporting that he and his men were all good. But it had been almost two weeks since anyone heard from him.
 
Now, looking through the doorway to the computer monitor across the room, I saw the screensaver still undisturbed – no new email. Unable to sleep I’d gotten up and busied myself by cleaning the house hours before. Exhausted, but restless, I still needed to do something. I reluctantly said, “Walk?” Hopi stood, tail sweeping high and wide as she trotted across the room to take her leash in her mouth from the doorknob, carried it back to me and stood expectantly. Her eyes fixed on me, watching closely.
 
“Good morning.” Kerry called from the far side of the office.
 
“Hey, good morning.” I called back. 
 
The phone rang, startling us all. I spun on my heel, reaching for the handset on the table next to me, sucked in a deep breath and pressed the button. Hopi sat when she saw my shoulders droop slightly. Instead of the static-laced, overseas connection I’d hoped for, the recorded telemarketer squawked for a moment before I hung up. I heard Kerry sigh loudly as he hung up the handset in the office at the same time. Something had to give.
 
I took the leash from Hopi and she trotted before me a few feet toward the front door. As I passed the office doorway, Kerry leaned around his computer monitor, smiling at me – my sunshine. I paused hoping to not see any trace of concern which would increase mine. “Telemarketer” I reported already forgetting we’d both answered our handsets at the same time. We each considered something pleasant to say, but settled for silent smiles.
 
“We’re going to get some fresh air. You want to take a break?” I asked him.
 
“I tossed the ball for her when I got back from the depot. I want to try to finish this by eleven.” nodding to his screen while studying my face. He’d taken my fourth son Quinn to the train so I could stay by the phone. I nodded. Work was good and a healthy distraction. I had surrendered working on my manuscript for the more immediate gratification I get from cleaning.
 
“I need to walk” I reiterated.
 
He agreed, “It’ll do you good, Honey” still watching the doorway. We both sighed, waiting. I wondered if he too could practically see the apprehension in the air. With another sigh I started toward the door. Walking down the hall I lifted my coat from the hook, pulling it on. The newspaper clipping with the names of the troops already k.i.a., taped to the wall fluttered as we passed. The moments seemed longer, each step taking greater effort. At the door I pushed one hand through the sleeve, turned the doorknob with the other and then zipped the coat closed.
 
Stepping outside, Hopi right behind me, I stretched my arms up and then bent down to touch my shoes, amazed at the effort it took. Hopi sat waiting for me to click her leash onto her harness. It’s strange how I didn’t notice the harsh Chicago weather for the last week – it simply didn’t matter to me. Instead I imagined my son and his company finding relief from the average 80 degrees in Baghdad. Closing the door behind us, Hopi and I crossed the street to the park. 
 
As we walked the length of the block I envisioned Nathan and the company playing volleyball in the Iraqi sand, blowing off some steam. Then I realized they would be doing so in combat boots and battle dress uniforms. Scratch that thought. We were almost back where we’d started. I envied Hopi walking calmly, happily alongside me, her breathing slowing steadily.
 
“Hey!” I called, as though Kerry hadn’t heard us banging the storm door coming in. Anticipating I’d ask if there was any news, (like he wouldn’t have found me had there been), he called out, “Hi Babe.” And then, “Nothing yet.”
 
As if someone pulled my plug, my energy drained, exhaustion set in. The fact is, I hadn’t really slept other than brief cat naps for days. Before sunup I’d poured a cup of coffee, realized I’d already finished two, and then I poured it back into the pot. Feeling lost, I mechanically wiped the counters with a towel and then went to the table before I realized I had done that before sweeping. I reflected upon how the bursts of phone calls from friends at church and the rest of my family in other states kept me going like they hadn’t in years.
 
I sat down at the table. A moment later I rose, and stepped to my computer in the office again. Checking my email gave me no relief. I began to key whatever words came to mind: worry, fear, trepidation, war, danger, Nathan, please call or write. After a few more sentences that made no sense I took the keyboard from my lap and set it back on the desk. I stood, announcing more to the air than to Kerry that I was going downstairs. Kerry silently followed me with his eyes. He could see what I felt. There was nothing more to say. He nodded and went back to keying.
 
I started the washer and then realized there was nothing for me to put into it. I turned it off again and began washing the lid and the surfaces. While I wanted to think about times past, wiping grass and dirt from the top of the machine during little league seasons, I shook it off to keep my head in the present. This should not be so hard after raising four sons. But this was different from all his previous tours, even Bosnia-Herzegovina. Everything changed on September 11, 2001.
 
I walked back up the stairs, instantly recognizing the pronounced difference in the atmosphere. Kerry had stopped and stood in the doorway on his way out of the office. “She is right here” he said into the phone. Locking his eyes with mine, assuring me he was not moving, he handed the phone to me. Confused that I hadn’t heard it ring, something else struck a very flat, discomforting chord in me. I thought I felt a shock race from my hand to my feet and back as I raised the phone to my ear. 
 
 
“Hey Mom.” It is Nathan’s weary, reserved voice. But he doesn’t say Ma’am, as he has for some 15 years. The suppressed dread that had been stagnating for days, exploded.
I struggle to speak, “Oh, Nate…” 
“Listen Mom. I’m okay…” time slows. I recognize his voice is controlled – eerily, too controlled. I feel it  – I know what is coming. 
“Uh… I took a hit, Mom…” Again, not Ma’am.
I gasp, but no air flowed in. I glance up to see Kerry hiding his face behind his hands, his chest wretches. I must keep my focus on Nathan. I manage a quick breath.
“You are going to be alright, Natty…” I instinctively use the pet name I called him as a toddler that comforted him when he was sick or sad.
“I am, Mom.” The last time I heard fear in that voice was long ago, but louder than his voice, it screamed at me, mocked me now. I feel like someone shoved a wide blade in my diaphragm. I do not imagine fear in my son’s voice. Talking to his mom, it is real. The gravity sinks in, pushing that blade deeper. I pull myself tight, every muscle hard. Deep inside I find words, 
“I’m right here Natty. I’m not going anywhere. You can tell me. It’s okay.” I want to breathe, but I can’t risk drowning out his voice. He sounds strangely apologetic, 
“I’m gonna be okay, but I’m pretty messed up right now.”
He stammered slightly, “I – uh, Ma’am, my leg’s in a few pieces, an’ my boots are tore up…” 
This is not his usual precise speech, his carefully chosen words. This casual, slurred language coming from my uber-disciplined soldier son is dispersing my last shred of hope. This nightmare is real. I silently bare down again and shove,
“It’s okay, Natty. You’re going to be just fine. I know it. God’s not done with you yet.”
“Uh, roger that, Ma’am,” his familiar tone returns. He continues, “I was in full body armor, so I was pretty much covered, I’m not sure about my junk…” I heard someone very close to his head say, “The family is secure, Sarge. There are a couple of pieces of shrapnel in your glutes. Repeat, Sarge, the family is secure.” 
I hear Nathan acknowledge the corpsman, and goes on telling me, 
“…but shrapnel tore through my other hand. This awesome corpsman offered me his phone so I called you. Uh. I’m gonna be okay Ma’am.”
“I know you are, Son. Where are you now?” 
I am not surprised to hear him reply immediately, “Ma’am, I’m in a field hospital not far from Baghdad on Highway 8. They’re going to transport me to Landstuhl pretty quick here. And hey Ma’am…” 
I can hear a corpsman assuring him. I feel Kerry’s hands gently rest on my shoulders, now aware he is praying.
“Nate, good men have you now and I won’t stop praying until I can kiss your face.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. I know you will and I appreciate… Hey Mom, I’m real good an’ uh, I love you Mom.”
“I love you Natty. I always will.” I could hear him breathe calmly, deeply. I said softly, “I will see you real soon.”
He quietly agreed, “Oh, yes Ma’am.”
And now I hear nothing.
My instincts had been spot-on again. I stand frozen. Silent. Time stops. I do not feel. I do not think. I can not allow myself to feel.

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