A Prayer

Dear Lord, tonight I feel weak and I ask for Your help
-that I may be a beacon and not a burden
-to be accepting and not controlling
-to be patient, kind, and forgiving
-to remember the times that You have forgiven me
-to be thankful and joyous instead of anxious and regretful
-to listen with my ears and with my heart; when I speak, to ask You for the right words to say
-to carry Your Light which chases away all darkness
-and to love, no matter what, no matter when.
Thank You for all that You have given me. You have always been in my life, even during the times I tried to push You away. Please continue to watch over my family.
In Jesus’ name I pray. I love You,

Stuff Happens- A Regrettably True Story

In an effort to cut down on colorful language and not embarrass my parents (too much), I’ll be making a few word substitutions.
“Come help me! The toilet exploded!”
Those were my first words said to my son a few mornings ago. I should have known something was a bit off when I put a load of laundry in the washer and then heard a gurgling noise coming from the kitchen sink. We live in an old house and according to my neighbors, the folks who lived here before had an interesting way of performing home repairs.
As I rinsed a glass, I wondered why the water wasn’t getting very hot. When the loud gushing sounds reached my ears, I raced to the bathroom to find a volcano was erupting and hot, steaming, brown lava was everywhere. It coursed down the sides of the bowl, six or more inches up over the seat and with the speed and volume of the water at Niagara Falls… so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration… but maybe not.
“What’s going on?” my son asked as he came to join me in the bathroom. “Ohhhh…”
“The sewer line backed up and exploded. Inside. Grab some towels, there’s wit and miss everywhere!” I reached down to turn off the water- that didn’t help. Plunging only made it worse. Never try to plunge if the wit in the sewer pipes is going the wrong way.
“That’s old wit! Ugh, I’m gonna be sick! There’s wit from the whole neighborhood in here!” He did manage to find every towel we own and we worked as a team to at least cover the wit.
“Old wit, new wit, our wit, their wit- it doesn’t matter! We’ve got to get rid of ALL the wit!” Oh, what a twisted Dr Seuss rhyme.
“Mom, it’s all the way up to your ankles!” And off he went… heaving. Not everyone has a nurse’s stomach.
Mount Vesuvius finally stilled, leaving only steam escaping from its base. At least I knew where all the hot water had gone. The supply of towels was extinguished long before all the wit and miss had been cleaned, so I reluctantly started the washer up again, fearful of having the house fill with another explosion of wit. Once the towels were in the dryer, I had to get some bleach.
One of my neighbors was outside, so we chatted for a bit. I told her what had happened while she was getting some things from her boyfriend’s truck. She held one of his work boots, and then said, “Ewww, I wonder if he stepped in something… it smells like wit!”
“No, Cynthia. That would be me. I’m witty.”
“Oh!” Then quieter and a little sadly, “Oh… Sorry.”
Well, hoarding has come in handy; I had about ten of those cute little pocket-sized anti-bacterial thingies from Bath and Body Works. After pouring them all on my jeans, then running a little through my hair, there was a lovely combination of French Vanilla, Soothing Pear, Luscious Lavender, Citrus Peach, Christmas Holly, Merry Mistletoe, and Winter White going on to titillate the senses- what kind of scent is Winter White anyway and does mistletoe really smell like cinnamon?
Judging by the looks received from fellow Wal-Mart shoppers, not everyone’s senses were happy and there must have been a lingering cloud of wit surrounding me. Ah, so much for not embarrassing my parents with this story. However, I’ve never experienced shorter lines or quicker service while shopping! The lady in front of me at the checkout lane unloaded her cart at break-neck speed, no one got behind me, and the cashier’s hands moved so fast they were a blur.
Halfway through the decontamination process and while I was regretting not owning a Hazmat suit (you can find them on Amazon and the customer reviews are pretty entertaining), my sister Mary phoned to help me keep a sense of humor. We were soon laughing hysterically- me aided by the bleach-fumes high and her by the mental picture conjured from the stinky story:
Mary (her voice hitching through the laughter): “So it wasn’t just plain wit, but steaming wit? That really is a big hot mess!”
Me: “Yep, we are full of wit over here.”
Mary (so sincere)” Oh sweetie… I wish I was there to help you. Kind of.”
Me: “Thanks honey and I genuinely kind of appreciate that.”
Like a bad dream, it’s now all over- except for hoping to become best friends with the new plumber. Into everyone’s lives a little wit must fall. Keeping it in perspective, there really are worse things, this certainly brings new literal meaning to having a witty day, and if it makes my sister laugh then it’s all worthwhile. Kind of.

Put Me In Coach- For Beth

Those who impact others the most do so naturally with their souls; it is part of their being and it is beautiful.
This weekend was a big one- the opening weekend of softball season with my niece in her first position as head coach of a university’s softball team. All of the family is so excited for and proud of her and we loved being able to gather together in her honor. As an athlete and a coach, her accomplishments are impressive; even more impressive is her character and her integrity. As a very young girl, Beth worked hard to become the best she could be at everything she did and she succeeded. She did so quietly and humbly. As a young woman, she gives all of herself to help others become their best. She doesn’t take the credit for it- it’s just what she does.
Before the last game, her parents and I got to spend a little time with Beth who spoke about her most improved player, telling us, “She came from a town where no one expected her to be anything good, so she expected not to be anything good. She’s made such a turn-around.”
Listening to her gave me chills and I wanted to shout, “It’s because of YOU, Beth! Don’t you know? YOU are changing this girl’s life! I wish you were my coach!” But I didn’t. I listened. Her parents didn’t have to say it. They know.
The girls played hard but the score wasn’t in their favor this time. It’s early in the season- just the beginning- but it’s hard to find the right words to say to a disappointed coach after a loss. The team is already winning the big game. When I saw Beth afterwards to say goodbye, she said, “I’m sorry…” There was nothing I could do or say to help her feel better- just hug her and tell her, “Love you, baby.” I hope she felt what was in my heart: Sweet girl… beautiful lady…strong woman…you are affecting so many young lives and the world is a better place with you in it… But there’s a time for words and there’s a time when words need to be left unspoken.

When You Think Your Bike Is Your Best Friend

Having strong ‘loner’ tendencies, it’s no big surprise that I was drawn to cycling; I didn’t realize just how consuming my love affair with my bike had become until last night when I attempted to recount the details of the most recent ride to my son.
Me: “…so we were riding along Jefferson Highway and the rain was coming down in sheets…”
Him (trying not to laugh): “Mmmhmm…”
Me (becoming more passionate and slightly louder): “All three lanes had traffic, so we had to ride through the standing water on the right side of the road….”
Him (shoulders beginning to shake and eyes watering from trying to suppress the laughter):”Uh-huh…”
Me (louder still and very serious): “Suddenly our tires hit something slick-“
He started laughing out loud, incapable of holding it in any longer.
Me:”…and then we started skidding into the street… Just what the hell is so funny??”
Him (tears running down his face):”Mom! Who is ‘we?’ You and the bike?”
Me:”Oh.”
We’re both still smiling about that. By both, I mean me and my son. Not me and the bike!

To Our Patients and Their Families- From a Transplant Nurse

We are often humbled by the grace and courage you display. We remember your words many years later as you affect us so deeply and we are honored that you allow us into your lives at the most intimate times. Because of you, we love harder, smile wider, and appreciate the little/big things in life that we used to take for granted. Thank you for that gift. You are our greatest teachers.
We don’t want you to be in pain and we feel frustrated when we can’t make it better.
When we have been off for a few days, then return to work and find out you were discharged home, it makes us smile and we wish we had been there to say goodbye.
We get excited when we see your labs before we enter your room knowing that ‘new’ kidney is working well and are eager to share that news with you. We also dread entering your room when your labs indicate no signs of improvement knowing we will see your disappointment.
Sometimes we think about you when we get home, wondering if you are doing better, and cannot help calling to check on you. Sometimes, too, we try not to think of you as we are reminded of our own mortality and that frightens us.
We are moved when we hear you speak with sincere gratitude about your donor and the donor’s family. We want to hear about how transplant will change your life and what you are looking forward to the most- walking your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, going shopping with your friends without having to carry an oxygen tank, looking into your newborn grandchild’s eyes and feeling him grasp your finger with his tiny hand for the first time.
We love having you come back later to visit and giving us the opportunity to see you feeling well and enjoying life. You give us hope and that hope inspires our care of future patients.

My Sister’s Mother- for Miss Jody

Thirty five years ago, my mother accepted the marriage proposal made by my step-dad; it was her best decision of my life. At the time our families merged, I was 13 and my step-father’s four children were all young adults starting to carve their own paths. I’ve never asked any of them how they felt when their dad remarried; if there was pain over the breakup of their own parents’ marriage, and it’s certain there was, they were too gracious to show it. When I think of the many lives they have impacted- lives brought forth, lives nurtured, lives saved- I become overwhelmed, but those are stories for other days. This one is about their Mom.

I wish I remembered where we were the first time I met Miss Jody- it must have been someone’s birthday, or a holiday… what I do remember most is the way I felt before and after. I wonder what she’s like. It’s going to be weird meeting her. What if I don’t like her? And the last question, which was the only prophetic one- What if I do?

She hugged me when we met and got me past my shyness by asking about school… and horses; like a lot of young teen-aged girls, my passion then was horses. Over the past almost twenty years, I’ve watched this beautiful lady do the same thing with my own son at family gatherings.

Riding home in the back of my parents’ car that night, there were more thoughts that couldn’t be said out loud. She’s really nice. Did it feel strange to her being around my mother? I like her. Am I disloyal to Mom because I like her?

Everyone who knows Miss Jody can attest to her sweet, kind spirit. She didn’t have to accept me. She didn’t have to accept my son. She’s done way more than that… she has loved us, truly loved us- openly, genuinely, completely, and unconditionally. I always look forward to seeing her.

At my sister’s birthday lunch this past Sunday, I got a few minutes alone with her mother. As we talked, I couldn’t help blurting out, “Miss Jody, is it ok that I think of you as my step-mom?” The thought had been in my mind for several days and just had to come out- I struggle constantly between being awkwardly quiet at times and a blurter at others. “Oh, darlin’, of course! Of course it is!” was her sweet reply. She hugged me and told me she loved me as she pushed away strands of hair that had fallen into my eyes with her gentle fingers. I love it and it makes me smile when she does things like that- it’s her nurturing way. I love you too, Miss Jody.

Giving Thanks

There are many great memories of Thanksgivings past. For me, this one was the best ever, being spent with cherished family and friends who are family too. Gone at last were the selfish and self-imposed feelings of guilt and dark regret, leaving so much more room for light, love, happiness, joy, and gratitude. The beginning of this year was a scary time for our family as my brother Hank was really ill; his recovery has made the closing of this same year that much sweeter.

Sitting around the fire pit outside with everyone after our huge feast, we shared wine, stories, and lots of laughs. Being with nieces and nephews who are all grown now, learning more about them through their conversations with us and each other, hearing their laughter, and seeing the closeness they share was priceless. My niece Beth entertained the group both with her humor and her guitar, indulging all of us with our requests, leading us in sing-alongs, and best of all, occasionally going into a solo which allowed us to hear her beautiful voice- I don’t think she knows how good she is. Cliff and his sweet wife, Kara, radiate love and are always sure to include everyone in conversations- I love that about them. Oliver exudes warmth and makes everyone feel special; he has a quietly giving nature. Katie lights us up with her laughter and brings to the group her optimistic, positive energy.

As my sister-in-law, Claudia, periodically left her chair for only a moment at a time- we don’t know how she does this, but she takes photos in pure stealth-like fashion without us realizing she’s doing it; we only know later when we see the beautiful images of the ones we love, their personalities captured perfectly- I couldn’t help thinking about when these young adults were little… Beth as a toddler, walking around at a festival in Gulf Shores, a balloon tied to her wrist, a precious grin on her beautiful face, and arms outstretched to everyone… Oliver at the age of one, giving gentle pats on the back to whoever held him in their arms; God gave him the Spirit of a Comforter very early in life and he continues to share that gift with all of us…. Cliff when he was eight, meeting my two-week old son for the first time- such a kind soul then and now, he made sure to say goodbye to the baby before he returned home with his parents… Katie as a toddler too, standing on her daddy’s shoes, holding his hands, and ‘dancing’ at my wedding reception; she is the kind of young woman who makes others happier just because they are in her presence. It was with Divine timing that my own grown son phoned during these reflections. It was the first Thanksgiving I’ve been apart from him, and his phone call made it seem that he was with us all.

When it came time to leave, Hank said he’d walk me out (he’s always so polite) and the following conversation took place, making me smile widely as I type this:

Me: “You don’t have to do that.”

Hank: “I want to.” That’s just how he is, and we love him for it.

Me: “Ok.”

We stopped by the kitchen, and he insisted on carrying the casserole dish I’d brought. As we got closer to my car, walking out with my sister Mary and her husband, Mark, Hank asked, “Are you ok? You seem ok, but are you really ok?”

Me (perplexed at first, thinking physically? Mentally?- that’s sometimes up for debate! Emotionally?): “Ohhhh! You mean to drive?” (DUH!)

Hank: “Yes. Are you ok to drive?”

Me: “Oh yeah, I’m fine! I let people know if I’m impaired, huh Mark?”

Mark (my very patient brother-in-law): “She’d let you know.”

Me, to Hank:” I got really drunk Easter. Mark and Mary drove me home.” A little side-note here, Mark asked me the very same question Hank was asking now after the family Easter celebration at their home, to which my obnoxiously loud reply was, “Nope! Not even a little bit!” Yes, my parents were still waiting up for me that night when Mary and Mark drove me home, and yes, even though I’m in my 40’s, I felt like I was back in high school all over again…

Mark: “We didn’t mind.” So sweet.

As we reached the car, Hank asked me one more time gently and quietly, “Are you sure you’re ok? You’d tell me if you weren’t, right? Don’t lie to me.”

I really wouldn’t lie to him. There was only that one time, and that was over three decades ago! (https://awhitlow2.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/a-hank-story/)

Me: “I’m ok, I promise.”

Hank (seeming convinced): “Ok.”

Me: “I love you.”

Hank: “I love you too.”

Me: “I’m gonna cry now.”

Hank: “That’s ok.”

When I got in the car, the tears made it hard to see him standing behind, giving directions on how to back out of a tricky spot. It’s one of the Hank-like ways he shows us his love, and it feels so unimaginably good to have that.

Those Awkward Family Moments

Last night while I was in the kitchen, I heard Matthew McConaughey’s voice coming from the TV in the living room. Looking up at my nineteen year old son sitting on the couch, I asked him incredulously, “Are you watching ‘Magic Mike’?!”

He looked up with shameful disdain. “Yep. There’s nothing else on. So I’m just sitting here. Watching ‘Magic Mike’.” He shook his head pitifully as he glanced back down at the television.

“Oh!” I replied enthusiastically, “I’ll come watch it with you!”

The horrified panic that washed over his face was comical. As I walked over to the couch and began to sit next to him, he pleaded, “No, no, no! Mom! Don’t do it!” I nearly collapsed from laughing so hard.

“Mom!” the poor boy exclaimed. “You just made this, like, two hundred times more awkward. This is so humiliating.”

“I know, sweetie,” I replied as he put his head in his hands. “You’ll be ok.”

Memories- for John

For my cousin who is bravely battling cancer. As I type this, I am crying. Life is so precious and we need to remember to tell those we love that we love them. There may not be a next time.

What I love about John:
Riding in the back of his parents’ old station wagon with the seats folded up, way before the era of seatbelts and car seats. We would slide around like crazy with every wild turn his dad made until one of us (me) would get stuck between the seats and start crying. He never made fun of me for it, no matter how big a baby I was.

He always shared his toys, and we would play with Lincoln logs, legos, pick- up sticks, tinker toys, and tiddly-winks for hours.
Going to the ballpark together to watch Jay, playing in the red dirt, and eating park food until we both got stomach aches.

Sparklers every Christmas Eve at Aunt Evonne’s and Uncle Charlie’s, and playing with the old spinning wheel.

Whenever his Mom baked a cake, she would make a line with a spatula down the middle of the bowl for us to lick the batter. John never put up a fuss that I always picked the biggest “half.”

Playing in the hay loft at Grandpa’s. John pushed all of us around on the cart so fast we felt like we were flying, occasionally crashing into the hay bales.

Going on horse rides, three to a saddle.

Eating dinner at his parents’ home when we were young. We’d sit on the bench together and manage to inhale the food quickly so that we could slide down, crawl under the table, and rush outside to play.

The tire swing.

He was always barefoot when he was little.

Sliding down a big grass hill in cardboard boxes.

We drove together very late one night on an eight hour trip, both really tired. He stayed awake with me while I drove the first part; when he took over, I fell asleep almost instantly leaving him to fight fatigue alone and take us safely home. He didn’t mind.

When his Mom had surgery and while I was engaged to my future ex-husband whom the family hadn’t yet met, John and I were in the waiting room together, both strung out and worried. He nudged me when we saw a fellow with a really bad toupee. I gave him a serious look, and said that the man’s hair was just like my fiancé’s. The horrified look on John’s face was priceless! He was absolutely speechless (which almost never happens)- until I started laughing. I can still picture his expression!

When I divorced, John told me “I want you to be happy, the guy’s a douche, and you can do a lot better.” All our lives, he’s always had my back.

Trivial Pursuit one Thanksgiving night at his Mom’s house.

Visiting with John and Jay at Jay’s house, drinking beer, and laughing so hard I was afraid I’d pee on myself. Those two always make me laugh.

His wonderful sense of humor and facial expressions- just one look can crack me up.

When John met my son, he made Austin feel like he’s known him his whole life. John has that way of making people so comfortable. I love it that he never meets a stranger.

Hearing John talk about how much he loves his wife and daughter, and knowing that he is loved.

Being greeted with “Hey pretty lady,” every time we talk in person or on the phone.

Getting to tell him I love him and hearing those precious words in return.

What You Know

Fear grabbed her heart as tightly and quickly as the paws of a bear when it has finally caught its prey. Her chest hurt while her pulse raced and she struggled to catch her breath, knowing each one might be the last she took in this world. A cold sweat claimed her skin as its own and she struggled against the urge to scream. Thoughts of regret raced through her mind as she wished she had more time to make things right.
Sounds like the middle of a B-rated horror movie, but no. This was the trip to the grocery store yesterday. Instead of occurring in some dark wooded area with the audible heavy footsteps of a rapidly approaching, crazed, one-eyed killer with a chainsaw, this little pathetic scene took place in the produce section on an ordinary Tuesday. Like mushrooms in a garden after heavy rains, my ugly anxiety appears suddenly, without warning, and in the oddest and most mundane places.
As I forced myself to continue the shopping (mainly since I’d run out of cat food and my cat, who is temperamental under the best circumstances, gets really aggressive when he even thinks he is hungry), the anxiety continued. I kept trying to talk myself down- not aloud, just in my head, since I already felt crazy enough at the time- saying “Don’t be stupid, get a grip, you’re ridiculous,” and whatever other ‘soothing’ bits of wisdom I could drum up. Yes, simultaneously I could hear Dr. Phil in my head too, asking, “How’s that working for ya?” Obviously, not too freakin’ well, Dr. Phil, but in the midst of a full-blown panic attack, it’s a bit difficult to change strategies! It didn’t help that there were only two checkout lanes open after I’d somehow managed to get everything on my list (thank goodness for lists!)… or that the two lanes open were both for 20 items or less… or that there was an obnoxious woman with a cell phone glued to her ear, loudly arguing over each item the cashier scanned and demanding to see the manager once every minute when the item didn’t ring up ‘on sale’ despite the fact she had last week’s circular in her hand. I made it home, finally, without the world ending, where the panic attack at last stopped, the chest pain subsided, and my breathing returned to normal.
Tips for writers often including writing about what you know. Anxiety is what I know. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a real phenomenon that affects some of us. There are well-intentioned people who try to help by saying, “Calm down. Don’t be anxious.” We would if we were able. It’s more helpful just to be with the person. Sometimes these crazy attacks just need to run their course.