Invisibility

The hardship I am most thankful for is the accident that changed my life in 2011. I know that probably seems a little predictable for me to choose that night when discussing hardships, but I’m not thankful for the reasons you might expect.

Sure, I learned that life can change in an instant. I learned just how precious and fleeting life can really be, and I learned how very important it is to always say “I love you” because you may never get another chance. I’m so thankful for the change in perspective I got that night. I mean, it should have been a ten-minute drive to the church and back. I’d done it every Tuesday night for years, and there was no reason to expect that this particular Tuesday night was going to be any different.

I’m not thankful for the four and a half-years of constant pain, or the downward spiral of job loss, divorce, depression, eviction, betrayal, and . . . where was I going with this?

Right. Being thankful for hardship.

I learned that life is too short to keep pushing my dreams to the back burner with the excuse that there will be time later. No, there may not be time later. Time is finite, and life can end with something as simple as driving past a maple tree in a thunderstorm.

If I hadn’t broken my neck that night, I don’t know if I ever would have gotten around to writing anything. My little romance novels may never sell well or make any kind of bestseller list, but they mean the world to me because they represent my lifelong dream of writing. I did it. I made it come true, something I may never have accomplished if not for life hitting me upside the head with a tree.

I wish life had been a bit more subtle, but it is what it is.

Still, none of this is what makes me so very thankful for everything that happened that night. That part is a little harder to explain.

Sometimes in life, I feel invisible. I’ve always been sort of average. I’m the kind of person who tends to blend in with the wallpaper if I’m not careful. In high school, I once missed two weeks of school and discovered that not one of my teachers had even marked me absent. No one noticed that I wasn’t there.

I’ve never felt important. Never been elected into office, never been anyone’s boss, never been much of a leader. Someone’s mom, someone’s wife, someone’s sister, but never the Someone  that is anyone else’s point of reference.

The night of my accident, I saw the look on the fire chief’s face when he recognized me. I watched the color drain out of his face and I heard the emotion in his voice when he kept saying, “Oh, no. Oh, no, no.” I saw the way no one else would look me in the eye.

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At the emergency room, it took a while for the x-rays and CT scan to show that I was beyond anything they could do for me at our little hospital. As they were wheeling me back out to the ambulance, I remember someone saying that there were some people in the hallway who wanted to see me.

I couldn’t see much because I was immobilized by the C-collar and backboard, but I remember faces. Lots of faces, leaning over to speak to me. Some were crying; one of my husband’s friends leaned over to kiss my cheek and I was surprised to feel his tears against my skin.

I thought at first that one of the firefighters had been injured as well. I figured the crowd in the hallway was there for him, and I panicked until my husband assured me that no, there were all there for me.

It’s been four and a half years, and I’ve never forgotten the way I felt at that moment when I realized they were there for me.

Me. Not someone’s wife, someone’s mom, someone’s sister. Me.

In the days and weeks that followed, I was amazed by the flood of cards and phone calls, of people stopping by to bring food and Diet Coke, or just to visit. People who came to clean my refrigerator or drive my silly butt to the Sav-A-Lot because I was going stir-crazy at home with nothing but my neck brace and a whole  lot of self-pity.

It’s been four and a half years now. I have a lot of bad days, especially since I seem to be going through a pretty rocky stretch of bad luck with things like cars, housing, and money. But at the end of the day, no matter how bad it’s been, I can look back on that moment and draw strength from it.

You see, that was the moment I understood that I matter. Sort of my own personal “George Bailey” moment, like in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, when George realizes that he’s really had an impact on the people around him.

I’m thankful for the accident because it showed me that I  am loved. That I matter.  That I’m not invisible.

 

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “The hardship I’m most thankful for…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, Reta of  Calculated Chaos and Vidya of Collecting Smiles

 

 

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The Language of Food

Whenever my family hosted a get-together and potluck, I was always told to bring the paper plates or cups.  Maybe the drinks.  But under no circumstances was I ever allowed to actually cook anything for my family. I don’t know if it was because I was the last one to remain single and they assumed I didn’t know how to cook or if they took exception to my messy kitchen and assumed my food would kill them.

They were probably right on both counts.

Then I got married to a man whose mother is one of God’s greatest gifts to the culinary arts.  This woman is incapable of making anything that tastes bad.  When she cooks, something as simple as toast can bring on moans of ecstasy; even the forks taste good at her house.

When I married her son, she gave me a box of hand-written recipe cards with all of the family recipes.  And by “family recipes,” I mean recipes from her mother, grandmother, sisters and aunts – people who create the same kind of magic in the kitchen.  It took me a few years to realize what a treasure that little box was, but it eventually became one of my most valued possessions.  In fact, during the divorce, my ex-husband and I argued more over custody of that box than custody of our children.

She gave me everything I needed to become a better cook.  Not just the recipes, but a 24-hour helpline when I screwed up.  Learning to cook with her family was like being admitted to a secret society.  Giving me that little box was her way of saying “Welcome to the family.”

Nobody leaves her house hungry.  Ever.  Not under any circumstances.  It would be a crime against nature to walk away from such divine fare with an empty belly.  But in her family, food is about more than filling one’s belly.  It’s a message.  Cookies can say everything from  “thank you for mowing my lawn” to “I want to remind you that I love you.”  A German chocolate cake on my birthday says “I love you enough to remember that this is your favorite.”   A big pan of chicken and dumplings says “I know you are hurting and I don’t know how to make it all better.”   Even a simple crock pot full of pulled pork says “I want my family to get together so I can see you all!”

A handful of freshly-written recipe cards a few weeks ago meant “I still love you.”

I used her dessert recipes more than any others.  Grandma Tice’s Sugar Cookies.  Aunt Neva’s Peanut Butter Cookies.  Quagmire Bars.  Grandma Goodwin’s Applesauce Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal No-Bakes.

 

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The No-Bakes became my specialty during the summer of 2011, when I was pretty well immobilized in a brace after breaking my neck in a car accident.   I couldn’t do anything by myself, but the one thing I truly missed was being able to bake goodies for my family.  I couldn’t bend over the oven or lift the cookie sheets, so my family ended up eating store-bought cookies.

Which is simply not done around here, so I became the queen of the peanut-butter no-bakes.  Batch after batch after batch.  I made them for my family.  I made them as thank-you gifts for the people who helped us after the accident.  I made them at least once a week, sometimes more.  And a strange thing happened.

People started requesting my no-bakes.  I don’t know why.  No-bake cookies are no-bake cookies.  A simple recipe, easy to duplicate.  And yet somehow, mine earn praise when I least expect it.  And I don’t know why.

I haven’t tampered with my mother-in-law’s recipe.  Good Lord, that would be like trying to edit “Huck Finn” or improve upon the Mona Lisa.  No, one does not tweak perfection.

  • When a local boy graduated from high school and went on a Mission trip with the church, he told everyone all he wanted was one batch of my cookies to take with him.
  • When a friend sponsored a blood drive in honor of her late father, she asked if I would provide a batch of no-bakes for the event.
  • When I asked a new friend if she needed anything for her daughter’s graduation party, she shot me a sideways look and muttered, “I’ve heard about your famous no-bake cookies. . . ?”
  • When parents are asked to bring a dish to pass at different events, I am rarely given a chance to choose what to bring. It’s a given that I will bring my no-bakes.

It took a lot of years and a lot of baking, but I am finally starting to understand my in-laws’ trick of speaking with food.  When I make a batch of my no-bakes, I am saying “Thank you for thinking I’m a good cook” or “I’m so flattered that you like these!”  I’m saying “I’m thrilled to be a part of your special event.”  I’m saying “You are special to me, and I want to do something special for you.”

When people ask for my cookies, they sometimes act as though they are worried about imposing on me.  They offer to buy the ingredients or pay for the cookies, but they don’t realize that they are speaking to me in the language of food as well.  Every request for my cookies is someone saying “I care about you and want to make you part of this event” or “I value our friendship and feel safe asking you for this.”  And as petty as it may seem, I also hear “You don’t have to bring the cups and plates any more.  I trust your cooking.  You’re as good as the rest of us.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a T-ball awards party this afternoon, and I have cookies to make.

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Goodwin Family Peaut Butter Oatmeal No-Bakes

  • 1/2 butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 3 Cups oatmeal
  • 1 Cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Heat butter, milk and sugar over medium heat until it reaches a full rolling boil.  Let it boil for 90 seconds. Less time leaves them gooey, more will make them crumbly.

Remove from heat.  Stir in oatmeal until thoroughly mixed.  Add peanut butter and vanilla.  Mix well, and drop spoonfulls on waxed paper.

Here are my “tricks” when it comes to these cookies:  Always use cheap peanut butter (I don’t know why, but that’s what MIL says, and I always obey).  Use butter, not margarine. Last but not least, if you make a double batch, use the whole 18 oz jar.  Trust me on this one.

Kristy

The-Pink-Ribbon-breast-cancer-awareness-372389_792_1056This one’s gonna hurt.

I wasn’t sure if I should write it or not, wondered if I had the right to put it into words and post it for the world to see.

You see, I didn’t know Kristy very well.  She wasn’t my best friend, although I would have been honored to have her call me that. But she was my friend, and I miss her; just knowing her at all was enough to make me want to be a better person.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she didn’t try to hide it.  But she didn’t milk the drama of the situation, either, as I probably would have done in her place.  She faced it with an honesty and bravery that still take my breath away.

Kristy wore fancy scarves and cute little hats that did more to emphasize her baldness than camouflage it.  When her dark, curly hair came back in stark white, she never tried to color it.  No, she got it cut into a sassy style that played up her big eyes and magnificent smile, and she wore those gorgeous white curls with pride.  She worked at a local bank, where everyone could see her and see every sign of her war against cancer, and she never attempted to hide her battle scars.

She was embarrassed when her friends held fundraisers in her honor.  Can drives, spaghetti dinners,  silent auctions.  It’s a small town, and it sometimes seemed as though everyone in town was a friend rather than a neighbor.   They donated auction items and bought bracelets with her name on them and took dinners to her family during her hospitalizations.

She had remissions and recurrences, but that smile never dimmed.  I’m sure she must have had bad days, but we never saw them.  She didn’t shy away from the camera during her illness; there are countless pictures of Kristy with her friends and family during good times and bad, with or without hair.

But always smiling.  Always.

When I was house-bound and whiny after my car accident, Kristy always found the time to send me little messages on Facebook.  Little one-liners and words of hope that always seemed to hit me just exactly when I needed them the most.  She wasn’t the only one looking out for me, but it still amazes me that she took the time to lift my spirits when her own battle was so much more desperate than mine.

A few months ago, Angelina  Jolie was in the news for her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.  She was praised for her bravery.    I’m not denying that it took courage for her to make that decision.  I’m sure her surgeries were painful and her recovery difficult.

But Ms. Jolie chose to undergo the procedure.   She said she did it so she could be around for her children, but she never had to worry about going to work in pain just to keep food on the table for those kids.  She didn’t have to worry about meeting co-pays and fighting with insurance companies.  She didn’t have to swallow her pride and accept charity from friends and neighbors.

Angelina Jolie had the luxury of keeping her struggles private until after the fact.  She had plastic surgeons and make-up artists and nannies to make sure that she was always stunning and well-rested, no matter what.

Kristy had no such luxury.  She sandwiched her chemotherapy in between her work days, and she went to her job with her jaunty caps and pale skin.  She went to school events and showed up at our small-town festivals with a kind of quiet grace and dignity that puts Angelina Jolie’s press conferences and self-serving public announcements to shame.

I wanted to write about breast cancer today.  I wanted to make a list of all of the women I have known who have fought against it, and maybe even turn this post into a statement about the need for more research or funding.

But Kristy was more than her breast cancer.  She was a mom, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a neighbor.  A woman.   A kind, funny, thoughtful, brave woman who made the world a better place during her short life.

I want to remember her and honor her, but also thank her for showing the rest of us what real bravery is.  Not the Hollywood/Angelina Jolie version of bravery, but the real thing.

I thought I was writing this for Kristy, but I was wrong.  It’s for all of the women who miss her every day, and always will.  It’s for Anne, Jordann, Joelle, DeAnn, Missy, and so many others.

Thank you, Kristy, for touching our lives.

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http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/daily-prompt-thanks/.

Two

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This is what’s left of the tree that fell on me in my van two years ago today.

The flowers are the daylilies my daughter used to decorate the trunk for the little prayer service we held at the spot one year ago today.

It was once a beautiful old maple, more than four feet in diameter at the point that landed on me.   The tree that stood beside it also fell in the big storm last week, and although that one had the decency to fall away from traffic, it still shook me up to see it lying there.  As my friend put it, “Your sister-tree fell last night!”

It’s been a long two years.  I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I thought, that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of good people, and that I can survive just about anything as long as I keep my sense of humor intact.

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I wanted to write something moving and deeply meaningful today.  I found a bunch of gory, shocking pictures that I was going to include with my post, and I tried to think of the right spin to put on the story.  I planned on using real names and really digging into every tiny detail of that night.

And then I saw my daughter’s Facebook post today:

On this day 2 years ago, my entire family’s life changed. June 21, 2011 is a date that will always be sketched into our memories, but now is a time to let go. Now is a time to reflect on the positive, rather than dwell on the negative of this day. For everything that happens, there is a reason and God would never give us anything that we couldn’t handle. If anything, we are stronger now in both life and our faith and I am thankful for that. I love my family, and although sometimes we fight and have disagreements, I couldn’t imagine my life any different.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

So let me close here with a couple of pictures and a word of thanks to all of the people who saved my life that night, and to the people who have saved my sanity in the two years since.  They brought food and Diet Coke, cleaned my kitchen, drove my sorry butt to appointments and just listened to me piss and moan on the bad days.  Most of all, they reminded me of the strength in friendship and laughter.

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