Showing posts with label friendship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label friendship. Show all posts

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Girls Night Out

I have been looking forward to Friday all week.  Last night was Girl's Night Out.  I haven't had one in a while and this week, in particular, I needed a break from the stresses of daily life and time away with friends.  It was so nice, reconnecting with old friends and getting to know new ones better.

This was a point of contention between Steve and I when we were first married, believe it or not.  I would want to go out with a friend for a coffee or a night out, no let me rephrase that, I needed to go out with friends.  Steve didn't get it.  Why did I need to go out with my friends when I had him?  Wasn't he enough?  Isn't that cute.

He just did not have that innate need to bond with other guys.  When I would get home, after a coffee or dinner out, he would pepper me with questions, "What did you talk about?", "Where  did you go?", "Did you talk about me?"  I would just smile, and say, "We have plenty of other things to talk about," as I gave him a kiss and a hug.

After some time, Steve discovered something that changed his outlook.  I would leave the house irritable, stressed and uptight and return home just a bit more relaxed and ready to face life's challenges.  There was something about that time with friends that energized and encouraged me.  Before long, he started saying, "Karen, why don't you call someone to go out for a coffee?  When was the last time you had a girl's night out?"  That Steve, he's no dummy.

It's not that I don't like spending time with guys.  I love my guys!  I spent last weekend hanging out with six of them at the cabin.  It was loud and chaotic and I enjoyed every minute of it.

But only us creatures with brains wired with estrogen can relate the same way to each other.  When we get together, we generally don't reach any great epiphanies or solve any monumental problems, we just know how to spend time sharing, laughing and hanging out.  And yes, it generally involves something delicious and indulgent if you're out for a meal with me!

So guys, if it's been a while since your lady had a coffee with a friend, encourage her to go and tell her you will be thrilled to watch the kids!  Girls,  if it's been way too long since you met a friend for a meal or a night out, do it soon.  You will be better off for it.  If you don't know who to call, I am always ready for a cup of coffee (and a Pazookie!)

A good friend is a connection to life - a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world. ~Lois Wyse

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


This past week I reconnected with an old friend. 

In a hospital room.

I haven't seen her in years.  I've thought about her.  Wondered how she was doing, even called and left a message but didn't follow through. 

I've been busy.

I have a family, a business, a blog, a home.  I have been battling with my own illness.  Then there's all the kid's sports activities.  I have my jewelry making, which I never have time for, my friends that do respond to my phone calls and emails, church, bible get the idea.  I'm busy.  My life is full. 

When my friend didn't respond, time slipped by and I just assumed she was busy like I was.  She had a successful career, a new marriage, her own kids to deal with, and I figured she didn't have time for me.

I was wrong.

When I heard she was sick and in the hospital, I rushed to visit her, and discovered that the past several years have been very different for her than what I had imagined.  She has been suffering and I never knew.

I can't get this out of my mind.

I regret the times when she was alone when I could have been there to hold her hand.  The times when she was in pain when I could have offered a shoulder to cry on.  The prayers I could have prayed on her behalf.

I know what it feels like to be where she has been - lying in bed, in pain, feeling so alone and wondering if anyone remembers you or cares about you.  With every day that passes without a phone call or a visit, you become more convinced that you have been forgotten.

I can't go back in time and redo the past.  I can't live in regret.  I'm letting go and moving forward. 

It was so sweet visiting my dear friend.  She is dealing with her illness with a grace that astounds me.  I look forward to reconnecting more and more and pouring back into her life.

I am blessed with friends that fill my life with love, laughter, encouragement and strength.  I pray I am able to return a small portion of this back into their lives.

Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. 
James 3:17-18 (MSG)

Monday, September 20, 2010

God Bless This Mess!

Who are these guys and what are they doing with this china cabinet?

Well, the young man in the red t-shirt is my nephew Jacob and the unseen man on the other end is Josh.  These strong men are moving my full china cabinet from my front room to my kitchen.  That hutch is filled with crystal, silver and china and they picked it up, walked up a step around a corner and into the kitchen, without so much as rattling a dish.  They are my heroes!

Actually, they are just two of a team of heroes that descended upon our house this past Saturday.

It all began a few weeks ago, over iced tea with some friends.  I was bemoaning the state of our front room, formerly our living room, now functioning as our home office.  It had become completely disorganized and was an impossible space to work in on a daily basis, made worse by the fact that our precious pup had ruined the carpet in there.  No amount of carpet cleaning, Febreze or candle burning could mask the odor. 

This is a before shot of the room as we attempted to assess the situation.  Trust me, this picture does not show the mountain of madness lurking behind the camera.  We evaluated the amount of storage (virtually none) and the overabundance of desks (four - why, I'm not sure).  A plan of attack was set for September 18 and last Saturday, the crowd descended on our home.

Following the furniture removal, the next item on the agenda was carpet removal.  This was the moment I had been waiting for.  That carpet was rolled up and out the door in no time at all.  What a relief!  My dear friends had volunteered themselves and their husbands for a Saturday work day at the Rutledge home.  I don't know what their husbands said when they were first volunteered, but they showed up Saturday with work gloves, shop vacs, tools and smiles.

Time for primer. 

I had a border running around the perimeter of the room that I had written with Sharpie.  I love the sentiment, "faith, hope, love", but I'm done with the script border and the color, which I loved when I painted years ago, seems muddy and dark to me now.  On to cleaner and brighter days!

I am loving it more already, and this is just the primer!  These guys got two coats of primer on the walls in no time flat!  Now I have to head to the store and choose just the perfect wall color.

This little front hall almost broke us.  Even though it is a fraction of the size of the living room, it was wallpapered by 'yours truly' with sheet music.  It took every bit of wetting, scraping, clawing, sanding and sheer grit and determination to remove that paper off the wall. 

These three are smiling on the outside, but on the inside they're thinking, "why didn't she just leave the wallpaper alone?"  Are those weapons they're holding?

I have to give a special thanks to my daughter Rachel.  None of this would have been possible without the 'Child Whisperer'.  She allowed moms and dads to work away while her adoring fans followed her around for the day.  Rachel, you rock!

Within a few hours the team cleared the furniture from the room, removed the carpet, gave the room two coats of paint and stripped the wallpaper from the front hall.  I can't even imagine how long it would have taken Steve and I to manage all of that on our own.

Our front room isn't done yet, but it is well on the way, thanks to our fearless volunteers.  We will continue to post pictures, as work progresses. if the work on the room wasn't enough, this bed has been hanging out on my back porch for months, badly in need of sanding and a coat of paint. 

 Here is the beautiful finished product, ready for Rachel's room.

At our church, we talk a lot about living a life of community and what that really is.

Well, I've shown you what it can be.  It can be getting dirty.  It can be holding a paint brush or a hammer.  It can be showing up for each other.  It can be meeting practical needs.  It can be eating together, laughing together, hanging out together.

I have one last picture to show you.  It's a picture of angels.  I took it at my house last Saturday.

If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Philippians 2:1-4 (MSG)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Curdled Cream, Nick Nacks and Lemon Meringue Pie

This post was, by far, the most time-consuming post I have ever composed.  In fact, I am fairly certain that it is the most time-consuming post in the history of the blogosphere.  I meant to post yesterday but I couldn't get it completed in time.  Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.  The lighting was bad.  I didn't follow directions.  The cream for my coffee was curdled.  I could go on, but I will spare you all the ugly details.

I would feel marginally better if this post were about quantum physics or how to solve the HIV/AIDS pandemic but it is about pie.  That's it - pie.  It's really good pie, but it is just pie.  You can decide if it was worth all the effort.

This recipe is from one of my best friends ever.

I have known Lisa since we were both fifteen.  That is more than a few years ago, to put it mildly.

When I first met Lisa, she was like a human energy field.  She was the quintessential beautiful blond California girl.  Guys were drawn to her like moths to a flame.  Girls wanted to be around her because, well, we wanted to be like her.  She was cute and nice and fun and very funny.  Fun and funny were vital to me when I was fifteen.

Plus, Lisa was loud.

That was very important too because I needed somebody that could match my decibel level.  When we entered a room together, you knew we were there.  Lisa and I were generally in the company of our good friends Tam or Laurie or some combination thereof.  We were a force to be reckoned with.

Lisa and I were also really smart.  Let me tell you how smart we were.  Our youth group had a rent-a-kid auction where people in the church could rent some of the youth for the day, to do chores.  The money raised was going toward our upcoming trip.  Dennis, our youth pastor, was reading off the different chores available and mentioned the need for two people for "light housekeeping."  Lisa and I jumped up, eager to grab the easiest task on the list.  "See you later suckas!"  we yelled as we raced out the door. 

We came to a bungalow on a tidy street and met a sweet little lady who escorted us into her spotless home.  We grinned at each other, gloating over our good fortune.  We figured we would be in and out of there in no time and tanning by the pool while everyone else was slaving away painting or hauling trash.  She walked us into her living room and...there it was.  A wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling collection of every kind of figurine, ornament and tchotchke ever created.

Our task for the day was to remove them all, one by one, dust them, dust the shelf and return them to their exact location.  We slaved away for hours, carefully dusting and replacing every little nick nack.  Needless to say,  we were the last ones to arrive at the pool party and Lisa and I developed a terrible phobia of dusting.

A few years after we met, my cousin Steve came to live with us.  He met Lisa and...kapow!  Game over!  He fell head over heels for this California girl.  They've been married for quite some time now and have three gorgeous kids that (thankfully) take after Lisa.  They are good-looking, sweet, smart and funny, just like their mom - okay, just a bit like their dad too. 

Lisa is also a gracious hostess and a great cook.  Whenever we get together for family events we beg her to bring dessert - either her trifle or this amazing, sweet and tart lemon meringue pie, made with lemons from her own backyard.  I asked her to share the recipe and she kindly obliged.  If you aren't blessed with lemons growing in your backyard, you can buy them in your grocery store.  This is, I promise, the best lemon pie you have ever tasted, from one of the sweetest (and smartest) people I know!

"A sweet friendship refreshes the soul."
Proverbs 27:9 (MSG)

Lisa's Lemon Meringue Pie

8 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp flour
1 3/4 c sugar
2 c boiling water
4 egg yolks beaten
2 lemon rinds grated
1 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c unstrained lemon juice

1. Combine the flour, corn starch and sugar.

2. Whisk in the water and sugar.  I like the word whisk, say it again, "whisk".  I think it's an onomatopoeia. - whisk.  It sounds like what we're doing, we're whisking.  Okay, I'm distracted, move along.

3. Stir until smooth.  Is this an onomatopoeia too?  Smooth.  Another good word.  I'm hung up on the sound of words today.  Smooth.  Say it with me.  Smooooooth.

4. Cook until it thickens.
Okay, I ignored Lisa here.  She said "Don't bother with a double boiler, just do it directly on the stovetop."  But, I know better because I have baked this pie exactly 0 times and Lisa has baked this pie 974 times.  Listen to Lisa and don't use a double boiler.

5. Beat 4 egg yolks.

6. Temper the yolks with the hot mixture so the eggs don't cook.  Temper means put in a little itty bit so you don't get cooked eggs.  Just drizzle a little in.   Stir,  drizzle a little more, stir, drizzle, get the idea.  Until it's all mixed together.

7. Stir in the lemon rinds, butter, salt and lemon juice.

8. Keep stirring until smooth and thick.  There's that word again.  Smoooth.  That sounds like a 70's word - bow-chicka-bow-wow - smoooth!

"until smooth and thick."  I have no idea exactly how long that will take because, again, I ignored Lisa's advice and used a double boiler, takes somewhere between 5 minutes and 5 hours.  I'm really not sure.   But the picture above shows the color and thickness before and the below picture shows the color and thickness after.

9. Pour into prepared crust.

You are welcome to get all Martha Stewart on me and bake your own crust.  I just bought the freezer crust, popped that baby in the oven and- voila!  Martha would freak!


Let me just say here - I just L-O-V-E meringue.  Meringue is divine.  It looks like little angel clouds.

5 egg whites
5 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (may substitute 1/4 tsp lemon juice)
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

2. Beat egg whites until stiff.  It is best if they are at room temperature.

Beat these little puppies until they have peaks.  Nice light peaks but not dry.

Don't skimp on this part.  You can use an electric mixer or, if you need to relieve some aggression, do it by hand and think about that guy that cut you off in traffic yesterday or the lady in line at Starbucks who couldn't make up her flipping mind and pretend you're beating the every-living daylights out of them.  It's way better than therapy.

3. Add sugar, cream of tartar and salt.  Mix but do not over-beat.  Now it should look nice and glossy.
Whoa!  Okay, back off now.  The beating part is over.  If you still feel like beating something or someone you may need therapy.  That's okay.  We all need it eventually.

4. Cover filled pie while warm but not hot.

5. Bake for 20 minutes at 300 degrees or until top is golden brown.  

Do not, I repeat, do not walk away and go into the office chitty-chatting on Facebook for an hour and a half, uploading pictures and working on your blog until you hear the smoke alarm in your kitchen screeching, only to return to your smoke-filled kitchen where you find a burnt meringue, which you scrape off and replace with another meringue, leaving the pie tasting a little bit charred but edible nonetheless.

That would be stupid.

6. Allow to cool before cutting.
 Dang!  That looks good.

Or, if you are reckless and impatient like me, cut it the minute you are done and let the chips fall where they may!

If you have ever wondered what that expression means, "Let the chips fall where they may", it means, if you cut into your pie before Lisa says you should, you will be eating lemon meringue soup instead of lemon meringue pie.

It was so good, we went back for seconds!

I learned a lot from this post.

1.  I am not becoming a food blogger at any point in the foreseeable future.

2.  I really hate being in the kitchen.

3.  I am impatient and don't follow directions well.

4.  I'm glad I have a husband that cooks.  I wish he liked to bake.

5.  I love homemade pie.

6.  I love people who bake me pie.

If you want a copy of this recipe, without all my inane chatter (it's really good if you follow the directions) click on the link at the right......

Monday, August 16, 2010

A letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook,

I love you.  These are the reasons why

~ It is really nice staying connected to childhood friends and reminiscing now and then.

~ Who doesn't like getting dozens of birthday greetings?

~ If you wasn't for you, I wouldn't be able to keep in touch with my in-laws.  You know I'm a terrible correspondent.  I wouldn't have pictures of my nieces and nephews.  I wouldn't be able to spy on their daily lives or send them quick hellos.

~ Because of you, dear Facebook, my kids can see how cool their grandparents really are.

~ I love you because I can chat with my husband and kids and send them sweet little notes and somehow it means more when it's posted on their wall for the whole wide world to see.

~ I miss my extended family and you help me feel connected to the people I'm related to. 

I love seeing pictures and hearing the details of all the weddings and celebrations.

If you weren't around my in-laws and second cousins and once-removeds wouldn't even know who I am.  It's nice to put faces to names.

~ Facebook, I really love you, because you reconfirmed what I already knew.  My sister really is quite crazy.  She proved this to me when she posted that indecipherable status on her wall sending everyone into a frenzy.

Dear Facebook,

I hate you.  Here are the reasons why

~ You are a mind-numbing waste of time!  You suck me in to your web of 'friend-ing', 'like-ing' 'poke-ing' 'chat-ting' mayhem until I've wasted hours of my life - and for what?

~ I hate you for the days it seems like everybody's life is way more fun than mine.  I'm stuck at home and everyone, I mean everyone has posted a status about their trip to Rome/Bali/Dubai/Africa/Australia/Hong Kong/Paris.   Puhleeze.  It was a struggle for me to get to the hardware store for pantry moth traps and everybody's posting  pictures of  themselves beside one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  It's so not fair.

~ If it wasn't for you Facebook, 505 of my closest friends would never have seen that embarrassing picture of me from my awkward phase.

~ I would never have married my husband if I had known he wanted to be a farmer.  Now he wastes his time on you, Facebook, begging people to help him plant lima beans and tomatoes!
Okay Facebook.  I can forgive you for all of the above things based on this one single video.

It's the video that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it.  This is a video is of my nephew Caleb.  He is twelve years old and he is autistic.  Until a few weeks ago he hated water.  He couldn't stand to have it splashed in his eyes but this summer he learned to swim all on his own.  I couldn't be there, but when this video was posted on Facebook I watched it over and over and over.  It's really short, but it's oh, so sweet.

I love you Facebook.

I love you Caleb.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Gift of Pain - Chapter 9

To read Chapters 1-8 of My Story - The Gift of Pain, click on the links at right.

This past week I had a friend suffer an incredible loss. I watched her stand firm in her faith, assured that the God that she serves is the same God in her grieving that he was in her joy.

I also reconnected with a very special friend from my past. He is in the advanced stages of incurable cancer. I called him, expecting to comfort him in his sickness and instead was encouraged and comforted by him. He is suffering incredible pain, as the cancer is ravaging his body. But he shared, with joy in his voice, how God has become so very real in his life. He is learning, in a way that I cannot imagine “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

The pain these precious friends are suffering makes my pain look like a paper cut in comparison. 

Yet, we all have our own crosses to bear – our own journeys of suffering and pain. We can travel through these journeys and allow them to shape us in different ways. We can carry the pain deep within, allowing it to scar our spirits, embitter our minds, halt our growth and block relationships or we can take that pain and use it.

When we share the experiences of our pain with others we have a common ground. We are not ‘better than’. The pain has a purpose. The enemy of our souls doesn’t have the victory, but God gets the glory. So, with that in mind, I continue my story, hoping it will encourage your spirit in some small way.

I was still in a great deal of pain, but the Lord had spoken words of healing to my heart. The doctor had given me a referral to the Chronic Pain Management program.

The referral I received was a godsend. The people I discovered there were compassionate, knowledgeable, and informed. The program was comprehensive and covered every aspect of pain management – food and nutrition, the physiology of pain, managing medications, alternative therapies, physical therapy and a myriad of other topics.

I know that the healthcare system gets a bad rap these days, and deservedly so. I have seen my fair share of the dark side of health care, but I have to say, my experience with our health provider Kaiser has been top-notch, particularly through this incredible program. They were ‘healers’ in every sense of the word, caring and concerned about the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health of every one of their patients.

We met in a small group setting twice a week for three hours and then one-on-one with therapists and doctors. It was a very comprehensive program. I also began undergoing intense physical therapy.

They made regular adjustments to my pain medications, trying to make the pain manageable and reduce the side effects of these heavy meds. One of the worst side effects I experienced was sensory hallucinations. I woke up in the middle of the night experiencing a variety of sensory experiences. One night I awakened Steve, convinced that the house was burning down as I could smell fire. Another time I had the sensation that all of my teeth had fallen out and I had nothing left in my mouth but gums!

The doctors continued to monitor my condition and make the necessary adjustments and slowly my pain became more manageable.

The small group that I met with weekly was comprised of a group of approximately fourteen people. They varied in age from mid-20’s to mid-70’s. These sweet people had all suffered from chronic pain for a minimum of several years. One gentleman had suffered with terrible pain for the majority of his 60+ years of life. Lupus, slipped discs, botched surgeries, cancer and other causes had brought all of us together in this small room, looking for relief from our pain.

Many of those that came had to be driven there. Some could not sit throughout the sessions but had to stand or lie down on a mat.

I have never been surrounded by such a courageous group of people.

The first week or two things were pretty quiet. Nobody had much to say. Everyone was surrounded by their own cloud of pain. But before long we found that common ground and our sessions were filled with laughter, teasing, and a camaraderie that only the wounded can share.

You can’t begin to imagine the hundreds of ways that pain and the accompanying medications affect your body – physiological, emotional, sexual, spiritual. The incredible doctors and therapists shared with us weekly a vast array of information and knowledge that encouraged us and gave us hope.

Much of the information was very technical and took a lot of time to understand, but some of the most helpful information I received was the simplest. The one thing that I think helped me the most was this.


Duh, right? Okay, I know you're thinking, Karen, you didn't know that before? This is the thing. When you are hurt, or tense or uptight, you stop breathing. Think of a time when you were scared. You tensed up and held your breath, right? When the threat passed, you took a deep breath. Well, people with chronic pain tend to be in a continual state of 'holding their breath' or 'short breathing'. This does not allow proper oxygen flow to the brain and without that oxygen flow healing can't take place.

So obvious and so simple. It was an absolute 'aha!' moment for me.

So, sit up straight in your chair right now. Put your shoulders back. Place your hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath. Push out your diaphragm. Hold that breath and then slooooowly release it. Repeat it several times.

When you feel tense or you are in pain, practice this deep breathing technique. It will NOT make all your troubles go away, but it will aid in healing.

Let the healing begin!

"Watch this: I'm bringing the breath of life to you and you'll come to life. I'll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You'll come alive and you'll realize that I am God!"
Ezekiel 37:5-6 (MSG)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Major Crisis!

We had a crisis in our home this morning.  This was a crisis of major proportions.  Let me show you.

Don't let the label on the canister fool you.  There was no "Happiness" in our house this morning.  That lovely little canister is where the coffee is usually held, and this morning it was empty.  This was a particularly critical morning since I am suffering from a debilitating case of BH.  I'm sure you've all suffered from it before.  Some of you may be suffering from it now. and you have most likely suffered from it this summer - yes.  BH is also known as Beach Hangover. 

My girlfriends and I spent the day at Newport Beach yesterday with the kids and this morning I'm suffering from serious symptoms of BH.

-red skin from those spots where  I missed with the SPF 50.

-bloating from too much sodium (Chex Mix and Cheeseburger Flavored Doritos -really!)

-major sand rash

-sugar crash from the Sprinkles cupcakes on the way home (I know, we should have quit while we were ahead)

-parched, dry skin

-sluggishness from oversleeping this morning 'cause I just couldn't get my body to move

Okay, now I know you're not feeling sorry for me, you're just annoyed.  I'm kind of feeling the same way. It looks like I had a bit too much of a good thing in one day.  I'm not going to apologize for it.  A day filled with friends, kids, sand, sunshine, Doritos, cupcakes and fun does not come along every day and the sweet days of summer are quickly winding down.  So, this post is short.  My next chapter about My Story will have to wait. 

The back of my legs are burnt. 

I can't sit in this chair much longer. 

I'm going to get some aloe - and a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Friends Are My Estate

Today's post is dedicated to three of the best friends a woman could have.  Kelly, Kathy and Cheryl (plus Madison) thanks for knowing exactly what I needed yesterday and being there for me!

"Friendship isn't a luxury, it's a necessity."
 - Karen Rutledge

To you and all the other dear friends that carry me through each day, may I be half the friend to you, that you are to me!

Here are some of the best quotes I have found, celebrating the gift of friendship - in all of it's beautiful forms - young and old, vintage and new!

"Never shall I forget the days I spent with you. 
Continue to be my friend, as you will always find me yours."
- Ludwig van Beethoven 

"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson  

"My friends are my estate."
 - Emily Dickinson

"Ah, how good it feels...the hand of an old friend."
- Mary Englebright

"If you judge people, you have no time to love them."
- Mother Teresa 

"I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul rememb'ring my good friends."
- William Shakespeare 

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than 
walking alone in the light."
- Helen Keller
"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being."

Monday, August 9, 2010

LIFE Stinks

I don't like to lose.  Just ask my husband, or for that matter, just ask my son.  Okay, just take my word for it.

Yesterday we decided to play a mild-mannered friendly little board game - The Game of Life.  Remember that one?  Well, this is an updated electronic version, with Visa cards and everything.  You get your own personal credit card and every time your turn comes around, you place it in the electronic LIFEpod.  It automatically calculates your salary and LIFE points, based on spaces you land on and cards you pick.

Well, today, (and just about every other time we play) Sam ruled.  I was conservative, picked a decent career, got a degree, and sucked swamp water by the end of the game.  Seemed like every card I picked up was something about dancing.  Let's just say this...dancing and writing don't pay!

Sam picked a career in sports...yes, sports and ended up with a $2,000,000 annual salary and $9,196,000 cash.  He was laughing at, no...

...more like mocking his mother by the end.  Steve was somewhere in between.  What really killed Steve was his five babies. He was a baby-making machine!  Those babies cost him a lot of money and didn't give him enough LIFE  points to make up the difference.

I'm trying not to be a sore loser, but I've lived over 40 years (not saying how many years over,), have a lot of life experience and am relatively intelligent.  Sam, on the other hand, is twelve!  What is a twelve-year-old going to do with a three million dollar salary and a mansion?  It's just not fair.  LIFE stinks.

This was just a game, and I'm over it now getting over it now, but the fact of the matter is ...

sometimes real life stinks too.  This past week will not go down in the annals of history as "the best week ever" for me.  I was so overwhelmed that I didn't know what to write.  I was hurting, confused and struggling to make sense of it all.  I realize I'm not going to "Find a winning lottery ticket on the street +$100,000" or "Be chosen as the cover model for my favorite magazine +$500,000", but I would like to catch a break now and then.

Although the week had a lousy start, something happened on the weekend that changed my perspective.  No, it wasn't playing a game with my guys, or even the fun birthday party at the beach.  The thing that changed my perspective was this...God spoke to me.  Now, before you think, "she's really lost it - she's hearing voices!", hear me out.

I chose to worship with other believers on Sunday.  I really just wanted to stay at home, curl up with a book and a pot of coffee and hibernate.  It's hard to put on that fake plastic smile, shake hands and play the role of "good Christian", when I feel like I'm anything but "good" and I have no answers. 

Here is where that beautiful, mysterious thing called "faith" becomes real and tangible.  I cannot base my relationships (with family, friends, the church or God), upon how I am feeling or what it is that I want to do.  So, I chose community over isolation and found God there and heard His voice.

I heard it in the warm hellos from the friends that greeted me.  I heard it in the sweet words of encouragement from my dear friend Deborah.  I heard it in the beautiful worship music that spoke healing to my heart.  But most of all, I heard it in the message that my pastor gave...just for me.  I know there were a lot of other people in that room.  Some of them may have even had the mistaken notion that the message was for them.

When my pastor said the words, "He hears our heart cry, so go ahead and cry", he meant me.  When he read the words in Jeremiah 31:3, he was reading them for me.  "God told them, "I've never quit loving you and never will.  Expect love, love, and more love!"".  

Yes!  God loves me, cares about me and wants to spend time with me!  What an incredible, beautiful thought.  When I'm tired, cranky, mean, hurting, happy, loving...whatever state of mind I may be in.  I can choose to accept his love, or choose to reject it.  Today, I am choosing God's love for me,  and passing it along to you.  Accept it as the gift that it is and, in turn, share it with someone else!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Gift of Pain - Chapter 5

To read Chapters 1-4 of My Story, click on the links at the right.

Before I continue this next chapter, I have a confession to make. I am feeling a bit squeamish about the title of my story "The Gift of Pain". When I began writing this, most of my pain was in the past.  It had settled to a dull roar and I felt that I had really learned some lessons that I could share. Unfortunately, the pain has returned and is increasing. Once you read the chapters dealing with my chronic pain (I promise, I will get there eventually), you will understand better why I do not want to return to those days of misery.

I have discovered that pain is a cruel master. Just when you think you have beat him back, he rears his ugly head trying to wrest control of your life once again. I guess, in some weird way, this is where the gift aspect comes in. I don’t know if I would have learned how desperately and completely I need the Lord’s presence in my life, were it not for the pain. I’m that stubborn and hard headed.  I just really wish I could learn this another way. 

Right now, I have to admit, I am praying for a reprieve. If you are looking to read a story that wraps up nicely, like the final five minutes of some mindless TV show, where everything is resolved and they all ride off into the sunset, then quit reading now.  

If you are a 'name it and claim it' Christian, this will not fit your theology.  I offer this alone, a firm and deep conviction that whether or not I am ever free of pain, God is who he says he is, he is worthy of my praise, and my life is in his hands.

"Since Jesus went through everything you're going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you'll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want."  1 Peter 4:1-2(MSG)

Are you ready?….read on.

I will never forget the sight of my dear husband, lying in our bed while a dozen firemen and paramedics crowded into our room . It was surreal. I stood motionless at the end of the bed, until the phone rang. “Mommy, are you going to pick us up from school?” asked our daughter. “You’re late!” I put on my cheery mommy voice and said, “Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I got busy and forgot.  Someone will be there to pick you up in a minute.”

I asked my brother to get the kids from school and he left. The paramedics loaded Steve into the ambulance and told me I would need to follow in my car. I was alone and scared. I immediately called my parents but got their voice mail instead. I finally called my sister, living in Vancouver at the time, and burst into tears when she answered the phone. She prayed with me and reassured me that everything would be all right. God was in control.

I hung up the phone and sat in my car, unable to move. All at once, I felt a deep sense of peace settle over me like a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I had never experienced anything so supernatural yet so very real. I dried my tears and headed to the hospital calmly. When I got there, I was directed to the emergency room where a dozen people were hooking up Steve to wires and monitors, asking a constant stream of questions. Their cheery demeanor and professionalism calmed me further. One of the doctors announced, “Congratulations Mr. Rutledge, you are having a heart attack.”

Before long, my parents arrived and rushed to my side. We were told that Steve would be going to the cath lab for further testing and I kissed his cheek as they whisked him away.

Over the next several hours the waiting room filled with family and friends as they came to support our daughter Ashley and me. Our youngest two spent the night at my brother’s house, oblivious to the drama at the hospital. I sat calmly in the waiting room, still sensing that “peace that passes understanding”.

After a while, the doctor came and gave us the news. While undergoing testing, Steve had gone into cardiogenic shock.  They almost lost him, but were able to start his heart again.  They implanted an external heart pump to stabilize him so he could survive  emergency coronary artery bypass surgery. The doctor stated, matter-of-fact, that if I hadn’t called 9-1-1 when I did, he would have died. I heard the doctor, but it was days later before the reality of the situation sank in. I signed the approval forms and we continued waiting.

As Steve tells it, one minute he was lying on the table looking at the heart monitor. All of a sudden… he saw it flat-line.

He looked from the monitor to the doctor and then passed out. The next thing he knew he was waking up from surgery. “I thought I died,” he says. When I woke up, everyone looked grim, telling me I had to have a double by-pass. All I could think was, I’m glad to be alive!”

He certainly wasn’t the only one that felt that way. We called friends and family with the good news, praising God for sparing Steve and for the quick actions of the paramedics and doctors.  We braced ourselves for the days of recovery ahead, as his parents booked their flights to come from Canada to be with us.

Let me ask you something, at this point? What is your greatest fear? What is that thing that keeps you awake at night or that you are certain you could never survive? For me, it had always been the possibility of my husband being hurt or injured. From the time we were married, I was certain that I would be widowed at a young age (that time has certainly passed!) I could not imagine how I would manage if I was left to cope with our lives alone. Maybe because we had been married very young and I had never really handled life on my own. Whatever the reason, it was a very real deep-seated fear of mine that I had never shared with anyone.

Now my fear had become a reality. He had survived the heart attack and the surgery, but he was incapacitated and would be so for some time. Being self-employed, we didn’t have sick days or disability insurance to fall back on. How long could we survive, I wondered?

I had a meager income selling my purses and a few things on ebay, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. Here is the amazing part. From that moment in the car, when I felt that peace come over me like a blanket, through Steve’s recovery, I never worried. This is not normal behavior for me. I know it was God’s presence reassuring me that he would care for me when Steve could not.

Many days I would look at our circumstances and say to myself, “Today, the bills are paid, the children are healthy and Steve is alive. That is enough. Tomorrow is another day and it’s in God’s hands.” I took it one day at a time, some days, one hour at a time.

So many dear friends and family held us up through that time, with their prayers, encouragement, presence and financial support. We could never repay them all for being there for us at such a critical time.

Steve recovered quickly and was soon feeling better than he had in years. We had survived another major crisis. Certainly now we would get a break.  We enjoyed a period of relative health and prosperity where we breathed a little easier, but for me personally, the worst was yet to come...

" There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love."  1 John 4:18 (MSG)