faith, grace, prayer, stress

Take My Hand

Just weeks before my husband David unexpectedly died in 2012, we’d shared a conversation that was uncharacteristic for us; regarding what we’d want the other one to do if we died first.

“I’d want you to get married again,” David had said. “Because I know how much you love hugging and holding hands.”

I miss his hugs, his hand in mine.

handsHad he lived, David and I would have celebrated our 39th anniversary earlier this month. I’ve been without him for more than six years. I’ve faced a lot of changes in my life since then, both good and bad, but even good changes can cause stress.

According to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale developed by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, the stressful life events I’ve experienced just in the last six months put me at a solid 285 in regards to measured stress levels, too near the dangerous 300 level for comfort. Among those life events I’ve experienced; a virulent flu virus that lasted more than two weeks, an attack of Shingles, an unexpected loss of income, a subsequent need to change jobs, a daughter leaving home for a month-long stint at an organic farm in sunny California, and an “outstanding personal achievement.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word outstanding, submitting my manuscript one day ahead of deadline was a personal achievement, nonetheless, one that left me feeling somewhat at odds with myself. You can’t have worked on something for so many months without missing the intensity of the writing.facebook
Lucky for me, I didn’t have time to feel that way long. Two days after submitting the manuscript, I began a new job, as program coordinator for a spirituality center. This is the view from my office. When the window is open, I can hear the peaceful sounds of the trickling fountain.

office window.jpg

While I no longer have David’s steadying hand to grasp, in the past six years I’ve discovered a stronger one yet. It is God’s hand that led me to a workplace that not only allows prayer, but encourages it. Which is why I was comfortable asking my new co-workers to pray for me on Friday when I was sidelined by a concern regarding the sale of my house. One of them went above and beyond, composing a beautiful prayer specific to my worry and e-mailing it to me; the message a reminder to trust God’s plan and providence. Taking a deep breath, I read and re-read the prayer, as if drawing sustenance from it. All the months of working on a book, searching for a new job, looking for a house, sorting through things to downsize and prepare for a garage sale, watching a daughter leave home, getting a house ready to sell…alone. Without David. I was so tired. Emotionally drained.

Please, God. Just show me that you’re with me in this. In all of it.

After work, I just wanted to go home. But I needed to be someplace else.

I headed to a nearby building, where my required TB test would be read by a company nurse. Lacking an internal GPS, the last time I’d attempted to follow directions to the nurse’s office, I’d ended up in the lunch room. So it was with some trepidation I approached the front desk. A tiny woman was hunched over a newspaper, only the top of her head visible. When she looked up, I asked if she could page the nurse. Her eyes darting around nervously, she suggested I just head there. It occurred to me, as a volunteer, she might not know how to operate the phone system.

“I got lost the last time I came,” I laughed as I explained, and her face brightened. She jumped from her chair with an energy that belied her obvious age.

“Then I’ll take you there,” she said as she approached from behind the desk. She held out her hand. Taken aback, I hesitated for a moment, but her friendly smile left me no choice. It would be rude to refuse.

Hand-in-hand, we started walking.

“Now, just pay attention, and watch where I take you, so you can find your way back,” she said in a voice so gentle, I unexpectedly felt a lump form in my throat. Her hand was warm, her clasp firm, as she guided me through a room, down a short hallway, and through a doorway. I recognized the winding hallway lined with potted plants.

“I know where I am now,” I said, pointing to the end of the hall. “I just go that way and around the corner.”

“I’ll show you a better way.” The delight in her voice was unmistakable. She seemed glad to make my trip easier. “Just go right through this door, and you’re there!”

She didn’t let go of my hand until we’d stepped through the doorway together.

“But you made this so easy,” I marveled. “Thank you.” She smiled before turning away to return to the desk.

A room, a hallway, two doorways… Previous routes had included steps, elevators, a trip through a closed courtyard. I felt foolish as I blinked back tears, pondering the encounter.

The welcoming gesture of an extended palm. The unexpected warmth in holding a stranger’s hand. The gentle voice guiding me as if I were a child. The sudden ease in finding my way. This had been no random meeting. There was a message in it.

“I’m here. In the prayer from a colleague. In the stranger at the front desk. The hand you miss so much is with me, but I will bring you other hands. I am with you and I will guide you. Trust me.” 

Isaiah 41:13: For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (NIV)


Napping and Reading, Revisited.

As we took our morning walk yesterday my sister Pat and I were having one of our scintillating conversations about blood pressure, cholesterol and eating healthy. I’d recently read an article in a health magazine about the role stress plays on one’s health, and it gave ideas on how to diminish life’s stressors. I saw Pat nodding her head in assent as I mentioned some ways this author suggested a woman de-stress (a bubble bath, a walk), until I said, “Spend an afternoon in bed in your pajamas, reading books,” and then, I swear, I saw her visibly shudder.

We both laughed, because we knew that we were each thinking the same thing: If I did that, I wouldn’t get anything done. It was funny then, but today I am wondering if, perhaps, we all should allow ourselves some time when we aren’t doing anything, going anywhere, or accomplishing much of anything.  Wouldn’t we be healthier for it?  Or would we all turn into couch potatoes (or in this case bed spuds), eating cinnamon toast and sipping tea and reading endless stacks of books?

This woman “of a certain age” who also faced a birthday ending in ZERO this month, is fit and vital and beautiful.  She is strong of limb and personality. She is, I will admit, one of my idols. It is no coincidence that I have recently colored my hair a dark brown (and allowed my 13-year-old budding hairdresser to take a scissors to it).  I am not ashamed to admit I am emulating her to a degree.

It will be a year this Spring that we have been taking morning walks together. I look forward to the mornings more for her talks than the walks, but the walking is pleasant too. I have enjoyed getting to know this sister that I would definitely choose as a friend. We have more in common than our urge to “get things done,” there is the shared love of paper and books and an appreciation for the innocence of children and the beauty of nature.

That said, maybe both she and I need to re-evaluate our need to “get things done.”  I have a confession to make: After I wrote my blog post about not knowing how to nap, I gave myself the permission to nap when I needed it.  (Like when clock hits 2:00 p.m. and I can barely keep my eyes open) Instead of stumbling about the house searching for a dose of caffeine or sugar, I have recently tried my hand at napping.  Surprisingly, I’ve discovered that 20 minutes cozied up on my bed or sitting in the living room chair refreshes me enough to get through the rest of the day in a better mood. And we all like me in a better mood.

Today is a perfect day.  A perfect day to do nothing. Little ice crystals are hitting our windows and slicking down the sidewalks and the roads. Winter storm warnings cancelled the area schools. No one is going outside to brave the cold and ice.  I’ve already filled the cupboards and refrigerator.  One daughter is playing at a neighbor’s and my grand-daughter is here playing with Abby. Matt and Emily are busy upstairs.

I think, perhaps, it is time to practice that de-stressing technique of reading the afternoon away.

Just as soon as I make my cup of tea and sprinkle that toast with cinnamon and sugar.