Monday, January 18, 2016

I love to DREAM of what might be

For those who never had a waking moment of history class in the great USA, today marks a national holiday for American citizens: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  All states in the union celebrate MLK Day to honor and remember the civil rights activist who exercised first amendment rights to peacefully assemble, petition for change, speak his mind, and demonstrate his Christian faith.  Many honor his legacy with acts of community service on this federal holiday.  Some enjoy a day off from the usual work obligations and find ways to otherwise occupy their time.  I would hazard a guess that most everyone benefits in some way from a day that celebrates this great dreamer, even if it is just the results of equality and opportunity.

Because I am teaching 8th graders and our current unit is on American citizenship, the timing aligned quite nicely to spend time talking about Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., big (some would say impossible) dreams, characteristics of good citizenship, and the like.  Students had the opportunity to share about dreams they've had in the past (being chased, falling off a mountain, even some crazier one about a lemur and pet dinosaur fighting over fried chicken).  Students were then given the chance to write about dreams they have for the future, for themselves, their community and their world.  I can still hear the groaning that their Civics teacher went all English teacher on them with an expectation to write in complete sentences, but they did it just the same.  For full credit, they had to add some color and an illustration to their finished product.  I think the results make for nice classroom decorations and have enjoyed our "walk through the clouds" and learning what dreams are made of when you've got infinite possibilities in front of you.  Oh, to be young again!

My students aren't alone in dreaming of the future though.  I admit to being a dreamer.  I don't sleep long enough to have many dreams at night, but in my waking hours, I quite routinely dream and pray about what might be in the days, months, and years ahead.  What about you?  Do you keep a dream journal?  Are you a list-maker who focuses on the future possibilities and keeps documentation of your plans?  In various seasons of my own life, I've done both.  The recurring dream about wrecking on the Burkeville Road after being bitten by a spider only to land in the Nottoway River and have a water snake slithering past while I'm trapped in my submerged vehicle with certain VFR members standing on the hill ready to cut off my clothes with trauma shears is probably why I don't miss sleep (and dreams) all that much.  HA!  I much prefer the plans of my dream job as school administrator (superintendent some day in fact), losing weight to be a healthier and more athletic version of me again, finding someone worth my time, energy and heart to marry and perhaps even have a family with, and summer vacations at a custom-built family beach house.

Dreams don't come true with wishful thinking and hoping though.  Actions speak louder than words, even if the words aren't spoken as passionately or eloquently as MLK when he championed the civil rights cause.  So if I want to be that respected superintendent who leads a school division to success, I have to be the classroom teacher who guides and directs students to achievement in its many forms, collaborate with colleagues, build professional networks and community coalitions, etc.  If I want to be a "Skinny Minny," I may just have to accept that dream is unrealistic and instead focus on wellness by eating more so my body doesn't think it's starving and moving more each day whether I want to workout or not.  If I want to find lasting love, I owe it to myself to love Alissa first and foremost and become the woman God wants me to be as an individual before I can become somebody's better (other) half.  And if I want summer vacations at a family beach house, I might have to play the lottery again or take on additional part-time jobs to save the extra income for a future property purchase.  Or that one might just be the pie in the sky dream, but it's fun to imagine what might be.

I end this blog with a final phrase often told me by my dearly departed friend and prayer partner, Bobby King.  He reminded me daily that "prayer changes things."  And he also said that sometimes the thing that changed is US and our response, not the actual situation itself.  Bobby helped me and I try to help others to pay it forward.  The artwork on my fireplace mantle is my visual reminder each day and I've seen how prayer changes things and people, myself included.  Wishing and hoping, planning and dreaming, but praying is staying in touch with God who has plans that are better than any we could imagine anyways.  Check out my life verse, Jeremiah 29:11-13 for a well-worded reminder that even a planner like myself needs to hear quite often.

So how about it?  Care to share your dreams?  Want to chase them together?  I'd love to support and encourage you in your journey through this thing called life and welcome your advice and support in return.  Be blessed, all you who dare to dream big!

Friday, January 8, 2016

It's been paid for

Ever had someone pay your way, for a movie adventure, a trip through the tolls, a meal at the local restaurant?  Maybe you have been the generous person paying it forward, perhaps meeting a need of a grocery shopper short a few dollars or just doing a good turn daily.  As you may know from my Facebook posts, I had to return to the hospital last week for an unscheduled follow-up due to some complications from intubation during gallbladder surgery.  Specifically, I had a fever of 103+ for two days straight when my normal temperature is 96.9 degrees, nausea, vomiting, and seriously swollen lymph nodes, not just the sore throat I had immediately after waking from the previous week's medical procedure.  This was my first time with anesthesia (I'm the girl who took a Valium and stayed awake during my wisdom teeth surgery) and these symptoms were among those mentioned by the surgeon and anesthesiologist as possible, but demanding an immediate return to the hospital for additional care.

So, being the super-compliant patient that I am (HA!), I put on real clothing for the first time in a week and let my mother take me to the surgeon's office.  The $50 co-pay almost cost me an admission to the hospital for the holiday weekend, but I talked my doctor out of it when my chest x-ray and most of my lab results supported my theory that it was "just" an infected/irritated/inflamed lymph node causing my problems and could be treated AT HOME with pickles and/or lemon drops to get the swelling down by activating salivary glands.  I'm pretty sure the chart says AMA or against medical advice, but she canceled the hospital bed with my name on it and let me leave after a promise to return through the ER and page her as the on-call surgeon if my fever continued through the day/night.  Going home never felt so good!  I did not feel well, but gave myself a pep talk, bought and ate two jars of pickles and kicked the fever to the curb.  Staying hydrated and resting more than normal took care of the swollen lymph nodes and now I'm just fine with a forecast of bronchitis just a little sooner than my annual February visit.

Fast forward one week.  This week, I returned to the surgeon for my scheduled post-operative visit.  She cleared me to return to work (which was most excellent since I'd gone back two days prior....such a super-compliant patient I tell ya) and said my puncture wounds were looking fantastic at this stage of healing.  Given that no other symptoms or complications had revealed themselves, I got some abdomen palpation and the expected once-over.  Dr. Huber was ready to send me on the way with instructions to rest more, avoid lifting more than 20 pounds (clearly, she has never lifted my purse or she'd know I was in violation of the weight restriction), forego EMS calls for another four weeks because of the additional umbilical hernia repair she handled while I was knocked unconscious, and come back in February for what should be the final follow-up and "all clear" signal.  

I asked if what I thought was a protruding stitch needed to be dealt with or if it would just dissolve on its own like the others.  Wrong question, but she already knew from how pitiful my gallbladder looked upon its removal that I had a high tolerance for pain, so she said, "This is gonna hurt, now lie back and let's take care of this rebellious stitch."  A quick suture removal later, I was bandaged up and free to go make my follow up appointment and head out to dinner with my ever faithful medical visiting companion (aka Mom).  At the desk, I asked how much I owed since the lady at the front desk was busy upon my arrival and said she'd check me in paperwork/payment wise on the way out, but she wasn't sitting there when it was time for me to leave.  I was pleasantly surprised when the answer was, "It's been paid for."  Of course, I'm thinking, who in their right mind would pay for my doctor's visit, so I asked if that was an insurance thing or what.  Turns out, 90 days of follow-up visits directly related to Dr. Huber's work are covered in the surgical billing and don't require additional co-pay fees.  I only had to pay last week because the visit was about the anesthesiologist's fine job breathing for me while knocked out, but aggravating my throat and lymph nodes in the process.  

This got me thinking about times I've been treated to life's more enjoyable moments, but also how Christ paid for me on the cross all those years ago.  It's been paid for.  The lie I told earlier about being a super-compliant patient has been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.  So, too, have my other sins of past, present and future.  I've got some puncture wounds healing up quite nicely, but his nail-scarred hands are evidence he was wounded for me because of God's great love.  Whew!  That is always crazy challenging for me to process because I feel so unlovable and so unworthy of that great sacrifice and commitment.  And then I started to contemplate the personal wounds that are not visible, those bruises on my heart, burns to my soul, scars in my mind.  These wounds may not cause hurt 10/10 on the standard scale for physical pain, but boy, do they sting and ache and periodically even scream in protest.  These are the parts of me I've not yet given voice to, and will likely need a professional therapist to talk them through before I even acknowledge the brokenness and begin true healing.  Seriously, these are the things that if I even think about them for too long, I'll start crying (the ugly cry variety) and can't even form coherent sentences, which really aggravates and upsets me since I'm such a big fan of communication in its many forms.  I've got one name in the Richmond area and am open to suggestions if you've got a Christian psychiatrist to recommend.  

Asking for help has never been my strong suit.  Seriously, it's right up there with taking it easy or following doctor's orders when I'm the patient.  I also don't like to bother people or burden them in any way.  Yet, I know that living in freedom means getting to the root of my issues, emotions, hurts, and all.  Christ took the burden of that bondage upon Him, so I need to work it out for myself and let it go.  I'm looking forward to the results of that process.  I imagine that kind of like my gallbladder surgery, it will take time, patience, lots of questions and answers, be uncomfortable in some moments, and leave a mark (or five) on me.  I also believe I'll be better off on the other side of that process, and being pain free post-gallbladder removal (despite being scared beforehand) makes it worthwhile.  That being said, if you've got a suggestion, send me the name for consideration!

If you're still reading this, I challenge you to find a way to pay it forward in the next week.  It could be a good deed, a favor for a colleague, buying a coffee for the person in line behind you, or some other way to share love and appreciation.  You never know what that gesture will mean to someone, but it is sure to bless you in the willingness and ability to provide the moment.  As with most of my writings, I also include a song that aligns with the theme of tonight's blog.  Thanks for reading!

P.S.  I'm sparing you the images of my surgical site, because I realize not everyone has an obsession with medical procedures and wounds like my niece Sophia.  She was the first person who asked to see them and didn't grimace or freak out in the slightest (and even I was like ewwww and I'm an EMT).  She could be the famous doctor who cures cancer some day, so I definitely encourage her interest in all things medical.  Sweet Fia has also asked how much longer she has to wait before joining me on the rescue squad to help people.  

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ode to the "New Year, New Me" Tradition

Another year has dawned and the claims of "new year, new me," umpteen resolutions, countless promises to forget the past and embrace the future, and hope for better days ahead have all been nonstop with each tick of the clock.  Then again, most of us rely on digital timekeeping devices, so the clocks silently advance with occasional alerts for calendar events, communication updates, etc.  I'll readily admit I too like to spend a bit of time reflecting on where I've been the past year and who I can be in the days ahead.  Resolutions tend to always focus on health, love and faith.  And every new year's season, I'm struck by how much has changed and yet, how little has changed.  Such contradictions baffle me, but so too does the idea of braille on a drive-up ATM and how people can say one thing but prove something else entirely by their actions.  So this year, I'm doing things a little differently not as a new and improved me, but an ever-aging me (YIKES! Did I just admit that out loud or in writing as it were? Say it ain't so!).

The aging gracefully me (my 8th graders say so and we all know kids are nothing but honest) knows with time comes wisdom.  Life provides the opportunity to learn many lessons.  Sometimes we need remediation on a few of those lessons, and other times, we are the star pupil and succeed from our first exposure.  Either way, we strive for progress.  Most of us want better versions of ourselves.  Whether that's increasing our health and fitness levels, decreasing or better managing stress, learning to embrace each moment more fully and go with the flow on occasion, invest time and other resources into making relationships with family and friends stronger than ever, we are never quite satisfied with the status quo when it comes to self.

My plans for the new year got a head start in December with multiple trips to medical practitioners.  Seriously, I met my insurance deductible in a four-day stretch and I've gone 15 years without ever once meeting a deductible.  Heck, if you were to add up all 15 years, I'm not sure the math would add up to a single year's $1,000 deductible.  So I praise God for being healthy, but I also accept that there are times I'm not able to control my own wellness and must rely on experts.  They've done great work managing symptoms and the Christmas break gallbladder surgery even had a bonus umbilical hernia repair thrown in (at cost).  My eye doctor was pleased with my stable vision despite said aging process.  So my goal to prioritize my health with more conversations with primary care physician and others is already in progress.  I'll continue with some chats about weight loss options (thyroid specialist and maybe others), a dentist appointment series to finally get the custom bridge I've procrastinated for four years now, and I'm even considering therapy sessions to talk through things of the past I just can't seem to get past (abusive relationships, deep-rooted grief, rape, etc.).  Heck, I feel better already and I haven't even made all the phone calls to schedule the appointments in 2015.  Correction, 2016.  You know we'll all spend the next two or three weeks making our fives look like sixes.  Don't judge.  :)

I've also determined that because change is hard, I need to make better (dare I say consistent?) use of an outlet to document life's moments big and small.  You'd think as a Baldwin girl, I'd choose photographs.  But I'm the one who avoids selfies.  I think there are maybe two or three pictures of me in European destinations despite the 30+ days I've actually enjoyed abroad.  I spent more time taking pictures of things and everyone else, forgetting to document ME in those moments.  Therefore, the easier choice for me is writing.  I love words.  I appreciate the power each one holds to give meaning to life and the metamorphosis that occurs with life's changes or progress.  The best visual I've ever had for change is that of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.  The fuzzy ugly worm shuts itself off from the world, wraps itself in special stuff that was inside her all along, and emerges as this majestic, beautiful, strong and yet delicate creature winged for flight and a very special life purpose to fulfill.  My Chrysalis people really know this transformation story well and we all love the Bible verse in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that supports progress: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here!"  I say all this to say, I'm pledging to write more in the new year.  I've chosen to go with once a week to keep the pressure on me low and hopefully the interest level high for readers.

I end this blog post with a song because, well, this is Alissa Baldwin, and music speaks to me.  It also happens to relate perfectly to the butterfly illustration above and my heart for removing my masks and walls, revealing myself in 2016 as a better version of who I can be in Christ.

Butterfly by Seven Day Jesus

As Carolyn Jolly once told me, "mirror mirror on the wall...." (she knows the rest)

Until next week, let the changes begin (continue)!