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Guarded

I’m afraid one has all the goodness and the other all the appearance of it. – Jane Austen

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.  – Proverbs

 

The boy with the bread gets me every single time.

For those of you who’ve read The Hunger Games, my apologies from the start: I’m Team Peeta.

Something about how he bakes when he’s stressed

or the moment he tosses Katniss

the burnt loaf of bread

on the day when she’s starving,

or perhaps the way Suzanne Collins described him from the beginning,

I knew he was the hero of that story.

Or maybe it’s because I have my own boy with the bread.

In the disaster of the last six months,

the series of moments-turned-into-months

in which one catastrophe morphed into another

and one heartbreak multiplied on top of itself,

-all while we were waiting to hear if I was dying or not-

I had thought about,

perhaps even vowed

to give up this blog.

For good.

Truly, for everyone’s good.

See, when you’re thinking this might be the beginning of the end

you realize that all the things you used to expect of your life

like, of course I get to live 80 years or so,

and of course there’s some equity in suffering,

and everyone’s got a story to tell,

you come to conclusions like,

if this really big thing has already hit me

then certainly I wouldn’t get five other really big things

to deal with

all at once,

and if that couldn’t-possibly-happen

actually did happen

then of course some of those I treasure most

wouldn’t turn and strike

while at my lowest

of

lows.

My friends,

unfortunately,

sometimes

those life rules

those surely-not-this truisms

we’ve collected over our whispers of time

here on a swiftly tilting planet,

just.

get.

wiped.

out,

blown bright blue breaths of what once was who we were yesterday

and who we’ll never be again.

And while I’ve grown to love,

embrace,

even welcome

the blows of beautiful comrades

who want better for me,

sometimes the things that pierce our hearts are not

the wise rebukes of wonderful friends

who know we can be better and tell us so.

Sometimes those daggers are just that – blows that

(conscious or not)

were meant to hurt.

And while the first offer hope that our ends could be so much better than our beginnings,

the second merely pushes us back in the box we came from

with such great force

that we think we can’t possibly ever break out of it.

So in these moments-turned-into-months

that I spent stuffed in the corner of my dark little box

infested with all the words and wounds

of yesterday

I had plenty of time to think about why all these

worst things that could be said about me

didn’t feel true

anymore.

It was more than pain.

It was a breaking of sorts.

Somewhere, in the middle of all of this, our breadmaker quit.

And while we debated whether or not to buy a new one

my personal bread baker

(Confession: I have never, I repeat never, made bread or anything resembling it, from scratch, in a machine, or otherwise. If you have received bread from my hands then it was not made by my hands).

took it upon himself

to learn how to make bread

without the machine.

Now, some five months later or so, three or more nights a week are spent in our living room,

a movie on the television

while one of us marks schoolwork

and the other kneads bread.

And I confess again, all talk of a new bread machine has silenced.

Not only is the bread he makes by hand so much better than the machine’s,

he actually likes the process.

Look at this, the boy with the bread marvels, his eyes lit up like a child’s as they open their favorite birthday present.

He offers two balls of dough, one in each hand.

This one, he says, this one has been kneaded thoroughly.

He makes me touch it, feel it. It’s soft – a cushion, really. Every dent I try to put in it dissolves the moment my finger lifts.

See? he exclaims. Watch.

He lifts one edge of the bread and slams it down against the other edge, flips it, and crashes down again.

It looks almost violent.

When water mixes with gluten, it causes the gluten to develop. The sponginess is directly related to how well-worked the gluten is.

He pulls out the ball that has been worked enough and stretches it out.

A well-kneaded ball of dough can be stretched to the point you can see right through it

(at this point he holds the thinnest part of now two feet long stretch of dough by his face and smiles at me through it)

and it doesn’t break.

Show me the other ball, I said.

Ah, that, Mr. Breadmaker-who’s-still-the-star-of-this-blog sighs. It breaks. Feel it.

I put down my marking and press my hands into the dough that hasn’t been worked over,  the ball that’s been saved the rough and tumble of the kneading process so far.

And every press and marking I make in it

stays

there,

like the dough is collecting its wounds.

The boy with the bread picks up this second dough, the one not-so-well-kneaded, and tries to stretch it out as he had the other.

It’s not even two or three inches apart before it snaps in two.

A well-kneaded dough, under pressure, stays together, he says.

One that’s had it easy breaks at the first sign of stretch.

Three years ago,

I was reading The Hunger Games on my break at work.

The blog star called me to say

I’m headed into emerg. The girls are with friends. I think I’m in atrial fibrillation again.

I felt my heart drop to my feet

because

I’d just gotten to the part in Catching Fire

where Peeta touches the forcefield

and his heart stops.

I raced downstairs only to find two sympathetic ambulance drivers looking at me with kind eyes and soft smiles.

His vitals were good, one said. Sats, rate, pressure all perfect. We think its a –

I interrupted them. I get it.

I looked at my boy with the bread. I saw the fear in his eyes. I said,

Hey.

And he knew what had happened.

Because of that,

neither one of us freaks out

whenever he feels that thing,

because we know it might not be real.

So when I got a call three weeks ago

as I was leaving work

that I think I’m in afib again,

I didn’t believe him.

Take some deep breaths, I said. I’m on my way, but it’s probably nothing.

But when I pulled up to the door

and I saw him look out

my heart dropped to two floors below my feet

because his face said it all:

grey.

mottled.

worried.

And as I grabbed his wrist, the uneven, thready beats against my fingertips said even more.

It was real.

The ambulance was there in minutes. An IV in, the electrical paddles out, then:

I think we can make it to emerg. Probably best we do it there.

The eight or so men in the living room all look up at me: You okay?

Yeah, sure, I lied.

They left, with reassurances and promises that I could call for any updates.

I fell to the floor and called for help.

What can I do? was the answer to every text I sent.

For what felt like the first time, I let myself need these people who offered to be needed,

and in moments,

they were on their way:

one to watch our kids,

another to get me to the hospital,

a third to say I’m so sorry and We’ll be right there and what I needed to hear most, which was:

We love you.

The one who got me to emerg – and the other who met me there – stood on either side and held my hands, my arms, anything to hold me up

while my boy with the bread

had his heart restarted.

In order to do this, of course, they had to sedate him.

And conscious sedation is kind of a fun experience for those around the one getting it.

Ahem.

Just a heads up, the ER doc warned me, this is pretty much truth serum. I’ve had men confess to affairs under this stuff before.

Don’t worry, I laughed. That’s not what’s going to happen here.

And it wasn’t.

Oh.

I wish.

I could capture these moments for all of you to see how beautiful it was.

For while the moment the electrical restart went through David’s body was nothing short of exquisitely painful for me –

that long, dark, owwwwwwwwww he cried while sitting up and glaring at the medical staff around him part terrifying, part endearing

because, let’s face it, the first time this happened he had gone through this alone

and I had no idea how much it hurt

– the moments that followed were nothing but pure gold.

He’s in sinus, the ER doc said to me, proudly? reassuringly? In either case, it made me smile.

As he started to reorient himself to the real world, the inner workings of his mind and heart started pouring out:

Is that you, Lana?

Wow, I’m thirsty. (to our friend), I will give you two million dollars if you get me a drink of water right. now.

Her response was perfect: You don’t have two million dollars, buddy.

#(*$&%*&^$ it!!! Came the retort.

Another friend walked in.

Heeeeyyyyyy I know you…. I was on a beach with you…. they kept asking me to think of when I was last on a beach…. hey guys!!! She was there! She was with us on a beach!

Both my friends are now doubled over with laughter.

He looks straight (well, as straight as straight can be under ketamine) at me and asks, in all seriousness,

Did I give away the secrets to the rebel base?

– Oh honey.

They were on Dantooine, he laughs. Princess Leia lied!

The ER doc walks back in, and even he is smiling.

Did you know that ninjas are the best???

The nurse looks at my shaking body and says, hey, stop taping him. It’s not fair.

I look up to see even he is stifling a grin.

See, if truth serum reveals what is actually in our hearts,

then what’s in my husband’s heart is nothing more or less

than the dreams of a five-year-old boy who fully intends to be a hero.

And, my friends, that’s exactly who he is.

It’s beautiful.

Untainted.

Unprotected by the acquired wisdom of age and intelligence

he’s never been more real

or more endearing.

Because, if we’re all really being honest,

deep inside

we’re still just five-year-old little girls and boys

claiming to be so grown up

and over it

and fine on my own, thank you very much

except all of that is a lie.

And we mask it oh. so. well.

Some stunningly beautiful, others stark and ugly,

these masks can serve us a very long time, if we learn to use them.

But sooner or later

they are ripped out by their roots,

leaving spindly tracks that

– if not filled with the right kind of balm –

get infected with trickles and gushes of garbage

passed on by others

who aren’t aware of all the things they are scrambling to do to keep their own five year old hidden.

But, my friends, if I could warn you:

These masks are dangerous.

Acutely aware of how uncertain our circumstances are these past few months, I’ve asked several friends

how we can get ourselves into situations

where nothing looks right-side-up anymore.

It’s scary, one of them said. But unfortunately we see this kind of thing all the time. The right shake up comes along and the most mature among us can be revealed to be as undeveloped and immature as any spiritual infant.

What happens? I asked.

Filters falter. Masks fall.  The things we’ve spent doing in our thirties and forties are revealed for what they’ve produced in our fifties and sixties.

In other words,

friends,

how we cultivate our hearts

– nay, our souls –

in the young, thriving, oh-so-busy parts of our lives,

in the years when we’re so tempted to just keep doing and never slow down

will produce a garden for the whole world to see as we grow older

and all those props we’ve used until then

– our careers, our families, our homes, our abilities, our talents, our treasures –

will prove themselves no longer as valuable as we once thought them.

And I don’t want them to see a wasteland.

I want to invite them in to a beautiful patch of fresh, bright, goodness.

One of my nearest and dearests is a woman whom I have loved dearly for years but whom I’ve only started to truly know recently. Along the way I’d admired her grace and her oh-so-strong filter, her carefulness to speak only truth and love and wisdom and whatever needed to be said in the moment, and if there’s ever been moments where I’ve known she’s held something back from me,

I’ve also known she was disciplining her soul to be new and different

and setting a standard for all those who wanted to see it:

Show me I can trust you.

There’s such wisdom in that, friends.

See, in the last few months of dark thoughts and murky backwaters, in an effort to commit to growth and let myself be kneaded to the point of transparency without breaking,

I’ve also subjected my heart

– and my husband’s –

to wasteful un-truth

and in so doing,

failed to guard the heart of the one I love the most

whose heart is really part of mine.

And as his heart was restarted in pain,

so was mine.

There is great wisdom in guarding our hearts well, friends.

If we don’t, we might not have a healthy garden to show in twenty or thirty years.

Another of my dearests

asked me this the other day

as we watched so many around us

end part of their lives

at less than their best.

How do we not do that? she asked me.

You’re younger than me, she said. Feel free to smack me back on track if I try and pull that off.

I promised, but of course, there’s no guarantee I’ll be there to see it.

Because we don’t know when we’re finishing, friends.

We just don’t.

I do know this, however: I intend to finish well.

Because if I’m honest,

I’ve never been too interested in things that start well.

Things that start like a house on fire can also blow up in less than five minutes.

I’ve also never been too interested in things that look too good from the outside.

Give me Darcy, not Wickham.

I want the one whose soul is revealed to be nothing but good,

when all the masks are down.

Because while true goodness of character is sometimes masked by poor reputation,

a tree is known by its fruit

and you just don’t get bad fruit from a good tree.

Speaking of trees,

these days I’ve been told a lot that I’m that apple that didn’t fall too far from it.

And though I’ve often heard, You’re just like your father, these past few months that thought has carried around a bit of sting.

Because my dad did not start well.

And if I’m being honest, neither did I.

It took cancer to change both of us. It took the threat of death to bring new life.

Every three months, someone sticks a needle in my arm

to collect a sample

that tells me if I am finishing yet or not.

The results in November seemed to say that perhaps the finish was closer than we’d hoped. The disease was returning, the mutation re-mutating, the numbers of cancer gene rising.

And while my emotional world crashed around me

I learned that

finish line or not

I was going to be okay.

Good, even.

To the point when I walked into the oncologist’s office in February

and had a new doctor

smaller in stature than my nine-year-old

tell me that not only were the numbers better

they were the best they’ve ever been,

I realized that sometimes we all need a painful event

to restart our heart

and set us back to sinus rhythm.

The good news: For now, I’m not finishing yet.

But when I do, I intend to finish well.

Hopefully,

I am just like my father.

Because that man, he. ended. well.

So well, in fact, I barely remember how he started, except to say that I know it was so different than how he ended that I can testify to anyone who asks that

he let himself be mastered

by the One who knows so much better than we do

that our hearts desperately need the violent, cataclysmic effects of an Expert Bread Maker

who won’t let us stay un-kneaded.

It’s those painful, forceful workings of the Bread Maker’s hands that let us be soft enough to not collect every wound that could possibly touch us,

and allow us to,

like the boy with the bread,

plant flowers in the middle of our losses

and remind us

that

even in grief there is the hope of something new.

It is only the well-kneaded that have the strength to say,

even though I’ve endured much pain,

I won’t inflict it on anyone else.

That’s the beautiful overflow of a guarded heart.

That’s a heart that can plant flowers while the one it loves grieves the world they used to know.

That’s the man I live with.

He’s that gentle voice that says, hey, we can do something with this.

Even now.

Even now.

Friends,

be not afraid to share your heart with those who can be trusted with it.

But be also not afraid to keep it safe for those who should see it.

(here’s a hint: that’s not everyone)

Because not only are our hearts precious,

they’re the thing that will carry us through our six, seven, even eight or nine decades.

They’re the thing that’s revealed as the filters fail and wrinkles win.

And I don’t know about you, but I want mine

to be the best thing that anyone ever saw of me.

So, what do you say

we guard them well?

For good.

For everyone’s good.

 

 

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Louise Niessen #

    A beautifully written insight into our journey through this life. Blessings.

    May 1, 2015
  2. Laura #

    i love you. and this… it’s stunning.

    May 2, 2015
  3. Sammy McMurphey #

    oh honey, you’re incredible… yes, those who’ve known you long, and those who just met you, can’t help but care about you… I didn’t know your breadmaker went through such a scare again… enough you two! no more, got that?! please feel some extra loves your way…. sammy

    May 3, 2015
  4. anneliese #

    Your life have been refined by fire and you have a unique and wonderful way of living and expressing it. Thankful with you for the new lease on life for both of you.
    Our heart (s), may we guard it above all in the way that counts! Proverbs 4:23 Love the bread dough lesson too! Way to go on the bread baking!

    May 4, 2015

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