Welcoming the New Year

2018 was brutal in many ways. Like a charming house guest turned hostile, it felt like it was pummeling us mercilessly in so many different facets of our life. More than once I lay on my back, literally, not wanting to get up again. I couldn’t wait for the end of the year to come, ready to flip the calendar and move on. As the end-of-year hustle and bustle finally started to die down and I had time to feed my starving soul and rest my exhausted bones, I decided to list all the good things that had come to us during this otherwise brutal year. Funny thing is, the list was longer than I would have imagined. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing that undid the brutality, but still, goodness was there. As I gave thanks for all that was good, something inside of me shifted. Like a crack of light filtering through asphalt after a seedling pushes it’s way through, light split through the haze I was in and reminded me that goodness is always here.

Instead of wiping the year from my mind like I had planned to do, I find myself dipping my head in silent salute, satisfied that I have fought well. I am still here, still standing. Stronger than before.

New Year’s Day found me in my favorite spot, my kitchen. As Ethiopian Short Ribs simmered slowly and the laughter of my family danced in the air as they sparred back and forth with each other playing a new game around the table, I held on to my “good list” and I welcomed the new year in the best way I know how. I know in my bones that there will be hard things this year, but I also know that there will be good things too.

This is life. Never quite how we think it will be, but constantly surprising us and wowing us, if we can be still enough to listen and take a really good look.

 

Finding Gratefulness in the Midst of Suffering

I spent most of  last night in the ER with my oldest son, while medical professionals attempted to troubleshoot what was causing his 106.5F fever. He had spent most of the day sleeping, waking occasionally to down some Gatorade and painkillers and complaining of a headache that was worse than any he’s ever had. My thermometer was broken so the prompting I had to take him to STAT Care on a beautiful Saturday evening when most people were outside grilling their dinners was definitely the voice of God.

At STAT Care he shivered in a blanket, head on my lap, while we waited for an hour to be called back to a room. When the nurse took his temp, she went into a very professional panic mode and he was led immediately to see a doctor. After a negative strep test and high doses of painkillers to bring down the fever, we were sent to the ER for an IV and more testing.

On the way there, we passed a homeless couple, begging by the side of the road, same spot they had been when I passed by earlier in the day. The brief exchange we had under the quiet dark summer sky, waiting for the light to change colors, stayed with me long after we checked in to the ER. As the hours passed, they ran many more tests; an IV,  CT Scan and X-ray. The plastic chair became too hard to sit on and I paced the tiny cinder block room, with noises and beeps all around, sirens letting me know that more and more folks were being brought in until all the beds would be full with many people still left waiting. We finally received the news that I was most hoping for – he did not have bacterial meningitis. They said that it could be viral meningitis or just a really nasty virus, but either way the treatment was going to be the same, so we could go home.

Gratefulness got me through the night.

We live in a land of incredible blessing. Our hospitals are not being bombed. Kids in this country don’t have to die for lack of medical care. Tylenol and Ibuprofen could have saved my son’s life, they certainly brought his fever down nearly 7 degrees in less than an hour.

Support. I lost track of how many friends who were reaching out in the middle of the night to let me know they were praying or taking care of my youngest son.

Technology. It allowed the doctors to diagnose relatively quickly and kept me connected to my husband on the other side of the world.

Humor. My son had me laughing out loud as we waited through his pain. He joked that he was turning into a super-hero, the Human Torch. He was sure that the fever had burned up all of his calories and he was starving, searching in vain for a food option on the call button but finding only water and toilet.

Kindness. When we finally got to the ER, another mom let me turn in my paperwork ahead of her when she saw my desperation. She also happened to be a Muslim, a distinct minority in this Midwest city I live in, and she was extremely generous.

Authenticity. I saw it in the eyes of the man by the side of the road. A mixture of suffering, strength, gratefulness, humility and dignity. A window into the human soul of all of us.

Peace. I’m a worrier. Anxiety is very familiar to me. Usually it’s for things I find later I didn’t need to worry about.  But in moments like last night, when I really have reason to worry, I have discovered a peace that comes from God alone. There’s no other way to explain it.

Home. It never looked so good. The reality of life’s unfairness is not lost on me. Around the world, many other parents have no hospital to take their feverish child to, and no home to come back to after a long night.

I hold these blessings in my hands, mindfully giving thanks.

 

 

 

40 Days

Miller Family

What would you do if you had 40 days left to live?

I would gather my family and friends a little closer and let them know how much they have blessed my life. I would say “I love you” much more often. I would spend more time on Facebook so that I could know a little more about the lives of my friends. I would tell them, every chance I could, how amazing they are. I would savor rich, dark chocolate and give thanks for the farmers who can care for both the crop and their families because they are paid a fair wage.  And while I sip my morning cup of freshly roasted coffee I would wrap myself in a Kantha and pray with tear-filled eyes for the women whose stories are stitched into these colorful saris and for the many more women who are still waiting for hope to come to them. I would wear a piece of fair trade jewelry and laugh for the joy of the fact that a woman’s life has forever changed by this simple act of love and dignity. I would fill the table with love and spices and I would share and love and share some more. I would stop my day’s work a little sooner and stress less about the profit and loss report. I would stand in awe, in a world of snow and build a snowman with my son. In our imaginative fun, we would save the world from bad guys and maybe, just maybe, in real life he would realize he is a hero too. I would take in the joy and the fullness of the life I have. At the end of each day, I would gather my family around, turn off the lights, put away the electronics, light some candles and give thanks.

Savor. Remember. Enjoy. Love. Speak. Hug. Cry. Laugh.

And they would be the 40 best days of my life.

Lent. Celebration. Life.

“Loadshedding” and Lent

CandlelightLent is a bit foreign to me. It’s not something practiced in my home as a child. In fact, I was an adult before I really heard about it. The usual things I hear that people give up for Lent – coffee, chocolate, sweets, meat, Facebook, etc. don’t really jive for me. I’m glad if it works for them, but for me it has felt like a drudgery, reminiscent of periods of my life that brought more harm than good to my soul. I’ve tried, for a couple years now, to add something to my life during lent, instead of taking something away. This year caught me off guard and I realized that Lent had already started without my giving it a second thought. I don’t want to do something just to “do something”. It must have meaning or it won’t last more than a couple of days.

So the other day, during my morning coffee, I remembered a phase of our life in Bangladesh, when the power would go off every evening for about an hour.  At first it was source of great frustration, then we began to expect it and almost look forward to it. We would be forced to stop what we were doing, gather around in the dark and talk together as a family. No electronics. No work to distract. Just sit in the dark. Together. We would talk about what we missed from home and what we loved about our new host country. We would remember, laugh, share sadness and embrace hope.

I got to thinking about “load-shedding”, the term given to those periods of power outage. There was not enough electrical power for everyone, so section of the city would take turns doing without, so someone else could have power and the whole system would not become overtaxed. Why not practice load-shedding for lent? It might be a little quirky but I must say it is meaningful to me. Maybe it will last more than a couple of days. After all, if we give up anything at all, wouldn’t it be so much more meaningful if it actually helped someone else?

After dinner and dishes, we turn off the lights, set our electronic devices aside and light a few candles. The furnace is turned low so it won’t run and we sit in our quiet house and share stories. We remember the past. We go on rabbit trails in the present. We laugh. We tell more stories.

Then we shift our focus, because this whole “load-shedding” idea is not just about us having warm and happy memories. We talk about others who are carrying a load and need help to carry that load. Sitting in the quiet glow of a few candles, we pray for them. We carry their loads in our hearts. We love. We share. Stories from China, Korea, Bangladesh and Egypt surface. We remember that the world is big. We remember that God is good. We remember that human greed has corrupted the abundance that was meant to be. We remind ourselves that the story is not yet over, that there is still abundance to be had. And we set our hearts to live lives of generous hope.

-Marita Miller

Shelling Peas

DSC_8794Plip. Plop. The peas fell gently into the bowl as we stood in my tiny kitchen, backs to the rest of the house, hands busy manipulating fresh pea pods that had just come into season. Eager to taste the new crop that my helper had picked up in the market, I had busied myself shelling peas. “Sister, let me do that,” she had urged. “No, no,” I said, “I enjoy work.” So, we stood together in that tiny place and there she opened a tiny door into her huge heart.

Plop. Plip. Plop. I asked about her family and and soon learned that she had four children.
When her youngest was just a baby, her husband died and her in-laws threw her and her children out of their residence. Desperate, she returned home to live with her parents who helped with her children while she got by with whatever work she could find, cleaning and cooking for others. About this same time, one of her sons began to have seizures. There wasn’t much money for doctors, but she managed to get him some medicine that helped. Without the meds, he was having seizures every day while with the meds, it was only several times a month. Still, his condition prohibited him from attending school and she could not leave him alone. During the darkest hours of her life, she had no choice but to lock him in a room, alone, while she went to eke out a living to provide food for him and his siblings that night.  As he grew older and his condition worsened, her daughter stopped going to school in order to care for him, while she worked to keep food on the table. She rarely found steady work, just bits and pieces here and there. Yet, she was one of the lucky ones. Most Bangladeshi women in this situation either leave their children with their grandparents and move to the city to work under grueling conditions in a garment factory,  or end up selling their bodies – either out of utter desperation or by coercion. She fought and sacrificed in order to stay with her children. On countless nights she went to bed with an empty belly so they could have something in theirs. She took her son to the doctor whenever she could afford to and spent all that she had so he could have enough medicine to get through another month. Never before had I seen such a fierce and utterly deep love.

Some of you may be unconvinced, stuck on the part where she locked him in a room. You may be screaming, “Child Abuse!” and wondering where social services were. Exactly! Where were they? As broken and messed up as our system is here in the US, most of us have access to resources. No matter the horror story one finds herself in, there are resources to help, options to pursue. Abandoned women in Bangladesh do not have that luxury. Family may take them back in…or not often depending upon their own financial situation. Too often it is just them against a cruel world. And this woman fought back. The cruelty she endured somehow hasn’t warped her heart or embittered her spirit.

Tears overflowed her eyes and rolled gently down her brown cheeks as her story rolled out. Peas plopping into the bowl. My hands couldn’t keep up as my thoughts swirled and collided with each other in my tiny brain and I tried to comprehend it all. Her son, now a grown man, will never know life as a grown man. Too many years of not having the right treatment has left him scarred and broken. He will never carry on a normal conversation. Never run to the market to buy rice for dinner. He will never marry and bring a daughter-in-law into the home to care for her when she is older. He has to always have someone by his side. Her family is older now and can help. He wears a motorcycle helmet when he goes about, just in case he falls. She told me, with tears in her eyes, how he wasn’t sleeping at night after an especially tough episode and she had spent most of the night fanning him in an attempt to keep him comfortable.

She doesn’t waste her energy thinking about what could have been. She embraces each moment she has of her life. Always thinking about her precious children and now her beautiful new granddaughter.

I was honored to meet her whole family all one day. She served us tea and snacks in her tiny, two-room house. I felt as if I was in a castle and she was the queen. Surrounded by her beautiful family, the love was tangible.

I want to love like that. Not caught up in all the “what ifs”  but embracing the life that is in front of me. Fiercely. Gently. With everything I have.

Plip. Plop. Plip. I’ll never see peas the same way again.