The huge steak cooking on the grill of our Central American condo smelled more amazing than any I could remember. A cheap steak, for sure, at less than five dollars a pound, and not the tenderest we’d ever had, but I cut it into tiny pieces and didn’t care. Here, exotic birds squawked all around us, strange neon orange flowers bloomed in the most brilliant of green. Even my toes sang of paradise. Yet this trip had almost not happened.
You know that moment you’re shaken out of a deep sleep? Whether a wanted wake-up call or the shock of a sudden clap of thunder, It’s horrible. You feel disoriented. It takes time for the fog to clear, but when you get moving, you begin to feel grateful. Either you woke up in time, or you missed an appointment or disappointed someone. It’s happened to most of us.
Before my fortieth anniversary (I wrote it out so I wouldn’t have to look at the actual number…) I’d neglected caring for both “my temple” and my husband.
A wake-up call was sorely needed.
My husband’s prostate cancer and mouth issues racked our 2015. Though these health issues didn’t threaten his life (The cancer was caught early enough.), they threatened his strength, his sense of well-being – and our marriage, it seemed. Instead of empathizing with his emotional state, I fretted. I thought he should buck up and “tough out” the radiation treatments. Severe weight loss, sleepless nights, doctor visits, pain, and sadness took a heavy toll..
In an attempt to stay distracted (Grandkids, writing groups, church stuff) I rarely worked out at the gym, and important supplements went by the wayside.
Yet crazy wonderful, undeserved gifts came along anyway. Shortly after the diagnosis, a generous man in Walt’s men’s ministry offered us a ten-day stay in a resort in the region of the Panama Canal. Oh, wow. Grateful, knowing our milestone anniversary approached, Walt booked flights for February 2016. But as Summer turned to Fall, the idea of celebrating our Valentine’s Day vows in a foreign country filled him with dread. Real dread.
I thought he’d cancel the trip.
Physical recovery finally arrived -slow and steady, inch by inch – in late Fall. By Thanksgiving he’d begun to gain weight, put in full days of work again. But he still dreaded even the thought of the trip.
“They don’t speak English there, you know – at all. H-how about a nice steak dinner downtown?”
“Okay, Hon, it’s your call. We’ll stay at home.”
Did you pick up a slight edge of anger? I felt us growing farther and farther apart. My sad “Me” song, with so many verses, by now must have sounded like a dirge.
Then, right after the holidays passed, the trip resurrected. He decided to go for it. I wanted to be excited, yet throughout January my wrestling match with God kept excitement at bay. God was asking me to pull the big log out of my eye so I could see my recovering prince with new vision – not “me-opia.” What would it be like traveling to an exotic wonderland if the experience was just “ro-tic” – you know, romantic without the “man.” Or man-ic – a crazy heart, with a man by my side.
Could tropical air melt my ice?
In the two weeks prior to boarding the plane, however, my angst reached its limit. Once again I reached out to help with skin on. Through conversations with loving friends I decided to try a new tack. To take responsibility for having a good time.
When February 7, 2016 finally arrived, a cab driver greeted us holding a name sign, and ushered us out into the blast of an eighty-nine degree welcome. It seemed that all of Panama opened its arms to us. Ash Wednesday, in a few days, coincided with their version of Mardi Gras, Carnival, so the city would be all astir after dark. The driver stopped so we could get groceries, pointed out sights of the city, and finally pulled into our efficiency condo, high on a hill overlooking the Panama Canal. Breathtaking.
Suitcases dropped inside the door, we made sandwiches. I couldn’t wait. Like a bird dog lunges from the kennel to hunt, I switched to my summer sandals, and sprinted across the room. The problem, however, was a four-inch step-down from where I stood near the kitchen. Of course I didn’t negotiate the change in levels, and (of course) I flew through the air. With a hard land on my wrist, the room went black for a millisecond. Then I rolled onto my back. (You may have read about my indoor flying capabilities, and how quite often I succeeded in making almost poetic landings. Not this time.)
“Honey! I’m pretty sure I broke my wrist.”
He had only to glance. No doubt. Bones had moved, causing my hand to be misshapen. Here we were in our first hour in a foreign land, on a Sunday evening- and no ambulances, due to Carnival. Odd, I thought, is it my turn for physical pain?
Our property manager, Karolina, came quickly and drove us to a private hospital. Careening through streets of tenement buildings and skyscrapers, seeing normal life (oh, my, the drivers!) so far from home, it was indisputable. Through searing pain, I knew miracles had begun.. A few hours later, after x-rays and paperwork, when our English-speaking orthopedic surgeon arrived, he announced the obvious – surgery. But due to that sandwich at six, a private room and a clean bed were prepared for me.
Still awake at midnight, many floors up, my huge window became a theatre. Miniature fireworks, real fireworks, not brainchildren of drugs, lit up the distant sky The reverie soothed me like the cracking and exploding of so many past New Year’s Eves, knowing another year lay ahead, another page turned. In low volume stereo God celebrated His sovereignty over every detail of this situation – while Walt slept on the hospital cot near me.
Next afternoon, in the recovery room of this Third World Country, I learned that a titanium plate, placed in my wrist with screws, would hold the bones together – no cast necessary. So, arm wrapped in purple, we returned to our “vacation.”
Throughout the next week, my now “well” husband saw to my every “sick” need. The irony wasn’t wasted on me. He cooked, helped me bathe, did all the tidying and dish-washing. He gave me the life of a princess, and without a single complaint. As I came out of the fog of drugs and contemplated what love does, I felt very small.
The wake-up call of my broken wrist jolted me into the reality that:
- You must give a big mess time. The worst enemy of peace is fretting. I know it sounds so trite. But my wrist couldn’t heal over-night, or over a few weeks. It would be months. And my grown-up husband looked at the reality and relaxed. Ouch. Did I have to learn it because I missed it with his cancer?
- You can’t skip calcium and Vitamin D month after month and not put your bones at risk. Osteoporosis sneaked in the back door while I stewed over “supposed” lost dreams, and neglected my doctor’s orders.
- You must look for God in the details of each mess. For this most recent one:
—-That our property manager, Karolina, spoke impeccable English and could translate in a foreign hospital the minutest details of care and x-rays and procedure. She gladly did this for a day and a half, even brought Walt breakfast and waited with him for the two and a half hour surgery!
—–That the doctor we couldn’t choose came to us highly recommended, performed to the highest standard, and spoke perfect English.
—–That almost no communication with our kids, work and office freed us to relish a tropical paradise. Freed us to spend quality and quantity time together – without interruptions.
—-That the second half of the trip was made better by the difficulty of the first half. There’s a lesson right there. Our steak in paradise may have been tough. But by cutting it into tiny pieces, each piece went down perfectly, tasting grand. I ate on that steak for days after we cooked it -on top of salads, in toast with mayo, and with bacon and lettuce on a bun…
Do you make a mess of things because of dashed expectations, because of worry that time is passing you by, because of the possibilities a trial might bring? Cut the pieces smaller.
And by the way, are you taking your calcium?
My wake-up call makes me remember to take my gargantuan pill – regularly. Sometimes I cut it in half.