Surviving Plan B

            I recently joined a women’s Bible study group that meets once a week.  We’re using curriculum based materials entitled Loving God with All Your Mind, written by author and lecturer Elizabeth George. 

            Each of the six chapters focuses on a key verse that Mrs. George explores in-depth. In chapter two she emphasizes winning over worry.  She teaches that we should always have a plan for our day—Plan A she calls it—one that will get us moving and make our days flow. Plans help to reduce stress and make our tasks more enjoyable, reducing the need to worry and fret about getting everything done. And, she says, if God has something else in mind for our day, we should have a Plan B.  A flexibility plan, so to speak.

            Today was a Plan B day which, if you knew me, is not good.

            I am a routine kind of person.  I plan my days out so I know what I’m doing, or planning to do, from the time I rise until I shut off the lights at night.  I’m a list maker and a multi-tasker.  I don’t know any other way to function.

            The habit of planning came as a result of homeschooling my children.  With two very different personalities, abilities and interests, my children were a challenge to keep on task and motivated through the various disciplines the state’s school system requires. I had to plan history lessons, science experiments, writing assignments, math quizzes—the works—for both children. On top of that I had to do the laundry, clean the house, shop for groceries and cook the meals.  Without organization and creative thinking to incorporate some of those tasks into school lessons, I wouldn’t have survived.

            But fifteen years of practice (my children were three grades apart) cemented those skills into my brain and continued to influence my behavior even after the home school closed and the textbooks disappeared. I had become rigid; flexibility for me could have been a four-letter word. So when I read Mrs. George’s chapter, I identified with the need to go with the flow. God apparently thought so, too, if today was any indication.

            Today was Monday, a day I clean house. I have people coming into my home on Tuesday and again on Thursday, so I try to tidy the house, clean the floors and get everything orderly after the weekend. After my morning Bible study and my exercise time on the treadmill, I spend my morning moving from room to room with the goal of finishing by 2 pm. That hour represents the start of my office hours. 

            I am a writer and five years ago decided I would write from 2-4 pm every day.  I had learned the need for a daily writing time from another author who said half of the success in writing comes from just showing up.

            I had also planned to fast today, a habit that I’ve been practicing now for a while.  Mrs. George also promotes the regimen. With the fast comes the opportunity to pray throughout the day. Little did I realize that I would need it.

            The first thing I noticed this morning was my vacuum cleaner was throwing as much stuff down the hall as it was picking up. I checked the bag and found that it was indeed full.  But changing the bag didn’t solve the problem.  I groaned.  This particular model of vacuum can get little wedges of paper stuck in its suction tube.  Probably the combination of an overfull bag and continued vacuuming had created a paper dam in the tube. No cleaning until the jam is broken. Thank you, Lord, for this unexpected challenge.  I know I have things to learn from this.

             I had just unscrewed the moveable parts when I hear a bang, bang, bang on my door.  I recognized the sound.  My neighbor had finished with his newspaper and brought it over since we are currently boycotting the local paper. But he also had a clipboard in his hand.  Because he is 87 and doesn’t own a computer he has relied on me to help him with his insurance claims. The company that insures him suddenly decided all claims must be made online.  That’s great, if you’re internet savvy.  He’s not. Thank you, Lord, for this dear old neighbor. Help me to represent you while I help him.

            Today he needed a copy. Great.  Took two minutes. That was easy, Lord. He’s off and I’m back to the vacuum.  Bang, Bang, Bang. He’s back. More clipboards.  More insurance copies.  No cleaning. Lord, are you trying to tell me something?

             He thanks me that now we have everything figured out.  Even, he says, got the payments automatically deducted from his checking account and the reimbursement automatically deposited.  I ask him if he filled out the paper for the deductions.  He leaves to look for paper. I return to the vacuum cleaner. Lord, I pray that those I love are having a productive day.  Bang, Bang, Bang. Guess who?  We fill out the paper, make a copy and he leaves.  Good thing there’s no cookies in the cookie jar. Or this fast would be history.

            My college son drops by.  He has no washing machine, so he needs to do an emergency load of laundry while he works on his project.  Fine, I say.  I only have one more load to do anyway. Bless this boy, Lord, and help him get his projects finished.

             My daughter brings out some of her artwork that hasn’t yet been mounted.  Needs help. By the time we finish, it is twelve o’clock. Lord, give me patience to get all this done.

            I made my shopping list last night and I need to go to the store. I know if I don’t leave soon, I won’t be back by 2.  I return at 2:01.  I unload some of the groceries.  Phone rings.  It’s my tax preparer confirming my appointment. I’m still smiling, Lord.  I unload more groceries.  Phone rings.  The doctor has the results of the blood tests and needs to phone in an Rx for my husband. Nothing serious, but they have some additional pills to be picked up. Thank you that he’s healthy. I finish the groceries. What are we doing here, now, Lord?

            It’s now 2:45. I decide to put dinner in the oven and set the automatic timer so I can go write by 3. At least I’ll still have my two hours if I start then and don’t stop until 5 when the dinner will finish.  But I remember the prescription and the pills must be picked up before 5. I write until 4, get in the car, pick up the Rx and return home to finish dinner. I really deserve food after all this, don’t I? No, that’s why it’s called a fast.

 The laundry is not finished, the floors will have to cleaned by broom and mop because the vacuum must be taken in.  After dinner, I clean up the kitchen, mop the floors, and finish the laundry. Bedtime approaches and I thank the Lord for the strength He gave me to finish.

            It was a Plan B day and I survived.  Did you notice, God?   

            I can’t wait to see what next week’s emphasis is in the book by Mrs. George.

The Aarghs! of Aging

The mother-in-law of a dear friend of mine recently suffered a stroke. The incident didn’t leave any permanent damage, but the event trumpeted the need for a lifestyle change for both the woman and her aging husband.  Having lived independently well into their eighties, the thought of seeking assistance from outsiders formed a bad taste in their mouths and was met with combat- ready resistance. My friend’s husband became the enemy.

I had seen this attitude before–not only in the elderly. I witnessed it in my mother while she lived and had discovered I possessed the same stubborn will as well.  My mother would rather have fallen than use the walker I brought to her home. That device belonged in someone else’s home, not hers. Then I faced a long recovery after a back injury and resisted the inevitable—help from an outside source. Was this attitude something I’d developed myself or is it embedded in a person’s natural need to be independent? I’ll let you decide after you’ve read my story. 

No one seems to know when I injured myself—not the doctor, not my husband, and not the chiropractor—but somewhere in the last several decades of my life I have fallen or been jolted severely enough to cause three of the vertebra in my back to collapse and pancake on top of each other.  Add to that the growth of some arthritis spurs back near the tailbone, along with a twisted pelvis, and you have a painful, if not mobility-threatening mess.

I discovered my condition after driving six hundred miles round-trip to a writing conference in Seattle. My hip ached the entire weekend and I noticed that my left knee registered pain when I walked.  During the return trip, sitting caused increasing discomfort while I drove. When I finally arrived home, I could barely navigate the sidewalk to the front door.

The intensity of the pain stopped me cold.  I thought I had done something to my knee.  Surgery seemed a likely possibility. I hobbled around for a week, not sure who to see for the problem, nor was I certain I wanted to see anyone.  Finally, a friend suggested a chiropractor.  I’d considered this before, but hadn’t made an appointment.  Faced with the reality of surgery, I decided to give the chiropractor a chance.

With that choice followed several months of therapy. The popping and realignment of my bones often left me breathless.  Under strict orders not to lift anything, I tiptoed through my summer, afraid of re-injuring my fragile backside. Asking my family for help, I adjusted to a new life style—one that meant I wasn’t as independent as I had been.  But the lifestyle change paid off and I slowly regained my mobility without going under a knife.  Moreover, I discovered that the night pain and stiffness that had grown increasingly annoying disappeared.    

Often during the course of that summer my son suggested I needed a walker.  I staunchly refused.  I used a cane to get to the backyard or I’d pick up a plastic chair and walk it to the garden area I wanted to work.  I’d sit to cook in the kitchen. The walls of  my home served as places to lean as I inched my way from room to room.  But use a walker? That sort of equipment was reserved for elderly people with mobility problems.  I could hobble anywhere I needed to go, thank you very much!

I laughed at my reaction. Obviously I’m no different than the mother-in-law of my friend, fiercely independent and planning to stay that way. I imagine that deep down inside,all of us fear the changes aging will bring. Who would choose to give up their driver’s license?  Who would have a stranger fix a meal in their home?  Who would surrender to the indignities of needing help bathing, dressing or visiting the restroom without a fight?  Yet, such annoyances find their way to the heartiest among us eventually.

And so, as I listened sympathetically to my friend expound on the battle being waged between her husband and his parents, I understood. I only hope that I can grow wiser as I age and avoid setting off World War III with my children when the time comes.

 Anyone care to make a bet?