On Standing in Corners and the Love of Friends

“Friends are the Family we choose for ourselves.” I’m not sure where first I heard this quote, but as I have aged, I have realized how very true it is.

Please, don’t mistake me – I love my family dearly. But in many ways, they don’t know me as well as those with whom I’ve chosen to surround myself over the years, and I suspect they would agree with that sentiment. I bet many of you feel the same about your families and friends, although there are clear exceptions – my mother is, and will always be, my closest friend.

But there is something special about finding people out there among the sea of humanity individuals with whom we find a harmonic vibe – a parallelism – a click. Sometimes, we know it right away, and sometimes it takes many years to develop.

I met one of my best friends while I was in college. I woke up one morning, and sitting in the hallway was a guy playing a guitar; next to him was a young woman stuffing a mile-long sub sandwich into her mouth. I was at Wellesley College, which is a women’s college, so clearly, the guy was attached to someone. Well, the someone was across the hall in another room in my new friend’s room. The two of them came out, and shortly – strangely enough, we were all singing, I believe, “American Pie.” It was all sort of odd, but we ended up joined at the hip for the next two years until they graduated. The two across the hall have become lifelong friends. Linda is in the picture at the top; we go camping together and just sit in one another’s company when we can.

Another of my dearest friends I met during medical school – strangely, she helped me pass Anatomy by not going to dissection lab with everyone else because, like me, she worked much better alone, but couldn’t afford the time to do both. It hadn’t occurred to me that skipping the class could help, but in the end, if I hadn’t, I would’ve done much worse. Her perspective has been something I’ve valued since. Friends are like that – they show you ways of considering things that you wouldn’t have seen without them.

We have, also, a certain “stratosphere” of friendship, as well. There are the closest of friends – like Linda – and then the newest ones, the ones we meet online or at kids’ events whom we think we might like to get to know, but aren’t quite sure yet – and everyone in between. And we label them all “friends,” and, at some level, we love them all. They add shades and hues to the palette of our lives; we enjoy their stories, revel in their successes, and share in their anguish – and they take the same benefits from us, though often it is difficult to believe this. I’ve actually given my closest friends a cheesy label – the Spectacular Six. These Six are the first to know what’s going on in my life, and when things are really touchy, sometimes, they’re the only ones to know. And they are an incredibly varied group – a radiologist in Wisconsin, a librarian in Cambridge, a businessman in upstate New York (who I met, strangely enough, in a ski lodge; we chatted, and I’ve never seen him since – our friendship is based entirely on correspondence and shared ideas), a lawyer in Arkansas, a pediatrician in Pennsylvania, and a teacher in Arkansas. They attest to the fact that friends reflect the many sides of ourselves; people are deep and multifaceted, with many loves, many needs, and many things to share. And, like many of you, I cherish and protect my close friends, as they do me, while I keep on the lookout for others who might someday join that group.

It can be hard to put oneself out there. I’m at heart a shy person – I talk a good game, but put me in a room full of people, and I tend to freeze. If we were all together in a large gymnasium, me and all of you, I’d be the one hiding in the corner hoping not to be noticed. Still, I try to push my envelope and meet people when I can. Currently, I’m meeting authors and editors online – and I’ve met many wonderful, not-scary people whom I hope will become lifelong friends.

Today, I encourage you to think about your friends. If you’re like me and are perhaps a little nervous about people – reach out to someone who isn’t one of your closest friends. Say hi. Tell them what you’ve been up to, and invite them to do the same. If you’re one of those lucky outgoing folks, contact someone who you haven’t heard from in a while – it could be that they’re a little nervous about getting in touch. You’ll be glad you did; really, nothing bad can come of it, and you never know – maybe you’ll end up drawing someone closer to you. Perhaps you’ll end up really helping someone out. A little love goes a long way, even if we in today’s society hesitate to call it “love.” We find it a scary word, full of implications. But all it means is caring. Caring enough to act.

And to my friends out there, old, new, and the ones I haven’t yet had the fortune to meet – thanks for helping make me who I am. You’ve made me a better person, and taught me a lot about love.

And isn’t that what family is supposed to do?

Lovingly,

JulieImageImageImage

Of Rocks and Jars

I once heard a lecture – probably many of you have as well – discussing prioritization. The lecturer said that our time is akin to a jar, and the things we must do are akin to rocks. If we are to do the things we must do, we must put the big rocks – our biggest priorities – in first, otherwise, they’ll never fit.

Sometimes, it seems as if we’d like to trade up for bigger jars, or perhaps trade in for smaller rocks – yet it never seems possible to do so. I’ve got lots of rocks: family; health; books to edit; books to write; stories to follow up with online; and this new wonderful world of the “Platform.” I’m sure you all have plenty of rocks as well, and I’m equally certain that you spend as much time as I do wishing for different rocks and jars.

But my dad once told me something that has always stuck with me. He said that if everyone in the world took all of their troubles to one central location and piled them up on one great big heap, and if we could all choose whatever problems we liked – we’d all pick up our own problems again and go home. And you know what? I think he’s right.

And so it comes to this – finding a way to make peace with our own rocks and jars. In the end, perhaps some of our rocks got there by accident… not of our own doing. But largely, we helped get them there. We chose our own rocks. So why not be grateful for them? And if, each day, there are too many rocks – set the ones aside that don’t fit, and pick them up and try again tomorrow, remembering that, along our own paths, we stopped to pick up each and every one of those rocks, loving them for something specific. This one for its shape, that one for its shine, and so on. Enjoy your rocks – don’t complain over them. And if they grow too heavy – discard the ones you can. Don’t mistake me – I’m not advocating leaving your children by the side of the road. I’m merely saying that for the most part, troubles that we pick up along the way can, in some form, be set down again if we choose.

We have a saying in this family: “Take what you want – and pay for it.” There’s another way of saying that – “Take what you want – but pay for it.” It means that we each make our choices, but every choice comes with consequences. As we grow, and as we learn, we must accept both the good – the ‘and’ – and the bad – the ‘but.’ And then, we move forward, trying to remember that largely, our paths have not been thrust upon us, but chosen as we proceeded – and, for us, guided by our God. Perhaps that is true for you, and perhaps not, but hopefully you do not see your life as a random accumulation of events.

Today, I encourage you to look at your priorities. Take the ones you enjoy, whether you see them as burdens or not, and thrust them joyfully into your jar. And the ones you can do without? Cast them aside to make room for the rocks that lie upon the path ahead.

Lovingly,

Julie

Love Lemonade

One year ago today, I ended a life I loved very much. I didn’t realize that was happening at the time – we rarely do, when such things happen.

I suffer from a congenital condition called pancreas divisum – or divided pancreas. Put simply, most people have one pancreas – I have two. That’s a vast oversimplification, but it serves. And for most people that have the condition, it really is no big deal – they never hear from it. Some get a pancreatitis episode or two during their lifetime. I’ve been lucky enough to have many, and it has really affected my life.

“Lucky?” Am I being sarcastic? Well, I admit, I am a sarcastic person, and that is part of it. But it is deeper than that. The condition has shown me so very much about life that I would never have seen otherwise: about medicine; about people; about faith. About love. When I decided to be a doctor, I wanted to be the doctor that cared, the one who made a difference – who really made a difference, who went that extra mile. The one you wanted by your child, and by your family when your time came. I wanted to be by your bedside, holding your hand and praying, caring, making the judgment calls, sometimes saving lives, sometimes not, but always caring. But being the patient taught me about caring and loving in ways that medical school never could have. I met fantastic physicians and poor ones; spectacular nurses and nurses who were simply clocking their time. I met patients with stories that were heartening – people who had really beaten odds – and stories that were heart-rending. There was a woman who had, because of race and financial status, been thought to be drug-addicted, and been left in horrifying pain in an emergency room for over twelve hours, unable to move because of a fractured limb. She couldn’t get to a restroom and ended up soiling herself, and when she finally tried to help herself, she was called to the carpet by the very medical personnel who were there to care for her. I was fortunate that this woman opened up to me and shared her story with me when we were room-mates.

So when I say “lucky,” I really do mean it.

Thirteen months ago, I became ill and couldn’t leave work to care for the condition. I took a gamble that I could take care of it myself.

A month later, I came close to ending up in the ICU, and that was the last day I worked – or will ever likely work – as a physician.

Was it a mistake? I don’t think so. I don’t believe in such things. I am a spiritual person; I happen to be a Christian, and furthermore, a Christian who believes primarily that God is Love. But don’t mistake me; unless you’ve spoken with me in great depth about my beliefs – and there are exceptionally few who have – you probably don’t know what that means to me. It doesn’t mean exclusion, and it doesn’t mean lecture; it means love. Only that. So I’ll tell you a secret. For me, that day was a birth. It was a death of one kind, but a birth of another, and for meGod meant that my time working in that particular arena was complete – He simply had something else for me to do. Do I understand? Nope. But I’m okay with that. I go where He asks.

In September, I began writing, and that’s what I’m doing today. I’m hoping that what I write will encourage people a little bit, every day, to love one another – for to me, that is what God put me here for. Not to criticize, but to love. I think that God has lots of room for love.

I do miss working with patients; I miss the ego-stroking of being a doctor. But where God has put people, no matter where they may come from, I truly believe He has put room to love, so I don’t regret it too much.

And besides – it’s summer.

And summer is a great time to make lemonade.

Summer Joy, Summer Love

I read an article posted by a friend the other day encouraging women to get out there with bathing suits on to play with their kids (thanks, Jamie, by the way). (http://www.themomcreative.com/2014/06/put-on-that-swimsuit.html)

It pointed out that women are far too concerned with what other people think of their bodies, and not focused enough on what their own families will gain from their participation in the fun.

Yesterday, our family went to the Delaware shore. Bearing the article in mind, I pulled my bathing suit on over my imperfect frame and sallied forth. Now, it must be said that I generally do this anyway – I was raised near Cape Cod, and have always loved the water. On it, in it – it has never mattered. If there is a water activity involved, count me in. But regardless, I still feel the eyes of others on me when I’m in my bathing suit, just as many other women do, and this article helped remind me what it’s supposed to be about.

It’s supposed to be about joy. It’s supposed to be about fun. It’s supposed… to be about the kids.

And that’s what I wanted to write about today. The kids.

We ran into the water together, jumping over the waves, and sometimes getting plowed down – I think the most fun for my kids was watching their “indestructible” mom get tossed to the sand by the waves. I helped them with their boogie boards. We splashed and yelled. I hoped we might swim beyond the breakwater and float for a bit, now that my children are old enough to be strong swimmers, but it was quite windy, so we saved that for another day.

The lifeguards went off-duty, and the kids found another group of children on the beach who were digging a deep hole – and they were being monitored by a pair of dads. I don’t know where those dads are, but I want to give them a typed-high-five. They dug with the children; they toted buckets of water; they built a makeshift breakwater.

At the end of the day, we went into a candy store where the kids had a small amount of money allocated to them that they could use to pick something, and we helped them figure out what they might like, and what might be poor choosing, and then we drove home – salty, sandy, and happy.

We had an awesome time, and I got pictures and videos – but more than that, I got memories, joy, and love. I was there, and we all know it. I don’t know how many other non-bombshell moms there are out there reading this, but I want to second the words of the author of that article. Forget the supposed critical eyes of others on you – because, you know what? They aren’t critical at all.

They’re jealous.

Here’s to being a mom and not a model,

Lovingly,

Julie

Thunder Over the Plains

I grew up in Massachusetts. There, I saw blizzards aplenty and occasional summertime hurricanes. Now and then, a good Nor’easter would come plowing through.

But in 1999, I moved to Arkansas, and it wasn’t until then that I really saw thunder and lightning. In Massachusetts, thunderstorms were always exciting and interesting for me, and I always sort of looked forward to seeing whether the power might go out – because those were the best storms. But when I moved to Arkansas, I saw a different sort of storm.

I moved down in the summertime, perhaps a couple of weeks earlier than it is now, and I went down to a girls’ camp in Booneville. Very shortly after I started there, there came warnings that a Severe Thunderstorm was coming our way. The radio announcer even told “those girls in that camp up there in the Ouachitas” to get to shelter. Well, we used the pool house as our shelter, and the girls were fine. But I was very curious, and went outside to see it come; people thought I was insane.

I shall never forget the awesome first impression that I had of the clouds coming across the night sky, and my first questioning thoughts of… “Wait a minute… they’re all moving… in different directions!” And they were huge. Big, monstrous, towering things, all moving around and around each other, gradually starting to move… in circles. And then I understood what was happening, and then I was scared. It became a little bit hard to hold the pool house door open, and eventually I went inside.

A tornado did indeed touch down, but it missed us, thankfully.

I spent a couple of years (or, as some of my Arkie friends might say, “a-couple-a-few”) years down there, and never tired of watching the storms come rolling towards us when they would come. Night time, day time, it didn’t matter; I always ran out – even if it rained – into the storm to watch. The colors would be weird… greens, browns, oranges – colors that don’t belong in the sky… and I would lie on my friend’s trampoline and watch them come. But after that first night, I never tempted fate like that again. I always went indoors long before the clouds started circling.

Now, I have a chance to go visit there again. I can’t wait – and part of me hopes that I might see one of those storms.

But not too closely.

Lovingly,

Julie (Angyliadd)

My Beloved Son Patrick – And Asperger’s

This spring, my eight-year-old son Patrick was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

I’ll post more about Asperger’s and the implications as we proceed down this road, because it will be long and full of ups and downs.

But I wanted to start a list of things he enjoys – because I know he’s not the only little boy out there with this disorder, and I can’t find any parent lists of movies and books that THEIR kids with Asperger’s find funny. So I’m starting one.

 

If your child has Asperger’s and has movies / TV shows that he/she finds funny or cool, please let me know! I’ll add them. These are appropriate for 8-year-olds.

Addams Family series

Airbender (cool, not funny)

Beethoven (series)

Buddies Movies (Spooky Buddies, Space Buddies, Air Buddies, etc.)

Cars (esp 2)

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Despicable Me series

Harry Potter

Inspector Gadget

Lorax

Monster’s University

Mr. Bean’s Vacation

Mythbusters (cool, not funny)

Ninjago

Nut Job

Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything (has Biblical implications)

Planes (cool, not funny)

Power Ranges (cool, not funny)

Rainbow Tribe

Scooby Doo

Shrek series

Spy Kids (all, but esp #4)

Turbo

Wizards of Waverly Place