white space holds the beautiful cull 2

. . you will never know
what your husband looks like unless
you try to draw him, and you
will never understand him unless
you try to write his story.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write

I appreciate your patience with yesterday’s cliff hanger about The Beautiful Cull.

I haven’t written about this yet and I needed to avoid sleep on it for one more night.

I have always held that each person’s story is sacred and to honor that sacredness, it is theirs to tell. But as this is part my story too and my heart is to understand Mike, here I go.

In the words of songwriter Jason Isbell, “She’s got nothing left to learn about his heart”. I surely don’t want that to be me.
"I want him to throw rocks at my window from the street and
I'll drive him to the ocean everyday."

Let me start here. My husband Mike is a surgeon and for almost 30 years he has loved his job. Despite the long hours and stress, he has enjoyed helping his patients get well, hearing their stories and praying for their recovery.

Right after we got married and the bagpiper notes were still drifting down Sixth Street in downtown Austin, we moved to San Antonio. San Antonio was small back then, a quaint city of historic missions, authentic Mexican food (homemade tamales for Thanksgiving!), the Alamo, the Riverwalk and sprawling live oak trees lining the neighborhood sidewalks.

Mike started medical school and I started my first job with an architectural firm. We were doing what we had spent years studying for and even more years dreaming about. We both had long hours, but we were happy little hard workers.

We welcomed our first child in San Antonio (surprise!)in a tiny stucco house on Fulton Street with french doors, wide arched openings and hardwood floors. It was long on character and love inside and short on upkeep. It was tidy and clean but the plank floors were so worn that we had to put little sweatbands (the athletic ones made of terrycloth for your wrist), around Sean’s knees so he could crawl without pinching his tender skin. He was as happy and as oblivious to how little we had as we were. My parents helped keep our little family afloat buying us a new refrigerator when ours didn’t keep milk a healthy temperature and new tires for the car when they wore smooth and bald.

When Sean was a year old, we took those sweatbands off and moved to Oregon where Mike started his Residency. Now he made a small salary and I stayed home with our babies, four by the time he had completed both his Residency and Fellowship, a seven year journey.

We both had long hours, but our marriage had begun that way, so we had found our rhythm and our love encircled it all. I might have complained a bit, but Mike never did. All the late night calls, going in to operate in the wee hours and still working all day the next day; even traveling to remove donor kidneys, asleep afterwards in the back of a cab with a cooler in his lap. He fell asleep many nights at home with the youngest baby on his chest.

We did typical family things, though I learned to do many of them on my own: bike rides, reading aloud (Because of Winn Dixie), singing in the car (King Bidgood's in the Bathtub), school, homework, home birthday parties, trips to the pumpkin patch, church, building forts, trick or treating (owls, unicorns, bumble bees), camp, vacation bible school, friends, sports and dinner around the table.

As our kids grew up, you could find us on the sidelines at soccer games, basketball games and track meets; Mike arriving straight from work in his dress clothes, taking pictures and staying up late to send them to happy coaches.

Our two oldest kids had finished college and gotten married, our two younger ones were almost out of high school. Even Luke the lab was cooperating by now, done with uprooting whole shrubs, rootball and all, as he ran by. He had settled down at Mike's feet every night after dinner.

Mike & I always thrived when we worked on projects together. Now we had a big one. While riding his bike along the Metolius River on a wide open sunny Saturday, he started having chest pains. On Wednesday, we were in the doctor's office awaiting the results of Monday and Tuesday's emergency stress tests.

In the moment you get bad news in the doctor's office, you can feel very far away from your body and your ears ring. I think you may actually leave your body for just a second, because you have the tingling sensation of returning into it and wondering what you missed, like what the Dr. just said; it was pretty important, but probably about someone else, not in this room.

At 52, Mike needed double heart bypass surgery.

All I can tell you is it's always tough when a surgeon needs surgery. And a new diet and less stress.

And his wife, who for 29 years has not hovered about, secretly checks on him a million times a day.

For all of our complaints about social media, if you're authentic even in restraint, it can be a diary of sorts. Here's what I found just now.

My daughter Kate posted this on the day of his surgery . . .

Photo by Kate Sanders.

The biggest, most unselfish, loving and generous heart I know is being fixed today. I am thankful that the One who made his heart holds it still and is with him every moment. Daddy, you are so loved! "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:26

Wearing Mike's wedding ring while he was in surgery got my attention. I came across this photo I had forgotten I captured in the waiting room. I remember now the light fell just so across my hand. It was both comforting and troubling and kept me still deep inside while I waited and prayed. I twirled it around and around my finger feeling the worn smoothness of the gold.

I knew Mike was usually on the other end of
this story, coming out in scrubs to tell a worried wife how her husband faired.

Now I knew why "cull" was my word. Or at least I thought I did. It took a while for the beautiful to ring true.

Tomorrow if you stop by, I'll tell you what the rest of the year brought and how white space came to stay out of the Beautiful Cull.