Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Jury Duty

Poor Penn. He is on his third full day of jury duty selection, and they still haven't chosen the actual jury. It's been a very frustrating and inefficient process. We are just crossing our fingers that he won't get chosen for this four week criminal trial in downtown Seattle. He would have to spend his days at the courtroom and then cram his normal ten or eleven hour work day into about four hours in the evening. This is what he's been doing for the past few days and it has required leaving before Nicholas gets up in the morning and returning home after I've put him to bed. He's hoping to be dismissed this afternoon.

I can't help but blush when I think of the one and only time I was called for jury duty.

It was a few years ago. My group at Washington Mutual, the Innovation and Consumer Research Group, had just been "disbanded." I was "working from home" until my official lay off date. This involved checking my e-mail a few times a day and... that's just about it. So when I received my jury summons in the mail I figured the timing was perfect. Someone has to be on juries, and many people find it to be very disruptive to their schedules, jobs, families, and finances. Not true in my case.

I was almost looking forward to it. After all, it was my civic duty.

I went to our little local courthouse on a Monday morning in September. It was a three minute drive from our house. The wait wasn't very long at all. I hardly had any time to read the book I'd brought. We were speedily questioned and I was the first name called for the first jury. I felt kind of proud. Like I'd won some kind of good citizen award. The case lasted until Thursday, when we easily reached a unanimous decision. Guilty of DUI.

The only really terrible part was walking back into the courtroom after making the decision, and especially filing past the defendant trying to make the same casually friendly amount of eye contact I had all week. It was excruciating waiting for the verdict to be read. Imagine how he must have felt. He was very pleasant about it and even thanked us afterward. He didn't seem surprised at all. He was just... very humble.

That night, as I tried to fall asleep, I couldn't get him out of my mind. I couldn't stop seeing the expression on his face. I kept replaying every word he'd said in the trial. I couldn't shake the thought, "What if we were wrong!?" I had nightmares that night and slept terribly.

And, unfortunately, I had to go back the very next day to see if I might be selected for another jury.

I woke up early that Friday morning. And I realized something. Something I was expecting hadn't arrived. So I took a test, just in case. I didn't get my hopes up, as I'd taken dozens of these tests in the 15 or 16 months that we'd been trying to conceive. I'd been visiting my OB/Gyn several times a month for follicle studies and shots. The last visit had been the worst. It appeared that I hadn't ovulated at all that month, rather than just being way later than the average woman. My doctor was troubled and I'd sat in her office crying as she said doubtfully, "It's possible that you ovulated much earlier than usual... Stranger things have happened."

A blood test confirmed that I had, indeed ovulated. I held out a tiny bit of hope that maybe this month would be the month, but it wasn't likely. I couldn't even remember if Penn and I had timed things correctly, since we hadn't known we should be ttc so much earlier than usual.

It had been almost three weeks since that visit, and I'd already gotten a negative pregnancy test on Monday or Tuesday. But that Friday morning I decided I'd better take another test, just to be sure.

I don't know about you, but I can never wait the recommended two or three minutes, so I just stare at the thing until the results appear. Trying to will that second line to appear. This particular test was of the plus or minus variety. Before I could even go through my normal routine of mentally bracing myself for a negative response, it was positive.

My body reacted before my brain did. I was shaking and crying before my mind even recognized the symbol as a plus. I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. I thought of all the times I'd looked down at a negative test with tears in my eyes, wondering if I'd ever know what it was like to see that blessed positive sign or second line appear.

I was over the moon. Ecstatic would be a huge, huge understatement. Hysterical. Blubbering. Shaking. I was violently happy.

Penn was sleeping. I stumbled out of the bathroom and tried to control my voice, but accidentally scream-whispered "PENN!" (We had houseguests in the next room, by the way.) I attempted to regain my composure as I calmly screamed "PENN!!!!" and added "canyoulookatsomethingplease?" Penn literally JUMPED up out of bed with the confused and alarmed expression of one who is abruptly and urgently yanked out of a deep sleep. At first, he thought there was a big spider in the bathroom that I needed help with.

He was as overwhelmed as I was and we just sat on the bed looking at the test, screaming in hushed voices, crying, hugging, then looking at the test again. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I kept saying over and over, "Let's not get our hopes up!" And, yet, I did. We called the 1-800 number on the box to verify that the light line was still a "real" line. We figured out our due date. We did a happy dance and jumped up and down.

Then I had to rush to get ready for jury duty.

That morning at the courthouse was not pretty. I was seated in the very first row, against the wall, so I was the first one called when they asked us to raise our hands if we would rather not serve on a jury that day. I was asked to stand and explain why.

"Um, well, see, I was on a jury earlier this week, and, um, I've just been kind of HAUNTED by our verdict, you know, just kind of questioning, what if we made the wrong decision, feeling very guilty about it, and very stressed about it, and I thought about it all night, and even had nightmares about it, and well, it's just too much responsibility for me, and I don't think I'm cut out to be on a jury, thank you."

As I stood there waiting for the the prosecutor and defense attorney to whisper amongst themselves, I realized I was kind of...well, crying, actually. I wasn't sure why. But... Yes, I was definitely crying. Perhaps no one had noticed. Being in the front row most of the other hundreds of people were behind me. I was pretty sure I was disguising my emotion fairly well. I started to calm down. Until the person behind me offered me a tissue.

And that just made it so much worse. I am a sympathetic crier. If someone else cries, for any reason, I will cry. Last night, for example, I cried while watching "Girlicious, the Search for the Next Pussycat Doll." One of the girls was homesick and crying, so I cried, too. The other thing about being a sympathetic crier is that if anyone shows any sympathy for me, as the crier, it will be ten times worse.

I tried so hard not to lose it. I had no real reason to cry. I was just so emotionally raw from receiving the biggest and best news of my life earlier in the morning. And the sympathetic look of the gentleman who gave me the tissue was just too much to bear.

You know when your mouth gets all sticky and your throat feels dry and tight and you wipe your eyes and can tell that your eyelids are all swollen? Almost like an allergic reaction. I could just feel the ugly cry face coming on.

The prosecutor continued to question me, although my answers were becoming less and less coherant. He paused and looked at me and asked, "Mrs. Hox, Don't you think that, because you obviously take this responsibility so seriously, it means that you would make a good juror?" (Or something to that effect.)

All I could say was "Noooooooooo!" sob, sob, sniffle

Relenting, he asked, "Mrs. Hox, Would you like me to ask the judge if he will dismiss you from jury duty today?"

"Yeeeeessssssss." sniffle, sob, blubber

He went over and conferred with the judge, who kindly said, "Thank you for your service, Mrs. Hox, you are free to leave."

I edged past the dozen people in my row, shoulders heaving, and walked out of the courtroom - facing all the other potential jurors in their rows - with tears and snot streaming down my face. It was so, so humiliating. A few of the people from my jury group waved at me on my way out. They must have thought I was emotionally unstable.

As I got in my car and tried to fix my face I said out loud to myself, twice: "Either I am pregnant or I have gone crazy."

I came home and took another test, and called Penn, my doctor, and my mother. Then I taped those two tests to the fridge. They served as a reminder - until it became physically apparent - that I wasn't dreaming. My mother even took a photo of me, beaming with pride, in front of the fridge by those purple pieces of plastic that revealed my destiny. Motherhood.

Next to the day Nicholas was born, that was the best the day of my life. Jury duty and all.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


A couple of weeks ago I went to bed early. I awoke at 11pm or so to the sound of Penn rummaging around our bedroom, for a flashlight. "How can you sleep through that?!" he asked in a stage whisper. I listened. There was a very loud helicopter hovering over our home. It had apparently been doing so for several minutes. It's search light was sweeping the steep wooded cliff that runs along the other side of our backyard fence, and those of our neighbors.

I jumped up, made sure Nicholas was still asleep in his bed and checked all the doors and windows. Penn looked out every window with a flashlight to make sure no one was around our house. He and I had a brief argument about whether or not all the lights in the house should be on or off. I was of the mind, ON. If there was someone out there I wanted him to know we were awake and at the ready! Penn felt very strongly that they should be OFF, so that we could see out but no one could see in. I realized he was right so we hunkered down at our respective bedroom windows and peeked through the curtains for a few minutes.

The search continued. The helicopter searchlight hovered for a minute on this neighbor's patio, a minute on that neighbor's tree, a minute on our own bushes. I tried to stay calm and not let my mind run away with me. "But really, what could it be?" I wondered. My first thought was escaped convict. Except, to my knowledge, we don't live near a prison. Missing person maybe? Dear God, it could be a body. I tried to think of something positive that could result in a helicopter search, but my mind drew a blank. So I waited and prayed.

Finally I couldn't take it. This thing had been hovering around our house for almost forty-five minutes by now! I turned on the TV and looked for a breaking story. Nothing. I opened my laptop and found a report on one of the local news channel's websites. There had just been a pitbull attack at our closest Target. One of the dogs had been shot by officers, the other was on the loose. It seemed kind of far away (at least five miles), but I guessed that a dog could run pretty far, pretty fast, if extremely motivated. I wasn't thrilled about the idea of a pitbull on a rampage in our neighborhood, but I immediately felt hugely relieved. There was no way it could get in our home. I got the stray cat inside and we promptly went to bed.

The helicopter must have been waiting on us, because almost the moment we said goodnight its noise started to fade and it was soon gone. I still had some residual butterflies in my stomach, so I prayed and fell asleep almost immediately.

Imagine my surprise when, yesterday, my husband handed me the neighborhood newsletter. I scanned the thing, wondering what in the world could have attracted my husband's attention. The upcoming Easter egg hunt, maybe? A change to the recycling pickup schedule, perhaps? At the bottom of the second page was a small blurb about the "excitement" in our neighborhood a couple of weeks prior. It turns out it was an armed robber on the loose. In our neighborhood! In our yards! I have no idea what this person robbed, but he'd led police on a chase right down our street. We live on cliffside lane that is full of sharp curves, steep hills, and lots of dead ends. The suspect had accidentally gotten lost in our 'hood and stuck on street that didn't go through. He'd abandoned his car on a neighbor's lawn and hoofed it. Right through our super quiet, little-old-lady-filled neighborhood.

I have no idea what to think of this. I'm not really worried, since it happened some time ago and I doubt he has any reason to come back. For heaven's sake, we live three doors down from a police officer. No one knows whether the robber was apprehended. I'd like to think so. But mostly I am exceedingly and overwhelmingly grateful that I didn't know what was really happening at the time it was happening. Obviously, it would have been a sleepless night. In fact, I'm fairly certain I would have lost my mind. I had already suggested to Penn that we all get in the car and drive to a hotel (before I found out about the pitbull incident). Penn shot that down right away. Luckily. Can you imagine if we'd opened our garage door and made ourselves vulnerable to someone - someone with a gun - in desperate need of a getaway vehicle!?

It may not seem like it from the details of this post, but God has really healed me from so much of the anxiety and fear I used to live with. Since childhood, I've spent the bulk of my nights lying awake, imaging worst case scenarios. What I would do in a fire. How I would react if there was an earthquake. Or nuclear-terrorist attack. My course of action if gunmen broke into the house. Or an axe murderer. Or a baby thief. What if something happened to my mother. Or Penn. Or me. Who would take care of Nicholas if Penn and I, and my parents all died? I would get so wrapped up in my imaginings that I often found myself trembling with fear or my eyes full of tears.

Talk about borrowing trouble! Why not wait until one of those things actually happened to feel the terror or grief of it?

There are so many Bible verses that speak to us about what to do with our anxieties and fears, as well as how to battle the evil of the world. The kind of evil that we see on the evening news or even willingly invite into our minds when we chose to watch certain television shows or movies. This is why I've had to swear off crime dramas and can't watch anything, fiction or non-fiction, about crashes of any kind. And I haven't watched anything remotely scary for years. Seriously, we rented Nancy Drew a couple of days ago and I was scared! My husband had to laugh at me with my hands over my eyes, peeking through my fingers. But it was suspenseful!

I've spent most of my life going to church every Sunday. And Sunday School, youth groups, the choir. But I never really got serious about Bible study or having a regular "quiet time" until the past couple of years. And It's really creating profound changes in a whole bunch of areas of my life, including fear and anxiety. I don't live under the cloud of fear or in the depression fog that consumed me for most of my adult life. I still have those same flashes of thought. My trigger thoughts. At night they tend to be either "What's that noise?" or worst of all "What if..." But I don't indulge them anymore.

It's kind of like when I quit chewing my nails many years ago. It wasn't that I quit cold turkey. I would have had to cover all my nails in band-aids to do that, because it was such an unconscious habit. Instead, the moment I caught myself chewing my nails I'd just stop, immediately. Sometimes I'd chew a whole nail off before I even noticed what I was doing. But pretty soon I noticed more quickly. And pretty soon I had stopped chewing my nails. Every once in a while I would briefly reverting back, and I would just stop in mid-chew, because it felt unnatural and because I had developed the habit to stop myself and choose another course.

I find that I have to do the same thing to keep my thoughts under control. I don't know how to go cold turkey from dark thoughts, because I don't have control of every thought that crosses my mind, before I think it. But every time I catch myself thinking the thoughts that I know I shouldn't, I stop. Sometimes I've gotten far along enough in my line of thinking that I'm already frightened or depressed. But more and more I notice almost right away that I just had a destructive thought.

Then I can do one of the many things the Bible instructs when I feel fear, anxiety, melancholy, etc. Rather than focusing on negative thoughts I can think about "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right..." (Philippians 4:8). I can choose to turn away from my anxiety and "in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving" present my concerns to God. (Philippians 4:6) Why worry about something I can't handle when I can give those concerns to God and enjoy a good night's sleep? I can refuse to let the evil of the world overwhelm me and can instead "overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21) I don't have the power to change the terrible things that are a part of each evening's news report. But I do have power. The power to pray. The power of good deeds to share the love of Christ with those who suffer. And the power to combat all the bad and dark things of this world by doing my best to glorify and share the one true source of goodness and light, Jesus Christ.

I can personally testify that God's instruction can lead to less anxiety and more sleep. And more importantly it has a radical impact on our souls and our needy world. And best of all, when we chose to believe and follow God's Word, we tell him that we have put our trust in him and in his ways, not our silly broken cistern way of life.

Is it just me, or is the Bible the best "self-help" book in all of creation? It works!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Spring is in the Air

Well, it's March, and you know what that means.

Spring Cleaning time! Woo hoo!

No, I'm serious. I love Spring Cleaning. Duh, not the actual cleaning part. The planning and the results. The work involved in between the two is worth it.

I started yesterday. I have a not terribly ambitious plan to tackle one room per day. I plan my attack in the morning and do the bulk of the work during Nicholas's two hour nap period. (Oh, the leisurely schedule of a mama of one child, right?) Then the rest of the afternoon I wrap up the loose ends.

Yesterday was the master bedroom. Today was the master bedroom closet. Yes, the closet get it's own day. It's huge and full of stuff! At this rate I will have the entire house and yard ship shape by March 22. (I'm not working on Sundays.) Even the garage and "study" for which I've allotted more than one day. If you saw either room, you'd understand.

Penn will chip in on his days off. I've assigned him boy chores like washing the outside windows, changing the lightbulbs, testing the smoke alarms, and all the tasks I find especially loathesome. Oh, and he's on spider patrol. Meaning he searches the room of the day for any spiders that may be lurking under the furniture or in the closet so they don't surprise me later.

The best part is that I'll be finished the day before Easter, the day before we host all our in-laws at our home, and the day before my birthday! (All three things fall on the same day this year.)

Phase two of Spring Cleaning will be projects around the house. Nothing expensive, since we could be moving in a few months. It could also be a few years, though, so we're going to address a few issues that have been bothering us since we moved in.

1. The kitchen linoleum. Circa 1959. We're replacing it with something very, very inexpensive. But it will be new and clean. Even when I scrub the floor with a brush it never looks clean! I can't wait.

2. THE FAUX WOOD PANELING. It covers every wall of the great room! Can you stand it? How have I lived with it this long, you must be wondering. It used to bother me every second of every day. Then I got over it and now I hardly notice it. We're going to paint it, using wood paneling primer/paint. If you've attempted a project like this please let me know!

3. Curtains. Or the lack thereof. Exactly two of the house's many, many, MANY windows have a treatment. I'm going to be using The Nester's window "mistreatment" techniques which require only fabric, upholstery tacks, some trim, and a glue gun! That's right, no hardware, lining, or SEWING! (Did I ever mention how much I hate sewing?)

4. Photos/frames/albums. All of which are in need of organization or need to be hung. It's shameful how bare our walls are.

Well, I'm off to vacuum dust bunnies and purge clutter.

PS I know it is not technically Spring yet, but it feels like Spring here in Seattle and that's good enough for me!