I Would Never Do That

“Alright, it’s time!”

No. I close my eyes, pretending to sleep.

“Come on, Kayla, you have to come.” My co-worker, Kim, bounces eagerly, her shoes spitting sand on my face. She knows I’m awake.

I sit up, arms crossed with tension. “If you pressure me then I definitely won’t go. I have to decide on my own terms.”

“Ok, then, just come along and we’ll just…look.”

Kim, my roommate Christina, and I ascend the jagged rock behind my little brother, Jaron, who is leading the way. My skin has already transformed into a bizarre looking layer of bumpy raw chicken. “Guys,” I try one last time. “I’m already freezing cold and I’m DRY right now. I don’t want to jump in the water…” They ignore my dramatic monologue and we continue climbing.

The sun’s warmth is the day’s only redeeming factor. Unfortunately, the trek to the designated point is completely shaded, and the physical discomfort I feel intensifies the emotional dread I’m battling. My eyes widen in awe as we approach the cliff. I can’t move my gaze from the majestic beauty of Michigan’s Pictured Rocks lakeshore. The water is aquamarine and as clear as a glass of water. Powerful swells of Lake Superior assault the rocky peninsula beneath our feet. I shiver.

Jaron stands near the edge, pauses momentarily, and then jumps. I count at least three full seconds before I hear a splash. A moment later he emerges over 40 feet below, grinning at us from icy waters. He sports a stupid grin across his face, waving frantically for a follower. “Come on! IT’S AWESOME!”

Kim and Christina look at Jaron, glance at the shore, and then at each other. It’s clear they’re less concerned about the jump itself and more worried about the hazardous swim to safety. All I can think is that my little brother currently has one up on me.

I walk briskly to the edge, realizing that I don’t actually have a choice. My competitive nature and thirst for adventure win out. Behind me the girls are talking to each other, shocked that I’m even considering the plunge.

I blink. My mind and feet betray me. I jump. Behind me Kim is yelling, “STAY STRAIGHT,” but there’s only one thought on my mind that I can actually vocalize: “Shhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiittttttttttt!!!!!”

Three seconds later someone punches me in the face. Or did I just transform into a sock inside of a washing machine? Hard to say. I try to swim as waves argue with each other, pushing and pulling me in opposite directions. I sputter toward the surface.

Little relief comes after I inhale fresh air. I’m certain an old, fat woman is churning these waters around me, cackling, while I (a small particle of cream) fight desperately to remain afloat. I’m mostly upset that my boobs, which represent 90% of my body fat, aren’t helping me AT ALL. Good for nothin’. I guess I’ll have to use my arms and legs. 

The journey back to shore is both treacherous and tiring. Thankfully, my brother is a strong enough swimmer to support himself and act as my personal lifeguard. I love him for it–but let’s be real: I would’ve loved (even more) to receive first aid and mouth-to-mouth from a shirtless and muscled Coast Guard rescuer. Maybe next time. Right now all I want is food, warmth, and bed.

Several hours later, thanks to northern pasties and subpar coffee, I am thawed from the inside out. The four of us depart the flannel-filled establishment in search of a nearby campsite. No luck. Instead, we decide to make use of our time and drive to St. Ignace, which is over two hours away.

Jaron is navigating us through the darkened world. I peek at the stars, thankful to retreat to reflection. I can’t help but relish the delight of my cliff jump. Yes, it sucked, but I’m so glad I did it. I laugh, thinking of how I initially resisted the idea. Why was I so opposed? More importantly, what inside of me changed at the cliff’s edge? Why did I do it?

I suppose I was opposed because I didn’t consider that other factors (such as competition and adrenaline) would outweigh my fears. I realized at the moment, watching my brother below, that I could handle twenty minutes of bone chilling cold to achieve the satisfaction of a new experience. But those are influences I never considered until I was at the point of decision.

I’m starting to think that this happens more often than I realize. I ponder an opportunity or path and conclude, I would never do that. Or more often, I could never do that. When I finally come to the moment of decision, BAM. I’ve decided to do exactly what I had previously deemed improbable. 

I remember feeling deeply discouraged when I received my midterm grade during my first year of nursing school. Just before that term had started I told my parents that I was going to quit nursing school and move abroad to work with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). They laughed and responded, “no” (I wasn’t laughing). I began my pediatric rotation and suffered through the courses, receiving my worst grade in all of nursing school that term. What did I tell myself, looking at my scores? It doesn’t matter. I would never work with kids anyway.

Three years later I applied for a job at a children’s hospital. When the HR representative called me and offered the position, I still had hesitations even though I had sought them out. I was confused because I had always told myself I would never… But guess what: I did, and I’m so glad I did. 

A few years ago I considered (for a hot second) making a commitment to being single, but the thought actually made me nauseous. Several friends did this during college and all reported good things, saying they pursued healthy friendships, learned about themselves, and invested time in their faith. I, however, abhorred the idea of relinquishing control. I could never do that. What if I meet an awesome guy? Woof. So I said no and concluded I never would. 

Late this summer I sat at Reeds Lake, feeling an unusual craving, almost a burden, to pursue romance. I’ve been single for the last year and a half so this newfound pressure felt unnecessary. Deep down I knew that I didn’t want to start anything before moving to Africa in November. I also don’t want to pour my energy into a relationship while I’m working with Mercy Ships. Frankly, the timing just seemed right and I felt peaceful about it. So I’ve decided that I’ll stay single until I return from my worldwide endeavors–and this time around I haven’t felt nauseous.

Cheers to saying you’ll never do something and then doing it!

   

  


[yes, I did wear the same outfit for four days. You can see the photos were taken on different days by subtle changes in headband positioning.]

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From Michigan to Madagascar

“That sounds so cool. You should totally do it,” I affirmed, cupping my steamy, tea-filled mug.

Kelsey, my dear friend and college comrade, smiled. “You should think about doing it with me.”

I inhaled earl grey steam and pondered. “Mercy Ships? Nah. I’ll do my own thing.” I withheld my genuine reason for declining. Truthfully, my heart yearned to work overseas but I wasn’t interested in volunteering and raising money. I was already paying twice the required monthly payment on my student loans. Even though I tried (so hard) to sweet talk the Chase Bank man during our chats, I was certain those loans weren’t going anywhere. It seemed silly to ask for money when I still owed the bank thousands.

Yet it wasn’t absurd for Kelsey to ask me to join her. For over a decade I have felt a stirring as a living idea grew within me. In college I studied nursing and Spanish and traveled as often as I could: I taught English in Nicaragua, climbed Mayan ruins in Mexico, worked on farms in Cambodia, and visited Buddhist temples in Thailand. I’ve visited Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, Poland, France, and the UK. Oh, and let’s not forget our friendly neighbor, Canada. All of these excursions have fueled my passion for working overseas.

After college I pursued my international dream by applying for jobs in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Abu Dhabi. None of these came to fruition. Frustrated and discouraged, I harbored bitterness toward God, convinced that I was never going abroad again. I felt trapped in Grand Rapids, but the truth is that I was being unbelievably dramatic and, more importantly, I was actually trapped in my own self-pity and limiting stipulation for working abroad: I still refused to consider volunteer work.

I remember the moment my perspective changed. Six months ago I accompanied a group of Calvin nursing students on a trip to Belize. I recall one morning walk along a dirt road in the western mountains. I had arisen early that morning, grabbed my Bible and notebook, threw on a pair of sandals and tiptoed out the door while my roommates slumbered steadfastly. I headed for the hills before the coffee was brewing.

I’m not sure when the thought came to me. Maybe it happened when the sun illuminated the landscape; or perhaps it was the prior day’s memory of patients at the rural clinic, but a quiet, firm thought whispered, you love being abroad. You love it enough that you can ask people to help you come back.

I couldn’t disagree with this notion. I love international travel because the world wakens me. All five senses are heightened when I’m abroad: I inhale fresh scents and odd smells; I hear sounds of languages and the buzz of traffic; I perceive different faces and rugged landscapes; I taste new cuisine and flavors; I feel harsh climates against my skin. These awarenesses make me feel alive.

After that morning walk in Belize the window to volunteer work opened so I could no longer invent a reason to say no to Mercy Ships. I called Kelsey and asked her to meet with me again.

We sat in a different coffee shop. I told her about my recent Central American experiences and then braced myself to reveal the good news.

“I’m going to apply to Mercy Ships. I think I can raise the money and it’d be ideal to go together.”

She grinned. “Yes!”

I headed for home and filled out the application before I could talk myself out of it.

One week later I logged into my email account and read:

Possible Dates of Service in Madagascar

I blinked, anticipating that the message would change. It didn’t. I read that Mercy Ships had an assignment for me. From November 22, 2015 to May 14, 2016 I would be aboard the Africa Mercy, which is currently anchored in the Indian Ocean off the coast of northeast Madagascar. The position they offered is on a pediatric ward where I’d take care of children after they’re released from surgery.

I didn’t waste any time. Of course I wanted to go! But concerns drowned my mind: Kelsey? Housing until November? Loans?

The Lord addressed all of these concerns within a few days. Unfortunately, I’m gifted at crafting countless worries so I’ve already thought of a thousand more. I’m asking for prayer that I am organized and diligent. I need at least one friend to pray specifically that I don’t lose my passport. I’m asking another to pray I receive my immunizations and don’t contract malaria. Maybe two or three could pray lemurs do not attack me. If these don’t interest you there is another way you can help me.

I’m requesting that some contribute financially to help me raise $7,000. If you’re willing I would deeply appreciate donations to either my Mercy Ships account or to my personal volunteer account. If you donate to Mercy Ships (http://mercyships-us.donorpages.com/crewmates/KaylaInnis/) you’d pay for things like housing and travel costs (and receive a tax deduction). If you donate to my personal account you’d supply me with essentials like deodorant and coffee, which would be an answer to ALL the volunteers’ prayers.

I’m determined to make it to Madagascar but I can’t do this alone. I don’t want to do this alone. So let’s chat. I have much more to tell you!

Peace & Blessings,

          Kayla

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photo credit: Hannah Innis

Coffee with a Dollop of Yogurt

“Good morning, honey.”

I glance up from my journal and exchange a greeting with my dad. He silently settles into the wicker chair to my left as we listen to the salty waves tumble over the sand. At nine o’clock in the morning Costa Rica already cultivates heavy morning air, which clings and sticks and drowns the pores. Despite the heat, my father and I routinely enjoy our morning cups of coffee. I sip my third cup when a strange sight catches my vision.

“What’s wrong with your cream? Is it spoiled?”

Hearing the confusion in my voice, my dad smirks and dunks a spoon in his glass mug, whirling the mixture around and around. The chunky cream remains distilled.

“Oh, it’s not cream. It’s yogurt.”

What.

“You put yogurt in your coffee?”

“Mhm,” he says with a light in his eyes, and slurps the concoction. “It’s milk-based, so it’s basically the same thing as cream.”

Now you’ve met my father. His name is Jim.

I was thirteen when my dad was in a life-altering car accident, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. I have few fragments of memories before the accident in 2003 which include him singing me to sleep or frequently holding a litter of puppies in his arms (he’s a Veterinarian). Oh, and one other memory.

A few months ago I blogged about what it was like to grow up with four brothers. In short, I chronically strove to be part of the group and begged to be invited to anything and everything that the boys were doing. Once, my brother Steve and our neighbor Garrett were playing a game that consisted of swinging punches to injure each other’s groins. They were laughing hysterically so (naturally) I asked to join.

“You can’t play! You’re a girl.”

“That’s not fair!” I screamed (not) dramatically, as I stormed away in a cloud of malice and frustration.

Hours later, my dad came home from work, walked through the door and shouted, “I’m home!” as I simultaneously jumped out from behind the wall and punched him right between the legs. HA. See, guys! I can too play!

My six-year-old victory was short-lived as my father bent in half in a pleading grimace. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t laughing; I just knew something was wrong—so I bolted.

An hour later he coaxed me out from behind the sofa. I could tell from his tone that he had already forgiven me. Still, he took the opportunity to educate me on the anatomical differences between boys and girls, and since then I haven’t attempted to play this particular game a second time.

Besides these few memories I don’t actually remember much about my father before the car accident, but I do know that he lost a little bit of discernment. Lack of discretion produced an attitude in him that wasn’t concerned with how others viewed him along with a whole new level of weird.

The great thing about Jim is that he has no qualms about discussing topics that aren’t typically acceptable in society. For example, he’ll initiate a conversation with a new acquaintance about lactose’s effects on one’s intestines, or warn my friends about hot-tubbing during menstruation (as if he knows anything about menstruation. ALL WE WANT IS A HOTTUB, DAD. AND WINE).

Whether my dad is spaying a cat for a science class, asking my friends for their urine for his garden, or mixing us gin & tonics, he’s consistently sporting a smile and a twinkle in his eye. I appreciate his willingness to be laughed at, his eagerness to be weird, and his desire to attempt new endeavors.

It’s important to add that people unanimously agree I inherited my weirdness from my dad. And I don’t have a brain injury—so what exactly does that say about me?

Why You Shouldn’t Triage Your Date

“Welcome to the Emergency Department. What brings you in tonight?”

“I’m having chest pain.”

(I now initiate eye contact and pay more attention)

“Okay. [typing noises] When did it start?”

“Five days ago.”

(less concerned now)

“Does it hurt more when you breathe or cough?”

“Yea. It hurts the worst when I cough.”

Bingo. You can wait.

I motion the patient to sit at a nearby chair and continue with the next person in line. The whole purpose of triaging is to decide who needs to go back to a room immediately and who can acquaint themselves with the waiting room. Survival of the fittest applies to many situations in life, but the ER is not one of them. If you’re the most fit you will wait longer.

The word “triage” came to us from France. It means “to separate out.” This is a wise idea to implement in the healthcare setting, right? Large volumes of patients requires a steadfast system to organize such chaos. As a triage nurse gains experiences, he/she learns to ask specific questions and listen for key words.

By working as a pediatric emergency nurse I have learned quite a bit about triaging children, and it’s actually remarkably different from triaging adults. For example, a fever of 103 F and a fast heart rate in a happy, pink-cheeked 9 month old isn’t really concerning to me. However, adults don’t have fevers as often and they’re generally less healthy than children, so my ears would perk up and ask for more details of an adult patient with the same symptoms.

There are multiple factors that contribute to a child’s triage, but there are three that I have learned are most important. First, how does the child appear? Is he acting normally for his developmental age? Is he sleeping? Screaming? When provoked, does the child react? Next, I look at the breathing pattern. Is this toddler breathing really quickly or irregularly? Do I see any ribs or abdominal muscle use? Nasal flaring? Lastly, I check the circulation to skin. Is the capillary refill on her fingernails < 2 seconds? Are her lips and skin pink? Dry? Flushed?

All of this happens with a glance, a lift of the shirt, and a tap to the nailbed. Within seconds a nurse can categorize a child as “sick” or “not sick.” (“not sick” indicates that they can wait, not necessarily that they’re totally healthy–although sometimes they are, and the parents are just nervous). In addition to “sick or “not sick” the nurse assigns an acuity (basically, a number 1 through 5) that communicates how delicate the patient’s condition is. I won’t bore you by explaining each number but the point is that a “priority 1” means someone is actively dying and needs intervention immediately, whereas a “priority 5” means that no resources will be used during this patient’s stay and he/she is completely stable–usually if they’re only being seen for a prescription refill or suture removal. (Yes, people come to the Emergency Department for these reasons.)

Unfortunately, my triage mindset has leaked out into my personal life, and I now do this with men.

Yup, it’s true: I triage my dates.

I didn’t try to, and I didn’t realize I was doing this until recently. The fact is that I just like to know my disposition towards a guy I’m dating. Basically, instead of sick/not sick I want to know like/dislike. There’s no in between. Obviously, I don’t use the same assessment criteria, although there have been times when I’ve wanted to lift up a shirt to “check breathing.” (Kidding…kind of? Can you blame me?)

So what assessment criteria do I use to triage my dates? I’m glad you asked. Again, three come to mind. First, I want to know about his faith. Does he have a personal relationship with Jesus? Is he actively pursuing his faith? Does he seek to be challenged? Second, I want to discover his sense of humor, and I really want to know if he thinks I’m funny. This is crucial. I think I’m hilarious…I want him to think so, too. Does he appreciate sarcasm? Puns? Can he be goofy? The last category is travel, and it’s just as important as humor. Does he care about the world? Does he think that all the adventure lies in a suburban house (boring) or in a hostel in Brazil? Does he respect people who are different and believe there’s something to be learned from them?

As you can see, my triage process for men is way more involved than it is for my patients. I know it’s not fair and I shouldn’t do it. Here’s the big difference: ER triage is based on appearance, while my personal triage is based on qualities and attributes–information you can’t gather sitting across from someone at a nice dinner, especially if it’s the first time you’ve met! Obviously, these things take time, but I put pressure on myself to assign an acuity to each man I date. I don’t want to waste time or end up feeling apathetic about someone while I wait for interest to accrue.

*Sigh*

Do you see my challenge? Maybe I need to leave the ER so I’m not constantly triaging the people around me. Who knows, maybe that priority 5 will suddenly become a priority 1 in the midst of my assessment.

The Hunchback in Heels

“Okay, everyone, squeeze together! Smile!”

[a pause, photographer squints at camera screen]

“Hmm…okay. Almost perfect, but a couple changes: Lauren, honey, fix your strap. And Kayla, can you duck down a bit? You’re just a little too tall [laughs], and you’re blocking Dan.”

TIMEOUT. Do you know what just happened?

I was asked to “duck” because I was taller than my partnered groomsman (who was, by the way, shrugging in clear apathy). You’re thinking, yeah, that looks bad, what’s the big deal? In my mind, I heard: hey Kayla, can you please become a hunchback? Try posturing your spine several inches shorter and still look poised and classy? Actually…just get on your knees.

You can imagine my facial expression. However, despite my dramatic reaction, I had to admit that I somewhat expected this to happen at my brother’s wedding.

Let me give you some context. Prior to this past fall I rarely wore high heels. During the most formative fashion years of teenage-dom, when girls pranced around in short skirts and heels, I sported only flip flops and ballet flats with soles eroded away from weeks of weight. I was 5’9″ when I began high school and almost 6’0″ when I left. Why would I buy heels when I have them built into my tibias?

It didn’t help that I hadn’t a clue how to control my lengthy limbs, and my high school friends weren’t afraid to make my long extremities the primary source of entertainment. I heard comments like, “Don’t let Kayla do a cartwheel or her feet will break the ceiling!” I will do almost anything for a laugh, so when I heard this I’d instinctively attempt a dramatic cartwheel. But deep inside, beneath the surface of laughable incoordination, I hated being tall because I wanted to wear cute, fun (tall) shoes but I felt like I wasn’t entitled to do so.

Fast forward from high school to this past fall. About a month before my brother’s wedding I scoured cyber mall for appropriate wedding footwear. The options were minimal and unimpressive. Tired and perturbed that nothing caught my eye, I broadened my search from flat soles and included “heels” in my parameters. Click.

The results were far more appealing but (let’s be real) I can’t actually walk in any of these. Click.

THERE.

Tall. Bold. They would definitely make me ginormous. I paused, and quickly conducted a mental count. Out of sixteen bridal party members at least half were taller than me or met my eye line. My brothers accounted for three, plus two more groomsmen and three bridesmaids, all who could give me normal hugs.

Definition: Normal Hug noun: An embrace characterized by two participants of relatively equal height.

Antonym: Embreast noun: An embrace in which one participant faceplants into the other’s boobs.

I can’t tell you how many hugs of the latter sort I’ve (unwillingly) given; the worst occurred the first time I wore heels and a plummeting neckline to a high school dance. (That night I learned that selecting shoe height is incredibly important for maintaining appropriate standards of PDA as well as my personal feelings of coordination). Through my brief calculations I concluded that if half the bridal party is approximately my height I could not only avoid standing out like a sore thumb in the professional photos, but also face-to-bosom contact altogether, and wear the shoes I’ve always wanted!

Unfortunately, “embreasts”, public scrutiny, and early onset of kyphosis aren’t the only risks related to high-heels. Throughout college I avoided additional height like the plague because I thought any potential suitor would find a feminine Goliath intimidating. This no longer really concerns me, as I’ve learned and witnessed that there are, in fact, males shorter than me who have the confidence to be with a tall woman. Likewise, there are tall men who are insecure for reasons unrelated to height. Plus, I had long ago decided I wasn’t bringing a wedding date. That just left my groomsman to consider, and I knew he wouldn’t care about my towering over him. Voilà!

I made the purchase but the next day doubt crept in. Thankfully, over the month leading up to the wedding countless personal pep talks and third party opinions affirmed my endeavor. I started to feel excited about my monumental debut.

Consider my current posture my “monumental debut.” Some grand opening, huh?  Vertebrae in hunched position, standing next to my groomsman. I had known this was very possible, and I suppose I could have avoided contortion by simply removing the shoes ahead of time. But I paid an arm and a leg to make a fashion statement and *cuss*, I wanted to wear them the whole day!

Despite any photography havoc, by the end of the night the shoes proved to be a success. There were no falls or broken bones. Throughout the day I acquired three notions: first, I no longer care if I’m taller than most, and I actually prefer it because I see EVERYTHING; second, I’m sorry if the occasional male (or female) feels intimidated around an alpine woman but I’m really not sorry at all; and, finally, a faceplant-in-my-chest really isn’t as concerning when fabric covers the cleavage. (Another helpful factor is graduating from high school. Teenage boys are WAY too eager to faceplant). These notions instilled a new confidence and I’ve since obtained several more pairs of heels.

If you see me walking in public please don’t analyze my gait (we’re still working on balancing) but please feel free to compliment the recent colossal purchases. And if you’re at all moved to make a hunchback comment, I won’t feel bothered at all. In fact, you can just refer to me as the “confident hunchback.”

*If you haven’t seen Saturday Night Live’s “Confident Hunchback” skit featuring Andy Samberg, immediately open a new browser and search for “confident hunchback SNL” via hulu.com. Enjoy!

Oh, Brother

Growing up, I thought I was a boy. Okay, not really, but here’s the situation: I have four brothers, two older and two younger (I also have a younger sister, but she’s a blog entry all to herself). At a young age my mom dressed me in polka dot hair bows and surrounded me with Kens and Barbies, but my unrealistic play dolls often ended up beheaded and/or limbless, torsos soaring high in a game of monkey in the middle.

Guess who was always in the middle.

Not surprisingly, playing with my brothers was more appealing than solitude with my headless dolls, even though my bony composition put me at a strong disadvantage at sports. Play time transitioned from Barbies to climbing trees, dinosaur games, bloody murder (hide and seek, but more terrifying), or wrestling. I didn’t stand a chance in wrestling so every time my brothers were seconds from declaring me “loser,” I’d swing the competition in a different direction…my direction. Suddenly:

Me: “WAHHHHH OW OH WAHHHH!!!!

Dad: “Stop! Stop! Tell me what happened.”

Me: (hiccuping dramatically) “Steve! He pulled my hair!!!”

Dad: “Stephen Roger, go to your room. You need to play nice with your sister.”

Steve: “Dad! We were wrestling. I didn’t pull her hair. She’s lying! She just doesn’t want to lose!”

Me: “OWWW WAHHHHHHhhhhhhh…”

Over time my self-accommodating tears created a barrier between myself and my brothers and gave them more drive to gang up on me. I recall a time when I was about 8 years old. It was a cold, December night and my mom was preparing for a dinner party. We were playing in the basement, waiting for guests to arrive. I was likely annoying the boys, making threats to tattle on them if they did anything wrong. Within a few minutes they had convinced me that I was “different” from them because I was adopted, so I wasn’t really part of the family. Even the youngest, to whom preschool was only an aspiration, was participating, smiling and egging the older boys on. For several minutes I retreated to sass and attempted to reveal inconsistencies in their arguments, but eventually genuine tears disclosed my sensitivity and I bolted for the stairs.

Heartbroken, I found my dad and accused him of lying to me. I told him the life-altering news I’d received. He chuckled. My heart sank. In my mind his amusement affirmed my fears. My dad looked at me and said, “Kayla. You’re not adopted. You look exactly like your brothers. But if you were adopted, that wouldn’t change anything. You’re part of the family.” Relieved and simultaneously furious, I gave my brothers the silent treatment for as long as I could stand and spent the rest of the evening with my headless dolls.

Usually when I tell people that I have four brothers their initial reaction is pretty close to sympathy. “Wow, how did you ever survive?” or “Yikes! That must be hard.” Yes, at times I felt bullied and lonely, but that comes with being part of a family. I did my fair share of lying, teasing, and hair pulling. The truth is that as I’ve grown older I have come to appreciate my brothers more and more, especially because I now notice how each differs from the others.

At the beginning of this year I went through a miserable break up. My brothers knew my boyfriend pretty well, and when I told them that we weren’t together anymore all four responded uniquely. Jaron spent a morning with me, sharing coffee and conversation and encouragement. Ryan said little, but enclosed me in a giant, bone-breaking bear hug. Kevin gave me a normal hug and said, “I’m really sorry. We really like him, but I understand.” Steve found me surrounded by snotty tissues, shook his head and sat down across the room. Legs crossed in formal fashion, he pointed at me and said:

“I’m going to give you the best break up advice you’ve ever heard.”

“Oh…ok?” (choking back sobs)

“As soon as you can, have the mindset that you’re not getting back together. That way, you won’t waste time waiting for it to happen. You need to do the best you can to move on. Start with removing him from all social media so that you’re not tempted to keep tabs on him.”

As much as I hated this advice I did my best to heed his words and, honestly, they helped. Although I preferred my other brothers’ sentiment to Steve’s cut-and-dry approach, I’m certain the post break up months would have been far more challenging had I not listened.

Thankfully, memory is partial to happiness so with time I have forgotten the moments of intra-familial strife and have instead accrued a surplus of heart-warming memories. I’ll never forget the night when one called me to find out if I was home and if I could talk. I’m so glad I was, because he disclosed months of bottled up emotions and let it all out in one tearful conversation. I’m pretty sure he hated that I saw him cry but I am so grateful that he trusted me. I also loved the airplane ride when the queasy one found himself squirming next to a stranger’s volcano of vomit, and I just grabbed his face and said, “Don’t smell! Breathe through your mouth!” because I knew his gag reflex was seconds from losing it. And who better to protect me from a creepy ass-grabbing stranger than my oldest brother who happens to be a former reconnaissance Marine? For the record, Ryan’s blood was boiling but he didn’t have to intervene because I had already smacked the knucklehead.

Without all these boys I might be more refined, but I certainly wouldn’t have learned how to burp the ABCs. The boys consistently offer witty comments, inappropriate entertainment, and fresh perspectives on any given situation. They’re always willing to act goofy, be my wedding date, play a round of cards, and try something stupid. And they still make fun of their feisty sister, which is probably healthy for me.

So what do I tell people now? I respond by saying that four boys is occasionally too much testosterone but, in my opinion, it’s just the right amount of brothers.

Jaron, Michigan Tech's finest engineer.
Jaron, Michigan Tech’s finest engineer.
Ryan, myself, Steve, and the new Mrs. Innis
Ryan, myself, Steve, and the new Mrs. Innis, watching Kevin on Homecoming Court. (RIP bangs)
We told Old Navy it would be easier to buy the store, but they didn't believe us.
We told Old Navy it would be easier to buy the store, but they didn’t believe us.
Marine training includes how to kill the enemy with creepiness.
Marine training includes how to kill the enemy with creepiness.
myself, Kevin, and Jaron sailing the Puget Sound.
myself, Kevin, and Jaron sailing the Puget Sound.

1917 meets 2014

Today I spent time with an old soul. Like, really old.

This all began with an epiphany I had last March. One afternoon I realized that I had spent years telling family and friends of my plans to move abroad and serve the poor, but I wasn’t doing anything at the time to prepare for such a lifestyle of service. In my mind “the widow and the orphan” referred to those living in developing countries, and I would take care of them as soon as I could get my behind to el campo de Nicaragua. Within moments of this awareness I had reset my priorities with a new vow to live with more regard for the widows in my community, particularly the widows on the branches of my own family tree.

My paternal grandma has one living sister, Opal (timeless name, right?). She was married to my great Uncle Roy for many years but he died a few summers ago. When I was growing up Aunt Opal and Uncle Roy frequently came to our family gatherings because they did not have any children of their own. I never really developed a close relationship with her until this past spring.

Here’s the thing: Aunt Opal is really old. So is my grandma. They’re both in their 90s. Aunt Opal’s age has always been a mystery because she refuses to tell anyone her birthday. I recall a time when I was in middle school and I robbed her of her well kept secret. She had asked me to fetch something from her purse, so I pretended I couldn’t find the object for an extra minute while I stealthily opened her wallet and stole a glance at her birthday. I was proud of myself for cracking the code and gaining knowledge of the forbidden. Perhaps that was what Adam and Eve felt like when they tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree…but on a much smaller scale. Much, much smaller. Okay, probably not even a real comparison. Still, the fruit of success had tasted so good to this sneaky middle schooler. Anyway, I’d long since forgotten Aunt Opal’s birth date, but all it took was time spent with her to remind me of just how old she actually is…

If you know me at all, you know that I am a fast-paced person. That’s partly why I love working in the Emergency Department. I love STAT orders and multi-tasking and all things rushed. Hanging out with my 90-something year old aunt has forced me to develop a patient side. Patience is not a quality one can accrue overnight. Or through multiple visits. WOOF.

Today I called up Aunt Opal and asked her to accompany me to ArtPrize. The quaint little city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in which I reside sports hundreds of pieces of artwork every autumn. After two and a half weeks of crowds, cuss words, and colors, the public selects one winner to receive a prize of $250,000. I wanted to drive Aunt Opal around the city so she could see some outdoor art. No problem.

I parked at her house at half past 4. She slowly made her way to my car via her walker, even though I wouldn’t consider her actual method of transportation “walking.” Step, plant. Step, plant. Pause. Step, plant. Step, plant. She was so dorky and cute, modeling wide-rimmed 1980s glasses, topped with even larger sunglasses that attach to said 80s glasses via a small contraption. I buckled her in and off we went.

My first few verbal exchanges with her are always a rude awakening, and today was no different. She does this thing where if she asks me to repeat myself and she still doesn’t understand me the second time, she just changes the subject and pretends like the miscommunication never happened:

“You, uh…had a party for…Jaime last night? What was it…what was it like?”

“Yup! A bachelorette party.”

“Oh…..a, a what?”

[clear annunciation] “A bachelorette party. “

Pause.

“Your dad said…you have friends visiting from…where was it. Hmm. Poland?”

Our first few conversations are always quick reminders that I need to slow down in conversation. I knew my obsession with haste would also be a problem during our drive-by art viewing. I was careful to give her a good heads up, usually at least one block, so that she would already be looking leftward when we’d pass an urban display. I tried it out:

“Up on your left we’ll pass a giraffe. It’s in the grass outside the church!”

[approaching art]

“What?”

[getting closer]

“On the left, right there! (pointing frantically) Do you see it?!?”

[passing art]

“Oh…I must’ve missed it. (chuckles) Hun, I promise I’m trying!”

I wrapped around the block again and repeated the process. She missed it again. Sigh. I couldn’t even be frustrated–those glasses were just too cute. Besides, the clouds were amazing today. Aunt Opal and I both love clouds, and today the sun broke through the gray sky blanket several times. Thankfully, ooh-ing and aah-ing doesn’t require unhurried diction.

We browsed the art scattered around the downtown museums before we changed routes and headed home, our communication improving with every chat. Except that I was trying to drive safely and talk slowly, which required momentous effort on my part. Several cars caught my eye as they passed me. What? Cars don’t pass me. I pass cars. I glanced at the speedometer. Almost 10 mph under the speed limit. I couldn’t believe it! I was starting to slow down in more ways than one. Seven months of intermittent hang outs, flower patterned letters, and phone calls, and Aunt Opal is finally starting to rub off on me. I couldn’t be happier. I need deceleration in my lifestyle and it does not come naturally or easily.

I was so happy and hopeful that without thinking, I boldly asked, “Aunt Opal, when were you born?” A pause and a chuckle later, and I got what I was looking for. “Well, Kay, I won’t say it in full, but I will tell you this: 17.”

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