On My Mind

Thoughts on Writing and Life from Author Annette Smith

Sunday, June 24, 2007


One of my hospice patients, C.,a 44-year-old, never-married cancer patient told me how difficult it was to be the recipient of so much assistance and care. His assigned nursing assistant today was a lovely young woman who happens to be visibly pregnant.

"She shouldn't be waiting on me. I should be the one doing for her." C. adjusted the orange stocking cap he wears over his chemo-bald head. "All my life, I've worked. What I wish more than anything is that I could go back to my job." He studied his hands. "I know that's not going to happen. When I leave this place, it won't be to go back to work."

I sat down beside him on the edge of his bed. "There's something I've wondered about. I'd like to hear what you think. When we get to heaven, you believe we'll have jobs to do?"

"I don't know."

"Me either." I reached up and adjusted C.'s nasal canula. Most of the time he's got it on sideways, blowing more O2 into his ears than his lungs. "But just say we do. What job would you pick? Would you want to polish the pearly gates? Sweep up those golden streets? Maybe play the harp?"

"Naw. Not play the harp. That would drive me crazy."

We both laughed. Then C. started to cough.

I poured a glass of water and held the straw steady to his lips. C. took a long draw, then I set the glass down.

Neither of us spoke for a long moment.

Finally C. raised his head. "You know, I'll tell you what job I'd take if they offered it to me," His eyes twinkled.

"What's that?"

"Sounds kind of silly but when I get to heaven, I'd like to be Santa Claus. Hand out candy canes and presents. BB guns for the boys and Easy Bake ovens for the girls. Yep, that's the job I'll take. If they offer it to me, that is."

"That would be a great job," I agreed. "And don't you worry. They'll offer it to you. I'm sure of it."

"There's lots of kids up there. I figure they need somebody to be Santa Claus."

"I can't think of anybody better fit for the job. You'll be perfect."

"You think so?"

"I do."

I stood to go. "As for me. I want to play the harp."

"That figures."

"When we get there, let's look each other up."

"Okay. You won't be hard to find."

"Neither will you."

C.'s head relaxed against his pillow. "Later."

"Yeah. Later, C." I patted his hand. "You need anything else?"

His eyes drooped. "Nah. I'm fine."

Me too.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lifetime Supply

Yesterday I was blessed to care for a elderly woman whose daughter was keeping a bedside vigil. "My sister would be here too" she told me, "but she's with her daughter on a Make-A-Wish trip."

"Oh my. Is her little girl ill?"

Okay. That was a dumb question. But the woman was gracious. She told me that her sister worked at a facility for severely handicapped children. It was at work where she fell in love with her future adopted daughter, the one who was now declining and enjoying a longed-for Florida vacation.

"What a giving person your sister is," I said.

The woman nodded, then told me more about her extended family. Her nephew, who is also employed at the children's home, is the father to two children adopted from there. Not only that, several other close family members cared for adopted children. Others who are not employed routinely volunteer their time.

"Wow," I said. Then I looked over at her mom, asleep in the bed. "Your mother really instilled love and compassion in her family. She did an amazing job."

She teared up, then spoke. "My mother had a very hard life. Her marriage was extremely difficult. We children gave her way too much trouble. But through it all, she remained upbeat and positive. Always. Once I asked her how she kept it up, how she managed to never let her circumstances get her down."

"What was her answer?"

"She told me her parents loved her so very much that it was enough love to last a life time."

My eyes misted. They mist again as I compose this post. I can't get her words out of my mind. To be loved like that.

More, to be a person who loves like that.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Living With Intention

Randy and I married young. We were barely into our twenties when we tied the knot. Our son was born 20 months into our union, our daughter four years after that. It's all good. Yet when I think of our early years together, I see the two of us mostly careening from one impulsive, reactive decision to the next. We bought houses. Sold houses. Took jobs. Quit jobs. Moved here. Moved there. Bought stuff. Sold stuff. Bought more stuff.

Looking back, I'm stunned at our impulsiveness.

This year, as we near the third decade of our life together, there's a change in the air. Randy and I have begun to arrange our lives with a greater sense of intention and purpose. Together, we've looked at what we want our lives to look like, to feel like, to be like. We've talked about what's most important to us, about what we want to keep and what needs to go.

We've made some decisions.

And so yes, we're moving. Again.
To a town that's an hour south.
We're selling a house and buying another one.
Randy's starting a new job.
I'm devoting more hours to an old one.

But this time, for probably the first time, we know why we're doing what we're doing. We want to deepen existing friendships and forge new ones. We want to serve our church instead of simply warming a pew. We desire greater community. More hours together.

Most of these changes will take place within the next two weeks.

And we can hardly wait.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Except For This One Thing

"I find myself fundamentally allied with a vegetarian position
in every way except one: I eat meat."
Barbara Kingsolver

This quote made me laugh and prompted me to think about areas of my own life where my beliefs don't jive with my behavior. Here's my short list:

I'd like to complete a marathon, but I don't run.

Reading classical literature is essential for anyone serious about writing, but I find much of it boring.

Keeping the AC set on 75 is a good way to help preserve the environment, but I get cranky when I'm hot.

An uncluttered house is more calm and restorative than one that's too full, but I'm sentimental and attached to my personal stuff.

Caffeine is bad for you, but I love my Starbucks.

Television rots your brain, but I watch Lost and Gray's Anatomy.

So, what's on your list?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Finding Jesus

Tony Campolo is a man I admire. I share many of his views. Tony once said that the place to find Jesus is in loving service to poor and oppressed people.

Tony's wife Peggy, tells the following story that bears witness to this truth. Under pressure from her family and those at her church, Peggy pretended to become a Christian at age nine. Not only that, she kept up the charade for 38 years. Here, in her words, is how that chapter of her life came to an end.

....I learned first hand that Tony was right about where to find Jesus. It happened at the bedside of my dear friend Helen who was dying. Helen had always said she believed in God but now she didn't have any assurance about heaven or peace about dying and there I was, her best friend in this world, not even remotely in touch with God, with Jesus or any hope of heaven. I felt more inadequate than I'd ever felt in my life. Helen needed God to die and I needed God desperately if I was to be any comfort at all to Helen. So I decided I would tell my friend all that I had ever heard about God and going to heaven. And after all those years in church I knew it well. Helen held my hand for dear life and I know she heard me and as I shared God's grace and love with my dying friend, the presence of God became real to me.

Helen grew too ill to talk after that day but I could talk to her and I did and I believe God did take her home to heaven even as I know God has remained with me. It was in my caring for Helen that I had come to know God. My husband's quest in theology about finding God in those who are in need or being oppressed became a reality to me that day in the hospital. You do stand with God when you stand with and for those who suffer.

Now, none of us can be a loving presence to all of God's children. None of us can even perceive, let alone try to make right, every wrong in this world. But God has chosen for each one of us those particular people that God wants to love through us.

People often ask how I can be a hospice nurse. How can I deal with suffering day after day? Isn't it depressing? Isn't it sad? I'm never sure how to answer those questions. The truth is the job is difficult. Poll a group of hospice workers. Nine out of ten of us either smoke too much, drink too much, eat too much, or fill-in-the-blank too much. Yet we love what we do.

For me it is this one thing that keeps me going back. When I am at the bedsides of my dying patients, Jesus is real to me.

Totally, amazingly real.

And so, as I am drawn to Him, I am drawn to my work, to my patients, to their families, to my coworkers.

I can't imagine giving it up.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

PG Post

Spoiler alert: If you plan to read A Bigger Life, skip this post.
Content alert: If you're uncomfortable with a PG-rated topic you might want to skip this post.

In my latest book, Joel, the 27-yr-old main character, cheats on his pregnant wife. Joel's a good man. He didn't intend for it to happen. Yet, even before his wife finds out what he's done, the fall-out from Joel's actions permeates every aspect of his life. Much of the story deals with Joel's guilt over what he has done and his efforts to put the sexual mistep behind him.

Reading readers' responses to the book has prompted me to think deeply about sex and its ability to mark, to change, to bind and to wound.

On the surface, sex is as simple as a few minutes of skin-on-skin friction between two consenting adults. Once the deed is done, it's done. Behind closed doors, it involves only the two people involved in the moment. Barring pregnancy or disease, a quick shower erases all traces of an encounter. Zip up. Button up. Don't speak of the details. Life goes on.

That's how Joel thought it would be. That's how modern society tells us it is.

No big deal.

But the truth is, sex is one of those Very Big Deals.

Married or single. Committed or casual. It marks us. It changes us. In a deeply mysterious way, even the most thoughtless encounters intertwine the very souls of people. There is no way around it. Whether it is intended or not, in the deeply spiritual connection that is sex, we leave a piece of ourselves with our partner. A bit of them stays with us, inside us, on us. Forever.

Is there forgiveness for sexual misdeeds? Of course. But is there a way to go back? Is it possible to become what one was before? I think Joel would tell us no. There is no way to undo what is done. One simply walks forward. Perhaps with a limp, but forward still.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Southern Beauty Secret

Last night, at my hospice job, the staff was treated to a delicious peach cobbler. Since I've been trying to exercise and eat a healthier diet lately, I drooled over the sweet dessert, but decided to pass it up.

"Oh, go on, Annette," my friend Sharon urged. "Have a little bit. It won't hurt you. Besides, if you eat peach cobbler you'll have pretty eyebrows."

You think I'm making this up.

I'm not.

Is it any wonder my non-southern writing friends are jealous of the rich quirkiness I'm surrounded by every day?

Just in case you're wondering, I did have some cobbler. And yes, my eyebrows do look pretty. At least that's what Sharon says. In case you'd like to improve the looks of your brows, here's the recipe. Enjoy!

East Texas Peach Cobbler


1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup self-rising flour
2 cups fresh sliced peaches

Melt butter in a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Mix together flour, sugar, vanilla, and milk to make a batter; pour over the hot melted butter. Do not stir. Arrange peaches evenly over the top. Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes, untill browned on top. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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