Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Truly Living or Just Surviving?

For that past few days I have been in the grips of a series of angina attacks. My angina, and for that matter, my heart disease, is atypical in that I have no clear risk factors for heart disease other than being overweight, which is not a factor in itself. There are theories, of course, but they remain theories because unless something shows up in some measurable way during one of the countless tests used in diagnosing these sorts of things, all one is left with is symptoms. And theories. The only time my body has ever cooperated and presented a symptom that actually showed up on paper, so to speak, was when I had a heart attack 8 years ago.

So the prevailing theory has something to do with cardiac artery spasms, which means that at certain times (such as during stress, etc) my cardiac arteries spasm and decrease blood flow to my heart. The heart attack is theorized to have been caused by a particular artery that spasm-ed to the point of damage. Apparently, the body used cholesterol as a bandage for damaged arteries. Who knew? So my artery was "bandaged" by cholesterol up to 80%, and when another spasm happened, the "bandage" blocked the oxygen flow completely. Voila. Heart attack. And lots of pain, denial, and confusion.

Eight years ago, in the face of crushing chest pain and an almost useless left arm, I got my two foster kids ready for daycare, drove them there, dropped them off, had a conversation with a friend in my driveway when I got home, went inside and had a shower all before I called a friend for help.

Denial, she's a powerful thing, no?

There is a heady feeling of almost euphoria that happens when one has been ill or in pain for a length of time and then begins to feel better. I have a chronic, painful bladder disease, interstitial cystitis (IC) that presents itself in flares of abdominal and pelvic pain that can last anywhere from a day or two to over a week, and the experience is the same when it finally lets go. It's more than relief. It's almost like a victory.

When in the painful time, the focus is on dealing with the illness, on coping, managing symptoms, remaining hopeful and trying not to crumple into a pile of self-pitying goo. The entire family is affected by the illness of one of it's members, and not everyone reacts well every time. I am generally known as a patient, kind, gracious, forgiving person. My faith in God provides a relationship that steadies me and gives me hope and peace in the most difficult of times. Sometimes, that hope and peace means that no one gets killed.

Last night, I was feeling particularly miserable. Every time the dogs barked, my adrenaline spiked and pain shot through my chest. They barked a lot. Grace came home, did the day's dishes, made supper, but when she fussed about doing the supper dishes it angered me, and the adrenaline did it's thing again. What was supposed to be a gentle, meandering walk outside to check out the chickens turned into me, irritated, lugging buckets of food and water to the chickens. More adrenaline and exertion. Even watching the beginning of the new show, Hawaii 5-0, was enough to set off the adrenaline and get me teary eyed.

It was not a good night, as those of you know know me on Facebook are probably aware. Nitroglycerin, which I carry around in handy little lipstick sized spray pumps, is a miracle drug that pops open arteries and sends blood right where it needs to go. It also triggers eye-tearing, cheek twitching, hair pulling, lip biting head aches if you're not used to using it. Thanks to it having been a long time since I have had any serious angina, I wasn't used to it. A good thing, really, and yet...

So every wave of adrenaline that set off the chest clenching angina called for another mind-blowing shot of nitro. And still, everyone survived. Yay me.

Because, between the IC and heart stuff, chronic illness is a daily part of my life, it is important to me that I learn to truly live my life, not just survive it. I am a child of God, heir to all that God has for His children. It is not enough to just survive. Just to get though. I feel the euphoria of having made it through to the other side of another bout of pain and illness without having to visit the hospital, without having actually killed something or someone, even without having been snarky to anyone, although I really, really wanted to. I am relieved that it is over. I am glad that, through the experiences of fellow heart disease patients, I have learned a few things that will make the next bout with angina easier to get through.

I am learning to walk the fine line between being honest about the struggles I am going through while I am going through them, and not sliding down the slippery slope of wanting everyone around me to be as miserable as I am. When asked how I am while I am hurting, I am less likely to push the inner button that artificially lights up my face while I grunt out "Fine!" through clenched teeth. I am also less likely to give you a 20 minute play-by-play on just how cruddy I actually feel. There is a middle ground. Somewhere.

I think the thing about truly living is that it requires effort, above and beyond the effort of just surviving. To be honest, given the wonders of modern medicine, it is unlikely that either or my health issues are going to kill me anytime soon. So just surviving is a given, for now at least. But living...truly living takes work. It takes determination. And for me, it takes faith in a life that is larger than my own, a plan that I am a part of and that is gloriously wonderful and exciting. It takes the knowledge that in my weakness, God is strong in me. It takes joy and gratitude and love, the reality of them and not just words on a page. It takes forgiveness and patience, for everyone, including myself and the freakin' barking dogs.

It means talking about it but not obsessing about it, knowing where the *do not disturb* button is on the phone and being willing to use it, taking the time to stand in the midst of the chicken coop at night, listening to the soft, sleepy cooing and letting the stress release, and really listening to my daughter's day, told as only a 16 year old girl can tell it.

Sometimes I don't know whether I am truly living or just surviving. But I know what I want to be doing, which I'm taking as a good sign.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Finding Hope in Robinson Crusoe

"I daily read the word of God, and apply'd all the comforts of it to my present-state. One morning, being very sad, I opened the Bible upon these words, I will never never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Joshua 1:5) Immediately it occurred to me that these words were to me; why else should they be directed in such a manner, just at the moment when I was mourning over my condition, as one forsaken of God and man? 'Well then," said I, 'if God does not forsake me, of what ill consequence can it be, or what matters it, though the world should all forsake me, seeing, on the other hand, if I had all the world, and should lose the favor and blessing of God, there wou'd be no comparison in the loss?'"

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Guilt by Association?

Recently, I read this comment on FAcebook:

"****, you belong to a group of people that have killed, raped,terrified, tortured,sexually abused women and children and have started wars all in the name of your god since the beginning of time and to this very day...
When my children were little I told them that if they hung out with people that shoplifted, took drugs or where bullies that even if they didn't do these things that by law and by public option that they would be shoplifters, thieves and bullies too. Guilty by association! All wars are started over religious differences and christians have done their share of bloodshed and mayham.
Children are being molested in churches from the very people that should be protecting them( or so they would like us to believe).
It amazes me how the bible is twisted so anyone can justify their actions good or bad!
These are some of the reasons for my comments.....everything I have mentioned is the truth.
I am not going to stop because it makes me sick, it also makes me sick that christians allow the bad ones to get away the things they do in the name of god!
This is what Uncle ***** and Uncle ***** where talking about, this minister was going to burn the Karan,start a war, put young solders in harms way all in the name of christainity with your blessing......no, not your blessing!
Where was your protest?
It makes me think that not one christian showed up to protest maybe because they believe the act is justified and to sacrifice a few young men for the cause is justified."

Aside from the fact that if the first paragraph was directed at Muslims or Jews or Hindus instead of Christians, we would all be horrified by the sheer bigotry and hatred and ugly of it all, this passage highlights one of the major faults and causes of conflict in our society. Namely, ignorance. Simple thinking. I might add, this comment comes from someone who I recently heard explain the natural tragedies in far off countries, such as hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes that kill hundreds of thousands of people, as "population control". I was so horrified, I was struck dumb. So, what, cancer and drunk drivers are the developed world's "population control"? Egad. By this person's logic, though, by not challenging her assertion that the multitude of deaths in the third world are necessary for the health of the planet, I was agreeing with her.

She sites the term, guilty by association. This term is based on the premise that, for example something that is associated with something else must automatically share fundamental qualities with that which the association is made. For example, dogs have four legs, cats have four legs, therefore all cats are dogs. A chef has a bad temper. I am a chef. Therefore I have a bad temper. My friend uses drugs. I am her friend, therefore I use drugs. As far as I can tell, this is the basis of prejudice and bigotry. A Muslim is a terrorist. You are a Muslim, therefore you are a terrorist.

This is called an association fallacy, because, of course, it is in no way based on actual truth. It is not true that all animals with four legs are dogs, or that all dogs are vicious because some dogs are, or that all Muslims are terrorists because some are or that spending time with drug addicts means that one is because, I know for a fact, this just isn't true. The association fallacy is used because it appeals to emotion, not fact. If you will notice, the above example is rife with emotion, mostly anger, fear and hatred. There are few facts involved, although she claims to be speaking the truth. In actuality, she is speaking to someone who is known by her peers and family for being the very opposite of what she is accused of being. The truth, even when obvious, bears no relation to the argument.

To ascribe to a "guilt by association" argument creates a slippery slope, because it can be used to avoid offering help to the poor or struggling, or to connect with anyone who is connected by association to anything negative. We should, therefore, have no Muslim friends, because by association, they all must be terrorists and I will be considered a terrorist...by association. I should not befriend a young black man, because by association he may be a hood and then I, by association, would be a hood. How far do we want to take this?

This person says that she has warned her children to stay away from troubled kids, because by association, her children would be just as guilty. I have to admit, as a Christian, this is not a lesson I have been free to teach my child. Jesus commands us to love others, regardless of their sins, as we are loved by Him regardless of our sins. My daughter has known and loved Jesus since she was two years old. Not once did it ever occur to me that in being a part of loving and caring for people who struggled with various problems, that she would adopt those problems. What she has adopted is the capacity to love. To understand. And most importantly, to not fear people because of their weaknesses or prejudice.

One of my most cherished and divine moments came while my little girl sat at my table and sipped tea with a friend, who also happened to be an addict and a drug pusher. Tattoos, pony tail, leathers and all. He smiled at her and raised his pinky in high tea style, and she looked at him with glee, in all the innocence of one who has not yet learned how to judge and hate. It was Christian faith personified. Jesus was often criticized by the religious leaders of His day for hanging around with sinners. They subscribed strongly to the "guilty by association" argument.

Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who would use fear and bigotry to marginalize the lost and protect their own privileged positions. Jesus came for the wounded and broken and lost. He did not come to protect His own position as Rabbi, as Messiah, as God. His only concern were those who needed Him. When a child knows this Messiah, is filled with His passion and love and courage, not even the threat of being thought "guilty by association" will keep her away from people who need love and care, no matter what they have done.

It is true, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to care about people based on their own merits despite their "associations". It is easier to avoid and reject people, using the guilty by association theory. It may be safer, although I doubt it because I suspect that having to maintain all that anger, fear and hatred against entire people groups must be exhausting and difficult on the body.

The ironic thing is that the very thing that the above quote is upset about, namely the threats of a Florida pastor to burn the Koran, is based on the theory of guilty by association. To vilify the use of "guilty by association" from this pastor by using the "guilty by association" argument, makes no sense. It is foolish. And dangerous. This is how wars are started. This is how hatred and violence and evil multiply. Lots of emotion, hatred and fear, no logic, love or peace.

To accuse a peace-loving person of being bigoted, hateful and evil because she shares the title Christian with someone who is bigoted, hateful and evil is siding with the evil, not the cause of peace and love. It may be easier. It may lead to feelings of self-righteousness and pride. But is is weak and empty and sad.

There is a different way. There is a peace-full way. We can choose to see people as they are, to take chances and open our hearts to love and surprises and hope. We can be brave. We can be gentle. We can be truth-full. For me, I find these things in the wonder of having the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of me, calling me continually to His way and forgiving me each time I stray. He heals me when I am wounded and lifts me up to love some more. I am not free to pre-judge anyone, and if I do, I answer to a God who sees each one of us as an individual, responsible for our own messes and no one else's.

Whew. Because, frankly, I can't afford to carry anyone else's sin. I'm dealing with enough of my own, thank you very much!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yes, I am a Christian, and no, that doesn't mean I am personally financing Terry Jones' matches...

I don't like writing things like this. Things that everyone else is writing about, and most of them doing it in a significantly better manner than I can. Things that are in the news. Hot topics. Blah blah blah.

The thing that I am discovering is that I can spend all my time writing about the love of God, sowing seeds of peace, calling the church to a higher place of discipleship in Jesus instead of man-made rules and laws, reaching out to others, rebuking those who judge, attack or hurt the weak, lost or different, live my life walking as close to Jesus as I can and seeing the evidence of His love in the broken and hurt people who are learning how very much they are loved...

...and let one crack pot in Florida decide to burn the Koran on September 11th, and suddenly I'm assumed to be the guy's biggest supporter. I have to be, right? After all, I haven't bombed his church out yet(Anyone got plane fare for Florida, 'cause money's a little tight these days?), I haven't written long-winded, hate-filled rants about him yet, I haven't dug up any dirt on his past love life and sold it to the Enquirer yet. So I must agree with the guy.

Good gravy, what is happening to logic these days?

For years and years, Christians were vilified for talking the talk and not walking the walk. Now, people are peeved when we are too busy walking the walk to join in the endless talk. I know it is important that people speak out against this stuff. People ARE speaking out against this stuff. The Vatican has condemned it, Christian religious leaders have joined with Jewish and Muslim leaders at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday to denounce it, and I have read countless personal reports of people who are horrified by this guy. I do not know one Christian that would support these actions. In fact, the only people that might support him are the 50...yes, 50...people in his congregation. And who knows how many of them are trying to speak some sense in the midst of the crazy?

So what is going on? Hatred begets hatred, that's what's going on. This guy hates Muslims because the people responsible for 9/11 were Muslims, so he wants to burn the Koran. The world hears about it, and since the guy responsible for the plan to burn the Koran is Christian, decides to hate Christians. And the beat goes on. Essentially, we are saying, hey, this guy's attitude and behavior are so wrong that the only way to address them is to...mimic them??!!! Oooh, good plan. I hate who you are so much, I want to be just like you. And this makes sense...how?

At some point we have to make a choice to stop reacting and start acting. My first Bible was destroyed in a raging fit by someone that I had lent it to. It had all my first notes in it, the highlights of my first discoveries that God loved me and actually delighted in me. It was precious. I remember the very moment when she told me what she had done. We were in the car. It was dark. I was in the front seat, and she was in the back. She told me very flippantly. She had no idea what she had done, or was so self absorbed that she didn't care. I don't know which. I was immediately furious. Seriously. I remember, in my anger, receiving a gentle, inner invitation to be different. She had allowed her anger to result in destruction. While I was filled with the desire to do the same, I had a choice. I didn't have to react destructively. I didn't have to rip and tear. I could choose a different path. It was tough. I don't know, maybe by choosing to act on the words of my destroyed Bible, I honored it. I never regretted not blasting her. I have had many Bibles since, and I love them all. My first one was the most special, not because it was my first, but it was strong enough to come back to me when I needed it. God used it to change me into who I wanted to be, and gave me the freedom to choose how I would act, rather than allowing someone else's behavior to force me into the same mold as they are in.

For the record, I do not support Terry Jones' plan to burn the Koran. If you know me, you already know this. If you don't know me well enough to know this, but you need to hear it from my keyboard, that's sad. If you think that this guy's behavior represents the thoughts and beliefs of all Christians, then you have more in common with him than you think, because that's exactly what he thinks about Muslims.

PMS? Take two kittens and call me in the morning.

I'm feeling very irritable and cranky today. And if someone was to tell me to "take a Midol", they'd be right on the money, but I'd still want to club them. That's the joy of PMS. Don't try to relieve it with logic, common sense or the truth. Just pass the chocolate and my blankie and stay out of my way.

The only people I can handle today are the animals. And Marc, because he is very PMS-respectful. He's comforting. Gives lots of hugs. Makes chocolate cake. That kind of thing.

The animals are easier to handle, not because they are better than people. It's simply because they require less from me.

I always thought, people who say they love animals more than people are revealing a lot more about their ability to love than they are the difficulty of people. If we love animals more, like I'll probably be doing today, it is because they are easier to love. They have no opinions of their own, so we are always right. They depend on us, and so we are important to them always. They enjoy our company with very little effort on our part. They let us lead. At least the dogs do. The cats can be a bit aristocratic, but that just makes us feel special when they deign to acknowledge us.

Animals, as a rule, don't argue or fight with us and they forgive us quickly (I'm sure that has nothing to do with our control of the food bag). In fact, animals have affection for us just the way we are. We assume that that's a good thing. We want to be loved and tolerated just the way we are. If I want my own way all the time, if I tear down people who don't agree with me, if I get cranky and want to be left alone when others might need me, if I hurt someone with my rude attitudes and words, my dog will still accept me. That's one of the special things about animals. But it's not a way to live. It's not real. Wonderful is as wonderful does.

Our dogs may not be the best judges of our characters. Yes, my animals will continue to adore me today as they have always. The chickens will follow me around the yard, the cats will curl up beside me on the couch and the dogs will gleefully accompany me on my daily walk. They'll tolerate my crankiness, and if someone errs and pees in the wrong place, pecks my toes or jumps on my chest while I am sleeping, my reaction will be forgiven. This is comforting, and friendly and kind of them.

But I love and need my family just because while they too will continue to love me, their love will cause them to call me to a higher place. They'll let me know that PMS may be an excuse for a lot of things, but treating my family with disrespect, rudeness and irritability are not some of them. They'll expect more from me, and because of that, I'll have more to give them. And on the odd month that Gracie and I PMS at the same time, the opportunities for grace in the face of raging hormones will be nothing short of miraculous.

I love my people more than my animals. Yes, it's harder. Yes, there is more pain, disappointment, and pressure. There is also more learning, growth and maturity. I like to think that when learning to be a better wife, mother, sister, friend and daughter, I am also learning to be better with the animals.

If you'll excuse me, it's time to head back to bed with an armful of cats and dogs and my heating pad. Husband's orders. :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

And I thought I was just weird...

I'm finding it interesting that all the ads after my last post are about anger-management. **sigh**

I found out something interesting today. I follow a blog by a pastor named Ron Edmonston, and he has been writing a short series of blog posts about introverted/extroverted characteristics. Today he talked about how introverts and extroverts listen.


I've been finding the whole series really interesting, because I am an introvert and it is always nice to find out that character traits that one struggles with are actually natural and normal. I just always thought I was weird. Which I absolutely still could be. But not because I am an introvert.

It's amazing how understanding each other can make us kinder and more accepting. Marc is a full-blown, over-the-top extrovert. It's a lovely thing to watch him connect with people, everybody, anybody. He turns into a puddle of goo in front of an audience, but recently he came with me to my 25th high school reunion and I never once had to worry about him being bored or not having anyone to talk to. He can make connections with complete strangers with little effort.

This amazes me because I can't do it. Or at least, I'm not very good at it. I am much more comfortable in front of a crowd than trying to socialize one on one at parties. I don't do small talk well. It always feels lame to me, talking about the weather and stuff. I make myself do it, and its getting easier, but I often walk away from social interactions wincing because I am certain I sounded like a complete dweeb. Going to someone's high school reunion, where I wouldn't know anyone, would easily be on my top 10 list of things that just might kill me. Right up there with another heart attack and being buried alive by gangsters. On the other hand, speaking in front of a crowd of 1000 would be on my bucket list, the list of things I dream of doing before anything on the top 10 list of things that might kill me actually happens, and kills me.

This latest article cleared up an issue that has been irritating me for a long time. When Marc and I watch movies, and there are sad or moving scenes, I like my emotional reaction to be very quiet and private. If I cry, I don't want any one watching or commenting on it. Marc, on the other hand, immediately looks at me to see if I am crying along with him. And if I am not, he wants to know why, hard-hearted shrew that I am. He mops his face dramatically, moans about how he hates chick-flick weep-fests, and just in general wants to share the experience with me. Call me selfish, but I don't want to share. I want to slide down in my seat and sobble my way into a handful of tissues in complete and utter solitude. If someone is watching, my emotions choke and I end up not engaging in the story or feeling the emotions. And it irritates me.

Now I understand why I am like this. And I have explained it to Marc. Logic dictates that the problem should be solved. Marc is still going to want to share and I am still going to hold my emotions close. I'm trusting that understanding each other will make a difference.

I should add a disclaimer here - contrary to anything that Marc will ever admit in public, he does enjoy a good weepy movie at times. Still, I have endured enough Clint Eastwood/Sly Stallone/The Rock/Bruce Willis blood-fest movies to be fully convinced that Marc's macho genes are firmly in place. Like, seriously.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Caution...rant zone...

I am such a friggen coward. Man alive, sometimes I irritate myself. I know, I know, I am supposed to be kind to myself. At the same time, there are a million and one Facebook pages that gleefully encourage me to drop-kick the idiots in my life into kingdom come. Nobody ever seems to question...what if we are the idiots?

"I'm not b*tchy, I just have a low tolerance for bullsh*t". Including my own? "If he doesn't love me at my worst, then he doesn't deserve me at my best" Does the same go for you, if you don't love him at his worst? Ah, one never thinks about these things, does one?

When I get cranky, I tend to get contrary. And when I get contrary, one of my pet peeves is people who think everyone else is the problem.

We make mistakes, mess up someone's day, week, life, we feel bad about ourselves, indulge in a bit of verbal self-flagellation, seek out and talk to friends who quickly reassure us of our inherent wonderfulness and continue on with life secure in the fact that we are human and everyone makes mistakes. Sure, when we think about it, we cringe a bit, but all we have to do is recall the victim of our mistake and their totally inappropriate, over-the-top, bad-a$$ reaction to our mere humanness, and we can relax. It was probably karma, anyway.

Someone messes with us, on the other hand, and all hell breaks loose. The whole "humans make mistakes" thing becomes completely irrelevant. Not those kinds of mistakes. Not to ME!!!! Not without blood to show for it! Or at least a bit of cash...

You know, I get it, I really do. It hurts to...well, get hurt. I've had my share of life crashes and carry a few internal (and external) scars to prove it. And sometimes, the memories sting. Ache. Shriek. And yes, reality bites, because sometimes the reality is that we are not the best parents, children, partners, tenants, employees, or friends in the world. Sometimes I literally have to warn my family that I am feeling irritable and could blow at any moment. What difference does it make to them that the cause is chronic pain or fatigue or PMS or a apocalyptic chocolate shortage at the local IGA? Tiptoeing around an emotional time bomb is tiptoeing around an emotional time bomb, no matter what the reason. Can I really afford to get snarky with them when they get a bit testy with me at times?

The Bible has a really good principle that relates to this kind of thing, thought up, I am sure, by a God who knows a lot more about our individual snarky, snappy, idiot-ness than He cares to.

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you..." Matthew 7:12

Catch that? It's not, do to others what they have done to you. It's do to others what you would have them do to you. Treat the world and all it's blunders as you would like the world to treat you and all your blunders. And if at this point you are tempted to say that you have no blunders, then do me a favor and smack yourself upside the head for me, right now, okay?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can't stand waitresses that aren't efficient because you won awards at proficiency while waitressing your way through college. But what if you hadn't? What if you were lousy at it, too. Or, what about all the other things you are lousy at? Treat her like you want your family to treat you the next time you make that dang-awful tuna casserole for supper. Or the next time your dog barrels out of the house to plant matching paw prints on the postman's chest because you've never even heard of Cesar Milan.

It's a win-win situation, you know. It takes a huge amount of effort to feign perfection. Plus, no-one's buying it. Grace given is grace received. We give ourselves a gift when we choose kindness and understanding rather than righteous indignation and rage. Picture your kids in the audience of your life. Who do you want them to see? Gentle, patient mom? Self-controlled, tolerant dad? We boast about not tolerating idiots because we think we're making it perfectly clear that we aren't idiots. It's not that easy. What if we are idiots? What's the worst that can happen? Gentleness and patience works both ways, you know.

I know a man who has some serious anger issues. He denies it vehemently. Angrily. What he cannot see is that his wife and daughter already know that he has anger issues, and they love him regardless. They think he is great. They're glad he's theirs. Is he protecting himself from the knowledge of his weakness? Or is he shielding himself from the wonder and joy of his family's unconditional love for him? He can't have the full experience of their love until he faces the truth about his own idiot-ness.

But really, when you think about it, it's a sweet deal all the way around.
My Zimbio