“I know exactly how you feel…”

No, you don’t.

I appreciate that you are trying to express empathy with my situation, but unless you have walked in my shoes you really don’t know exactly how I feel.

Yes, sometimes you work so long and so hard that you get really tired. I get that. But the kind of tiredness that can be relieved by a good night’s sleep isn’t the same as the MS exhaustion I have to deal with sometimes…the kind that makes it impossible to keep my eyes open for a second longer…the kind that leaves me so drained that I can’t deal with anything or anybody…the kind that turns my brain to absolute mush and makes it impossible for me to string words together in a coherent fashion.

I understand that if you’ve pushed yourself on a hike or a bike ride that your legs ache. I sometimes wish that’s all mine did. But sometimes it feels like my legs are encased in 3-4″ of concrete that I have to haul every time I try to take a step.

Do you know what it feels like to have your hands feel like 25-lb weights at the end of your arms? and not be sure you can control them enough to hold onto something?

When you get a fever–even a little one–it’s not a big deal for most people. But for me…I have to be careful and try to nip a fever in the bud. Otherwise, even a 1-degree fever can bring on a flareup and throw a complete monkey wrench in any plans I have.

I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to deal with pain or vision problems with my MS, like some have.

But the issues I have had to deal with have impacted my life…my plans…my family in ways that you can’t really understand until and unless you’ve actually lived it.

I appreciate your empathy and your attempts to understand. But please…don’t tell me that you know exactly how I feel. You don’t.

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RIP John McCain

A great man died yesterday. Yes, a great man…and I do not say that lightly.

I did not always agree with John McCain, but I respected him. I felt that he was a man of integrity who made his decisions based on his principles. Did I think they were always the right ones? No. Did I think he was perfect and never made mistakes? No.

But when he made mistakes, he acknowledged them. He apologized.

And he worked to find common ground, even with those he disagreed with.

When he was a POW in Vietnam, he had the opportunity to be released early, but he refused to take it, because he knew it would be used as a propaganda tool to demoralize those he was imprisoned with. He paid for it–dearly.

When he was running against Barak Obama, he had the opportunity to attack him in response to a question he was asked. Instead, he did something out of the ordinary in a political fight–he acknowledged that they had major disagreements, but defended Obama and his integrity, calling him “a decent person and a family man.”

He was not always liked, because he chose his positions based on what he believed was right, not simply on party politics.

We will miss him. Not because he did everything we wanted him to, but because he challenged us to be the best we can be. He called us to work to find common ground rather than division. I’m reminded of a quote by Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird that could be McCain’s epitaph: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Thank you for your service, Senator. Rest in peace.

Where is our empathy?

Recently a school was closed for two days because of threats made against a transgender student…a child who is 12 years old. I could have understood if–maybe–if the threats had come from other students. That’s an age when being different seems to bring out the worst in us. But these threats came from parents…from those who are supposed to set the example.

As we learn more about how our brains work, about the connections between mind and body, about how our bodies are put together…there is increasing scientific knowledge available to help us understand issues of sexual and gender identities. We can help kids become who they really are–but only if we’re willing to listen and learn ourselves.

What if we actually listened? What if we set our fears aside for a little bit? What if we put our learned prejudices aside? our tendencies to try to apply information from 2000 years ago to today, ignoring all the information we’ve learned about our world, our bodies, ourselves?

I’m not suggesting that scripture isn’t relevant. It is. But the Bible isn’t a science textbook. It’s a record of communities doing their best to understand their world and the Divine. It’s a book that calls us to be open…to be willing to reach out to the marginalized, the hurting, the dispossessed.

That includes kids who are struggling with the differences they sense between who their brain tells them they are and what their body shows.

We may not understand it all, and that’s okay. There’s still a lot for us to learn.

But those of us who are adults have to set the example for our kids.

We can teach them empathy…compassion…willingness to try to understand another.

Or we can teach them fear and hate for “the other.”

I cannot imagine what life is like for that 12-year-old girl…or for the many other children (and adults) who struggle with gender dysphoria.

It’s not a disease. The disease is in us, when we see a 12-year-old child and call her a “half-formed maggot” or “it” or suggest attacking her with “a good sharp knife.”

How do we see?

That question–how do we see?–could be answered in a variety of ways. But it was triggered by a short incident in a book I read…a video I saw…and a picture I saw.

First…in a book titled Wounds Are Where Light Enters, Walter Wangerin, Jr., the author, tells of an incident that involved his adopted African-American son when he was a small child. He was good friends with a neighbor girl, but one day the girl’s mother said that they couldn’t play together any more. Wangerin and his wife thought it was because their son played rougher than his friend did–but that wasn’t the case. It was because he was black. Wangerin, the family’s pastor, went to visit and talk to the mother, who greeted him warmly and then began commiserating about how difficult life was for black children, especially boys…and that she wasn’t surprised they turned to alcohol and crime. Wangerin was nonplussed and asked if she didn’t see that her attitude was one of the things that made it so difficult for them. Why had she cut him off? Her response was simple. “No…black and white don’t marry.”

She didn’t see a little boy who only wanted to play with his friend. She didn’t see a child…she saw color.

Second…a video came up on my Facebook newsfeed about a 66-year-old man who was colorblind. He was given the gift of Enchroma glasses, which allowed him to see color for the first time in his life. It was incredible to watch him see the world in a new way…overwhelming but absolutely joyful.

Image may contain: one or more peopleAnd then third…a picture I saw tonight. I have no words to describe the heartbreak I felt when I saw the picture this little girl who lives in an orphanage drew…a picture of her mother, and then she took off her shoes, and curled up on her mother’s chest.

How do we see? What do we see?

Do we only see what’s on the outside? Or are we willing to look beyond the obvious? to see the inside?

We can put “force fields” around ourselves so that we protect ourselves…because to see the inside requires us to be vulnerable, and that can be frightening. It calls us to be advocates for change…

My faith tradition talks about enduring principles, and some of them call me to see the world differently:

  • Worth of all people
  • Pursuit of peace
  • Unity in diversity
  • Blessings of community

So, how do we see? What do we see?

Are we willing to open our eyes…to see the world in new ways? I hope so.

 

 

What are we afraid of?

Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Why?

Because fear feeds on itself. Once we start being afraid, then we constantly find things to be afraid of…and it begins a vicious circle. We become afraid and so we insulate ourselves from those things that we fear–and then we become afraid that we haven’t protected ourselves well enough and so we pull within ourselves even more…and more…and more.

Eventually we find ourselves living in such a little world that there is no room for anything but fear. We find ourselves like Rapunzel, locked into a tower away from anything and anybody that could rescue us…no door to open…and the sad thing is that we have done it to ourselves.

What are we so afraid of?

  • The “other?” Someone who is different from us in some way (ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, religion, political, gender identity…)?
  • Anything that challenges our long-held beliefs?
  • The future?
  • Being alone?
  • Change?

So how do we get over being afraid? It’s not easy.

It’s so much simpler, at least in the short-term, to hold on to our fears. They protect us…or at least we think they do, until they imprison us.

We have to face the fears…name them. Until we do, they will continue to hide in dark corners, ready to jump out at any unexpected moment.

We have to decide whether we are going to open the door and let hope come in…let faith begin to develop. We have to begin to understand that fear often begins inside us. Yes, there are some valid reasons to be careful and cautious in our lives–but not for every aspect of living.

Pulling the weeds of fear is difficult. It’s challenging. It requires us to be willing to listen to others…to even see ourselves in them. It requires us to be vulnerable, to be willing to accept pain.

But in the long run, it’s the only way to live. When we lock ourselves in the tower of fear, we’re not living. We may be surviving, but that’s it.

When we live, we see colors…we love diversity…we choose to walk with others–perhaps to give them company, but in so doing, we find we are no longer alone.

So what will we choose? Fear? Or opening the door to love and to hope…to life?

“Becoming Nicole”

It’s been quite a while since I reviewed a book on this blog. That’s intentional. I have a big list of books (6-1/2 years worth) that I found worth reading on my site here.

I read so much that I literally ran out of time and energy trying to decide which books to suggest. So why am I suggesting this one?

Over the last several years I’ve become involved with members of the LGBTQ+ community in various ways. I’ve become good friends with some transgender individuals and have come to at least a minimal understanding of what they have gone through in helping their brains and bodies to agree.

But Becoming Nicole is one of the best books I’ve read (as a straight/cis person) to help understand what the journey is like for the whole family.

From the time she was at least 2 years old, Nicole knew that she was different from her identical twin brother. She couldn’t put words to the differences, but she knew they were there. Her parents and brother were supportive of her in her journey, but they also followed different paths. Her mother accepted her from the beginning and, although there wasn’t much information available to her at that time, she searched out what she could find and became a strong advocate for her daughter. Although her father loved and supported her, it took him longer to understand–but once he did, he also became a strong spokesperson for her. Her brother? He somehow simply knew from early on that he had a sister instead of a brother.

Each major section of this book opens with an explanation of the science behind sexual identity and gender identity…what scientists are coming to understand about how they develop and how they may not match. Sometimes trying to read that scientific information is challenging, but this book presents that material in language that a non-scientist can understand without a dictionary at hand!

If you have questions about what it means to be transgender…if you are curious about the journey of the entire family…if you would simply like to know more, then I would strongly suggest Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt. It’s not a “preachy” book, simply the story of a family who deeply love and care for their children and the challenges they faced as they helped them to be true to themselves.