Missing table fellowship…

I wasn’t sure whether to title this post “Missing table fellowship” or “Sometimes I feel isolated”…either would have been an appropriate title.

So what do I mean by that?

Many of you know that I have lived with MS (multiple sclerosis) since 1976. It’s gone mostly pretty well–at least since the first five years. Because of the vagaries of this auto-immune disease, there is some unpredictability to my life. I’ve learned to live with that.

But there’s one change MS has made to my experiences that creates that sense of loss. The one constant in my schedule is a daily nap. Sometimes it’s as short as 30 minutes; other times it’s as long as a couple of hours. There’s no specific time I have to take it–but I usually do it around noon. That’s what sometimes makes me feel isolated.

When I go to retreats or other all-day events, the schedule is often very full, with meetings leading right up to lunch and beginning again shortly after lunch. So my choices are (a) to forgo my nap…which really isn’t a choice, because if I do skip the nap, I suffer the consequences the next day, or (b) skip lunch in order to take my nap. Obviously, my choice is (b).

But that means that I miss table fellowship. It’s more than just sitting around the table, eating. It’s the visiting, the sharing, the continued development of community.

The people that I attend these events with are always very nice and very welcoming…but I often feel a little bit on the outside because I’ve missed that time of fellowship. (And when I fill out surveys afterwards, I usually mention that concern.)

There have been some events that I’ve attended where the schedule is wonderful! There is time set apart after lunch for everybody to spend some quiet time however they choose…napping, meditating, walking… At those events, I feel fully a part of the community, and I am very appreciative of the sensitivity of the schedulers.

I’m not casting blame on anyone. We’ve traditionally filled our schedules full, trying to get the “most bang for the bucks” when we pull a group of people together for these types of events. Sometimes, when I’ve mentioned my need for some time for a nap, the schedule has been arranged to allow that–not just for me, but for others who might find it useful as well.

I’m wondering if maybe it’s time that we consider that a period of intentional quiet time should be an important part of a scheduled event. I may use it for a nap (and so might others)…some might use it as an opportunity for meditating, walking, processing the events/information of the morning…

Maybe the Spanish custom of a siesta after lunch is something we should consider more seriously!

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“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.

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.”

“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.

Love…death…holes

Loving is difficult. It makes us vulnerable, and we’re not good at that. We want to be in control…because so much in life is out of our control.

But life without loving is also difficult. It isolates us…keeps us locked inside ourselves.

Both giving and receiving love is important. We sometimes love with conditions, but there are times when love is completely unconditional…and that often occurs with our pets.

Rascal

Rascal was a member of our family for about 12-1/2 years. He came to us already named–and we laughed about the fact that he often lived up to–or down to–his name. But he crept into our hearts. He knew when we were hurting, knew when someone needed a hug. He was independent–but willing to lay down that independence when someone in his pack needed him.

At his last checkup, we discovered that he had potential heart problems. We could have had more testing done–but even if we had found out for certain that there were problems, there wasn’t anything that could have been done at the time. So we knew we were looking down the road at the end of our time with him, but we thought it would still be a while.

That wasn’t to be, though.

Friday night he started having breathing problems–and Saturday morning at 7:00, he crossed the rainbow bridge.

I’ve been grateful that he was with us all night…and that he was snuggled up next to me when he took his last breath. He was not alone…he was with his pack.

But now there’s a hole. We keep looking, expecting to see him snuggled in his blanket on the couch…or sitting in the chair, watching and ready to bark at intruders who enter “his” space…or looking at us when we leave, waiting for us to say, “It’s okay, boy, we’ll be back in a little bit.”

The house feels empty.

I know the hole will fill…down the road. And I know we have lots and lots of memories of fun times with him. But we still feel the loss. He is not the first fur baby we have lost…just the most recent.

Loving is difficult. It makes us vulnerable. But, as Anatole France said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” Without loving, without both giving and receiving unconditional love, we are not whole.

 

“Do you want to be healed?”

A number of years ago, I wrote a poem based on the incident in John 5:1-15–when Jesus encountered an invalid at the Pool of Bethsaida who had been waiting for thirty-eight years for someone to help him into the pool when the water was first stirred up (according to tradition, by an angel) so that he could be healed. I’ve found it interesting that Jesus’ first question to him was “Do you want to be healed?”

I thought of that this week, as I began reading a book that I’m going to be working through with my spiritual advisor – Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merritt. As I was spending some intentional quiet time after reading the first chapter, I started to do some journaling, a spiritual practice that has been effective for me.

To my surprise, the first thought that came to mind was the title of this post: “Do you want to be healed?”

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you know that I went through a very difficult dark night of the soul a few years ago…a dark night that lasted about three years. By the grace of God, I was able to come through it–and I have felt very much that significant healing took place.

But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that healing is not a one-time event or activity; it’s a journey.

My journey of healing actually began about forty years ago, when–due to some circumstances that had taken me to the end of my rope–I had several sessions of counseling that helped me uncover some areas of pain I had not even been aware of. My counselor helped me bring them to the light so that they could be healed.

So when I was trying to find a way through the dark night, the idea of counseling was not something I balked at. Instead, I recognized that–again–there were areas of woundedness that needed healing…that I could not heal on my own. My counselor at that time was a great help.

And so, as the time has gone on, I had thought that the wounds in my life had all been healed.

But then I borrowed this book from the library and–as I read through it–felt that it was one I needed to spend more time with. So I bought it…and now am beginning working through it.

So…do I want to be healed?

Sometimes that’s a difficult question to answer. Sometimes it feels easier to hang on to the hurts we’ve experienced; they’re comfortable, in an odd sort of way. And healing may require confrontation–with myself and with the past. It may cause me to discover things about my attitude that I don’t really want to know.

But life without healing isn’t really life.

So yes, I do want to be healed. It’s not necessarily an easy journey or process…it takes courage and trust. But yes, I do want to be healed–to be made whole…to live in the spirit of shalom.