Shingles suck!

No, not the kind of shingles you put on your house. The kind that is a second version of chickenpox–and generally shows up as a band of blisters on your waist.

A couple of weeks ago I went to my doctor for my yearly wellness exam. I had had the original shingles shot several years ago, but she suggested I look at getting the new version, since they’ve apparently discovered that the earlier one tends to degrade over time. The new shot is difficult to find, so I was going to need to call pharmacies to see who might have it available.

That was on a Tuesday. By Sunday night I was in the emergency room with pain so severe I couldn’t find any kind of comfortable position. After an IV of pain medication and a CAT scan, I was eventually sent home with the probable diagnosis of a kidney stone. Yay!

I had a follow-up with my doctor the next Tuesday. As she was checking things out–and saying that the kidney stone diagnosis didn’t make sense with the symptoms I was having–she lifted my top…and found the rash. Shingles!

Okay, I knew there were challenges with shingles, but she was going to put me on an anti-viral and some pain meds…so I figured I’d still be able to take part in my denomination’s conference the next week. I had committed to playing the piano and organ for several events during the week, and my doctor had told me I’d be non-contagious by then.

Things didn’t work out that way. I was in enough pain that I eventually decided I needed to back out of my commitments and give time for replacements to be found. I didn’t want to–I haven’t missed being involved in a conference for 50+ years (earlier they were held every 2 years, currently every 3). But I didn’t want to wait until the last moment either.

I’m glad I did. I’ve spent the week of conference lounging on the sofa or in bed…napping…trying to distract myself with reading or coloring…and sharing in the conference through the webstreaming that has been available. There is no way that I would have been able to honor my commitments.

The rash is well on its way to clearing up. The sensitivity to touch is still pretty intense–and the pain is currently bearable…most of the time. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t be in the small percentage that has post-shingles pain…and I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn’t trigger an exacerbation of my MS.

Asking for help is not easy for me–but I’ve been blessed by the folks who have stepped up to cover for me. And I’ve been blessed by those who have been supporting me in prayers and warm thoughts from a variety of backgrounds.

So yeah, shingles suck…but there have been blessings through it all as well.

“God has a plan”…

Several times I’ve heard people say “Well, God has a plan for you”…

Sorry, but I don’t agree.

Saying that God has plan for you implies that there is only one way of getting to a particular point that is acceptable to God…and I don’t buy that.

It’s like climbing mountains. Often there are multiple ways of climbing that will get you to the top.

If God has a plan for us, I believe it’s for us to enter into a loving relationship with the Divine that will help us become what we have been created to be…and there are multiple ways to develop that relationship.

We were created with the ability to make choices…to make decisions for ourselves. Not to be puppets.

I believe God wants us to use the minds we were created with…and I also believe that God will bless our journeys.

I know the path I have chosen to take–and it is the right path for me at this time. It has had twists and turns, some of them caused by decisions I have made, some by situations beyond my control. Early in my life I could have said that I was sure of God’s plan for me…but as I’ve gotten older, what I am sure of is that God’s plan is for me to come to know of God’s love for me and to fulfill the potential within me…and that how I get there is not as important as continuing the journey.

So maybe…just maybe…God does have a plan for each of us–and that plan is to continue our journey to a closer relationship with the Divine, no matter the path.

Who gets to make the decision?

I tend to try to not wade into political matters in my blog (at least, not very deeply), but this post is definitely going to get deep. I know some of you will not be happy that on a blog identified as a “preacher kid’s weblog” I’m getting into what many see as a political issue rather than a religious one–but I believe it fits both categories.

And so what is that issue? It’s one that’s been a hot-button issue for at least 20 years…and seems to be getting even hotter today: abortion.

Let me state up front that I am supportive of a woman’s right to a medically safe abortion–although I would prefer that abortion became more rare.

Over the years since Roe v. Wade legalized that right, there have been movements that have chipped away at it, making it more difficult…more expensive…more humiliating for women who have chosen to go that route. In some cases there is only one clinic in a state where women can go. In other cases, women are required to go through a waiting period before they can have the procedure, creating both additional expense and frustration. And in yet other cases, women have been required to go to court before they could terminate the pregnancy.

One of the frustrations for me as I have watched this process is that those on both sides of the issue have tended to act as though the decision to have an abortion is an easy one…and that it is a black-and-white issue. No, it isn’t.

There are many factors that play into a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Criminalizing it or making it less available aren’t going to bring the rates down. If we really want to make abortion more rare, we would be better off by:

  • ensuring better access to birth control for women
  • providing comprehensive sexuality education that includes medically accurate information about abstinence and contraception
  • requiring insurance coverage of family planning services
  • providing access to emergency contraception
  • providing access to education / training that will help young women have the means to provide for themselves
  • funding programs that curb domestic violence and sexual abuse
  • encouraging / requiring parental leave
  • providing and funding services for disabled children
  • making child care a priority

Until we are willing to look at better ways to lower the abortion rate, the decision to have one should, in my opinion, be dealt with by the woman, her significant other (when appropriate), her doctor, and (if desired) her spiritual advisor. Not those who don’t know what’s led to that decision…but who would easily condemn her as a murderer for it.

Living with an invisible illness…

This is a longer post than I usually write, but through the years these have been some things I’ve wanted to say. So…thanks for taking the time to read!

Everyone has issues they have to deal with. Everyone.

Sometimes they’re obvious—and often when they are, people are willing to give someone a break…to understand when they have to change plans or when something goes wrong.

But some of us live with invisible illnesses or invisible disabilities, and those are harder…for everyone.

Everyone’s life is different, but I’d like to just share some musings from my life with one of those invisible disabilities—multiple sclerosis (MS). I was diagnosed with it in 1976, so that’s a lot of years with it…and while I’ve been very fortunate (and blessed) in my life, there are some things that I would like to share.

I’ve been able to do most of what I want—at least in some fashion—for most of those years. But if I’ve gotten too tired, too stressed, or too hot, all my plans may end up going out the window. Not because I want them to, but because I simply can’t do what I’d originally planned. I know that those changes may impact others, and I’m sorry about that. But unfortunately it’s not something I can do anything about—not if I value my own health.

And that brings up another point…fatigue. I understand that everyone gets tired. But what I call “MS fatigue” is different. It’s difficult to describe, because it’s not something that can be taken care of by a nap or by a few nights of really good sleep. It may feel more like trying to walk through thick jello with 50-pound weights on my legs. Or it may feel like my eyelids have weights on them and I just cannot keep them open. That fatigue may last for several days (or longer) or it may disappear in a day or two…suddenly. I never know.

Part of my daily schedule since 1976 includes a nap. Not necessarily to take care of the fatigue, but to give my body a chance to rejuvenate on a regular basis. I can skip a nap one day—but if I do, I pay for it the next several days. I may sleep as little as 30 minutes…or my nap may go a couple of hours. It all depends on how hard I’ve been pushing myself. And because the nap is so important to my health, it makes retreats and day-long meetings challenging. My choices during them are usually either eat lunch or take a nap. The nap wins…always. Unfortunately that means that I miss the fellowship and visiting that often goes on—and that’s something I really miss. I’m always delighted when the schedule is designed so that there is some quiet time after lunch for everyone. Then I don’t feel left out or feel like the odd one.

I try to be vigilant about being around people who might be sick, because I can’t afford to have a fever. Even one degree triggers some of my problems with MS…so when I do get sick, it’s often a balancing act between letting a fever help burn away whatever germs are causing the illness and trying to keep my body from getting too hot and kicking in an MS exacerbation.

Speaking of sickness…there are a few comments I’ve heard far too often and that are not at all helpful. Please don’t insist that the regimen your aunt or a friend or someone else followed is the one I should also follow. Through the years I have had doctors that I trust and work with—and believe me, through the years I have asked about various “treatments” that someone has shared. My doctors have been willing to investigate alternative therapies along with conventional medicines—and I trust them.

If you are religious, please don’t tell me “I know if you have enough faith, you’ll be healed.” Of all the comments that can be made, I think that’s one of the cruelest. For someone who is already struggling, this comment places the “fault” for not being healed on their supposed lack of faith…and that is just another burden no one needs to carry. Just as an aside, while I still deal with MS symptoms and issues, I do believe that I’ve been healed—I just haven’t been cured. From my perspective, there are several different aspects of healing—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—and while I would love a physical healing, in my case I have found the other aspects to be more important.

I am appreciative when you let me know that you will be remembering me in thoughts and prayers. But don’t insist on making a public “spectacle” of praying over me. That’s embarrassing…and, for me, has little to do with your concern for me.

Remember the rest of the family. While I’m the one dealing specifically with the illness, it affects the rest of the family as well.

And one last thing…I am more than my illness. I am still me—someone who loves my husband and kids and grandkids, music, books, dogs, life. So please…let me be me.

It’s the start of a new year…

We have lots of possibilities ahead of us….and lots of choices to make.

We can continue down the same path we’ve been going, even though that doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere we really want. We could take a deep breath and decide to try something new.

For starters, we could–all of us–be willing to admit that we might be wrong about some of our most cherished beliefs.

We could decide to truly listen to each other. I know that far too often, as I’m “listening,” I’m actually formulating my response to what I think someone is saying rather than listening to what they’re really saying. If I truly listen, I might discover that we have more in common than I think.

And that brings up another point. Rather than dividing ourselves into “us” and “them,” what if we consider that we’re all “us” and looking for common ground?

There may be times when we need to pull away from someone for our own mental health. But that doesn’t mean we have to demonize them. It means we are acknowledging our own needs and doing self-care.

We could be willing to look at the sacred writings of our chosen faith tradition with an eye towards understanding the context in which they were written. That would allow us to find those truths that are valid for our time without being bound by specifics that were written for a time and place far different from our own.

If even a few of us are willing to do that, we may be the first steps that start us moving toward a world at peace.

If I were one of “the tired, the poor…”

I hear a lot of statements to the effect that people who want to emigrate to the US should do it legally…that there is no excuse for illegal entry. In a perfect world, I agree. But unfortunately, our world is not perfect.

Compared to many in the world, I live a life of privilege. I have had the privilege of a good education and been able to work at jobs that pay decently. I have a home, clothing, enough for my family to eat (and to spare), access to medical care…and I do not spend my days worrying about my children or grandchildren being targeted by gangs as drug runners or sex slaves—or dying from malnutrition. I do not worry about my home being shot up or about bombs going off in my street. I can drive around my town safely without worrying about IEDs or car bombs or random shootings (mostly, anyway).

I cannot imagine living in a place where that is not true.

I honestly do not know what I would do if I lived in a place with the opposite of those conditions. If it were just me, that would be one thing. But if there were any other option that I could see for my children and grandchildren, I think I would take it—legal or otherwise.

And for many of the world’s people, there is not a legal option. Either because of lack of education, lack of money, lack of access to government offices—or the corruption of those offices… If all I had was my feet—and the hope that there must be a better world somewhere—I think I would gather up what I could and start walking.

Yes, I think our immigration system needs to be overhauled. Yes, I think we need to do what we can to help stabilize governments where many of these folks are coming from.

But at the same time, I would hope that we would have some empathy for those who are trying to find safety and a better future for their children and grandchildren—and I would hope that we would read again…and be willing to live out…the poem by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Advent musings

As we are preparing to go into the season of Advent…and beginning our preparations for Christmas…I got to thinking about what we know about Jesus.

He was born into an occupied country—a country wracked by violence where one never knew from one day to the next whether they would be alive or dead…and where safety for the occupied community was really a mirage.

Besides the occupiers, his country was also torn by violence between competing groups who had very different opinions on how to deal with the governing authorities. Some wanted to just get along. Others wanted the invaders out—and were willing to use every method they knew to get them gone…along with those who had collaborated with them.

There was a large gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Some were secure in knowing they had a place to live, clothes to wear, and enough food to eat. Many, many more weren’t sure where their next meal would be coming from.

At various times, people fled their country. Some were running from the violence that surrounded them. Others were hoping somehow to find a better life. Jesus’ own family fled the violence and became refugees in another country.

As an adult, back in his own country, Jesus continued to face challenges. Violence, corruption in government and religion, fear, hatred of the other…

And yet…he did otherwise. He ate with corrupt religious leaders. He healed family members of the oppressors. He visited with those who were “other.” He talked about love…and challenged his followers to truly follow his example of all-embracing love, hope, and healing.

So this year…while I love my traditional and beautiful nativity scenes, I also want to look at ones that make me uncomfortable…that remind me that the One I will be celebrating did not live an easy life–and calls me to make sometimes difficult choices. I want to be reminded that when I look into the faces of “the other,” I am called to see the face of Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of when Jesus came 2000 years ago…and a time of preparation for when Jesus will come again…and I want to be reminded again and again of what he said–that when I bring ministry (food, water, shelter, affirmation) to any of God’s children, I am doing it to and for him.

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