Does it really matter?

This past weekend, I was honored to attend my niece’s baby shower in Tennessee. It was a reason to get together with my four older sisters, and we had a great time eating BBQ on Saturday night. One thing I realized the next morning, however, is that it’s probably not a good idea for a devout Baptist and a devout Catholic to stay under the same roof.

When I went into the kitchen Sunday morning, two of my sisters were debating whether or not Mary, the mother of Jesus, remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. Both of them cited their own textual evidence for their position based upon their bibles, one a protestant bible and one a Catholic bible. Voices started to get raised and I let them know that this bothered me. They lowered their voices, but it wasn’t long before they were in a heated debate again. I finally said, “Does this really matter?” One sister responded, “Well, yes because…” She then explained why it mattered to her. I then asked while pointing at the other sister, “Do you think she’s going to hell for not believing as you do?” That took her back, and she admitted that she didn’t. I then asked the other sister if she thought the first sister was going to hell for not agreeing with her. She also said no. I said, “See..doesn’t matter, so why argue?” I got up and went upstairs for a couple minutes to finish getting ready to go.

Later, when I came back downstairs, they were debating the Catholic sacrament of Confession and whether or not a person must go before the priest and confess his or her sins to be forgiven. My Catholic sister cited her textual evidence and my Baptist sister countered. As the debate continued, I finally felt the need to witness…something I would never have thought of doing a few years ago. I’ll spare you the details since this post is already running a bit long. It’s nothing I haven’t shared in previous posts. Anyway, things were fairly peaceful after that, and we enjoyed the rest of our weekend.

That being said, I think that our conversations with other Christians need to focus on the core tenets of our faith as Christians (e.g. because God loves us, he sent his son to die for our sins, for instance) and in following his greatest commandments of loving Him with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It’s bad enough that we have all of these different denominations dividing the body of Christ. Do you truly think God is happy when he sees his children arguing? Wouldn’t our time be better spent in showing the love of Christ to others? Is it better to be loving or to be “right”?

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Where charity and love prevail,
there God is ever found;
Brought here together by Christ’s love,
by love are we thus bound.

With grateful joy and holy fear
God’s charity we learn;
Let us with heart and mind and soul
now love God in return.

Forgive we now each other’s faults
as we our faults confess;
And let us love each other well
in Christian holiness.

Let strife among us be unknown,
let all contention cease;
Be God’s the glory that we seek,
be ours God’s holy peace.

Let us recall that in our midst
dwells God’s begotten Son;
As members of his body joined,
we are in Christ made one.

No race or creed can love exclude,
if honored be God’s name;
Our family embraces all
whose Father is the same.

https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-where-charity-and-love-prevail 

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Mockingbirds

If you’ve ever read the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ll remember the part at the end of Tom Robinson’s trial when Jem and Scout are shocked that Tom was found guilty of a crime he so obviously couldn’t have committed. This was a pivotal moment for the children of Atticus Finch; it was the moment in which they lost their innocence. When Tom is found guilty, the kids realize that even those who seem like good people, can be biased and that they can be blinded by that bias. Jem likens his former innocence to being in a cocoon. He had thought the people around him were “the best in the world”.

This week I can relate to Jem and Scout. I truly felt that the delegates voting at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church would vote for the One Church Plan, allowing individual Methodist churches the choice to ordain and marry LGBTQ members. Our motto after all is “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” But instead, the majority of delegates voted for the traditional plan. I wouldn’t have been surprised 25 years ago, but I am a bit surprised today, but I guess that may be due to my own experiences.

When I was young, I was brought up to believe that homosexuality was wrong, but while I was in college, my best friend told me that she was gay. This was a person who had been there for me when I’d been upset, angry, frustrated, and depressed. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to reject the ideas I’d been raised with and accept her for who she was. She has now been with the same woman for over twenty years and married to her for seventeen. I, on the other hand, got divorced after six years of marriage to my first husband so, according to Jesus, I am an adulterer. Who am I to point fingers? I would be a hypocrite, indeed, if I rejected her and said she was doing wrong or that she can’t be in love. All of us have done things that go against scripture…whether it be lying, drinking too much, having lust, cheating someone, disrespecting a parent, not keeping the Sabbath holy, etc. Is sexual immorality wrong? Yes. Is being in a loving, committed relationship with someone who is the same gender wrong? I don’t think so. And let’s face it, Jesus didn’t even say anything against homosexuality. St. Paul is the one who talks about it. This is the same man who said that slaves should be obedient to their masters and women should be quiet in the church and never teach. Let’s not forget also, that homosexuality in Paul’s time mainly took the form of pedophilia, rape, orgies, and temple prostitution, all of which are about lust and not love.

In reading blog posts from several Methodist ministers, I am comforted that they are also disappointed with the outcome of the general conference vote. They talk about how all are still welcome at the table. While that may be true, I worry that members of the LGBTQ community feel as though they are being singled out and excluded even though no one else in our church is being singled out. As I sat in church, listening to my pastor speak today, however, I realized that it may be a bad idea to leave the church as I had been considering. How can I affect change from within if I leave the church? How can I let my voice be heard if I am not present?

Even though Atticus Finch knew all along that he would lose the case, he still represented Tom Robinson. And, surprisingly, the jury was out for quite a while. In fact, one of the Cunninghams from Old Sarum was even pushing for an acquittal. (The Cunninghams had tried to break out Tom Robinson from the prison in order to kill him before the trial.)

I think that one of the statements the author of the book, Harper Lee, was trying to make was that change can happen. It often comes in “baby steps” as Miss Maudie put it, but it can happen. But it won’t come if people remain quiet and don’t speak up for others. What Atticus Finch did in representing a black man accused of raping a white woman placed his business in jeopardy and put his family in danger, but he knew he couldn’t hold his head up if he didn’t. I hope that many in the church who agree with me will speak out against the traditional plan and push for a more inclusive church that recognizes God’s love for ALL of his children.

mockingbird pic

Photo is in the public domain and may be found at https://www.maxpixel.net/Florida-Sings-Mocking-Bird-Grey-Mockingbird-Bird-2296056 

 

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Enbrel

Three weeks ago I had my first shot of Enbrel for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Besides the fact that the autoinjector hurts quite a bit, it seriously lowered my immunity. I felt relief from joint pain the day after my shot and for the rest of the week, but by the end of the week, I had a horribly sore throat and knew I was coming down with something, so I skipped my next dose. By the following week, I felt like I was getting over what had ended up being a seriously horrible cold, and because my joints were aching again, I gave myself another shot of Enbrel. By the end of this week, I had relapsed, and I had a respiratory infection and bronchitis. Therefore, I am not giving myself another dose of Enbrel. I will see my rheumatologist in a week and will let her know that I want off the Enbrel and back on the Arava which is MUCH cheaper and doesn’t lower my immunity so much.

Of course, it didn’t help that I had to present to a group of teachers Tuesday afternoon which meant spending last weekend creating a presentation…or rather, seriously revising an old one. It also didn’t help that I had to stay late on Wednesday, so someone from HR could talk to us about how we shouldn’t take off work…among other things. It certainly didn’t help that I had a meeting at church from 3-4 on Thursday followed by another meeting at church I facilitated from 7-8. This meeting was enveloped in the middle of a function at school, so I had to go set up before my meeting and then go back to school afterwards and put things back where they belong. Then, because I like helping people in need, I heeded the call to judge speeches at an academic competition at my school from 3:15 – 9:15 Friday, but I didn’t get to leave until just before 11:00. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed listening to the kids’ speeches, but I was bone-tired when I left, and I felt exhausted and horribly ill all day yesterday. At least now I’m on antibiotics, so hopefully I’ll feel better soon.

Am I meeting my resolution to take care of ME? Not so much. I’ve hardly gone for any walks or bike rides, and I haven’t put very many notes of gratitude in my “blessings” jar. My husband quit his job AGAIN, so he’s home all day everyday AGAIN. The silver lining…the house is cleaner and the laundry is done. I have found time for a few long baths with soft music and have been praying Psalm 23 on my way to work most days. These and the fact that my bible study was canceled Wednesday night helped me to make it through a rather tumultuous week. Otherwise, I think I may have ended up in the hospital.

So I’m hitting the reset button. This week should be much easier than last week with only two after-school engagements, and one of those is a spa event our district cosmetology students are hosting which one of my regular library visitors asked me rather kindly to do, BUT I have got to say no when asked to take on more work though. I don’t know why I’m having such difficulty with this.

How I feel right now:

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How I want to feel:

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Photos courtesy of Pixabay

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Peace like a River

Now more than ever, I feel the need to find peace. My body (which has been plagued by immune system problems) yearns for it.

My main problem is that I’m a perfectionist with a type A personality, but looking back over the past 24 years that I’ve had autoimmune diseases, I realize they were red flags that I ignored. I worked too hard for much of my adult life, worried too much, and misspent so much time. I’m not sure if I’m having a mid-life crisis now at the age of 44, but I want more out of life…not more stuff, just more simplicity and solitude. I don’t want to fill up every part of my day being active. Instead, I want to take long hot baths and lie in bed just listening to some soft music or writing or reading each day.

So here’s my plan for this year (we’ll see how it goes). First, less energy spent on being a perfectionist. I don’t need to get outstanding scores on all areas of my evaluation rubric at work. So far I’m doing a pretty good job this school year just being proficient which was hard to accept at first. (It’s hard for a perfectionist to accept just being good enough, but for my sanity, I have had to do just that.) I will also make time for a bike ride and/or walk each day after work if it’s over 50 degrees because light activity makes me feel good. No more yoga for now since my rheumatologist pointed out that downward facing dogs and planks are too hard on inflamed wrists and fingers which I guess I kinda knew but didn’t want to admit. Instead, I will try tai chi which is offered at my church. (I may go back to yoga if the Enbrel I’m about to start taking for Rheumatoid Arthritis significantly reduces the inflammation because I truly do love yoga and I miss it.) I will practice my harmonica and continue writing my novel, but I will not pressure myself to do so and feel guilty if I don’t. I will do these things when I miss doing them. I will recite Psalm 23 each morning and picture the beautiful imagery within it as I drive to work. At least once a week, I will write down a blessing and put it into my blessing jar to read at the end of the year. (I did this a couple of years ago and don’t know why I didn’t do it last year again because it was truly a positive experience). I will continue to listen to calmer music which is already making a world of difference for me. (See playlist at the end of this blog for a sample.) When I feel stressed, I will not only listen to calm music but practice deep breathing and other grounding techniques. By the way, you can find a good article on some of these practices at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-empowerment-diary/201705/are-you-grounded-centered-or-both Most importantly, each day, for at least half an hour, I will seclude myself in my bedroom or the bathtub with a do not enter notice to my extroverted husband, and I will listen to soft music during that time. I will say no to people who ask me to take on long-term volunteer commitments, and I will not feel guilty. That’s the plan anyway. 

If you’re looking for a playlist of soft music, you can try the YouTube list I compiled which is linked below, or you might try starting your own playlist. I’ve also come to enjoy the Soundscapes channel that comes with my Spectrum cable subscription. It’s nice to listen to on the weekends as I sip tea or hot cocoa.

One other thing you might try is listening to the same song that truly gives you peace over and over again. I started doing this after someone else mentioned this on her blog, and I’ve been doing this a lot with Hymn of the Cherubim by Tchaikovsky. Now when I feel stressed at work, I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and start listening to it in my head for a minute or two, which is easy because it has become ingrained in my memory. (It’s a nice way to detach from the chaos and remember my place in the universe…as a child of God who is only in this world for a little while.)

If you’re the type of person who needs to be doing something in your free time and can’t sit still, try to do something relaxing like doodling, coloring, journaling, bike riding, walking, lifting weights, or fishing. With or without music, you may find this helpful. If you have any suggestions for unwinding aka de-stressing aka becoming grounded, please include them in the comments below.  I’d love to hear what works for others. I’m certainly no expert. I’ve just done a lot of reading on the topic and many of these techniques are helping me a great deal. 

Calm Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqZz90PuYYaN9di6Zels_Ols9R7ePaEhS 

martin-sanchez-391082-unsplash (1)Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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Casting for Recovery

A couple of weeks ago, I took advantage of an amazing opportunity to go fly fishing with a group of other breast cancer survivors in a program called Casting for Recovery. This program is available in 48 states, and has benefited thousands of women. Thanks to generous donations from individuals and corporate sponsors such as Orvis and Cabela’s, the retreat is completely free. During the weekend, we not only learned about fly fishing, tied our own flies, and went fly fishing under the guidance of experienced fly fishers, we also had time to share our experiences with each other and ask questions of both a medical expert and a mental health expert. There were other activities as well, and the food was delicious. The volunteers were all so kind and made us all feel welcome and cared about.

This time last year I was between surgeries and was experiencing quite a bit of discomfort, but some of the women on this trip had gone through so much more; they’d had several surgeries as well as chemo or radiation or both, and a couple were only in their thirties when they were diagnosed and have children. Some had lost family or friends who couldn’t deal with it. I witnessed some amazingly strong women on this retreat, women who now mentor to others with breast cancer, are traveling to distant places, and caring for other loved ones. When I think of the word strength from now on, I will always think of these wonderful ladies.

I am thankful to Casting for Recovery for empowering me and so many other women over the years, and I hope that many more survivors will be able to experience the healing and sense of peace that I did. Next Tuesday is Giving Tuesday. If you’re looking for a worthwhile organization to contribute to, please consider Casting for Recovery.

casting for recovery

In case you’re wondering, I’m in the lower left hand corner of the picture with the puffy blue jacket. It was a little bit cold!

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A Horrendous Week, a Perfect Weekend

It’s interesting how things can change so quickly over a week’s time. Last weekend, my husband was in horrible pain from what we now know to be a herniated disc and two bulging discs. I felt helpless to do anything, and I was pretty sure he would lose his job since he couldn’t stand or sit up and had to miss work. He’s only had this job since June and has no sick or personal days. I broke down one night, alone in the bathroom, sobbing out of fear…fear I know I shouldn’t have had as a Christian but fear I felt nonetheless. I just knew I was going to be supporting my husband again…after doing so for two and half years up to June. Fortunately, his new workplace has been pretty understanding and my husband was able to start back yesterday with the help of a steroid shot and a special inflatable neck collar. It looks awful, but it seems to help.

So after a stressful week, I had the house to myself this weekend since my husband worked twelve hour shifts both days. I started early yesterday, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, grocery shopping and starting some stew in the crock pot. Then I was off to Bartonville, TX where an old friend was celebrating her 40th birthday at Marty B’s BBQ. It was great to catch up with her and other friends I hadn’t seen in over a year.

When I came home, I decided to go for a bike ride and I was finally able to ride my bike without touching the handlebars, something I’d been trying to do for a while now and had done as a kid but figured I couldn’t do on a 21 speed bike…especially at my age. I can’t describe how light I felt. It was like when you’re a kid learning to ride your bike, and you suddenly realize you’re riding your bike by yourself because your dad has let go of the seat and is no longer running beside you. I felt liberated and young again.

I also spent a lot of time this weekend just resting and listening to soft music. I know that sounds boring, but when you’re always on the go and you have a stressful job, it’s rather peaceful and energizing. After church and lunch with friends today, I found time to play the harmonica for a while…much to the disappointment of my dogs.

The best part of this weekend was being called up and told that I get to take part in a Casting for Recovery retreat next weekend. These retreats, which are for those with breast cancer or who have recently had breast cancer, give participants a chance to learn how to fly fish and practice. I had been chosen as an alternate, but I figured no one would cancel, but someone did. I’m so thankful for this opportunity and am looking forward to being around others who have experienced what I went through last year. It’s been almost a year since my reconstruction, and I’m still trying to get used to the way I look, the way my clothes fit, and the sensations, and lack of sensation, that I experience.

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On the Mountaintop

Last year I wrote a post titled Wander On, Weary Soul, the title of which alluded to a song by the Bluegrass Gospel Project. I couldn’t think of a better song to describe how I felt at the time about my circumstances. My husband was out of work and had been for quite a while and my mother’s mental and physical health was declining in front of my eyes. It was a few months after this that I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. Luckily, I am now considered cancer free. My husband also started a job recently…the day before my mother passed away last month. So much has changed in such a short time.

I’m kind of in shock right now. For so long, I had no free time. Everyday, Monday through Friday, I would work at least eight hours, go see my mother for at least an hour, and then go home where my husband was starved for conversation after being home alone all day. I saw my mother for even longer on the weekends. As an introvert, this really took its toll on me. I was physically exhausted and mentally beat down. Sometimes, I would just get in bed and bury myself in the covers, not wanting to be disturbed.

Now, so much weight has been lifted from me…mentally, emotionally, and financially. Yes, my mother is gone, but her quality of life had greatly diminished due to the Dementia as well as her arthritis, blindness, and constant shortness of breath. She said she was ready to go see her family who had gone to Heaven before her, so I’m happy for her. I am confident that I will see her again someday as well. That being said…it’s hard to be a caregiver. Now that my husband is working, I have more time to read and to write. I’ve also been walking and riding my bike almost every morning which I find invigorating.

I feel like the past couple years I was struggling to climb up a steep mountain while being battered by raging wind and rain, and now I’ve reached the mountain top and the storm has suddenly stopped, the sun has come out, and the birds have started singing. It’s crazy how quickly life can change! I know this serenity won’t last the rest of my life. I know there will be other mountains to climb and storms to lean into. But for now, I’m going to relish the peace that comes after the storm as I stand on this mountaintop and rejoice. I have been refined like silver and tested like gold, but by the grace of God, I made it!

At the same time, I don’t want to forget the lessons I learned. When I was going through such a difficult time (especially after my cancer diagnosis), I was able to put my life into perspective. I started to detach from this world, and I hate to admit it, but I even prayed for God to take me. I just didn’t feel like I could endure anything else. Please don’t let that color your opinion of me, and please don’t compare my life to yours. I was going through multiple crises (spousal job loss, elderly caregiving, and cancer). You can’t possibly put yourself into my shoes, but a positive outcome of all of this overwhelming stress was that I was able to see more clearly than ever that we are only in these bodies for a short time, and we have to make the most of the time we have and do the most good that we can while we’re here. I think my greatest fear now is that I will forget that feeling and take my time and talents for granted again.

Another lesson I learned is that people only have so much emotional capital. We only have so much ability to cope. I think this ability to cope is like a pitcher of water. Every stressful situation or crisis pours out some of that water until we’re dry. I used to naively believe that people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and buck up. When you’re the one facing multiple crises, however, it’s not so easy. It’s no wonder some people turn to alcohol, drugs, smoking, and cutting. They’re desperate! I will never look at others the same way.

God gives us so much grace. He’s the kindest, most loving father in the universe, freely offering his divine favor and mercy. Shouldn’t we, then, turn around and show that same grace to others? Whether it’s in terms of forgiveness or helping others who are going through a difficult time, we owe it to God and to others to practice grace, to help others in need…even if it’s just in listening to a person share his or her story. You can do so much by simply being with a person and letting that person know that you care.

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Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

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