Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lost Moments

Yesterday, I had a great idea, but as usual I was in the middle of something important and didn’t take the time to write it down. I don’t remember what it was, now. It happens all the time, I will come up with a great topic when I have no time to write – inevitably I will get distracted and I will forget to write it down and it will be lost forever. I wonder how many wonderful ideas, how many incredible moments will be lost in 2010? If you have children, you’ll surely recognize this example:

“Mom! MOM! Come look!”

“Okay, in a second, I just need to finish this up.”

Two minutes later:

“Mom! Now, or you’ll miss it.”

“Right, right I’m coming.”

Two more minutes pass:


And, finally I head to where my daughter is standing.

“You missed it. The sunset was so cool; it was like God was raining light all over the hills and the skies were on fire.”

Not too many Sunday’s ago, my pastor did a teaching and he used a phrase I’d not heard before, “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.” Only, he pointed out that we’re mostly so earthly minded we’re often no heavenly good. Those times we let slip away - the breakthrough idea, the moment of epiphany when we intrinsically understand, when our children, our husbands, our wives our loved ones beg us to join them, when God gives us a glimpse of something more than this tired old world - are the times that should be a balm to our being. More often than not, we’re so earthly bound we miss them. We’re so earthly minded we’re not even earthly good.

When I’m coming home from Leesburg, there is a view that never ceases to take my breath away and fills me with utter joy. No matter what my mood, I smile and say, “Lord, thank you for allowing me to live in one of the most beautiful places You ever created.” – unless I forget to look. I don’t forget, often – and I do have a second chance because there is another vista that fills me with the same happiness just after I pass through Hillsboro – unless I forget, again. But wait, there’s more! I’ve a third chance, when I turn down the little dirt road to my house. I’ve driven home and forgotten three times to take a moment and fill myself with joy. Who does that? Who says, “Yeah thanks but I’m good with being just ok today. I don’t need a moment of joy to brighten my life.” No one. But, even knowing it is there for the taking, I can get so caught up with earthly thoughts, the bills, the kids, the thing I forgot to pick up at the store, needing to go potty with a Sunday driver going 15 miles under the speed limit in front of me and I’m still 10 minutes away from home that I forget to take that little slice of joy that God has provided me with. If I can pass up moments I know are there for the taking, how in the world am I going to find those bonus moments?

One of my favorite Bible verses: Matthew 13:15
15For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.'

Jesus was talking about the people of His time, but the people of our time are not so very different. He goes on to say,

16But blessed are your eyes because they see,
and your ears because they hear.
17For I tell you the truth, many prophets and
righteous men longed to see what you see
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear
but did not hear it.

We allow our earthly problems to callous our hearts; we’re tough because the world is a tough place. Blinders limit our sight and cotton muffles our ears, because our world abounds with so much horrific evil and we don’t want to see or hear it. But, times haven’t changed – the world Jesus grew up in had equal evil. I used to wonder, why was it that these men that followed Jesus could see and hear while many prophets and righteous men could not – they obviously wanted to but could not. How could it be that those who were constantly seeking the face of God were blind to Him? Maybe they were so heavenly minded they weren’t even any heavenly good? Maybe they were just looking in the wrong places? Jesus and his apostles did not sit comfortably in well kept temples – they were in the world amid all the evil – they did not shield themselves from it.

We’re often told to stop and smell the roses. But, I don’t think it’s good enough to wait until you happen to stumble upon a rose bush along the wayside. You need to seek out a garden, or two, or four or more, and that’s a whole lot harder to do when you hobble yourself with blinders and cotton. I have gardens tucked all around me. I seek out God’s face, His hands, His breath, His smile as often as I can, and I always find Him. But, it’s those times when I’m not actively looking, those moments that often start with “MMOOOMMMMYYY!” Instead of thinking, “Good grief, what can she want now?” I go seek her out, often, that’s when He finds me and, I’m both earthly and Heavenly good, thank God.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Celebrating Santamas

Ho, ho, hum – bah humbug. Lately, people (read adults) are having a harder and harder time getting into the Christmas spirit. And, it’s not just the economy, dummy. It’s been this way for years. I know grown men, longing for that cocaine like first high, that expectant manic feeling that slowly builds as THE DAY looms closer and closer. But, it’s not there anymore. This season I find myself asking, why. I don’t remember exactly when my enthusiasm for Christmas began to wane. It seems to have crept up on me, but I want it back.

It lasts too long
In years past, I used to groan after Halloween had passed us by, because sure enough on November 1 the isles were empty of Halloween candy and Christmas was in full force, by the time December 25th showed up on the calendar, I was burned out. That’s even truer for today; I think I saw the first Christmas displays shortly after Labor Day this year. It’s even affecting my children – my 12 year old said to me this year, “Geez, it’s not even Halloween and they have the Christmas stuff out, already.” Not long after that, the “Holiday” music started and it truly annoyed me; so much so I deleted channels from my radio presets.

The comparison game
So, what did you get for Christmas? Was Santa good to you? I dreaded those questions as a kid. “Winter” break would be over and back to school we’d trudge – and all the joy of the last two weeks drained out of my toes that day I’d board the bus. Growing up in the excessive 80’s in a fairly affluent area in a not so affluent household was tough. I didn’t get the expensive Jordache jeans, or the Papagallo purse with a dozen covers, or the polo shirts with the alligator and my button downs didn’t have a “fag tag.” My jeans were Levi’s, my purse was a knock off and I embroidered an alligator of my own – upside down, of course. I fully supported a burgeoning cause of the era, “Save an alligator, kill a preppy!” In the 80’s the line of the "haves" and "have nots" was sharply drawn; a lot like today. What I don’t remember of that time is the altruistic outpouring of help that has marked the last two years of this decade. What I do remember about the time is feeling very defensive of my parents. On Christmas morning, what they bought for me was always great – but by my classmates standards, not so much.

But, by far I think the number one reason I no longer get excited about Christmas:

The total Santafication of a Religious day
Watch TV for any amount of time and you’ll learn that the reason we give gifts to each other is to buy love. You might laugh, but seriously that’s what Madison Ave. would have you think. So much so, I abhor watching TV at the moment. The day Christians celebrate has been completely overshadowed by Santa. In the past I was amused when people would intone, “Remember the reason for the season” or “Let’s put “Christ” back in “Christmas”.” Whole communities get up in arms about displaying nativities, well folks – Christmas used to be the day Christians celebrated the birth of the greatest gift God gave the world, his Son. It’s not Santamas. We used to give gifts to one another to honor God, as a small token in remembrance of His gift to us. How is it that one of the most Holy of all Christian celebrations has become 90% secular? It’s truly depressing to see this day stolen from us; it is soul shattering to realize that over the years, Christians allowed it.

Most scholars agree that Christ wasn’t born in December, so perhaps it is time we had Christmas in July and leave Santamas to the world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Milk Teeth

I mentioned before that despite my numerous attempts to the contrary, God protected me, for the most part, throughout my romp down the wide road of destruction. It was a pretty cool road, filled with lots of fun and freedom, until it wasn’t. Freedom is never free, ever. For either road you choose there is a price and you either pay it up front or at the gate and let’s not forget the occasional toll you have to pass, and there’s no service road to turn around on!

When I was ten I woke up early one Sunday morning. There were no cartoons on, this was way before cable, so I was stuck watching “religious” shows (add a bit of a sneer to religious) I was only ten! The few times I’d been to church it was boring and long and if I went to Sunday School I felt stupid because all the other boys and girls knew so much more than I did. But, they had a puppet show and I figured it was the next best thing to cartoons. I wish I could tell you what the name of the show was, but that detail is lost to me. I was sitting next to the fireplace with my feet tucked under my legs with my long nightie tucked in as close as I could get it, it was cold downstairs and the brick still had a bit of heat left in it. I didn’t want to get up and lose the warm spot to change the channel after the puppets were done, even though now it was grown-ups spouting off things I didn’t understand or, frankly, care about. But, I listened anyway. He talked about Jesus and God. It was near the end of the program and he beseeched me, beseeched all the viewers to open their hearts to God and let Jesus fill them with the Holy Spirit.

I had prayed before, a child’s prayer. My mother didn’t like “Now I lay me down to sleep,” she never liked the part “If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take,” I prayed a simple prayer each night before bed. I thanked God for something and then I said my “God Blesses” list at least that is what I called it. It went something like this: God bless, Mommy. God bless, Daddy. God bless, Katherine (sometimes I skipped Katherine if I was mad at her) God bless, Aunt Sarah. God bless, Uncle Steve. You get the idea; it was basically a roll call of my family and friends. I was a dutiful child and I had gone to church often enough to know that when the minister said, “Pray” you put your head down and prayed. Normally, I put my head down, waited a few seconds and snuck a peak to make sure everyone else way not looking and then I’d look at all the hats that were in the congregation, sometimes I’d count them.

This time there was no one to see me not pray, but I did it anyway. I didn’t just bow my head and think about hats or what was coming on TV next, I prayed and I prayed really really hard. I so wanted the Holy Spirit to come into my heart and fill it with light. I wanted what that man had; I knew he had something I didn’t. He was done with his prayer, but I didn’t feel anything so I gave it one more try – I begged with all of my little body that the Holy Spirit enter me and fill me, but I felt nothing. I got up from my warm cocoon and found something to eat for breakfast. For the longest time, I just thought it didn’t take, boy was I wrong. Of course, this is said in hindsight.

Soon after that, my family and I started going to church on a pretty regular basis, I was raised an Episcopalian. I still counted hats, Easter service was great for that, lots of hats on lots of women I had never seen before and wouldn’t see again until Christmas. My church didn’t actually read or study the Bible; there were two very short readings during the service. I participated in the services, I carried the cross, I lit the candles, and I even read from the Bible to the congregation when the Youth Group did a service. I made our minister angry when I asked hard questions during our Confirmation classes, so I doodled spider webs on my worksheets. To this day, I can draw a pretty cool spider web.

I grew my stunted branches and roots. I seemed to always be searching for that light. I thought I gave up on God, but He never gave up on me. Time and time again he proved he was with me, but I refused to see, I refused to hear and on the few occasions that I did see or did listen, I did turn my back on Him in order to join the many that were cavorting on the wide road. When things got too scary, when they got too bad, I did pray to Him. The light was always with me, I just ignored it because I wasn’t willing to pay the price of committing my life to Jesus – I was still worldly. The wide road was the wild road and a whole lot more fun.

Jesus said you don’t put a light under a bowl in Matt 5:15, He says you put it on a stand so it may give light to all in the house. The other problem with putting it under a bowl is eventually it will go out; you have to feed the flame of faith.

1 Corinthians 3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly.

It took the church in Corinth awhile to grow up, and apparently they stayed baby Christians for awhile, comforting isn’t it? Yes, we have the Bible and they didn’t, but they had firsthand accounts of Jesus and they had problems growing up! We stumble, we fall and we stagnate in our journey but the Lord provides us milk and our faith keeps burning even though we stubbornly stick it under a bowl when it is inconvenient. But, eventually, we have to cut our teeth and as anyone who has been around a teething baby knows, it hurts!

Here’s an interesting thought, humans cut two sets of teeth. About one in two thousand infants are born with teeth, most get them in four the seven months and a few don’t get their first until they are a year or more. It averages three years for a baby to get a full set of pearly whites. Even after the first ones come in, a baby has to get some of the back ones before a he can really eat solid food and even longer before he can eat meat. The last teeth we get are our wisdom teeth and they can come in as late as age twenty-five. So, Paul is likening the Churches growth to a process that takes a person twenty-five years to complete and causes great discomfort to most people – although some seems to go through it with no problems. Some common symptoms of teething are irritability or fussiness, biting behavior, refusing food and sleep problems. That sounds like my path, what about yours?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Heavy Weight of Waiting

December 12, 2008

I’m bored. For me, boredom is the state of wanting something but not knowing what it is I want or I’m waiting. Waiting is hard, sometimes. Other times it is so very easy to do. I could wait forever for a dentist appointment. I would have preferred to wait for my father’s funeral. Interesting, isn’t it that most of the time you think of waiting you think of the time of anticipation before a happy event, or getting something done you want to get done, but that’s my perspective of life and I’m one of those disgustingly upbeat people who believes that there is something good just around the corner. Even when it seems that I’ve incurred the wrath of evil, I honestly believe that from sadness happiness can come, that from death comes life and I’ve thought that since I was young. Still, I don’t like waiting, I’d just as soon pass the bad parts and skip to the good ones, until I really think about it – then I wouldn’t trade those rotten stinking moments that seem to scar my very soul for all the happiness in the world.

It would be like reading the last chapter of a book, the meaning of the story was in the 150 or so pages before the last 10 – it might be the “best” part of the book – but it means nothing without time invested. I just finished reading a book my eldest daughter thrust at me saying, “I think you’ll like it.” She was right. But, I didn’t like all of it. I admit – I skimmed over one part of it because my eyes started to glaze over – that part bored me and I was unwilling to wait longer than needed to get to the interesting parts, again. I think that’s what we do when we’re bored, we skim through life paying just enough attention to make sure we don’t miss something important, but we’re unwilling to invest ourselves completely until life gets interesting, again. What would happen if we invested ourselves even when life feels humdrum?

I know there have been times in my life when I had to go to a party or some family function when I really didn’t feel like getting out of bed or leaving the house, as sad as this sounds I didn’t feel like investing the energy to have fun. I simply wasn’t in a “fun” mood for one reason or another. But, because I hate letting people down I do it anyway and inevitably – I enjoy myself. I learned and now, when I am feeling bored I look for something different to try or I write. For example, I honestly was bored when I started writing this and I’m not anymore. I forced myself to sit down and start writing because I knew that eventually I would start to enjoy myself. I’ve tried many new things because of boredom – because while I’m waiting I search and when I’m really bored I don’t care if I fail at what I try because I’m just too bored to care. I might be skimming through life but my eyes and mind are open a bit wider and it seems I’m willing to invest a bit more of myself to alleviate my soul of the heavy weight of waiting.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fix Healthcare, Amputate Lawyers

December 6, 2008

How do you fix health care, it is simple. Provide the highest quality care to everyone at affordable prices. First, I think we need to look at what is wrong with the system. I can tell you what I see from a consumer’s perspective.

There is no way for the average American to know what an “affordable” price is because we don’t know what the profit margin truly is regarding pharmaceuticals, insurance, and doctor fees. Anyone who has looked at a bill from a hospital knows how screwed up the system really is. Just try and match up a claim from your insurance company with the hospital bill. The seemingly simple explanation is more complex than a Gordian knot. There is no way you can audit these bills to ensure you’re not paying for items you didn’t get or services not received. Then there are the negotiated prices, I’ve seen services billed to our insurance company being paid significantly less, fifty to seventy percent less. Why is it that the people who don’t have insurance must pay “full price” and insurance companies pay significantly less?

Then there is the issue of quality care, a glaring example of how uneven our current system is the “unneeded test” you hear about all the time. But I don’t know anyone who has had an “unneeded” test. I’ve heard plenty of people who didn’t get a test that might have made a difference. Two come to mind. My ex-husband died one year ago today. About 18 months ago he was suffering from a severe case of diverticulitis at least that was the “official” diagnosis from his primary care physician. One night, it was so bad that he could not stand it anymore he went to the hospital and within hours he found out he had liver cancer. His primary care physician had done an x-ray and they had seen a shadow on his liver but they did not follow up. I can’t presume to know why his PCP didn’t follow up or even tell him about it. He learned much later about it.

Another case in point, today on the one year anniversary of her brother’s death, my ex-sister-in-law is attending a funeral of an old friend. Apparently she died of a heart attack. She had a battery of tests – in truth I don’t know all the details except that she had a stress test. I feel fairly confident that the autopsy will show that had they done an exploratory cath test they would have found a defect that could have been fixed, instead because they couldn’t “justify” the test by the previous results, she was denied a crucial test and now her granddaughter will grow up not knowing her grandmother. And, to add insult to injury – the media has ran plenty of stories stating that heart disease is a leading cause of death among women – mainly because it is under diagnosed and doctors still tend to blow off a woman’s complaints. This I know for a fact as I’ve been the recipient of their disdain in the past. Luckily for me, they were not issues that would have killed me.

The first time it happened to me I was about nineteen; I had a severe back ache and couldn’t stand upright. The first doctor I saw dismissed my pain, I believe he thought I was just too young to have any “real” problem and he ignored the fact that I had fractured my back at sixteen in a car accident. For over three years I suffered on and off from debilitating back pain never going back to the same doctor twice because it was obvious to me they didn’t know or care what was really wrong. Then when I was about twenty-two I was walking across a field and my back seized up, I literally on hand and knees I crawled back to my office. This time I was lucky to find a good doctor. Even his staff was different – I didn’t feel like I owed them my first born child for the honor of being allowed the grace of sitting on a rock hard chair in the waiting room. Within an hour I knew what was wrong with my back and hips. Because of the car accident I changed the “wear pattern” on my spine, I had a bone spur. There is no cure for what’s wrong but now I know how to prevent it.

The last time a misdiagnosis affected my life happened two years ago. I found out I was pregnant and had an ultrasound. A week later I felt my water break and I speed to the hospital. They did an ultrasound and they said my placenta was intact, the fetus was active and had a strong heartbeat and his fluid levels were normal, but I had a clot. They told me it was the clot that was causing the bleeding but they didn’t believe there was amniotic fluid. What they did not do was test the fluid, one test and they would have confirmed what I figured out – I had lost a twin. I didn’t know the test existed until it was too late or I would have requested it be done. The test is a simple and cheap litmus strip, but because they had not seen two babies when they did the first ultrasound, because they did not detect two heartbeats all the doctors told me it was impossible. That clot never went away; it never got bigger it never got smaller. About a minute after my son was born, my OB said, “It was a twin pregnancy.” The “clot” was my son’s sister.

In each of these instances, a diagnostic test or follow up would have made all the difference in the world. For my ex-husband, he might have managed to get another year or more with his girls had they followed up on that shadow. For Joyce, she might be recovering from surgery and planning for Christmas if they had done one more test. I think the term “needless tests” are greed related by-products of the insurance company and causes one of the most expensive aspects of healthcare – lawyers.

Edited to note: Joyce could have survived but treatment was too late.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Catching A Rainbow

Gen:13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (NIV)

Years and years ago my father told me that if he ever wrote a book he would call it, “To Catch a Rainbow”. He didn’t write, but he knew I was an avid writer and although he never said it aloud, I believe he wanted me to write that book for him. It was an off the cuff kind of conversation that you have in passing but one that has stayed with me all these years. Perhaps he understood the biblical implication of the title, I didn’t at the time. Each time I’ve sat down to write that title has been in the back of my mind but a story never came. Today it did – in the shower of course. These stories, this journey, is for my Father – first my Heavenly Father in Heaven and for my earthly father whom, I pray, will also be waiting for me in heaven.

Matt7: 13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (NIV)

So many people and even Churches say there are many roads to God – but the Bible clearly states that there is but a single narrow road leading to life. I believe that there are many roads to Jesus, like estuaries of a mighty river, but only Jesus leads you to eternal life – His is the narrow path. I say this because each and every one of us has our own story to tell about how we reached the point in our lives where we surrendered to Him, where we shed the old man and put on the new and put all our faith that God did indeed sacrifice His only begotten Son for our sakes. I know the humbling moment in time when as an adult I gave my life to Him. I am fairly certain that had not been for the many misadventures down dark roads of my previous life I would not have understood the significance of the narrow gate.

I’ve read and heard many heart wrenching testimonies of people turning their lives to God, and it started me to wonder how my personal story measures up. I know that’s not exactly a biblical way to think, but I am human. I try my best to banish thoughts like that but at church we’re taught you can know the truth by the fruit and I would guess that many other Christians have the same wonderings as me – how does my fruit measure up? I know that some of my personal fruit is the past, not the actions of what I did but what I did despite those actions and even more importantly – how God protected me anyway and then forgave me.

I find it interesting that the Bible refers to it as fruit, a tree takes several years before it reaches the point that it can even bear fruit a most extreme example is the carab tree it takes a whopping 70 years of growing before it can bear fruit! And then it takes some, like the apple, two almost three seasons before the fruit is ripe enough to pick and be judged good, or not. To complicate matters further – how often have you picked up a red shiny apply at the grocers eagerly anticipating biting into the crisp fruit only to find it mealy and tasteless? Scientists say that it is because of human engineering that we have ended up with beautiful big red shiny apples that taste like mealy cardboard. When farmers realized that the bigger and redder fruits sold better at the stores they began cultivating that kind of tree, what they didn’t bargain for was although the fruit looked nicer, it was actually inferior. I think God might be reminding us that it isn’t always the biggest or the shiniest fruit that is the good fruit. Personally, I’ve always preferred a Granny Smith or cooking apple – long before they were popular in the stores. I can remember buying a small green apple at an open air market and the gentleman giving me dire warnings. It’s too sour to eat, it isn’t meant for just eating – you’re supposed to cook with it – you will get a stomach ache. But, it didn’t stop him from selling it to me, after attempting to make me feel foolish for choosing it over the bright shiny red ones right next to it. It was tart, juicy and the best apple I had ever eaten, and still the best apple I’ve ever eaten. I also remember my sister and the two boys (whose mother we were with) each buying one after I had eaten mine. If I remember correctly, they tried mine before spending their own money.

I believe for many of us, our season to grow is in our childhood and misspent youth and some, like the carab tree, may take almost a lifetime. In that time we are growing our branches and roots, eventually we flower and the seasons to ripen our fruits begin. I also think there are spring storms that ravage our blooms and those seasons we are fruitless. But, mercifully God grants us many chances to grow, to bloom and to fruit. I wonder, how does our first fruit, or lack of, impact our Christian walk? Why is that for some, it is the seemingly bad fruit of the past that is in actuality the good fruit of their future? My own, very personal path to Jesus was filled with bad decisions and missteps that bore toxic fruit, and yet it was the harvest of that fruit, the inevitable consequences of my misdeeds that brought me to my knees and I cried not just for help, but for salvation and peace. Knowingly, I entered into God’s covenant and caught the illusive rainbow.