What to say to the suffering

"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. You are the body of Christ and individually now members of it. And God has appointed in the church ...gifts of healing, helping..."
~ I Corinthians 12:26-28 (exc. ESV)

I have been blessed to encounter many people going through worse trials than I have ever seen in my own life. As I accompanied these families for a short way on their path, I learned a lot about how to deal - and how not to deal - with suffering, pain, uncertainty, and death. One strikingly universal trait was how these families avoided communities - church, social groups, even shopping malls and grocery stores - like the plague. I was always puzzled by this, as I assumed one would turn to those very networks of support in a time like that. Obviously, my assumption was wrong - but why?

I got a little taste of this when I was going through each difficult stage of my thyroid cancer, especially those stages that involved uncertainty. Any group setting was difficult: how do you respond to people when they say they are praying for you? When they comment on your spiritual strength? It is not polite to argue with them or disagree (i.e. "I'm not as strong as you think!"), nor do I want to minimize what I'm going through, or ask them to pray for something more important just because I am self-conscious about being on the receiving end of their prayers(the starving masses in Africa, perhaps?). It is a very uncomfortable place to be in, I discovered.

Church, in particular, has never been the easiest place for me to be. Wounded beyond words by a church in my teen years, I turned my back on church (and even on God, to a certain extent) for years. I had to work through those issues when I started contemplating regular attendance of a church again as a young adult. I was helped immensely by another of Yancey's books, Church: Why Bother?, which gave a logical and Biblical argument in favor of church attendance. One of the points that struck me then, and is being brought home to me in new ways as I navigate this health crisis, is that church is not necessarily just a place to find comfort and joy! Once again, I may have fallen victim to another of the world's lies - where in the Bible does it say that Christians are supposed to rest on their laurels, singing joyful songs and receiving pats on the back for their wonderful accomplishment of recognizing truth?? Is the community of saints supposed to be one major worship fest in which we feel no pain, have no interpersonal difficulties and never disagree with our Pastors?? Oops - I guess I may have mistakenly thought that church was supposed to be a little slice of heaven here on earth! Quite the contrary, God says that, " As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17) And what about the numerous Epistles in the New Testament that deal with church difficulties - Romans, the Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, the Thessalonians, the Phillipians? Do you suppose the church has somehow outgrown difficulties since it is over 2,000 years old now? I would tend to think that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics applies to churches as well..."the total entropy of a given system tends to increase over time" unless significant energy is put into the system to prevent entropic change.

So what is the role of the church for any given believer? For those who are suffering, in particular? What am I supposed to get out of church, why is it important in Christian living? "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25) For me, going through a trial at this time of my life, this passage means that I need to allow myself to be "stirred up to love and good works", I need to go to church whether it is difficult or easy, and I need to allow myself to be encouraged!

What about for the rest of the church? What are we to do when we aren't in times of suffering ourselves, but rather in a time of encouraging others who are suffering? Since I have had the privilege of walking beside so many people undergoing the loss of a loved one, or serious physical illness themselves, I have a little list to share that might be of help as we frame our words when reaching out to those who are suffering. My list isn't exhaustive, and obviously doesn't apply to all situations, but these are just a few things I learned as a nurse dealing with suffering families and dying children. These thoughts have been steadily reinforced as I navigate my own suffering, answering myriad questions from people I hardly know, or was faced with the quandary of whether to run, head down, when a dear friend threatened to hug me and make me lose my cool in front of a whole bunch of concerned strangers.

  1. Avoid platitudes like the plague. It is difficult to hear "everything will be fine", "I'm sure God will take care of you" when you aren't fine, and you don't feel very taken care of! Saying this just introduces more doubt to the suffering person or family, or, at the very least, is difficult to respond to.
  2. Sometimes, less is more. A hug and a simple statement like, "I've been praying for you", "I love you", or even, "I'm so sorry this is happening in your life right now" is a lot better than a flood of words that don't have much substance. If you don't know what to say, that's ok! Just don't say anything, in that case!
  3. It's o.k. to ask questions. Even if it seem like a difficult subject! If you sense the person is uncomfortable, too rushed, or doesn't want to give details, ask if you can be added to a phone tree, e-mail list, or other form of update system. If the person doesn't have a way to update, maybe you can start something!
  4. Physical touch speaks louder than words. If you know the person well, and touch is appropriate, a hand on theirs or an arm around their shoulder may minister them in ways your words never could. Be prepared, though, for you might feel stiffening when you're trying to hug them! This usually means, "Please don't make me cry right now, in front of all these people!"
  5. Avoid identifying with their pain. Unless you're sure your situation was very similar, it may not be best to say things like, "I know what you're feeling", or "I've been there". Even the same medical diagnosis can entail drastically different lived experiences for different people, so identifying too closely with them might be insulting. Instead, say something like, "I wish I could take some of your pain for you today" or "I can't know what your feeling, but [blank] helped me so much when I had [blank] experience last year". This allows you to express your feelings, or even offer helpful suggestions, without insulting them by trying to tell them how they feel when you really can't know that.
  6. Offer to help. The best offers are those that help with the everyday tasks that the sick or suffering person might be avoiding - for physical or emotional reasons. Can you offer to fold and put away clothes, weed the garden, take the kids swimming, bring a meal, mow the lawn, field phone calls for an afternoon? The best offers for help are also accompanied by a "no visiting" rule, in many cases - be prepared that the person might take you up on your offer, only to disappear for a much-needed nap or some other quiet, solitary activity. Also be prepared that accepting help might cause more stress rather than relieve it! Be open to suggestions from the person you're trying to help - sometimes just asking, "What can I do to help you on Wednesday?" is more welcome than a specific offer.
  7. Just because they open up doesn't obligate you to speak. Sometimes a suffering person has a melt-down on your shoulder. What then?? Just because they opened up to you doesn't mean you have to offer some words of wisdom. On the contrary, it may be most helpful to just squeeze them and let them have their cry. This happened to me a lot as a nurse, and it really is true that you don't have to say anything to be a comfort to a needy person.
"And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily." Acts 16:5

It's all about attitude

...come to terms with divine commands:
  • to joyfully suffer loss in the service of prisoners (Hebrews 10:34)
  • to tend the flock of God willingly and eagerly (I Peter 5:2)
  • to keep watch over souls with joy (Hebrews 13:17)
~ John Piper, Desiring God

One of the great conundrums of living like Jesus is that it all boils down to attitude and motivation, rather than simply outcome. My mother used to tell me that - obedient but often hard-hearted child that I was - all the time: what I care about is your attitude, not whether or not you obeyed me in action. I was struck by that at school last week. Little tidbits have been popping out throughout the days since we arrived home. At school, there is a whole group of us marching onward to the same goal, outcome: graduation, an advanced degree, certain career options opening up before us. Yet motivation and attitude vary greatly. That's why I love getting to know people in "real life". Online, I am limited to a collection of words and pictures meant to describe a life. In person, the richness and nuance come into focus. What motivates me, really? Personal accolades, the ability to pursue a career as well as mother my children? Or is it something bigger: remembering the diagram of the tree as it relates to a life of service, I wish to become the trunk - or at least a main branch - and affect so many branches and leaves. That's the life goal of every teacher, isn't it? To effect change incrementally by reaching people at a critical point in their development or career.

So it is as we contemplate adoption. How wonderful it would be if God provided infants, tabula rasa, for us to care for. No attachment disorder, or learned behaviors from the orphanage or foster home where they were cared for, no language barrier, no adjusting to a new name or new routines. We'll see what He has in store. I have a feeling it's big, whatever it is!

...expect the increase of faith that is always the Lord's deposit for years of testing and tasting.
~ Andrée Seu, Way Out on a Limb

Touching, reconnecting

Remember too as she grows
Be a woman
She's a reflection of yourself
A reflection of the joy, kindness,
And dignity
A reflection of a woman set free
To pass down her teachings
From no other than thee.
~Judith Drew~

I didn't have a temper before I had children. Seriously. But then, about the time my second child was born, and I was suddenly plunged deep into the frustration that is having more needs thrust upon one than one can meet, temper flared. With God's grace, and authentic, tested advice from several dear friends, I have mostly conquered my insatiable urge to shout and run away when the stress reaches a certain level. With Caleb working on his molar eruption, and various other nighttime distractions, I entered a mother's version of the Bermuda triangle last week: a fussy baby, 1 hour of sleep, and two nighttime accidents from the girls. I spent a lot of time praying, and yet raised my voice on several occasions throughout the day once last week.

We weathered it pretty well, probably because I did experience a high degree of emancipation from my struggle throughout the day. (those prayers really do work!) Most of my frustration was vented on Caleb and Amelia, who get themselves into the most inconceivable messes! Yet it was Katrina who showed the strain by the end of the day. Suppertime came and she couldn't eat dinner because her stomach hurt; she was nearly in tears when asked to straighten up toys in the living room. All this is quite uncharacteristic for my easy-going, obedient and happy spirited firstborn. So I sent her off to my room, and joined her there.

She thought she was going to be punished for disobedience. I have been grateful, time and again, for Tedd Tripp's wonderful how-to parenting book, Shepherding a Child's Heart. Instead of piling on more harsh words, I sat on the bed, took her in my arms, and reconnected with touch. After some small talk and cuddling, we got to the heart of the issue, which was, of course, my angry words earlier that afternoon. As she sobbed, my heart wept with her. How deep - and sudden - the wounds we create in our dearest loved ones! How quickly sin ravages! I begged forgiveness, of course. More than that, I can show her, in real life, why we need Jesus. To avoid ubiquitous universalist speech, why Mama needs Jesus. Katrina understands deeply what Grace is, because grace is what she bestows on me when she forgives me the shortcomings that we both can name. Getting on our knees to humbly beg forgiveness of our children when we sin against them is such a necessary, and valuable, exercise. If we never do so, how to teach our children true compassion, love, forgiveness, and humility? I am forever grateful that my own parents used this approach in dealing with their own failures. Hearing my father beg forgiveness made his faith deeply genuine and accessible to me as a child - and even more so as an adult.

I pray my weaknesses will be supernaturally transformed to highlight God's strength. I pray they raise my dear daughter's eyes to the Cross, where transforming Grace is ever ready.

...give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Zechariah's song to his son, John the Baptist, in Luke 1:77-79)

Raising insiders or outsiders?

"...those who hide in a separate Christian subculture lose the ability to communicate effectively with those who are outside. We grow more and more fearful and suspicious of those outside the camp, until we slowly begin to think of them as a hostile 'other' whom we must destroy, rather than broken and exiled parts of our own selves, whom we are commanded by God to heal and restore." ~ Eric Metaxas, quoted in Mission to Metropolis

I would argue that the message of Christ is summarily lost if we abandon the culture in which we are planted. Ahh, the familiar tightrope: how to be sufficiently different as to pique interest and stand out from a crowd, yet sufficiently conformist to understand the rules and customs of the crowd and relate effectively within it? What amazes me is that the grace of God, as in all else, blurs the borders of acceptable human choice in this matter.

Case in point: I was raised without a TV or popular music exposure, reading the King James Bible, singing hymns centuries old, in a house devoid of immodest clothing, contemporary gender roles, tattoos, or alcohol. Yet the joy of the Spirit shone through brilliantly: my mother's impromptu operettas while housecleaning, head banging without music in the woods with my brothers as we celebrated the wind through the trees, my father's jazz instrumentals floating on the summer wind as he typed a paper, or the crack and fizz of a ball game on the radio to the rhythm of his maul while he chopped wood. I was on the edge of that fine line, the different edge. Homeschooled, long haired, meek and mild, shy, passionately opinionated, aggressively evangelical. Somehow that upbringing translated easily and seamlessly to who I am today: blues-loving, beer-tasting, pants-wearing, dancing at weddings and blaring French hip hop for our morning dance-off in the living room - and loving Christ, passionately, wholly, through all those joys and pleasures.

Indeed, His grace is sufficient (II Corin. 12:9). Although I don't think we should isolate ourselves in the hallowed enclaves of our temples (or our homes or communities of faith), we must remember that we serve a great, tenaciously soul-seeking God who will not let us stand in the way of His glory. He will use the loose-living Christian and the strict fundamentalist to reach totally different groups of people, most likely. Mark Driscoll, the "cussing preacher", boasts a following of tattooed machismo that would never be caught dead in the quiet halls of the Lutheran church down my country road. Yet the seventy year old farmer's wife who attends there would never sit quiety by while her pastor swore from the pulpit. I am reminded, as I contemplate how to raise my children, that Christ has a purpose and plan already laid out for these young ones I tend. He knows whether their mission field is blues festivals or the Navigators, family members or the far-flung poor in some distant nation. As I live out my faith in the confines of these four walls, illuminate an example of grace for their innocent eyes, I hope that they learn both the power of Christ in my weakness as well as the freedom of Christ that redeems us from silly human ideals.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Burden of intellect

Journalism often piques my interest: last night I read a line in a rather humdrum World article that set my wheels spinning. Is curiosity, intellect - that burning desire to understand, discover, know - a curse or a blessing? I look back over the Year of Cancer, and think about all the thoughts consumed, the time spent researching, agonizing, digging. Digging into books, articles, publications; deep into the Bible, my own soul, the whisper and hush of winds and trees and fields that spoke deep of eternal things. How much easier life would be without that drive! How much simpler to take a doctor at his word, step forward with unwavering faith.

That's not my gift - and not my curse. Questioning is. Adrift on an ancient ocean of angst, feeling the tug and undertow of dark currents and the wash and sparkle of fresh waves of faith, I was cast upon the Rock of Ages. I clutched the rock, too, of the great love God provided me just a few years prior to the crisis. Now I am left with reflections, the dull artistic capture of old photographs that caught just a few lines and shadows of a rich scene tenable only to human eyes. No camera can capture life in it's entirety; and only a gifted artist can hope to show others the flavor of what is seen through the limitations of the lens. As I look back on the art created during the chaos of cancer, I struggle to commit those lessons to heart. That the only grooves left by the river of that experience would not be pain and anger and separation; that the lessons I learned of Savior, the lessons of what it is to be loved and to love...those would shine through, brilliant. Washing the pain of the experience into a blurred background, the beauty of spiritual fruit glowing brilliant in the foreground.

For now, I continue to shoulder the burden of an inquiring soul. And praise God that Aaron holds my hand as I walk unknown paths through the forest and field of this beautiful, tragic, unsearchable life.

I run from hate
I run from prejudice
I run from pessimists
But I run too late

This world keeps spinning faster
Into a new disaster so I run to you
I run to you baby
And when it all starts coming undone
I run to you

We run on fumes
Your life and mine
Like the sands of time
Slippin' right on through
And our love's the truth
That's why I run to you
~ I Run to You, Lady Antebellum

Time flies

When you read these, I, that was visible, am become invisible;
Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems, seeking me;
Fancying how happy you were, if I could be with you,
and become your comrade;
Be it as if I were with you.
(Be not too certain but I am now with you.)
~ Walt Whitman

Busy days, these past few following vacation. Days full of re-training children to routines and ways of being and thinking here at our home. Days of readjusting for mother and father, as well, to the rhythm and hum of everyday living after days awash in the sun and surf a thousand miles removed from reality. Days, too, filled with service. Cooking, cleaning, and preparing beds for our old host family from the Berlin mission trip in 2006. A mere 24 hours after our arrival home, they came, smiling, from vacation at our pastor's cabin. The children meshed well, being similar in age and attention span, and we had a delightful day full of getting to know all of them again. What a blessing to serve saints visiting from a far off field, listen to stories of God's grace and power ministering to a different land and people.

On to the next task, then. Another group to feed tonight. Two school assignments yet to be started, which should be finished. Some freelance writing I haven't even glanced over, due yesterday. Doctors to call, research to do regarding my own health situation (when - if! - I get the chance). Busy, busy. So time flies by and soon I will look back on eighty years of this business called living. Wonder where the time went.

And days go by...
I can feel 'em flyin'
Like a hand out the window in the wind.
The cars go by...
Yeah it's all we've been given,
So you better start livin' right now,
And days go by...

We think about tomorrow then it slips away.
Oh, yes, it does.
We talk about forever but we've only got today...
~ Days Go By, Keith Urban

Thorny blessings

Back from the sea. We hauled a few pounds of white beach sand back with us in the bombed out mini-van. Along with about a pound of sugar of various colors strewn about from discarded Pixie Stix and Fun Dips. A brief 24 hour drive brought us all the way home from the ocean to the cool July in the Midwest.

On the very last day before we left for vacation, I sewed three travel pillows, one for each girl. I had seen them on display at a ritzy shop for $30 apiece - fleece, filled with buckwheat..."naturally cool". I made a few alterations in design, most notably doing away with the fleece (too hot!) and replacing it with quilter's cotton. That first day in the car, the girls were so excited to use them: Katy's yellow with dachshunds, Rosy's a heathered pink, Amy's covered in strawberries. A few minutes into the nap attempt, they started to complain that the pillows were uncomfortable. In true traveling mother form, I insisted they quit complaining and go to sleep. Not another peep issued forth from the back end, although there were about twenty more minutes of discontented rustling.

Next day, I decided to use one of the discarded pillows. So comfortable and cool when I draped it around my neck! Then I leaned back against the seat back. And was rewarded with a circlet of intense, sharp pain - were there burrs in this pillow? I threw it off my neck to inspect it. My design improvements were to blame: the thin quilters cotton didn't cushion the sharp points of the buckwheat barbs! Those kids weren't kidding...these pillows were like a pillow of thorns! I laughed quietly to myself, after apologizing profusely for forcing them to use the pillows the day before. "You think life is bad now? Here, I'll give you something to complain about - have a travel pillow!"
How often that happens, in both a literal and proverbial sense: something meant to bless us becomes a thorn in our side. Vacation/residency week was sort of like that, for me, at least. Work hard so I could play hard. Hit the pillow incrementally more exhausted each day. The power of the sun, the sand whipping in the wind, the salt stinging, the tug and crash of the waves against legs unused to that force...all added up to an inexaustible storehouse of memories deep within, and fatigue of body, mind and soul as well. I feel a surge forward in my school work, a renewed sense of focus. I enjoyed the freedom I've gained through this whole cancer journey, this truer and deeper sense of the value of the small moments of joy: running headlong through waves with my girls, doing jumping jacks in the grass at various restaurants and gas stations across the country, catching fire flies in a Coke bottle for the ride home. Unaware of uncomfortable stares from other, more grounded and sedate adults. Cancer has freed me from that sedate way of adult living, and from the ungainly adolescence of my longing to be free of cultural and peer restraints.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:1-7)

Presentation success

A man finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!
~ Proverbs 15:23 ~

Thank you for the prayers! They worked. My presentation was a resounding success and I have been given the green light to move forward with seeking IRB (internal review board) approval for my current research plan. I am looking forward to successful logistical meetings tomorrow and hope to be on track with my timeline, which includes completion of my current study in October, completion of my dissertation research in summer or fall 2010, and defense of my dissertation in December, 2010, or May, 2011. I have had a wonderful week so far - fainting only once, on my way up the stairs on the way home from class! I am amazed once again. Floored by the power of prayer and the sweet love of those who surround me with the fragrance of their petitions to heaven on my behalf.

Stormy Monday

A grueling day at school was followed by complete respite in the form of sand, storm clouds, and rolling sea this evening...topped off by dolphin sitings, starfish, and a half-mile run through the waves and sand with my three daughters.

Storms of a different kind are looming on the horizon of tomorrow. I have a presentation for school that I am uncharacteristically anxious about. Would you bring me to Jesus in prayer tomorrow around 9 a.m.?

Ask the LORD for rain in the springtime;
it is the LORD who makes the storm clouds.

He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone.
The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie;
they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain.
Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.
~ Zechariah 10:1-2 ~

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face,
While the storm howls above me, and there's no hiding place.
'Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

This beloved hymn from my youth, Till the Storm Passes Over, is running through my soul tonight, comforting me as I work late into the night in preparation for tomorrow's work. It was penned by a then-famous gospel singer, Mosie Lester, in 1958.

Indescribable wonder

And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place,
and let dry ground appear." And it was so.
~ Genesis 1 ~

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?
Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and the name of his son?
Tell me if you know!

Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

~ Proverbs 30:3-5 ~

We spent the day glorying like little children in the beauty and breadth and awesomeness of the ocean. Four hours of sand and sun, and we were hungry! Off to a seafood dive for fresh-caught scallops, shrimp, crab, oysters, and ocean perch. What a glorious day!

All I didn't lose

We made it! We are 1,300 miles away from home, at a beautiful beach house on the South Carolina coast. It is literally like a different world. I feel so blessed to be here this year, continuing to pursue my degree despite cancer, heart problems, births and deaths since the last time I came in 2007. I am alive, I am able to talk, my brain is functioning normally, I have strength and stamina enough to travel 1,300 miles in a cramped car! God is good! How rich blessings seem when I think of all I could have lost over the past two years...

For by him you have become rich in every way-in speech and knowledge of every kind... I Corinthians 1:5

Whatever you do to the least of these...

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

~ James 1:27 ~

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of
childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly
for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.
Who hopes for what he already has?

~ Romans 8:22-24 ~

Without suffering, what is pleasure? Without orphans and poverty and war and disease, would we have any awareness of what we possess? Would we understand what it means to be adopted from a fallen state of sin into a blameless life of glory? I am thanking God tonight for food - plenty of it! - a large house, clothes on my back, kisses and hugs from people I love, stimulating conversation. And figuring out how to leverage what I've been given to help and love and dignify others maximally. Thank God I have something to share.

I go on vacation, they wait for rescue

We are in the last stages of preparation for our South Carolina journey. It has been an interesting few days...lots of packing, with a few extra doctor's appointments thrown in. My cardiologist decided to check my heart function with an EKG, chest x-ray and echocardiogram this week, just in case the chest pain has some easily identified cause. I have been fainting less, about once or twice a day, which is certainly more manageable than last week.

I watched this BBC video this evening and hardly know what to do with the awful ache to rescue as many of these children as I can. I spent some time in prayer, but it didn't help dispel my confusion. When I see something like this, I don't understand why God doesn't just take these children home. What is the point of all this suffering, Lord?
Bulgaria's Abandoned Children

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. Psalm 22:1-3

I stumbled upon this nourishing tidbit at another Christian blog:
So back to that funny question, “Why do we need orphans?” or is it a funny question? If death is a part of this life and always will be, we will always be faced with the care of orphans. We can act as though the orphans are not present, ignore them, leave them for someone else OR in the grace and Spirit of God we can embrace the work at hand and learn from them. They can teach us compassion and tenderness. They can teach the hardest heart how to love again. They can teach us that we are a part of a bigger world than just our own tiny life. They can bring us into the presence of the Father, allowing us to see God’s heart. They can allow us to be part of what God is doing in His Kingdom, rescuing orphans from a dark painful world. They can teach us to look past ourselves and can help us to listen to the pain of another. Often they do this without any words; silently they talk with their eyes and body. Will we be attentive enough to hear their unspoken cry, to cradle another human being in need, to wipe the tears off her cheeks, to teach one to crawl or walk or play, to teach him that there are kangaroos or raccoons in this great big world, to sew to holes in her dress, to clean his boo-boo when he falls, to speak truth into her life? Will we be compassionate enough to show him a picture of Jesus in ourselves worth seeking out? Will we show her the Jesus in ourselves she is reading about in the Bible?
~ Rhonda Chelle Ochoa blogs at ochoatribe.org

Blog organization

Just a note to tell those of you who regularly read that I've made some changes to blog organization. These "widgets" (who made that word up?) were pretty unfamiliar to me just a month or two ago, so I want to explain them in case you aren't familiar with them...you can skip this post if you are!

Label cloud: on the right sidebar, there is a "label cloud" that enables you to click on a label and see all the posts labeled with that word. The words are visually larger or smaller based on how frequently I've used that label.

Search function: you can now search the blog by keyword or label.

Related posts: At the bottom of each post, you will now see three related posts, which allows you to quickly navigate to old writings on the subject of today's post.

Slumdog or millionaire?

We are half-heart creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.
~ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses

Is your joy limited to the experience itself, or do you see the fingerprints of your Creator in each snippet of life that stands out from the fabric of your life?

Youtube holds the key?

Your love is amazing, steady & unchanging,
Your love is a mountain, firm beneath my feet;
Your love is a mystery, how you gently lift me,
When I am surrounded, Your love carries me.

Your love is surprising, I can feel it rising
All the joy that's growing, deep inside of me.
Every time I see You, all Your goodness shines through,
I can feel this God-song rising up in me!
~ Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing), Brian Doerkson

It all started with a series of Youtube videos, sent to me by an acquaintance who "just happened" to be watching a show she doesn't usually pay much attention to. I didn't pay much attention at first, either. But something about this woman's story caught my attention: never before have I heard someone describing how I feel...not just fainting, but all kinds of little symptoms that I have dismissed over the years as personal idiosyncrasies. So I looked up the National Dysautonomia Research Foundation, and read a description, shockingly enough, of my trajectory: neck surgery recently, recent cessation of childbearing/weaning, hyperthyroidism related to my cancer supression, and increased stress. I immediately called my doctor to request a referral to one of about 30 physicians in the U.S. who specialize in this spectrum of neurological illness. My doctor, who is out of the office for a week, read the e-mail his nurse sent him. And called the physician at Mayo to tell her that she needs to see me ASAP, before they put a pacemaker in me "just because". I will be setting up the appointment in the next few days.

Mostly, I am feeling a bit awed that I might actually have stumbled across the proverbial needle in the haystack that is the modern internet. That someone saw a random TV show that may have shed light on my symptoms. That I can actually get in to see the doctor I need to see right away. That I didn't continue taking drugs that may have actually made me worse (the midodrine, in particular). What an awesome day!

"This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name: 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' Jeremiah 33:2-3


"The Lord led me," and on looking back we see the presence of an amazing design, which, if we are born of God, we will credit to God. We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the culture of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail. Never allow that the haphazard is anything less than God's appointed order, and be ready to discover the Divine designs any where. Beware of making a fetish of consistency to your convictions instead of being devoted to God. I shall never do that - in all probability you will have to, if you are a saint. It is easier to be a fanatic than a faithful soul, because there is something amazingly humbling, particularly to our religious conceit, in being loyal to God. ~ Oswald Chambers, from My Utmost for His Highest

(I feel a bit like the soap on this plate: vibrant color, catching the light in the shards that are left, but feeling a bit "grated down" at the moment. Photo is my box grater sprinkled with soap flakes while making homemade laundry soap last week. Of course I have to use yellow soap - others use a variety of recipes!)

Today I spent another morning in the emergency room. I fought tooth and nail to stay away, but eventually had to give in after over 24 hours of chest pain. On the new drug I was started on, I feared that this really could be a heart attack or oxygenation problems in my heart. So I submitted, and wasted another morning at the hospital. In short, what I found out is this:
  • A pacemaker is not a good option for me at this time, according to my current cardiologist. Although my fainting episodes follow a distinct cardiac rhythm pattern, my heart rate remains too close to my baseline heartrate for a pacemaker to effectively treat me. Treating the low heart rate with a pacemaker may not work, for one, and may also damage my heart over the long run.
  • The drugs that will help me have significant risks. The cardiologist is slowly adding medications, starting with midodrine, which raise my blood pressure (hasn't worked so far); then sertraline, an antidepressant that will dull my nervous system response to changes in heart rate; then ephedrine, a stimulant that will raise my heartrate; and finally, disopyramide, a drug that helps regulate my heart rate. The side effects of these medications, briefly, include: heart attack, stroke, bleeding disorders, confusion, fast or irregular heartbeat, paralysis, tremor, memory impairment, headache and blurred vision. To name a few. Just something to keep praying about!
  • Fainting this frequently can cause problems with memory, my job as a mother, and my heart over time. Every time I faint, that means oxygen is not getting to my brain. I have already been restricted from driving, heights, swimming, walking on busy streets, holding hot liquids, carrying my children while walking, heavy lifting, sports, and anything else that could cause danger to myself or others if I should faint in the midst of the activity.
I leave in a week for South Carolina. It is my desperate prayer that I have some relief from the frequent fainting episodes before I leave. But I also freely admit that my prayer is self-motivated. I have absolutely no idea what will bring the greatest glory to God in this time period. I have dreams of completing a PhD and using it to better the world, by teaching students here in our privileged country, and perhaps even starting a school in a third world country someday as a missionary. But, like everything else, I lay those mixed worldly/eternal dreams on the altar of God's infinite wisdom. I will accept whatever He does in this situation, hopefully with the thanksgiving and praise that I so desperately long to demonstrate despite my human weakness (read: pride, ambition, goal-orientedness).

As a nurse, I know that God uses the weakest bodies to teach the most confounding lessons. My body is no different: He used it today to show nurses and doctors that a submissive and quiet spirit is possible...nay, even humor!....in the face of life-altering and confusing illness. May I meekly and humbly let this body be used, despite the aching desire that fills me to succeed and complete this degree, without the humiliation of crumbling like a rag doll in front my whole class and venerable professors.

I found strength this evening in this beautiful post from a woman battling spinal cord injury.

Well, at least I'm not a goat...

God didn't say it would be easy... He just said it would be worth it.
(today's dose of comfort courtesy of mass chain e-mails from "God")

So I fainted 16 times yesterday. To comfort myself, I looked up baffling diseases on the internet (hey, it could be worse!) and watched the hilarious video of the fainting goats...again. I feel an odd sense of kinship with these goats. After all, I fainted at least once every hour I was awake yesterday. Not too conducive to getting much...er, anything!...done around my house, or on the pressing projects due at school. I am also starting to really wonder how I am going to function in a week and a half at school for full 8-12 hour days. That should be interesting!

My cardiologist is, in a word, baffled. No idea what to do with me. Never has treated anyone who faints this frequently (I've heard this before, believe me). He is concerned about the pacemaker, because if what they are catching on the event monitor is really true, I might need a defibrillator, and I also will need chronic pacing on days like today. Which, over 10 years, is fine. Over 50 years...now that could be a problem. When I faced decisions regarding cancer treatment, I dealt with the same double-edged sword. Don't treat it, and it might kill you - or destroy your quality of life. Treat it, and it might significantly shorten your lifespan - or destroy your quality of life. As difficult as fainting 16 times in one day is, the truth is that my quality of life is still pretty high. I can't swim, drive, climb ladders, run races, hold my children while walking, bike ride, snowboard, or supervise my children doing any of those aforementioned activities. But I can still talk, walk, write, comfort, read stories, cuddle, feed, diaper, instruct, enjoy. That's a lot to risk if the pacemaker isn't going to eliminate the fainting - just reduce the frequency.

I emerged from yesterday having fought off one seriously bad bout of depression, another wave of anger with the traditional Western medical establishment, and a disturbing stint of chest pain. I hit my head only once, so I think it's safe to say that my mind is functioning up to par. And I have no idea what to do next. I guess I will spend the next week pushing "record" on that event monitor many more times than I planned. I'll probably miss out on swimming with the kids over the 4th. I won't be helping with the driving or errand running anytime soon, that much is certain.

I still pray the pacemaker would work. And that the doctors will hurry the heck up and figure something out!

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
~ Psalm 61:1-3