Thursday, November 29, 2012

Even if He does not...

I am already forgetting the Living Word my pastor brought for me, but wanted to write it out here so if any of you would like to remind me about this rather good Gospel stuff I could benefit later when it is all gone from my mind.

The text he used was:

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, o Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel; "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior..." ~Isaiah 43:1-3

He first talked to me about when it was that the Lord says, "Do not fear," being most common with the incarnation. He said that this was not a law sort of Word for us but rather a comforting Gospel sort of Word for us because we should really read these words as, "Do not fear because _____________," with the blank part being all the promises that God makes to us (be with us, not leave us, send His Son, save us, redeem us...), just as seen in the passage and when the angels came to Mary and to the others (yes, this is me already forgetting all the one who received notification about Jesus' impending birth).

[I was trying to rehearse this with Sandra so I wouldn't forget as much before getting back to where I could write it out and she also pointed out that God's word is performative, which I am still struggling to understand, but something like meaning it does what it says ... so in saying, "Do not fear," God is actually helping us with our fear because His Word, the work of the Gospel, can ease our fears????????]

My pastor then went on to talk about the fires and the waters part of the passage and asked me if I knew about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Sadly, I am forgetting more and more of the bible stories that I knew and mostly I live in the Psalter (you can chastise me for neglecting the other good bits of the Bible) since there is no ex-evangelical Law/Gospel confusion there. So, he told me the story.

The point he made for me (the Myrtle point) was not just that they said their God would save them (which is the only part that I learned previously) but that they added that even if they were not saved from the fire, they still would not bow down. My pastor talked about how it is not just that they believed God could save them, miraculously, from a fire, that He would still deliver them nonetheless. So, while God could save me, bodily, from what is happening to me, He will, no matter what happens to me now, deliver me nonetheless. That is His promise. That is the Gospel.

Imagine Isaiah 43 being Gospel...Gospel in the Old Testament!!!

He also read to me from Revelation because while he was giving me a sermon as a part of the Divine Service, he let me ask questions and helped pull some of the Gospel together for me in a better fashion than was in my mind. Kind of mind-boggling that John saw me in Heaven before I was born, saw all of us, but in describing what he saw of folk from everywhere the description was all the same, in white and with palm branches (which I did not know was for celebrating victory), not saying, "Well, gee, I saw some lepers and some murderers and some wretched daughters and some terrible husbands and, he saw us all in white, he saw us all as God sees Christ, robed in white, pure, whole, without blemish.

My pastor came with paper and pen in hand and wrote down the Wednesday Advent evening prayer services he told me about so I could remember them if I could get to them, and he wrote down all the passages, and then he wrote down a specific prayer for my father ... what praying for mercy really means. That part, I want to write about, too, but it should be separate, especially since he suggested I listen to something Pastor Weedon talked about on Issues, Etc., only I cannot follow those programs because of the interruptions. By the time they get back to the next program segment, I have forgotten what was said. SIGH.

Because our Triune God is overflowing with mercy, I will add that my pastor sang Divine Setting Three because he remembered that I like it. After realizing that I had forgotten how to sing my beloved Agnus Dei from that setting, I have been searching for the Liturgy CD someone at the synod sent me when I asked about the audio files that used to be available on the website (I cannot find them anymore) so I could hear the music off-line. I somehow did not get the CD into iTunes and forgot where I organized it to. MIRACULOUSLY, a spot popped into my head just a short while before the pastor came. I found it, put it into iTunes, and created play lists for Setting One and Setting Three so I could maybe finally learn the Setting One used at the Monday night services and happily enjoy my long-missed Setting Three.

Anyway, I told the pastor since I couldn't help him sing Setting Three, he could just do One (the one used primarily even on the Sunday services), but he said he would sing Three *for me*. Much to my DELIGHT, I remembered most of the notes for the larger parts. To me, there is such Gospel joy in Setting Three that speaks so clearly. I am not wanting to sound blasphemous, but being able to sing the Nunc Dimittis again after more than two years was nearly as wonderful as hearing my sermon and receive the Lord's body and blood. Since he knows I also am partial to the Apostle's Creed, he used that one. Also, in case you did not figure it out, the hymn we sang was my favorite...even though he already sang it before: "Lord Jesus, Think on Me."

Finally (and you don't have to remind me of this part...just the Gospel bits of the sermon), I asked if after Epiphany, when things were slower, we could talk about whether I could/should have a funeral (all that fantasy about singing that long list of hymns and reading all those bits of my beloved Christian Book of Concord aside). Since I don't come from a family of faith, one of the things my counselor suggested this week, when we were talking about my father, was to take the time now, while I am still demonstrably lucid, to make known what my wishes were for what I would like both before I die and after. I mean, he could not be there and if I don't die before she graduates, one of the two people here who would come to my funeral would probably be moved away, so I am not sure of the point. My pastor said that even if no one was there, part of the purpose of the funeral is caring for the body that God created, fashioned, and would be raising once more in glory. I have never heard that. So, I suppose I have lots of thinking do to while all this busy part of the church year is happening.

[Just so you get the whole picture, Amos spent most of the time as my pillow in the GREEN chair, but when it came time for the Lord's Supper, he tried to join my feast, first by snaking his head to my right cheek, and then by sneaking over to the left. If sharing would mean anything for him, I would do so gladly, freely. Still, he made me smile over the gift he is to me...a moment of one kind of joy wrapped in another.]

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tell me the day...

Sometimes I wish I had an entourage.  Would that were the case, I would have someone always about merely for the purpose of telling me the day.  Today, I spent much of the day trying to figure out what day it was.  Then, I forgot what I had figured out and tried again.  Knowing that my pastor is coming on the morrow, I also kept having small panic attacks thinking that I had missed my appointment with him.  While that does not make much sense, given that he is coming to my home, I was worried nonetheless.

What day is this?
What was yesterday?
What was I doing?
When was my last appointment?
Is the grad student at school?
Oh, will someone please tell me the day!

An endless cycle some days.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The depths of mercy...

I wanted to write this more fully, but I cannot find the words, so I am merely re-posting what I slapped up on Facebook (with an edit for clarity at the end).

I want to write a longer piece on my blog, but I also wanted to just briefly say that, today, our triune God deepened my understanding of mercy. Something about the way Bonnie wrote that what Steve wanted was chocolate for his men made me want that, too. [And not because of my deep, abiding belief that chocolate is a bit of heaven that survived the fall.]

I haven't given gifts in so long because all I do is charge things and then pay it off with retirement funds that, until the next withdrawal, were heavily penalized. It didn't make sense buying *things* when soon I won't be able to buy medications. Only I bought GREEN nail polish and a rather silly red hair color. I am so confused of late about money.

But Sandra, again, took me to Target (even after being tortured at the doctor) and one of the things I bought (in addition to the coconut milk, Mary) was enough chocolate to fill up a flat rate mailing box. At the post office, there was a long line so I simply sat down on the floor. I had my wheel chair with me, but it is impossible to maneuver it in the space around the center post.

This woman--a stranger--next to me sat down, too, so I was not alone. Long story short, she has battled a different sort of innards misery and has lost everything, really, and yet had only mercy for me there. Standing to fill out the rather confusing customs form was too much, so this woman filled it out for me. She made my little chocolate gift possible, really, for I would have fallen and probably fainted and then ... well, she made it possible.

And, well, the depths part of the mercy came in the most perfectly timed, rather persistent effort of my pastor to reach me, who is now coming on Thursday to bring me the Lord's Supper and to pray for my father. Thank you, Sandra, for letting him know. The sweetest Gospel bit about the call was that my pastor said he would write things down for me.  I had never asked him to do that, nor had I talked with him about the rapid changes in my cognitive abilities, especially memory.  He offered all on his own, because the truth is I wouldn't dare ask him to write things to help me the way the signs do.  So few see the help I need.  Most choose to see the parts of my ex-professor brain that are still there.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Part of dealing with the hours upon hours of innards misery has been hours upon hours of on-line television and movie watching.  Some of it has been old favorites.  Some of it has been new shows ... especially British shows.  Currently, I am simultaneously working my way through FarscapeReGenesis, and In Plain Sight.  This is the first time I have not stuck with a single series until it was finished.  The first and last are repeats, with this being my fifth time through Farscape.

Recently, I watched my all-time favorite episode of In Plain Sight, "Duplicate Bridge."  Each episode begins and ends with a voice-over commentary by the main character, WitSec Inspector Mary Shannon, played by Mary McCormack.  Between her pithy and insightful commentary on the human race and sometimes her own painful introspection--some of the best bits of the show--are stories of the life in the federal witness protection program.

What is also a sheer joy to watch is the interplay between Mary and her partner Marshall Mann, played by Frederick Weller.  Seriously, whoever cast this show is brilliant. From day one, the two seemingly misfits make this perfect match.  And Marshall is the perfect foil, or perhaps the penultimate opposite of Mary's inherent cynicism.

Within her life is the mess of all messes, family wise.  Its mark on her is both evident and hidden.  While Marshall seems to grasp that better than most, Mary's coming to understand herself and her fears is a large part of the show.  Flaws and foibles and failures lace nearly every episode, as does the inability to understand/accept/face the consequences of choices, of actions.

As a federal marshal, Mary is extraordinarily talented, catching people at the worst moments of their lives and navigating them through a change few could handle.  Some victims, most criminals given a second chance.  [Second chances have taken on a new meaning watching this series.]  But although her interpersonal skills are brusque and abrasive at best and her personal relationships are equally messy, she gets people.  Mary gets people because she gets the messiness of life and the failures that cling to us all.  She doesn't turn away from them.  And thus her success.  To watch is an ineffable comfort.  To watch is an extraordinary lesson ... if you are willing to look, willing to listen.

In "Duplicate Bridge," you encounter an architect who, after entering the program, discovers his life's work was based on an error, one that costs the death of people and flawed every bridge he created.  In the end, his confession of discovering his own error was followed by his suicide, as he destroyed the first bridge he ever built so that none may be harmed by it.  A complex mixture of honor and integrity and an inability to face such profound failure.

As part of the story line, Mary's sister, someone who has struggle to make any right choices in her life, has an assignment to write an essay describing herself from another person's perspective. Mary takes the suicide hard, struggling to process the choice of the witness to end his life and her partner's understanding of that choice. So, Marshall ends up helping her sister with the essay.

He first notes, as to what Mary might say is her fatal flaw: "You shed your failures like a raincoat and get up day after god-awful day expecting things to work out, even though they never do."

But then he points out the flaw in Mary's perspective of her sister: "She can’t accept failure is a part of life, the most important part. It’s the part that teaches us things and it’s the part that hurts."

Perspective.  All too often we are blinded by our own flawed, jaded, skewed perspectives, not even understanding that we cannot see rightly, truly.  That is why I love the Christian Book of Concord.  Oh, so very much!  Within its pages, among the texts written by different authors is a consistency of comforting certitude.  By this, I mean not only the sweet, sweet Gospel.  What strikes deep within my heart, what speaks to the core of me, what brings Light to my darkness, is this complete and utter understanding of the struggles of faith a Christian can find herself battling.  But not just understanding.  Along with the understanding is compassion and consolation.  There is no blame for the struggles, the doubt, the anguish  the despair--other than laying such rightly at the feet of our foe-- as the authors speak of these believers.  Instead, each and every time they are mentioned, the authors point to them as the very reason for the Gospel.  The sweet, sweet Gospel that is for them ... especially for them.

This came up in the BOC snippet I posted today, much to my pleasant surprise.  All day, I have savored, reveled in the words I read about the Living Word:

It must be carefully explained who the unworthy guests of this Supper are. They are those who go to this Sacrament without true repentance and sorrow for their sins, without true faith and the good intention of amending their lives. By their unworthy oral eating of Christ's body, they load themselves with damnation (i.e., with temporal and eternal punishments) and become guilty of profaning Christ's body and blood.

Some Christians have a weak faith and are shy, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the great number of their sins. They think that their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and Christ's benefits. They feel their weakness of faith and lament it, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience. These are the true worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament has been especially instituted and appointed. For Christ says:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. (Matthew 9:12)

[God's] power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him; ... for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:1-3)

Whoever believes in [the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith] may have eternal life. (John 3:15)

Worthiness does not depend on the greatness or smallness, the weakness or strength of faith. Instead it depends on Christ's merit, which the distressed father of little faith enjoyed as well as -Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith. ~BOC, FSD, VII, 68-71

Held in my right hand:  Some Christians have a weak faith and are shy, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the great number of their sins. They think that their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and Christ's benefits. They feel their weakness of faith and lament it, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience. These are the true worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament has been especially instituted and appointed. 

Held in my left:  Worthiness does not depend on the greatness or smallness, the weakness or strength of faith. Instead it depends on Christ's merit, which the distressed father of little faith enjoyed as well as -Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith.

Both are clutched to my chest, as I curl my beleaguered body about this perspective of who I am in Christ.  I am washed clean in the waters of Holy Baptism.  And so I am worthy of His body and blood place in my own body, despite the weakness of my faith, because of His merit.  

Comfort.  Solace.  Refuge.  Certitude.

Even for the Christian, Marshall is right about failure.  It is the part of the life of faith that teaches us things--even though it hurts--the most important thing.  We learn that it is by and with and through and beneath the weight of the cross(es) in our lives--not our good works--that we truly taste the sweetness of the Gospel  Through them we learn more fully the gifts of the Lord's Supper:  forgiveness, sustenance, healing, and strength.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I need a plan...

First a photo, then a video call.  I was shocked seeing my father.  More shocking to me, however, was how difficult I found that to be.  Thursday night ended up being another miserable migraine, where in around midnight I was whimpering for rescue.  The drugs worked, along with ceasing all sensory input.  And Friday I did my post-migraine hibernating with no television, no watching things online, no music, no light, and a few check-ins on Facebook to see if the rest of the world was still continuing its journey about the sun.  Heavy, though, was my heart.  Fearful, too.

Seeing my father was a bit like looking into a mirror.  We both share cognitive decline.  We both share a struggle with independence.  We both share an inability to control emotions.  My father was caught in the rather vicious, to me, cycle of trying to regulate what's going on inside your compromised brain by physical and chemical restraints.  The difference between what I saw on the video call Thursday and what I saw on a video clip today was near night vs day.  The difference being two days without sedation.  Tomorrow, my father will be transitioned to what looks to be a rather supportive home for those with cognitive deficits, particularly those from dementia and Alzheimer's.  

Back in the dark ages, I served as a hospice volunteer.  I wonder, truly, what I would have written, had I kept a blog back then.  I know there were some pieces I wrote here and there, but they are lost.  I remembered very, very little of that time, save for the overwhelming sense of what a privilege and an honor it was to serve those in their final days and hours.  I remember this incredible day wherein I went to a Catholic High Mass funeral and rather elaborate, beautiful graveside service and then later stood beside a pauper's grave with a few others who noted a man's passing with their silent presence as his cardboard box was lowered in the ground.  No chairs.  No fancy green carpet covering the mound of raw earth.  No trappings to hide in any fashion the cruelty of death.

But, when I saw my father on Thursday evening, I was immediately transported back to the bedside of a baker who was dying.  I am sure I have written of him and his wife before.  Surely I must have.  Oh, how his bride scandalized me!  Being new to the Hospice program, I asked her what was most difficult about her husband's illness.  She very promptly and rather blithely replied not being able to have sex with him anymore.  Her groom spent his final days in a hospital bed in their living room.

Sex!  She was 80 if she was a day old. I was just 20.  Before her response, I was certain that couples ceased that sort of activity looooooooooooong before their age.  I stammered and stuttered and blushed profusely whilst she laughed at me.  But the sheer longing with which she gazed upon her lover ceased my blushes.  Such love.  Oh, such love!

Her groom was not aware of her presence.  Or mine.  He was no aware as I swabbed his cracked lips with glycerin and wiped down his arms, legs, face, and chest.  In fact, the baker continued to practice his craft when all else was taken from his mind.  I wonder now, what he was cooking.  If I asked, I do not remember what his bride answered.  All I remember is that they owned a bakery, not if they specialized in any particular bit of deliciousness.  At first glance, all you saw was an otherwise catatonic man flailing his arms about as he lay in bed.  Soon, though, through careful study, you noticed that his movements were careful and measured, deliberate and repetitive.

Seeing my father was like walking into that room for the first time. I was terrified for him.  And for me.  Off of the sedation medication, my father is more present and more mobile.  Hopefully, being in a place that specializes in the care he needs without resorting to just trying to control behavior without regard to the cost to the patient's well-being will mean my father is not as close to death as it appeared to me on Thursday.

Still, I wonder, even today, what passes through my father's mind.  He was groomed and walked.  Both of which are needful.  But, rather bluntly, both of which I do for Amos.  The comparison was not lost on me.  What I found ... beautiful ... was how my step-mother held my father's hand as he was walking.  Such love there.  Oh, such love!

Still, I am all sorts of discombobulated just now.  One small issue has been remedied, though.  A dear friend of mine has offered to help me get to Virginia to either visit my father or to go to his funeral.  This includes two days of traveling and a whole lot of assistance for me.  What mercy!  I am not sure I can make the trip, nor am I sure that it would be the best choice for me.

I hate that. I hate admitting it.  I hate even thinking the slightest bit about how much dysautonomia and multiple sclerosis have change me.  Primarily the former, since that is why I struggle so much with anxiety, why I am utterly incapable of successfully handling stress, and why such causes migraines that have increased in frequency and magnitude.

Today, though, was a good example of why traveling is so ... questionable.

Not only did the nightly innards misery start up around 11:00 a.m., instead of the wee hours of the morning, but also, even after eating to counteract low blood sugar, I had an even lower drop, an even deeper crash.  The sugar crashes themselves are not something I handle well, either physically or mentally.  In the past few months, the symptoms have now included both headaches and nausea, in addition to the shakes, clammy skin, and weakness.  The worst part, though, is the anxiety.  It is like throwing a match into a pool of gasoline.

I was so miserable.
And terrified.
And despairing.

I texted two friends, begging them to pray for me.  Bettina ended up calling me and reading me prayers from the Lutheran Book of Prayer.  Oh, how I needed to hear the things I was struggling to remember in my distress.  The external is so key in helping me on all fronts.

Given the agony in my mid-section, I simply could not eat anything else.  So, I resorted to the glucose tablets that rarely are much benefit.  I ate 8 of them, downed with some Gatorade, before I could feel the tide shift within me.

After praying with me, Bettina let me blather on for a bit, calming down with each word.  I found the strength to take Amos out, who had been making his need known.  And, to be blunt, while pacing back and forth waiting upon him, I had a great belch that eased the pressure and the pain in my mid-section to a more mentally manageable level.  That tide, too, was on it way back out to sea.

I honestly need a plan, a very specific plan, for such times when I am embattled on more than one front.  I can face the sugar crash, rather gracelessly, but face it nonetheless.  I can face the innards misery, the writhing, with equal weakness.  What I fail miserably to do, however, is face them both without being rescued from the fear and the despair.  But what if no one is reachable in those moments?  I need a plan.

I need a plan to remember that I am baptized, forgiven, washed clean, despite the sinful, doubtful manner in which I face the challenges before me.  I need a plan to remember that this misery is not at all what God intended for His creation.  I need a plan to remember that this life is not what He intended when God formed me, wonderfully and fearfully, in my mother's womb.

I need a plan to navigate the pain, the thoughts, and the emotions.

I need a plan to remember what Inara tells Petaline, who is struggling with the pain of labor, in Firefly's "Heart of Gold" episode:  "This is just a moment in time.  Step aside and let it pass."

This ... Thursday's video call ... was just a moment in time.  I need to step aside and let it pass.
This ... my father's illness ... is just a moment in time. I need to learn to step aside and let it pass.
This ... the duel battle today ... was just a moment in time.  I needed to step aside and let it pass.
This ... the whole of my illnesses ... is just a moment in time.  I need to learn to step aside and let it pass.

What have I accomplished since Thursday night?  I fed Amos.  I tended his needs.  I fed myself.  I tended my needs.  I fell apart ... many times.  SIGH.

I want my life to be so much more than that.  I want to be able to live only that with more grace, resting in the peace that passes all understanding, knowing that my life, such as it is, matters to our Triune God.

Christ did not die on the cross for me because I served as a missionary.
Christ did not die on the cross for me because I taught elementary school, junior high, and college.
Christ did not die on the cross for me because I advocated for foster care and affordable housing.
And Christ did not die for me because of the volunteer work I have done and might still do.
Christ died for all of my life because all of my life is precious to Him.

All of it.
Even now.
Perhaps ... especially now.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The great equalizer...

I have been thinking that in many ways, death is the Great Equalizer.  Or perhaps it is the Great Eraser.  Or both.  Or neither.

It is not that what comes before in a life does not matter.  It does.  Vitally.  But what comes before also does not matter.  What one has done or not done, pales in comparison to suffering, in comparison to facing the end of life, in comparison to loss, to grief.  What harm has been done or not done.  What love has been given or not given.  What mercy has been shown or not show.  None of it matters.  Death is not the ultimate revenge or the perfect punishment.

Death is not about revenge or punishment. Death is not about reward.  Death is not about justice.  Death is simply death.  It is wrong in every sense of the word and of the world.  Death is not what our triune God designed or intended for His creation.  Death is a result of sin.  Death is sin's victory.

Eternally, Jesus Christ robbed sin of that victory.  Eternally, the Holy Spirit brings life that has no end.  Eternally, death is an odd sort of rejoicing for it means that those who have been washed clean in Holy Baptism, saved by the work of the Living Word, get to go home, to the place where life actually is the way God intended.

But temporally, in this fallen world, death still has its sting. Oh, does it have its sting.

Sometimes, someone does slip away "peacefully," but their ending is not peaceful for those left behind.  Sometimes, those who are dying do so in agony--an unwelcome legacy of the achievements of modern medicine.  For example, cancer victims are promised another year or two or perhaps another month, but that time is bought with a terrible price.

Sometimes, death comes too soon, when life in this world has barely begun.  Sometimes, death comes in medias res, when other lives before and after are affected ... parents, spouses, children.  Sometimes, death comes at the end, where deep ties make the rending near impossible to survive.  Death is never welcome.  It merely is.

We are all given temporal life.
Sin always takes that temporal life away.

In the 10th chapter of John, Jesus tells us that He came to give us life, abundant life, and that the thief came to to steal, kill, and destroy.  Notice that order.  To me, order matters.  Kill is not last.  Destroy is.  To me, death destroys, can destroy, far more than the temporal life it takes.  Kill is not first either; it is the metaphorical meat sandwiched between theft and destruction.  Steal, kill, destroy ... love, truth, wealth, health, life ... all are stolen from us and destroyed in death.

So, what I am trying to say is that there is no good in death.  Death is not something anyone deserves more than another.  The mass murderer deserves death as much as I.  As we learn in the third chapter of Romans, all have sinned.  Is the breaking of one Commandment worse than another?  We perceive some to be worse, maybe even label them so, but they all have the same cost in the breaking: eternal death. Eternal separation from God.  Eternal suffering.  An eternity of life not being as God intended.

Yes, death can be an end to suffering in this world, but death is not what God intended.  The frailties,   the failings of our bodies are not what God intended.  How, then, can anyone rejoice in that?  No matter what the person has done or not done.  There is no rejoicing in his death.  There is no justice in her death.  There is no satisfaction is death.  Not without sin.

I am sin. I cannot not sin.  Such grieves me.  Such is a strange sort of comfort.  Such magnifies the work of Christ crucified beyond comprehension.  Such epitomizes the freedom of the Gospel. I can, however, try to not sin. With the strength of the Holy Spirit, the certitude of my baptism, the sustenance of the Lord's Supper, and the power of the Living Word, I can try to not sin.

One way I am trying is to see death as the great equalizer and to let whatever justice I might think is due fall away.  Years ago, a man who hurt me died a painful, degrading death.  When I learned of his suffering, I felt satisfaction and had no pity for him, no compassion.  I was convinced that he deserved such a death.  I know now that I was wrong.  What he did was wrong, but I was also wrong.

I am not talking about forgiveness.
I am not talking about forgetting.
All I am saying is that two wrongs do not make a right.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Amplifier...

Monday evening, as I was writing on my blog, a headache started.  Tuesday morning, I awoke with it still.  As I did on Monday, following the nightmare of my last migraine, I spent the day in darkness and silence, resting and trying very hard to relax.  I burned a candle, listened to soft music, stretched, read the Psalter, tried to empty my mind of all thought ... you get the picture.  Evening rolled around and I still had the headache.

Frustrated, I called my new friend Sandra to see how her day had gone.  While I vented about not being able to relax my headache away, I honestly did not call her intending to talk about me.  I wanted something outside of myself.  I was right about needing the outside but just not which outside.

To me, Sandra is this perfect person, even though she would be the first to shout about her flaws.  She is perfect because she has such good ideas and is always ... soothing.  There is no judgment in her, no censorship, where it comes to interacting with me.  She is the best of neighbor, the best of mercy, the best of being a child of Christ ... not doing faith, but being forgiven, washed clean, though a sinner still.  On occasion Sandra has told me that it is good for her to be what she is for me, since that is not always her par for the course.  For me, it is hard to believe.  Mostly, I feel as if all I ever do is receive from her, that I never care for her in return.

In any case, I am not sure how, but I started telling her about my father, about what is happening to him and some of what I feel.  Since I am greatly conflicted, and even I can see that the battles I am facing color everything else in my life even though I do now wish it to be so, the conversation was more circular than linear.  There was no real conclusion, no ending, save for her "plan": not worry about what I think or feel, about trying to visit or get to his funeral when the time comes.  Now, normally, such plan would seem so impossible and almost trite.  But we had talked about how my sister was traveling to see my father tomorrow.  Sandra pointed out that I did not need to worry or think or try to plan until after she saw him, until after she could talk with me about how he is in her eyes.  It was a great plan.  Sandra's plans always are.

While we were talking, my headache ceased.
I hate that.

I hate that my body has become an amplifier of all my thoughts and feelings with a physicality that ranges from annoying to debilitating.  Most of the time--as with Monday--I did not even know that I wanted or needed to talk about my father. I did not connect my headache in any way to my emotions or worries, even though I know that stress--both good and bad--is the primary trigger of my migraines.  I did not make the connection even though I know that whatever is going on in my head is oft splayed across my face as if I were a teenager once more, hormones raging and wreaking havoc across my face.  Only, when I was a teenager, I did not have problems with moderate or severe acne.  Sure, I had blemishes, but never the parade of them that can march across my face when I am bothered.  It matters not that I even know I am bothered.  I look in the mirror and can see that something is obviously going on inside my head, inside my heart. It drives me crazy.

For a long while, I have lost the ability to hide my emotions, to temper them.  I might be slightly upset inside and yet tears will fall down my face.  The things a person normally keeps to herself are no longer under my control.  In the past, I have written about how Multiple Sclerosis destroys your emotional filter.  Couple that with the anxiety that dysautonomia causes, anxiety that can completely take over my body, and I am oft merely a passenger in my own skin.

I hate being the amplifier.  I really hate it.  Perhaps if society were different, perhaps if tears and fears were more socially acceptable, I might not.  But they are not.  Tear and fear and frustration.  Oh, the frustration!

The deficits I experience, the deficits and the dysfunction frustrate me.  The frustration is the worst because I know what is happening and am helpless to stop it.  So, my frustration magnifies far more disproportionately than anything else.

Then there is this growing problem when I try to communicate something and I find that I cannot.  I cannot speak the words.  Sometimes all I can do is gesture or repeat one or two words that make little sense to the person with whom I am trying to communicate.  When that happens, not only am I frustrated, but I also struggle to stifle my fear.  Oh, how am I mess then.  And every facet of that mess is played out in my body.

Tied tongue.
Wild gestures.

All of that is bad enough.  But to have such bad acne and to have headaches because my body knows something my conscious mind does not is simply horrid.

Monday night, I was so blessed by Sandra's gift of mercy: her listening to me even as she was struggling with illness herself.  I was blessed by peace and I was blessed by a cessation of pain.  Such is the work of my Good Shepherd.

Today, I was thinking about how amazed I still am that my headache was about my father, though I knew it not.  I was thinking about being an amplifier and hating that.  Yes, there was much self recrimination and discouragement amongst those thoughts.  And there were tears.  As has been the case of late, being in that state, I was driven to do something, to have something positive.  So, I hung the curtain I had made from a scrape piece of hemmed curtain fabric for the window of the basement door. I bathed Amos. I caught up on the dishes.  I did my overdue laundry. I accomplished things.  Al the while, though, I kept thinking about my metaphor.

An amplifier does not accomplish anything. I mean, without input, it merely sits there.  It is not creative.  In a way, could you not say that the Christian life is a life of amplification, as well as a life of reception?

By this I mean, I do no good works.  The Holy Spirit works through me to serve others.  In a civil sense, I, Myrtle, can do things that are helpful and good for others, but I am not doing good works in and of myself, my strength, my reason, because I am a sinner and the old Adam in my stands against our triune God.  So, the work of God is amplified in my life, in my voice or my hands or my finances.

So, too, is forgiveness amplified.  I do not forgive others.  God's forgiveness flows through me and is spread out to others in my life.  To the old Adam, forgiveness is utterly foreign and totally useless for the self.

Chief amongst the work of God amplified in my life has to be caring for others, considering their needs, tending to them without profit or glory.  Turning away from self is antithetical to the old Adam.  Antithetical and an anathema. 

If I think about being an amplifier for the power and work of God, then that favorite of favorite bits of mine in the Christian Book of Concord makes perfect sense:  In order to retain the Gospel among people, He openly sets the confession of saints against the kingdom of the devil and, in our weakness, declares His power. ~BOC, AP, V (III), 69

It is His creative work being amplified through us to His creation. It is His forgiveness.  It is His love.  It is His mercy.  It is His compassion.  Being an amplifier, then, is not always a bad thing.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Into the gloaming...

I wish that I could remember this moment.  I do not. The things I can remember I wish that I did not.  There is so much I need to understand.  There is so much I need to accept that I will never be able to  understand.  There is so much.  Too much.

This is my father, as you may have guessed.  I do not know where we were, whose house it might have been.  I do not know how old I am or what time of year it was.  Truly, there is nothing that I know about or recognize from this photo.

All I really know is that this is a photo of me and a photo of my father and it was, seemingly, a good moment in time, a good moment between the two of us.

As I look at this photo, I think about the words my friend Mary gave me with regard to what is happening to my body:  This is not the way God designed our bodies to work, not the way He intends for my body to be. Sin has ravaged so much in this world.  Bodies. Bodies and families.  Disease and divorce are both byproducts of its destruction.

My father has Alzheimer's.  Who he was in this photo is not who he is now.  Who he was throughout all his life is not who he is now.  The years in the family that was. The years in his new family.  The years of being a father and a grandfather, a husband and a son.  They are all gone for him.  What remains are glimpses here and there.  Moments of awareness flickering through the confusion. I cannot help but think that for a man who was an engineer by trade and by nature, his life now must surely be maddening ... when he is aware.

I watched his decline.

So much of my life has been not really being a part of his life.  Divorce does that.  So does distance.  But there came a point in both our lives where we ended up in the same area once more.  In a way, it was a second chance to know my father.  I am not sure what I made of it.

For a few years, I worked at a job where my boss gave me tickets to the Redskins games.  I took my father.  Now is not the time to wax poetically about the joy that is stadium mustard, but I would not have known about it had we not traveled to the games.  Nor would I have known it had my father not been willing to split the hot dogs and the chicken fingers and fries with me so that I could taste/have both.  My step-mother gave my father a mini-TV, so we would jamb our heads together watching the replays.  And the trip to and fro was oft as long as the game itself, arguing about the Redskins, especially since they are the mortal enemies of my beloved Cowboys.  Good times.

And then there was the Wal-Mart $5.50 DVD bin, the bane of my step-mother's existence, but the joy of mine and my father's.  Who doesn't love a great find in the $5.50 DVD bin?  A pile of best picks acquired would result in a weekend movie fest, watching as many as possible.  Twelve, I believe, was our best weekend.  "The Abyss."  "Total Recall."  "The Hunt for Red October."  Good times.

And yet I watched his decline.

One of the moments I wish that I did not remember is the first time he panicked in Wal-Mart.  I was always the faster picker.  I could work my way through the bin in about half the time as my father, re-stacking the movies in the process, as I moved from side to side to side.  So, I would oft wander over to the $7.50 racks to see if there might be something worth spending a bit more, while my father lingered over the stacks I had made along the edges of the bin.  I had done so countless times, but that day was the first time his disease punched me in the stomach.

My father did not know where I was.  He did not know where he was.  I did not recognize his voice at first.  The fact that he was not calling my name, perhaps, kept me from noticing sooner.  But suddenly my contemplation of movies was disrupted by this heart rending cry of my step-mother's name.  In a flash, I was back at my father's side.  When he looked at me, he looked through me.  I do not know what he saw in that moment.  What I saw was his confusion, replaced by awareness, replaced by what I could only imagine could be horror at what had happened, what was happening to him.

I imagine so because I have felt the same following my own confusion followed by awareness.

From that moment on, I watched him.  I asked him to tell me stories. I asked him about his day.  I reminded him of the games and movies we saw together.  And I watched him.

I watched him struggle to remember, struggled to re-tell, struggle to order his food.  I watched him struggle recognize where he was or the way we should go.  Always ... always ... my father would drive.  He insisted on it, even when I had to coach him through every turn, every stop.  In fact, for the longest time I deeply resented the fact that he never let me drive his car, this rather beautiful white Camry I rather coveted.  Especially deep became my resentment when I realized that my brother had driven it on his visits and then my teenage half-brother.  But I wonder now.  I wonder if my father's insistence was sort of a last stand with him.

One day, I got a call from a stranger.  My father had gotten lost on the way over to my house for a movie fest.  He wandered around until he gave up and pulled into a parking lot.  Some man found him looking "lost" and took pity upon him.  My father was just across the highway, by a bird's flight perhaps a mile at best.  He was blue when I got there.  My father was too afraid to wait inside or sit in his car.  The stranger said he never stopped searching.  Only, really, my father was not searching for me.  He was searching for his wife.  She was his anchor.

I am not sure how long it was after that, but one weekend my father could not stay.  He wanted to be home. Mine was not safe to him.  I think his driving was safe to him in a way I could not understand then.  It was something he still knew and he could still do.

It would probably not be a lie to say that everyone in the family dreaded the time his keys would be needed to taken away from him.  I know many families struggle with that moment, with having to argue with a loved one that he/she is no longer capable of that independence.  Only with my father, the battle never arrived.  One day he spoke his fear of being able to drive to his wife.  She reassured him that it was okay not to drive.  And that was that.

For the past week, my father has been in the hospital for uncontrollable outbursts of emotion and violence.  He has been restrained.  He has been sedated.  Several times.  The last report is that finding a balance for him has not yet been achieved.  My heart breaks for him.

No matter what he knows or does not know, he must be terrified, at times, to lash out as he has.  Terrified and angry and confused.  How difficult to watch, but, oh, how much more difficult to live.

Our Creator did not intend for life to be this way ... or to end this way.

Lord, have mercy upon my father.  Christ, have mercy upon my father.  Lord, have mercy upon my father.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dark and silent...

I have said many a time that I was surprised, really, at how poorly I have handled migraines.  After all, I do have a rather high threshold of pain.  Over the past decade, I have also become rather used to pain of many sorts.  But, oh my, is the pain of a migraine so incredibly different and nearly unbearable.  In the midst of one, the pain is seemingly unbearable.

It has been a year, give or take a week or two, since my first migraine.  Would that it were I still had one of those early ones.  Just as my weakness has grown, the memory loss, the confusion, all of those things, so have the magnitude of the migraines.  To deal with them now, not only do I have to take the medications, but I also have to turn off all the lights, put on my sleeping mask (my blinders), and turn off all sound.  Doing so, it seems, adds t the misery at first.  By this I mean that, in cutting off all other input, all I am left with is the pain and nausea.

I have this index card that I started holding during the migraines.  In increasingly strong language are a series of sentences telling me the same thing:  This will end.

In the throes of a migraine, it is difficult for me to remember this.

For someone who has come to need, more and more, the external in her life, being so isolated from everything save the misery and my own thoughts is as difficult as the actual migraine.  Hence, the card.  Only when I am wearing the blinders to block out all the light, all I can do is clutch the index card and try to remember what it says.  I wish Amos could talk.  I wish he could murmur softly that the pain and nausea will end.  I wish he could tell me that life on the other side of the migraine is still something I want to have.  I wish he could assure me that I can and will leave the place where I am trapped and find freedom once more.

All Amos can do is curl up at my side and press his back against me.

I am truing to learn to embrace the darkness and the stillness instead of fearing it. I am trying to be as thankful to it as I am to Immitrex, Toradol, and Zofran.  As with many things these days, I am failing rather miserably at it.  Would that it were I had less opportunity to practice.

I am trying to learn to embrace the sensation of Amos' body against mine.  I am trying to learn to remain present for the good instead of fleeing because of the bad.  The latter is a lesson I learned too early, too well.  In the midst of pain that is ineffable to me, in the midst of nausea that is magnified ten-fold,  I struggle to focus on the warmth of his small body, of the weight of him against me, of the sound of his breathing or, better yet, his snores.

Right now, Amos is lying on my feet as I sit in the GREEN chair typing.  His snores are tickling my feet and raising the corners of my mouth.  But my head is beginning to hurt. I am not sure if it is because I am typing, reading, using my eyes.  I have not done so all day.  Today, I have merely existed, floating in nothingness, twisting Amos' curls with my finger tips.  Perhaps I should get back to that.

But is that life?
Difficult not to be discouraged, difficult not to be despairing.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Giving up or giving in...

Sometimes, it feels like I am giving up ... or giving in ... to take my migraine drugs.  I battle and battle and battle, telling myself it is merely a bad headache.  No matter that light hurts. No matter that sound hurts.  No matter that the nausea is rising (after all, when am I not nauseous these days).  Still, even when I know, I feel as if I only tried harder to be ... well ... something, I might not really have a migraine.  I might escape it.

I am not sure why. It is not merely that I cannot take the medications more than thrice a week.  But....

I am giving up, or giving in.
I have a migraine.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An increase of faith...

A while ago, I was on a prayer list with specific requests next to the person's name. The one chosen for me was for "an increase of faith."  While I am open to having someone tell me why such a prayer request fits in the Lutheran Confession, I remain disconcerted with the notion that there should be a quantification of the amount of faith a person has.  After all, does not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ tell us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain?

Reading that request next to my name always left me feeling a failure as a Christian.  So, I would wonder, even though I had found the pure doctrine, when will my faith be enough?  What will my life be like, look like, when my faith is enough?

I also wondered how the quantity of my current faith was measured.  Why was it that increasing my faith was the most important prayer request, as opposed to the other options in the bulletin?  Surely, I must have been the poorest excuse for a Christian in the congregation.

So, for me, seeing that prayer request, knowing others were praying such for me never left me feeling encouraged.  In fact, each time I read that, that same old works righteousness despair crept over me even though I was in a Confessional Lutheran church. I oft wondered how I would ever reach the measure of enough faith.  After all, in 31 years of being a mainline evangelical, I had failed to achieve that mark.

I left that church.  I lost my job.  I moved. My illness grew exponentially worse.  I started the disability application process.  Enough became the impossible to me.  For each day that passed, for each night filled with innards misery, I truly despaired of having enough faith to endure, to survive, to be the suffering saint I am supposed to be.  To have enough faith.

Only the more time I spent in the Christian Book of Concord and the more time I sought refuge in the Psalter, I began to question the petition for an increase of faith.  That notion simply does not align with what I read.  Nothing of man is a part of salvation.  Nothing of man is a part of justification.  Nothing of man is a part of righteousness.  Nothing of man is a part of sanctification.  All of those are the work of our Triune God.  The Gospel is enough.     

Yes, all throughout the Psalter are pleas of anguish and anger, of confusion and despair.  We see in the Psalter that standing against God, living apart from God, lies only destruction and death.  For living apart and against is living by faith in our strength, our wisdom, our ways.  But the Living Word never leaves the outcome of those prayers in the hands of man. Instead, we see that living by Him, with Him, through Him, in Him lies hope.  Indeed, the certitude of rescue, of salvation, of life eternal is always in the hands of God, in His work. 

So, to me, in my opinion, quantifying faith, even in a prayer request meant to be of benefit to the brother or sister in Christ, is the wrong focus.  By this I mean, the focus is on faith, not Christ. The focus is on faith, not the work of the Holy Spirit.  The focus is on faith, not the power and efficacy of the Living Word and the Sacraments.  And it brings the possibility of focusing on self, on my faith, when the very faith that saves is the faith of Christ, His perfect faith.

Surely, Christ did not need an increase of faith?  
Surely the faith of Christ is not quantifiable?

If the Christian life is a life of reception, that reception also cannot, should not, be quantified.  We do not receive a certain measure of Christ's faith and have to grow it or multiply it ourselves.  What we receive is whole, complete, sufficient unto all, against all. And, because it is a faith given to us, the possessive pronoun is there because of reception, not because of achievement. Therefore, I tend to look past the pronoun and concentrate on the noun ... on the fact that it is the faith of Christ.  Sure.  Certain.  Perfect.  Why would I need more than I have?

The idea of an increase in faith, to me, also seems to contradict that it is in our weakness that we are made strong, in our brokenness, we are made whole.  "If I have this great amount of faith, what need then have I of God's strength and mercy and grace?" one could begin to question, leading the believer astray.

In a way, I have come to find a certain refuge, a modicum of peace, in the very fact that my faith does not matter.  My strength is irrelevant.  I. Me. Mine.  All of those personal pronouns I eschew -- perhaps to my detriment -- when it comes to faith.  In fact, the only personal pronoun to which I cling is part of a phrase, a propositional phrase where the pronoun is the receiver: for me.

Given for me.
Shed for me.
Suffered for me.
Died for me.
Risen for me.

None of those me-s are of me, of my strength, my faith, my work.  They are all about Jesus.  About Christ Crucified.

So, were I the one writing those prayer requests next to folks' names, I might ask for healing and for endurance in illness.  I might ask for an ease of sorrow and for consolation in grief.  I might ask for financial aid and for contentment in all circumstances.  I might ask for mercy, for peace, for rest, for refuge.  I might ask for care and compassion, for assistance, for aid.  I might ask for an increase in opportunities to hear the Living Word, to have others read it to them, to have undershepherds preach for them.  I might ask for an increase in strength or in wisdom or in understanding of the Gospel. And I might ask for the gift of faith.  But never would I ask for an increase of faith.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The battle to remain upright...

Lying down this early morn, my heart rate was 60 and my blood pressure was 96/63.  Just going to the bathroom, a few feet from my bedroom, my heart rate jumped to 163.  My blood pressure shifted to 107/66.  My heart pounding, short of breath, and feeling as if I am fading away, I walked back on tremulous legs.  I really, really, really hate this.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Days gone by...

I learned yesterday afternoon that next week is Thanksgiving.  I was truly surprised.  I mean, we just had the election.  How in the world could it be Thanksgiving?

I admit that I do not look forward to that holiday.  For many years now, I have not been with family.  Mostly, I spend the day alone, watching my beloved football.  I have several times been invited to be with others.  A few times I have gone.  However, going is hard for me.  It is hard to see families all gathered together and to be the outsider ... the outlier actually.  It is also hard to contrast the meals with the family Thanksgivings I have had in the past.  Alcohol can really destroy a holiday/family gathering.  So, too, can agendas and expectations and demands for other people to do and be as you believe they should do and be rather than to simply savor the time you have with them.

A while ago, I learned about absolutes.  When a person says, "You always..." a) it is not the truth because no one is always a particular way and b) it is a criticism if not and outright attempt to bully the other person or to foment a fight.  Once, with my best friend, I experienced a Thanksgiving where some were dressed up and some were not.  Some brought their own food (personal preferences) and some did not.  Some helped and some lounged around.  No agendas or expectations or demands were made.  People were simply together, enjoying a chance to be together and, of course, to stuff themselves with tasty food.

I suppose, too, a bit of what has colored my thinking about Thanksgiving is how artificial the holiday is.  I mean, some people blog about or make Facebook posts about the things for which they are thankful.  Only, why not post them every month, every week, or every day?

Then, too, is the history of the holiday.  Sure, the newcomers to America were thankful to be rescued by generous Native Americans willing to share of their bounty.  And then ... well ...those newcomers systematically began to pillage and plunder from the very ones who saved them.  Our history is an ugly one.

We are sinners, of course, whether or not that state of being is recognized by all.  There is no inherent good in others.  And humanity is quite good about pillaging and plundering, about taking and stealing.  Just as with the storm Sandy, some liked to point out the "indomitable American spirit" where people come together and help.  Only the other part of that American spirit are folk who come to steal and scam, once again pillaging and plundering.  We saw it with Hurricane Katrina.  In truth, we saw it when we built our new country not only but stealing and scamming Native Americans, but stealing and torturing and subjugating to slavery Africans.  Oh, but that is the past, you say.  Well, in World War Two, we also set about pillaging and plundering Japanese Americans ... probably one of the best kept secrets today.  Who, after all, is as well versed in the Japanese internment as in our slave history?

I suppose it is this combination of years of a sort of fake Thanksgiving and the knowledge of what Native Americans suffered after that first Thanksgiving ... suffer to this day ... makes it a holiday for which I care not much.  Except for the turkey.  Being alone, I miss the opportunity for turkey and gravy.  LOTS of gravy.

But perhaps the real reason is that I am someone, now, who truly had no idea Thanksgiving was/is next week.  Days slip by unnoticed, as I struggle to endure the pillaging and plundering of illness that is taking place in my body.  To get to my appointment where I learned of the holiday's nearness, I literally shouted cuss words against the agony of sitting in my car.  I lay down the entire time and had to be helped back up off the couch.  The trip home was equally miserable, as had been the day before.  Bending my mid-section is not always an option these days.

And, as I have bewailed in the past, I am fairly graceless and rather frightened when things are particularly bad.  For me, it is nigh unto impossible to see past the moment.  Knowing that, who in their right might would want to be with me on a holiday such as Thanksgiving?

I do not like how many absent posts are on my blog this year. I do not like how day and day, week after week, have gone by without capturing them for my failing memory.  And, more importantly, using this place to take the good things and the bad things and set them outside myself.  I reach out for the tiniest bits of perspective.  After all, I do not wish to be grumpy or frightened or despairing or confused.  If I am going to be my primary company, I would like to be a bit more gracious and courage.


Learning the theology of the cross, living it, grasping that in my weakness His faith is perfected in me, through me, for me ... is so very challenging.  A steep learning curve to be sure.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Layers and laughter...

One of the bits of advice about dealing with Raynaud's Syndrome was to wear layers. That literally made me laugh.  Anyone who really knows me knows that I already do.

I wear them because I have always cotton to the fashion style of them  I wear them because layering is more comfortable to me.  I wear them because layers make me feel safe.  And I suppose it would be fair to also say that I wear them to keep me away ...  to a degree ... from the rest of the world.

Were I a fan of irony, I believe it would be accurate to categorize the fact that the gastroparesis and the small bowel bacterial overgrowth oft make it impossible to wear anything at all on my mid-section.  Today's misery level has left me lying in bed the whole day -- save for necessity -- because bending my mid-section is not something I am of a mind to do.  Frankly, I doubt even an insane person would want to do so, much less a sane one.

I have not words for why layers make me feel safe.  I honestly do not have the words to explain how difficult it is for me to not even be able to wear a bra because the swelling in my abdomen is that high.  The undershirts I used to wear each day now leave my entire mid-section feeling pummeled and bruised.  Systemic problems caused by neurological dysfunction.  An impossibility the likes of which I could wish I never knew.

Today, I spent my time trying to hold off any and all cloth from touching my abdomen, whilst simultaneously trying to keep note a mote of air from creeping beneath the blanket lest my fingers or toes become too cold or the chills set in or my body temperature start falling and the shivering begin.  I have two heating pads -- one for upstairs and one for down -- because heat helps the pain when anything heaver than a feather does not leave my writhing.  Today, I used them to try and warm up the air beneath my covers so that my bare skin would not be so icy.

It makes me laugh that layers are the answer to two main issues in my life and yet nakedness is the solution for another.  It makes me laugh that sometimes the greatest comfort in my life is having a lump of puppy draped across my person.  And sometimes his loving attention greatly magnifies my agony.  It makes me laugh that cold causes one set of problems and heat another.  It makes me laugh that our Triune God shows His strength in our weakness and through our brokenness He makes us whole.

Strange how close companions laughter and tears can be.

A Facebook friend, Pastor Donavon Riley, did not know the day I was having, but the Holy Spirit did.  Knowing how much I savor and find refuge in the Psalter, he sent me a translation of Psalm 16 on which he was working:

1 Protect me, O God, for I hide myself in You.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my LORD. I have no good apart from You.”
3 And to the saints who are in the land, “They are excellent, in whom is all my delight. “
4 Those who chase after another god will increase their sorrows. I will not pour out their drink offerings of blood,
nor take up their names on My lips.
5 The LORD is my portion and my cup. You hold my lot.
6 The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.
Yes, my inheritance is delightful for me.
7 I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; at night my heart also instructs me.
8 I have set LORD always before me. For He is at my right hand, therefore I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices. My flesh will also dwell free from care.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to hell, nor give up Your Holy One to the grave.
11 You will make me know the path of life. Your favor is fullness of joy. Pleasures are at Your right hand forever.

Psalm 16 (trans. mine -- verse 10 is the kicker)

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

If only I did not have to eat...

The problem the past two days is that when I eat, I become incredibly nauseous ... more so than I already am.  Of course, when I eat, I am also setting myself up for the whole delayed and disrupted digestion cycle that can be so horrid to endure.  Still, I am not used to the non-stop nausea growing worse with food.

I sure do like to eat.  SIGH

For the most part, since stopping the erythromycin last Tuesday night, I have done a far, far, far better job at eating multiple tiny meals than I have been of late.  Eating small meals has been a lot like taking tepid showers.  Hot water fells me.  Only I love hot showers ... relish blanching myself in there.  So, I start off with tepid water, and then shower by shower, I nudge the hot water lever up until I exit the shower looking very much like a gigantic tomato ... and then faint.  I can eat the tiny meals for a while, then I start eating a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more ... until really I am eating a regular meal.

Given how much worse the innards misery has become, I have been keeping to my vow not to add to that misery by having a large amount of food in my stomach at one time.  For example, I really enjoy spinach and artichoke dip with white corn chips.  For the past two boxes (mostly I just get the frozen TGI Friday's version), I have added a few dollops of sour cream and some cheese and then divided the amount into thirds, putting away two-thirds in glass bowls in the refrigerator before taking a single bite.  [That way I cannot cheat].

My one failing has been the basil burgers, a near obsession of mine.  Oh, my, are they tasty!  With them, I eat an entire burger at one sitting.  While I had been having two, plus some sort of side, plus dessert, having just one is still a bit much.  It would be better if I could eat half at a time, but that would take far, far, far more will power than I have.  My concession has been to only have the burger and nothing else and then also have tiny, tiny portions for all other meals that day.  The funny thing is, to me, that I have never really cared for home-made burgers.  But then a seminary bride spent 8 weeks cooking in my kitchen and her first basil burger offering changed my life.

[I think that I might not have posted the photo array and recipe here, as I did on Facebook, so I will below.  Just posting makes me long to hop in the car and get some more buns and meat (I have all the other ingredients).]

The other "vow" I took was to drink more. I do not drink enough and were it up to me, basically all I would consume is Dr Pepper and whole milk.  I have been trying to have just one Dr Pepper a day and have my second caffeine drink (to help with the headaches and migraines) be black tea.  I have also tried to drink at least 16 ounces of water and 12 ounces of Gatorade.  Someone, long, long ago, gave me some Trader Joe's Organic Green Earl Grey tea.  I promptly put it away and gave it nary a thought.  This summer, I "discovered" it and tried it.  Much to my surprise, I find it to be rather tasty.  So, most days I have an over-sized mug of that, too.  [I need to find someone willing to mail me more, since I will soon be out of my stash.]

I suppose a part of me basically resents the nausea.  Here I am doing the "right" things: 1) eating small, multiple meals; 2) drinking at least three times as much as I did; 3) and am having only easily digestible foods as my final meal of the day.  Of course, I also have the extra strong gas medication and activated charcoal every day, sometimes have antacids, and have raised the head of my bed with bricks.  So, if I am being "good," a part of me thinks I shouldn't be facing this wretched, all-consuming nausea.  The world doesn't really work that way, though, does it?  SIGH.

Mostly, I am weary. I am weary of having to swallow (pun intended) yet another bit of wretchedness about dysautonomia.  I mean, I have to get used to low blood pressure and fainting, then the nerves in my head making me ill, then the anxiety, then the deepening of cognitive dysfunction, then my body no longer able to maintain a normal temperature, then the migraines, then the digestive problems, then the uncontrollable hyperglycemia, and now innards misery.  All of which means that sleep is such a rare commodity, one that usually takes place in increments of no more than 3 hours, but usually lasting a mere 90 minutes.

While never all that vain, these days I avoid looking at my mid-section, since it is always swollen to some degree and the skin is now rather mottled, rivaling any sort of "alien" skin Hollywood might produce.  I have to think about every single thing I eat and when I have eaten and in what order thing should be eaten.  I eat and spend hours writhing on the bathroom floor due to nausea, swelling, pain, gas, and finally diarrhea (which often is accompanied by a drop in blood pressure and fainting).  Now, the non-stop nausea.  This just ... stinks.

It is hard, so very hard, at times to muster up anything close to a positive attitude.  What to know what sometimes does it for me?  Amos' snores.  He snores like a 300-lb drunken sailor!  Whenever he gets going, no matter how I am feeling, at least some part of me smiles and savors both the moment and the blessing that white fluff ball is to me each and every day.

I suppose I should note, for the record, that Amos has absolutely no problem consuming any of my left-overs, should the nausea become too much for me to finish my meal ... as long as it is not a banana.  The walking canine garbage disposal detests bananas.  Funny, eh?

Basil Burgers

1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon, black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
Nonstick cooking spray
4 whole wheat hamburger buns, split and toasted
Fresh basil
4 tomato slices

In a medium bowl, combine egg, onion, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, fresh basil, ketchup, salt, pepper, and garlic. Add beef; mix well. Shape beef mixture into four 3/4 inch thick patties.

Lightly coat a heavy skillet with cooking spray (or use a heavy non-stick skillet). Preheat skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add patties. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until temperature registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, turning patties once halfway through cooking. If patties brown too quickly, reduce heat to medium low. Serve patties on buns with basil leaves and tomato slices.

Of course, I omit the tomato slices.  Disliking onions, I tried mincing them, but they made the burgers too moist and they fell apart upon cooking.  This also happened when, due to a lack of Parmesan cheese, I tried using some Asiago I had on hand.  I did try many a way of using a real onion before I resorted to using onion powder.  I suspect my pan, not as good as the seminary bride's, is part of the issue.  But my last batch had three out of four burgers remain in one piece during the removing of them from the pan.  I am nearly there.
I did buy the exact same digital thermometer as she had.  It is from Wal-Mart and was something like $5.  At first I found it weird cooking to a temperature, but doing so makes them perfectly cooked.  

Since the recipe makes four, that means I have left-overs for three days.  My favorite way to eat them is with a thick slab of sharp cheddar cheese and copious amounts of yellow mustard on both sides of the bun. I will also note that while I am NOT a whole wheat bun person, to me they do not taste as good on a plain bun.

For the record, Amos loves basil burgers, too!

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me! 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Feel free to remind me there is no shame...

It's over ... for now.  This innards battle began around 5 a.m. and continued until shortly after 9:00 p.m., the pattern they were before I tried the erythoromycin a second time.  It is one thing to face the pain and nausea and writhing, waiting for the diarrhea that will end it, even though that comes with its own set of miseries, for 4-5 hours, but the battles had stretched to half a day and more.  They finish with this strange blend of fatigue and fragility and shame.

Just now, I reached out to a sister in Christ who told me it is no shame to call upon the Lord, even if that calling is begging Him to take you home.  She is insane.  But is that not what the Word says ... that the ways of God are not the ways of man?  That the world will never understand the Gospel?  Our Confessions teach so: "The whole world with all diligence has struggled to figure out what God is, what He has in mind and does.  Yet the world has never been able to grasp the knowledge and understanding of any of these things (BOC, LC, II, 63).  

One of my favorite bits is, to me, the most wildest and fantastic bits of all those pages of pure doctrine:  "In order to retain His Gospel among people, He openly sets the confession of saints against the kingdom of the devil and, in our weakness, declares His power" [BOC, AP, V (III), 68].  In our weakness????????????????????

People have told me that I have this great faith.  I don't have any faith, but that which I am given.  Surely my bewailings of my misery on Facebook and the fear and trembling I do in the worst hours of my innards battles proves that.  People have also asked me why I do not hate God, why I am not angry at Him.  As an ex-evangelical, what I was taught of sovereignty and Lordship meant that as His vassal, He is free to do or not do anything in my life and what I face is merely what I deserve.  And being His vassal was my choice.  But as a Lutheran, another sister in Christ helped me to understand the real truth:  He chose me!  And He did not do so in order that I might suffer.  This is not the way God made my body, what He intended for me.  My body has been warped and twisted because of sin in this world, just as all of Creation has been warped and twisted.  God loves me; He is not punishing me for a lack of faith.  I am not fighting these battles so that I can somehow learn to "get right with God." For that battle took place on the cross.  That battle is finished!  I am merely laboring under the ravages of sin, which grieves God so much that He sent His only Son to die for me so that the pangs of death I suffer now are not for all of eternity.

I don't choose this. I would NEVER choose this.  But I do know one thing:  I have learned more of the power of the Living Word, more of the truth of the sweet, sweet Gospel, and more of the work of the Holy Spirit than I ever thought possible ... since dysautonomia began ravaging my innards and the migraines began.

When I first read my beloved Book of Concord, just over three years ago, and the door to the prison that is the egregious perfidy of works righteousness committed against Christ and against Christians in mainline evangelical churches, I have struggled mightily to walk through it.  I have struggled mightily to believe that the Gospel for me--which I knew immediately to be true because it resonated so strongly within me and matches so perfectly with the whole Bible (not just passages here and there)--could be true for one like me.  After all, I knew my weaknesses and learned more of my sin than I thought existed in that first reading of the Large Catechism.  But through the minutes and hours and days and months and now nearly two years of the darkest of moments, when I am too weak to do any sort of clinging, when all I have in me is fear and trembling and tears and a longing to be released from it all that fills my entire being, when I have no words even, the Living Word has clung to me.  Because the Gospel is for me!

A text exchange has, in a way, made that freedom mine to grasp:

Me: I just don't know how to get through the hours of pain and nausea and writhing and waiting until the diarrhea will begin, knowing that after that part is done it is over for a while.  I was pretty desperate a few hours ago.  The desire to die is so strong in the worst parts.  So it ends with relief and fatigue and shame.
Her: No shame for calling on the Lord
Me: Even when that calling is begging Him to take me/kill me?
Her: Especially then

Is not the greatest, most marvelous, most wondrous, truly ineffable gift God gave us the Living Word, that the sweet, sweet Gospel being external, being outside of us, outside of all of our doubts and fears and anxieties and ... shame?

In a few hours, the battle will begin again and I will curl in a ball weeping and wailing and begging, at some point, for an end to this all.  But, when it is over, there will be no shame.

Feel free to remind me of that.  Surely I will forget.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Purple and white...

After fainting six times in a single day, last night I could not bring myself to take the third dose of erythromycin solution.  The constant dizziness, the fainting, the high blood sugar, the flushed cheeks, and the rapid heart rate are a poor exchange for only partial relief for the innards misery.  Add in the fainting and the cost is too high.  That's really the problem with being on so many medications with conflicting and troublesome side effects in a body whose autonomic processes no longer function in any reliable or reasonable fashion.  Instead, I took the other half of the theophylline and waited.

Today, I am this strange sort of holding pattern.  Already my heart rate has dropped and the flushing is lessened.  The pain and bloating and diarrhea have not yet started.  But the nausea has come creeping back. Even so, I have not fainted this day.  There is that.

Something else, besides the nausea, has become a new constant in my life.  Years ago, when it first happened, I went to see my primary care physician. She told me what it was and then told me it was probably idiopathic in nature.  Now, I know differently.  I was, after all, already fainting then.  From the many articles I have read, it is tied to autoimmune disease, especially such accompanied by migraines.  Migraines.  Those I have in spades.

All those entries I have struggled to write about, to somehow find the words to describe the cold spells I have. To me, they have all fallen short.  I am not merely cold.  I do not merely have the chills.  While it sounds an exaggeration, it is as if I am falling victim to hypothermia.  A friend who is a nurse explained to me why it is that my skin becomes so icy.  While I did understand what she way saying, I did not grasp it well enough to explain it to others.  What I know is that it is a failure of an autonomic process that has to do with the blood vessels in my skin.

So does this new ... cross.  Raynaud's Syndrome.  The photo is from the Wikipedia article.  My fingers turn white, but my toes turn purple.  Numb and purple.  Disconcerting is such an anemic word for what I feel when I look down at my feet, primarily my right foot.  With great reluctance I go to the tub to start soaking my foot in warm water.  Massaging toes is not all that easy.  It is far more difficult when they begin to warm up, when the blood begins to flow, when they explode with pain.

There is sort of distance that comes over me, staring at my toes.  Waiting.  I know what would happen if I do not warm them up.  Yet I frankly do not want any more misery in my life.  There is so few things that I remember, but I do remember sitting in the doctor's office staring at my then blue thumb and first two fingers as she rather blithely told me about Raynaud's before she had a nurse warm them up. The news was of no consequence to her.  In a way, the moment was as cold as my fingers.  However, since it only happened sporadically  I, too, thought it to be of no consequence.

I have felt the migraines to be the straw that broke the camel's back.  Surely, that straw was actually the on-set of near constant nausea.  Yet I wonder if it is the Raynaud's episodes.  Part of me wants to just lie there, with numb toes, and let them die. At least then I wouldn't have to face it.  Only that is not true.  Raynaud's can affect far more than fingers and toes.  Google images of the syndrome and you will see.  Better yet, do not. It is rather nauseating to see the result of a failure to tend to your toes.

Sunday, I had the privilege of dealing with this thrice, even though I slept most of the day .. under a heavy-weight down comforter ... wearing thick socks.  SIGH.

I have not talked about this with anyone.  I have not bewailed this misery on Facebook.  I want to. I want to not be alone in facing yet another challenge, bearing yet another burden. But I feel as if all that is all I am ... just another tale of misery.

I laugh, though, even as I weep.  Some advice about warming your hands is to stick them in your armpits or even put your fingers in your mouth.  When I read that, I pictured myself hopping about on one foot trying to stick my big toe in my armpit or mouth.  I wondered if Amos could be trained to do so.  Strange the things that flit through my mind.

As I sit on the edge of the tub, working on my toes, Amos stands beside me, paws on the edge and head snaked onto my lap.  Even in this he does not want to leave my side, like when he keeps watch over me as I shower.  Our Creator certainly knew what mercy He was doing when He fashioned puppy dogs.  I believe this to be particularly true with Amos.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

What grief is this...

A hand towel slipped off a hook in the bathroom and fell to the floor.  The unexpected movement startled Amos and terrified him.  He jerked away from the towel, slamming his body into the antique tub, then raced out of the bathroom. I found him shaking a shaking mound beneath the bed coverings.  I wept.  I wept the same way I do each time I bath him, for his scars are easily seen then.

I weep for the puppy he was.  I weep for the effect the pit bull has had upon him.  I weep for his life marked more by fear than anything else.  Am I also weeping for myself?

In order to vote today, I had to drive past the corner.  I avoid it at all costs.  I have learned that the goal in  recovering ... or at least managing PTSD is to be able to remember what happened without reliving it.  I am not there yet.  Not by a mile.  I am, however, more in control of my fear than Amos.  And the terror of that day has not colored every aspect of my life, as it has Amos.  Yet the trauma of the things of my childhood that replayed in my life as an adult do.  We are a pair, Amos and I.

Sometimes I wonder if my Good Shepherd gave me this puppy because I cannot weep for myself, for what was lost then.  I am certainly grieving, though, what has been lost now.  Damn dysautonomia.

The thing about fear is that what we fear can be over chronologically but its presence can remain as if it is still happening.  That which I had to fear is over for me.  Understanding the fear I feel is based on something that is no longer happening, on people no longer able to hurt me, is a difficult battle.  Safety is one of the most foreign concepts in the world to me.  In the world of Madeleine L'Engle, I am waiting to grasp, to live in the Kairos of my life.  That is possible for me. Despite what I oft think and feel, it is possible.  It is possible because it has been possible for others.  And it is possible because with Christ all things are possible. To be honest, though, I wonder if the decline in my mind and body might not make that possibility come to fruition until I find my rest in glory.

Amos is a creature of our Creator.  Thus, I believe it is possible that he, too, one day will find healing.  But I also know that despite being love and encouraged and having shed so much of my startle responses so as to not trigger his, he is no better.  He is, in many ways, worse.

I weep for him.
Perhaps I am weeping for us both.
Yet I rest in the knowledge that God knows and care for us both ... whether we feel it or not.

Feel free to remind me of that last point.  I often forget.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Positive and Light...

Do you ever really think about the people who cross your path?

I have been in bed since Thursday, sort of making a choice between which kind of misery I would like my life to be. I take the Erythromycin solution and the innards misery is muted to a manageable level. But taking the medication means not taking (or at this point cutting in half) the Theophylline. So, remaining upright is a challenge and the near fainting and dizziness is as constant as the growing nausea was. There is also the problem that the Erythromycin clearly affects my heart rate and raises my blood sugar. Right now, my cheeks look like I have been in the sun for hours … cherry red and radiating heat. And it is hard falling back to sleep, after getting up to change the ice pack for my head, with all the sensations I feel … my cheeks, my heart, my innards, my icy skin. At least, since I have been on the medication, I have not had the sensations of a sugar crash. However, because my foe is relentless, high blood sugar, for me, brings on its own nausea. SIGH. 

I think a lot about Emily’s prayer for the physical exam and wonder at how, during the entire disability application process, I encountered people who were kind and patient with me … with my fears and anxiety, with my moaning and groaning as I move about, with my confusion and need for repetition, with my shame. This has NOT been the case for me in the medical and the professional and the church world in the past few years. Not at all. Yes, the paper work was brutal, documenting the things I prefer to not face … certainly not all at once! Having to not only write them but also to speak them was more than I could bear at times. 

I just called my contact at the local SSA office even though I emailed her a short while ago, because I am nervous about not yet receiving the letter and the funds. She is the one whom I met that first day. She is the one who agreed to my oversight plan so I could be the payee for now. She is the one, really, who set the tone for the entire process. By that I mean, she was (and is) gentle and kind and overly patient … and left me with hope. Hope because, to her, I am a person, not a problem, not an illness, not a burden. 

I hung up the phone feeling … well, I am not sure what. I am still learning about feelings. Perhaps a place holder for now could be positive. Or maybe the better word would be lighter, as in the darkness around me is pushed back a bit and more bearable. 

In a way, that is what getting to do the communications work for Lutherans in Africa is for me. Pastor May is so patient and speaks kind words about my work, when I am still not doing what I should. LIA needs a communications plan and a long-term strategy. In between bouts of misery, I can give that to the mission. Only sometimes I give up battling the fatigue and simply exist. I am late with my part of the work. I make stupid mistakes. And when I am feeling particularly miserable, I am terse and fail to censor my words in our editing exchanges. Acerbic is a word that comes to mind. Yet Pastor May remains grateful and only reflects back the good that the Holy Spirit does through me rather than point out my flaws and my failures and my sin. His bride, though I know her not at all, is even more gracious and oft makes me laugh with her gentle humor in her exchanges with me on the Finnish versions. And even the Finnish translator is the same. This morning he thanked me for serving Finnish Christians. I wept when I read his words. What a kind construction he put on my poor efforts! In short, the folk associated with the volunteer work I do for LIA are positive and light. 

I don’t know if anyone else but me will like the next LIA newsletter as much as I do. I still weep just to think about the story that is in it. I also like the craftsmanship of it, even though I could not achieve it on my own and needed help from the director, from Haleigh, and even from the seminary grad student. Still, it is one of those times when, at least in part, I said what I set out to say, when the message is there for the reader to grasp. For a writer, there is nothing better in the world. 

I do not know what anyone else will read in that message, but for me it is a glimpse of what God can do by and with and through misery … and what perspective can be gained when living in a foreign land. Even when that foreign land is your own body.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!