Monday, December 31, 2012

The greeting I desire...

How are you doing?
How are you feeling?
How are you?

Questions that fell me.  I simply do not know how to answer them.  I mean, the answer, every day, has a negative element.  And, from a general standpoint, you are not supposed to answer such a greeting honestly.  You do not tell the stranger, the acquaintance, even the fellow congregation member exactly how you are feeling or doing.  At least you do not if you are chronically ill and struggling mightily.  Most do not really want to know. And those who might oft are ... burdened ... with such knowledge.  SIGH.

So, the questions fell me.  I do not know how to answer.  "I'm fine."  The lie does not come easily to my lips.  "I fainted six times today."  Well, not that one.  "I was in such agony that all I could do is whimper and begging God to call me home."  Not that one either.  "I fell down the stairs and lay in a heap terrified to move lest something was broken."  Better, but not really.  "I burned my meal again."  "I found the back door standing open when I awoke." "I couldn't give my name today when someone asked."  "I am despairing."  "I am struggling with the enormity of my sin and the smallness of my faith."  "I cannot even look myself in the mirror."  None of those are appropriate.

All the answers I have about how I am doing or how I am feeling are not that ... well, fill in the positive adjective there and they are not that.

Even if someone close to me calls and greets me with one of those questions, I am felled.  I stammer and hesitate.  I start feeling embarrassed and ashamed and a failure.  Not even with them do I feel free to speak the truth and not even with them do I wish to speak my misery.  At least not to begin with it.  At least not for it to be who I am, how I am.

In the movie Apollo 13, when the spacecraft was first damaged, in the control room everyone was calling out errors on their screens and things wrong with the craft's remote readings.  It was chaos.  Finally, Director Gene Krantz called out, Can we review our status here, Sy, let's look at these things from a... from a standpoint of status. What have we got on that spacecraft that's good?

I have been thinking about that scene a lot lately, as I think about how greetings fell me.  Oft I have a very physical response.  But even if I manage to keep myself together on the outside, on the inside I am struggling to hold onto the fragments that are left of me.

Perhaps ... perhaps ... if you were to ask, "What is your status today, Myrtle?" or "What have you got on your body that's good today?" I might actually be able to respond without being felled.

Today?  Well, I could bend my torso without agony.  I did not faint.  I actually managed to remember to purchase the design software upgrade so that I can switch platforms (15 minutes before the sales center closed--pricing is changing after today). And I was able to draft some thoughts on budget forecasting, board governance, and strategic planning for someone.  That is what was working.

As for the rest....

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

Sunday, December 30, 2012


On any given day, I have a most favorite bit of the Christian Book of Concord, which means I have many, many most favorite bits.  On any given day, I have a most worst part of neurological disease, which means I have many, many most worst parts.  One is ruining food.

All the lists and instructions in the world do not help if you do not remember to read them.  Likewise, all the alarms in the world do not help if you do not remember to set them.

I burned lunch.  Always ... always ... doing so fells me.  I become very, very frustrated with myself.  I worry about the financial waste.  And I despair over the state of my brain.  SIGH.

Speaking of that, how many times must something occur to begin to wonder if it is a new symptom?

Thrice now I have smelled something that simply was not there.  The first was the smell of burning toast.  [No, the heater was not running at the time. Nor was the seminary grad student cooking.]  The second time I could swear I smelled buttered corn.  I could practically taste it.  However, I was lying in bed in the middle of the night.  This last time I smelled vinegar, so sharp my eyes watered and mouth soured.  I decided to write down the dates and smells for my next doctor visit.

I will also say that the worst part is the nerve problem on my head.  At first, there was just a small area where pressure upon it (even a barrette) would make me grow ill, first a headache, then nausea, then vomiting and weakness.  Now, sadly, even pressure on the side of my head results in those symptoms.  That means, yes, that my glasses now make me ill.  [Isn't that just not fair?]  I have been trying to wear them tucked just at the top of the outside of my ears, but they often fall.  And if they are not set properly, the improper vision correction gives me a headache.  I either need to have some sort of hooks installed at the tops of my ears or have someone design frames that go down the side of my face at an angle and then curve up behind my ears back toward the front of my face.  Sadly, I do not know any inventors.

That means, every day I either have a headache from wearing my glasses or I have one from trying to see without my glasses.  DOUBLE SIGH.

So, I am not having all that good of a day.  I burned my lunch.  My head hurts.  And I am exhausted.  This is from yesterday's headache keeping me awake last night until a new concern cropped up: Amos started vomiting.  I am trying to believe it was from something he found to eat that was not compatible with his tummy.  However, in the back of my mind, is the poisoning on Wednesday.  I watched him breathe for the rest of the "night,"delaying his breakfast several hours.  Once he did eat, everything stayed down.  Thus far....

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

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Blue Bell therapy...

My friend Wynne is a wise woman.  She visited the Blue Bell factory and discerned that I needed a special scoop and bowl for times of Blue Bell therapy.  An Amazon gift certificate netted the raspberry chocolate syrup.  The combination of bowl, syrup, and natural vanilla bean Blue Bell was most tasty to me. The bowl is extra Myrtle-ish.  How so? you ask.  The udder feet have rubber tips so that, in my constant clumsiness, I actually cannot knock over the bowl.  Blue Bell should never be spilt or wasted.  Never.

Somehow, even though I have only been awake for four hours, it feels as if it is long past midnight.  I did have to clear the back sidewalk of snow a second time so Amos could tend to his business.  Perhaps that is why I cannot seem to do anything but yawn and languish in the GREEN chair.  

Or maybe the exhaustion is pre-exhaustion?  I need to go out on Monday.  That means shoveling the front walk, the street fore and aft of the car, and clearing the fresh mound of snow off of my car.  Is pre-exhaustion possible?

I did discover something new or, perhaps, re-discovered something: Amos' curls create mini-snowballs that are worse than burrs.  Amos comes back inside more a popsicle than a puppy.  And neither he nor I am skilled at removing them.  Seriously, I cannot fathom how they are formed nor why it is that even tugging with great might does not remove them.  

They weary me.
Or maybe I weary them?

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

Math I wish I didn't know...

To close out the day, I updated my medical expenses spreadsheet for 2012.  Just out of curiosity, I decided to calculate the cost of medicating a migraine, at least for the next six, since prices of medication fluctuate from even day to day.  The answer: $64.30.  Yes, that is the cost for generic medications.  SIGH.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hermit I am...

Amos had a good chew down on his bone last night, while resting atop my mid-section. I took it as a good sign.  I shall worry until I know there is no long-term damage, but he is eating and drinking and returning to more Amos-like activities.

For example, he was very miffed that I went out twice today.  When I walked the woman with whom I had dinner to the door after she brought me home and carried my left-overs inside, Amos became rather hysterical, thinking I was daring to leave him once more.  We sat on the steps of the main staircase together as we waved good-bye.

When I was a little girl, whenever we would leave from a visit, the person(s) we visited would stand in the driveway waving until we were out of sight.  I miss that.  I like to wave good-bye.  And, when dropping others off, I like to watch them go inside and then wave goodbye.  Of course, I am usually waving to a closed door.

In any case, today, thanks to a Facebook friend, I remembered to pay off the last of two medical bills.  I also did not receive the refill needed on one of my medications.  And I went to Target, where even the pharmacist had a hard time ringing up the sale of my medications.  The latter was actually a bit of a kindness.

Bettina rode in the car with me to drop off my latest batch of donated items (the basement clear out resulted in three boxes--gone are the last of the camping supplies save for the sleeping bag and the matches).  I also let go of other things not really needful, such as several free bags and backpacks from conferences, mesh bags for beach trips, thermal lunch totes, etc.  And she rode with me as I got lost, as usual, trying to get to the bank to deposit a check from Canada.  I find it interesting the process will take about three weeks and has a significant fee.  I mean, it is not like the check was coming from Zimbabwe or some other miscroscopic country half a world away.  I am fairly certain, living here now, that I can get to Canada before I could get back to where I was born in Texas.  Three weeks?  Ten dollars to process it?

Anyway, Bettina had to go before my last stop, before the real goal for the day.  Target.  Prescriptions.  Without insurance.

While watching the latest season of The Voice, I admired a zippered sweater that one of the male judges was wearing. I liked the woven stripes and the fact that it had a mock turtleneck (was not a hoodie).  I went looking for something similar and finally found a used men's sweater on eBay for $20.  I have decided, mostly, that I would like to just wear this sweater whenever I have to go out from now on.  It would be better if I had a brown skirt, but I wore my black skirt and boots.  It hung straight on my frame and allowed for much room in my mid-section.  Were I in pain in that region the sweater would not add to it.  I like it.  A lot.

I wore it because while I have known about the chuck of change being handed over to the pharmaceutical companies, I worry, too much, over how quickly such non-insurance visits will drain my meager retirement.

I wore it because I cannot keep wearing my GREEN or red nail polish because doing so made my nails start breaking down.  I do not mind stubby nails, for I have never had long and pretty ones, but I do mind nails breaking down and off below my finger tips.  SIGH.

Anyway, the younger woman who took my disability application has wanted to spend time together.  So, still in Target having heart palpitations over my bill (I did have a $1.50 coupon for my toilet paper AND I remembered to use it), I asked her if she wanted to go to dinner.  I have sort of ... bailed ... on other dinner/meal invitations.

I do not feel safe with other people.  Not the way that I am.  Not having them see what I cannot hide the way I can with a computer screen between I and another.  For example, someone local from Facebook wanted to visit and came over.  The visit, though nice for having company, was very, very difficult because she started by asking many, many questions about me.  She was only trying to get to know me.  However, I do not know how to answer questions.  And if I have not prepared for such in advance, how I feel about answering questions about how I came here and what is going on with me now, makes the whole exchange even worse.  I finally girded my loins enough to tell her that I was uncomfortable with the questions, but doing so filled me with shame and was an inner battle that colored the rest of the visit.  She had all those embarrassingly open Facebook posts.  And there is certainly too much information here.  Just read.  Don't ask me to speak it aloud unless I am ready.  

We did have a moment of mutual admiration for the awesomeness of the Formula Solid Declaration in the Christian Book of Concord.


Why can I not just be the old me?  This new me makes the old me look like a gregarious extrovert!

However, the person I am speaking about tonight is the woman who plowed through my disability application.  She knows the things I haven't even told my best friend, the things about my mind and body that make me feel so ashamed I have no words.  She knows the report my old boss and my old CEO sent in as documentation of my decline.  She knows the very strongly worded reports the two psychiatrists who did the cognitive assessment and the doctor who did the physical assessment submitted.  She knows.

Still, I didn't really want to be alone today.  For me, it is another beginning ... or ending.  I am not sure which.  It is another milestone marking the radical change that has and is taking place in my body and my mind.  I had to pay that $4,800+ in medications because I have no insurance. And I have no insurance because I cannot work.

The truth is, I like to think ... perhaps to pretend ... that I was still valued added at work.  The entire last year I was not.  My boss was horrible.  Her treatment of me was (and I suppose still is) actionable.  I know how she responded to me was wrong and is her issue, but I wonder if some of her rage was due to the fact that she was paying someone a salary who was not doing all that she wanted the employee to do, all that the employee had been doing.  I know I worked like a dog.  I know I added to the company's bottom line.  But in a non-profit you have to work more than a single person's job.  The truth was I could no longer do the work of event management or the work of sole writer/editor, two of the chief functions of a communications manager. My work had to be checked.  And I could not be counted on to manage tasks because of what I could not remember.  I learned tonight some of their report.  It stung.  Deeply.  But I could not disagree.

The reason I did not/do not feel safe with others is how I react and respond.  I need for things to be thought out and planned out in advance.  For example, I work out how to ask for what I want/need and try to avoid any sort of ... disappointment, so as to avoid any sort of response.

I ordered spinach and artichoke dip, a Myrtle standard choice.  I very specifically asked the waitress if it would come with any tomatoes or other garnish on top.  She said, "Not at all. We don't do that here."  My dish came. It was covered in green onions.  I very much dislike green onions.  I very much more dislike being the bother of the person who sends her food back.  I started shaking and trembling in fear of the server's reaction in asking for another dish. Then shame washed over me for the physical response I was having to my fear and my failure to have avoided the problem though I had tried.  Then I became rather frustrated with myself for feeling shame and fear so that my body would react in such a fashion.  Well, you can take it from there.

The new dish did not come with a side of sour cream. I like to eat the dip with a bit of sour cream.  I was too afraid to ask for it.  I sat there staring at my food until my companion asked what was wrong.  I told her I wanted sour cream and was too afraid to ask, to bother the already rather, perturbed server.  She flagged down someone else to ask for the sour cream.  And she said it was okay.

But I do not know her well enough to know if that was a polite response or a real one.  At this point, I am not even sure I would feel safe going to a restaurant with my best friend.  I wonder what she would think.  Would I be just a third child to her?

Then there is this other thing.  I am not sure why it is getting worse, other than that it is par for the course with MS, but the trouble talking turned difficulty swallowing turned someone coughing while eating has now turned to drooling [Myrtle types drowning with shame].  I have not wanted to go out, to be around anyone for any length of time lest he/she notice.  I don't even know the proper way of dealing with drool that is not from a teething baby.

I want to SCREAM, "I don't want to be a drooling person!"  Only ... I am.  Now.

Of course, with the sadness and loneliness of Christmas, with the concern for my father, with the grief over the losses I bear, this is the perfect time for my doctor to suddenly decide against my taking Xanax.  I found out by her refusal to refill the prescription yesterday.  I take just .5mg.  I told her I did not want to be someone who took more and more anxiety medication, especially given the problems with Xanax, but it is a medication that, at that dose, gives me a tiny bit of balance with no real side effects.  I have just a few pills left, so I took only a half last night.  A half is not enough by far.  How will I be ... who will I be ... with no support for the anxiety that Dysautonomia brings along with all of its other miseries?

I did ask my companion if we could play a game while we ate.  She startled at the request but agreed. Other customers stared at us.  But we did play Skipbo.  I had to teach it to her and then the rat bastard went and beat me in her first game!  The unmitigated gall of her!!  There was this moment ... a few minutes ... when the food was all settled and she was on a run and we were exchanging smack talk that, for me, was the most marvelous bit of normalcy.

I was no longer the person who could not speak for or tend to herself, who could not hide her fear and frustration or hold still her body, hold back her tears.  I was just a woman in an oversized, but beautifully colored sweater losing rather badly at a game, not because of my brain, but because of the luck of the draw.  I with nine of only twelve 10s and she with what she needed to speed through her pile and win.

I do not know if she will want to go out again.  I certainly want to remain a hermit.  I do not want to have an anxious meltdown with her. I do not want to drool with her.  And I do not want to do the other things I have admitted to not a single soul with her.

But I would like a bit more normalcy.

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bleary-eyed and still breathing...

I am rather bleary-eyed.  Amos is still breathing.  I know this because I have been unable to stop checking to make sure he was actually still breathing ... unless he is moving or snoring.

The vet said today that the activated charcoal probably protected him from the large overdose of Celebrex since he has had no vomiting or diarrhea.   I guessed last night at a safe dosage and gave him half a Tums.  She told me that if I could get to a store, to buy Pepcid instead, but to keep supporting his stomach for a week.  If he has no other symptoms, I can wait until his regular check-up in May.  But if I am worried, in two-four weeks, I could have kidney and liver function blood tests run for a rather non-economical fee.  The worry wart here would much rather run the tests, but I am not sure that is the best stewardship of my meager and dwindling retirement funds.

Funny that ... the activated charcoal.  If I did not have the misery of dysautonomia wreaking havoc with my digestive processes, I would not have had activated charcoal in the house.  In many and various ways I have come to think rather differently about blessings.  I know there is the adage: every cloud has a silver lining.  But that is just a popular proverb or something. It is not the Word of God.

However, the Word of God tells me that every good and perfect gift come from our Father in Heaven.  It was good that I had the activated charcoal.  It was also perfect timing that I had just ordered another bottle of it.  It is good that my Creator fashioned a puppy who has now four times (once with the pit bull attack and thrice with consuming dangerous things) exhibited an extraordinarily resilient intestinal fortitude (pun intended).

I will admit now, at this point, that the reason Amos is currently VERY fluffy is not merely because I was searching for a specious excuse for what I know will surely be a weight gain, but rather because when I apply the scissors to his person, I end up seeing the scars remaining on his body, and they distress me so.

He is not over the pit bull attack.  He probably never will be.
I am not over the pit bull attack.  I oft wonder if I ever will be.

While this might seem like a wild reach in transition, those scars and my reluctance to see them makes me wonder if reluctance is at the heart of why--it seems to me--the Church in America seems oblivious to the violent assault against Christianity that is underway.

Until I became a Lutheran, I would have had no idea that this is the third day of Christmas.  For me, it would have been over.  Just as I learned about Advent, learned to savor four weeks of contemplating (and celebrating) how it is that Christ came/comes/will come again to us, I am now learning to savor twelve days of contemplating (and celebrating) the wonder of Christ's birth, of His humanity, of His willingness to walk in our fallen world.

In the Large Catechism, Luther writes that Baptism is, in short, so full of consolation and grace that heaven and earth cannot understand it.  But it requires skill to believe this, for the treasure is not lacking, but this is lacking:  people who grapsh it and hold it firmly.  Therefore, every Christian has enough in Baptism to earn and to do all his life. (39-41)

I wonder, if asked, Luther would say the same about the humanity of Christ.  His human nature is the focus of large chunks of text in the Christian Book of Concord.  Some of it I wonder why writing such was necessary.  I wonder why people had to refute in very clear, detailed arguments the belief that His humanity was not as important as His divinity, especially with regard to justification.  I mean, to me, it is quite clear:  the Law was for man/human, so for it to be fulfilled, a man had to fulfill it.  A God-Man is the only one who could do so without failure, every jot and tittle of the Law obeyed in both letter and spirit.

But, as I contemplate the impact living in a fallen world has on my own body, I marvel anew that God would even deign, even for a moment, to live in human form in a fallen world.

Today, to be blunt, I found myself screaming, fainting, and then screaming again just to have a bowel movement. Not because of its consistency, but because of the nerves it was moving past, how they were responding in that particular moment.  Needless to say, I have been struggling in spirit ever since. The pain eventually faded, but I ask myself oft of late, Who would want this existence?

The answer is Jesus.  He wanted it.  Whatever suffering He had in his body for 33 years surely paled in comparison to the suffering He endured at the end of His life in this fallen world.  But it would be wrong, I believe, to think that the passion was His only suffering--the passion and His 40 days of temptation.  Knowing how sin has distorted and ravaged all of creation, Jesus still wanted human life for us, for me.

So, I think about Amos' scars and how it pains me too much to look at them and I think about the fact that Jesus was born and it is His birth not family or gifts or any other reason that Christmas is celebrated.  If you really are celebrating the enormity of His birth, I am not sure twelve days is long enough!

I think about Amos' scars and Jesus' birth and I think about this article that really joined those thoughts in my mind.  It is an OpEd piece entitled Beyond the War on Christmas.  It is no mistake, to be sure, that we are the Church militant.  I do not believe it is an exaggeration to even mention a war on Christmas.  Christmas.  My goodness, setting out a nativity display has become an egregious perfidy committed against society and the government!  SIGH.

In the article, the author points out how what we are really facing is a war on Christianity, using examples of different groups who systematically attack Christianity from various angles.  To me, this is not news, but it seems to me that we, the Church in America, do not really seem to be looking at that, facing it.  We focus on singular issues--such as abortion or same sex marriage--but do not actually see the larger picture.

The author concludes:

Perhaps these groups should read the section of the First Amendment concerning religion more closely. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The position of secularists appears to be that any religious symbol displayed or language spoken somehow constitutes an “establishment of religion.” The mere public mention of religion is apparently capable of scorching the sensitive ears of those who deny his existence.

But such a position certainly inhibits the free exercise of faith – assuming, of course, that faith is something more than an archaic ritual to be practiced every weekend and shelved on all other occasions. (Not that the words of the Constitution matter to the secular left.) But if any public mention of God is forbidden, documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address should be purged from the public record as well.

I cannot see how a nativity display is establishing a religion.  Really, I am fairly sure Christianity was established the same day the earth was created.  If you wish to quibble with that, then surely Christianity was established the day of Christ' birth, some two thousand years ago.  It was absolutely acknowledged as being established since many of those who came to America were fleeing religious persecution, including persecution for Christian denominational differences.

Now, over two hundred years later, we have come full circle.  Only the persecution is not being prevented by the government but but rather promulgated by it, with the legislative and executive branches of our government preventing Christians from exercising their faith.

Only, to me, it also seems that these little cease fires happen each time a "national" tragedy occurs.  For then it is perfectly acceptable for even the President, himself, to call upon America to pray and to proclaim that he and the nation will be praying for the survivors and the families and friends and neighbors of the victims.  How, seriously, is that okay but a moment of silence at a high school football game or at the beginning of a school day so utterly wrong?

The article was thought-provoking for me.  It reminded me strongly how, in Africa, the assault on the Church was so visible, and yet, until the past decade or so, that same assault was hidden, for the most part, here in America.

It is no more.  The War against Christianity is everywhere you look ... if you dare to do so.  

That it is the case grieves me as does seeing the scars on Amos' body.  His scars remind me of a brutal assault, but they remind me that he is forever changed.  The America in which I first joined the Church 34 years ago is not the same, is forever changed.  The freedom I enjoyed to openly read the bible and pray publicly and even wear t-shirts unassailed and without condemnation is gone.  The acceptability of my choice to do so is gone.  The respect of/for the Christian faith is gone.  That ... that staggers me.

I am not one of those who disregards the actual beliefs of our founding fathers and declares that America has always been a Christian nation.  It was not.  It has not been.  But it was founded as a nation where the government would protect freedom of religion.
The author believes, and I most certainly agree, that Christianity is now exempted from that protection.  Surely the war is only going to grow more violent and more bitter, with greater and greater suffering and loss.

I appreciated the article, but I also do not wish to face this change, face the war.  The very thought wearies me.  I know ... KNOW ... that suffering can and does become a blessing for those who are Christ's.  When the Living Word and the Sacraments become your lifeline, your refuge, and even your sanity, you begin to understand that blessing and can, in a strange way, rejoice in it.  

Of course, in the throes of misery and even its aftermath, that blessing can become blurred by the experience.  Screaming, earlier, I was not even for a moment thinking of the blessings I have received, most particularly the clarity and the comfort of the sweet, sweet Gospel.  I was very, very insensible and focused only on the pain. It began with a whimper and ended with a whimper and was filled with inarticulate cries to God for ... well ... not for any one thing.  I just cry out.

When it was finally  over.  I returned to my day, to my life, and worked very hard to look away.

I suppose I wonder if all the hard work on issues such as abortion and same sex marriage--not unimportant things themselves--is the body of Christ in America's way of not looking at the reminders that it is Jesus who is being killed, who is being destroyed.  His life, His marriage to His bride.  In America.

I am, for the first time, not dreading that there are actually 12 days of Christmas.  For, as I wrote, I have learned that it is okay to have feelings other than being jolly or happy leading up to or during Christmas. I have learned that being merry at Christmas is actually about being merry about Christ's birth ... and all else that followed(s) ... for me.  

Even as I think about the war on Christianity, and find myself fretting, I also find myself turning to another bit of comfort from Pastor Brown's blog, The Church's Job:

It's interesting, because I will hear over and over people talking about different things that the "Church" needs to do. It needs become a moral force in society, it needs to feed the poor, it needs to do X, Y, and Z. And then of course, there are the Church bureaucrats who will come in and make up new rules for how the Church can make all these things happen.

The Church has one job. It is to listen. It is to listen to the voice of Christ Jesus, her Husband.

The problem is too often the folks in the Church are not content to let the Church simply listen. Instead of just living out their own vocations, they want to make their own vocation the roll or duty of "The Church". They want to use the Church as a tool - perhaps to enforce their own ideals of right or wrong, creating rules for others to live by and saying, "Ah, but the Church says." Misses the point -- what does Christ say? Some want the Church imprimatur for their own works of love and mercy -- but again, why is that needs? Why do you think the rest of the body must do the work of the hand, or the foot - be whom Christ has made you to be and walk in the works He has prepared for you.

The Church's focus is to be this - to hear the life giving Word of Christ. To receive His gifts. To delight in the fact that He has washed her.

Now, do individual Christians from within the Church have things to do? Of course, we are in the world, and thus we are given to love our neighbors. But again - that's you, that's me, that's our own thing. I am not the Church -- and it's folly when I try to act as though I am.

The comfort from this for me is two-fold: 1) I am not weird or wrong in my deep and abiding longing to hear the Living Word, and 2) No matter the state of war, the Church, as husbanded by the Holy Spirit, will not cease to fulfill its job.  No government can prevent or prohibit the work of the Living Word.

Just as the Church has been established from creation, the Church militant has survived since the fall.  When all else falls away, it will remain. All praise and glory be to our triune God.

But it is okay to grieve and to be frightened of the consequences of living not merely in a fallen world, but also being a Christian caught in the middle of a war where hostilities are clearly escalating.

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Will he die...

The other day I heated up some less-than-economical preservative free stew.  The container was two servings.  I put them in two dishes.  After eating one helping, I put the cover onto the empty dish and placed it in the refrigerator.  The full dish went into the sink with all the other dirty dishes.  I discovered my mistake only after I started in on the sink full of dirty dishes and noticed bits of stew floating around.

Two lessons I have failed to teach Amos: 1) to stop vigorously defending his territory when anything crosses in front of our house (I actually prefer the notification but believe rather strongly about 5 seconds is long enough.  Amos disagrees.); and 2) to "drop" or "give" his baby when playing fetch.  I have, quite successfully, taught Amos to take his monthly heart worm and flea prevention pill without question.

Amos has been exceedingly accommodating to my ever-changing sleeping and comforting-in-my-misery needs.  In return, no matter how much I am struggling, I try to feed Amos between 5 and 6 in the morning.  And I have also moved a second bowl of water into the bedroom.  When I get up to fetch ice packs or Ginger ale or medication and Amos waits on me, I will often bring him back 2 or 3 peanuts as a reward.  He has learned that when I turn off the white noise sound machines, my Sleep Mate, it is time actually get out of bed.

Yesterday was a rough innards day.  Last night was a rough innards night.  This early morning was still a rough innards time.

Just as I have worked hard to keep Amos' meals on a schedule, I have worked to keep my own medication on a schedule.  I am far, far better at the former than the latter.  But my morning medication is my most consistent dose.

This morning, I fetched new ice packs, three peanuts, and my three morning medications: baby aspirin, Loestrin, and 200mg of Celebrex.  As I always do, I put the peanuts on the bed before Amos and reached for my water to take my pills.  Only what I had left in my hand were the peanuts.  Amos, being an obedient puppy, had eaten the pills I placed before him.

I cannot imagine getting through the days I face without that fluffy, white, affectionate shadow.  I cannot.

Hysterical, I Googled.  The treatment it seems would be to give him three tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting.  I just couldn't bring myself to do that or imagine how I even could get him to consume it.  I was hysterical because there would be no scooping up my beloved puppy and racing him to a veterinarian.  Some time between his 6:00 AM feeding and my 12:00 PM stumbling to get my own medication, the clouds dumped copious amounts of snow here.

I found several places where it was recommended to give him activated charcoal and then Pepcid for a few days.  I gave him first one and then another of my activated charcoal capsules.  The second one was because I was so worried about his 22.5 lb body (that I suspect is actually a tad bit heavier) having such a large dose of Celebrex.  I do not have Pecid here, but I do have Tums.  Apparently, breeders give dogs Tums for the calcium.

Weeping, I curled my body around Amos until I calmed down enough to call Bettina and ask her to pray for my puppy.  Mostly, I am so terrified now, I have no tears.  Will he die?

I do not know how long it will be until I know if his kidneys and/or liver will fail.  I do not know how long it will be until I know if his stomach was damaged and he is bleeding from an ulcer.  I do not know how long it will be until I know if he is going to die.

Will he die?

I make so very many mistakes.  Despite the signs, I leave the oven and stove on, the refrigerator and freezer doors open, and the front and back doors unlocked (the latter oft standing wide open when I come down in the early morning).  I forget so much, the blankness in my mind greater than the clarity of even the recent past.  I thought I had taken my medication.  I thought I was handing him a reward.

Did I hand him his death?

I fainted six times trying to shovel the walk.  The car and street around it are still buried.  I am so weak and tremulous that I can barely move.  All I can do is wait.

And pray.

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The power of hearing "It's okay"...

I've written before that a Gospel word for me is hearing "It's okay ____." Another such Word came to me.  A pastor I so greatly admire for being so very pastoral wrote the following on his blog:

Have a Sad and Lonely Christmas

The beauty of Christian freedom is that your reactions, your emotional response to a time or season doesn't have to be the same as everyone else's. This is something that we can forget, especially as we start to think that our job as the Church is to make people happy.

Christmastime (known in the Church as "Advent" - but let's face it, it's Christmas Holiday Time to everyone else) is one of those times of the year where there is a big push to be cheery, happy, joyous. Again, that's a good thing - go have a holly, jolly Christmas!

But you know what? For some -- eh, it's not so holly-jolly this year. Maybe someone's gone. Maybe some family is coming back. Maybe it's sad and lonely. And no, I'm not just talking about Connecticut - I'm talking about for your friends, your neighbors.

One of my favorite songs is called "Another Lonely Christmas" by Prince. It's a wonderfully sad love song... and a fine reminder that there are reasons why the canned, packaged emotions that are being sold this time of year... well... they aren't the only emotions in play.

If life has turned that way - let people taste the bittersweet, and don't try to pretend it away. Rather, give comfort... because sometimes the deep joy (not happiness... joy is not happiness - joy is knowing security and love even in the face of the junk of this life) stands out mainly in contrast to the sorrows of this life. There are times we don't want a sappy sweet bouncy Christmas... we want to see Jesus stepping into this world of sorrow, even the very real sorrows we have. We want to see the first coming of Christ and remember the second coming when we will be delivered from these sorrows.

And that is good too.

Although written last Wednesday, I only just discovered this Gospel message for me on Saturday.  If I have read it once,  I have read it a dozen times.  And I have shared with with several others for whom I knew it would be sweet, sweet Gospel as well.

I wrote to Pastor Eric Brown to thank him. His reply was just as sweet ... the honey of Christ on my tongue: Take care and be well my friend - and have a Merry Christmas... merry not because of worldly hoopla, but merry because Christ Jesus has come and you are forgiven, redeemed, and an heir of eternal life in His name!

Laugh at me, if need be.  It's okay.  But the sweetness is that in reading his reply, I suddenly realized that I could have a sad and lonely Christmas and yet still also have a Merry Christmas!  Yes, I really did need those dots connected!

Perhaps another way to put it is that the blog entry and the reply are two sides of the same coin, a joyous, merciful gift from my Savior, who gives His own riches beyond measure.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Fair" is not a word for this world...

No matter how much we might like to cry "foul" or claim that something was/is not "fair," the truth we like to forget is that "fair" is simply not a word for this world.  We live in a fallen world ravaged by sin and daily assaulted by our foe, the world, and even our own flesh.  Nothing in this life is "fair."

For that matter, nothing in faith is "fair."

I have been thinking a lot about John the Baptist.  I am learning ... slowly ... if someone mentions something from the Bible with which I am not familiar (increasingly this is most often the case) to interrupt the person and admit I need the back story.  For example, when my pastor told me about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I admitted to him I did not know, or rather remember, who they were.  That admission of ignorance resulted in blessing.  I have continued to savor their response to King Nebuchadnezzar that even if their God did not save them from the fire, they still would not bow down to him or deny their faith.  Certainly being burned to a crisp for faith would not exactly be a fair reward.  But what has remained with me is the even if part.

When people talk to me about God healing me, it is not as if I believe such a thing is not possible, but it is not my hope.  I do not believe the probable outcome of my life is healing. To me, hoping for that would merely become another battle.  My hope is not for healing.  My hope is for grace ... especially grace to be confident in my even if confession of faith and in enduring the ravaging of my body and mind.

But I admit that I do think about what is fair, for the first and chief and lingering thought in my mind is to SCREAM, "It is not fair that I have lost almost all of the bible verses, whole chapters even, that I had memorized.  It is not fair that I no longer can remember the order of the books in the bible and struggle to find things in there.  It is not fair that I struggle to remember even a few of the most basic/common of bible 'stories.'  And it absolutely is NOT fair that I am losing the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed!!"  I learned the latter before I was even a Christian.  It has been with me longer than almost anything else in my life.

But, again, "fair" is surely not a word for this world or for faith.

Yet we cry foul so often.  The question of fairness rises to our lips in illness and death, in robbery and violence.  Even with the most recent evidence of how fallen our world really is played out in death and injury among 6 and 7-year-olds.  In our heart of hearts, I do not doubt many protest the fairness of the children's deaths far more than the adults'.

A few months ago, my pastor came to bring me the Lord's Supper and he said something about John.  I asked him if he meant John the Baptist.  I was asking in all seriousness, but a beheaded man could not possibly have written a Gospel of Jesus.  SIGH.  Anyway, ever since that Gospel lesson (which I have not a single memory of save for learning anew that the author of John was not, in fact, a beheaded man), I have been thinking about John the Baptist.

When the thief on the cross was dying, he had the ineffable comfort of Jesus Christ promising him that at the end of his suffering he would be with Him in paradise.  The Living Word spoken from the Living Word and spoken for him!  That is pretty amazing, especially given the life choices that man must have made to have ended up nailed to a cross.

Yet look at the life choices of John the Baptist.  He was faithful.  He forsook worldly wealth or prestige.  He ministered to his neighbors.  He proclaimed the Gospel.  He baptized folk.  In fact, He baptized Jesus Himself!  And what did he gain from those life choices?  His head chopped off.  And no Living Word with him speaking to him in the agony of his death.

Now, just how fair is that?

It is not about our life choices.  It is not about the things we do or do not do for others.  It is not about our faith, even.  In the end, it is solely about the fact that we live in a fallen world and there is certainly nothing fair about that.

It is just.  We reap the just rewards for our sin.  The old Adam in us daily struggles with the consequence of the choice of mankind to turn away from God.  So, all the illness and death, the violence, theft, and greed, are exactly what we deserve.

Yet the new Adam in us, though burdened for a time to wade through the muck and mire of this world, reaps the just reward for Christ's life choices, for His works, for His faith.  We reap healing and life eternal, safety, riches, and peace.

From the world's perspective, one could argue that John the Baptist got a raw deal.  I wonder, what he thought and felt whilst sitting in his jail cell.  I wonder what he thought and felt whilst being led to his execution.  I wonder what he thought and felt just before the axe or sword came swinging at him.  I am certain that in faith his confession remained even if.  But I wonder about his flesh.  Did his legs falter?  Did his stomach fail?  Did he weep?  Did fear wash over him?  Was ever his soul in despair within him?

It seems to me that what I have been fed all my life about the folk in the bible is not merely the "hero" side of them, but the new Adam in them.  The Saints!  The Saints!  Oh, remember the Saints!  But even whilst they were being saintly, they still were struggling with sin.  The Psalter alone tells us this.

As the deer pants for the water brooks, 
So my soul pants for Thee, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; 
When shall I come and appear before God? 
My tears have been my food day and night, 
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 
These things I remember, and I pour out my soul within me. 
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, 
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. 

Why are you in despair, O my soul? 
And why have you become disturbed within me? 
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him 
For the help of His presence. 
O my God, my soul is in despair within me, 
Therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan, 
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. 
Deep calls to deep at he sound of Thy waterfalls; 
All Thy breakers and Thy waves have rolled over me. 
The Lord will command His lovingkindess in the day time; 
And His song will be with me in the night, 
A prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God my rock, “Why hast Thou forgotten me? 
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, 
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 
And why have you become disturbed within me? 
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, 
The help of my countenance, and my God. 

     ~Psalm 42 
     (NASB 1977)

I so much want to be the Saint more than I am the sinner.  Even though I am equally both, all I really see is the latter.  In the midst of innards or migraine misery, when sight and sound or even moving makes me worse, the old Adam in me rears his head and starts speaking of fairness or reminds me what a horrible sinner I am and so am deserving of my state.  

All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the less of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it. ~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

It is as if I am, my self is, the whale.

Pain, nausea, dizziness, weakness, sensitivity to light and sound, chills, confusion, blankness, and the rest magnify my ability to see only the old Adam in me.  So, again, I need the Words, the knowledge, of who I am in Christ to remain, somehow, accessible when all sense is lost and fetching a text is not an option.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Having a clear out...

I am cold.  Very cold.  No matter how many times I try to explain how this feels, I do not believe I have adequately conveyed the experience.  However, I did remember to check what my temperature is at the moment: 96.2.  My skin is quite icy, too.

The grief over the memory loss is still weighing heavily upon me.  I have already had two people tell me to just write the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed down.  I could do so on index cards and have them in key spots in the house.  Practical advice when I am despairing is honestly the LAST thing I need.  But, more importantly, when I am writhing in great pain and misery, reading is the last thing I can do.  When I am near insensible with misery, I need things in my mind outside of my suffering.  Things that are more accurate about who I am and where my hope lies than my own mind is likely to conclude.

So, of course, I did the only thing I could do.  I had a clear out last night.

A while ago, I watched the British television series As Time Goes By, starring Geoffry Palmer and Judi Dench.  Gosh, when I got to the fifth season (I think it was) there were a few episodes where I literally was laughing so hard I had to turn it off lest my asthma attack started by the laughter become unmanageable with my home nebulizer.  Just typing this makes me want to stick in the first DVD and watch them all over again.

Anyway, whilst watching them, I learned what it was I was doing when I go through closets and drawers and such to repurpose, recycle, donate, trash, and otherwise reduce my stuff.  I am "having a clear out."

I have a tiny pile after going through the first and second floors: a measuring tape, two small flashlights (conference give aways), a old Sony digital recorder, an old bluetooth headset (working), a linen and lace Kleenex box cover, a pen with a USB flash drive in the cap, three books, and two old pair of glasses.  With the seminary grad home for Christmas, I plan to re-assess the basement, too.

Is it about control, because I have none about what is happening to my body and my mind?  Perhaps.  I would not argue that.  However, doing so is quietening me.  It stills me, soothes me.  Doing so provides a focus outside of me with a positive, visible end result.  But there is more.

I think, often, about when I die.  When that time comes, I do now wish for my trustee, my best friend, to have to plow through bunches and bunches of "stuff."  If I do not need it or really savor it (like my antique camera collection), then slowly, bit by bit I have reduced the things in my house, in my life.  Drawers, closets, storage areas.  I keep the practical and what might be used.  I keep the enjoyable-to-me.  I keep the needful.  The rest is going ... or gone.

My kitchen is practically bare-boned when it comes to cooking, because so much of what I had I was not using.  Cooking is too difficult.  It is oft fraught with failure.  So, I have three pots (small, medium, and large) and two pans (medium and large).  I have some cooking pans and two oven stoneware trays.  Some utensils, but even those I cut by 2/3.  All the kitchen things I didn't need went to a non-profit that outfits homeless families who are returning to a permanent shelter.

That was a good move.  Less can be more.  But the less is split between wondering if others can use the stuff  and worrying about Bettina having to pack up and get rid of all that is in my home when I die (or all that is with me wherever I am).  I do not wish to burden her any more than she already will be.

I had a clear out for me.
I had a clear out for her.
I had a clear out.

I still cannot find the words in my head.  Oh, how I need that Word.  Oh, how I need them to clear out the things from my heart and my mind that are long overdue in needing a clear out.

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."
What comes next?

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.  On earth as it is in heaven."
What comes next?

Would that it were the lies were lost and the truth remain....

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Scattered pieces...

Dell computer that was supposed to be repaired in about three weeks came back immediately.  Still not working.  I called Dell.  Went a few rounds and then started weeping and struggling.  Since I was unprofessional, the tech support call was ended.  I tried to call back, but my phone number now slates me to customer care, not technical support.  I was on hold for an hour and gave up.

I broke down.
I am still broken.

Not really for the computer, though I did want it repaired so I could sell it.  I couldn't remember the Creed or the Lord's Prayer again this morning, when the nausea/pain/dizziness struck.  I could not move to fetch a hymnal.  I could not do anything but weep and weep and weep.  And faint because I was moving too much.

I want to remember the Creed at least.  I have lost so much.  I know I make little sense at times.  I know I can be so childlike in both responses and thinking.  I just don't want to lose the Creed. I just don't want to have to compensate in yet another way.

I don't want to be me.
I don't want to be such a problem.
I don't want to be that person ... that mess.

Just this ... why cannot I keep just this?  What comes after the second line?  What comes after "earth"?

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, December 21, 2012

What comes next...

During a particularly bad spell this morning, I tried to pray the Lord's Prayer.  Only, part way through, I realized that I did not remember what came next.  In the moment, I was surprised and afraid.  I then tried to pray the Apostle's Creed.  I could not get past the second line.  What comes next?

The blankness in my mind when I try to remember is utterly terrifying.  It is a nothingness that is so complete and so disconcerting.  I become lost in the moment, in the struggle to remember that results in more nothingness.

I tried and tried to remember.  I started at the beginning again and again.  Bits and pieces of other things slipped into place behind my start, but none of them fit.  A Psalter line here and a bit of liturgy there.  Try as I might, I could not pray either.

Tears streaming down my face, I ended up sputtering out the Kyrie Eleison over and over.

I admit, today, I dared not try to pray either.  I didn't want to know if I could remember or not, if the loss was fleeting or not.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Come. Just come...

Reason #431 Why I LOVE the Christian Book of Concord:

I often become paralyzed from either fear or shame, the former being what I expect when that which causes the latter is revealed.  It would be easy to blame my ill health on the delay, and such is a small part of the reason, but I was terribly behind on a project for Lutherans in Africa because of fear and shame, more so than because I have struggled so much with the physical decline of my body.

I planned in advance and set up a schedule for my work.  Then I missed my own start date, felled by struggles in both body and mind.  Then a day passed and another, until before I knew it the date for sending my portion of the project came and passed.  Then the late days started piling up.  In my shame and fear, I did not even start. I wanted to do. I talked about doing so. I set goals for doing so.  But all that I could think about is that I had failed others.  Days turned into weeks that turned into more than a month.  Last night (with much technical assistance in navigating the strangeness of Macs), I started and completed my part of the initial work.  And then, weeping with shame and shaking rather violently with fear, I emailed the info to the two people who take the next steps, fully confessing the whys and wherefores behind my delay and asking for forgiveness.

Today, I received forgiveness from both and we are moving forward.

I do not like how my brain has changed, both from disease and from the ravages of sins committed against me.  In many and various ways, I respond and think like a child--something that is extremely disconcerting for a woman of 45.  While I am learning *why* this is so from a mental standpoint that I might combat it and change, the physical ravaging continues.  So, it is as if I am racing from two ends against the middle.  I am not confident, in all sincerity, that I will learn to be brave and bold and to unlearn the wrong things I learned as a chile before the declining condition of my cognitive faculties and the ever increasing (damned) anxiety from the disease takes over my brain in full.

But, in a way, this is yet another reason why I love the Christian Book of Concord.  In Part V of the Large Catechism, Luther writes about this very state; he writes about become paralyzed by sin and shame when it comes to approaching the Lord's Supper.

"Then nature and reason begin to add up our unworthiness in comparison with the great and precious good.  Then our good looks like a dark lantern in contrast with the bright sun, or like filth in comparison with precious stones.  Because nature and reason see this, they refuse to approach and wait until they are prepared.  They wait so long that one week trails into another, and half the year into the other.  If you consider how good and pure you are and labor to have no hesitations, you would never approach." (56-57)

Just as my project partners did, Luther gives no word of condemnation for such a state.  He does not berate the hesitation, does not judge those paralyzed in fear and shame and failure, telling them they should stop feeling that way or to buck up.  Instead, he merely points out that such a state is *normal* for the human condition:

"But whoever would gladly receive grace and comfort should drive himself and allow no one to frighten him away [from the Lord's Supper]. Say, "I, indeed, would like to be worthy. But I come, not upon any worthiness, but upon Your Word, because You have commanded it. I come as one who would gladly be Your disciple, no matter what becomes of my worthiness." This is difficult. We always have this obstacles and hindrance to encounter: we look more upon ourselves than upon Christ's Word and lips. For human nature desires to action in such a way that it can stand and rest firmly on itself. Otherwise, it refuses to approach [the altar for the Lord's Supper]." (62-63)

He is telling the anguished soul, "It is okay to be and feel this way.  I understand and offer no judgment.  Your triune God understands and offers no judgment.  Come.  Just come."

Thus, to me, Part V is a love letter from Christ to the struggling soul, wooing her to the very thing that she needs: the forgiveness, the healing, and the sustenance given in His body and blood.

"Such people must learn that it is the highest art to know that our Sacrament does not depend on our worthiness. We are not baptized because we are worthy and holy. Nor do we go to Confession because we are pure and without sin. On the contrary, we go because we are poor, miserable people. We go exactly because we are unworthy." (65)

"For Christ Himself says, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." ...He means those who are weary and heavy-laden with their sins, with the fear of death, temptations of the flesh, and of the devil. If, therefore, you are heavy laden and feel your weakness, then go joyfully to this Sacrament [Lord's Supper] and receive refreshment, comfort, and strength." (71-73)

"On this account it is indeed called a food of souls, which nourishes and strengthens the new man.  For by Baptism we are first born anew.  But, as we have said before, there still remains the old vicious nature of flesh and blood in mankind.  There are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and of the world that we often become weary and faint, and sometimes we also stumble.

"Therefore, the Sacrament is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so that it will not fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. The new life must be guided so that it continually increases and progresses.  But it must suffer much opposition.  For the devil is such a furious enemy.  When he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and that he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides.  He tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient.  Now to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment." (24-27)

"Here [the Lord's Supper] He offers to us the entire treasure that He has brought for us from heaven. With the greatest kindness He invites us to receive it also in other places, like when He says in St. Matthew 11:38, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It is surely a sin and a shame that He so cordially and faithfully summons and encourages us to receive our highest and greatest good, yet we act so distantly toward it. We permit so long a time to pass without partaking of the Sacrament that we grow quiet cold and hardened, so that we have no longing or love for it. We must never think of the Sacrament as something harmful from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort. It will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body is also relieved." (66-68)

"With God's grace, you may feel your misery more and become hungrier for the Sacrament, especially since the devil doubles his force against you. He lies in wait for you without resting so that he can seize and destroy you, soul and body. You are not safe from him for one hour. How soon he can have you brought suddenly into misery and distress when you least expect it!" (84)

Thus says our Savior:  Come.  Just come.  Come in fear.  Come in trembling.  Come in shame.  Come in guilt.  Come.  You are welcome.  Come and receive that which will ease your anguish and bolster you against the next onslaught of our foe--the onslaught of the devil, the world, and our very flesh--when you are welcome to come again.  Even if you find yourself back in anguish, shame, fear, guilt.  Come.  Just come.  For these very reasons are why I, who love you so, gave this gift *for you*!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Collective actually exists...

A certain person I know staunchly believes that Star Trek Voyager is the worst Star Trek series ever. Setting aside the fact that he is utterly, absolutely, and completely WRONG, I was thinking about Voyager tonight in Evening Prayer. Mostly, this was because something happened with the mike and my hearing does not function all that well with certain tones or pitches or whatever (I *hear* clearest with the bass all the way down and the treble turned up). So, I had this period of time to think while all this non-sensible humming was filling my ears.

In Voyager, the idea of why someone would actually want to be a Borg, why someone would want to be a part of the Collective, came up in several ways. Of course, in Voyager, Seven of Nine learns how precious individuality can be. While I know that I will never be a Borg and that there are no Borg, I was thinking, while lying in that pew down front (because Sandra is a down-front kind of person ... who does that???), I realized tonight that when the Creed and the Lord's Prayer come around in the Liturgy, the voices around me sound just like that of the Collective ... one single voice arising from a multitude of voices. And I realized that what I hunger for is exactly the loss of which that brought such sorrow to Seven: The unity of thought.

Seven found perfection in that unity and yearned to experience it just once more. Many of the choices she made were driven by that yearning even though she found herself clinging to her individuality.

To me, there is perfection in the unity of the Confession of the pure doctrine because it is solely about Christ crucified. My heart sings each and every time I read "we believe, teach, and confess..." in the pages of that collection of texts. Every fiber of my being resonates with the teaching that weaves to and from the cross, that fits so perfectly with God's Word, that has no part of the things of man confused with the things of God.

In church tonight, my heart sang as I was one with the collective around me praying the Lord's Prayer, as it does when I can sing the liturgy, as it does with the Creed. My inner Borg is why this introverted wall-flower hermit yearns so deeply to not be alone in her confession, to be surrounded by voices, neither male or female, neither young nor old, of no single race or station or any other distinction speaking that which is most certainly true.

Such is the perfection that can be found in this fallen world. Unity is possible. It does exist.

For the fourth time this week, I shall cite again what awes me, because little did I know that the Borg existed in the 1500s:

Our opponents have shameless mouths that have shouted allegations throughout the whole world against our churches and teachers. They claimed that you cannot find two preachers who agree about each and every article of the Augsburg Confession, but that they are torn apart and separated from one another to such an extent that they themselves no longer know what the Augsburg Confession is and what its proper meaning is. Therefore, we did not present this common Confession briefly or merely by signing our names, but we wanted to make a pure, clear, distinct declaration about all the disputed articles that have been discussed and argued among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession. We did this so that everyone may see we do not want to hide or cover up all this in a cunning way or come to agreement only in appearance. We want to remedy the matter thoroughly, and wanted to set forth our opinion on these matters in such a way that even our adversaries themselves must confess that in all this we abide by the true, simple, natural, and proper sense of the Augsburg Confession. We desire, by God's grace, to persevere constantly in this confession until our end. And as long as it depends on our ministry, we will not overlook error or be silent, lest anything contrary to the genuine sense of the Augsburg Confession is introduced into our churches and schools, in which the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed us teachers [Latin: doctors] and pastors.


In the sight of God and of all Christendom, we want to testify to those now living and those who will come after us. This declaration presented here about on the controverted articles mentioned and explained above--and no other--is our faith, doctrine, and confession. By God's grace, with intrepid hearts, we are willing to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with this Confession and give an account to it. We will not speak or write anything contrary to this Confession, either publicly or privately. By the strength of God's grace we intend to abide by it. Therefore, after mature deliberation, we have, in the fear of God and by calling on His name, attached our signatures with our own hands. ~BOC, FSD, XII, 3-6, 40

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I really am a wretch...

Mary has been such a blessing to me in more ways that I can speak. Funny that, given that we've only met in person once. Dang, I just love everything about her. Mostly, I love that she is such a gentle and generous Gospel giver and that she supports me in my ... gluttony. But I also like her because she challenges my mind. Oh, how I miss being a thinking person.

Something she said today in passing made me think of something someone else said that I disagree with. Maybe because it seemed that Mary agreed with me. Now, I am not so much interested in being agreed with so much as wanting what I believe in spiritual matters to be true, to be good, right, and salutary. Mary said something about righteous anger that made me think it is good and right at times, whereas this pastor said he was not capable of being righteous in anger and so was not ever.  His comments in this exchange about the matter has bothered me deeply, but I haven't ... even now ... really figured out what I wanted to say about that exchange.

So, I will only say one small bit before getting to what I do want to say. How can you say that I am righteous in Christ and be incapable of righteous anger?  I am not righteous in my self, but in the self of Christ. I am in Him and He is in me. So, how can it be impossible for me to be righteous in anger?

To me, this also belies the prayer God gave us to pray in Psalm139. Some single out particular Psalms as being imprecatory. Now, I am not saying that to do so is wrong, but it does seem, to me, that doing so leaves out all the other imprecatory bits, such as that found in the end of Psalm 139 (verses 19-22), and, to me, doing so leaves this sort of impression that imprecatory psalms are sort of wrong to pray ... not really meant for us to pray.

O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.

I hate God's enemies. Do you not also? Do you not also stand against those who stand against Christ, against your brother? 

I have said that I find it interesting that when I post bits of the Christian Book of Concord (BOC) that speaks against advarsaries, particularly the papacy, the "likes" fall away and people leave the Facebook Group. The BOC is, after a fashion, an imprecatory text. The whole of it stands with God and against those who deny the pure doctrine, who deny the whole of Christ crucified by cling to and advocating for human wisdom, reason, trust, and/or works in an of themselves and/or intermingled with theology.

Luther certainly had anger for God's enemies. I believe I am not wrong in saying that the combination of his own despair whilst being crushed beneath the errant teaching of the Catholic church and the burden of knowing other souls were also suffering fueled the fierceness with which he defended the Gospel and would not compromise a single mote of it. Being a man of the folk, Luther also oft resorted to plain speak and called someone who was being an ass an ass.

Yet people today, Lutherans and other Christians, do not seem to want to stand against those who do not confess the doctrine rightly and who, therefore, deny the work of our Triune God. This ranges from those who pick and choose which parts of the Bible to believe to even those who pick and choose which parts of the BOC to believe.

However, this is not truly what I set out to write here, so I should stop before diving off that particular cliff. It is more about the anger part of the righteous anger than the righteous part, though not merely anger.

As I have said before, we are creatures of God. He created us, fashioned us from the womb. He created emotions, feelings. They are not something that sprung up out of the mire of sin when our foe felled this world. They existed before the fall because man existed before the fall.

Yes, our foe is wily and uses every part of this world and our lives against us, against God. So, emotions can be hurtful, can lead us down a path of harm to ourselves and others. And they are a particular useful tool of our foe to blind, obfuscate, or otherwise keep us from the truth. However, feelings are not wrong, emotions are not bad.

In my opinion, what is wrong is to deny them in ourselves and in others.

Some time ago, Dr. Beverly Yankhe gave this paper entitled "When Death Seduces the Living:  Responding to Suffering Souls and Psyches," about pastoral care for the anguished and suicidal soul. To me, I find it a valuable read for all Christians. And I believe that the majority of her guidance for pastoral care for the suicidal fits the need of any anguished soul, as well as sheds light on how we can care for our suffering neighbors.  I am working on turning the paper into a booklet, to be approved by her, so that more can have ready and easy access to this information.  Sadly, that work is slow going.

In any case, you could accuse me of liking her words because of how often I have written about the fact that the anguish soul is all throughout the BOC.  You would be right.  I like her words because they resonate with the pure doctrine.  And they resonate with this particular struggling sheep.  In a nutshell, the answer to caring for the anguished soul--be it pastoral care, psychological care, or that of a neighbor--is to give that person the comfort of the Gospel.  How one might go about this varies by vocation.  Yet I believe there remains the same need in all care:  an understanding of emotion, of feeling, including what lies beneath the expression of such.

Read closely, carefully, the fourth suggestion Dr. Yahnke has for pastors:

Fourth, I must underscore my observation that among the finest gifts a pastor, or any other Christian can give to a burdened soul is the gift of listening; listening to one soul at a time; listening selflessly and listening sacrificially. For if one is willing to listen first, one will hear the sin sick soul pour out a litany of sins. 

Those of you familiar with Roman moral theology recognize that the seventh deadly sin is acedia, or melancholy. Bonhoeffer wrote, “It drives him to complete isolation so that he tells himself life is senseless …. Darkness descends between God and the person so that the person loses God. The person who is tested by melancholy is a bouncing ball in the hands of the devil, given to thoughts of suicide.” Bonhoeffer notes, “There is a particular danger that melancholy will not be considered a sin. It’s important to see through this as a special stratagem of the devil, who would like to grasp the tempted person in the midst of his lack of trust in God.” 

If you will listen, the lacerated and despairing heart will tell you that we doubt God’s goodness and power; we doubt God’s justice. We doubt God’s promises. We doubt God’s love. We live in fear and self-loathing. We live as captives to idolatry, misbelief, unbelief and despair and are routinely propelled towards other great shame and vice. Great hope and healing are given if you don’t regard the individual’s story as a sad autobiography, but instead, hear it for what it really is: a confession. Seize the opportunity to respond to a genuine and repentant heart by acknowledging that they are right to speak of such things for they are speaking the truth about sin. Speak a Word of absolution; give Christ’s own life and hope and holiness to the suffering soul before you. In a world seeking transcendence and transformation, the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is unparalleled. In the Word of absolution we are given new life, our baptismal identity is renewed and we are mindful anew of what it is that God has done for us in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Please ... read again this bit:

If you will listen, the lacerated and despairing heart will tell you that we doubt God’s goodness and power; we doubt God’s justice. We doubt God’s promises. We doubt God’s love. We live in fear and self-loathing. We live as captives to idolatry, misbelief, unbelief and despair and are routinely propelled towards other great shame and vice. Great hope and healing are given if you don’t regard the individual’s story as a sad autobiography, but instead, hear it for what it really is: a confession.

I wrote about going to Divine Service last week.  At one point, I wrote that I was a complete and utter wretch.  This was how I felt.  This was, also, my confession.  I wrote that I was struggling with my response to the ushers forgetting to let the pastor know I need to be communed in the pew and so, despite my journey to church, was once again alone in receiving the Lord's Supper.

When my pastor walked by me as he went to the doors to greet my brothers and sisters in Christ after the service, he paused to let me know he would be consecrating more elements for me in a while.  A war was waged within me at that point.

I was hurt. I was even more lonely.  And I was certain this was a sign from on high that I do not belong to the body of Christ here on earth. I struggle too much. I have too little faith.  I am too tired.  Too ill.  Too confused.  Too strident.  Too filled with errant works righteousness teaching.  Too ungodly.  The whispers of my foe filled my mind as disappointment seared my heart.  I wanted to run (okay ... limp) out the door whilst he was busy with the handshakes.

But I stayed.  I stayed because I still hungered for the healing I believe to be in the Lord's Supper.  I stayed, but I was deeply afraid that in staying I was committing a great sin. After all, I was an utter and complete wretch in that moment.

And so, in relating the evening, I included my confession, secretly hoping someone might hear it and tell me that it is okay to struggle with sin and to remind me that in the Lord's Supper, alongside the healing, is forgiveness, too. 

But some of what I received back was a denial of my confession.  The oh-you-are-being-too-hard-on-yourself-again response.  The response that is, at heart, intended or not, criticism of my thoughts and feelings response.  And a rejection and/or denial of my confession.

I receive the comment that I am a redeemed daughter of the king, essentially as opposed to being the sinful wretch.  But I am both.  I am a sinner.  And my sin anguished me. It anguished me so much so that, despite my fear and shame, I spoke to my other pastor about it at the Evening Prayer service two days later.  he is the one who reminded my terrified soul that despite my sin, I received forgiveness that very night, that very moment.

Thus, the helpful response to the anguished sinner making such a confession, masked behind the emotions spoken to you, is not first that you are redeemed (which can easily be received as a critism for failing to remember or state or feel such), but that yes, you are a sinner, but you are a forgiven sinner.  You are daily and richly forgiven of all your sins.  And then go on to all the fulness of what that means.

And, as I said, it is also helpful in a moment such as mind to gently remind the anguished person that she had, in fact, just received forgiveness anew in the very body and blood of Christ by not pointing out that she had forgotten such, but rather by rejoicing in that forgiveness with her as a way to reminder her what her foe tried so valently to hide from her.  She was/is/will be again forgiven. 

In writing this, I did not set out to condemn the specific response of rejection I received, but to point out the presence of the confession and the longing that lies behind such an admission.  In writing this, I hope that you who are exposed to my lacerated heart (as I am sure will spill forth again) might hear my confession and speak to me the Word of Absolution. In writing this, I hope that you, who have other anguished souls about you, might hear their confessions and respond to them with the comfort of Gospel.

The comfort of the active, powerful, performative, creative Living Word.

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

A three-fold response...

I dragged myself, literally at points, to Divine Service tonight. It was a test of sorts, to see if I could endure the agony of a bent torso long enough drive there and still be able to concentrate on anything at all. I got there, but I confess that there was little I retained. At the moment, I am very much clinging to the promise that God's Word will not return void and am hoping the Holy Spiri
t will use what went into my ears even if I could not follow the Words because most of my faculties were focused on remaining in the pew until after the Lord's Supper. Just one bit of the sermon stood out: something about how Christmas is about our baptism, about Christ's birth *and* our new birth. Having never heard that Christmas is about our baptism, I am hoping that I can get a copy of his sermon.

Afterwards, I spoke with my pastor for a few minutes. When I finally got out what I wanted to say, what I have been trying to say for months, for longer really, he understood. I was crying because I have been in such innards misery since Friday and my resolve for facing such with any sort of grace or patience lessens with each passing day. All I want is to be free of this. I try so very hard to step outside of the moment and let it pass, as Inara advised on Firefly's "Heart of Gold" episode, because this truly is but a moment of time in whole of my life. Only, I am weak and I am very, very weary.

I was also weeping because there are things that I need to say, that need to be outside of my head and my heart and I do not always know where to speak them because it is not merely the speaking that is needful, but also the listening. In this case, I had been longing to say something that was worrying me, but was too afraid to speak. Fear is so binding.

And, in my case, fear is also crippling, physically crippling. I have had migraine after migraine after migraine for several weeks now because of the stress of the things in my mind, on my heart. The fears. The questions. The shame that remains still.

Some of the things that are burdening me I do not even know. I am trying to discover them, to understand. Some I do. I spoke of one tonight.

I spoke and my pastor's response was three-fold: 1) to tell me that he understood why I wanted to speak; 2) to speak the Word of Absolution to me; and 3) to pray for me.

While I still wish mightily to remove my entire mid-section and despair of facing even the next ten minutes of the nausea and pain and other innards misery, much less another long and miserable night, the pain in my head is lessened. The speaking and the listening helped me.

So, as I said, I am clinging to the promise of the efficacy and the Author of the working of the Word and to the healing and forgiveness I received both in the body and blood of Christ and in the unexpected, but deeply appreciated second Word of Absolution given to me.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

If you know me...

If you know me, you will understand this sign of the depths my physical misery.  In an effort to distract myself from my mid-section and my migraines, I painted my nails red.  Nails not toenails.  Hands.  Fingers.  In full view of others.  Red!

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

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Fear and anger, anger and fear...

I read this article that has been ... well ... bothering me.  It is about marriage.  Of course, I am not married.  So, why?  No. 3.  I cannot stop thinking about No. 3.

3. You can't handle pain or anger. No, this does not mean that you explode in anger every two minutes. This could very well mean you pretend to never get angry in an effort to avoid confrontations. You cannot be fully honest about how you feel because you don't want to be the bearer of bad news.

The idea of pain is overwhelming, and it is something you avoid because it is "bad." You always wait until you cool off, which takes about six months and by then you don't even remember what happened. It must not have been that important.

The idea of anger makes you angry at yourself for even thinking it, because you believe you should never feel angry. When your spouse gets angry, you feel a lot of pain and you work hard to get rid of the pain. Instead of dealing with your hyper-sensitivities, you pretend to not be angry, give silent treatments and fake orgasms, or better yet, you fake headaches to avoid sex altogether. If you are more concerned with keeping the peace than you are with making peace, you are probably driving your spouse to divorce.

I am not sure if I can explain this.  For one, because not feeling anger is one of my problems.  Not feeling, dissociating not only from an experience but also from the feelings of the experience, is something I am struggling to unlearn.  There are a couple of points in here, though, that bother me:

  • You cannot be fully honest about how you feel because you don't want to be the bearer of bad news.
  • The idea of pain is overwhelming, and it is something you avoid because it is "bad." 
  • The idea of anger makes you angry at yourself for even thinking it, because you believe you should never feel angry. 
Yesterday, my realtor came over with food from Taco Bell.  Only, it was not what I normally eat.  Even after the debacle, the misery, of the "new" food from McDonald's, I could not bring myself to tell her that I should not eat the "new" item.  Instead, I ate it.  And I have been unbelievably, incredibly, horribly ill ever since.  Not the few hours of misery, but ... again ... going on a second day of misery with no end in sight.  SIGH.

I was afraid. I was afraid to hurt her feelings by refusing her offer of food. I was afraid that I would offend her by appearing to criticize her act of mercy.  I was afraid she would be angry with me.

My fear shadows so much of my life.  Even to the point of keeping me from doing what I good, right, and salutary for myself. 

I would add another statement to this list, though.  Were I the author, there would also be:  I don't believe I am worth the anger.  What exactly I mean by this is difficult to explain.  I suppose it is made up of all these little bits, all these thoughts that sum to that notion, that belief.  To speak up for myself is selfish.  To choose my needs is selfish.  To say "no" or refuse is rude.  To choose elsewise is selfish and rude.  My discomfort doesn't matter, isn't important.  Those things ... and more.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, December 07, 2012

A few thoughts on vocation...

I've been reading a presentation on vocation (about which I rather admittedly know zilch) and two thoughts came to mind:

1. Comforting Your Neighbor: Comforting a person ought to be about the other person, not yourself. 

Example: A stranger at the Wednesday service came over to me as soon as I sat up in the pew to ask what was wrong with me. She put her hands on my person, rubbing my shoulder, back, and arm. I was proud of myself for not screaming, but ashamed that I did not have the courage to ask her to stop touching me. Her idea of comfort was discomforting to me and is actually harmful. I am not anti-touch or hug. I used to could handle them, but not right now. 

If you consider that these days, 1-4 females and 1-7 males experience sexual abuse, touch is quite commonly something that has brought fear and pain and harm, rather than good. So, before you reach out to comfort someone, ask if that is okay. 

Or rather begin with a bit of Living Word or something of the Gospel message. Not one given as Law (such as God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but one of power, love, and discipline...implying that the person should not timid), but perhaps how blessed we are that we have a High Priest who has walked in this fallen world and understands the weight of that burden, understands our doubts, fears, illness, sorrows, confusion, etc. Then perhaps ask if the other person would like to pray the Lord's Prayer with you or would like you to pray for them [page 305 in the LSB begins a section with a plethora of prayers for you to pray without having to think up anything yourself or you could pray a psalm (Psalms 6, 8, 13, 23, 27, 31, 42, 51, 61, 69, 91, 77, 103, 104, 116, 121, and 139 are always a good place to start)]. 

The point is: stop and think not about what comforts you, but what might comfort the other person and consider that his/her experiences might be radically different from yours. Touching another person is not always a helpful, comforting first response.

2. Culture vs. Created: We are not called to save our culture, but rather serve our neighbor. So, consider the vocation of serving your neighbor in those areas of our culture that disturb or grieve you. 

Example: Instead of posting photos and articles about abortion that oft are geared toward inflaming emotions (especially guilt), seek out ways to serve your neighbors who are considering abortions or who find themselves in a "crisis" pregnancy. You can donate time (both on the office side or the human interaction side), supplies, and money to organizations who serve such women. You can adopt children. You can take a pregnant woman into your own home. You can sponsor her medical care. You can supplement the care of the baby after it is born. You can provide employment for a pregnant woman. You can raise awareness of the needs of organizations that serve these women. You can sponsor a drive to raise funds and/or goods to support such organizations. You can serve those organizations by offering your own special skills, such as classes or workshops in cooking, sewing, gardening, crafting, writing, reading, art, photography, etc. You can commit to pray regularly for the organizations (their operations, their staff, their clients). You can pray with women who struggle with the aftermath of abortion, giving them the comfort of the Gospel. 

Shouting at the world about a topic is not always a helpful or effective response, but serving your neighbor affected by that topic is accordance to God's plan for His creation and His calling in your life.

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