Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Did Not See It Coming

I am still processing. Please forgive me if I process at your expense. I just received some strange but sad news about a childhood friend and current neighbor. And it seems to be one of those events in which you ask, "How did it come to this?"

For me, the summer after high school was as fun as I'd hoped it would be. Graduation parties, working all day and hanging out with friends all night. I don't think I slept until Christmas. I remember in particular, a day trip to the shore with a friend. We left before dawn, and watched as the first rays of the sun cast themselves across the sand and onto our toes. We laid out in the sun until our skin was as close to 911 as we could get. We walked the boards, ate, talked and checked out all the cute guys. On the way home, in my four, or five-tone Chevy Nova with every window down, our hair flying wildly, and big blue dice bouncing and rocking from the rearview mirror, we sang each song that came on the radio at the top of our lungs. Nights later, we would walk the neighborhood at dark, talking about the latest on General Hospital, wishing we were old enough to "go clubbing," and planning our next adventure. As these things go, adulthood came knocking; I found myself working three jobs, loving the money, making new friends and not knowing or caring too much about the neighborhood anymore. I think one last excursion took us to a bar where we could get served -- not because we looked so much older, but because many in our area were notoriously lax in those days; we were nineteen or twenty then.

Years later, I moved back to my old neighborhood. I found my friend was still there, living in her parents house, working full-time, and I assumed, stashing away a pretty good nest egg for herself. I was less than financially comfortable, in a crumbling marriage, carrying enough baggage for a lifetime of weekenders, and raising two small children. I envied her. I remembered what it was like when I worked and saved, spent my money on what I wanted. I remembered what it was like to have few bills, and be able to treat not only myself, but my mom to some of the things we'd never had before. "She can travel. She can go out with friends. She can have whatever career she chooses." That grass is always greener.

Fast forward to this very moment. I have learned that my friend has been alone -- apparently very alone -- for the past few years. Her mother, and as far as I know her best friend, passed. Whether all of this has been brewing since then, I can't say, but my friend had a complete breakdown. She has been living a life that, sitting in the driver's seat, watching her hair flap crazily in the wind all those years ago, I would never have imagined for either of us. When things like this happen, we look desperately for a cause or explanation. Sometimes we find it; sometimes we don't. I know we'd lost touch long ago. I know even if there were "signs," I never would have seen them. Do I feel a bit of guilt? Sure. She was no longer my friend, but she is still my neighbor. "If I'd just popped in to say 'hello'..." But that relies way too heavily on knowledge I did not have, and gives my role way more credit than I deserve. The best conclusion at which I can arrive is:

You just never know. Whatever that means. "You just never know, so live each day as if it were your last." "You just never know, so don't put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today." "You just never know, so don't hesitate to reach out -- in friendship or in desperation."

'cause you just never know.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I'm Positive; I'm Not in Denial

Just for the record: I categorically deny being in denial.

My surgery was three weeks ago today, and I still don't have much more than a whisper -- sometimes a harsh whisper. I tell people that the doctors will not tell me I will never have my voice back; the doctors will not tell me I will ever have my voice back. Their usual response after an indignant, "How can they not know?" is "It'll be OK. It'll come back." Sometimes they tell me about their uncle's cousin's nephew who had the same thing, but he is now a champion hog caller. I don't care. I don't mean about your uncle's cousin's nephew; I'm happy for him if that's what he really wanted, but I don't care about my voice.

This is an inconvenience, sure. And it makes it difficult to scream at concerts or sing the National Anthem, but it doesn't change much more about me than sound. "Can't they do something?" they ask. (They are obviously more distressed by this than I). "Time, prayers, shots, surgery. It all depends." Immediately after the whispers have left my mouth, they ask, "Are you gonna do the surgery?" I think they are bothered by my answer -- "No. Maybe the shots, if things haven't improved in six months or so, but no surgery." This only prompts Phase III: "Oh, you'll change your mind later." I want to ask why, but Phases I-III are all I can tolerate right now.

I am heading to the oncologist today. The pathologist found some microcarcinomas in my now, medically disposed of thyroid. Four. Very small ones. "Oh, it'll be OK. You won't need anymore treatment. God loves you." To which my response is: "Yes, yes it will. Maybe I might. God loves me anyway."

I've received messages about my "setback." I've been told over and over about getting my rest. "If you need a shoulder to cry on..." "You have such a great attitude!" "Do you think you're in a little denial?" FOLKS, PLEASE! Clue me in on what -- exactly -- I'm supposed to feel in order to make my cancer, or my healing, or my situation, more comfortable for you. I am NOT crying in m beer. I am not falling to pieces in examination rooms all over PA. I still have not written my last will and testament. I have plans for the weekend. Do you think that's unwise?

I appreciate the concern; I genuinely do. And I LOVE your prayers! But please, understand my faith in God undergirds everything I think, say, or do. To believe anything -- even death -- would make things less than OK, is preposterous. He is the God of the Universe. NOTHING happens that He does not allow or have thorough knowledge concerning. And He loves me! I can't break it down for you anymore than that.

I am not saying Christians do not get sad, or worried, or depressed. The first cancer scare I had a few years ago, left me standing on top of the hospital parking garage, gasping for air, while my tears mingled with the icy rain that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere the second I closed the oncologist's office door. But beside my faith, this is not my first rodeo. God, in His grace and wisdom sent me down this path five years ago. It was benign. I've learned not to jump to conclusions, or from parking garages until the fat lady has sung.

I do not believe I am in denial. Denial would be signing up to speak at the Union League next Tuesday. Denial would be getting dressed based on what I would like to be wearing when they recommend the radiation that could kill me before the cancer does. Denial is not, realizing my voice could never return, but being accepting of that. Denial is not, knowing this could be the beginning of a long road, but knowing I do not walk it alone.

I feel your pain and your confusion. I know how uncomfortable you are when we discuss all of this. I know, because I've been on your end of things before. And now I know what this end is like even better than before. But, if someone has a positive attitude, or is leaning with all they've got on their faith -- run with that! Positive thoughts are good for your health, and your spirit! Your prayers are working! That shouldn't be a surprise!

Growing Your Prayer Life Through Faith; Growing Faith Through Your Prayer Life

"I'm praying for you!"

Thank God (!) I have heard this repeatedly for the past month or more. The prayers of others have left me feeling buoyant from day to day. I know physical healing occurs as a result of petitioning God, but the spiritual wonders and encouragement that prayer can facilitate are without compare.

"I'm praying for you!"

God forgive me, I have said it many times myself -- but not in earnest. Someone would tell me about a child bound by addiction, or a friend had lost her job. "I'll be praying," I'd say gently. And then...

James 1:23 says, "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." Ever had those mornings, you put your contacts in at the mirror, but don't notice the big wad of toothpaste hanging from your chin? I wasn't much different when it came to applying or obeying God's Word -- especially in the area of prayer. I'd feel truly sad or compassionate for those who'd expressed a need, but feelings are only feelings; real prayer is putting your faith into action.

In James 5:16, we see how God feels about prayer: "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." Simply put, do it. Pray for one another. Not some silly platitude you offer in an uncomfortable situation. Not even a heartfelt sentiment. Prayer is not sentiment.

I always envied those ladies at church who had retired, and "just had all the time in the world" to pray. I thought to myself, "I'm going to do that -- be a real prayer warrior -- when I grow up." Well, the time is now, folks. If I can again bring your attention, to James 5:16, it says nowhere, when you're retired, or grown, or laid up. It doesn't have to take you all day. You don't have to pray for everyone within a twenty mile radius. And you certainly don't have to pray for everyone on the church prayer list. Pick one or two, preferably anyone to whom you've made a commitment of prayer, and do it. (And it's OK to tell someone your prayer list is full this week, but you'll pass it on to friends if permitted, and you'll pray next week.) But don't get in over your head; that's when you wind up feeling so guilty or powerless, you do nothing. Luke 16:10 says, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." If you can't faithfully pray for one person, passing out commitments to pray for others is vain and empty. Spare people the horse manure, and just say, "I'm sorry to hear that."

And intercessory prayer is not some quick "happy thought" that you blow through during commercials. Sit a moment. Search and see what it is God would have you ask for this person. Take your commitment seriously, as you would want others to do for you if you were deeply in need. Prayer doesn't always have to be quiet, intense communion, but  definitely more times than not. If you were going to ask your boss for a raise, would you pop your head into her office and say, "Hey, about that raise? Yeah, I really want one. Later!"? D'ya think you'll get it? If your attitude is cavalier and non-committal, why would your boss's be any different? It's no different with God. He wants to know what's truly on your heart. Adding, "Oh, and God bless Mary," to the end of your 12-1/2 seconds of prayer time doesn't really scream, "I'm serious about praying for this woman."

Years ago I had a teacher who believed God would give he and his wife children and provide for them. He said they lived that belief by not using any methods of birth control. Even in high school I was impressed by that kind of faith. Must've been, it sticks with me still today. On my little hiatus recently, I picked up The Autobiography of George Muller. I'd always wanted to read it, and I'd heard stories of the wonderful faith this man and his family had. I read it, and it was all that and more. I learned, however, that this man's faith was no more impressive than my teachers, or anyone else who has made a commitment to actively seek God and His righteousness. When we pray, we might be interceding for others, we might be seeking some change of situation for ourselves, but we should never enter into prayer without the knowledge that prayer is about seeking God first of all. He's not a divine vending machine. He doesn't want us checking off a list: prayed for him, prayed for her, logged fifteen minutes... I have discovered the power of prayer, and what I've discovered is that more than anything, prayer has deepened my relationship with the Lord, allowing me to feel more confident about asking Him for things, and more assured He will handle it in the best way possible. I trust in the outcome, no matter what, because I've prayed about it. The power of prayer comes from the change it creates in hearts as well as circumstances.

Just start slowly but decisively. Ask God for His help and guidance in your endeavor, and prayer can changes you, too!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

About "The Other Half..."

When I was a kid, my parents had their share of hard times -- food stamps and working multiple jobs to make ends meet that had never even seen one another. We'd drive around some of the more affluent neighborhoods and joke about "how the other half lived." I'm not quite sure who this "other half" was. Though today, it seems they've been reduced to about an "other eighth."

Anyway,  this past week I've had the opportunity to see how -- let's simply say -- "other folks" live. By no means would ever presume to know what it is like to try to function with a debilitating illness or physical condition day after day. I have however, gotten a glimpse of what it is like to struggle through a day at work, wrangle the voicemail system at the disability office, and navigate the bank drive-thru. With barely a voice. It ain't easy. I had high hopes. This is the Age of Technology. I should be able to order a pizza, buy movie tickets, make an appointment with my podiatrist and never talk to a living soul, right? Wrong. I am beginning to realize how dependent we are on voice and it is both scary and encouraging.

I answered the phone at my desk yesterday morning. I introduced myself as usual. Nothing. "Hello," I whispered harshly into the phone. The caller asked for a co-worker who had left for the day. "What?! I can't hear you!" he barked. I repeated myself. "Can't I speak to someone who can talk?!"

Just let that sit there for a second. Some people deal with this kind of ignorance daily. I was appalled. In 2014, with diversity, and corporations saturated with multiple types of sensitivity training, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and my employer especially -- a mega-million dollar sponsor of United Way and other similar organizations... Has this idiot been living under Stonehenge for the last four thousand years? Needless to say, eventually the call was dropped.

The reality is, despite Skype, we still want to hug our loved ones. No matter how many pictures we Instagram, hanging out with our friends is preferred. We can text all we want, but we still want to see Aunt Lisa's expression when we announce our engagement. And I'm going to take a moment to give this jerk from yesterday the benefit of the doubt and say he is so reliant on what is touted as being an archaic form of communication -- the telephone -- that he lashed out at me because of his inability to get his point across otherwise. Scary and disturbing how we treat one another -- even those with "disabilities", ones generally thought to be "protected."

But encouraging, if only because it shows how far we've not come. We are not driven by computer chips and binary programs. We are not simply responding to data and functions entered into a hard drive by some "big computer programmer" in the sky. We are thinking, feeling, and in need of community -- even in this Age.

Although admittedly, it'd be nicer if some of us thought before they spoke!