Our Real Pandemic Story

I’ve been thinking a lot about where we are in this pandemic. Dean came home last Thursday after traveling for work with a case of breakthrough Covid-19. We’ve been in quarantine since. As fate would have it he arrived just a day after I had experienced a tense conversation with a very good friend about vaccine and I was still trying to recover from it. I love this friend as though she is my sister and I’m still not sure how to let it go and re-enter her life. The reality is that she has a very different perspective on the vaccines than I do to the point that the information she shared with me completely overwhelmed me and made feel as if I was expected to watch for the disintegration of my body as a result of the vaccine being present in it. I honestly had no idea what possible answer I could give her except to say, that of course, I must be a real idiot and will now have to live with my choice to alter my DNA, to get blood clots and a host of other things. As I don’t find that true, I didn’t know where that left me in her eyes and that was really tough. Then, just like that…my vaccinated hubs arrives from Nebraska looking like a ghost, tightness in his chest and cold-like symptoms. I knew right away that he had breakthrough Covid.

As the week has worn on and we’ve gotten used to once again being sequestered in the same house together, I’ve had ample time to reflect on this whole poop show we’ve been living through and I just started writing it out and this is the result of that reflection.

March 2020…When the World Turned Upside Down

Stephen and Theresa with their boys Bobby (just turned 2) and AJ (9 months) had lived in Cedar Park for one week. We had been helping with the move and babysitting. It was an exciting time. Stephen would no longer have the grueling 90 minute commute from South Austin to the Apple campus where he works. For the remainder of that year, Theresa would commute going south because they had found the “perfect for them” house just about 10 minutes from ours. Then…BOOM. Shut down. Having done the reverse commutes and putting the boys in their new daycare, everything about coming and going came to full stop. Everything about staying in and going ramped up to full speed. Suddenly we had Dean, Stephen and Theresa all working from home. I started to work from home too. It was crazy. 

After months of juggling and striving to get to the end of the school year, Theresa was able to stop working for the summer. Promises that it was a temporary thing were abundant. I clearly remember Jerad Kirschner saying very clearly that it would all be over by July of that year. July, however, came and went. With July also came news that Theresa had a tumor on her the L1 vertebrae very likely cancerous. Talk about feeling thrown into the abyss. I had already been watching the boys 3 days a week and she two because it was very hard for her with the backpain she was dealing with. On the days she watched them, she and Stephen would tag team while he worked. The stress level was incredible.

Dean was stuck working in our house slogging through a list of potential customers as a telemarketer instead of doing the actual kind of sales and technical advising he prefers to be doing. The threat of spinal cancer in the family took everything to an entirely new level of crazy. It is no easy swallow and clouds every damn molecule of air you are breathing as a family and this time it hit us within the context of a pandemic.  Covid 19, largely unknown even to the experts seemed to be always hanging around but unseen in the air, on surfaces and possibly elsewhere. It was seriously overwhelming. 

August rolled around and my phone rang. Stephen was calling to tell me that they had come to the realize that they had no choice but to put the boys back into daycare even though Theresa had determined that she would take a year off from teaching. She was on strict limits with lifting anything over 10lbs. so it was impossible to manage the boys alone. My immediate response was simply an affirmation that it was really the only way forward.

 We were all spent. We were all exhausted and stressed beyond the ability to give them good care and continue to pay attention to the work in front of us. Theresa’s tumor was found to be a schwannoma or nerve sheath tumor as a result of radiation she had to endure to deal with neuroblastoma she had as a toddler. It will one day require an extensive surgery but for now it’s a wait and see situation. How does a mom of two young babies and a career just stop it all in a normal stressful life, let alone during a pandemic? She spent a lot of time exercising and resting and regaining her footing after so many blows in rapid succession. In order to do that, the boys had to be in daycare out of the safety of the house, among other kids from other families in the middle of a pandemic knowing both that there was great risk if anyone caught the virus and an equally great risk if they didn’t. We were living in the proverbial rock and hard place. 

It took until February before the virus entered the daycare and when it did, it had to shut down for two weeks. We went over to Stephen’s to watch the Superbowl knowing that we could be exposed but not at all wanting to believe it. A friend suggested that kids aren’t actually transmitting the disease to others so, of course, I went to Dr. Google and found validation to that idea. When I did, we headed over and I held and coddled my boys. Days later, Bobby was positive for it. 

I was pretty frightened when I found out that he had because suddenly the abstract became real for all of us. I had long before determined that if I got the virus as a result of the boys in daycare, I would be able to accept the consequences of my choice to spend time with them. I had determined that if it took me to my end, I would go down as a hands-on grandmother. I’d caught a few colds and had my nose swabbed several times in the months prior to Bobby’s positive test but so far had avoided it. I suppose those negative tests gave me a false sense of security. Like most of us, when I want something bad enough, I can do all kinds of mental gymnastics to determine that what I want is the good and right thing for me, no matter what supposed evidence is in front of me. Unfortunately, the only thing that can break through my denial or avoidance of reality is the consequence of my choice. Bobby’s positive test was indication that I was very likely going to have to face the reality of my own battle with Covid 19. Of course, I got sick a few days later and was sure that I was Covid positive. I was not. I didn’t ever get it. That said the reality that I was exhausted from the threat of it was only magnified a hundred percent. I was determined to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

After spending the whole month of February almost entirely separated from Stephen’s family, when I was able to get in line for the vaccine, I jumped at the chance. I had been following Dr. Michael Osterholm’s podcast every week as well as other reputable sources and had no fear at all of getting it. A friend I know in Nebraska has shared a video from our mutual friend, Dr. Tyler Martin, an infectious disease specialist. I worked for Dr. Martin in the early 90’s and after exposure to his incredibly intelligent mind and passion for immunology and infectious disease prevention, I also highly trusted him. Most of all, though, I wanted to be able to live my life without reference to Covid 19. I wanted to visit my elderly parents with pre-existing conditions, go grocery shopping without a mask and attend a live music event again. 

I had to drive out to Midland, Texas, to obtain the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. CVS had just obtained them and the slots here in Austin filled up faster than lightning. The community offered vaccinations were unavailable to me as well. I just kept trying and trying and this was the first one I was successful at getting an appointment for. I enjoyed a nice drive to west Texas and a night in a motel before heading home to experience a few days of side effect. Three weeks later, I searched again and found a follow up shot at a CVS in Palestine, Texas, three hours east of here. As spring came and mask requirements were lifted for the fully vaccinated, I was full of optimism and life started to return to normal until the end of July when my chest started to tighten and I struggled to breathe. 

Pneumonia. I could hardly believe it. I’d heard a bit on the news about breakthrough infections being diagnosed in a few places attributed to the Delta variant that had devastated India but the thought was that it was largely only found in those with underlying conditions. As one with a Mixed Connective Tissues disease, I suspected that I too had caught the Delta variant somewhere. I headed to the emergency room and was surprisingly able to get right in. In that little space on the bed near curtains pulled around me, I heard a lot of coughing, groaning and people asking questions about the virus. I heard doctors talking about lab tests, chest x-rays and how each person was being affected by Covid. One man was in the middle of cancer treatment and the virus had overwhelmed his sinuses to the point that he was experiencing excruciating headaches. Another patient could hardly talk for lack of air. All I could think to myself was, “If I do not already have Covid-19’s Delta variant, I will most certainly have it before I leave here!” 

The doctor ordered a chest x-ray and Covid test for me and we waited. I told him I was fully vaccinated and his reply was that he was too but had just come back to work after two weeks off with the Delta variant. This was the end of July. It would be just weeks and the numbers in our county would soar. The ER where I was treated would close off the entrance with caution tape and turn away patients because they were over capacity. The county health department put out bulletins letting us know we were again in the red stage. This time, however, life went on with very little disruption in public life. Then school opened. 

My daughter-in-law, thinking that the worst was behind us, had taken a new position at a local elementary school in the Special Ed department. She discovered that as a teacher in the Leander School District she would be able to put Bobby in an Early Learning Environment preschool where kids who qualify for an extra boost before Kindergarten attend. The cost would be half of what they were paying for his care at the private preschool/daycare he was in so she enrolled him. AJ would continue at the private school for another year. Three of our family members in three public schools meant that the two unvaccinated littles could potentially bring the virus home again but there was honestly nothing apart from all of us isolating in a cave to avoid the risk. Again, I determined that if I go down from Covid, this time a breakthrough case, I will go down as a full-time grandmother.  Then came the booster. 

A friend in the neighborhood posted on Facebook that she had gotten her booster and I immediately searched for an appointment. In days I had a third dose of the Moderna MRNA vaccine. It kicked my ass just like the other two so I was confident that I’d be in good shape by the time I was through. Another friend in the hood mentioned htat she was enrolled in a study with the University of Texas that would be monitoring antibody levels, both natural ones and those created by the vaccine. I did a search and enrolled as well. A few weeks later I received my results and discovered that I have >2500 vaccine antibodies in my blood stream. That is WAY over their standard measure. Armed with this data, I have been living my life since. Out of respect for others and when required, I still wear a mask if necessary but I am confident that I am protected against Covid 19.  My life goes on and I am most grateful.

Enough

This is a hard time to be alive but geez, the reality that I still am…alive, is pretty cool when I stop and think about it. I turned 60 this year and that’s saying something. I live with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. I have also had some really crazy health scares over the decades. I have loved and hated western medicine. I have loved and hated eastern medicine. I have loved life. I have hated life. I need to write about the disease, the healing, the process and all of it. 

Autoimmune disease was suspected in my body when I was 16 and began to deal with pain in my knees and elbows for no apparent reason. A visit to the doctor, a referral to a specialist and monthly appointments for a year to rule out his suspicion of Systemic Lupus made life a bit precarious for a while. The symptoms would wax and wane and I was often sick with something but by the summer of my sophomore year I felt good enough to participate in a summer mission experience in Estes Park, Colorado. The time I spent in the mountains with fresh air, good food, plenty of exercise and a whole new group of friends seemed to suit me perfectly. When I returned home and to my doctor, I was given the good news that whatever I had was in remission and I was free to return in a year if I needed to. As a young, zealous Evangelical Christian, I was sure that God had healed me and this nastiness was behind me. 

I continued to be seriously involved in Christian ministry. It was my thing. I finished high school and went off to college only so that I could get a 4 year degree and go on staff with a mission agency I admired. I gave myself to Evangelical faith with abandon fully believing that God had an abundant plan for my life. I didn’t ever worry about or even think too much about an autoimmune disease of any kind. In 1982 Dean and I got engaged and planned to go on a mission to Uganda, East Africa. In order to go we had to submit to several required vaccinations. As we started that process, he would get a shot and barely notice it. I would get a shot and be down for a day or two. The Yellow Fever vaccine really threw me under the bus. We were raising money for the trip and all of the sudden the well dried up. 

We had just enough funds for one of us to go and I knew that it should be Dean. I am not sure if my intuition told me that I would not do well there or if it was just an acknowledgement of the fact that I was planning a wedding at the same time and it just seemed like a good idea for Dean to go without me. Either way, it was such a good decision. Dean came home having had a bout of malaria that almost took his life and most certainly would have mine. He had been taking chloroquine to keep it away but a variant of drug resistant malaria found him and he was very, very ill. 

The early eighties were days without instant communication and unreliable phone service so we didn’t even know he was sick until he came home and told us his harrowing story. He’d lost a good 25lbs and when he walked out of the gate at the airport (back in the day when family could go up and greet people after landing) I barely recognized him. He went on to have several reoccurrences with the disease until his doctor sent his bloodwork to the lab at the CDC and discovered that it was this new variant and prescribed a different medication for it. He has been malaria free since. 

There was one thing I was absolutely certain of the day Dean returned home looking like he’d spent time in a concentration camp. I knew that I had dodged a bullet that had it entered my body, it would have been a fatal blow. I was full of gratitude that I had found the strength and courage to stay behind. I have no doubt that malaria would have done me in. 

It was unfortunate for me that as Evangelical people we had to find a way to miracle-ize the story. We had to find a way to see that God kept me home and kept me alive. There is a verse in the Bible, 1 Peter 3:7 that goes like this. 

“You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

This verse is just accepted in the Evangelical kingdom as truth and this was the way we made sense of these experiences that year. The lesson to be learned was that I was a weaker vessel and Dean needed to know that in his bones. This one lesson would follow me for three decades and be a contributing factor to the exacerbation of my body’s war against itself. 

I had been in remission and able to live a very full life until March of 1985 when I had my first baby just after my 24th birthday. The hormone changes that come with pregnancy functioned as the trigger to move my body back into battle with itself. As with all autoimmune diseases they rarely present in one full blown obvious illness. Instead the body responds to stress, biological, environmental and mental stress by triggering the inflammation response. It can begin slowly or flare up in earnest. It can affect any part of the body with connective tissue, which is pretty much all of it. After my baby was born it began to attack my bladder. Though that first year of motherhood was literally the best year of my life, I constantly dealt with some really annoying pelvic pain. I was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a painful condition that causes the lining of the bladder to crack and bleed and Endometriosis where the lining of the uterus goes the wrong way and attaches to tissue outside of it. The cystitis was dealt with through medication but a surgery was needed for the endometriosis.

My doctor performed a laparoscopy. With two little incisions he inserted instruments, including a camera into my abdomen and looked around. He said it looked like someone had shaken coffee grounds around my organs. He explained that cells from my uterus had gone the wrong way and that whenever I had my period, those cells did too. The result of that process was intense pain every month. He lasered these spots off and encouraged me to hope for better days ahead. He also encouraged me to consider having another baby if I wanted anymore because the endometriosis would likely return and could result in infertility. When my son was 15 months old I found out I was pregnant again. 

I cannot say that I loved being pregnant the first time until well into it. The first 6 months of that pregnancy were overwhelmingly horrible. I threw up in earnest for the first three months and then at a less intense level for another three. Finally, by Thanksgiving I was able to enjoy a meal without an abrupt exit. By March I was ready to have my baby. My long torso made it appear as though I would be having a small baby, even my doctor predicted 5-6lbs. After 18 hours of labor and a few minutes of pushing an 8lb. 1oz. beautiful little red head arrived in my arms. I was completely gone. Having Stephen was so fun that it overwhelmed all of the other nonsense. 

My second pregnancy was much less severe in terms of morning sickness but getting the baby here much more difficult. A little nausea in the morning satisfied by a few soda crackers and life went on. I worked part time in an office job and looked forward to another baby who would arrive almost two years after the first one. It was going so well in the beginning I thought that maybe I actually would end up with the four kids I’d wanted. That sense of bliss didn’t last for long because in the 13th week everything turned upside down. On a calm weekday morning, with my son playing by himself in the living room and chattering to his toys, I sat down to read and pray for a bit. I had put the kettle on the stove for hot tea and when it reached boiling, I got up from my chair, turned to face the stove and felt a sudden gush of fluid escape from my body. As I stood there knowing my water had just broken I went into another dimension and began to work the problem.

I had a regular checkup scheduled that afternoon but knew I could not possibly wait for it. I immediately called the clinic. They wanted to see me right away so I found a sitter and went in. I have learned that memories associated with trauma are vivid and intense and as I write this, I am right there in that space in time. I was greeted by the nurse and my doctor with serious concern. It felt as if they were talking…very slowly. A sample of the fluid was looked at under the microscope. A fern like looking cell revealed that it was indeed amniotic fluid. My heart sank. My doctor grabbed his tiny little black doppler, squeezed a bit of gel on me and sought for an audible heartbeat. He found it. A strong and healthy little whishing heartbeat sound entered the acoustics of the room and a hushed silence briefly fell over us. My doctor said it was unusual to hear it so clearly so early but that it sounded very good. This was 1986 when ultrasound technology was just beginning and hearing a heartbeat was rare for mothers. It was so amazing to me. He then sent me straight up to the hospital for a visual ultrasound used only in crisis situations. I’ve rarely been so afraid.

As I laid on the table with the technician’s warm jelly all over my belly and watched as she moved her probe around, my husband standing by my side watching too, the most amazing thing occurred. This little human waved an arm past the screen revealing all five fingers and seeming to wave at us. Dean later told me that when he saw that he took it as a sign that the baby was waving to tell us she was going to make it. As human beings we find the hope where we can and that was it for that day. It was enough to get us through. 

There was no reason to admit me into the hospital that day but it was confirmed that the amniotic sac surrounded my baby had a hole in it near the top. I was sent home with the instruction to do only light house work and call the clinic if I started cramping or had any other issues arise. I now know that for my doctor and others, it was a certainty that I would miscarry. It was much later before I learned that I had actually been given a less than 1% chance of carrying a baby to term. Instead of the expected miscarriage, however, I remained pregnant for weeks. 

Fifteen weeks later, by emergency c-section, while under anesthesia because the epidural failed to numb my left side, a team of specialists in a teaching hospital where I’d been in bed for 3 weeks, delivered a 2lb. 2oz baby girl. A perfectly formed, very pink and crying baby girl. Everything about it was miraculous. Everything about it was also profoundly traumatic. I have spent the rest of my life trying to understand life lived in this kind of paradox. I have also learned that as a woman, I am not a weaker vessel. I am only an equally strong but different vessel.

I share the story of my babies’ births because the pregnancies are both so directly related to my health, to autoimmune disease and how I have processed it all throughout my life. It was pregnancy and hormones that functioned as the trigger to move me out of remission. It was figuring out how to live life as a young wife, mother and teacher that exacerbated the disease. I have enjoyed seasons of remission and horrific flare ups. Simple colds, flu and viruses have flattened me. Stressful circumstances in my life have also contributed to this reality in my life. I was on medication for several years but at present take just a thyroid medication for anything to do with autoimmunity. I have learned so much. I have lived a beautiful but hard life. 

This past summer I spent weeks meeting with a holistic dietician for issues relating to my gut health. She believes that if I can live 100% holistically, I can rid myself of autoimmune disease. I’m not certain that is possible for me. In fact, I’m pretty certain that it is not because I have other facets of my life that I value more than being 100% cured if this is the route to the cure. To change my life that drastically at 60 would take an intense focus and radical changes in several places and though I continue to make changes all of the time, I do not expect to be fully healed in my lifetime.

I have made many of my dietician’s suggested changes. I have been taking the supplements suggested in response to the lab tests she had ordered for me because they make sense to me right now.  I have found it very helpful and encouraging. At the same time, the expectation to be 100% healed comes with an awful overwhelm. It is also always and I mean it sincerely, ALWAYS shame inducing. It implies that anything less than arrival at perfection is not enough. It is NEVER enough. 

This last week I heard an OnBeing podcast discussion with Kate Bowler. I listened after my friend Jayne suggested it to me. As I sat here in my office, organizing my closet for the umpteenth time, I had it playing in the background. She said something in the discussion that broke me wide open. I don’t remember the words right now because the memory of breaking down in a heap and of feeling the flow of tears stream down my face is overwhelming my brain so that I cannot recall them. I remember just saying out loud,

I am enough. 

What I have done is enough. 

What I will do is enough. 

Whatever level of healing I obtain is enough. 

It is ENOUGH. 

I hope I can write more about how this illness has impacted my life in the days and weeks to come. After breaking open again this past week I have realized that living with Mixed Connective Tissue/Autoimmune disease has been a thread in my life for most of my life. It has also been something that has been hard to talk about sometimes. No, it’s hard to talk about all of the time because when I do, I feel like I’m standing on a stage looking at folks with loaded nerf guns pointing at me. The spongy nerf projectiles all have a cure written on them with a sharpie marker and I am supposed to catch each one and apply that cure to my body. The deal is that only if I catch and apply them ALL will I be able to be fully whole. So…if you are reading this and have such a loaded nerf gun, please refrain from shooting it if you can. I have probably heard of your cure and I have probably spent a good deal of change trying to embrace it. 

A Personal Story

In 2004 I found treatment for my daughter’s eating disorder and mental illness. She is alive and living her best life now. I can hardly express how close we came to losing her. As a woman of deep Evangelical faith and practice, I first looked to God for guidance. When I determined to seek experts for her care, many in my circle pushed hard against me. Nonetheless, I ignored their guidance and sought to understand her illnesses instead of imagining I was going to be excluded from the suffering because I belonged to Jesus. My daughter was dying right before my eyes and the advice from the faithful was not helping.

The professionals at Children’s Hospital in Omaha helped unpack her eating disorder and discovered that her story began when my water broke at 13 weeks and my pregnancy was threatened- 15 weeks later after being in and out of the hospital – she was born viable but not without unseen major trauma to her emotional brain. In other words there were physiological reasons for her illness. It was not a lack of faith or an attack from Satan that made her ill. There were realities that I had to face if she was ever going to have a chance at a healthy adult life. Everything in our lives was touched by the hard work it took for her to reprogram her brain and learn to live with it and beyond it. I am beyond grateful for every medical and psychological expert who was there with guidance and direction because without them we would surely have buried her at 17.

I know that it’s frightening to live in a time where a rogue virus is wreaking havoc in the world. I also know that well meaning people want to believe that their faith is more powerful than the virus. I get that. If that’s where you are consider this. Sometimes it’s important to evaluate whether you are experiencing actual faith or are instead living with a conditioned presumption that you are excluded from reality because you are in and others are out. Maybe you believe that you and your community of believers have found the one right way to live and those outside of the faith have not. Think about that like I did 20 years ago.

What has too often been lost is that discovering real faith, the kind that allows us to risk something unusual and succeed requires that we pursue God with real effort, hard personal reflection and the willingness to change ourselves. I’ve been required to do some pretty significant turning around (known as repentance) before being able to gain any inspired perspective. Even then, as a human being I’m always aware that I can be more driven by my ego than any kind of genuine faith. That kind of faith in my life has come almost exclusively from places of significant brokenness.

I’ve learned that as a Christian living in a western country, I’ve had the privilege of a life lived without the threat of death from most respiratory illnesses. Pneumonia = antibiotics and IV support. H1N1 was kept at bay by a well functioning CDC with government support. Many people didn’t even know that it too could have blown up here when it hit our shores. We are used to life without threats from these diseases. We have been equally privileged to travel to foreign countries with access to vaccines for the illnesses we don’t even have here like Yellow Fever. Our freedom from these diseases has made us vulnerable to the belief that we are special and beyond the scope of these viruses. Covid 19 is proving that we are not.

It’s hard to face this. It’s hard to grasp that what you have embraced as faith might not be faith at all. It’s very hard to face what is real and find the willingness needed to alter your life. It can cost you as you move away from the life you thought you knew. Letting go of the security of a religious devotion you believed would hold you secure forever is very difficult. But if you can, trust me when I say that life lived with genuine faith grounded in the real world is way better than any life lived with a presumptive one.

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

We moved to Utah in January of 2005 and I have been making visits back to my home in northeast Nebraska once or twice a year since we left sixteen years ago. As much as I loved my life there and as much as my brain is full of so many great memories, very painful circumstances took me away and every return brings memories of the kind of terror that only another mother with a seriously ill and/or dying child can comprehend. Every visit forces me to respond to the reality of those experiences in the middle of the joy of seeing my family and good friends again. Every year, I process the trauma because I really cannot avoid it. Trauma is a nasty beast that holds its loaded gun in the holster waiting to pull its trigger. The slightest thing can make that happen. A drive by a familiar place, an innocent word from someone who knew me before and my heart is pounding in reaction. Thankfully, after 16 years of return visits I’ve processed it, strategized for it and most of all healed so much that this time, I was able to feel the pull of the triggers and let the bullets go right on through and out into space. It was the first visit where I did not fall into a heap of tears or have to take a long fast walk to release the energy in order to return to “normal”. I have been patting myself on the back and allowing myself to feel the joy upon my return. I.am.so.grateful.

One of the most amazing things took place after running into an acquaintance at a softball field. I hadn’t seen this friend since 2004 when her family departed for a mission in Africa. She is a beautiful, resilient woman I enjoyed chatting with as her daughter’s teacher but never really got to know. We exchanged updates and went on our way. The next day a message on Facebook Messenger arrived from her and though I wanted to reply, I knew that if I did it would have be with a true account of myself and real honestly, that can be just too much for many people. Nonetheless, I have worked to damn hard for a pretentious response indicating that I’m equal to the devoted Evangelical Christian school teacher she once knew so I replied with a very short update about my life to which she replied with a question. As I set out to reply the reality of the last time I saw her and what I was actually dealing with at the time was a clear as it has ever been. I just started writing and this is what came to me. I’ve edited out specifics but the gist is still here. I write for my own self as much as for anyone else on a similar journey who might be encouraged to hang in there.

My Reply.

When I was acquainted with you as your child’s second grade teacher, I was on my way out of the worldview that one has to accept Christ in a personal way to be saved (from Hell). I didn’t realize it then, but when H’s eating disorder was killing her and we started seeing the professionals in Omaha, the layers of our lives up to that point started to be addressed in ways that we never imagined would be necessary. At the same time they were layers of dysfunction that we ached to deal with. It was incredible to have a safe place away from home to do just that. H would talk about something that was happening in her life and often we would sit there with our chins dropped and mouths open trying to grasp how we got to that place. The therapists were so full of compassion and nonjudgmental that we found it very easy to open up and deal with things. 

H was born 3 months early after my water broke at 13 weeks, resealed and broke 3 more times. It remains a profound miracle that she is here with us. A local OB/gyn told us that we had a less than 1% chance of having a baby after the water breaks that early. It was a profound experience. It was simultaneously an experience of intense suffering for me and for my baby. Suffering that we didn’t know was actual trauma. Trauma altering the developing brain and body of my unborn baby, trauma impacting my sense of safety in the world, trauma that made our bond very difficult because it was so often interrupted by a medical crisis that would separate us and trauma that couldn’t not be dealt with by scripture or prayer alone. H had spent the first month of her life without being held…I had spent that month without holding her. I bond easily with babies and kids but the reality is that what happens in the brain to bond children to their mothers and gives them a basic sense of safety in the world was missed for H and my sense of being her mother was almost entirely a spiritual/intellectual experience instead of a human one. Her eating disorder’s genesis was in this reality. 

Even though the psychiatrist told us from the very first appointment that her eating disorder was rooted in this trauma, as I would return home and answer people’s questions about how she was doing etc. the exchanges would too often be very difficult and add to our pain. I stopped going to morning prayer with the teachers before school because trying to pray what they were praying about evil spirits and demons was so unhelpful and shaming, not to mention so far removed from my experience that I couldn’t begin to handle it. Thankfully the administrator let me out of that or I would have had to leave the job altogether. It was the most difficult time of my life. As Dean and I were being given so much grace at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, as H’s literal life was being saved and she was given back to us in a healthier place, I would come home and face incredible opposition to the truth of our situation. 

I began to shift away from church and the Christian school beyond teaching my class of students because it became a very unsafe place for me. That said, life in Conservative, pull up your boot straps and get to work Nebraska was full of obstacles in terms of ever healing from the trauma that my family needed to heal from. One reality that caused no small amount of grief was that the world was not as black and white as our faith community and home culture said it was. At face value it would seem that we could have different opinions about things but underneath there was always the search for the exact truth. Unfortunately when the only answer you want is the one right one, it becomes an overwhelming commitment to perfection. When I would share what I was learning about life being much more gray than that, it would create a lot of fear and uncertainty in those hearing me. I struggled to deal with my own growth along the way and found it increasingly problematic to discuss any of it with those in my world back in Nebraska. 

What began to happen was that we would go to Omaha for a family session and be so encouraged at H’s growth and progress, have a great discussion on the way home as we processed what we’d learned and then I would go to work the next morning. Every day was a day to arm myself and exist with caution because when I would share something we had learned, it would so threaten this worldview in the hearer that they would have to counter it. Over and over this took place and it was excruciating. I had to hold up the pretense that I was okay with the advice, the strong and repeated suggestion that H was possessed by a demonic spirit and/or just spoiled. There was no other acceptable worldview even though many just watched from afar and supported us as people, it was a brutal existence.

I am solely responsible for Hannah’s admission to Children’s Hospital back then because I was literally watching the life inside her die. I knew before God that if I did not find her genuine help somewhere she would die. She went into their program on the verge of cardiac arrest. We were within hours of losing her. Two weeks later she bled out IN treatment. Her hemoglobin was a 3.9 when they called and told us they had to admit her to the Med/Surg Unit and start her on blood transfusions. They said that she was within minutes to hours of death again. No one had any possible explanation and she was in treatment where the environment was completely controlled. So twice in three weeks, our daughter was almost dead. Those events in themselves were traumatizing for me. 

The reality is that because of my lived experiences at that time I was forced to question everything or retreat into some kind of spiritual fog that made no sense. I began to see certain people coming my way and physically turn around and walk away. A close friend gave me a book from some nut job in the deep south who had taken every illness and linked it to a spiritual cause. The author insisted that the reader use only the KJV when thinking through possible causes to an illness. It was literally the most dangerous book I’d read up to that point and ushered in no small amount of confusion. Because it came from a trusted friend I took it but that experience led to the drawing of many severe boundaries with most people because I simply could not sift through all of the nonsense, and there was A LOT of it. 

H tried to come home 3 times before the psychiatrist told us that if she did not get long term treatment in a residential facility she would die. We looked at five places and let Hannah choose the one she felt most comfortable with. That was Avalon Hills in northern Utah. That program saved her life. We gulped a bit when she chose it because it was in Utah among Mormons.  That said we both knew that we were desperate and she had to buy into the program or it would not work. We also had to make it clear that we did not go there to save Mormons or become Mormon but to find the help she needed to heal. The treatment program was secular and clients were there from all over the country. Because we did not demand that the program be Remuda Ranch in Arizona, an Evangelical treatment center, we chose to leave the pale of the Evangelical world and we have never been able to return. 

After multiple failed attempts for Hannah to return to Norfolk the only choice we had was to leave. God opened up the way for us to do that and we do not regret a thing. That said, once you have allowed yourself to leave the pale, your family and community like we did, it’s not possible to go back. 

This is the first visit since 2005 that I have been able to come to Norfolk and be entirely my own self. I have a lovely Utah wildflower tattoo on my left calf, I occasionally swear, I rarely read the Bible though much of it is stored in my brain and guides me continually, I pray in secret, I do not even consider someone unsaved or lost and I do my best to simply be fully present in the moment. I came on this trip with the intention of resisting nothing that came at me but just letting it be what it is and love people wherever they are.

As a deeply empathic person and someone who has always had a strong commitment to social justice, I see my growth as the result of the intense shadow work I had to do. Work that has allowed me to discard the beliefs that weren’t really my own to begin with. In other words, apart from abortion, I have always been a liberal-minded person and I am not living in any way inconsistent with the values that encouraged me to become an Evangelical in the first place. I’ve realized that I didn’t ever really believe in a literal or inerrant Bible but said I did because that’s what we say. I would even have said I believed it but as they say the proof is in the life we live. To live with integrity has been incredibly freeing and I can say with sincerity that few of my beliefs are fixed or set in a way that cannot be altered. My core values of love, justice and mercy are however, very fixed. 

I am deeply aware of God, the Holy Spirit/Jesus in my life but have no thought that my experience or understanding is the one and only legitimate spiritual one. I have enjoyed deep connections with Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims and others in the places where I’ve lived.  I now live in N. Austin with no desire or intent to convert people – trust me, there the Southern Baptists have that down 🙂 . My newest connection has been with a couple from India who are Jainist. Before we left Utah in 2019 we went for a bagel and coffee and met a Muslim couple who sought political asylum in the US from Turkey. Both were PhDs affiliated with Utah State University. We had just been through the bombing of an Islamic temple in Australia and the anti-muslim sentiment in Utah was significant. Dean and I did everything we could to counter that. We introduced ourselves and looked Mehmet in the eyes and said, “We are so glad you are here.”  Gonca and he became instant friends. This is the world that I inhabit and I can’t ever go back to the one I knew when you knew me. 

I know this is a long answer to your question. I really did genuinely love seeing you in person this week. I was so blessed by that evening because all of the relatives I was with have greatly struggled with my growth over the years and to be with them and be received was pure joy. Author Brene Brown says that people are harder to hate close up and I have used that as a path to stay connected to my family and some dear friends. We don’t agree on most things but love and connection at the core can’t easily be thrown out when we are present with each other. I’m so thankful. It’s been a long road. 

Wishing you all the best!! 

Growth

A year ago this week we celebrated our grandson’s 2nd birthday with friends and family. We went to a play gym, touched equipment freely and breathed in air with strangers. We had so much fun when our little guy announced, “Bobby’s Birthday!” to all of us while he waited for his daddy to light the candle on his cupcake. Pleasure chemicals released themselves in our collective brain and we all smiled with joy. We didn’t know that in just a short week, everything would change and joy would become more of a memory than a present emotion.

Daycare closed.

Work moved from office to home for the guys and from school to home for Theresa.

I was instantly living in a world inhabited by three other adults and two toddlers. It was delightful and horrible in equal measures. My husband and I had only lived here in Texas for 6 months with half of that time spent apart. Adjusting to a new place takes time and with that comes the adjustment to the new routine created by his work. His new position with Maxi Lift required that he spend 50% of his time on the road visiting customers and attending trade shows. We had just reached a place where we had found a rhythm with each other’s presence one week and its absence the next. When the shutdown arrived all of that growth was lost. Just like that we were transported to an entirely new dimension and just like that so was the entire world.

As children in elementary school we all learn about seeds and plants. Those lessons teach us the early realities of what it means for a seed to undergo the changes required to sprout, take root, grow and reach a point of fruition. We learn that life is a continual circle of life, growth and death. We come to understand that a seed’s growth requires a meeting of elements beyond itself to get the job done. Wise teachers use the plant as a metaphor of human growth and change. Most of us live our lives with this understanding completely unaware that our early childhood school experience gave it to us, we just know it’s true. What is less understood for us as human beings is that the elements out there are not always kind to growing things. Two weeks ago, here in Texas, the elements directed by Mother Nature took an already captive people into a corner and whipped it about with ice, snow and frigid temperatures in a place where furnaces running are rare and insulation around pipes even more rare. As with plants in a garden facing elements like this, lives were threatened and some actually lost because it was just too much.

Growth in 2021 has been challenged to the depths for me. It wasn’t enough to go through the snowmageddon and survive but our little Bobby whose daycare had closed again (this time for just 2 weeks at the beginning of February due to a positive Covid test in his classroom) came home from daycare…and tested positive a week later. A few days later our son Stephen tested positive. A few days later, baby AJ tested positive…and a few days later our daughter-in-law Theresa tested positive. Everyone has come through with a mild case and quarantine ends on Thursday, an entire month. We have supported from outside through drop offs and talking through screens and a lot of FaceTime calls.We’ve taken what we thought were calculated risks but when any little sore throat or cough arose went into despair until the Covid test returned negative. The mind’s ability to make one literally sick is truly profound.

Last Thursday, after my negative test, I was desperate for a vaccine. So desperate that when my neighbor encouraged me to check the CVS website and I found it available out in Midland, Texas, just 5.5 hours away, I made an appointment. Last weekend I received my first shot of the Moderna vaccine. Today, Dean is volunteering in Bell County, an hour away so that he can get a shot because he doesn’t meet the criteria here in Texas. I think he’s helping to direct traffic today. Tomorrow he’ll assist with temperature checks. Two days off of work to get vaccinated because for us, it’s worth it. We’re about done in.

A podcast I listen to called the Osterholm Update from CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) based at the University of Minnesota warns that a very difficult surge of the UK virus is on the way and yesterday The Houston Chronicle reported that every strain of the virus has been found there. Dr. O likens the reality of what is about to hit the U.S. to a Covid 19 hurricane that will bring us the worst season yet for this pandemic.

The experts say that the only way to achieve herd immunity in any reasonable amount of time is through vaccine distribution. These “experts” are infectious disease, immunology specialists and those in public health. If American’s resist the vaccine, the only alternative is to get the virus and take your chances at survival. As I take in that information, like anything else in 2021, it’s a walk through a hall of mirrors where delusional images abound and reality is only found in the knowledge that you have internalized over a lifetime. It’s profound when I hear others tell me that they aren’t putting anything like that vaccine into their body. These same people, many of whom will eat whatever they want, drink enough alcohol to persevere their liver for future generations to find in archaeological digs, smoke and take incredible risks in other ways, will not put that vaccine into their body? I say to myself, “What the incredible hell?” As if that isn’t enough, another friend told us that he’s certain Bill Gates is using the vaccine to do something nefarious to us because we know he sterilized thousands of young girls in Africa…Head spins at this “news”. As if that isn’t enough bullshit for a lifetime, my parents inform me that they were told that the government is going to be tracking them with the microscopic chip (that somehow finds its way through that vial of vaccine into the syringe and into the arm) if they get the vaccine. Thank God my mom replied with, “How can they think the government can’t find them right now if they want to?” Phew we dodged that bullet! My parents get their first shot on Friday.

It’s hard to grasp that this thing that arrived a year ago is still here, that we are all very much still dealing with it. But we are.

As I have been processing all of this in recent weeks one thing has really stood out to me. The choice to face life as it is and grow from it is the only thing that we all really have. The choice to be real – to face our fears and our own versions of crazy is what is vital to our living a full and meaningful life. I’m struggling right now. The only growth I have going on is what there is inside of me. I hope to be a different person as a result of having lived through this past year. Sunday we’re having a socially distanced birthday party for Bobby’s 3rd birthday and I’m so very grateful.

“Q Anon and Evangelicalism is very simply truth vs. lies”. I could not disagree more

Last week while discussing the new member of Congress who believes bizarre, outlandish conspiracy theories like lasers from space operated by Jews were used to start wildfires in Northern California, a Facebook friend made this comment in response to one of my posts. The original post discussed the responsibility Evangelicals have for the rise of Trump nationalism.


“Q Anon and Evangelicalism is very simply truth vs. lies”.

I could not disagree more.

Evangelicalism is a movement, a conglomeration of anti-establishment Christians, fundamentalist believers, biblical literalists, prosperity driven charismatics and a host of others claiming Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. The Evangelical label encompasses a very, very large number of people under a very diverse tent. At the heart of the movement you will find individuals as varied in their ability to discern truth from error as you would anywhere. The concept that Evangelicalism is truth while Qanon theories are lies is, in my opinion, the greatest of all tells.

Evangelicalism in 2021 is rampant with liars. It is rampant with malignant narcissists. Evangelical males are some of the most prolific engagers in pornography and users of prostitutes in this country. Within the ranks of Evangelicals are some of the most manipulative and cunning people in this country. The number of Evangelical homes loaded with guns and ammunition is astonishing. Evangelicals spend their money on things just like anyone else and many declare their favored status with God as evidenced by the neighborhood they live in, the cars that they drive, the trips they take and a host of things other than the condition of their hearts. Evangelicals are in love with power from the top down as a result of position rather than because knowing and believing anything true has given them a following. I wish I were being overly dramatic. I am not.

Evangelical Christians as a whole honestly believed that when Donald Trump prayed aloud to receive Christ with Dr. James Dobson in 2016, they could abandon reason and support him to govern our country. Reduced to a weak Kool Aid of theology, Dr. Dobson was convinced that the Almighty, Supreme Being had entered the heart of Donald Trump and as a result would be able to miraculously guide our country to some sort of heaven on earth. Abortion would be stopped. Immigrants would be stopped. Muslims would be stopped. LGBTQ people would be stopped. Women would be put in their place and most of all the Supreme Court would become controlled by the righteous. You know, the kind, like Clarence Thomas whose wife was part of the capitol insurrection on January 6th. All very “godly” acts of faith, no?

My experiences with faith are full of mystery, serendipity and awe. God is the ground of my being and my love for Jesus Christ is sincere. The life he lived gives me an incredible beacon of light to guide my own by. I personally find it possible that he was divine and rose from the dead but at the very least it is not something I cannot actually prove. Those who claim to have evidence are doing so because they want there to be evidence. The evidence of Christ in me is a mystical, spiritual experience that makes my life better. It is not in biblical literalism, church attendance, dogma or law designed to define that life for me. I got here, to this place of my own grounded spiritual life because I challenge things and ask questions all of the time. I suppose it goes back to growing up in a family that moved six times while I was 8-13. Arriving at someone else’s doorstep, another teachers’s classroom or in a new town over and over during one’s formative years made my survival dependent upon making observations and asking questions.

In summary, Q anon has nothing on modern day Evangelical faith. Just as there are sincere people duped by the lies spread by Q and others eager for a following, Evangelicalism is full of people who have no idea how to discern truth from error anymore. It is full of dogma and law, factions and splinters of religion using the name of Christ for the ticket into the dysfunctional hall of mirrors they pretend is ultimate truth. The movement itself has provided fertile soil for Q’s theories to be planted in, to take root and to flourish in to the degree that we now have once sane grounded CHRISTIAN people claiming that Bill Gates is putting a tracking device into the Covid 19 vaccines. These same Evangelical people are willing to go without a vaccine during a worldwide pandemic because they are believing a lie. In many places Evangelical faith and Q Anon have married each other and it’s that simple.

Evangelicals and Trump

As I write this blog post, I find myself wrestling with how to communicate what I want to say in a way that will encourage you to keep reading, especially if you are at present an active Evangelical Christian. I really, really want you to hear me because even though I am not actively involved in your world right now, my faith in God is actually very real. The core values that drive how I live my life are grounded in Jesus’s life and ministry because I spent so much of my life actively immersed in the faith. I have little certainty in the specific laws and doctrines churches have embraced but my heart has been deeply altered by the lived experiences I have had with the God of my understanding. Jesus remains the risen Christ to me and that is all I know. So, if that is enough, please continue to read. 

Recently I have been thinking a lot about words the Apostle Paul is said to have written in 2 Timothy 3. He said that when the last days would come men would be…

  • Lovers of self
  • Lovers of money
  • Boastful 
  • Arrogant 
  • Revilers
  • Disobedient to parents
  • Ungrateful
  • Unholy
  • Unloving
  • Irreconcilable
  • Malicious gossips
  • Without self control
  • Brutal
  • Haters of good
  • Treacherous
  • Reckless
  • Conceited
  • Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
  • Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power

He also said to “avoid such men as these.”

I am not at all interested in a discussion of the end of the world. That’s possibly a post for another day. What I have to say is this. 

When I came into the Evangelical fold, it was vital to me to live my life in response to the ultimate goodness I found in Jesus. I was encouraged to understand that the world he inhabited and the world that he offered his followers was one with unconditional love at its foundation. I was called to live a life of devotion and service. The reality that I have encountered as time as gone by is that more and more the very ones who are propagating the message of Jesus are the ones Paul describes to Timothy, his disciple, to avoid. 

Consider the recent situation with Jerry Falwell Junior, the now ousted president of Liberty University, an institution founded on the idea of being a leader in establishing a “Moral Majority” in America. This man, who embodies every single quality listed in 2 Timothy 3 was embraced by Christian people right up until he was asked to leave.

Honestly, for those of the faith who believe the Bible is without error and literally God’s word, what is the deal? 

I could go on for days writing about the supposed leaders of the Evangelical movement who hold to the idea that they are solid, biblical Christians but live lives that are nothing at all like those required by the legit followers of Jesus. And oddly, these same leaders are the single most devoted followers of Donald J. Trump, a man who makes no effort whatsoever to hide any of his moral flaws and continues to act day after day without any regard at all as to “What Would Jesus Do?”. 

One has to ask, is it because those in the church pews Sunday after Sunday, are themselves less interested in the discipleship Jesus asked of his followers than they are in winning the praise of men like he is? Is it simply much more attractive for his followers to love money and pleasure more than they love God? Afterall, God just might ask them to sell it all and give it to the poor? One has to ask, what is the reality of the body of people across America that undergirds those in power who are so corrupt and unattached to the Jesus they claim to represent?

This incredible mystery has consumed Dean’s and my conversation for the last decade. The vitriol we witnessed being extended to the Obama family from the people of faith we once worshipped alongside was an incredible shock to us. We never imagined it possible that so many would take their contempt even further and embrace the likes of anyone like Donald Trump as God’s alternative. Watching this unfold and witnessing really, really good people choose to follow this man and his enablers has broken our hearts over and over. 

I don’t know what to do except to write. I’ve said all that I can say and then some. If these are any kind of last days – I hope that they are the last days of this incredible delusion and extreme double standard. I know it will eventually end because all malignant narcissists finally crash and burn. Unfortunately, they also take down others with them and the Evangelical Church will be no exception. I can only hope that there is some kind of redemptive life on the other side of this.

Another therapeutic rant from me…

Yesterday a video clip of protestors in Michigan crossed my Facebook page and I could hardly fathom what I saw. A woman was sharing her frustration with a reporter about the horror of her gray roots showing and the inability to take care of them with a hair appointment. A man was venting his angst that the government is keeping him from getting his lawn fertilizer. I wish I could feel compassion for these people because I know that life is hard for all of us right now. Instead I feel nothing but a desire to put their sorry little asses in a Covid 19 hospital room and tell them to wake the hell up to reality. How can it be that with almost 30,000 recorded deaths and no end in sight to this pandemic that anyone can possibly imagine that these things matter? 

Later in the day I turned on CNN to get an update on things. A strong male voice, relaxed and calm but incredibly serious, was addressing his state and the American people. Governor Cuomo of New York was giving a briefing. As I listened, I was surprised at the way his words and tone of voice combined to bring much needed calm and perspective to my troubled mind. Nothing he said changed the fact that this is a horrible situation he and we, as a nation, find ourselves in.  He didn’t waste time or energy assigning blame anywhere. Instead, he made the facts crystal clear. He acknowledged that the suffering all around him is horrific. He acknowledged the human losses were increasingly unimaginable and so painful for people.  He didn’t brag about being the one able to get this bull by the horns and behind us.  Instead he just made it very clear that there is no alternative but to do what it takes to get the bull taken down by the horns and put in a pen behind us. He gave no false assurances of any kind.  I have determined he will be the voice in my head when I am thinking about this. 

Today arrived and I was made aware that my home state of Nebraska, like here in Texas, is righteously committed to the avoidance of a statewide mandate to shelter in place. The Nebraska governor says that it is not appropriate for the strong arm of government to require its citizens to comply.  It is up to individuals doing the right thing and taking responsibility.  So far, so good it seemed until this week when a packing plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, was forced to close because of an outbreak. 

As I heard the news, I was also told that the reason this outbreak occurred is because the Hispanic subculture within the state, also the primary workers at most packing plant facilities, ignored the suggestions from the governor, exercised their individual rights to gather as they saw fit and continued to celebrate their rich tradition of hosting Quinceañera celebrations. In an instant, the blame for this fell smack dab on the minorities.  I’m still trying to process the ease with which the plant and/or the government were bypassed in taking responsibility for the situation. The reality of worker proximity to one another and plant’s responsibility to do due diligence in educating its workforce wasn’t even considered in the discussion I was having. 

Packing plants are horrible places to work in. They are smelly, wet and cold. The work is ugly and physically demanding. It is amazing ANY human being would WANT to work in one. These plants rely on Hispanic and foreign workers because we white people are doing other more interesting work. The hard cold fact is that without these plants in production, there will be no meat for your BBQ, no chicken for your soup, and no turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner.  Because of this virus we will, as a society, finally be forced to understand just how valuable these hardworking packing plant workers actually are.  More importantly, we just might begin to realize exactly where our food actually comes from. 

 

The Bible

The Bible was the spiritual text of choice when I grew up. Like many of us, my family had one and though revered as sacred, I don’t have a single memory of anyone actually opening it. I was given my paternal grandmother’s Bible with our family record of marriages, births and deaths recorded in it. I will always cherish it but I will do so with the awareness that my grandmother didn’t actually read it. Neither or she or my grandfather belonged to a church or showed any desire to participate in one.

The Bible became significant in my life as a teenager  when I committed myself to a serious search of the way to be a genuinely good person. At 16 my spoken desire was to become a TRUE Christian. Having loosely grown up in a mainline Christian denomination, I had experienced it as someone on the outside looking in rather than anyone with any real awareness of what on earth it was all about. After a hayride and bonfire on a crisp cool fall evening in Nebraska, I found myself awakened to the possibility that Christianity might be a more valuable pursuit than I had realized.  As the weeks went on I sought out more opportunities to understand this real Christianity better. My desire to live my life within its boundaries only increased and as it did, the Bible became a conduit of life to me.  As it did, church attendance and being with those of similar devotion became the center of my life.

I graduated from high school a very different person than the one I was when I started. Smoking, drinking and dabbling in rebellious pursuits were short lived once the new devotion to the Bible and Jesus took over. Honestly, I no longer needed anything like that. I felt incredibly positive much of time because I was fully aware that I was walking with the God of the Universe, the creator of the stars. In a small group designed for the leadership students of the group I studied the first chapter in the book of James.  Why the adult leaders chose that place to guide me in laying down a Christian foundation, I’ll never know, but that verse by verse, word for word study has literally given me the capacity to walk through some of the darkest of times in my life.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

This was literally the first scripture I memorized and chewed over and over as I lived my life. The process of doing it gave me strength and courage to walk through the experiences I had with a weird illness the doctors thought to be Lupus. I was 16 with my whole life in front of me. “Consider – stop, think about and look closely at…it-whatever it is…all – everything about you – joy…” This was my way of coping. This was the life blood of my being. Over and over the words went in my head and the promise that God was testing my faith to produce endurance and endurance would have its perfect result in my life… making me perfect, complete lacking in nothing…I am far from perfect and complete 43 years later but what I can say for sure is that as a result of this kind of effort applied to biblical study, I simply can not decide to believe that the various trials that come into my life do not work for a more perfect result in my life. AND I HAVE TRIED.

The years that followed this period of intense study led me to believe that anything and everything I would need to know or believe would be found between the covers of the Holy Bible. Understand that when I say, everything, I truly mean every single thing.

I have a cold…seek God’s word in the Bible.

I need a job…seek God’s word in the Bible.

I need/want a husband…seek God’s word in the Bible.

I need a new dress for an event and I only have X number of dollars…seek God’s word in the Bible.

I’m 13 weeks pregnant with my second baby and my water just broke…seek God’s word in the Bible.

Get the picture? The Bible was my life and as a result, prayer, spending time with other Christians, sharing a four point gospel gleaned from its pages with those who didn’t know what was in it,  also became my life.

SO MUCH GOOD.

SO MUCH.

What was less understood by myself and those who knew me well, was that underneath all of the good and all of the faith and all of the practices this life had led me to employ, was a ruthless desire to be real. That desire for authenticity and truth is for reasons I have yet to discover, completely ingrained in my DNA. I have vivid memories as a child sitting in school wondering if what I was being told was the truth and almost always would have to test the validity of things. I know we all do this but I was strangely driven. I was in trouble a lot growing up because I always pushed the envelope and had to see things for myself. I have one strong memory of sitting with my arms folded and vowing that when I grew up, I would not forget what it was like to be a kid. I was determined that adults would know that kids weren’t stupid and had things to contribute. Thus, the impetus behind becoming a teacher, I’m guessing.

As much as I loved my life of faith and practice with the Bible at its core, I was almost always dealing with the reality that something profound was amiss. Year after year, I pushed through the resistance to things that did not make sense to me. Year after year I continued to lean into being a wholehearted and devoted follower of the Bible. Bible studies, conferences, missions trips, Christian school for my profession and for my children’s education. Three years working part time in a Christian bookstore selling…Bibles and the stories written by those who traveled on the same path. I was one hundred percent saturated in all of it. THEN it came. Like a dark smoke from the mouth of hell, a force so strong came into my life, burned up everything I was, left me for dead and opened the door to an entirely new life that finally makes sense to me. It makes sense because at its core, it is simply real.

This darkness that began to overtake me wasn’t really darkness. In fact, it was just the opposite. It was a bright, white beam of increasingly intense light that slowly exposed the real darkness I had been living in for way too long. Starting with a small candle-like flame of understanding,  it grew in intensity until it became a ravaging flame of intense scrutiny that I could not escape. I had no choice but to stay put in the middle of the fire. In that place, the pages of the Bible began to burn. The structure of religion began to crumble. The relationships built to hold up a belief structure were seared beyond recognition. I had never been so lonely. Paradoxically, I had never been so aware of a God who was there with me in the intensity of the flames.

One question from a guide in the furnace changed everything for me. That question was this.

“Have you ever considered that you may need to approach the Bible in a different way?”

I. had. not.

The next time I went to my Bible, opened its pages and sought divine advice, my eyes landed on words below the title of one of the books within The Book. They simply said that this text was written in 60 AD. I looked at that and went, “What that you say?” AD…as in the year of our Lord…the day Jesus was born. Wait…the guy who wrote this, did so 60 years after Jesus was born? So why do I read it as if it was written it as it happened? Why do I read it as if it is relevant to my life today?

Understand that for me, the only possible place I would ever feel free to ask such a question and accept the answer I would come up with, would be in this intensely brutal hot place of trial. In that place, I was desperate to escape but simply could not. Any attempt to return to where I had been would only bring more pain and suffering to my situation. I had no way to go but through it.

I began to realize from the beginning of my love affair with the Bible that I had chosen to believe some things that in my situation at the time no longer made sense. The first of those things was the established belief within my faith community that all of the words in the Bible were literally dictated by God for mankind to follow. The belief is based on the following scripture from 2 Timothy 3:16

“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

In my life from 16 until this day in my 43 year, it was essential for me to believe that all scripture meant that all of the words in the Bible we have today from Genesis to Revelation, were literally breathed into being in the mind of the writer of the text by the God of the universe to instruct mankind. ALL of them. Every single one. This was what I believed until that day. That day the balloon popped and once it did it could never be re-inflated.

As I look at the Bible today, I see it as a group of ancient texts that began in many places as oral stories passed on to others.  Long before anything was ever written down on any kind of solid source there was no other way to pass along information gleaned from one’s experiences. Jewish scribes were tasked with writing things down but they are not responsible for the content of this version of the Bible. They were also not claiming to have been inspired but were instead the record keepers of their day. The Bible is simply not an actual recording of events as they occurred  like we have the capacity to do today. And think about it, today we can make anything look like it was a real event in real time. Imagine those coming generations who discover our trove of movies and how they will determine what is and is not true within them?

So this is me. This is my story on my journey. Today, I still believe in God and that is because I believe I have personal experiences with that God. I continue to follow the teaching of Jesus. I continue to believe that Jesus did die on the cross but I believe that it was because he assaulted religion with his teachings and his life. I am not sure I can embrace that it was to save us from original sin. As to his resurrection, I can only say that in principle, my life seems lived with cycles of death, burial and resurrection which makes me think that there is deep truth in the Easter story. I am not certain anymore and I no longer have to be.  In this place in my life – 59 freakin years old!! – I am out of that intense fire and the darkness associated with it is no more.

The Bible remains a source of deep wisdom to me. It remains a record of the encounters others had with a prophet named Jesus and how I can connect with his wisdom. I am no longer obsessed with getting it ingrained into my psyche or making sure I follow it to the letter. Today, I worship God in what I believe to be spirit and truth and attempt to love mankind as myself. That’s all that makes sense to me.

Namaste

Avoiding Avoidance

A few days ago while I was doing my upteenth Facebook scroll of the day this post from one of my dear friends in Utah showed up. I read it and felt sad but quickly moved on. I couldn’t respond. Not one word. 

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I read that she was home and okay and that was enough. I didn’t think about it at all until yesterday. When I did, I let the thought go faster than a bolt of lightning. Today when I woke up, my friend posted that so many had responded wondering how she was she wanted to let us know she was home and doing well.

Bing! The lights on in my brain. OMG, Carole was in this accident!! It could have been terrible. She could have died. OMG, I didn’t even say anything to comfort her. OMG, what’s happening to me? Because it was Carole, I told her I was so overwhelmed I didn’t really even grasp what I saw. Carole, is a friend who prefers my real over platitudes and pretense. Just want you to know that about her.

As I’ve thought about this experience, I have realized some things. As a person who has endured a number of personal losses and learned how to process them, I have a deep knowledge inside of me that gives me courage to continue. I understand at a cellular level that  just about anything can be overcome. At present, I know that the human species can overcome this…but…here’s the thing, overcoming this will involve the kind of work that those of us in industrialized countries are hell bent on avoiding.

What is making this nightmare incredibly difficult to deal with is that while we sit here in our homes with electricity flowing, lights on, refrigerators full and running, we don’t know how to imagine that when we get through this, we will do anything but return to our old lives. Simultaneously, as this crisis continues to drag on, we are collectively becoming aware of the reality that normal is just a setting on our dryer.  Whatever anyone’s normal has been, it is now gone.  And we are just beginning to realize that. We are going to be stressed out for awhile. We are going to have to figure out some things.

A few years ago, Dean’s and my world was completely shattered when we had to liquidate everything and borrow ourselves into oblivion to get our daughter treatment for a life threatening mental illness. It simultaneously included a five year battle with United Healthcare in order to make them honor the words in our family’s health insurance policy. We won but the emotional toll was profound.

Today, I’m thinking about the reality that unfathomable circumstances require unfathomable things from deep within us. Things we didn’t even imagine existed. We all know this at some level, especially if we are at all interested in history. Stories of survival are always favorite ones and give us hope. Simultaneously, they encourage us to do whatever it takes to avoid any need for such heroics. I’m here to say, the coming seasons will require us to find ourselves at the depths of ourselves.

I’m grateful today that my friend Carole knows that I am always in her corner and that it’s no big deal that I didn’t respond as I normally would have when she shared the news about her accident. I am grateful that I could process this strange experience instead of avoid it. My personal journey has taught me that any avoided experience collects in the dungeon of my soul and slowly sucks the life out of me.

My hero is Nelson Mandella. He led his people in the fight to end apartheid – white rule of the country. He endured much hell and experienced unimaginable suffering. He chose not to resist and found a well deep within to endure for his people. He survived 27 years in prison and became the President of South Africa upon his release. He left prison without bitterness and was able to see apartheid come to and end in his lifetime. He lived with these words engraved in his soul.