Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Miracle

There is a song by the Christian group Casting Crowns, called “Praise You in This Storm” and this is the first stanza:
I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say "Amen", and it's still raining

And the part about wiping our tears away really hit me this morning. I used to view my illness as a “storm” that I had to get through, but the “storm” has now lasted 12 years, so I had to come to terms that my life is now just very different than what it used to be, or what I hoped it would be. But what got me thinking was that even though God hasn’t healed me, he has wiped away my tears! And that’s quite the miracle: that I could go from a life of sports, travel, and activity, to a life in a rocking chair and that I can still say that life is good, and that God is good!

There are many songs and sayings that speak about God’s transforming power:
  • He makes beauty from ashes
  • Joy comes in the morning
  • He turns mourning into dancing

I used to think that for those to be true God would have to heal me. Only then would He make beauty from the ashes of my illness; only then would I have joy; only then would I dance. But I have come to realize that the true transformative power is when we are still in the midst of pain and suffering, yet we have beauty, joy, and dancing.

Think about it. Which is the greater miracle: God healing me so that I go on with the life I had with a single “God did this for me” testimony, or God meeting me here and now – in the middle of my struggle – giving me strength and courage, and a testimony of God’s daily intervention in my life?

Now, to be quite honest, I would have preferred the healing!! J Nevertheless, I do think that He is working a miracle in my life: He has wiped away my tears, and in their place he has given me joy and a victorious spirit, even as I walk this very hard road that I would rather not be on. By not healing me, He is instead using me to show people the truth of His love and care for us. It sounds crazy, I know! But I do really know how much He loves me and cares for me, because I have to depend on Him every minute of every day. He has not ever abandoned me, even when I couldn’t feel Him. He has been with me every step of the way, holding my hand and guiding me – and some days He has flat-out carried me!


This is the miracle: that I can sit here in my rocking chair, too weak to do much of anything, with my former life gone, and all I loved to do taken away by this disease, and I can still say “It is well with my soul!” He has, indeed, wiped away my tears, given me beauty, given me joy, and set my feet to dancing (metaphorically, at least) – and yet I am not healed. It’s a miracle!

Monday, October 12, 2015

On Anti-Islamic Protests

I have been reading about a movement in the U.S., of armed “Christians” demonstrating outside of local mosques, shouting anti-Islamic slogans, and telling the people there to leave the U.S. – people who are U.S. citizens, and have a right guaranteed in the Constitution to practice their religion. There are so many things wrong with this whole situation that it’s hard to know where to start! But I’ll try.

First off, let’s talk about the whole “Christians with guns threatening people” thing. What are the two commandments that Jesus said Christians must follow, to uphold all the law of the Bible? (1) Love God with all your mind, heart and soul; (2) Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s #2 that is key here: as Christians, we are called to love everyone as much as we love ourselves. (A corollary, the Golden Rule, is also key.) And, in case anyone is confused about who their neighbor is, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, which emphasizes that everyone is our neighbor. So, these Muslims, who literally live in our neighborhoods, are most definitely our neighbors, and we should be loving them, not threatening them with guns.

Closely related is the very important teaching of Jesus that we are to love our enemies. We are supposed to pray for our enemies, not threaten them or take up arms against them! Even if you have been so brainwashed by Fox “News” that you think all Muslims are your enemy, as a Christian your required response should be to love them and pray for them, not take up guns and threaten them. For a Christian to pick up a gun and confront those he considers his enemy violates one of the primary teachings of Christianity.

Now let’s address another of Christ’s commandments: He tells us we are to “make disciples of all nations.” Tell me, how does threatening someone with a gun and yelling hateful slogans at them lead them to Christ? (I’ll just leave that thought here…)

Furthermore, those who are attending these protests are actually doing exactly what Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban want them to do! Extremists who use terror in the name of Islam preach to their flocks that America hates Islam and is at war with Muslims. Imagine their joy when they see pictures of Americans doing just that! It is fuel to their fire of hatred. These anti-Islamic protesters are unwitting dupes of “Radical” Islam. If you really want to quench the fires of hatred, then pour out love on Muslims. Don’t give the Taliban/Al Qaeda/ISIS any “proof” that America hates Islam!

And let’s get this one thing clear: the vast majority of Muslims do not hate Christians or America, and are not “at war” with Christianity! The so-called “Muslim” extremists of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS do not define Islam any more than the KKK or white supremacists/Nazis define Christianity! To attack all Muslims as anti-American is ignorant and hateful.

So, let me summarize:

  1. American Muslims have a Constitutionally guaranteed right to practice their religion here.
  2. Christ teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves, not take up arms and threaten them.
  3. Christ teaches us to love our enemies and pray for them, not take up arms and threaten them.
  4. Christ teaches us to make disciples of all nations, not take up arms and threaten them.
  5. Terrorists who use Islam preach to their followers that America hates Islam and Muslims. People who stand outside of mosques with guns, shouting anti-Islam slogans, are doing just what the Taliban/ISIS/Al Qaeda want!
  6. Terrorist Muslims do not define Islam any more than the KKK/Nazis define Christianity. Most Muslims do not hate Christianity or America. Don’t give them any excuse to change that!

Basically, it comes down to two things: Christ’s teachings are diametrically opposed to the actions of those who take part in these protests; and those who do so are doing exactly what Islamic terrorists want them to do. So, these protesters are NOT Christian, and are actually supporting Islamic terrorists.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Jesus, Bring the Rain?

There is a very popular Christian song called “Bring the Rain” by the group Mercy Me. This is the chorus:

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there'll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that's what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain

Those last two lines: no. Just no.

First off, God doesn’t “send” bad things into our lives, for any reason. Bad things happen to us because we live in a fallen world, full of fallen people. But God doesn’t send those things to us. They just happen. Asking God to “bring the rain” is heretical, at best, and self-destructive, at worst.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that bad times are God-sent, and so it’s something we can ask for. As someone whose life has had more than its share of “rain” I can say without question: DO NOT PRAY FOR HARD TIMES! Even if “that’s what it takes to praise” God! It sounds so spiritual for someone to say, “I’m so glad I experienced that (cancer, loss of a job, etc) because I’ve learned so much about God and His love!” But, ask the parent who lost a child if they’re glad their child is dead because they’ve gained so much insight into God’s love through coping with it. Ask the husband who lost his wife and the mother of his children to cancer if he is glad his wife is dead, because through her death he learned more about God’s love. The answer would be a resounding “NO!”

It’s certainly true that through hard times we can learn more about ourselves and about God, but you’d be a fool to ask for these difficulties. Certainly, because of learning to cope with my illness, my relationship with God is deeper than it was before I was ill. But, without a doubt, I would still rather be healthy and living my old life than living this one. The life I have now is HARD!!! This life is a battle. Every. Single. Day. I struggle just to get out of bed. I struggle to make it through the day, without wearing myself out. I struggle to keep depression and despair at bay. Do you really want that?  Really?? Maybe I’m not spiritual enough, but I’m NOT glad I’m suffering this undiagnosed illness that has robbed me of my job, my hobbies, my volunteer work, my very health! Yes, I am glad that I have learned wonderful things through this struggle, and I’m eternally grateful to a God who has been able to bring some good out of it, but I am not glad I’m ill and disabled. I’m not glad that this is how my life has ended up. I am not thankful for this illness. I am only thankful for a loving God who has been with me every step of the way, and who daily gives me strength.

Asking for “the rain” to fall in your life is silly and pseudo-spiritual. If you really knew what it was like to face life-altering struggles, you would NEVER ask for them! For me, knowing more of God is not a fair trade-off for my health and all that its loss entails.  Maybe that makes me a poor Christian or not spiritual enough, but I’m just being honest. I would trade my newfound spiritual growth for my old life – in a heartbeat. In my old life, I knew God and His love for me. I walked with God, I served God. Maybe the depth of my knowledge wasn’t as great as it is now, but I certainly lived a spiritual life, even as a healthy person. So why would I want an illness that has taken away so much of my life, just so that I could feel God’s love a bit more? Sorry, but to me it’s just not a fair trade-off.

So, just stop “praying for rain” – it’s just not good theology, and it’s a false spiritual attitude. God doesn’t send you hard times, and those hard times you do end up going through could rob you of your husband/wife, your child, your health. Do you really want to lose those things in your life? No sane person would. And no loving God would send such things into our lives.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In the Darkness

I just bought a book called Celtic Blessings (compiled by Ray Simpson) and one of the prayers is “for a lonely soul” and it goes like this:

In the stillness
See the wonder of God’s art
In the silence
Feel Christ’s presence
In the sunlight
Watch the Holy Spirit dance
In the darkness
Find faith’s essence
--Jane M. Machickan

That last couplet really hit me – it’s in the darkness that we find the very essence of our faith. We all know it’s easy to believe in a kind and loving God when everything is going well. We feel His love shining down on us, as we bask in a worry-free life. But what happens when things go wrong? What happens when LIFE happens – when bad, tragic and awful things crash into our lives?

I think you can interpret that couplet as a sort of statement of fact about faith: in the darkness you will discover what your faith is really built on. If your faith is built on the premise that God is some sort of magic genie who grants your every wish, or that He will reward you if you are “good” (which implies He will punish you if you’re bad) then when bad things happen you are lost. If that is your faith, then in the darkness you find nothing to really stand on. Your whole view of God goes out the window – how can He give you bad things (or allow bad things to happen) if He loves you? Your very faith, that thing you thought sustained you, falls apart like tissue paper in the rain. You either turn your back on God for not keeping His part of the bargain, or you get angry at God and become bitter and spiteful.

On the other hand, if you believe in a God who loves you unconditionally, if you believe in a God who can create good even out of bad, if you believe in a God who will give you the strength to face anything, then when bad things happen you stand firmly on The Rock. You discover the essence of your faith, and that essence is that God loves you, and that His love for you cannot be shaken, no matter your circumstances. In the darkness, you find Christ – holding your hand, giving you strength, comforting you. You truly find that you are not alone in your walk on this earth. He is there, always. No matter how dark, no matter how bad, He is with you and He will never leave you.

Now, I’m sure that the intent of the prayer is “In the darkness, may you find the unshakable essence of faith, which is that God loves you.” And that is truly my prayer for anyone going through hard times (that is, experiencing life.) But I do think that reading it as a sort of litmus test for faith is also valid. Truly, when tragedy strikes, when hard times come, what is your faith like? You’ll find out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I Am

A short one. It came to me overnight. I share it in hopes it will be an encouragement to someone.

Oh my darling one, do you know how very much you are loved? You look at what you are facing, what you are going through, and you think it’s too much, you think I have abandoned you. But, oh, my darling, this is where you can truly meet Me! In the midst of your pain, in the midst of your loneliness, I Am here. I Am holding you. I Am catching your tears as they fall. I Am whispering in your ear, “I Am with you, always.” You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Reach out to Me and you will find Me, for I Am here. I will never leave you.

Rest, now, my love – rest in my arms. Lay down your burdens, lay down the struggle. For I Am your strength. I Am your refuge. I Am your shelter. Do not try to carry this burden yourself, you were not made to do so. But let Me carry it for you. My shoulders are broad, my hand it will not falter. Rest in my arms. I will not let you go. For you are my precious child, and I Am here. Always.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Strength

Yesterday was a hard day. I’m still trying to recover, physically, from the week of WorldCon, and also still trying to regain my confidence as a writer. (Certain events transpired to make me doubt that I am a writer, which has shaken me quite a bit.) I had a good session with my mental health counselor (the incomparable Dr. Michelle Estelle of Cornerstone Psychologists) but by the end of the day I was still pretty miserable in body, mind and spirit.

As I was getting into bed, I sighed and thought, “I am tired of being strong – I can’t keep this up.” And then that still, small voice said, “You don’t have to be strong, that’s My job.” And I nearly laughed out loud, with the joy of it all, as I remembered that God is the source of my strength. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [Phil. 4:13] I felt a huge weight fall from my shoulders. I realized I had been trying to carry my own burden, trying to “be strong” because that’s what I felt I needed to do. But in all of this I forgot the source of my strength.

Truly, I am not strong enough to carry this burden of being disabled, of being so physically weak that I have had to give up much of what I used to love, of being so tired that just getting out of bed is an accomplishment. It is just too hard to face this daily struggle – if I do so in my own strength, that is. Remembering that it’s not my strength but God’s, has given my spirit a feeling of freedom – I’m no longer responsible for “being strong” and carrying this burden! It was never mine to carry. I knew this, and lived this before, but somehow over the past few weeks I had forgotten it. I am so thankful for the gentle voice of God reminding me of His truth and His love for me.

So, today, though I’m still exhausted, and still feeling tentative as a writer, I know that I can face it all and get through it all, because I am not relying on my own, terribly fragile, strength. I have the strength of the Creator of the Universe in me! I can do this!!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Why Doesn't God Heal Me?

Why hasn’t God healed me? That is the million dollar question for anyone struggling with a chronic or terminal illness. And I don’t have an answer for that question – one I’ve asked many, many times. But I do have a response, one that took years for me to understand. I want to share my journey and hope that my struggles might help someone else in a similar situation.

Eleven and a half years ago, I was struck down by a mystery illness that has left me in a state where my muscles do not work correctly, causing tremors and crushing muscular fatigue. At the time this hit, I was an extremely fit bike racer, the latest in a string of sports dating back to my earliest childhood. I was ALWAYS doing some sport or physical activity. Since the onset of my illness, however, I have become increasingly weak, forcing me to give up more and more activities, to the point where I had to give up working because it was just too fatiguing to even get showered and dressed.

As soon as I realized this condition wasn’t going away, I began asking God to heal me. I asked friends and family to pray for me. People at my church prayed for me. I went to the Healing Center here in Spokane, and had them pray for me. People are still praying for my healing. But I haven’t been healed, or even sent to a doctor who can help me. And, initially, this made me angry. If God loves me, why does He let me suffer? Doesn’t He know how miserable I am?

Greater theologians than I have tried to tackle the issue of suffering, so I certainly don’t have anything to add to that conversation. But what I have learned is that the question “Why hasn’t God healed me?” is not the question to be asking. Because He is God and His ways are higher than ours, there are things we do not understand. But just because we don’t understand things, that doesn’t change who God is or His love for us. If I believed God loved me before my illness, how does that fact change just because I’m disabled? If before I was sick I believed God was on the throne with Jesus at His right hand, how can my illness change that? If before my illness I believed the Holy Spirit was dwelling inside me, giving me strength and guidance, how does my illness negate that? When I realized that my circumstances do not – and cannot – change who God is and how much He loves me, it was a major milestone in my life. It moved my spirit away from despair and into a place of walking with God, regardless of my physical state.

Once I started to grasp that God is still God and that He still loves me, I started learning to live in what Don Piper in his book 90 Minutes in Heaven calls the “new normal” – I may be physically restricted, but I don’t also have to be spiritually restricted! I was no longer burdened with trying to figure out why God wasn’t healing me, and I stopped trying to convince him to. “If I pray for an hour a day, maybe he will heal me” or “I just need to find the right way to ask for healing” or “I just need to discover what God is trying to teach me through this, and then He’ll heal me” were all ways that I struggled to make God heal me. When I realized that focusing on my lack of healing was really hindering what God wanted to do in my life, here and now, I felt a huge burden lift off my shoulders. No, I don’t know why God hasn’t healed me, but that is not going to stop me from moving forward with my life – even a life that is so physically restricted.

Let us never forget that God is in the business of turning dark into light, defeat into victory – so He can certainly take my disability and make something good come of it. Do I still wish He would heal me? Every. Single. Day. But now I focus on Him, and live in expectation for what He will create in me. My disability doesn’t disable God!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

No Rules!

Christianity is not like other religions. In fact, it’s completely different. However, many people, including many Christians, think and act as if it were no different from any other rule-based religion. Here is what is so different: there are no rules to achieve the reward of heaven or to earn God’s love. There is nothing that a mortal human can do to earn God’s love or salvation. Heaven – eternal life – is the “reward” for something very simple: believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that His death has made you righteous in God’s eyes. That’s it. Period, end.*

This is the polar opposite of most other religions. Those religions are full of requirements to make sure you are one of the chosen: you have to eat (or avoid) certain foods, you have to pray a certain way or at certain times of the day, you have to do good works, you have to wear (or not wear) certain clothes. Those religions say: if you do enough of these “good” things, then God will love you and let you into heaven. In other words, you have to “earn” your way to eternal life.

Christianity is completely different. You can’t “earn” anything. This is what grace means – we get what we don’t deserve. We cannot ever be “good” enough to earn a place in the kingdom of the most righteous and holy God. It is God’s grace alone that saves us. And once given, there is nothing we can do to have that grace withdrawn. Nothing.

“Well, wait a minute – you mean I can accept Jesus as my savior and keep on sinning and still get to heaven?” Yes, exactly. There are no requirements for entry into heaven except belief. This is why the Gospel is so radical! It is not about what we do, but what God has done through Jesus Christ. You can’t make God love you less, no matter what you do. If you have Christ in you, your actions may change (as you are transformed into His image – 2 Cor. 3:18), but they don’t have to change. Christianity is not about rules, but about belief. And that’s radical!

Other religions are full of “us vs. them” theology – by following the rules a special, chosen group is created and all others are excluded. And human beings love that kind of thinking! You get to feel special, and you get to feel superior to those “other” people who are not pure enough, or holy enough, or righteous enough. But Christianity is fully inclusive: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.” [Gal. 3:28] And Jesus himself saved his anger for the Pharisees, who had the outward appearance of righteousness (following “the rules”) but inside were dead and rotten. [Matt. 23:27] It was this inclusiveness, and lack of rules, that enraged the Jewish leaders. They were God’s chosen people! They had thousands of rules to prove it! How dare this poor, itinerant preacher (who consorted with SINNERS!) offer salvation to just anyone?

This new way of “achieving” salvation turns rules-based religions upside down. It is not our own efforts that make us worthy – it is God’s grace, and God’s grace alone that does that. But the pure simplicity of this Gospel is so hard for humans to grasp! We want to keep adding rules – rules to keep others out and rules to earn God’s love. It’s just too simple to just believe and be saved. It’s just too inclusive that everyone gets in on this! How can we feel superior to others if even the lowliest low-life gets the same grace as the “pure and righteous” person? I’ve even heard people say, “Then what’s the point of being a Christian?” as if having a relationship with the God of the universe and being able to draw on His power in our lives wasn’t enough! They somehow feel cheated if there aren’t rules!

Sadly, many Christians behave as though the old rules were still in place. However, Jesus himself said there are now only two “rules” we need to follow: love God with all your heart, mind and soul; love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. [Matt. 22:36-40] Jesus also said: “They will know you are my disciples because of your love.” [John 13:35] He didn’t say: “They will know you are my disciples because of what you eat.” Or “how you dress.” Or “the music you listen to.” Or “who you associate with.” Despite this, many Christians still live as though following the rules will earn them something, and, conversely, that not following these rules will earn God’s wrath.

But, again, even if we fail to follow these two “rules” we can still be assured of God’s love and our salvation. Those are the only things we can absolutely be sure of, because we don’t earn them on our own merits – they are gifts from God, and can never be revoked. So stop trying to “earn” God’s love. It has already been given – on the cross. And that can never be undone. And if you feel like you just have to have rules, then the only rule to remember is LOVE.

*Even more radically, some Christians believe that Christ’s death on the cross bought salvation for everyone, regardless of their belief. Talk about inclusiveness!


Saturday, July 18, 2015

On Love

Love people you disagree with. Love Caitlyn Jenner. Love Jeb Bush. Love Barack Obama. Love Dylan Storm. You may think Caitlyn Jenner is despicable, and totally deceiving herself, and full of sin. Tough. Love her. Because God does.  Dylan Storm is a racist murderer. Tough. Love him. Because God does.

We don’t get to decide whom we should love – Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves and then went on to show that everyone is our neighbor. [Luke 10:25-37] And then there is the whole “Love your enemies” thing. [Matt. 5:44] So, even if you believe the people you disagree with are your enemies, guess what? You’re supposed to love them, too!

One of the most famous Bible verses is John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” The key thing here is “the world” – God loves the entire world, and that includes everyone. Similarly, in Romans 5:8 it says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ did not die for righteous people, or for people who believe in God – He died for SINNERS. And we are all sinners. [Romans 3:23] So, God loves everyone – including sinners (which is a good thing, since that’s us) – and commands us to love everyone, too.

If God loves these people so much that He sent Christ to die for them, how can we treat them so badly? We call them names; we publicly shame them – is that how we love? By belittling people? Is that the Gospel? I have to admit I am writing this partly because I don’t always remember this. It’s okay to disagree with someone, but do so without disrespecting them – even if you think they don’t deserve respect. Especially if you don’t think they deserve respect. Calling someone names or bullying them isn’t exactly loving them, is it? It’s not a very good reflection of Christ in our lives, is it? Remember that public figures are people – they are someone’s mother, someone’s father, someone’s child. They are God’s children, for heaven’s sake! If you think they are somehow “lost” or “living in sin” isn’t that even more reason to extend the hand of love, and not a slap in the face?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
[1 Cor. 13:4-8]

They will know you are my disciples because of your love. [John 13:35]


Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. [1 Cor. 13:13]

Friday, July 10, 2015

My Toughest Workout

This is a follow-up to my post of last week (“I’m Still an Athlete – No, Really!”) where I discussed how my life really hasn’t changed, despite my disability – I’m just competing in a new sport called “Living with a Disability” – and  I talked about what my new workouts are. But I forgot the toughest workout, the one I face daily. Before I tell you about it, let me first tell you about what I’d previously thought of as my toughest workout.

Now, anyone who knows anything about running, knows there are lots of grueling workouts: hill repetitions, intervals, stadium stairs, etc. But there was one workout that I did when I was at Flathead Valley Community College that beats all of those. It was called “step-down miles” and it was the toughest workout I ever faced, in any sport. A cross-country race was three miles long, and the coach would use your average mile time to set up this workout. For example, suppose during a race your average time per mile was 6 minutes. Your step-down mile targets would be this: run a mile in 6:30; without stopping, run a second mile in 6 minutes; and again, without stopping, run a third mile in 5:30. This is still your average of 6 minutes, but the goal is to increase your overall average by forcing you to run faster than your average on that last mile. This is brutally hard. You’ve just run two miles at pretty much your usual pace, and now, when you’re most tired, you must run faster than you think and feel you are capable of. It requires reaching down deep inside and denying the pain and pushing through it.

Our coach would post the week’s workouts on Mondays, so we knew when step-downs were coming. On that dreaded day, I’d wake with a sinking feeling in my stomach, and I’d be nervous all day, waiting for the pain that I knew was coming. I’m amazed I learned anything in class on those days! That workout was the ultimate test of mental fortitude. At least I thought it was, until I had the epiphany of my new sport. And I now know that I have a workout that is tougher than step-down miles, and I face that workout every day. That workout is called “Not Giving in to Despair” and it’s even harder than step-down miles.

See, here’s the thing. I wake up every morning tired. No matter how long I sleep, I never wake up feeling refreshed. My muscles are sore and stiff, and it’s a chore just to get out of bed and get dressed. I face a day of trying desperately to conserve energy, and trying to keep myself occupied without doing things that wear me out further. Every day is the same – fatigue and pain. And I just keep getting worse. My condition is deteriorating, and doctors still don’t know what’s wrong. So I look at my future and I see nothing but more of the same: days of pain and fatigue, a life that is reduced to sitting at home in a chair. And it would be SO easy to just give in to the despair, to just give up. “My life sucks. This is not fair. I give up.” It takes all my mental fortitude, all my guts, all my everything to NOT go there.

I have to force myself to look at the good things I still have: a husband who loves me and takes such good care of me, my sister who takes me on wonderful road trips, friends who care about me and help me, the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD broadcasts that I attend with friends, my book club (and reading in general), my writing, and last but not least, GOD. I know that God is with me, helping me walk this road. “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” [Phil. 4:13] is more than a verse to me – I live it out every day. I have to. If I don’t, then I give up and give into despair.

Now, this is not to say that I never have days where I feel hopeless and sad. There are, most certainly! But when I start feeling that way I have learned to reach out to people who can encourage me and pray for me. And I fight through it. Like little Arya, in The Game of Thrones, who learned a valuable lesson from her fencing instructor: “What do we say when death comes for us? ‘Not today!’” – I say the same thing when despair tries to come for me: Not today!


It's a fight, it's a struggle, but God is with me and He gives me the strength to carry on. If I can do step-down miles, I can do this. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I'm Still an Athlete - No, Really!

From my earliest memories, I knew I was an athlete. I loved to run everywhere, and race any of the kids in our neighborhood, boys or girls, and I nearly always won. I played every sport imaginable, and hated the fact that – in that era of the 60’s – girls couldn't play organized football, and we had to play softball instead of baseball. And, of course, there were no school teams for girls in grade school or junior high. Still, I played with the neighborhood kids, and on the playground, and I considered myself an athlete – in particular, a runner. Finally in 9th grade I got to be on a real school team (track and cross country) and I threw myself into those sports with gusto.  I competed in these sports all through high school, enjoying the feeling of running fast, as well as the camaraderie of being on a team.

I parlayed this love of running into a track scholarship at Flathead Valley Community College, the #1 women’s junior college track team in the country at the time. I ran 6 days a week, usually twice a day, and lifted weights three times a week. My junior year I transferred to Whitworth College (as it was known then) and got the opportunity to add basketball to my cross country and track schedules. I loved every minute of it all! And I kept working out, 6 days a week.

After college, I played softball and soccer in city leagues, and then I got into biking. (Too many injuries from soccer made it so running was no longer an option.) I continued to work out almost daily, lifting weights and biking for hours. I even hired a personal cycling coach, and I raced all around the northwest.

Being an athlete was who I was as a person. I was disciplined. I watched what I ate. I listened to my body, adjusting workouts as needed. I pushed myself to achieve more. It was as natural to me as breathing. I had been doing this my whole life – only the sports would change, the basics never did.

And then, 11 ½ years ago, I got sick, and developed a mysterious muscle disease that has, at this point, left me fully disabled, unable to do even minimal physical exertion (such as standing up for more than 5 minutes) without becoming exhausted. And I thought, “Well, so much for being an athlete.” Through some very good counsel (from Dr. Michelle Estelle at Cornerstone Psychologists), I learned to apply the lessons from sports to living with a disability. But I still felt somewhat bereft, because I was no longer an athlete, and I felt I had to reinvent myself as ‘someone with a disability.’ But recently, in talking things out with Michelle, I realized this most amazing truth: I am still an athlete!

I can hear you say: “Hold on, Kris, how can you be an athlete? Taking a shower exhausts you! You can’t do any sport!”

Well, bear with me here. When I was talking with Michelle, I was saying how I felt that living with a disability made me selfish, because I was always taking stock of my physical condition and focused on my body. She asked how that was any different from when I was biking. Didn't I focus on my body, how I was feeling, what would my workout be, etc? And I laughed and said, I guess it’s the same, but my workouts are different now. And then we both paused, and looked at each other, and I said, “Holy cow! I am still an athlete. I am still an athlete! I do the same things I've always done – it’s just the workouts are different now!”

Let me explain. When I was biking, I would wake up each day and take stock of my body: how tired was I from the previous day? Was I particularly sore anywhere? Should I adjust my scheduled workout, or go with what was planned? Well, it’s no different today. I ask myself the same questions. The exact same questions. The only difference is the nature of my ‘workout.’ (More on that in a bit.)

When I was biking, I had to pay attention to the food I ate. I had to make sure to eat enough to make up for the calories burned, and to eat the right type of fuel. I needed carbs before a workout or a race, and I needed good protein for building muscle. I avoided most plain sugars, except during workouts. I was very aware of what I ate. Again, it’s no different today, except I have to eat fewer calories, because my caloric expenditure is so low. But I still have to focus on eating good food for my body, which now means fewer carbs and lots less sugar. But it’s not new for me to change my food intake depending on the sport I’m doing. In college, I really bulked up for basketball season so I wouldn't get pushed around on the court, eating lots more fats and carbs. But then when track season came, I had to cut out the fats and carbs to drop weight in order to run faster. So, my current sport requires that I watch my total caloric intake, and keep my sugars and fats low. Nothing new – I have modified my diet to best serve my sport.

So now we come to the big difference: workouts. Unfortunately, whatever this disease is, doing any kind of exertion is counter-productive. Because my muscles don’t work right, using them at all causes them to shake, makes them sore, and makes me exhausted. This is any type of exertion. For example, even typing this makes my forearms ache. It's why I have to limit my writing to no more than 30 minutes a day. So, if I can't exercise, what are my workouts? Well, the purpose of a workout is to improve your performance in your sport, right? My new sport is called “living with a disability that makes you tired” so my workouts consist of things like this:
  • Using a shower stool so I don’t have to stand up
  • Sitting down while I get dressed/undressed
  • Sitting down while I brush my teeth
  • Using a stool in the kitchen when I do any food prep
  • Limiting the kind of food prep I do (e.g. stir fry is out – too tiring for my hands/arms)
  • Sitting in my chair and reading
  • Using the handicap shopping cart (the one I used to call the “old lady cart”)
  • Saying ‘no’ to activities when I’m too tired (this is a hard one – I get out for fun so rarely, I hate to miss things, but sometimes I have to!)
  • Asking for help, especially for rides to appointments (this is another hard one – I always feel like I’m inconveniencing people)

These are all things that help me ‘perform’ better at my sport – measuring my performance as my fatigue level. These are my new workouts.

But what about competitions/races? Well, my ‘race-day’ is any day I have to leave the house for one or more appointments or activities. Just like biking, I have to prepare for race-day by moderating my workouts beforehand, and give myself recovery days afterward. In my new sport, this means making sure I’m doing my best workouts to be as rested as possible beforehand, and then giving myself several recovery days to try to regain my strength. Just as I wouldn't schedule bike race days back to back, I need to be wise in my appointment scheduling, giving myself several days between appointments.

So, you see, I really am an athlete still! Everything is just like it always was: listening to my body, eating right, working out, competing. The only thing that has changed is the nature of my workouts. And I have always modified my workouts depending on which sport I'm competing in, so it's no different in my new sport. I just need a better name than “living with a disability that makes you tired” – but I'm working on it!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Light and Shade Challenge, #2

The folks at Light and Shade Challenge put up a picture and (usually) a quote as a writing prompt. The challenge is to write a 500 word (or fewer) short story based on the image and quote. This week's challenge had no quote, but the idea was to write without adverbs. I think I succeeded, but it was hard weeding out modifying clauses!

Anyway, here is the photo:


Here is my story:

Gillian didn’t want to go to the concert. She had a headache. Brad snorted and said that was the same old excuse.  So she sighed, picked up her purse and got into the car with him.

After a silent drive, they got to the arena. The parking lot was full. “Of course,” thought Gillian. They found a spot three blocks away and walked back. It was raining. This didn’t improve Gillian’s headache.

They joined the line for the door, endured the search for contraband, and made it to their seats. The prelim band hadn’t started, and the crowd was restless. There were a few shouts, and some jostling, but the vibe was cool. People who liked this band were known for being laid back, and the smell of pot proved it.

Brad kept talking to her, and she kept nodding her head. Talking made her head hurt. She dreaded the start of the music. Why did she let Brad talk her into these things?

Brad took a hit from a joint offered to him, and then passed it on to her. She was afraid to refuse it, so she took a deep breath, held it, and exhaled.

“See, Babe? Isn’t this fun?” Brad grinned. She nodded.

“Fun,” she said, but thought, “NOT!”

She took another deep hit, feeling just the teensiest bit of tension leave her forehead. Maybe if she got stoned she wouldn’t care how she felt. And it struck her: this is the story of her life with Brad. He talked her into doing things she didn’t want to do. She zoned out on booze or dope to make it livable. What kind of relationship was that? She knew what she had to do, but it could wait. She wanted to enjoy the concert.

The house lights went out. The crowd stood and yelled. Blue lights from the stage came on, and they illuminated the haze of pot smoke hanging over the crowd.

“How’s your headache?” Brad yelled.

“All better!” she replied.

“I knew you’d be glad you came!”

“You have no idea.”



Monday, June 22, 2015

They're the Same

There is a flag that some people don’t like, but others do. This flag symbolizes one side in a war, a side that thought certain people were ‘subhuman’ and could be enslaved, because it was the “right order of things.” Those who fought under this flag lost the war, and their crimes against humanity were eventually recognized for what they were. Yet some people still want to fly this flag. They wear it on jackets; they have it in their homes and places of business. It’s even in some churches.

The flag I’m talking about is this one:

And really, everyone in the world, with the exception of extreme white supremacists, realizes that flying or displaying this flag is wrong. If you display this flag you are saying that you supported Hitler’s ideas of racial superiority and his efforts to kill off millions of people that he thought were less than human (Jews, blacks, gays, etc.)

Yet, this flag:


means exactly the same thing. It was from a war in which supporters sought to keep the right to enslave (and kill) those they thought were less than human, and that they had the God-given right to subdue. Not only is it from a war, but it’s from a treasonous war. How is displaying this flag any different from displaying the Nazi flag?

Those who fly the Confederate flag often say things like this:
“It’s our heritage.”
“My ancestors fought in the war – I only want to honor them.”
“It’s part of our history.”

Well, the Germans could say the exact same things! But they don’t. Why not?  Because they realize that Nazism was an extremely misguided and evil movement. They are embarrassed that their ancestors went along with it. They recognize the evil that was done under this flag and they do not honor it.

So I’m saying the same thing: slavery was evil. This flag represents those who sought to keep enslaving people. There is no situation where people should want to see this flag, except in a museum. You do not honor something that symbolizes the enslavement of other people and that symbolizes a treasonous war.

Ask yourself this: would you fly the Nazi flag? If the answer is no, then you should not fly the “stars and bars” either. If your answer is yes, then you are a crazy white supremacist, and you need serious help.

Friday, June 12, 2015

That's Life!

I’m trying to process a change in my outlook on life, so I hope writing it out will help me, and maybe be helpful to others, as well. Most of you know that I've been struggling with a “mystery disease” for over 11 years, which has taken me from an elite amateur athlete to a fully disabled, mostly house-bound person. Through most of this time, I've viewed my illness as a “storm” in life that I need to somehow get through. As a Christian, I've always been taught that God will help us “weather the storm” (Matt. 7:24-25, Phil. 4:13, etc) so that’s what I did. I leaned on God, and He certainly has helped me find the strength to carry on through it all. But it’s been 11 years, and the “storm” isn't over. And, it doesn't look like it will ever be (specialists all over the US are stumped by my case, and have no answers for a diagnosis, let alone a treatment.) So I am faced with the reality of a “storm” that will last the rest of my life – not a pretty thought! How can you keep fighting a storm when you know there will never be an end?

And then it hit me: that’s life.

My illness is just part of my life on this earth. It’s not a “storm” that I have to weather or overcome, it’s just the way my life is now. Instead of bemoaning all the things I can’t do anymore (including Kingdom-building things), I can just do the best I can with what I have now. No, I can’t go on a mission trip. I can’t volunteer at a food bank or rescue mission. Heck, I can’t even make it to church! But I can pray. I can be a friend. I can encourage. I can be a shoulder to cry on. If I keep thinking, “After the storm, I’ll be able to do X” I’m missing the whole point! Life goes on. Bloom where you are planted, as they say. Right now, I’m mostly planted in my chair at home, but that doesn't have to stop me from living life to its fullest. It’s just a different definition of “fullest” than I used to have.

And why do Christians think that life should be trouble-free, anyway? Jesus himself said “You will have trials and sorrows” in this life. (John 16:33) So instead of seeing hard times as some sort of special storm you have to endure, and you just need to keep your head down until it’s over, recognize that “storms” are just a part of life. You don’t need to be on the shelf, waiting for the “storm” to end. It might never end! Just stand on the rock, hold onto God, and get on with life – whatever that might now look like.

So, yeah, I have a crippling disability that no one can figure out. Yeah, there’s a whole ton of stuff that I used to do that I can’t anymore, and that is a major bummer. But, you know what? I’m done fighting this “storm” – it was never a “storm” to begin with. It’s just life. Jesus and I, we’re moving on. (And, friends, when I have a bad spell and get discouraged – as I know I will – remind me of this post. Thanks! ;-)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

No One Told Me

Nobody told me it would be this hard. Life, I mean. Oh sure, I’d always heard the platitude “Into every life some rain must fall” and my mother (God rest her soul) always told me “Honey, life isn't fair,” when I was feeling put upon by some childhood injustice. But, really, my life is hard right now. Very.

How did I get here? It’s been a journey, truly. I had an idyllic childhood, growing up in a small town in Montana during the 60’s. Well, my big brother used to make my life hell, with his teasing, but otherwise it was truly idyllic: walking to school with friends, riding our bikes all over the neighborhood and down to the river for picnics, fishing for crawdads in the pond at the park, ice skating on the same pond in the winter, going to the state fair every summer, going to church camp on Flathead Lake, camping with the family… I could go on and on – my life was full of joyous activities. And I had a stable family with two loving parents who gave me a home where I knew I was always safe and loved. And I had a BEST FRIEND EVER, from 4th grade on – Brenda Osborne.

I was totally into sports in school, and was an avid runner on the cross country and track teams. I have many fond memories of practices, road trips and meets. It was through track that I got a scholarship to Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, MT. More wonderful friends, more laughter (and pain) in practices, more amazing road trips – this time all over the US and Canada, not just in-state. A track meet in Spokane at Whitworth College (it wasn't yet a university) brought me to the attention of the track coach there, and I found myself enrolled there instead of Montana State in Bozeman, as I’d planned. At Whitworth I became a born-again Christian, and started attending the church I would call home for the next 25 years.

My 20’s and 30’s were spent doing various city-league sports – often on church teams – and biking and running. I made many close, close friends in church, and grew in the Lord. I had various jobs, until 1986 when I discovered computers and went back to school to get a degree in computer science. And I LOVED what I was studying! After finishing my undergraduate degree I stayed on at EWU and got my MS in computer science. The bonus from grad school was meeting and marrying the love of my life, Randy.
In my 40’s I got very serious about riding, and began racing bikes. I even hired a racing coach. Randy and I would train together, and we’d take our bikes on vacations and ride all over. And we got to travel all over the world due to my volunteer work with the International Collegiate Programming Contest. Life was good! And, really, pretty easy. I had a great job, a great church, a great husband. I was blissfully happy, and looked forward to a life of love and happy activities as Randy and I grew older together.

And then I got sick. And the church I’d attended for 25 years folded. Floundering physically and spiritually, I kept seeing doctors, hoping for a cure – or at least a diagnosis. 11 ½  years later and I still have neither. Four years ago, BFF Brenda died suddenly – and I felt like half my childhood was ripped away. That same year I also lost my own mother, and we lost Randy’s mother, too, who had lived with us the last few years of her life and whom I came to love dearly. But at least I could still work.

Then my illness progressed, and now my physical state has deteriorated to the point that I am completely disabled (I had to quit work over 2 years ago.) No more biking – I barely have the energy to get dressed in the morning. No more travel – I had to give up my work with the ICPC, as it was too physically taxing. No more walks with the dog. No more gardening. No more anything except sitting in my chair.

So now, each day I wake up and my life is the same: I’m tired and feel like crap – before I even get out of bed! It is a major chore just to get up and get dressed. It is only through God’s strength that I make it through each day. Every day is like this – even the simplest things are major obstacles for me. I never have “good” days. I never feel well. And this wears on my spirit. God has told me to trust Him in this situation, and I do. But I’m only human, so I also wish he’d heal me, or at least tell me why I have to spend the rest of my life suffering physically. I look down the road of my future and all I see is more of the same: limited mobility, feeling sick and tired every single day, and the things that used to bring me joy I can no longer do. It’s not a pretty sight.

Now, I do know that I have been given many, many gifts that I can still enjoy, even now. First and foremost, there is my wonderful husband! As I have become able to do less and less around the house, he has taken on more and more – without complaint. We had to give up our globe-trotting and bike-riding vacations, but Randy has not once said a bitter word about it. Same with my lack of income. Through all of this, he has remained by my side, encouraging me, loving me, and taking care of me. I honestly don’t know how I’d cope without his steadfast courage in the face of all this.

And I can still read my books, and get out to the occasional Saturday morning Met Opera broadcast, or to a movie with a friend. So, for all of these, I am truly grateful. But the day-to-day grind is just that – a grind. A long, slow slog, with no let up in sight. What do you do when the ‘valley’ is never-ending, and you know you’ll never make it out? Well, you do the only thing you can do: you keep going. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Yes, yes I can. But it’s still hard. The hardest thing I have ever done. And I have to keep doing this the rest of my life, unless a miracle occurs and I am healed. And, after 11 years, I’m afraid I’ve given up hope on a miracle.


So. On I go. Every day. To survive, I have to find joy in the smallest things, and this I try to do. And, of course, I lean on God’s strength. Without Him I surely wouldn't make it. Even so, it’s hard. It’s not what I expected out of life. I am trying to not tie my physical state to my emotional/spiritual state, but it’s difficult. This is my current battleground – to not let despair and hopelessness overcome my spirit. And it’s hard to fight when you’re tired all the time. But, I do. I must. The alternative is to let the darkness win, and I don’t want that! I know that God has given me the spirit of an overcomer, and that Darkness cannot defeat the Light. So I cling to these promises, and cling to God (who, thankfully, clings to me when I don’t have the strength to hold on to him!) and I go on. Day by day. But, it’s hard. So very hard.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Anti-Christian Legislation

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am writing this in response to Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Bill, and the similar legislation that is being considered in other states. These bills say that business owners can refuse service to anyone, based on the owner’s “deeply held religious beliefs.” The bill does not specify who this ‘anyone’ is, or what these “deeply held beliefs” are, but we all know it’s about gays and lesbians. And I want to examine what you are saying as a Christian when you want to deny service to someone – anyone – based on who that someone is.

As a Christian, you say that homosexuality is a sin. Okay, let’s go with that. It’s a sin. Therefore, this bill says that you, as a Christian, ought to be able to deny service to a homosexual – because that person is a sinner. Okay, fine. Do you also refuse service to divorced people? Do you refuse service to unmarried couples living together? Do you refuse service to Hindus or Muslims or anyone who does not worship Yahweh and who does not recognize Christ as the Messiah? What about atheists? Liars? All of these people are deemed sinners by the New Testament. (I won’t go into Old Testament sins, or else we’d be talking about people with tattoos, those who eat pork, etc.) In fact, according to the New Testament, everyone is a sinner. (Romans 3:23) Seems like you’re going to be out of business if you deny service to people based on their sinfulness – there’s no one on earth who is without sin!

So, it can’t just be about general sinfulness then. If you are going to ignore the other sins in people’s lives, why do you not ignore the “sin” of homosexuality? What makes that “sin” so special? Is it their “unrepentant lifestyle” – the fact that they don’t think they’re sinning? Well, most unmarried couples cohabitating don’t think they’re sinning either. Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and people of other religions don’t think they’re sinners, and are certainly “unrepentant.” And atheists – well, they definitely don’t think they’re sinners. Are you going to deny service to all these people because of their “unrepentant lifestyle”? Obviously not.

Okay, so you’re not really denying service based on people’s sinfulness, or their lack of repentance and “sinful lifestyle,” because you’d have no one left to serve. So what is it? What exactly is this “deeply held religious belief” that lets you deny service to certain people? Is it just the fact that you don’t like homosexuals? Is that your “deeply held religious belief” – you don’t like a certain type of people? Where is that in the Bible? Where does it say that you can be rude to people because you don’t like them? That’s not a “deeply held religious belief” because there is no Biblical basis for “not liking someone.”  Either you refuse service to everyone because they’re sinners, or you refuse service to certain people just because of who they are. You can’t have it both ways.

And, as a Christian, are you not called to love sinners? Are not the lost the very people for whom Christ came and died? The very people with whom Christ fellowshipped? And you want to cut yourself off from them? These are the very people we should be reaching out to! You say that they are “God-haters” and the enemy of the church? Are we not called to love our enemies? How is denying service to them loving them? Oh, yes, by denying them service you’re telling them they are sinners, and that they need to repent – that is the “love” you are showing them. And how is that working, as far as getting them to repent? Really – I’m serious, here. How is that working? Are homosexuals coming to the Lord in droves, because they’re being denied service by Christians?

So, these bills come down to one thing: you don’t like homosexuals. I’ve got news for you – God does! “For God so loved the world…” is a verse that Christians quote endlessly. If God loves homosexuals enough that He sent his only son to die for their sins, who are you to turn your back on them? Yes, they are sinners – whether or not you believe homosexuality is a sin. We are ALL sinners. How will they – or anyone – know the love of Christ if we refuse to come in contact with them, if we are rude to them and refuse them service? Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. Refusing service to anyone, because of so-called “deeply held religious beliefs,” is NOT loving your neighbor.

No, these “Religious Freedom” bills are simply legislated bigotry. There is no Biblical justification for what these bills allow. These bills are NOT Christian. Go, look in your Bible – and your heart – and don’t support this kind of anti-Christian legislation.



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Writing Challenge

Today's post is a writing challenge/exercise from the folks at Light and Shade Challenge. They provide an image and a quote and the challenge is to write 500 words based on that. So, here is today's picture and quote:


Other people's opinion of you does not have to become your reality
Les Brown

And here is my attempt (well under 500 words - it's actually under 100!):

Stones

“You are so stupid!”
A stone.
“Can’t you do anything right?”
A stone.
“You are worthless!”
A stone.
“Why do I even put up with you?”
A stone.
“You should never have been born!”
A stone.
“You will never amount to anything!”
A stone.

One day, she looked up and saw the smallest sliver of sky, piercing the darkness beneath the walls of gray stone. She removed one stone. Then another. And another. Until she had a road paved with the stones she’d removed. She walked down the road and never looked back.

© Kris Biffle Rudin, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

RIP, Spock

Today, Feb 27, 2015, the actor Leonard Nimoy passed away, at age 83. And I cried when I heard about it. Now, I'm not one to worship celebrities, but Star Trek - and Spock - played a very important role in my childhood, in my entire life, really. I first saw Star Trek when it came on TV in 1966. I was immediately swept away by the show, and by the aloof, yet somehow vulnerable, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock. I fell madly in love with him (as only a 9 year-old can), and I've loved him ever since. I loved him for his battle over his emotions; I loved him for his devotion and loyalty; I loved him for his pursuit of science; I loved him for his pursuit of non-violence. I loved his Vulcan half the most - this alien presence, product of an ancient and noble society, inside a part human body, warring for his soul. Nimoy's portrayal of this battle was so nuanced and so believable. You could feel his struggle during the time of pon farr in the episode "Amok Time." And we all kind of rejoiced when, at the end of the episode, upon discovering he hadn't killed his captain and his friend, Spock breaks into a huge grin and practically hugs Kirk. Many actors have portrayed Vulcans in the various Star Trek series and in the movies, but very few were able to portray the apparent lack of emotion without also seeming wooden. (Mark Leonard, who played Spock's father, was one exception, as is Zachary Quinto's portrayal in the reboot movies.)

So, how does a 9 year-old show her love of this weird TV character? By 'playing' Star Trek, of course! My best friend, Brenda Osborne, and I would spend hours reenacting the episodes, or creating our own situations to portray. Fortunately, Brenda was in love with Kirk, so there was no conflict as to who would play the two characters! By the 70's, there were books about the series being published, and we read and reread those, absorbing all the behind-the-scenes tidbits. We really felt we knew these actor, and therein, the characters. (Sadly, we lost Brenda almost 4 years ago - I hope she is getting to meet Mr. Nimoy in heaven! ;-)

Thanks to reruns, fans never had to go without seeing Star Trek for very long. Any time the show came on, I was in front of the TV. I knew the names of all the episodes, and what happened in each, after so many repeat viewings. You didn't dare go against me in a game of Star Trek trivia! And Spock and Vulcan were my true areas of expertise. Once the Star Trek books started being published, I bought them all and devoured those, as well. And then the movies started being produced - what rapturous joy! The director's cut of the first movie, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" has some great scenes about Spock trying to finally come to grips with his human half and his emotions.

And then of course, we have the second movie, "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" - the movie that crushed my soul! If you don't know the movie, Spock dies - gallantly sacrificing his life for the lives on the Enterprise. Spock's death scene, as he talks with Kirk, is one of the most profound and beautiful in cinema. Of course, I was bawling like a baby through it all! I was afraid I'd never get to see Spock again!! But, naturally, the world of entertainment being what it is, Spock didn't stay dead for long. His rebirth and reeducation process provide some great scenes for his fans.

And then we fans got the amazing bonus of seeing Spock in subsequent Star Trek series, thanks to the longevity of Vulcans. Spock plays an integral role in the detente of the relationship between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. And then we got the double bonus of seeing the Nimoy Spock interacting with the Quinto Spock in the Star Trek reboot movies.

Through all of this (books, TV, movies) Spock was in my life. I knew this person. He felt like a friend. He'd been with me for decades. So that's why the passing of Mr. Nimoy hit me so hard this morning. This time, there will be no earthly resurrection - Spock is not coming back. However, he's not really gone, as long as we remember him (to quote a line from "Wrath of Khan") - and we have hours of video where he still lives, thanks to modern technology. Plus, we have the Star Trek reboot, with Quinto's portrayal of Spock (which is DARN good!), so the character will live. But we have lost an artist, someone who, by all accounts, was a caring, giving person. I mourn the loss of Leonard Nimoy.

In closing, I quote Capt. Kirk, at Spock's funeral in "Wrath of Khan") - "Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most...human."

Appendix - a short list of the essential Spock episodes, movies
Original Series:

  • The Naked Time - a space virus causes Spock to lose his emotional control
  • The Menagerie (two part episode) - Spock apparently mutinies to take his former captain to a forbidden planet
  • Balance of Terror - Spock perseveres in the face of bigotry by one of the crew
  • This Side of Paradise - an alien spore releases Spock's emotional control and he falls in love
  • Amok Time - the time of mating for Vulcans, and Spock really loses control!
  • Journey to Babel - we meet Spock's parents, and Spock has to make a most difficult decision: save Kirk or save the ship
  • A Piece of the Action - Spock tries to master the speech of 1920's gangsters, with humorous results
  • The Enterprise Incident - Spock seduces a female Romulan Commander (hubba hubba!)
  • All Our Yesterdays - Spock travels to the past, and he (once again) loses his emotional control and falls in love
Next Generation

  • Unification (two part series) - Spock is on a "personal mission of peace" to help cool the enmity between the Federation and the Romulan Empire
Movies:
  • The Wrath of Khan - Spock dies
  • The Search for Spock - Spock is reborn
  • The Voyage Home - Spock continues his reeducation, and has some of his funniest moments
  • Star Trek (2009 reboot) - Nimoy Spock meets Quinto Spock. Priceless!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Not Traveling Alone

Last week, I went to the Cleveland Clinic, for appointments with a couple of specialists. They still don't know what is wrong with me, but ordered a bunch more tests, some of which we won't get back for a couple of months - or longer. But that's pretty much what I expected, so I wasn't disappointed. However, that's not really the topic of this post. What I want to talk about is the trip itself, and how God went with me every step of the way. While it appeared that no one was accompanying me on this journey, God was.

On my previous trip to the clinic, my sister (Robin) was able to go with me. While the airlines provide someone to push me in a wheelchair to/from gates, having Robin at the clinic meant she could wheel me around the clinic to appointments, and to restaurants. This time, Robin couldn't go, but I figured it would be ok, since there was a golf cart shuttle that went between the hotel and the clinic (the hotel is on the clinic grounds, and there is a skywalk system connecting everything) and I didn't think I'd have to walk much once I got to the clinic. So, I was prepared - or so I thought.

The trip started early Tuesday morning - I had to get up at 5:00 to be at the airport by 6:00. Check-in was a breeze and I sailed through the security checkpoint. The flight was on time, and we were in the air before 7:30. I had a book with me (of course), but I was still pretty sleepy from the early morning, so I decided to read my morning devotional and listen to some Christian music on my iPod. I opened the day's reading (from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young) and these were the opening lines:

I am with you and for you. You face nothing alone - nothing.

Oh my. My heart nearly skipped a beat! I was overwhelmed with how much God loves me and cares about me! I had to just stop, close my eyes and praise God. And then song after song just touched my soul, and spoke reassurance and comfort. I was tearing up pretty good, by now - I have no idea what the woman next to me thought, as I kept wiping my eyes. I spent the entire 2+ hours of the flight basking in the presence of God, feeling his strong arms holding me. We arrived in Minneapolis (where I changed planes) in what seemed to me to be just a few minutes. I was so caught up in God's love. It was an amazing flight!

The connection to Cleveland went off without a hitch, despite a blizzard at Minneapolis. We arrived in Cleveland on time, and I was checked into the hotel by 6:00 EST. From the previous visit, I knew there was a cafe about a block away on the skywalk, so I headed there for dinner, and opted to walk, as I really hadn't had to do any walking all day. Uh-oh. The cafe was closed! I knew there was another cafe in the clinic building, but that was in the total opposite direction. Time for the golf cart! They have phones spaced out along the skywalk, where you can call for a ride. I did so, and got a ride to the clinic building. BUT - there was still a lot of walking to get to the cafe. I had no choice: I needed dinner. So I walked. After finishing my meal, I walked back to the skywalk, and called for the golf-cart. Oops! It's after 7:00pm, no golf cart anymore. So I walked back to the hotel. *sigh*

The next day was my appointment day. My first one was at 10:00, with the neurologist. But I'd need coffee, first, which meant waking up at 8:00am, which feels like 5:00am to my body. Ugh! I took the golf cart, but again, had to walk from the skywalk to the the cafe, and then doctor's office. This was a LONG way. Once I got there, I had to wait to check in. And, silly me, I had neglected to bring my cane that folds into a chair. So I had to stand in line and wait. (For me, standing is even more tiring than walking.)

I got done with the appointment, and the neurologist wanted me to schedule an echo-cardiogram. He said the woman at the checkout desk would do that. So, I went to the checkout desk, and stood, and stood and stood, as the woman was on the phone. I finally whispered to her that I needed to sit down, and took a seat not far away. She was finally able to help me, so I stood and went back to the checkout desk. She called the cardiology department, and discovered that my insurance had not been cleared for the echo-cardiogram. So I had to go down to the Financial Counseling Office and get things approved. More walking. *sigh* Thankfully, there was no line at this office, and a chair right at the desk, and it only took a few minutes to get the approval. But then I had to go back up to neurology, and get the appointments set up. More walking. More standing. Got the appointment for the next day - yay!

But now it was time for lunch, before my next appointment. More walking back to cafe. Standing in line at the cafe. Blissful sitting for lunch. Then more walking to next appointment. Thankfully, this one had a speedy check in, and I was able to immediately sit in the exam room. This appointment was with a geneticist - some of the suspects for my condition have genetic markers, so they wanted a consult with this doctor.

Now it was time for my blood tests. More walking to lab. Speedy check in, again. Got blood removed. Too early for dinner, so once again I walked back to the skywalk, and got the golf-cart to the hotel. I sat in my hotel room, and watched a lovely blizzard. (Lovely to me, at least, I didn't have to commute home in it!) Finally, I decided I'd better get to dinner before it was too late, and headed back to the cafe in the clinic. Golf cart to the clinic, but walking to the cafe. I'm getting very, very tired by this point. And, silly me, didn't pay attention to the time while I was eating (blame the book - here's my review) and it was after 7:00 by the time I noticed, so I had to trudge all the way back to the hotel.

I was exhausted by now, but had to get up for another 10:00am appointment for the echo-cardiogram. And I'd need time for coffee, first, of course, so this was another 8:00am wake up (aka 5:00am) - double ugh! Same drill as before: golf cart to clinic, walk to cafe, walk to cardiology department (even further than the neurology department.) This time, I remembered my cane, which I really needed! Thankfully, it was a quick check in here. Got the echo done, and had the followup consultation with the cardiologist.  (My heart is fine, by the way.) The cardiologist also wanted a full EKG, however, so I had to get that scheduled for later in the day. So, I slowly trudged back to the cafe. Ate lunch. Even more slowly dragged myself back to the cardiology department - only to find that the EKG was done at another place, much closer to the cafe, back the way I had just come! Slogged, step by slow step, back to the right place for EKG. Got that done in a jiffy. Again, it's too early for dinner, but I learned my lesson from the previous day, so I just found a nook and read until dinner time. Then made sure I got done in time to catch the golf cart back to the hotel. But I still had to walk to the skywalk. I am literally dragging my right leg, now, as I walk like a 90-year-old, shuffling, leaning on my cane. But I made it back to the hotel and flopped into bed. One more early morning to catch plane!

The flight home was uneventful. Arrived home on time, and Randy was waiting for me in the lobby. Joy!!

One more item to wrap things up: Saturday morning (after sleeping 11 hours), I opened Jesus Calling for the day's devotional, and read this:

Come to me for rest and refreshment. The journey has been too much for you, and you are bone-weary.

Again, I was stunned by how much God loves me and cares for me and knows what I'm going through. Had a little teary moment. Smiled. And realized that no, I didn't make the trip alone. God was with me, and he is still with me, on the bigger journey of life. And I am grateful beyond words for his love and his care and his strength.

**A little footnote: I think that if I had asked, I could have gotten someone to push me in a wheelchair between appointments. But I didn't ask. I wasn't sure they could get me to/from cafe, too, and wasn't sure who or where to ask. So I wore myself out because I was too embarrassed to ask, I guess. What's up with that?? If there is a next time, I will ask!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Montana

Montana. The Big Sky Country. The Last Best Place*. My home. You may think it strange that I would call a place I haven’t lived in for almost 40 years “home” but those who have lived there understand. Montana is in my bones, in my very soul. It is part and parcel of who I am. I wasn't born there, but I was formed there. Let me tell you about it.

I was actually born in Pueblo, Colorado, but I remember nothing of that place, since we moved to Montana when I was a year old. My father was born in Montana, however, and lived there until he joined the army for WWII. His DNA was forged in Montana, and he passed on that DNA to me!

In 1958 we moved to Great Falls, Montana, on the Missouri river. (The ‘great falls’ were named as such by Lewis and Clark on their journey. There were 5 waterfalls along that stretch of river – I say ‘were’ because they are all dammed now – but they are still beautiful.) The mountains of Montana were literally life-giving to me: I grew up drinking the (purified) water of the Missouri, water fed by mountain streams. I drank the unfiltered water of Giant Springs – a large spring just outside of town that flows into the river. Its waters seep from the mountains hundreds of miles away, taking decades to reach the cracks in the earth’s crust to bubble to the surface. We would ride our bikes down to the springs and fill our canteens (these were the days before water bottles!) and spend the day hiking around the area, maybe catching tadpoles in the springtime.

Just as the waters fed me, the landscape helped form me, as well. None of our relatives lived in Great Falls, so family trips were a common occurrence, as we drove to visit grandparents or cousins. I spent the long hours in the car looking out the window at a vast panorama: leaving town we’d see large buttes carved by wind and water, and on the horizon, looming ever larger, the Rocky Mountains, with their snow-peaked caps jutting from the plains like a serrated knife. As we drove these roads, I would imagine times past, with buffalo herds as far as the eye could see, and native tribes camped near rivers. With few signs of modern humanity along these roads, it was easy to let my imagination roam. I am sure that the very patterns of my brain were influenced by these vistas, both real and imagined.

Flathead Lake was another formative Montana feature for me – every summer from 4th grade onward I would spend 2 weeks at our church camp at the south end of the lake. I spent many an afternoon exploring the rocky shore, clambering over granite outcroppings, wading in the shallow pools captured by rock hollows. At night, the quiet susurrations of the waves on the shore were my lullaby. And I’m sure I drank more than a few swallows of lake water as we played in the swimming area!

Above all this was the sky – a huge expanse of blue, with a multitude of different cloud formations. It really does look BIG! (Don’t believe me? Take a trip to Montana and see for yourself!) And it was a piercing blue – especially in winter. I remember walking to school on winter mornings, with the sun glistening on the snow practically blinding me, ice crystals dancing in the air, and the bluest blue sky you can imagine. (As we slog through another gray, rainy Spokane winter, how I long for those cold, crisp CLEAR winter days!)

This combination of water, earth and sky shaped my childhood, and as such, shaped who I am today. I am a child of wide open spaces, of majestic mountains, of a sky greater than any cathedral built by mere mortals. I grew up living in, breathing in, and drinking in the absolute beauty and grandeur of God’s creation. How can this not have shaped me?

Even today, almost 40 years since I left Montana for Spokane, I still feel like I’m home when I cross that border from Idaho. It just feels right. Even when I’m on a road we never traveled when I was growing up, the landscape seems familiar. The windswept plains, the river gullies, the mountains – they embrace me as their own. And surely I am.


*The Last Best Place is the name of an anthology of Montana stories, essays and poems. You can find a copy here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

God With Us

All Christians are familiar with Hebrews 13:5 which ends with for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Psalm 46:1 is quite similar: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. These verses, and many others that are similar*, declare a very important fact about God’s nature: His steadfast faithfulness to us – no matter where we find ourselves and no matter what we've done (or not done). This characteristic is as intrinsic to who God is as is our own eye color. It is not just what God does, it is what he IS. After all, one of his names is Emmanuel - God with us.

And like most Christians, I knew these verses. I could recite them back to you (though, in all honesty, I didn't always know the book and verse – but I knew the words!) And I thought I understood the truth of them, and could apply them to my own life. But I came to discover that my understanding of these verses was like the tip of an iceberg: it was mostly ‘head knowledge.’ While I absolutely believed the truth behind them, the REALITY of that truth was lacking. Let me tell you how I came to know the reality of these verses, to the very depths of my soul.

As most of you reading this know, in December of 2003 I was stricken with a mystery disease which has gradually robbed me of my strength and endurance. Prior to my illness I was an amateur athlete, and very active in all aspects of my life. Because I was so fit when I first became ill, it took several years for the illness to progress. I had to give up training right away, but I gradually had to give up many other things, as well. By 2011, I had given up every other extracurricular activity, just so I had the strength to go to work. 2011 was also the year that I lost my mom, my best friend and my mother-in-law. Needless to say, that was a very rough year. In addition to all the deaths, I was despairing of ever getting better (or even getting a diagnosis) and I was just so TIRED. Of everything.

One day I was going in for one of my regularly scheduled massages, and I was feeling especially down. As I lay face-down in the softly-lit room, I was thinking all these sad thoughts: of people I'd lost, of the life I had lost, and I just felt hopeless. Then, the massage therapist began the session, starting at my feet, as usual. And the most amazing thing happened: I realized it was not the therapist who was massaging me. It was Jesus! I was sure that if I were to open my eyes and look around, I would see him there at the massage table! I could feel his strong, loving hands, gently stroking my feet and legs, and I felt such love! Such peace! He knew how much I was hurting, and he was ministering to me! I was flabbergasted, to say the least. Tears came to my eyes as I lay there, feeling the God of the universe physically touch me. He was there the whole session, tenderly ministering to my body – and my spirit. It was the most REAL spiritual thing I have ever experienced. At that moment, I knew – really KNEW – that God was with me, that he would never leave me to face this battle alone.

Afterward, I didn't tell the massage therapist, because I just couldn't put it into words, yet. Several months later, I finally told her, because I knew that she prayed while she massaged, and I wanted her to know how God had used her hands that day. Of course, she was moved by my revelation, and we both teared up. I've never felt that in a session since then, but the memory of it is something that I’ll treasure, always.

So, I am here to tell you this: God is with you, he will never leave you! He truly is “ever-present” in the midst of our troubles! No matter what battle you are facing, no matter the trial, the God of all creation is there for you, holding your hand, catching your tears as they fall. Sometimes God delivers us out of troubles, and sometimes he is simply there for us in the midst of them. And I think the latter is almost more miraculous. Think of it: God, the Master of the Universe, is tender and loving and THERE for us, when we most need him. I know this in my heart of hearts.

*A small sampling:
Deuteronomy 31:8 [ESV]

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
Joshua 1:9 [ESV]
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Isaiah 41:10 [ESV]
Fear not, for I am with you.
Matthew 28:20 [ESV]
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.



Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! It’s 2015 – I can hardly believe it. Looking at the numbers, the year seems so futuristic. I can remember when we were all a-twitter over the turn of the century. Now, 2000 seems like another lifetime away. And it was, really, for me. In 2000 I was still able-bodied: racing mountain bikes, lifting weights, cutting and stacking firewood. Today, just getting showered and dressed is a major accomplishment. In 2000, I couldn't imagine that I would become so disabled. I had my future planned, and in that future, in the year 2015 I’d still be racing bikes.

Nevertheless, 2015 is going to be a good year for me. 2014 was one of my hardest years (notwithstanding 2011, when I lost 3 of the most important women in my life). It was hard, because I was in my 2nd year of not being able to work, and in my 10th year of illness, with still no diagnosis. By the spring of 2014, I had lapsed into major depression. I was not suicidal, but life seemed to overwhelm me. If I weren't married, I probably would have never taken a shower, never gotten dressed – I would have been curled up in a little ball on the couch, staring at the wall. But, I forced myself to shower and dress each day, for Randy’s sake.

I recognized that I needed help, and spoke to my neurologist about starting an antidepressant. He agreed, and gave me a prescription. (Side note: my neurologist is Dr. David Greeley of Northwest Neurological. If you or a loved one has MS, Parkinson’s disease or other tremors, I cannot recommend Dr. Greeley enough! Because he is not part of a managed care provider, he is able to take the time to really treat the whole patient. He is the most kind and caring doctor I have ever seen, and believe me, I've seen too many doctors in this ordeal of illness!) In addition to starting an antidepressant, I started seeing a psychologist, too. Early on in my illness, when I was first trying to cope with it all, I had seen Dr. Michelle Estelle at Cornerstone Psychologists. She had been a great help, then, so I began seeing her, in my attempt to beat the depression. And, once again, she has been instrumental in helping me cope. In fact, you can thank her that you are reading this! She helped me find the motivation to start writing. And writing has become my new passion. Writing every day gives me the sense of accomplishment and achievement that I had been missing without sports or work. And while I can’t write for very long, I manage to write something every day, at least 20 minutes. (Another side note: Another recommendation – Michelle is AWESOME! I cannot thank her enough for how she had helped me! If you need counseling, for whatever reason, give her a call!!)

So, 2014 was a pretty dark year to begin with, but it has ended on a very high note. I have 3 short stories to submit to science fiction magazines, one short story I’m submitting for a contest, one “complete” novel (complete in that the story is finished – I still have a lot of work on it), and I’m in the middle of another novel. I have submitted posts to our church website, and I had to start this blog, because I had too much to say! Oh, and I’m also a reviewer at Tangent Online. Of course, I haven’t made any money off of any of this writing – yet – but I still find great fulfillment in simply writing and expressing myself.

So, 2015 is going to be a year of writing. I will be submitting my short stories (which I’m confident will be published somewhere), and working to finish my first novel, and get it ready for publication. I will continue to write for this blog, as well as for my church website. In 2014, I discovered that I am a writer. And in 2015, I will have my first publication – I’m sure of it.

One final reason that I think 2015 will be a good year: I have another appointment at the Cleveland Clinic – this time with a specialist in mitochondrial disease. The tests I've had have shown lots of irregularities, but nothing that definitively pointed to a diagnosis. However, the doctor I saw there in October showed my records to this specialist, and he has agreed to see me. This specialist only treats “a select few adults” (mitochondrial disease is most often a birth defect, seen in infants and children), so the fact that he wants to see me gives me hope that he has seen a pattern in my test results and thinks he can help me. BUT, I know now that even if he cannot help me, I have a future as a writer. I would love to become able-bodied once again, but I know that even if I never get healed, I can write. That is a gift from God, and in 2015 I will be developing that gift. Join me in the journey!