Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Conflicted Advent

Advent and Christmas are my favorite seasons. Growing up, our family observed Advent with a wreath, with candles we lit each night, and prayers and hymns before dinner. We didn’t put up our tree until Christmas Eve, because it wasn’t Christmas yet! It made the actual arrival of Christmas Day even more special. I fondly remember going to the 11:00pm Christmas Eve service at Church, and when the service was over, everyone got to finally say “Merry Christmas!” because it was finally Christmas! 
So, now, as an adult, I keep many of the same traditions. We have an Advent wreath for our dining room table, though we don’t always light the candles, and we don't say any special Advent prayers before dinner. But I use Advent devotionals during my quiet time in the morning, and there is just a kind of warmth in my heart during this time of year. We also don’t put up our tree until the 24th, and we leave it up for the 12 days of Christmas, taking it down on January 6. During the whole month of Advent and the 12 days of Christmas, I love thinking about and meditating on what it means to say, “Emmanuel - God with us!” It’s just the best time of the year for me, what with fond memories, and my own spiritual practices.

But…this year, 2016, it is hard to feel joyful, hard to feel the hope of Emmanuel. In the US, Donald Trump was elected president (despite losing the popular vote by 2.7 million votes) and the fall-out has been an unprecedented rise in hate crimes committed against Jews, Muslims, and people of color - many such crimes being explicitly committed in Trump’s name. Trump’s staff and cabinet picks are full of avowed racists (though they prefer the term “alt-right”) and Islamophobes. His administration is talking about slashing Medicare and Social Security, and gutting the Affordable Care Act. It’s as if all the progress this country made in the last 8 years is going to be undone in 6 months. American Muslims and gays are going to lose their civil rights, and the poor and economically marginalized are going to be thrown to the wolves. And in the face of all this, I’m supposed to sing “Joy to the world”??

Well, yes, exactly. Think about when and where Jesus was born. Israel was an occupied country, ruled over by a puppet of the Roman Empire who was a dictator and a despot. Jews had no rights, and a Roman soldier could demand of them that they carry his load, or that they give him the very coats off their backs. They were taxed without any say in the government. Furthermore, Jesus’ parents were essentially homeless at the time of his birth, having been forced by the occupying government to return to Joseph’s ancestral land in order to be counted in a census. In the midst of this, the angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth, announcing “good news” and “peace on Earth.” Surely the shepherds had to be thinking, “Peace on Earth? Yeah, right!” 


God chose a very dark time and place to send the Messiah and remind us that God is “with us” - that the very presence of God is within us and among us, that God is on our side and not against us. And now, given our political climate, what better time to hope for the coming of one who will bring Light and Life, and a peace that “passes understanding”? And I’m not talking about some kind of second coming, here. And I’m not talking about remembering the physical coming of a baby 2000 years ago. I’m talking about the very real presence of God that is among us, here and now - for we know that wherever two or three are gathered in God’s name, then God is there. (Matt. 18:20) We also know that “whoever loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7) The Good News 2000 years ago, that God is with us and therefore we can know hope and peace, is still the Good News today. So, maybe it’s not really a “conflicted” Advent for me, after all. It’s just Advent, as it was 2000 years ago, so it is today: In Jesus, we can know hope, we can know peace, we can know that God is truly with us!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

For Such A Time As This

Note: This post is mostly directed at my Christian brothers and sisters. I know that there are those with different beliefs, or no belief at all, who are also called to be kind, compassionate, and loving, but I specifically want to address those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.

You who know Christ - awaken! You who follow Jesus of Nazareth - come alive! You have been fed and nurtured over the years. You know the Gospel. You (try to) live the Gospel. You believe God is Love, that God is Light, and the Darkness cannot overwhelm the Light. You have fought many spiritual battles. You have been victorious, and you have failed, yet you still trust God.  You have been bruised and beaten, yet you have not been crushed! You have emerged from your trials wiser and stronger! And now - now that we see hatred and bigotry rising in our country; now that we see the highest office in our land filled by someone who speaks hatred, racism, and lies; now that we see the Darkness rising - now is our time. We were born for such a time as this.

Now is our time to do more good, to do more acts of kindness, to show more compassion, to love more. We know just what to do in dark times: to follow ever more closely the example given to us in the words and life of Jesus. To love the outcast, to love the poor, to have compassion on the downtrodden, to preach the Good News that everyone - everyone - is loved by God and is worthy of our love and concern. 

We know that in Christ there is “no Jew, no Gentile, no male, no female.” That means there is no “other” - no Muslim, no immigrant, no refugee, no gay, no straight, no American, no black, no white. There is only - only - children of God. There is not even an enemy, despite what politicians might tell you. For in Christ, we are called to love our enemies, which thereby imbues them with that very same Love that God has given us, and which no longer makes them our enemies, but our brothers and sisters.

We know all this because we have been recipients of this love all our lives. We know this because it has been imparted into our very souls by the Holy Spirit. We have been led to this time, here and now. We have been fed, taught, and nurtured this through all our years (be they many or few) and now we have the strength and power to act in this Love. For such a time as this.

It is easy to see the darkness all around us and give in to despair and hopelessness. But God is a god of hope! God’s very nature is one of love and rebirth. If we say we believe in God and that we follow Jesus, then we must hope, we must love. And we are empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit, breathing life and love and hope into our hearts and minds, so that we can share that love and hope with others. It is not our strength, but God’s. 

It is not easy to stand against the Darkness with your one feeble little candle. But that candle has the power to dispel the Darkness, and to give hope to those whose candles have gone out. If others see your candle, they are encouraged to let their own light shine. First there is one candle, then two, then three, then four, five, ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand! And the Darkness cannot stand against that Light.

So let your light shine! Love extravagantly, as you have been loved! Give extravagantly, as you have been given to! For surely, you were born for such a time as this.


***If you are looking for organizations to donate to or volunteer with, see my previous post.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What Do We Do Now?

These are dark times in the USA. Donald Trump has been elected president, despite the fact that Hilary Clinton garnered over 2 million more votes (thanks Electoral College!) In the wake of his election, hate crimes - most explicitly done in his name - have skyrocketed. They are occurring everywhere, even here in Spokane, where I live. Trump has appointed a man, Steve Bannon, whose media empire is the “voice of the alt-right” (his own words) and his nominee for Attorney General was once deemed “too racist” to serve as a judge. Muslims, people of color, the LGBTQI community, all are living in fear for their safety, their civil rights, their very lives. Trump has hinted to the journalism community that he wants to be portrayed positively, and for them to not report on the negative side of his presidency. This is how fascism begins. I truly fear for my country, for my neighbors, for my friends, for the world. 

In light of all this, what is a person to do? It’s easy to look at it all and feel overwhelmed by the darkness. But we are not helpless. We are not alone. There are millions of people who oppose Trump and his racist, bigoted ways. We can definitely make a difference, and it can be quite simple.

First of all, do not remain silent in the face of hate crimes. This kind of stuff cannot ever be considered normal for our society. Prior to Trump, these people hid under the bushes, rightly ashamed of their thoughts and actions. For them, they see his election as giving them the stamp of approval and empowering them to act on their heinous views. We must always - ALWAYS - speak out against such acts. Silence implies consent. Speak out!

We must oppose any government attempt to restrict or diminish the civil rights of our fellow citizens. Registering Muslims, deporting or rounding them up must be vigorously opposed at every step. We cannot make the same mistake we did during WWII, when millions of Japanese Americans lost their homes and businesses as they were arrested and incarcerated in internment camps. The government will try to couch these actions in patriotic terms: “For the good of the nation” or “For our national security.” But these are just attempts to sweeten what is a heinous and very un-American act. We cannot fall for such lies.

We must oppose any government attempt to deny entry to any immigrant based solely on their religion. The Syrian refugees are fleeing a hell-hole of a war zone. They are not Islamic terrorists. The US already has one of the strictest vetting policy for immigrants. It has kept us safe so far, and will continue to do so. But America was built on the very idea of opening her arms to refugees and immigrants. Our Statue of Liberty proclaims this in no uncertain terms, and our history shows this to be true. Unless you are a member of a Native American tribe, you are here because your ancestors immigrated to this country, perhaps by force, but they immigrated here, nonetheless. All that we have accomplished as a nation was accomplished by immigrants and refugees. To close our borders is to deny who we are as a nation - to deny the very principles upon which this nation was founded.

Most importantly, we must act to counter the tenor of hate and fear that has been unleashed and fed by Trump’s campaign and election. It is so easy to see the hatred in other people and to react with more hatred and revulsion. But as Martin Luther King, Jr famously said, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” And Jesus Christ taught us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. So, if we are to conquer the hatred we must respond only with love. We must seek to understand why someone is acting out in hate. Most often, their hatred is based on some kind of fear, and that fear is almost always unfounded, though they don’t see it that way. But if we can understand the fear that is driving the hate, we can see them as our brothers and sisters, and not the enemy. For as surely as we think of them as “them”, as something “other”, then we will have failed to respond in love.

I want to live in such a way that peace and love are not just motivating factors, but are the bedrock, the foundation of who I am as a person. I want to live a life full of grace - grace received by God, grace given unto myself, and grace given to those I meet. I want my life to be a mirror to the mystery of the relationship of the Trinity, played out in my relationship with other humans. The three “persons” of the Trinity are in an eternal dance of interdependence. When I can live in such a way that I know and feel my interconnectedness with everyone else, then there is no “other” - there is only “us.” In this way, I recognize the brokenness of those who are currently expressing hatred and bigotry, and therefore do not seek to overpower them, but to come alongside them, and help them find their interconnectedness to others. When we truly understand that we are all connected, and that what hurts you also hurts me, then we act in such a way to ensure that all people are valuable, all people are worthy, all people deserve our protection and our love.

How do we do this in every day life? For me, it is the daily interactions with people I meet - the clerks in the grocery store, the people at the post office, those that I am in line with somewhere. In the past, as an introvert, i would pretty much ignore these people. The interactions with clerks never involved eye contact, never involved conversation other than the most minimal required by social convention. Now, as hard as it is for me because it is not my natural tendency, I look these people in the eye. I respond enthusiastically with any greeting. I look for something to compliment them on - their hair, their jewelry, a tattoo - some way to make a human connection, and to make them feel good about themselves. I could be the one who gives them a compliment all day long. I’m not doing anything “phony” - this is actually being quite real, acknowledging our interconnectedness and our interdependence. It doesn’t get more real than connecting with another human being. 

And it doesn’t have to stop there, with simple conversation. Pay for the order in the car behind you next time you go through the drive-through for coffee or fast food. Pay for someone’s dinner at a restaurant. Buy a take-out lunch and give it to that pan-handler on the street corner. Or buy them a cup of coffee on a cold day. Give them a pair of socks, or gloves. I guarantee that those small things will completely change the day for that person - and change your day, too. When we give to others, we also receive something - we receive a changed heart, a heart that is not so alone and isolated. We rediscover our interconnectedness. This is the very core of what it means to live fully human, fully aware.

Each small act of love - for that is what this is - acts as a counter to the violence and hatred in the world. Imagine the change in our country if every one of us went out of our way to put a smile on a stranger’s face. If only HALF of us did this, it would be amazing! These are small things that can have a great impact. Not only does the recipient feel blessed, not only do you feel better, but you feel less helpless in the face of the hatred and violence sweeping our country. This is something tangible you can do to counter all the negativity.

But you don’t have to stop there, either! You can make a donation to the organizations that are standing against racism and bigotry, such as the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. You could donate to a local homeless shelter, or the YWCA. You could donate to a myriad of programs supporting the current protests and Standing Rock. You could sponsor a child with Compassion International. You could donate to your local center for LGBTQI youth. You could donate to World Relief or other organizations helping refugees and immigrants.

And, then, if you really want to go all out in “being the change you want to see in the world,” you can volunteer. Volunteer at your local school or library or community center. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Volunteer at the YWCA, or a woman’s shelter, or a food bank. Volunteer with an organization that helps refugees. I would particularly like to encourage you to volunteer somewhere out of your comfort zone. Volunteer with a group that helps people with whom you normally have no contact. Expose yourself to people of different economic strata, or of a different culture or background. The more we can see that all people are the same underneath, the less likely we will be to fear or hate them.

To help you find an organization to donate to or volunteer with, here are a couple of lists.

For people who live in or near Spokane, WA:

National/International organizations and charities:

If each of us donated just $25 dollars to a couple of these organizations, think of the positive results! If only one in ten of us volunteered somewhere, think of the impact! And if we ALL were simply to be kind to others, to go out of our way to brighten someone’s day, just think how our communities would change! This is what will make America great again - an America that cares about every single person. Won’t you join me?













Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stranger in a Strange Land

I feel like a stranger in my own country. Racist and misogynistic hate crimes are proliferating throughout the US, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to President. The KKK and American Nazi party are celebrating, because they feel that they now have a friend in the White House. And Trump just appointed a white supremacist to be his chief of staff, so they are probably right. Not only that, but his other appointees are calling for a new House Un-American Activities Committee, just as during the McCarthy era, and Trump has declared that he plans to “round up” all undocumented immigrants and incarcerate them, and he plans to force all Muslims to register with the government, both of which sound suspiciously like what Hitler did to the Jews. It was for the “good of the nation” Hitler told his citizens, just as Trump is telling us.

How can this be happening? Did no one pay attention during history class in high school? I feel like the British must have felt during the Nazi bombings - under siege in my own country. But it’s not some external enemy that is attacking us, but it is our own government. The GOP now control both the White House and Congress, and their plans are going to set our country back by decades: rescind the Affordable Care Act, dismantle or severely cripple Social Security and Medicare, remove environmental protections and limits on drilling and mining, stop investing in alternative/sustainable energy sources, remove civil rights from the LGBTQI community, etc. Just as we were on the brink of becoming a better nation, with guaranteed health benefits like the rest of the civilized world and civil rights for all, we are now faced with at least 4 years of destruction.

And I feel so helpless. My gay friends are in fear of losing their marriages, and in fear of their very lives. My female Muslim friends are afraid to wear the hijab in public, and also fear for their lives and the lives of their children. My Black friends are also in fear for their lives. I am in fear of losing my Social Security Disability benefits, as are other disabled people I know. Other friends are now going to be unable to retire, because they will need to keep working in order to afford health care. How does any of this make America “great” again??

I used to believe that the majority of Americans were good, decent people, and that there were just a few “crazies” out there who hated minorities. I now fear that the “crazies” are in the majority. At the very least, the good and decent people who voted for Trump were willing to excuse his racism and bigotry in favor of his economic plans or his (supposed) pro-life stance. They basically looked at a bigot and said, “Well, that’s ok - he’s going to fix the economy.” And that may even be worse than the overt racism of the KKK. This is a racism that says economic plans are of more importance than human rights. And that is truly terrifying, because now these people will go along with whatever Trump does, because they’ve already decided they can ignore his racism and bigotry. So they will keep on ignoring it. Meanwhile, Trump is leading our country down the very same path that Hitler did in pre-war Germany.


No, I no longer recognize my America. And I no longer feel safe in this new America.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Silence is Deafening

It is now the Sunday following the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. There are continued reports of wave after wave of hate crimes being committed, all over the country - explicitly being committed in Trump’s name. (See my earlier post for a short list.) Since the KKK and the American Nazi Party, as well as many other white supremacist/alt-right groups, endorsed and supported Trump for president, can anyone be surprised? Many well-meaning people said of Trump’s bigoted speech during his campaign, “He doesn’t really mean that. He’s not really a bigot.” Well, these hate groups certainly took him at his word, and now feel free to act out their hatred. Yes, their hatred existed before Trump was elected, but now they feel empowered to act on that hate. And Trump and his supporters are silent in the face of these hate crimes.

To all those people who said, “I’m not a racist, I’m voting for Trump because of his economic plans” or “I’m not a racist, I’m voting for Trump because he’s pro-life” - why are you not outraged at the hatred being perpetrated in your candidate’s name? If you’re not really racist, why are you silently sitting by while gay/trans people, Jews, Muslims, Blacks, and Latinos are being attacked - in Trump’s name? Why are you not speaking out? Why are you not holding your candidate to his and your (supposedly) non-racist beliefs?

Dr. James Dobson - during the campaign, you claimed that Trump’s heart is “soft toward the Lord” and that Trump was “God’s man” to lead our country. Is this silence in the face of hatred indicative of a man who serves Jesus Christ? Wouldn’t a Christian be appalled that people are committing acts of hatred and violence in his name, and speak out to stop it? Wouldn’t a real leader speak out? And you, Mr. Dobson, why are you silent? You claim to serve Jesus. Why are you not, at the very least, advising Mr. Trump to speak out against this hatred? More importantly, why are YOU not speaking out against this hatred? 

And, Mr. Franklin Graham, I am asking the same things of you.

Because not one of these people - Trump, Dobson, Graham, his “non-racist” supporters - is saying anything about these hate crimes, I can only come to one conclusion: they are ok with what is happening.  Oh, they may not BE racist (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) but they’re ok with swastikas and Trump’s name being spray-painted on Jewish homes and businesses. They’re ok with Muslim women getting their hijab torn off. They’re ok with LGBTQI people getting beat up and their homes and cars vandalized. Their ok with men grabbing women’s crotches in public  and yelling, “You can’t do anything to me, b*tch! TRUMP!! TRUMP!!” 

No, I’m hearing nothing but silence. And that silence speaks volumes. 


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trump's America

It is Thursday, November 10, 2016 - two days after the US election, which Donald Trump won (though not by popular vote.) In that time, the number of hate crimes has exploded across the country:


I could list dozens and dozens of more stories - Muslim women getting their hijab torn off, patrons at a gay bar being told “Your days are numbered, f*ggots!” White high school students in Philadelphia holding a Trump poster and yelling “White power! N*ggers go back to Africa” and on and on and on.

Now, the people perpetrating these crimes existed before Trump was elected. The hate in their hearts was there. But they knew that hate was wrong, or at least looked down on by the rest of society, so they didn’t act on that hate. But today, with Trump elected president, they feel emboldened, empowered to act on that hate. Why? Because the highest office in the land is about to be filled by a bigot. By a man who refused to denounce the KKK when they endorsed him. A man who literally encouraged people at his rallies to beat black protesters. His election has legitimized their hate and spurred them to act on that hate, because they feel that now “their time has come.”

And I am laying the blame at the feet of every person who voted for Donald Trump. Even if that person says they’re not racist, says they're not bigoted, that they only voted for him because of pro-life, or his economic policies, or whatever. That is no excuse. You voted for a man you knew was a bigot, by his words and his deeds. You knew he was endorsed by the KKK and the American Nazi Party and you decided, “That’s ok, because he really isn’t a racist. He just says stuff to be outrageous.” Oh really? Well, the KKK and the Nazis sure took him at his word! And if you voted for him and didn’t see this coming then you WILLFULLY put your head in the sand, ignoring the evidence of his bigotry. You said to yourself, “MY desire for Trump’s economic policies is more important than the lives and safety of Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and LGBTQI people.” You literally put people’s lives in danger because of your vote, whatever the reason you voted for him.

I am sickened by the hate, by the sheer animal nature of these actions. And I’m sickened that (some) well-meaning people made the expression of this hate possible by voting for Trump. The fact that 80% of white Evangelicals voted for this man turns my stomach! What part of “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy.” don’t they understand??? I am sick, sad, dismayed, and angry. I’m angry that many white voters put their own agenda ahead of that of the very lives of the marginalized among us. The blood of innocents is being shed, and that blood is on the hands of every single person who voted for Donald Trump. I hope you like what you see. #TrumpsAmerica


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election 2016 - The Aftermath

It’s the day after the election, and my spirit is crushed. As I watched the results last night, first in disbelief but still hoping, then in complete horror, I couldn’t wrap my head around a country that elected a reality TV star who is a bully, a bigot, a xenophobe, a homophobe, an Islamophobe, and a sexual predator to be our next president. A man whose scorecard on Politifact had more lies than all the other candidates combined. A man whose grasp of foreign policy is on par with a 4th grader. A man who is in the pocket of a Russian dictator. A man who doesn’t see why we can’t just nuke our enemies.

I know that a lot of people voted for him because he claims to be pro-life (as in anti-abortion.) That remains to be seen, but regardless of his actions in this area, if you voted for Trump - for whatever reason - you voted in favor of racism, in favor of sexism, in favor of religious hatred. You can’t compartmentalize your support. Your vote elected a man who wants to, at the very minimum, force all Muslim CITIZENS to register with the government, and who may very well round them up and incarcerate them as we did to the Japanese during WWII - or even deport them! Your vote elected a man whose vice president signed a law that would make it a crime for homosexuals to even apply for a marriage license, and who believes homosexuality can be “cured” by electro-shock therapy. You voted for gay and trans kids to once again be bullied and abused and reviled. You voted to enable the KKK and American Nazi party to be legitimized and spurred to action, knowing the government will look away as they burn black churches and beat and kill people of color. You voted to take away the marriages of my gay friends. You voted for people who, on election night, chanted, “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we are taking our country back.” You voted for pollution, because Trump wants to enable all pipelines and ALL drilling and mining (including in our National Parks.) You voted to deny medical care to millions of people. You can’t say, “I’m not in favor of those things!” because whether you like it or not, your candidate and his supporters ARE. And you enabled all of it. 

I am so angry right now, that I can’t even comprehend how to move forward. I know that we will have to come together and fight for what is right, and even reach out to Trump supporters to understand what drives them. But right now I can’t. I am so angry at those who voted for Trump, because they have unleashed a monster. Because the GOP also controls Congress, there will be no “checks and balances” on Trump. He can run roughshod over the Constitution and get away with it.

I’m terrified. Terrified for my black friends, my Latino friends, my Muslim friends, my gay friends, my sick and disabled friends. I’m terrified for myself, as a person with disabilities. 

And I’m dismayed. Dismayed that so many people - some of whom I called friends - chose to elect a hateful, bigoted sex predator because he was the “lesser” evil. I have unfriended people on Facebook, finally, because seeing their posts made me sick, knowing that they don’t care about my gay friends, my black friends, my Muslim friends, my Latino friends. This is not a political difference - this is a fundamental moral and ethical divide. How can I call someone a friend who wants to deny the civil rights of my other friends? Because - let me make this clear again - a vote for Trump was a vote for all those things: bigotry, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia. 


As a Christian, I know I should have hope, that I should trust that “God is in control.” But right now I’m struggling even with that. I’m too angry and hurt and dismayed to hope. I fear for our nation and the world. God help us all.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election 2016

It’s November 7, 2016 - one day before the US elections. And I am fighting tears. My heart breaks for our country, for people so blinded by ideology that they are supporting a self-confessed sexual predator.  This man, who constantly demeans and belittles women, who brags about grabbing them “by the pussy,” who judges women by the size of their breasts, is the presidential candidate for the Republican Party - the party that defines itself as the party of “family values.” But this man not only demeans women, he has cheated on his wives (and bragged about it) and has been married three times.

This man has also publicly mocked a person with disabilities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX9reO3QnUA

He wants to institute a program requiring all Muslim American citizens to register with the government. Does no one see the parallel with Hitler and the Jews? Or the heinous part of our own past when we rounded up and incarcerated Japanese-American citizens during WWII? Can you imagine the outrage if he had suggested requiring Christians to register? If you think it would be wrong to do that to Christians, then it’s wrong to do so for Muslims - or any other religious group. He wants to require this registration because he thinks all Muslims are terrorists, or at least support terrorism. Does he not know that it was the Muslim community that alerted the FBI to the Pusle Club shooter (whom they decided not to track further)? Does he not know it was a Muslim who led to the capture of the NYC bomber?

He wants to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, whom he describes as rapists and murderers. Does he not know that there are actually more people returning to Mexico than entering the US?

He wants to revoke marriage equality for homosexuals.

He thinks MORE countries should have nuclear weapons.

He doesn’t see why we don’t just use nuclear weapons on our enemies.

He wants to INCREASE the torture of suspected terrorists.

He wants to KILL the innocent families of terrorists.

He mocked the parents of a US soldier who died serving his country.

He is endorsed by the KKK and the American Nazi Party.

He is endorsed by the leaders of the Alt-Right (white supremacist) movement.


His supporters regularly use the N-word, and yell “Hang the bitch!” in reference to Hillary Clinton. (Video here and here.)

He has encouraged his supporters to intimidate voters at the polls.

He slyly hinted that his gun-loving supporters should “take care of” Hillary Clinton.

The only world leaders who endorse him are Vladimir Putin, Russia’s dictator, and North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un. All of the living US presidents (including the Bushes) have come out in favor of Clinton. Many prominent Republican leaders (including Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell) have come out publicly in support of Clinton.

Numerous women have publicly come forward accusing him of sexual assault. In December, he is facing a trial for CHILD RAPE.

I could go on and on and on, with examples of his completely outrageous behavior and words. Not to mention his pathetic lack of self-control, and his ignorance regarding foreign policy. 

Any ONE of the previous items should make any reasonable person disqualify Trump as a presidential candidate. The fact that people are willing to overlook these disturbing and damning FACTS just completely boggles my mind. I truly do not understand how anyone thinks that a presidential candidate who brags about grabbing women by the “pussy” is ok!! NONE of this stuff is OK!! How can you just sweep it all under the rug??


Look, I get that Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate. She wasn’t my first choice. But in comparing her faults (and Benghazi and emails are not counted against here because SHE HAS BEEN EXONERATED EVERY SINGLE TIME SHE WAS INVESTIGATED) with Trump’s faults, there is no comparison. Trump is a bigoted, homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic narcissist. Hilary is just a politician, with the usual baggage. The fact that there is even any debate about the qualifications (or disqualifications) of these candidates is ridiculous!! The KKK and the American Nazi Party??? Really? REALLY? You’re ok with that? You’re ok with that whole list of disqualifications, above? Then I really have no idea how you sleep at night, how you tell yourself you care about people. Seriously, I beg you - take a LONG, HARD look at that list, and look in your heart, and vote against hate. Vote against fear. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

On Grief

Grief is an odd beast. Despite our efforts to tame it, to explain it, to contain it, it shows up when we least expect it and in ways that we can’t predict. I don’t mean that we never know when some grief-causing event will happen - I mean that grief shows up weeks, months, years after some event, surprising us with its black fury.

Everyone is familiar with the “five stages of grief” as defined by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross:
  1. denial 
  2. anger 
  3. bargaining 
  4. depression 
  5. acceptance
and I thought I understood them, too. I’ve gone through these stages when confronted by the loss of loved ones, and - more pertinent to this post - because of the loss of my old life due to chronic illness. I went through these stages 3-4 years into my illness, when I realized I was suffering from depression and needed psychological help. I saw a therapist for a few years, was on antidepressants for a while, and then felt like I’d reached stage 5, and I was good to go for the rest of my life.

But then, 2 years ago, when my illness was still undiagnosed and my condition continued to deteriorate, it became apparent that I was depressed again. So, back to the therapist, back on antidepressants, and back though the grief process. And, once again, I felt I had hit stage 5, and I was good to go.

And then something amazing happened: I received a diagnosis of my “mystery” illness! After over 12 years of searching and seeking, traveling all over the country seeing specialists, I got referred to a doctor here in my hometown who diagnosed me! And he started me on a treatment that is already making a difference in how I feel. This is great news, right? I finally know what I have, and I have a treatment that is improving my condition! Awesome!

But - here’s the weird thing - I’m facing grief all over again. Just like before, I am grieving the life I used to live: a life of sports, of world travel, of a career I loved. A life of health and vitality. And I’m grieving for my future life, because even though I have a diagnosis and treatment, the diagnosis is of a chronic illness, meaning I’ll never be healed (barring a miracle) and I’ll have to be struggling every day to face life as a disabled person. I can’t eat what I want, I can’t do what I want, and this is the way it’s going to be for the rest of my life.

So, here I am again, in the land of grief. And I finally get it: grief is something you never get over. And those five stages? They don’t happen in order. Heck, I’ve gone through all five in a single day! And then I wake up and have to go through them all over again! Or I’ll get stuck in one stage for a day, or a week, or a month. And I can go from acceptance, back to anger, on to depression and then end up in denial. There’s no rhyme or reason to the stages. And - this is the important thing - there is no end to grief. Grief is now a part of my life, and will be with me until the day I die. It’s a part of me now because my old life is gone, and will always be gone, and I’ll always miss it. Some days that grief is easier to bear, but some days it comes crashing down on me like a black wave and it’s all I can do to make it through the day.

Coming to this realization - that grief never goes away - is actually a good thing. Now I don’t feel like a failure when one of the stages of grief hits me out of the blue; it’s not because I haven’t “completed” the five stages - there is no completion. When you suffer from a truly life-altering event, grief will always be there. But that’s okay - now that I know I’ll never “get over” my grief, I won’t beat myself up when the dark days come. I’ll simply recognize the darkness for what it is, and know that I will make it through to better days. I always have and I always will, because it is God who holds my hand and leads me through the “valley of the shadow of death.” He is the one who comforts me and catches my tears, and reassures me that I’ll make it out of the darkness into the light once again. 

Just like my chronic illness, grief is now a part of me. And, just as I’ve learned to live with my illness, I’m learning to live with grief. It’s just the way it is. And that’s okay.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What if the storm never ends?

One of my long-time favorite Christian songs is “Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns. Here is the chorus:

And I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

(Full lyrics here. Listen here.)

I always liked this song because it reminded me that God is still God and He still loves me, even if I’m going through a hard time. And it also reminded me that storms are temporary, and God will see me through them. But what if the storm isn’t temporary?!?

When I first became ill with a mysterious illness, over 12 years ago, this song spoke to my heart and gave me much encouragement. I continued to praise God, and trust that He would deliver me from the “storm” of my illness. Well, all these years later, not only am I still sick, but I’ve now been diagnosed with a chronic illness, meaning that I’ll never recover (barring a literal miracle.) So, now, my “temporary storm” is something that will be with me for the rest of my life. What do I do now? Where is my hope, if the “storm” will never end?

Well, the message is the same: God is still God, and He still loves me. He is still worthy of praise. God is unchanging. He is the rock on which I stand. Yes, my life is not what I had hoped or planned for, but that doesn’t change the reality of who God is or how much He loves me. The fact that my illness will be with me until I die (barring a miracle ;-) doesn’t change any of this.

The only thing that has changed is how I look at my illness: I can’t think of it as a “temporary storm” anymore. It’s just my life now; it's my new normal. There will be other “storms” that God will see me through. In the meantime, God is with me as I walk out this part of my life, just as He was with me when I was healthy.

We all have things in our lives that we thought were temporary storms, only to find out that they never went away. Maybe it’s a chronic illness, like me. Maybe it’s a loved one who died from an illness, or who has never been delivered from alcoholism or addiction. So what we hoped was temporary became permanent. But it still doesn’t change who God is. He promised that He would never leave us, and He won’t. If the “storm” becomes your life, then accept it as your new normal, and stand firm in the knowledge that God is with you and is holding you and carrying you every step of the way. 

So, even though the “storm” doesn’t end, God is still with us. The “storm” simply becomes our normal “weather” and we keep trusting and praising God. Because God’s promises never change, even if the weather does!


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

YES!

So, this post is long overdue, but my life has been turned upside down since my last post. Some of you may recall my post of late February, titled “No” (you can read it here.) Basically, it was about the fact that with my illness I’d had nothing but twelve years of “no.” I had seen dozens of doctors all over the country, and had gotten no diagnosis and no help for my symptoms. I had been forced to give up more and more things I loved. And at the point of that post, I had just been denied disability payments, and that was the last straw. I just couldn’t keep going with a positive attitude, and had lost all hope. I ended the blog with a plea for just one teensy-weensy yes.

Well, guess what? I got a GREAT BIG YES the week after writing that blog - I GOT A DIAGNOSIS!!!!!! Can you believe it?!? I still can’t quite believe it myself! And it was a doctor here in town who was able to finally diagnose me - not one of the specialists at Harborview or the Cleveland Clinic. Amazing!!

Here’s how it happened:

My neurologist (the wonderful Dr. David Greeley of Northwest Neurological) had reached the end of his knowledge and what to try. But he still didn’t give up, and referred me to see Dr. Chris Valley, a naturopath who works at Arthritis Northwest. Dr. Greeley hoped that Dr. Valley might be able to bring a “fresh pair of eyes” to my situation, and approach the problem “from a new angle.” I agreed to see Dr. Valley, even though I’d seen a naturopath early on in my illness, and he’d been unable to help me. In fact, the day of my appointment, I almost cancelled, because I was afraid to face another doctor who had nothing but “no” for me. Nevertheless, I went. (Thank God!)

Dr. Valley asked me to tell him about my illness, how it started, how it progressed, etc. He listened intently, and asked a lot of very good questions. At the end of my spiel, he said, “Well, I think I know what you have.” My jaw nearly hit the floor, and I said something like, “You’re kidding! Really? What?!?” He said, “I think you have Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease.” He went on to describe the disease and said it’s actually a new disease definition from the Institute of Medicine - only a couple of years old. The disease is characterized by exertion intolerance (duh) and non-refreshing sleep, both of which I have in spades! He said there is a neurological component as well as a muscle component (in the mitochondria.) He said my description of the onset of my illness was “practically textbook” as to how the disease begins. And he said the muscle shakes that I get when I contract any muscle is often a symptom - and he’s seen other patients with SEID who have the same shakes. (This is the first time ANYONE has been able to recognize what my muscle shakes are, and pin them to a disease.) He also said he had the benefit of 12 years of my medical records, full of tests showing what I didn’t have.

I was just stunned. Simply stunned. I used to imagine what I’d do when I got a diagnosis, and usually pictured myself sobbing hysterically in relief. When it really happened, I just sat there gaping at him for the rest of the appointment! My mind was really having a hard time grasping the reality of a diagnosis. And for weeks afterwards, I’d find myself thinking about what I should try next or where I should go to see more doctors. I would have to stop that train of thought and re-realize that I have a diagnosis and I can stop the endless search for the next attempt at a diagnosis/cure. Even now, almost 2 months later, it seems unreal to finally KNOW what’s wrong! Twelve years of wondering, searching, seeking - and finally I know! I feel like a ton of bricks has been lifted off my shoulders! It’s an amazing feeling!

So, that’s the good news - a diagnosis, at last! The bad news is that there is no cure for this. It is a chronic disease. However, there are treatments that can improve my symptoms, and Dr. Valley said he’s “very confident” that he can “significantly” improve my quality of life. He said that because I’ve gone untreated for so long, I have a very severe case of SEID, and he’s doubtful that I’ll ever be able to work again. (Sadness.) BUT, he said that with proper treatment and management of my energy, I should be able to be much more active - that taking a shower won’t always exhaust me, that I will be able to take the dog for a walk and do light housework and maybe even putter around in the yard a bit. In other words, I can progress to the point of a normal ‘sedentary’ individual - which for me would be AWESOME! I’ll probably never be able to ride a bike again (more sadness) or work out in any way (even more sadness) but if I can do normal everyday things without being exhausted, I’ll be thrilled!

I’ve started treatment with a prescription to help the neurological component, and some supplements (normally used by body-builders - LOL) to help the muscular component. And I can already feel a difference - my muscles don’t feel so awful. And I don’t feel so sick all the time. I still can’t do anything more, but at least I feel better. Dr. Valley said that the improvements will be extremely slow and gradual. His rule of thumb is 3 months of recovery time for every year of illness. For the math-challenged, that means that it’s going to take 3 YEARS for me to recover to whatever level of functionality I can achieve. Good thing I know all about being patient, having spent 12 years waiting for a diagnosis!

So, after 12 years of “no” I finally got a “yes.” I finally have hope. I no longer have to fear that I’ll just continue to deteriorate until I’m bedridden. I no longer have to keep struggling to find a doctor or a treatment. I can finally look at the future and see a better life. No, it won’t be the life I had hoped for (I truly planned to be racing bikes into my 70’s) but it will be a better life than I have right now - and that’s HUGE. Thank God for a YES!!

Friday, March 4, 2016

I Just Want to be Where You Are

There is a popular song on Christian radio, called “Where You Are” by Hillsong Young & Free. It’s all about wanting to praise God and be in His presence. Here’s part of the lyrics:

I'm lifting you higher, higher
There's nothing that I'd rather do
A sweet elevation of praises
There's no one I love more than You
God, I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are

(Listen to entire song here.)

Doesn’t that sound nice? Doesn’t it sound holy? We’ll just stand here in church, praising God, and being where He is. After all, we know that “God inhabits the praises of His people.” (Psa. 22:3) What could be wrong with that?

Well, here’s the thing. Yes, God is present when we praise Him. God is always present - it’s who He is. Our awareness of His presence may shift with the wind, but never doubt that He is with us. (After all, Emmanuel literally means “God with us.”) But if you really want to be where God is, step away from your pretty churches with their amazing worship teams and music ministry, where everyone is “seeking God’s presence”, and go to the slums, into the home of a single mom trying to feed and clothe her kids; go to the jails, where a prisoner feels forgotten and unloved; go to the streets where a homeless person is trying to stay warm on a cold winter’s night; go to the nursing home, where someone feels alone and forgotten. For surely, God is in all these places. If you really want to “feel” His presence, reach out to those who are hurting. Feed the hungry, clothe the needy, befriend the lonely.


Now, don’t get me wrong, I love singing and worshipping God - anyone who knows me from church could tell you that! But if all we are seeking is some transcendent “feeling” of God’s presence, surrounded by the 4 walls of a church building, well, then we’re missing the whole point of the Gospel. Jesus commands us, over and over again, to feed the hungry and help the poor. His life modeled that example for us. The Kingdom of God is love lived out, not love kept within a church building. Sure, we can praise God - we should, for He is worthy of praise. But if you want to “find” God’s presence, I think you’ll have an easier time finding Him where people are in need and hurting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

No!

"No."

I’m sick of that word. This battle with my (STILL) undiagnosed illness has been 12 years of “No.” 
  • No, you can’t ride your bike.
  • No, you can’t lift weights.
  • No, you can’t exercise at all.
  • No, we don’t know what’s wrong with you.
  • No, we can’t do anything to help you.
  • No, you can’t eat what you want to anymore.
  • No, you can’t volunteer with the International Programming Contest.
  • No, you can’t travel.
  • No, you can’t work.
  • No, you can’t go to church.
  • No, you can’t get a good night’s sleep.
  • No, you can’t ever feel good.
  • No, you can’t get disability payments.
I can’t keep facing this endless list of “No.” I need a yes. One little yes. Something - anything - that can give me a feeling of hope. But I don’t get anything. Nothing, zip, nada, zilch. Just another “No.” Over and over and over. “No.”

Look, I know that God still loves me, I know I have the best husband in the world who loves me and takes awesome care of me, I know I have the good fortune to be covered under his insurance, I know there are many things for which I can be grateful. I get it - really I do. And I’ve spent the last 12 years focusing on those good things, and trying to stay positive and thankful and do all the rose colored glasses things. But I just can’t anymore. I can’t keep it up. My life sucks. I should be in the prime of my life, working at a job I love, traveling all over the world, racing bikes, involved in church, living and loving life!! That was me 12 years ago. It should still be me. And it totally, completely sucks that it isn’t.

So, here I am, sitting in my rocking chair, feeling like crap, just like I do every day. And I just can’t take another “No.” I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I just cannot keep up the positive vibe. It’s too hard!! I’ve been doing it for TWELVE FREAKING years!!! And now I’m at my limit. Something is going to have to happen for me to not just spiral down into total darkness. I need a miracle. I need a “Yes.” Is that too much to ask? That I get one teensy bit of positive news regarding my illness? Because 12 years of “No” is more than anyone should have to face. And I just can’t face another day of it.*




*Don’t worry, I’m not contemplating suicide! It’s my attitude that I can’t keep up any longer, not my physical life.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Elephant in the Room

Living with a chronic illness, I struggle to not become bitter and despondent about my condition. It would be so easy to think about all the things I’ve lost (job, hobbies, social life) and get angry about the unfairness of it all. And then when I look ahead to a future where I am able to do less and less, I can quite easily give in to despair and hopelessness. I could live in this morass of darkness without any effort at all.

BUT - I don’t let myself go down that path. I don’t want to be a bitter, angry person, going through life complaining about how awful I have it all. Yet, the reality of my situation cannot be ignored. My illness is there, looming over every facet of my life. It is the proverbial elephant in the room. The elephant dominates everything - it gets in the way of me doing the simplest chore, making said chore become a huge physical challenge. It stands in the middle of the room, blocking my way to events and activities, keeping me trapped in my chair. It’s a big, stinky, immovable object, smack dab in the middle of my life!! 

I think we all know people who are struggling with hard things in life, but are so overwhelmed by them that they spend all their time telling you how awful their life is. They are bitter, angry,  unhappy people. I don’t want to be like that. Now, I’m not trying to say that when life throws you a curve-ball you should just plug your ears and sing, “La la la la - I can’t hear you!” When bad things happen, get mad, get angry! You should!! But don’t make your bed there and spend the rest of your life going over and over how bad things are and how unfair life is. You will make yourself miserable, and make those around you miserable, too! Who wants to live like that? Not me!

I do not want my illness to dominate my attitude. Despite the fact of its existence and power, I refuse to let it rule me. I acknowledge its presence and how it has forced me to change my life accordingly. BUT I REFUSE TO LET IT OVERPOWER MY SPIRIT. No, I can’t deny what it is and what it has done to my life, but I’m not going to make it my focus, or allow it to ruin what I have left in life. It is simply a fact of my life, and I need to make peace with it. It’s not that I pretend it’s not there - that would be impossible. I just try to live as best I can, in spite of the elephant in the room.


So, yes, I’m ill and disabled. (Hello, Elephant!) But there is more to me than my physical body, and I choose to live that life to its fullest. Naturally, I have to make accommodations for the elephant in the room (I’ve had to drastically rearrange the furniture of my life!), but I will not let the elephant destroy my happiness. I refuse to let it be the focus of my life! And, really, if you add some lovely draperies to it, an elephant can really spruce up a room! ;-)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

On Body and Spirit

Because I’m home all day, I do a lot of thinking. And, of course, I do a lot of thinking about my illness, and my response to it, and what God’s plan is for me through all of this. And recently, I’ve come across an interesting little idea. Let me see if I can explain it. 

Living with a chronic illness means that you are hyper-aware of your physical state at all times: Do I have the energy for a shower today? Can I do a load of laundry today? How sore am I? How tired? Did I do something yesterday to make things worse (or better)? It’s a constant state of checking in with your body and taking stock of its status. Because of this, I sometimes feel very selfish - I’m always focused on my needs and my abilities (or lack thereof). But, as my wonderful mental health counselor (the amazing Michelle Estelle, PhD, of Cornerstone Psychologists) said, “Self care is not selfishness.” She also reminded me that when I was healthy and working out, I also had to take stock of my physical state, so that I could tailor my workouts accordingly. But, still, it is more of a constant thing, living with this illness. Every activity throughout the day is prefaced by the thought, “Do I have the strength to do this?” In short, I’m practically obsessed with the state of my body.

On the other hand, this constant physical focus makes me aware of the spiritual reality that this is not my eternal state. One way that happens is the whole unfairness of the situation. It’s just not right that anyone should be saddled with a chronic, debilitating illness, slogging painfully through every day. This sense of injustice, recognizing the “wrongness” of it, makes me realize that my spirit knows how things should be, that my spirit knows - and yearns for - a place where my body won’t be broken. This, of course, is heaven, where my body will be in perfect health, without pain, without weakness. The injustice here points to the justice there. So, even as I am focused on my physical body here, and am dismayed at its failings, it serves to point my attention to a better place, and helps me look to spiritual things. The physical accentuates the spiritual.

This duality is very much in keeping with how God works. He uses the natural to point to the spiritual. The very model of this is Adam, the broken sinful man, pointing the way to Jesus, the whole and pure man. But there are examples all throughout the Bible: the mustard seed, the lowly manger, David and Goliath, and even the cross. God always uses the natural or the physical to point us toward the spiritual. In my life, my broken body helps me to remember the promise of a whole, healed body. So, even though I tend to focus on the physical state of my body, I can use this to remind myself of God’s promise that I won’t be like this eternally. And this promise reminds me of so many other of His promises, that I lean on daily. 

So, though it may seem I’m obsessed with my physical body, I can flip it upside down, and be focused on God. Instead of a constant reminder of my broken body and the unfairness of it all, my illness is a constant reminder of God’s goodness!*



*DISCLAIMER: Of course, I would definitely love to have a healed body, here and now! But I refuse to let my body’s failings blind me to God’s over-arching promises and goodness. This is the choice I make daily - hourly - in my life.