Singing (or Praying) with a Mask On

When I was growing up there was a popular phrase ‘Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it’. People used it to promote something they enjoyed and you weren’t willing to try.

One of my favorite things to do as a girl was to sing. Especially when there was nothing else to do. Like driving 600+ miles to North Carolina every summer.

I’m sure it annoyed everyone else in the car, but I would take an Inspiration songbook along and work my way through it. I’m sure the times I sang only the alto part were especially enjoyable for everyone else.

As a pre-teen I challenged myself to sing louder than the riding mower I was on all summer, and without vocal lessons learned to breathe deeply using my diaphragm.

I imagined even the truckers I’d signal to blow their horns could hear my Top 40 set list.

I actually think it was God’s plan from the start.

My initial motivation was entirely self-focused – how can I hear my beautiful voice singing my favorite songs while mowing the grass? The results allowed me to become a good swimmer, a performer who could belt out my part with no need of amplification, and an asthmatic who can force air in and out pretty capably during an attack.

My kids don’t like that my “normal” speaking voice is also projected and loud.

Muscle memory.

So fast forward to this season of life when all of a sudden our interactions with other people have constraints we wouldn’t have dreamed would happen a year ago.

Churches stopped having in-person services right away, but quickly regrouped to offer online versions. In watching several different churches I found a variety of ways the different elements were handled.

Worship teams performed to empty chairs, or from homes, pastors likewise spoke from pulpits or offices or home settings.

Missing were lengthy announcements, taking up an offering, transitions. And any hurry to get there. I could watch it anytime online.

But what I have really missed is worshiping while singing with other followers of Jesus Christ.

Of course, that CAN happen in a home. If yours is like mine, though, you may have some eager singers (me! me!), and others who aren’t comfortable singing without lots of other voices to make them less noticeable.

I sing, alone or with others, every time I drive a vehicle and crank up YES-FM, but it’s not the same as being with a bunch of other people all praising God. Psalm 22:3 tells us God inhabits the praises of his people, and it really is a supernatural experience to be part of lifting those praises, as loud and strong as I can!

So it was with great anticipation that I returned to Celebrate Recovery in person a few Fridays ago, eager to raise my voice with my forever family, grateful for our continuing freedom and healing from whatever has been holding us down.

The only thing is, masks were required.

Hmm.

My immediate thought was, how can I sing with a mask on? Not happening.

I mean, I have asthma already, so normal singing sometimes takes it out of me. Add sucking in air through cloth? It didn’t sound even possible.

But I was desperate to join with others in thanking and glorifying God.

So I decided to heed that old advice and reserve my judgment until I had given it a fair shot.

Let me say, it was not pretty. (One good thing about social distancing!) Imagine the vocal equivalent of running a race, the wet, labored, tiny bit lightheaded, mask in need of a good washing panting that went on for those brief 10 minutes or so.

But man, was it joyful!

I found, incredibly, that it was not only possible, but that it didn’t reduce my ability to project my voice in any way. In fact, after a few weeks, I have felt a new dimension in my vocal chords and breathing that so far in my 59 years I had not explored.

(Like how I worked that in? I just had a birthday, and the only time I know for sure how old I am is around that day. And even then I have to subtract my birth year to be sure!)

When I first started exploring the idea of intercessory prayer the feelings were a lot like singing for the first time with a mask on.

How do I do this? What if I do it wrong? Will it come out sounding muffled and incoherent or will it be understandable?

While there are lots of passages that encourage us to pray for each other, there isn’t a clearly defined method to follow. One thing is certain. If I never give it a try I’ll never figure it out.

I don’t know about you, but I like to know what I’m doing. I like to read about it, study up, follow the instructions at least the first time out until I get the hang of something.

But some things are mysteries, especially when it comes to following Jesus. Like fasting. I’ve never seriously done it because I always think I need to study it. Then when I come across a “How to do a Biblical Fast” kind of article, it doesn’t hold my attention. (They’re so long! I need 5 bullet points and go!) I don’t know what I’m missing, because I talk myself out of trying.

In this case, I’ve felt the benefits of other people praying for me, more times than I will ever know in this world. And I’ve had people inspired to pray for me by God, and then come and tell me something God had given them to pass on to me.

That has been one of the most humbling things I’ve ever experienced, God speaking to me through someone else.

But that was only after another person took the time to pray for me.

Now, I’m not a person who seeks emotional or thrilling experiences as proof of God working in my life. But I also would not mind being in what I imagine to be a deep closeness in my prayer life that would invite God to speak to me for other people’s benefit.

I got to a point where I decided it didn’t matter if I did it wrong. God knows my heart. And it didn’t matter if I mumbled and spoke with disconnected thoughts, the Spirit can make sense of even moans and groans.

So I started taking advantage of any old time someone would pop into my mind to say, ‘Ok, God, how can I pray for this person right now?’

At first I’d think, how can I pray blindly, not knowing what they need.

Praying with a mask on.

And thoughts that are not my thoughts will come into my head, and I take the personality and imagination that God put in me to lift that person in my mind, to sit down next to Jesus (sometimes I dare to climb up into his lap), and have a conversation with the only one who can truly do anything worthwhile and everlasting for any of us.

I love the way God can calm my thoughts, and help me focus on just one other person for a while. I love being given just a word, or maybe a feeling, to help me identify what I should be praying for, but even without any prompts there are things I can always know, that I can ask God to do for any person on this earth.

To let them feel his love, to draw them to himself, to create in them a desire to know him, and many other things that pop into my head that I’ve read over and over and now get a chance to speak back to him.

Maybe you think I’m wasting my time, or deluded. Or maybe this is one of those things you’ve heard of, like the idea of, but never knew how to do.

So may I suggest just doing it? Right now. Ask God who you should pray for. And whoever comes to mind (yourself included!) ask if there’s anything in particular.

Then listen.

Who knows what will happen next?

But one thing I can tell you.

Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

Dump and Run

My whole life I have been a perfectionist.

I know this because very little ever happens that is exactly the way I want it. You see, in my mind I can see the end result the exact way I want it to be. But in order for that result to come about there are any number of steps that have to be taken, in order, for things to work the way they should.

For way too many years I factored into my complicated chain of events the actions of others. And when they couldn’t read my mind and do their part, I gave myself permission to stop working toward that goal.

Why bother? It was never going to be the way I pictured it.

If only everyone else would just do their part, I could get mine done and everything would be…perfect.

In recent years I’ve learned a lot about boundaries. A basic thing I’ve found in working through Boundaries https://www.boundariesbooks.com/, by Cloud and Townsend, is I need to figure out where I stop and others begin.

The result has been that instead of factoring in other people’s parts in the way I’d like things to be, I’m more frequently taking things on with the idea that I may need to do it all myself.

But not BY myself.

In my faith journey I’ve always known that the goal is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. And in my head I’ve known that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

HIS strength.

And though I’ve known this, it has been a lifelong search to figure out how to have that personal relationship.

I’ve been talking recently about prayer. Specifically about interceding for other people by praying for them, asking God to show me how to pray for them.

But praying for others is pointless if I don’t have my own close, personal friendship with Jesus.

Remember that image I talked about, learned from a Beth Moore study? That interceding is like someone who is intimately involved with another taking that person’s face in their hands, turning them to face themselves, and speaking up to defend and seek help for another.

It only does any good if the person’s face you’re holding has the power to act and bring real help to the one you are interceding for.

That would be Jesus. And he certainly has the power!

So I need to be intimately involved with Jesus before I can plead the cause of another.

In our lives we experience all kinds of intimacy. With our mothers when we were very young, our fathers and siblings as we grew up. More and more, working our way outward from family to friends to spouses, and then the closeness we have with our own children and grandchildren.

I have to ask myself, honestly I do this quite often, how intimate am I with Jesus?

How much of my life do I share with him? How much time do I spend with him? How closely do I listen for him to respond to me? How honestly do I tell him how I’m feeling and where I’m struggling?

I don’t want the kind of relationship where I’m so busy handling my life on my own, that I roll along gathering up problems I need help with. When I get such a heavy load that I feel like I’m going to break, THEN I take a quick minute to go unload it in a hurried prayer, and then I’m off handling everything on my own again.

Dump and run.

Any of you that are parents have probably experienced this with your kids.

You can tell there’s something bugging them. You try to get them to talk about it, but they aren’t ready, they’re embarrassed, or they think they don’t need any help dealing with anything. They can handle their own lives.

So the tension builds up until they can’t take it anymore, and out of nowhere there’s some kind of explosive response to the simplest request.

It’s messy, it seems to make no sense, and it can take a long time to figure out what the deeper issue is.

I’ve spent a lot of years dumping my troubles at the foot of Christ, then running away before I have to look him in the face.

Because I’m afraid of what he might tell me I have to do to make it work out right.

I was reading a short piece by A.W. Pink the other day that helps me picture the way I SHOULD approach God. He writes,

“He would have you make Him your Friend: not only your Counselor, but your Confidant – the One into whose ear you are to pour the very secrets of your heart. He would have you be quite artless and natural, just like a little child coming to its mother, pouring into her ear its every little woe, trouble, and disappointment.”

I remember those days, long before the defiant rants came on, when every one of my children would climb up in my lap and lay their head down and tell me their troubles.

That’s what Jesus wants us to do.

If you’ve never tried approaching him this way, what is stopping you?

For me there were many years when I felt I had no right. But that’s a lie. Jesus is supposed to be a friend who is closer than a brother.

A dear pastor and friend always told me that Jesus is a gentleman. He will never force himself on you. And that is absolutely true.

He leaves it up to us to accept his invitation to enter into a never-ending friendship with him.

And he gives us the right to approach him, any time we want, to talk about anything on our minds.

Or just to sit and be.

Even when I dump and run, he knows what my real issue is.

But like any close, loving friend, Jesus wants me to come and spend some time with him, feeling the relief of being with someone who fully knows everything about me, who I can be real with.

And as I start to open up about the things that are weighing me down, I find something remarkable happens.

He doesn’t give me a to-do list that will make everything work out right.

He asks me to leave it in his hands, to let him do the heavy lifting. He tells me I don’t have to handle this on my own.

And I no longer feel any hurry to run away.

Making Plans

When was the last time your schedule was full?

I can pretty safely say that, except for two short trips to a college campus to move a child out and then back in again, my schedule has been open for almost six months.

I’m not working outside the home, I’m purposely not going out where there are lots of people any more than I need to, and I have no social calendar.

So after last week’s post, I was really looking forward to time entering into God’s presence and praying for you, whoever and wherever you are.

I don’t know about you, but since COVID quarantine started I have felt like I was in limbo. I look at the new month on the calendar, and the only things on it are 2 birthdays and an anniversary, and a few health related appointments.

I feel like I don’t have the liberty to plan things more than a couple weeks ahead.

Who knows what the COVID prognosis will be even tomorrow. The level of emergency we are in could change daily. So how can anyone make any kind of solid plans?

Think about the end of last year, say in that week between Christmas and New Year’s when you start thinking about things you might like to accomplish in the next year. You plot out, at least in your mind, steps to take to get from point A to point B in your goals, and depending on how your mind works you may even make detailed lists of your plan of action.

I love making the lists. But for me, that’s fulfilling enough, just to think it through and write out what could happen if I did this and that.

Actually doing the this and that is much less interesting.

But even for a blowin’ in the wind kind of person like me, the futility of planning too far ahead has been unsettling.

For the first couple months of COVID sheltering at home, Dear Husband was recovering from a hip replacement, so I had already planned to be a homebody for a while. What I hadn’t planned on was life coming to a screeching halt.

A job that I had cheerfully worked for more that 14 years went away for now. Church went to online. Celebrate Recovery stopped meeting in person, and it was a couple months until I could get headphones and join the online meetings.

Anything in-person was canceled, and the things that went online were just not the same.

But here’s the thing. There was no point in trying to schedule anything for months. The rhythm of life got its legs knocked out from under it.

Doctors offices called to cancel or reschedule visits over the phone. All of a sudden it wasn’t as important to visit the dentist twice a year. School went online, and graduations were drastically different.

As we headed into the summer a passage in scripture kept going through my mind. James 4: 13-15.(NLT)

13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

When I was growing up all the lovely older people at church would say as their exit line, “Lord willing I’ll see you again soon.”

I thought it was just a saying for many years. Until people I loved died. Then I thought about it more.

And in the last six months I’ve honestly thought about it a lot. Because it doesn’t matter what I want or what my will would like me to do.

It’s all about God’s will.

If there is one big lesson I’ve learned during COVID it’s that I am powerless to control much of anything going on in the world right now.

I’m sure that thought scares some people to death!

It’s a good thing I have more than five years of recovery under my belt, because that’s one of the first things I became reconciled to. (And it only took me a couple of years!)

Principle One of the Eight Recovery Principles states it pretty clearly:

Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. (Step 1)
          “Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor.” Matthew 5:3a TEV

I am so thankful that I’ve already come to an intimate knowledge of how destitute I am without Jesus! Because if I hadn’t, I think I would be even more worried and anxious and frustrated and bored than I am now.

But just because I know I don’t have the power to change the world around me, I can choose to change my expectations.

I don’t need to have that power, because I am a grateful follower of Jesus Christ, and HE has all the power this world needs to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And so as I think about you all this week, I’d like you to know that I will be praying that if you don’t already, you will come to know Jesus. He is the only friend who will never let you down.

Because he already laid down his life for you. And for me.

Even when we were all still busy sinning.

So as you come to mind, I will be praying God’s word for you, because HIS word never comes back void.

It’s not a very long-term plan, but it’s a step towards getting back into the rhythm of living.

And, if the Lord wants me to do it, this is something worth adding to my calendar.

So How Do I Do This?

How can I pray for you?

I don’t ask this because I’m some super prayer warrior. I’m not.

This past Sunday our pastor spoke about prayer, and I know I fell into the category of people who have good intentions but know they don’t take the time to pray as regularly as they should.

Praying without ceasing is a hard order to fill.

If you read this blog a couple of months ago you may recall my thoughts about Jesus interceding for us with the Father, A New Life to Live and Intercessor and Friend.

But something I never thought much about until the last couple of years is how often God tells us in the Bible to intercede for each other. To pray for, with and over each other. To lift each other up, to bear each other’s burdens.

Isolation makes it a little hard to stay involved in each other’s lives.

And the thing is, when I talk to friends and family, I find that lots of us are really struggling.

I “attended” the annual Celebrate Recovery Summit, held online this year at the end of July. There were some statistics given about how alcohol use is up 40% since the start of COVID quarantines, drug use is up but can’t be measured accurately, pornography is being accessed 25% more.

So while each of us is doing what we need to do to survive, to provide for and protect our families, the whole world is struggling.

Which means I am. And so are you.

Because I can’t assume that everyone I know is peachy keen.

I would not be surprised to learn that people I know and love are turning to things they think will distract them at the least, and numb them at the most, to the realities of these unsure times.

We’re all human. And sometimes we don’t have a clue how to deal with our fears, our anger, our frustrations, our grief.

Speaking for myself, I could really use some prayer.

I’m thankful I have family and friends, a church family, a forever family in Celebrate Recovery that I feel comfortable asking for prayer when I’m sick or having trouble dealing with life.

I’m also thankful I had praying grandmas and parents who interceded for me from before I was born. They rarely asked me what my particular daily issues were, but I know they prayed for me. And since God is not bound by time, I believe the prayers prayed for me decades ago are still being heard by God right now.

I don’t know much about intercessory prayer by one person for another, but I know it’s important. And I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how it’s done.

My mind keeps going back to that definition I mentioned in another post, how that it’s like someone takes another’s face in their hands, looks them in the eye, and says, “You know my friend? They really need help. Will you do what you can for them?”

I know sometimes I have a problem when I pray of asking for things that really aren’t important. They may seem necessary to me at the time, whether I’m asking for me or someone else. We all would like an easy, happy life.

The movie “What about Bob?” is one of our family favorites. It’s about a man who follows his new psychiatrist on vacation, seeking help for all the things he thinks are wrong with himself.

Sometimes my prayers feel like that. I can be as inward-focused as the character Bob. One of my favorite lines comes early in the movie when he first meets his new psychiatrist and is asked to talk about his insecurities and phobias.

Bob pleads, “I want, I want, I want! I need, I need!”

Yeah, I sound a lot like that.

So sometimes when someone asks me how they can pray for me, I have to think through the things that come to my mind. Are they things I really need to be a better person, to know God more, to love others better? Or are they only things I want to make my life easier or happier?

As I explore this duty and privilege of praying for others, I wonder how much of what people request as topics of prayer are as selfish as some of mine. How do I know the difference between other people’s wants and their real needs? And will they even go deep enough to tell me what they really need?

I am blessed to have people in my care group, in my Celebrate Recovery open share group, in Bible studies, in my family, who will let me see beneath the surface of how they’d like to be seen.

Because we all have things that trouble us, that we carry deep inside, that we need to be able to share.

How else can we bear each other’s burdens if we don’t know what those burdens are?

I’ve been reading from several different sources lately the passages about how God tells us that things that are done, words that are spoken, in the dark, WILL be brought out into the light.

When I get the same scripture popping up in several ways over a short period of time, I know God is getting my attention.

So in these times when, even though I see and feel a little letting up of restrictions on staying at home and getting out to do the things we need to do, we are still basically sheltering at home. It’s been really hard for us to reach out to each other, even harder to open up those things we are holding deep in the darkness of looking like we’re okay.

Fortunately, in order to pray for each other, we don’t need to have a lot of details. God knows them all.

In fact, I think some of the most effective prayers are those where we ask God to show us how to pray for each other. Because he loves when we care enough about each other to ask. And he will bring out into the light some of those deep needs.

So I want you to know, whoever and wherever you are, that I have been coming before God when I remember to, and I’ve been asking him to answer that question:

How can I pray for you?

Living Water

Last week I told the physical affects of ailments I’ve had recently.

But what about the non-physical?

There we were several weeks ago, a full three months into COVID sheltering at home, having navigated post-operative doctor visits and an emergency room visit, both for Dear Husband. I was hoping I could get through this pandemic with minimal needs for healthcare.

Just that week we had learned hospitals were allowing immediate family to accompany patients in the ER. So in a moment of extreme pain I agreed to go to the hospital.

Making that decision gave me permission to feel all my pain. With my high pain tolerance it’s like I have a barrier between me and pain, and I’m pushing with every bit of strength to keep it from breaking through and overwhelming me.

But it did.

By the time I was in a room I heard bits of what was said, but not all the substance.

After initial questions and decisions on what tests they would run, we were left alone. In the quiet my thoughts were wandering from trying to remember what they’d just told me, to what day was it (late Tuesday/early Wednesday), and the topic I wanted to explore in my blog that week (that never happened.)

Now, after getting back my energy (one step forward, two steps back for weeks), I’m amazed at my planner entries for that Wednesday following our wee hours return from the ER.

“strawberries began!” and “8 qt.”

See, strawberries are a big deal in our house. Last year I only put up five batches of jam, none in the freezer.

So that first day I processed those 8 quarts for the freezer.

And after a couple pain-free days getting an ultrasound and talking to a surgeon in case the results of the scan pointed me to surgery, my entry for Saturday was 10 more quarts that also got frozen.

Then early Sunday, a return trip to the ER with hallucinations. Side effects from the drugs.

Again, I knew the answer in my head. Quit taking them. But the fear of the pain returning after I’d had several “normal” and productive days?

It was enough to convince me. I needed to know what to do if the pain came back.

In the ER, I heard the same opening line.

“You’re severely dehydrated.”

Why did that sound familiar? Oh yeah, they said the same thing a few days before, but it didn’t sink in.

Over the next week my life revolved around how many ounces of Gatorade I managed to get into my body.

And while I vegged out I spoke very little.

But I thought a lot.

Then there was the mental agony of the poison ivy reaction I was having.

There is a deep, painful, unquenchable itch that is poison ivy. Seven weeks after exposure I still have bruises from the intensity of the scratching that needed to happen to deal with this demonic itch.

I spent a lot of my in-and-out-of-coherent-thought time sipping the nastiness that is Gatorade, pondering the importance of water.

You see, I only started with the Gatorade because the discharge papers from both ER visits, and my primary care, told me it was the fastest way to rehydrate my body.

And I so badly needed to replenish those fluids.

At first the thought of drinking anything, after coming off almost a week of nausea, was unpleasant.

And in my in-and-out state of mind, I kept going back to a passage in John 4. The one where Jesus sits down by a well, and asks a woman who comes to draw water for a drink.

Even people who have read little or none of the Bible have possibly heard the reference John 3:16. Seen it on a piece of cardboard at a sporting event, heard it at a rare occasion in a church, maybe a funeral or a wedding or something else not really church related.

So in that famous verse we learn that Jesus is a gift. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…” To us. For us. Because of our great need for him.

Yet in the next chapter he’s asking for water. He had a physical need, a thirst, and it needed quenched.

It’s a universal need.

Jesus listens as the woman questions him, and he sees the great need she has for true, soul refreshment.

She lays it out for him, the reasons she can’t believe he’s asking her for water.

He’s a Jew, she’s a Samaritan. Jews don’t speak to Samaritans.

He’s a man, she’s a woman. Men don’t ask women for help.

And if anyone saw them? It just wasn’t done.

And here’s a part of the story that I’ve heard dissected many times.

They are there alone, a traveler whose companions have gone into the town looking for food. And a woman who doesn’t feel free to come and draw water when other women are there drawing theirs.

She has come at noon, when everyone else is busy.

And Jesus knows why. He knows everything about her, including her greatest needs.

But before he lets on that he gets everything about her, he makes an outrageous statement: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

It’s quite the conversation that follows. You should read it for yourself.

Or better yet, have the conversation with Jesus.

As I sat, unable to do much more than refill my glass and hope I could produce some saliva soon, and enough urine to reassure me that my kidneys were getting back to normal, I thought a lot about water.

The liquid kind, and the Jesus kind.

I had let myself get so desperate for water that I couldn’t yet stand to take in much of it. I had to turn to a substitute, a concoction that would technically keep me alive, but did nothing to relieve my deep thirst.

A thirst as deep in my body as the itching was in my skin.

I longed for water, but had to settle for electrolytes and sugar. Thankfully for only a short time.

And that poor woman in John 4? She saw something in Jesus that she hadn’t found in her other efforts to satisfy her own thirsts.

He had told her that everyone who drank from that well would be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water he gives them will never thirst. His living water would become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Her answer was one I really related to. “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Then Jesus revealed that he was already seeing her deeper need, not just for a drink, but for the quenching of her soul-sized thirst for love and acceptance.

He told her the ways she had tried to satisfy those needs with inferior things and relationships, that seemed to hit the spot for a while, but were not lasting.

I was so happy the day I could stop drinking Gatorade and switched to all water all the time! After weeks of an inferior substitute, one I could not possibly keep up for much longer, that kept me alive but didn’t satisfy my real thirst, didn’t cleanse my mouth, didn’t refresh me, I was eager to refill my water glass again and again.

And as I thought about the living water Jesus offers me, and the things I used to try to quench my soul-deep thirst with, I’ll never go back to the old substitutes.

Not when I have a spring welling up in me that will never leave my soul thirsty again.

Water is Life

I’m back!

For those of you who have checked in at all in the past six weeks, thanks for your persistence. I am offering a huge apology for this long silence.

After regular Thursday posts for the last 20 months, until mid-June, it’s reasonable to expect a weekly edition.

If you were moved to pray for me when all went quiet, thank you! I had great need of prayers.

I finally figured out my tummy troubles since spring.

Gallbladder.

It took me about 6 weeks of on and off intense pain to finally pinpoint the source!

Unfortunately the light dawned during a two-day onslaught of constant cramps and nausea that landed me in the emergency room.

Let me back up a little.

For weeks certain foods had been bothering me. I would avoid those foods, but then something new would cause pain.

Then one day I was finally feeling great. I pulled weeds and finished planting flowers in one bed, and decided to tackle another that had been let go since last year.

Well. I’m a person who likes to get my hands in the dirt. I plop down, lean in, and start digging. I like the satisfaction of wrapping those viny weeds around my fingers and pulling them up by the roots.

Except those viny weeds turned out to be poison ivy.

After a good half hour of plunging into that bed, and carrying two big armloads of debris over to throw in the corner of the field, I had a sinking feeling that those leaves of three I was now able to see looking down on them were not my friends.

I did all the things you are supposed to do. I tried not to touch anything, got in the house, washed my hands and arms as thoroughly as I could, then jumped right in the shower. I had just washed my hair the night before so I only wet it. Not my brightest moment.

It took three days before the itching started. My sinking feeling was justified.

Not glad to be right!

Also on that day of whirlwind weeding I found another food that bothered me, and was miserable from dinner on. And days later when the itching started I couldn’t decide which to give my attention to, my stomach or most of the skin on my body.

Two more days in bed yet too itchy to sleep made me willing to say yes when Dear Husband asked if I wanted to go to the emergency room to get checked out.

I had been “handling” things my way. For almost a week all I had eaten was half a banana. And by then nausea had set in. So I also didn’t feel like drinking anything.

In a three day period I think I only ingested one can of Vernor’s.

For the poison ivy I was using expired prescription cream from a reaction I’d had two summers ago.

So when I got to the emergency room the first thing they said was, “You’re dehydrated.”

Well yes, but what about my stomach? Do you think it’s my gallbladder? I’m not feverish so I don’t think it’s an emergency to get to surgery, but is there some way you can check?

Of course there is. The definitive test is ultrasound. But we had waited so late to head to the er that there was no longer a tech there to do the test. We could get that the next day. But that didn’t stop them from doing a CT scan. With contrast.

Which is really hard on your kidneys.

During the briefest of exams the doctor said, “Do you know what is causing this rash all over your stomach?”

Well, yes, but that’s not why I’m here.

So after tests and waiting, I got a whole laundry list of the things the CT showed. Actually most of them were very encouraging. Some things to watch, and no obstruction or bursting of my gallbladder.

And when they sent me home they mentioned that, by the way, I had acute renal failure. Have a nice night.

The ultrasound done the next day showed I have an abundance of gallstones. Problem identified.

The next couple of days I took meds they prescribed for my pain and nausea, and the stomach pain went away. Yeah! It actually hasn’t come back since!

And a couple days later I felt good enough to look at the discharge papers. Which told me I needed to drink lots of Gatorade and water.

I still couldn’t eat, because when you are dehydrated you don’t produce normal fluids. So in addition to not being able to urinate much, I also had no saliva for two weeks. I couldn’t eat or taste. So I tried to drink Gatorade but couldn’t handle much for the first few days. I felt like it sucked any residual moisture out of my mouth.

After following helpline nurse suggestions for relief from the poison ivy to try Gold Bond powder and calamine lotion and cool baths with various things to soak in, I was desperate for relief.

And as a lovely side effect of no saliva, I could only taste the powders, lotions and creams all over my skin! Yum.

I now know what a hot mess really feels like!

So what else could happen? Yes, a drug interaction.

Over the last year I’ve identified two drug allergies, one life-threatening. Now I have at least one more.

Either the pain killer or the nausea med or both suddenly made me start hallucinating.

It began with not being able to focus (which actually has taken weeks to get over), and needing to tilt my head to feel balanced.

Then I sat at my dining room table trying to research drug side effects in the middle of the night four days after my er visit, and the words were hard to see. They kept moving around. I looked up to an ordinary, rectangular box on top of our buffet and it grew feathery projections and started heaving up and moving.

I woke Dear Husband and said, “Let’s go back to the er.”

On the way there I saw someone’s nicely landscaped yard swoop out into the road right in front of us. Good thing I wasn’t driving!

So there I was, still badly dehydrated. And of course they did another CT. With contrast! To make sure I wasn’t having a stroke or aneurysm in my head.

As if my kidneys needed the extra assault.

Well, over the last year I’ve had three CT’s, covering my head, chest and abdomen. At least I know everything else is in pretty good shape!

Hindsight.

I’m six weeks out, and I’m hoping I’ve learned a really big lesson about the importance of something so basic, yet so vital for life.

Plain old water.

If I could go back, you bet I would. I would have made myself sip on a glass of good old room temperature well water all day every day, even if it wouldn’t stay down for long.

(Confession time: just typing that reminded me that now at noon I hadn’t gotten my first glass of water today, so I stopped and got one.)

If I could have made myself decide months ago that even if I didn’t feel like drinking, my body needed it, and would thank me later, the contrast with those CT scans wouldn’t have been able to devastate my kidneys so easily.

The meds I was taking would have been flushed out of my system better and maybe wouldn’t have had such a dramatic effect on me.

Even the foods that were bothering me might have digested better if I’d tried diluting them from the start.

I will never know if drinking water regularly, all day long, would have lessened or let me avoid some of the things I’ve been through over the last six weeks.

But now I have no excuse.

Ahhh! That long drink of water is just what I needed.

Who will speak?

After months of COVID-19 all day every day, the murder of George Floyd has eclipsed my thoughts about where I should wear a mask or when I think I’ll feel comfortable going back to work with underlying health conditions.

The masks have come off, figuratively at least, as voices are being heard all over, too many for me to keep straight, yet with urgent tones, calling for change.

And it’s time. Finally. But I have no pat answers of how that change will happen.

The causes are easier. As an old song by The Waiting says, “It’s just as simple as sin.” And the blame falls on all of us.

Who will speak?

I don’t mean which local or national celebrity, which expert on race relations.

I mean you and me.

And when we speak, who will listen?

Listening takes time, and often only comes after earning the trust of the one speaking. Because we don’t often speak from the depths.

I want to speak of some of the impressions and experiences I have had living in the US, in and near a medium-sized city in the North, raised by parents from the South.

My first memories of people whose skin looked different from mine came as a very young child visiting Cherokee, NC. It was close to the town where almost all my relatives lived and we visited every summer.

I loved going to Cherokee, and I was fascinated by the touristy stuff. Giant wooden statues, feathered headpieces, jewelry. I still have moccasins I got there as a young teen.

My dad and both of his parents had darker skin than I did, especially in the summer when they were all deeply tanned, and I always felt that somewhere in our background there was Cherokee blood in us.

I was thrilled with this idea. I had no negative feelings about the possibility.

It sparked in me a desire to get to know more about them.

But at that time, in the 1960’s, when I would ask my Mamaw if she was part Cherokee, she would say no. And have a distasteful look on her face.

She also held some racist views that I could never understand. I remember as a teen having a discussion one summer where she matter-of-factly stated the Bible said black people were meant to be inferior to white people.

I’ve read and studied the Bible from cover to cover many times, and I haven’t yet found this in there. And believe me, I had more respect for my Mamaw than about any other person on earth.

So her words troubled me. And while I didn’t see the same message she did, they did make me wonder how she could be such a godly woman and believe what I felt was a lie.

Back at home, when we lived in the city, I walked seven blocks each way to school. Our neighborhood was a long football bounded by our busy street, the school, train tracks behind everything, and a street that ran under the viaduct and crossed our street.

It wasn’t until summers in the late 60’s that I realized there was another neighborhood on the other side of the tracks. Because there were curfews set in place to discourage race riots.

Our city was segregated by neighborhoods. So even though there was a black neighborhood on the other side of the tracks, my school didn’t have much variety in our skintones.

I remember the race riots. I was walking on the sidewalk with my dad in the evening, and he said we needed to get inside as there was a curfew. When I asked why he said there might be people from “back over there” causing trouble, and he pointed in the direction of the tracks.

My dad definitely had strong opinions about people of color. I’ve never liked the different terms society has found acceptable, and also the purposely derogatory ones said with hatred and disgust.

I heard some of those terms in my house growing up.

Though my dad definitely had some strong prejudices, he also was changed by the one on one interactions he had with black preachers and people he counseled with.

I can remember going to church with him at a black church where he was speaking, and I loved it! For the first time I realized what it felt like to be greatly in the minority, but I also was able to drink in the differences between this skinny little white girl and these new and fascinating faces of all shades of brown.

I don’t like the terms black and white. Shades of brown from dark to light is how I see us all.

I also don’t like the word race. We are all people, all the same inside with different coverings. As DC Talk’s song “Colored People” says, “This thing of beauty is the passion of an artist’s heart. By God’s design we are a skin kaleidoscope…”

But my dad wasn’t as appreciative as I was of the similarities I saw between me and all those darker skinned worshipers.

On another outing he went to counsel a young couple who wanted him to marry them. She was white, he was black. It was probably the early 70’s by then. And they were determined to get married. He got back in the car with me and I think more to himself said, “They can do this, but it’s going to be a very hard road for them.”

If there was a song that has the feel of what it was like for me to live in a definitely segregated neighborhood of a city in the 1960’s it would be “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, written by Bob Dylan.

In fact, every time I see the movie “Forest Gump” I feel like I’m reliving the pivotal times in my own life through all the songs.

During the race riots and curfews of the late 60’s my dad tried to explain to me how people were angry about lots of things, about civil rights and people getting killed. There was a feeling in the air that “Watchtower” brings right back to me. Tension and vigilance and fear of what might happen.

We moved to the country in the summer of ’68, though we were in the city several times a week at church.

And the atmosphere was so different.

The fear was missing.

I have never forgotten those days, the sense that lots of people were talking, but not many were listening.

Because it’s hard to listen when you know what you want to believe about someone else before they ever get a chance to speak.

So I want to change that. And I can’t decide that for anyone else, but for me, I’m still the same little girl who looks with wonder at people, whatever shade of brown they are, and tries to see in them the same hopes and dreams and passions I hold deep inside myself.

I want to earn the right to listen to their stories.

So we can all speak for ourselves.

The Fabric of My Life

This past week I found a home for most of my fabric. A friend is making lots of masks and other items healthcare workers can use, and I have good material she can have.

This is actually a big deal for me. One of the first things I started exploring when I began going to Celebrate Recovery and did my first Step Study was a two-part issue I’ve had as long as I can remember.

Saving things I’m not currently using or needing, and procrastinating.

About the time I began digging into these issues five years ago, my mom’s health was declining, and that fall she moved into a nursing home and we had to sell her house.

It became crystal clear to me that I came by both of those faults I was exploring honestly.

I spent several weeks that fall trying to pack up and sort through Mom’s belongings. Both she and Dad had kept records of our church that they were involved in from early on, Dad’s radio shows, and everything else.

Everything.

Clothes, toys from our childhood, tools, Christmas decorations, furniture, you name it, she kept it all, long after Dad had died.

And fabric. Actually she had made baby quilts for several of the grandkids and shorts and shirts to pack in her Operation Christmas Child boxes, so there were good reasons for some of her cloth. The rest she had accumulated over decades.

That was a stressful time. We were under a deadline hoping to preserve some of the value of Mom’s house by selling quickly, and we had just a few weeks to get it auction ready.

Several nights a week I would go and fill garbage bags to put in the alley, and box after box to take home to my house.

For the last couple of years Mom lived in her house I knew the day would come when we’d have to go through all her stuff. In my mental scenario it would have been after she had died peacefully in her sleep at home, and we would have taken our time and put the house on the market after plenty of discussion to decide how to handle her things.

I’d been through this with my in-laws, and for the most part it wasn’t too difficult.

For a couple of years I had tried to go through some of her things when the kids and I would come visit or take her grocery shopping. I’d carry an interesting box up from the basement and hand her things to look at and decide if it could go in the garbage.

We never got very far. Mom got talking about the memories the items brought back to her. Since she was starting into dementia I felt that was more important at the time than emptying out her basement.

So when the day came to tell Mom we were getting her house ready to sell, she wanted to go home one more time.

We spent time in every room. I asked her to tell me which items of furniture and keepsakes she wanted someone in the family to keep, and we put post-its on them. We had a list of things she hoped we’d want to keep for good, and others she just wanted to be able to see again if she had the desire before she died.

We prayed before we left to get dinner before going back to the nursing home, thanking God for her years in the house and for whoever would come to own it. She prayed for all of her kids.

At the restaurant, her favorite, she forgot that she liked iced tea to drink.

I think that was the day I knew Mom wouldn’t be with us completely any more.

So each night I came home with a van loaded with Mom’s stuff, I felt a weight of responsibility to keep some of her memories.That fall and winter my family room had a double row of boxes stacked as high as the couches running around two walls, and underneath a large, square coffee table. Also under and on top of Mom’s dining room table she had given me a few year’s before.

There I was, with plenty of my own clutter, and Mom’s added in to the mix. And being faced with a need to start digging into why I kept my own things, it was nearly impossible to figure out why Mom had kept all of hers.

That winter and spring I went through box after box, at first trying to organize, and then just trying to minimize the space it took up when I got overwhelmed.

I’m not an organizer by nature.

It was the next fall, after Mom had died in the summer, when I went through things a second time. I cleaned out a large closet in my family room and transferred the boxes into it.

This time I threw more things away, though there is still plenty I should let go. That will come another day.

Because in the past few years I’ve faced a lot about myself and learned much along the way.

I don’t know how I never recognized how much I rely on my senses for my memory. I’m known as having the best memory in the family, which is true. And I’ve learned my memories are sparked by my senses. Like Mom I start looking through a box of my own things and I want to tell someone the stories of times long ago, friends I’ve lost touch with, what my life was like back in the day.

It was no different this past week as I washed up decades of saved fabric, ironed it smooth and folded it neatly to send off to it’s new home.

I was amazed at the memories running through my mind as I straightened and pressed pieces of cloth that I’d used to make clothes for my family.

There were many more large lengths I’d bought because they were so pretty, but I got out of the sewing mood and never used them.

Those were hard to part with.

So I didn’t, entirely.

There were some smaller pieces, leftovers from projects I’d made, that I washed and ironed and folded up for me.

And one bigger one I’d always meant to make dresses out of for my girls and I. As I finished ironing the eight yards of purple flowers I asked Baby Girl to come look and see material I thought was really “me”.

She gave me a great idea. Wouldn’t that be a pretty backing on a quilt?

The smaller pieces I’d been setting aside, I had told her someday I’d like to make myself a quilt and include these pieces of my memories in it. In all the things I’ve made for other people, I haven’t made many things just for me.

It had been many years since I’d looked through so many scraps and lengths of fabric, and the memories are still clear. So I’m okay not keeping it all. I have small bits of many of them, and I have a purpose and a plan for them.

And someday I’ll wake up leisurely and my hand will play over the feel of the stitches and the segments, and as I focus on a random square a memory will surface.

Of the time when I made pajamas for my kids, a vest for my son and a dress for my daughter, or presents for extended family.

And also of the time that came when I was okay with letting most of it go.

Lifelines

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling adrift while sheltering at home. I look at my phone to see the date, my calendar to be sure of where I am in the week. And since my out of the home job has dried up for now, I have nowhere pressing to go.

When we were first urged to stay home, so many things changed at once. Jobs let us know everything would be on hold indefinitely. Stores were chaotic and shopping trips had to be opportunistic, basing what we would eat on what was left on the shelves. Kids were sent home from college.

Our church suspended all activities and services, and it took a couple of weeks before they came up with a game plan to post recorded services online. Celebrate Recovery meetings at a different church were also put on hold, though they were able to get a Friday live broadcast up the first week.

Suddenly all my normal activities, all the people I’m used to spending certain days and lengths of time with, stopped.

My biggest outings have become driving across town to get samples of the new asthma inhaler I need every couple of weeks combined with a stop at a bakery we like for bread.

Exciting stuff here.

And then there’s the shopping days. We spend a couple hours making up the list.

Before this pandemic I was in our local store probably five days a week, picking up fresh meat and produce as we needed it and stocking up on staples as they were on sale.

Now we try to go at least two weeks between trips, and it’s exhausting to my blowing-in-the-wind personality to have to plot out meals and make sure I’m putting all the ingredients on the list.

Baby Girl has been doing the bulk of the shopping so far, with me running a cart full at a time home to put away, while she fills another cart.

It takes two to three hours, and we are worn out when we get home.

All my normal lifelines have disappeared.

That’s how it seemed in the beginning. All those people that I would stand and chat with throughout the store, or at the bank, or in the library. My friends at church and in our care group, the hugs and smiles and quick conversations, or the deeper ones at Bible studies and group meetings. My every Friday night Celebrate Recovery times of fellowship, teaching, and sharing.

These connections were suddenly inaccessible.

When I got over the initial shock, I realized that if I didn’t do something purposeful I would drown in all this uncertainty and change around me.

So I finally got back into something I hadn’t done for a couple of years. I started doing a Bible study with my Celebrate Recovery Bible that will have me reading the whole Bible in a year, along with slowly going back through the 12 steps and 8 principles of recovery.

I cannot tell you how much this has meant to me. When everything in the world seems like it’s spinning off into space, God’s word grounds me in his love. It has been my strongest lifeline, the thing that has given me strength to at least look like I’m unfazed by all the changes. And I’m getting insight into how I can take one day at a time and handle whatever we are faced with.

For several weeks before the pandemic I had missed my CR meetings because of other commitments, including Dear Husband’s hip replacement and my bout with pneumonia. So March 13 was going to be my first Friday back. Instead I tried to watch a live broadcast put out by the church on my laptop, but without headphones I couldn’t hear it over the other noises in the house.

So I didn’t attempt to tune in, even when they announced the broadcasts would be more organized, and they were setting up Zoom meetings for our open share groups to follow the broadcasts.

Then our little local computer store opened back up, my “b” key went haywire, and I needed to break down and buy a new laptop. And it didn’t occur to me until a week later that I could just buy myself headphones so I could “go” to CR!

We had already been watching our pastor’s sermons and designing our own worship sets with YouTube videos, but that we did as a family on the tv. For CR I really need to be able to keep the other participants safe and anonymous, and be in a room alone.

When you first stop doing something you are used to doing, you miss it at first but it can soon become easier and easier to sit it out. I was shocked to see, once I got out my calendar, that I had missed 13 weeks, a full 3 months of CR! No wonder I was getting pithy!

For those who have never been to Celebrate Recovery it’s hard to describe the benefits. But I’m going to try.

I think when I tell people that it’s a place where you can talk about whatever issues you are dealing with, there is a stereotypical idea of what that means. It includes complaining or whining, maybe looking for sympathy and wanting others to tell you how justified you are to feel the way you do.

Maybe people think it’s a place to reinvent yourself, to convince others that you really have it together, you can control your life, you just need to vent a little.

Let me tell you what it’s really like.

We all have things that bother us, things we don’t really like to take out and examine in our day-to-day lives. Things we know we need to name, examine, and figure out how to deal with them.

I have found that the sooner I can turn those things over to God, the sooner he helps me work through them. And that’s the only way he can heal me of my hurts, hang-ups and habits.

So the process of speaking out loud about those deep hurts and what they’ve led us to do to protect and defend ourselves and those we love is an important step. Saying out loud what we are struggling with takes away the power they’ve had over us, the control they’ve wielded.

It isn’t about boosting our egos, or making ourselves look good. It’s 3-5 minutes at a time to share whatever we need to speak out loud, and begin the battle to vanquish it from our lives.

And it’s a solitary thing done in the company of people who promise to keep our struggles private, to encourage us as we allow them, and to cheer us on as we meet week after week and watch each other grow stronger and more confident in our ability to let God be Lord over everything.

I’m so glad I’ve reconnected with another lifeline.

If you are struggling to get through these days, I would encourage you to seek out a Celebrate Recovery group near you by going to celebraterecovery.com. You can look for a group and call the contact to find out if they are doing online meetings. And every night of the week at 9pm(E) Celebrate Recovery national leaders are doing a half-hour live Facebook session I would encourage you to catch.

Because we all need something outside ourselves to help us get through this uncertain time. And I for one prefer to hang onto a lifeline I know will hold me safely through the storm.

Not Sick Enough

Last week I was planning to add a part three on the general theme of intercession.

Last week I was sick.

Nothing serious, I hope. We had taken a road trip to move Middle Son’s belongings out of his college dorm room (during his finals week), and at first I thought it was possible food poisoning. Except after I’d thought I was recovered for a couple of days, it came back this week.

As I laid in bed most of a full day, in pain, I was faced with the question of what I could do if I thought it was something serious.

I also had to laugh (okay, actually grimace) at the irony that I, who has said probably hundreds of times that I have a high pain tolerance (with varying levels of pride), lay moaning and almost writhing in between naps.

The naps were to avoid the pain.

Can I just say that Sprite is a miracle drug? Not that it completely removed or cured my stomach and intestinal pain, but at least it relieved it quite a bit.

I lived on it for two days this week, and Vernors the same last week.

And on day two for the Sprite, I anticipated a slow day of recovery, trying some food and getting more refreshing rest.

Instead I found out a little of what to expect if I really needed to be seen by a health professional.

Baby Girl woke me up. She’d talked to Dad on the phone, and he wanted her to tell me he needed me to drive him to probably get stitches.

Hazards of his job.

Except it’s been about 34 years since he cut himself on a job badly enough to need stitches.

So, up and running, I was ready to chauffeur him to the local urgent care. Or as we’ve often referred to them, our family doctor.

As I pulled in the parking lot Dear Husband asked if I wanted to go in with him, like I had the last time he needed stitches, when we were newlyweds and every outing was an adventure, but I answered that I didn’t think they’d let me. Even though it would have meant more excitement than I’d had in a couple weeks.

And as he stepped up on the sidewalk outside the doors, a man in a mask opened the door for him, thermometer in hand, asking why he was there.

Nope, I was waiting in the car.

It wasn’t long until he came out, hand wrapped in a blue sterile pad instead of the paper towel he went in with, as well as a spiffy cloth face mask. They couldn’t stitch him up there, just in case he chipped a bone in his fingertip. So we headed just down the road to our little local hospital emergency room.

I figured, rightly, that there was no need for me to even walk in with him. Luckily there was no wait and he went right in, again met with a masked attendant, thermometer, fast and efficient check of vitals, and little wait for the doctor to come in ready to put in stitches.

While I waited out in the van, it was my first quiet moment to assess how I was feeling that day. Better but not great.

So I considered my own options for health care right now.

My primary care had already canceled my annual checkup, rescheduled from mid-March to this week, so I suspected I would have to be pretty sick to get seen in person. I could head in to our familiar urgent care, but in my experience the symptoms I’ve had aren’t anything that can be observed during an exam.

Prior to this pandemic, I might have gone in, just to find out what viruses are going around right now, and what the treatment options would be.

But now I hesistate. Not for fear of catching something, a little that I’ll pass something on.

Mainly I don’t want to strain the system in any way.

And I don’t like this feeling. I would want any person who is sick or hurting to be able to be seen by a knowledgeable professional, both for an accurate diagnosis and the peace of mind of knowing they are doing what they can to regain their health.

But in these strange pandemic days I feel like my probably minor illness is not serious enough to seek treatment.

I can’t really describe the way it felt to know I couldn’t go inside with my husband. Not that he isn’t capable of navigating it alone. We just usually do those kinds of visits together. Extra ears, at least one person thinking clearly and pain-free are pluses.

To be living in a time when health care is on an urgent level only is completely new to me.

And it makes me feel for the people I know who are dealing with truly serious health issues during this time. I pray for their safety, for their peace.

And after this week, I’ll be praying for strength in the times they have to walk into that emergency room alone.


Because even though the public service announcements assure us we’ll get through this together, when I’m sick and vulnerable, having someone with me who knows and loves me is what I want.

So I’m praying for you all, wherever you are, that you also can stay healthy enough to wait this pandemic out. And if you do fall ill, I pray that, like my husband’s mishap and my friends’ more serious issues, you receive great care and know the love of God that never leaves you alone.