The Why of Loss

I remember when a dear friend of mine died unexpectedly a few years ago, I couldn’t get past the question ‘why?’.  She had been through several complications and surgeries from a knee replacement, coupled with her longterm steroid use for rheumatoid arthritis.  Her muscles, tendons, and tissues were weakened by those steroids that she had to have in order to treat the arthritis.  When she was found dead one morning on her daughter and son-in-law’s floor, I couldn’t comprehend it. I had talked to her the night before, and she sounded great!

I had talked to her nearly daily since she’d moved in with them in another state, to be closer to her grandkids (she was so excited!). I had talked to her daily from each of the rehab facilities she had been in following the various surgeries.  She wanted a nurse’s input regarding some of what was going on, or for me to explain how things work in nursing and rehab facilities (one of which was a kinda creepy). She had done well during the various phases of her surgeries for the knee issues, until another complication set in. When I talked to her the night before she died, she asked me to call her the morning, as she’d be at home alone. She was perfectly safe doing that even with her cast. She was someone who just got it done. But she said she’d feel better if she knew someone was going to check on her- so I told her “no problem”.

When I called several times that next morning, and got a busy signal, I knew something was wrong. The house phone had more than one line. One line should be open.  A few hours later, her daughter called and confirmed what I already knew in my gut. She was gone.  It had apparently been very sudden, as she was next to the bed.  I couldn’t grasp it.  It still bugs me sometimes, but I understand that she didn’t suffer.  She’d been through so much.  At least the end wasn’t painful, like the years of rheumatoid arthritis had been.  I still miss her like crazy; we’d been neighbors, and while we hadn’t known each other for that many years, we had near daily contact during the last eighteen months or so.

When my mom got sick during her winter with my dad in Arizona, I was livid at the treatment she got (or didn’t get). The emergency room in Sun City West had blown her off. She had been brought in by ambulance, unconscious after a seizure- and they couldn’t get blood samples to find out if she had some sort of systemic infection (sepsis)- but they got an IV in. Most competent ERs get the blood from the IV site before they hook it up to fluids (if fluids are started- which they were). They got a urine specimen, that showed a bad urinary tract infection, which along with the altered level of consciousness should have screamed urosepsis (when the bladder infection gets so bad it gets into the bloodstream) and the need for admission to ICU for IV antibiotics.  That is SO basic, and yet it was ignored. She was sent home with my dad on antibiotic pills.  She was semi-conscious and they sent her home on pills (the home they were renting).  It took three people to get her into the car on the hospital end- they didn’t care how she got out of the car at home….with my 71 year old father as her only caretaker.  He found some friends to help, but he shouldn’t have been in that position. Period.

My take on the whole Arizona ER situation is that they saw my mom as some disposable dementia patient who had a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ request IF she was to the point of needing resuscitation. But her heart hadn’t stopped. She had a treatable problem.  She had been with my dad to an art museum the day before. She still enjoyed things, even if just for the moment- but in the eyes of those medical ‘professionals’ the hospital people, she wasn’t worth the time. The hospital had been full; several people were waiting in the ER for a room. But the greater Phoenix area has many, many hospitals. A competent ER doctor would have sent her to another hospital, and that would have been appropriate. Instead, my dad had to make arrangements to fly her back to Chicago  after a few days of those antibiotic pills (crushed in applesauce) to make her just well enough to fly. When I went to help get her off of the airplane, the flight attendant told me that dad had to hold mom’s head up for most of the flight back. He’d left his car in the parking lot of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, and flew with what he had on his back. The original plan was for me to pick her up with a family friend on this end of things, and dad drive the three days back. But the airlines wisely required that dad fly with her.

It’s a good thing that dad was with her, since he never would have made it back from Phoenix before she died. She was admitted to the hospital as soon as we got into town from O’Hare (airport near Chicago- for those outside of the US), and was dead within 48 hours.  Gone. I’ll never know if she would have had a chance IF the hospital in Arizona had done the right thing.  They took that away from us.  But, she also didn’t end up getting even more demented and lying in a nursing home, not knowing anybody.  I’d moved back from Texas just 3 1/2 months earlier to make sure she stayed out of a nursing home as long as it was physically possible for me to help dad keep her at home… and then she was dead.

I think about a 90+ year old lady who had been admitted to a nursing home I had just started working at in Texas. She had developed  kidney failure after a severe bleed in her gastrointestinal (gut) tract. The blood loss was so bad that her kidneys didn’t get enough blood to keep them functioning. The family decided that she was not going to get dialysis- the only thing that would keep her alive. She was admitted to the nursing home not knowing her own name or why she was there. This was a lady who had been living on her own, in her own house, doing her own yard work, etc.

Her life had changed in one single day. The aftereffects of that day lasted the rest of her 34 days. She got to the nursing home 17 days after the bleeding started. She left the nursing home a couple of weeks after that, following continued deterioration, and readmission to the hospital (and a physician who didn’t return calls to nursing homes; he was a problem).  Without dialysis, her body couldn’t even get stable. Her legs leaked fluid from the loss of proteins in her system, causing pools on the floor under her wheelchair, for the brief periods of time she tolerated being up. And her skin became fragile, and ‘broken’. The really sad part of that lady’s story is that her family decided that they’d like to profit from her death, and held the nursing home (four of us who worked there) responsible- even though they were the ones who refused the dialysis (and I understand why they made that decision- it would have been a miserable existence for someone who didn’t understand why it was happening- and getting a shunt into her blood vessels would have been a nightmare of torn vessels from the low protein levels). The doctor was never named in the lawsuit; he also didn’t help our defense attorney (provided by the corporation that owned the nursing home).

I was one of the people sued for wrongful death. To a nurse, that’s like saying I killed her. The lawyers had absolutely NO interest in the truth, or even the entire story- they just wanted some way to make money. Period. I felt like I was being accused of murder. I took care of that woman the best way I could; she was dying when she got there.  There was division  in the family about whether or not to sue- and nobody ever visited or called when I was on duty during the day, so I never even met the person who initiated the lawsuit.  What that lawsuit did was erase most of what made that woman who she was– an independent elderly woman who was amazingly strong and intelligent, and reduced her to a lawsuit.  The lawyers eventually settled, which angered me. I was ready to go to court. After a grueling seven (7) hour deposition, I wanted to see it through. But lawsuits don’t work that way- they just destroy people on one side, and issue a paycheck to someone on the other side (and their lawyers).  When there is some evidence of absolute negligence or malpractice, that’s one thing. When someone dies because their body breaks down, and someone wants to blame someone for it, that’s something else. 😦

Lousy things happen. Sometimes, there is some nice explanation, and it’s somewhat expected, even though it still leaves a sense of shock and deep, deep loss.  With each of the three examples above, I have to look at one thing: at least it wasn’t worse.  My friend could have ended up in a nursing home for life dependent on people to help her with basic mobility, her mind intact- that would have crushed her independent spirit.  My mom could have also ended up in a nursing home, oblivious to anybody or anything around her for years– at least she still recognized people up until 36 hours before she died. And dad and I were both with her- he wasn’t on the road, and I wasn’t stuck here waiting for both of  them to be able to get here, unable to have those last days with her.  With the lady in the nursing home, well, her situation was pretty bad all the way around. And it was made worse by the displaced grief and anger of at least one family member,  and questionable intra-family dynamics. She will always be associated with ‘the lawsuit’– not a sweet lady who had been changed by tragic and unpredictable physical disease.

I can’t pretend to understand why God allows some things to happen. I can understand why things fall apart from a medical standpoint. When one thing is going on, it’s usually pretty straightforward. When there are complications and coexisting problems, that makes it easier to understand in my head, though my heart has trouble catching up. I do know that in God’s timing and purpose, all things work together for good.  That doesn’t take the pain away, but it does help me realize that there is a much bigger frame of reference for things than my human brain can comprehend.  God has it under control- and He’s with me when I do or don’t understand why some things happen.  Sometimes it’s just so hard not to want to be able to make sense of it all….and some things just don’t make sense.  Except to God.

Numbnuts Had Parole Denied

I got a bit of good news this morning. Actually, it’s a lot of good news. The man who raped me was denied parole by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles yesterday. The next parole review will be August 2015 and I’ll be notified about 4 months before that so I can send my stack of reasons why he shouldn’t be let loose on a civilized society (well those of us who are civilized anyway). Again. I can ask friends and family to send another bunch of their reasons to keeping Carl Edward Chambers locked up. The next mandatory release date is in 20 years. He got a 60 year sentence, and because of the laws at the time of his sentencing, he has these ‘mandatory’ release dates. Until then, he gets ‘reviewed’ every three years.  I just get back into a routine of not thinking about him roaming the streets, and that possibility comes into play again.  He had to serve the first 20 years without any chance of parole, but after that it’s been a roller coaster.

I was a very young 23 year old in 1987 when the rape happened. I didn’t have a clue about evil people- or about people who were so damaged that they committed crimes like Chambers did.  There was little doubt among the officers who investigated the rape that murder was the goal that day.  I knew who he was, where he lived, and that he’d been in prison (the naive part of me didn’t have a clue why he’d been in prison, or what ‘Huntsville’ Texas prison really was- a farm for the worst of the worst). With me dead, he would have had access to everything in my apartment and my car. He would have been long gone by the time I’d been noticed missing. I was still off of work from a back injury, so it could have been a week or more.  Probably when I started to stink up the place, bothering the neighbors.

I fight to keep him locked up because of what he did to me (other blog posts go into more detail, and there are more details to come, in due time). But I also feel he should serve as much as he agreed to when he plead guilty part way through the trial. He heard me testify, and whoops- time to change his plea from not guilty to guilty.  How often does that  happen?  Then he agreed to the equivalent of a life sentence, or 60 years (I wouldn’t accept less than that in the plea bargain, and was ready to let the judge have at it). To me that either shows that he’s incredibly stupid, or there’s a shred of conscience in there somewhere.  His sister (mom of the baby I took care of, and how I was introduced to the monster) even testified on the side of the prosecution; she had told me that he’d always been the ‘black sheep’ of the family.  I’m thinking more along the lines of black heart. Cold. Hard.  She was a sweet kid with a baby.  She knew nothing about what he was capable of; his prior offenses were violent, but not to the point of actually physically hurting someone. He tore me up.

And yet, there’s also part of me that wonders what in the world happened to him to make him the way he turned out.  That’s not in any way condoning what he did, or making him less responsible. But I do wonder. The other siblings weren’t felons (at least then; no clue now- but the sister I knew was a sweet kid struggling to make a life for her baby).  I’ve forgiven him- again, that doesn’t erase culpability. It just keeps my life from being all about him, and how to get even.  There is no way for him to give me that day back, or undo what he did to me.  It’s in God’s hands…He’s got MUCH more at His disposal for punishment than I do.  Frees up my head not to be mad all the time.  Did Chambers alter my life forever? Yep.  But he can’t do anything to take it back.  An apology would be nice, but I don’t think I’d ever trust that it was genuine, so why bother?

I do wish I’d been taught that I had the right not to help someone who seemed potentially harmful, or gave me knots in my stomach.  I didn’t feel that I had that right- I was taught to help my neighbors, and ‘neighbors’ meant everyone.  I wasn’t taught to think through what I knew about someone (no matter how minimal) and base a safe decision on that.  That was a very hard lesson to learn- and it didn’t have to be that way.  Christian parents and youth leaders need to be teaching their charges that it’s OK to stay safe; it’s not a sin to avoid being assaulted or murdered. They need to know how  to identify potentially harmful situations.  God gave us brains; they need to be used.

Well, now I’m off the hook for another 31 months, until I get the next letter telling me the next review is coming.  And I’ll cry, and relive parts of the rape that get shelved periodically.  I’ll talk to another lead voter on the parole board (this one was very kind; I can’t imagine having that job). But I’m never really ‘done’ with the rape, or Chambers.  I never forget.  I never had the life I thought I’d have (married, kids, house with a dog… I did get the dog).  I never let anybody touch me after that, and was a virgin before (my beliefs are that sex comes after the wedding).  My life became abnormal.  I don’t think I’ve been all that abnormal, but  I missed a lot.  As I get older, that sinks in more.

But I still believe that it happened for a reason. I don’t believe God ‘made’ it happen, but it can be used for good.  I’m still figuring all of that out (so I’m a bit slow).  If it can’t be used to help someone else, then it’s for nothing. I can’t allow that- so I still muddle around in my own head, searching for ways to be of use through this. Chambers can’t win this one.  I can’t let him. He took enough without my permission…this is on me.

Exit Stage Vertical

Yesterday , Mary Kay Meeker left this earth from an ICU bed at a hospital in Waukesha, WI (USA).   Mary Kay’s hand was taken by her husband, and placed in the hand of God as she took her last breath after being taken off life support.  In that moment, she saw glory and a complete healing of her recent critical medical issues, and the residual effects of polio that she had as a young child. She was released from the stranglehold of sickness into the absolute freedom and peace of God’s love.  With that new health and perfection of her heavenly body, she saw Jesus for the first time, and began her exploration of eternity.  She saw our Lord !  She has spoken to Jesus face to face, and seen Him as He is !  Mary Kay is now part of eternity.

While people here will miss her presence, there are so many stories about Mary Kay that are surfacing to help soothe the wound of her absence. This is a woman who never met someone she couldn’t encourage or build up in some way.  Whether it be through her work in programming at Timber-lee Christian Center, or Awana groups, her church, or as a neighbor or friend, Mary Kay was all about the glass being half full, if not overflowing.

I often saw her on stage when I first met Mary Kay as a camper.  She was doing skits and ventriloquism acts during week long sessions, that continued all summer long.  She made those skits vehicles for how to live as a Christian. Even for elementary school kids, there was something about her that was ‘real’…and she liked kids. There have been numerous accounts of how she and her husband Greg would interact with kids in a way that let them know that being a kid was good enough.  Kids crave being valued by adults.

Mary Kay was an amazing pianist.  Even with her left arm being weakened by polio, she could crank out just about any song in any key at the drop of a hat.  Her ear for music was amazing.  I never saw her play the piano without a big smile while she simultaneously led 300+ campers in various camp songs from that stage in Cross Timber.  Music was a big part of who Mary Kay was.

It is hard to imagine Timber-lee without Mary Kay.  Oh, I know it will continue to be an amazing Christian camp, with so many activities and options for kids. It will still show the love of Jesus to kids of all ages. It will still be a great place for a winter retreat or group meeting.  But one of its core members is gone.  That will hurt, and yet those who know her know that she would want things to go on as scheduled, and for people to keep reaching past what they think they can do- to spread the love of Jesus to everyone who walks along Timber-lee’s paths.

Mary Kay was all about showing people possibilities they hadn’t even considered.  She boosted the good in people, and loved those who were going through not such great times- sometimes when she didn’t even know it.  Her influence didn’t require direct conversation (though she did talk with a lot of people about a lot of things, and really listened).  She lived her life in such a way as to show people ways of relating to each other, and to God. Even when I hadn’t seen her for years, I’d remember something about MK and be encouraged. She was a ‘feel good’ person.

Those of us who are Christians will see her again someday, and know the awe and wonder of seeing Jesus for the first time.  In the meantime, Mary Kay is probably setting up various choirs and singing groups, and seeking out those who always wanted to sing but didn’t think they could when they were alive on earth.  Maybe she’s organizing the angels’ choir into soprano, alto, tenor, and bass sections , and using that new left arm to direct them in some camp songs !! She has probably already met George Beverly Shea and the Goodmans, and has them helping with the choirs !

I can see Mary Kay walking through Heaven, gathering orphaned kids and talking to each of them- praising God for each of them.  She’ll have them singing or doing skits before long, to entertain the other folks up in Heaven. 🙂  If nobody stops her, she’ll have them doing something in Swedish (the Swedes up there will LOVE Mary Kay- yah, you betcha !!).   I can see her being welcomed by former Timber-lee folks who have been up there for a while, and them introducing her to people they know.

Mary Kay’s work here is done, at least directly- she planted countless seeds that will continue to grow.  It was God’s will that she be in Heaven with Him… she may not be working here on earth, but I’m guessing she’s keeping plenty busy.  I can’t imagine her having it any other way !

Into the Hands of God

Unless something extremely supernatural happens very soon, an amazing woman will be leaving this earth.  Her husband will take her hand, that he has been holding with the determination that only comes from lifelong love and endearment, and place it into the hands of God.  From there, she will enter eternity completely healed, and with a new and perfect body that she has gone a lifetime waiting to have.  And, I know the first words from God will be “Well done, my good and faithful servant….well done. Welcome home”.  She will be able to rest in the peace of our Savior and Lord, who has been perfecting His plan in her for decades.

As a Christian, I am comforted a lot by that belief.  I never really say goodbye to a Christian- more of an “I’ll catch you later”, but it’s still sad and I still grieve their physical absence. There is still a void created by the earthly loss of that person. And, yet their pain and suffering are gone. They no longer have the limitations of earth, or their physical conditions. I’ve thought about that when several people I’ve known have passed on…they don’t really ‘die’ per se…they change addresses. 🙂

The doctors have determined that my friend no longer has brain function.  In many ways, those words are even harder than someone ‘simply’ dying a physical death, since it requires decisions that no family member should ever have to make.  Her dear husband is getting another doctor to examine her, to confirm or refute the findings.  And, those of us praying are still hoping for supernatural intervention.  There is nothing too hard for God, and yet He doesn’t always choose to perform miracles when those confined to earthly knowledge want them. His plan will be perfect no matter what happens.  I might not understand His purposes now, but that’s OK.  I still believe He has things moving along to serve His purposes, and that’s good enough for me.

I’ll still cry (and have been), and I’ll still miss Mary Kay Meeker.  I’ll still pray for her dear husband Greg, that he feels some sort of peace as he gets used to a new normal for his life.  I’ll still remember all of the amazing things about MK that I know about her from the time I was a camper, and also on summer staff at Timber-lee Christian Center. We didn’t stay in touch for many years, but her impact didn’t require continuous contact. My life has been made so much better by having known her, and reconnecting this year via FaceBook. I can’t even estimate how many lives she’s touched over the years- but it’s got to be in the tens of thousands.  I first met her as a camper in 1972… I last saw her on July 14, 2012. She was as vibrant as ever, tooling around in a golf cart before coming inside, where we had some time to talk, along with Greg.  It was so wonderful to see them both, as Greg had had some serious health concerns.  I’m so thankful for that time.

So, I’m writing this while Mary Kay is still resting in that ICU bed.  I’m not going to say goodbye.  If I could, I’d let her know everything she has meant to me (and should have done so before now- there’s a life lesson in that for anybody), and how much she’ll be missed, but hold on to a table at the coffee shop in Heaven… I’ll track her down up there one day.  I’d tell her that her ability to introduce people to Jesus in a real way has sustained me during some pretty dark days. She is one of a handful of people who have made my walk with God personal. I learned a lot of ‘real life’ ways to know God.

So, Mary Kay- thank you!  Your impact in my life isn’t measurable.  You made a difference by being yourself.  You touched my life in ways that started 40 years ago, and never stopped (and won’t). You have that amazing combination of humor, compassion, and sincerity that most people don’t begin to understand.  I will miss you.  But I’ll see ya later.  God has His hand outstretched, and He’s ready to take yours when the time is right.  Just as your hand was given to Greg at your wedding, Greg will hand you back to our Heavenly Father.

Hold On To Hope, Or Face Possibilities

I’m waiting, along with many others, for news about a dear woman who went into cardiac arrest last week, and is in a coma as a result.  The day they warmed her back up from the induced hypothermia (used to minimize oxygen demands on the brain while healing from CPR), her reflexes were present. The next day, she was following commands to squeeze her husband’s hand, and raise her elbow off of the bed.  That sounded good.  Daily reports were coming in, and while nothing else major was happening, there was a hopeful tone to the reports. Then Sunday, there was no word on her condition. Monday, there was information that she was struggling, and last night, the neurologist had done a test and met with the family early this morning.  When the time is right, information will be shared about what that was about.  As an RN, I can’t think of a lot of ‘good’ since there had been little  positive news for a few days.  I remember working on a neuro floor, and when the docs met with the families, there were major, and permanent decisions to be made. Occasionally, there would be some other treatment option, but not usually.

As I’ve been mulling all of this over for the past week, I’ve had so many emotions. Anybody who was a camper or on staff at Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, WI would have been directly or indirectly impacted by this woman. That’s tens of thousands of kids and staff members over the decades she has worked there.  Her talent for developing fun programs to get through entire summers, each one different, is indescribable.  She also has a great sense of humor, and is one of those people who just makes people feel good. Her piano playing ability is remarkable, and even more so, since her left arm is weak- but nobody would ever know that from what she can get a piano to do.  She has been an example of what Christian woman can aspire to. There isn’t an ounce of phoniness in her. She’s the real deal.

As an 8 year old, I first met her. She was in charge of the programming for that first year as a camper. Her talents brought stories from the Bible, and how to live as a Christian to life and made them applicable. I remembered her every year I was there as a camper (7 summers), and then when I was on summer staff, she was someone familiar when I was meeting MANY new people.  I wasn’t always the easiest to have around, but she was always kind and compassionate.

This last July, I got to sit down with her and her husband at a reunion at the camp. I hadn’t been back there for decades, and while it had always been my ‘safe haven’, I hadn’t seen anybody from there since the mid-80s. I’m so glad I had the chance to talk with her, and also to have reconnected on FaceBook several months earlier. She is someone who exudes life.  And now she’s in a coma, and is struggling.  That’s not her.  Oh, she’s had struggles- but she made them work for good.

And yet, I believe in a God who is omniscient.  He knows everything- and His will is perfect for His plan.  Not my plan, or her plan- but His plan.  I don’t know what that is, or why this all has happened.  Physiologically, I understand why her heart stopped and she needed CPR.  That isn’t hard to comprehend. But what is hard to understand is how her being in a coma, and so critically ill, is helpful to God’s plan.  I have to have faith.  I know that one day, I’ll be able to ask God directly, and know His reasoning. I do believe that.  And I have to have faith in the meantime. Sometimes that faith uses a lot of kleenex.  Sometimes that faith can’t see through the tears.  But it’s still faith.  It doesn’t waver, but it also rests inside a very real person with very real feelings.

So, now the battle is this (at least for me- and I don’t believe I’m alone in this)… do I hold out for hope and God performing a miracle? Or do I get myself ready to face the real possibility that she will end her work here on earth, and join those who have gone before her in Heaven?  I have to rely on my nursing knowledge to look at where she is- and ‘she’ isn’t lying in a bed on life support. That’s the logical angle.  That isn’t how she lives. She is a very vibrant and amazing woman. I believe God can use anybody in any state to speak to others, and yet being in a bed isn’t how she has lived.  When I saw her in July of this year- just 2 1/2 months ago- she was racing around the camp in a golf cart, tending to the visitors on the grounds. Smiling. Serving, encouraging, and active.

I can’t imagine what her husband is going through today after the meeting with the doctor.  He is also a ‘lifer’ on staff at Timber-lee.  He forges iron into custom ironworks and horseshoes. Yes, there are still blacksmiths!  Now, he’s faced with an incomprehensible set of circumstances and potential outcomes to sort through. But he seeks God’s will as well.  He seeks the glory of God, regardless of the loss or changes he may also face.

In the end, those of us who believe the doctrines and Biblical principles that are an integral part of Timber-lee know that we will all see each other again, no matter what happens here in this earthly life. We have that promise and confidence in what Jesus did on the cross. That makes no sense to someone who choses not to believe in Christianity as described in the Bible- and God gives everyone the free will to decide that. He doesn’t force eternity- or Himself- down anybody’s throat. For me, it’s a comfort -though I still feel the loss of people I care about in a very human way; those concepts are not mutually exclusive.  Christianity really isn’t about either/or… it’s about more and more.  I’ll get more time with my friend. I’ll get eternity with her. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t miss her until then.

I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know the private matters being discussed. I do know that the woman I know is vibrant, and unstoppable. Yet, now she’s suspended in time, in a very passive state. That’s not her.  I will still pray for healing. I will still pray for God’s will to be done (which might mean He takes her). But no matter what, I will never forget her impact decades ago, or even now as she triggers deeper thought about God, and why things happen the way they do… and in the end, she has once again strengthened my faith.

And those of us ‘watching’ can celebrate her life, no matter what.

Fragility and Resilience

There are just some people in life that ‘stick’ in memories.  Even after decades of no contact, and then with a reconnection on FaceBook, they bring back all of the good stuff that they’re associated with. Not just a fun afternoon, but the totality of the experience they were a part of years ago.  For me, that was an incredible experience as a camper and then a summer staff member for a total of 10 years at Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, Wisconsin (USA). Even though I went to a ‘solid’ church as a kid, Timber-lee has always been my spiritual foundation. People there live what they believe. It’s not lip service, and it’s not ‘on’ when people are watching only to be turned off when the kids leave. It’s legit.  It was 24/7 immersion in Christianity that was good.  Not the negative stuff that can be associated with Christians, but an authenticity that is hard to find. I couldn’t get enough of the place, and wanted to live there permanently (they didn’t have any openings for full-time campers…).

One of the people I first met when I was 8 years old became very ill this week, and her heart stopped. She was somewhere that provided her with near immediate CPR, and EMS was called. They got her heart restarted, and the ER she was taken to figured out the problem and opted for induced hypothermia (dropping her body temperature) and a coma to minimize any neurological complications (that nobody hears about with CPR). It’s assumed by most non-medical people that when the heart is restarted, all is well. That is the outcome in a very few cases.  Recovery is a process- not an event.

A couple of things have stood out in the four days since this happened.  First, I have learned an entirely different level of prayer.  I’ve prayed as long as I can remember, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever had someone come to mind as often as this incredible woman has, or that I’ve actually pleaded to God on behalf of someone else. I’ve prayed for healing for other people, but this has been different.   My sincerity in the past has been just as strong, and I’m not sure that I can really describe how this is different. It just is.

Second, I’m realizing how important those years at Timber-lee have been.  I’ve always been so thankful for the experiences I had there- whether the week long  sessions as a camper, or the 3 month sessions on the summer staff for 2 1/2 summers.  The people I met there are entwined with the experience.  They can’t be separated, and that’s  wonderful.  When I think of one, I’m flooded with the memories of the other.  It’s a package deal.  The feelings of safety, love, fellowship, and acceptance have never been replicated. Ever.

The fragility of life smacked me in the face four days ago (as it did much more so for those who are closer- her husband, and friends and family).  The experiences at camp have been my ‘go to’ memories to ferret out good days when I was going through rough times.  This week, there is part of that whole picture that is in trouble.  The reports come in daily, and I can’t get to them fast enough. I spread them to other pages where people are waiting for news. And we’re all praying.  There is hope.

I’m not sure I’m explaining myself all that well.  I’m  a bit overwhelmed, and in some ways I don’t feel entitled to that level of emotion, as we didn’t have contact for so long.  But it’s Timber-lee and one of the handful of people that has had an impact on me since 1972.  I even wrote a ‘report’ about my first week at camp when I was 8 years old, and she is in that ‘report’.  I got to see her in July, and it was so great to be back at the camp and see people who made it what it has been in my life.  And now she’s in a coma.

As a nurse, I know the possible outcomes. I worked in a coma stimulation unit at a brain injury rehab center many years ago. I saw some horribly sad situations. But I also saw some amazing stories and recoveries.  The people I took care of had been in comas for many weeks to months before they started showing signs of improvement, and the injuries were often because of external trauma (accidents). The damage had been more extensive, and intense. They started out in much worse shape, at least structurally; many had parts of their brains or skulls removed because of the damage.   My friend has already been reacting well to commands, and her reflexes are good. That gives me much hope for her outcome. Yet, I also know that there are no guarantees.  SO, while I’m thrilled every day with the updates, I hold back because of what I know and have seen. And yet, to the part of me that is still seeing Timber-lee as only existing with the people I knew there still like they were, I can’t allow myself to accept anything less than a full  recovery.  And that’s what I pray for, as do many, many others.  This woman is cherished.

I guess when I remember Timber-lee, I’m transported in time to the age I was then, and the feelings I remember when I was there.  It’s technically just a ‘place’…but it was much more than that to me.  I saw how Christians live in a way that I wanted to emulate.  When I’ve been in situations that were literally life-threatening, my first thoughts  often go back to something from camp.  That’s my feel-good place. It’s where I felt the most freedom to be who I really was during that time in my life.  And, I learned so much from the people I met there- either as a camper or on staff.  It also played a role in why I became an RN.

My friend who is sick is one of those examples of being a Christian that has been a role model, even in the 30 years we had no contact.  Her life has had an impact on tens of thousands of lives as she’s worked at the camp for decades. When I’ve thought of her over the years, I smiled.  When I hear music that she taught the music groups, or camp songs we sang, I smile.  When we’ve had FaceBook contact, I smile.  She’s a ‘feel good’ person.  That’s a quality I respect and admire so much. And she’s a very solid Christian, in ways that encourage and inspire- not judge or demean.

So, this is a hodgepodge of words that may not make sense.  That’s OK.  I just needed to write this.  I’m praying that her recovery exceeds expectations, and she can resume her life with this being just a blip in the totality of her life.  I can’t express what Timber-lee and the people I associate with it really mean to me. It goes beyond just a ‘place’.  The experiences were  heaven-blessed.  So many times the good I got from there helped  get me through some really lousy stuff. I can’t really explain that either, except to say that I felt that the God I saw in the people I met there was more real to me because of having been there.  Maybe that’s it- they showed me God.  They made Him more real.  I knew about God from the time I was very young, and believed in Jesus as a young elementary school kid…but I met Him at Timber-lee, through people like this friend who now needs Him to surround her with healing and restoration.

This one’s for you, MK.

The Beginning of Aging. I Think.

It may have started a while back, but I wasn’t paying attention.  I know that the battle with gravity started precisely on my 40th birthday.  My boobs began sleeping under my armpits, and my chins started fighting for real estate on my neck.  It’s not pretty.  I have managed to avoid wrinkles, which is good- but I have this visual of waking up one morning and looking like a shar pei that got stuck in a bag of prunes.  I’m hoping to make it the next 13 months until I turn 50 without too much drama.  I’m just getting used to the stuff that has already started.  There should be a manual.  “The Idiots Guide to Aging”…..something.

My ability to read without glasses is long gone, and now I fuddle around with trying to be sure I don’t jump to a higher level of magnification of reading glasses too soon, thus making my eyes older or something.  I just want to be able to read the microfilm print in the phone book, and get through the grocery store knowing what I’m buying.  It would be sad to get bath oil to make salad dressing.  When I get desperate, I wear two pairs of glasses at the same time, especially for the phone book. I say it’s a conspiracy to make us all just stop calling people or places. Apple is probably trying to get us all to rely on Siri. That bothers me.  I don’t want to talk to inanimate objects at my age.  I could get put away in some place with ‘Shady’ or ‘Acres’ in its name.  I’m too young for AARP, but I’m plenty old enough for the nuthouse.

Sneezing and coughing hard have become interesting attempts to keep all ‘spraying’ contained to a tissue, but I’m finding that there are other parts that also spray mildly when agitated.  I’ve tried Kegel’s, but nada. They can’t help one of those allergy sneezes designed to clear pollen from the last three years. Nope. I can still sneeze a ‘normal’ sneeze without needing hipwaders, but I’m wondering if those days are numbered.

Something I am enjoying about getting older is not having to worry about the mean girls.  Nobody cares if I go to the grocery store in lavender shorts and a green shirt.  I try to ‘match’, but if I’m getting close to laundry day, and choices are limited, I don’t lose sleep over it. If it’s clean, it ‘matches’.  Nobody cares if my car is 14 years old.  Or if my tennis shoes are from K-mart circa 2002.  It’s all a non-issue.  And that is nice.  I never really cared anyway, but it’s nice not to have any petty condescension to avoid.  Bah.

My memory is pretty good. I can describe the floor plan of the place I lived when I was 2 years old.  Don’t ask me what I did this morning.  I’ve also got the added bonus of chemobrain from 19 months of chemotherapy for leukemia.  They say that can make a person fuzzy for a while.  I’m kind of fuzzy. That is probably the correct term. I’m not demented yet, and I’m pretty sharp in most areas of my life, but there are cobwebs.

I got to shave my head and not worry about what people think of it.  I don’t have to look at it, and it’s helpful for my weird heat intolerance (and I haven’t hit menopause yet).  I’m going to see a surgeon about some cysts on my scalp, and don’t want to look like I have mange, so had the cosmetologist mow it down. One of the other cosmetologists was sweeping the fallen hair; he looked at me and said “Girl, we could make a fur coat out of this”…. precisely the problem. It’s hot.  I may never let my hair grow back.  I’m old enough that nobody cares.

I’ll be glad when I’m through menopause, but I haven’t even started yet.  I’ve already got a major problem with heat. Hot flashes could be a bit dicey.  I’ve served my time riding the cotton pony.  I’m tired of Aunt Flow visiting.

I’ve debated how to deal with chin and lip hairs. Pluck, shave, or rip off with goo that sticks to the surrounding skin as well.  Right now, I can get away with plucking, provided I check on things with the right strength of reading glasses. I had one hair on my inner arm hit an inch long before I even knew it was there.  That’s a little embarrassing when I think about how long it might have been waving in the breeze before I tweezed it to death.

Overall, I’m surviving getting older. Senescence.  The process we’ll all face.  It’s interesting at times, and since I spent years working as a nursing home RN, I know what could be coming.  I’m lucky. Physically,  I’m already a train wreck on a good day, but so far, I can’t say that getting older is making life anything but better, at least mentally. The ‘little’ things really don’t matter. The big things are more appreciated. The ‘medium’ things are a sign that I’m still moving along.  Aging isn’t for sissies, but I think I’ll be OK.  🙂

Christianity: Ritualistic Religion vs. Relationship

I’ve never liked the term ‘religious’.  For me that invokes mindless rituals and a lack of personal interaction with God.  Sort of a Monday through Saturday apathy, but a false piousness on Sunday when people are looking.  I don’t like that.  For me, Christianity is a relationship- and it’s not about being in a specific place on a specific day.  Going to a shoe store doesn’t make me a shoe.  Going to church doesn’t make me a Christian.  What I do seven days a week makes more of a difference than whether or not I show up at a specified building on Sunday.  Yet I can’t ‘do’ anything to earn heaven.

I grew up in a conservative church, and for me it was a great experience. The other kids were fun, the youth groups were active and kept us busy with activities and ‘field trips’, and the chaperones were generally goofy enough to not be embarrassing adults, but grown up enough to keep us from getting killed. The senior high choir even did week long tours during Spring Break to Kentucky and Washington, DC, and everybody came back in one piece. We had fun.

The teaching part was also a positive experience.  None of the pastors hollered at the church I went to. I don’t like to be hollered at. If someone wants me to listen, they have to treat me like my ears work, and not like  I’m in trouble before they even get started. Hollering is punitive to me. Normal volume gets my attention.  Just about everybody who had a pastoral position also had a great sense of humor- that was also crucial. I didn’t want to sit through an hour long service with someone that sounded constipated and annoyed.  During the time I went to that church, I was lucky.  Humor was intact.  I learned a lot.

People who don’t grow up in a church often think that TV ‘Christians’ are representative of all of us.  Um, NO !  There is no magic handkerchief, or vial of oil (probably Crisco), or need for someone to pray on my behalf.  I’ve got the direct number. It’s “Hey, God?” 🙂 , or “Oh, Lord”  – depending on the tone of the prayer or conversation.  I don’t always get very formal- sometimes I’m even sort of ticked off. God can handle my anger. He can handle my frustration and He WANTS to hear about my pain.  The Psalms are full of examples of David’s pain- and God used  him to be the lineage from which Jesus was born.  Check out YouTube and Amy Grant’s ‘Better Than A Hallelujah’… we don’t have to follow rules to pray and be heard! Just be open, and let God know what’s going on. Good or bad.

TV preachers don’t work for me for the most part. There are exceptions, but the ones nobody has ever heard of except for the people awake during the 3:00 a.m. time slot used to  suck money out of the desperate and disenfranchised are pitiful in my opinion. But that’s just me.  God gets to judge their hearts, and He holds preachers and teachers of the Bible to a higher standard than us regular folks.   God judging hearts- that’s good news in my book.  What humans think of me is pretty irrelevant, though I’d want nothing more than to be a good representative of Christ- but in the long run, it’s God who will judge me. NO human’s opinion even comes close.

Judgement and being a Christian aren’t the same thing. Becoming a Christian is a choice.  People can choose to develop a stronger relationship with Christ- or not.  And nobody does it perfectly. People ‘backslide’ (fall away from their spiritual teachings and beliefs).  I routinely ask for forgiveness for stuff I do.  I will be judged one day before God- but my salvation is secure.  There is nothing Biblical about judging others.  I need to work on my own “stuff”… not run around finding fault in others.

I’m not someone who spends a lot of time talking  about my beliefs. I think as a nurse, I became less likely to just open up about God. When I was working,  I was at work to take care of patients, not preach.  (And, it could get me fired; being an example of kindness could do more than verbally ‘Bible-thumping’ someone)  It was that way for all religions.  If a patient mentioned something I also agreed with, I did smile and say I agreed. But that was pretty much the limit that was allowed.  I did support patients in their beliefs. For example, an orthodox Jewish patient needed matches (or a lighter) to light candles when his rabbi came on Friday nights. I had no problem finding those for him.  I took trays with pork products back to the kitchen at a nursing home for a Muslim resident.  I didn’t have to believe the same thing to be respectful.  I didn’t see that as a threat to my beliefs.  If an atheist patient asked me to move a crucifix in a Catholic hospital, I was OK with that.  By accepting where they were in their beliefs,  it made things much easier for both of us- and the patient’s comfort was paramount at work.

For me, Christianity is a relationship with God.  I’m physically limited as far as getting to an actual church building, but there is nothing wrong with my ability to read the Bible, pray, and have ‘general’ conversations with God.  I guess it’s a fine line between that and praying, but there’s communication. I also find a lot of spiritual ‘oomph’ in just seeing the seasons change, the critters outside, or hearing about something good happening to someone.   I’ve read through the entire Bible a couple of times so I could see for myself what’s in there (and the study notes I had). Mostly what I learned is that I still have a lot to learn.  And, that humans are the ones who distort the Bible… God is clear that love is the most important part of Christianity.

I also learned that it’s not my job to cram Christianity down anybody’s throat. It’s not my job to be offensive with my beliefs.  Being a Christian isn’t about ‘making’ someone believe something.  To me, it’s more about being willing to tell someone what I believe if they ask, and hopefully living in such a way that I don’t push people away.  The Bible is clear about being gentle in one’s approach to nonbelievers.  That gets missed a lot when the sensationalistic preachers are interviewed for TV, or taped as they holler on the streets.

I will never judge someone’s decisions or life, since I have my own to live… and they have theirs.  I won’t condone restrictions on Planned Parenthood- they are often the only source of healthcare for women.  I won’t shun LGBTQ folks (I’ve worked with several, have gay relatives, and was an RN during the early days of AIDS, when we had patients with us in the hospital for months- until they died).  I’m not naive as to what would happen if Roe v Wade was repealed- women would die from back alley hatchet jobs.  I don’t like abortion, but as a rape survivor who was impregnated by my rapist, I  had to think about it.  Fortunately, I miscarried.  I understand that those who don’t miscarry go through enough agony with the rape, let alone a reminder.   Adoption isn’t something all people are comfortable with.  I know that if I’d had that baby, and placed it for adoption that if he/she ever came looking for me, I would have no good story to tell him/her about his conception and sperm donor.  I’m an adoptee, and I knew I couldn’t raise that baby without prejudice- and that wasn’t fair to the child.

Christ is about love.  John 3:16 is a common verse, and talks about how God sent His only Son to die for our sins and give us eternal life if we believe Him. What gets missed is John 3:17- that God didn’t send His Son to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved…. there are so many more references in the Bible about love in regards to God and Jesus than there are about judgement and condemnation. Will God judge those who reject Him?  Yep… but He also isn’t cramming Himself down anyone’s throat….it’s a personal choice.  Free will.  If you don’t want Him, that’s up to you.

Religious rituals aren’t paths to salvation. It doesn’t take much to repeat an action without thought behind it.  A relationship is personal.  It’s voluntary and individualized.  I much prefer a relationship with  God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   I don’t ‘do’ Christianity exactly the same as someone else, and they don’t do ‘my’ Christianity either- which is the beauty of a relationship.  The big things are belief and faith.  Those are relatively simple decisions.  And continuing to aspire to be the type of believer that will please God is also a decision. I might not get it right all the time, but God does know my heart, and that is very reassuring.

A quote I saw recently- “Never let a preacher tell you how to vote, and don’t let a politician tell you how to pray.”

A House Divided…We’ve Already Fallen

This isn’t about one president.  No one president can accomplish what they promise during their election campaigns since Congress is really running the show. If that’s news to anyone, I’m even more sad for this country.  To be fair, I have been so repulsed by political discussions for so long, that I avoid them. That doesn’t mean I’m stupid, and I’m listening more now.  What I am now is incredibly sad, and overwhelmingly unhopeful. It also stirs up painful reminders of how politics divide families, and erode even simple interactions.  There is nothing civil about US politics.

The divisions between the Republicans and Democrats is certainly nothing new, but it’s gotten to the point that there seems to be absolutely no common ground- like the fact that we all live HERE isn’t a good enough reason to come together.  A few days after September 11, 2001, there was that nice gathering of Congress on the Capitol steps singing God Bless America (and without the ACLU or athiest organizations threatening them with a lawsuit over a religious song- go figure; must have been their day off), and that was nice. It  is the last time I remember seeing any sort of overt public unity among our elected officials.  It was the last time I remember feeling like this is one country, “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.

During the Bush Administration, the ‘left’ media was nothing but vicious towards President Bush.  There wasn’t even any minimal respect for the office of the POTUS.  That wasn’t something I’d seen before (and please don’t start in on my lack of political knowledge- I’m just writing about what I remember; I spent a fair amount of time simply trying to survive personal issues to be all that cued in to what was going on in the world).  It was personal.  Pure anti-Bush… because people didn’t like him?  He wasn’t a democrat? He had an accent?  JFK had an accent, nearly got us into nuclear war with Cuba, and yet he walked on water… even more so after he was dead.  The country mourned what COULD have been. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

Bush  dealt with something that no other president had been forced to deal with, and there really isn’t a ‘perfect’ way to manage terrorism on home soil in a country that had, for the most part, been mercifully spared until then.  There was the first WTC bombing- and OK, so maybe Clinton could have done more- but I firmly believe he did what he thought was best with the information he had.  Nobody gave Bush that same consideration. What’s to say that in the vast deserts of Iraq there aren’t WMDs?  Do we really know?  Maybe they aren’t there. Which leads to the only option- the far left is into some consipiracy theory that they mock the extreme far right of getting into with their apocalyptic storage sheds and ammunition accumulation.

So Bush did what he thought was best. Is it better to be proactive or reactive with terrorism?  Nip it in the bud, or clean up the mess? Congress signed off on the military action, and domestic surveillance programs.  It’s not all on Bush’s head- but that’s so easy to blow off, since it was a democratic Congress that passed those things.  They certainly can’t take any responsibility…gotta be all on Bush.

The economy undoubtedly started to go south on Bush’s watch.  That’s a no-brainer.  He brought Obama into the picture before the swearing in to ensure the smoothest transition possible.  Obama had a mess to deal with, but it’s not like it was something that was done purposely to  undermine the stability of the US… or do people think that?  (padded room time).  Obama had to appear like he was doing something, so we all got those token checks to ‘stimulate’ the economy.  I paid bills; I didn’t stimulate anything besides the utility companies.

The ‘right’ media certainly doesn’t have anything decent to say about Obama.  I no longer read any media without looking for other sources of the same story before I even consider thinking about it.  It doesn’t do anybody any favors for either side to attack ‘the other guy’.  It just makes them ALL look petty.  And there are so very few media options to get anything approaching ‘fair’.

The most unity I’ve seen in the past 3 1/2 years is when Representative Gabrielle Giffords so nobly came to the State of the Union Address (or some such gathering in the Capitol), and she got what appeared to be genuine welcome and support after being shot and nearly killed by some whack job in an Arizona grocery store parking lot.  SO, let’s see- the worst event of terrorism on US soil, and the near death of one of their own- those are things worthy enough  to join together and be supportive about.  The budget, economy, healthcare (which nobody had time to review before voting), education (we’re dropping every year in the sciences and math), and just getting along aren’t worth enough.  Congress supports the destruction of this country whenever they get together- by inaction.  The survival of the country isn’t a reason to  work together.  Watching CSPAN is like watching a schoolyard nanny-nanny-boo-boo contest.  They get nothing done that actually matters.

I have no reason to think they’re going to act like adults in Washington, D.C. any time in my lifetime.  This country will continue to fall apart, and with the lack of emphasis on general education in public schools, the next generation is getting zippo  to help them figure out how to get out of this.  Congress is a body of  elected civil war participants with words and inaction as their weapons.  The country is imploding, and pride is going to keep it moving in that direction.

I don’t identify with either party.  I’ve got relatives that think I’m so far right, I’m fascist- but that’s based on what I don’t want to hear about, nothing about any actual conversation to actually find out what I think (or make assumptions because of my personal spiritual views; I didn’t come from a cookie cutter, no matter what someone thinks). Come election season, I don’t want to hear about people’s political views.  I miss the days when those things were kept private, and didn’t color what someone thought of another person. Or destroy relationships. I’ve also got friends that make me cringe with thier intolerance about anything to do with the left- if it’s democrat it’s wrong. Period.  That is just as counterproductive as what they blame the other side for doing- because it’s the same thing.   I find it all quite repulsive.   I believe everyone should have political views just as strong as they want to…and I believe I have to right not to put up with them in social settings. There are groups to share common ideas, and I’m not in those groups.  Everybody wants to be heard, but nobody wants to listen.

The house has not only divided, it’s not much more  than crumbling rubble.  Can it be repaired?  I don’t know. But if those who ‘represent’ us in Washington, D.C. can’t get it together, this country is going to slide downhill even more quickly.  What took 236 years to build up will go down like a house of cards with the slightest winds.  Our allies won’t stick around a train wreck forever.  And for those of us here, who remember ‘good’ years, it’s going to be a very painful thing to watch.  This isn’t just about a presidential election- it’s about government growing their asses up and doing what’s right for the majority of the country in a way that is responsible and sustainable.  Or get ready for anarchy.

Forgiveness

It’s not about the other guy. It’s not about the person who has caused pain. It doesn’t mean that ‘presto’, everything is OK about what happened.  It doesn’t mean you condone anything that happened to you. It doesn’t mean you will ever have that person in your life. It doesn’t mean you go on as if nothing happened.  It doesn’t mean that you have to deny your feelings about what they did. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t mean you have to do it perfectly all at once.

Forgiveness means you don’t let that person continue to run your life through frequent thoughts about them.   It means that you let go of wanting more revenge. It means you let God have the final say in how that person is judged.  It is an act of obedience as described in Matthew 7 (Bible). It’s about the relationship you have with God, not the perpetrator.  It means that you can turn over the feeling that the perpetrator stole your life.

Forgiveness is not a feeling- it is an action and choice.  The feelings come later. Forgiveness takes the person who hurt you, and moves them out of the forefront of your life. Forgiveness allows you to move forward.  It takes the painful events and people and puts them where they belong…in the past.  🙂

But first, have you forgiven yourself for anything you’ve done to impede your life?