Monday, September 28, 2015

Alone with God

I lift my eyes to the hills
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 21: 1-2

Last night I had a telephone conversation, catching up with a dear old friend. She was like a sister to me but in recent years circumstances have created distance between us. She is a beam of sunshine, kind and generous, and I have loved her for a long time.

Lately her life hasn’t been easy—deaths of people close to her, financial hardship, a series of stumbling blocks that would break the best of us. But she carries on with only a slight dent in her usual cheery disposition. Mostly she just seems so tired. She is sandwiched in that awful position that some of us reach in the middle of life—children grown but not quite independent, aging parents who need care, ourselves aging and the big question of how we will find the resources to support ourselves for the rest of our uncertain future.

I just want to put my arm around her, to tell her she’ll find a way, to tell her I understand.

Yes, I have been there. I’ve seen my life not turn out how I hoped it would. It has been much harder than I ever expected. But in all the losses I have experienced, in all the times that I have felt crushingly alone, wondering how I would navigate through life, doubting I had the strength or resourcefulness to go the distance, I found my way. I didn’t find my way through my own strength; no knight in shining armor came along and solved my problems or mended my broken heart. I found God.

When I found myself broken, on my knees, I realized that on my knees was where I needed to be. No one was going to rescue me so I prayed. No, it wasn’t even prayer—it was pleading. I said, “God, please exist. And if you exist, please hear me. And if you hear me, please let me feel your presence. Please work in my life. Do something!”

He heard me. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He does exist. It didn’t happen in a day or even a year, but slowly I began to find my way and grew in faith. There is no comfort, no support, nothing that gives meaning to my life more than my assurance that He is with me. It has been an amazing experience growing in relationship with Him.

Other than the incredible community of people in my church (and my sister with whom I share my love of God) I find myself somewhat isolated on this path. My closest friends do not share my faith. I’m sure that they must roll their eyes at me, wondering where this Jesus freak came from. The cheese stands alone. I no longer downplay my faith or my love of Jesus. I don’t try to hide my commitment to follow Him. It’s okay. I don’t try to evangelize or to convince them that I’ve got all the answers. I just live with this peace that surpasses all understanding.

And, as for my dear friend who is struggling, what can I do for her? To my knowledge, she has never expressed any interest in knowing God. Maybe it’s there, in her heart. I don’t know. I love her. I want to tell her that she can step out in faith, that God will flood her heart with meaning and hope, that all the wounds of the past will melt away, and that people who once were strangers will become like sisters to her. I am finding that peace and I pray that she will too. I’ll just put my arms around her and pray for her.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Greedy fool

Forgive me, but I'm back on my high horse again about the absolute absurdity of the clothing industry. I'm wearing a shirt today that I bought at the thrift store not long ago. It's a rather plain plaid cotton shirt that is so hugely oversized that it looks like one of my father's old shirts. But that look rather appeals to me. It was in like-new condition when I found it at the thrift store. However, it was rather pricey at $14 because it has a Neiman Marcus tag in it. It's size 0, by the way--total vanity sizing. I thought, okay it's more than I usually pay but it's in great condition and I'll wear it, especially since it doesn't have to be dry cleaned, and I like wearing a size 0. The good news--it was made in England, not in a sweatshop in Bangladesh.

The brand is Eskander. It doesn't mean anything to me because I'm not a frequent flyer at Neiman Marcus. So I looked it up online. The stinkin' shirt--a shirt that looks like a shirt my father bought at J.C. Penney 40 years ago--retails for over $500. So some woman bought the shirt at Neiman Marcus, probably never wore it, and then donated it to the thrift store.

What in heaven's name are you people thinking? Do you know what $500 could do if you donated it to a charity like Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) that is doing relief work with refugees and others all over the world? Could you give the money to a local soup kitchen? I suppose that, if I challenged them, people shopping for $500 blouses in Neiman Marcus would think I'm a lunatic with no right to infringe on their right to spend their money as they please. It just seems the height of greed and materialism. I wonder how they rationalize such things.

So I'll schlep around town, to the grocery store and the paint store, wearing my shirt that cost someone $500. I have my own blind spots where I don't see my greediness and I can be a fool when it comes to hoarding shiny trinkets. But I feel like wearing a sign that says: "Some greedy fool bought this for $500 but the greedy fool wasn't me."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Do I really want to be the canary in the coal mine? Here’s the deal.
Yesterday I had my annual physical, which included all the usual things plus a pneumonia vaccine injection. I passed the physical with flying colors, except for the cholesterol issue. (I saw that one coming since I was non-compliant on my previous prescription of statin drugs to lower my cholesterol. It’s a family problem—I’m not alone on this one. My drug refusal was because I read something somewhere, reliable of course, that said statin drugs are dangerous.) Today I went back to the doctor because my upper arm where I had the pneumonia vaccine injection was red, hot, and swollen. It is not a one-sided highly developed deltoid muscle, but my left upper arm looks bigger than the right arm. My doctor said my reaction was a little extreme, on the high end of normal, and I need to watch it in case it gets worse.

She suggested I take Benadryl—nope, can’t do that because Benadryl makes me crazy. I have a paradoxical reaction, meaning a drug that makes most people drowsy can keep me up all night. I learned this the hard way. I’m also allergic to numerous other drugs, including antibiotics and pain killers. She chuckled, remembering that just yesterday we had a discussion of my high sensitivity to things that don’t bother normal people. It’s the canary thing. The only thing I can do is apply cold compresses to my arm.

Just a couple of weeks ago a friend remarked that I am one of those canary people because I was (and still am) profoundly moved by the refugee situation in the Middle East and Europe. That photo of the rescue worker carrying the body of the Syrian child that had washed up on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea was beyond heart-wrenching. I will never get that image out of my head. And I read a book about poverty and horrible living conditions in Haiti so now I am worried about the little Haitian girl that I "adopted" through Compassion International. There's just too much trouble in the world for me to cope like a sane person.

The canary metaphor refers to the canary in the coal mine. In times past, mine workers would keep caged canaries in the mines to alert them to deadly gasses. Apparently canaries are ultra-sensitive to toxic gasses. If the unfortunate sacrificial canary died, the miners would know that the toxic gas levels were becoming dangerous even before the miners were aware of them.
That metaphor of the canary in the coal mine has been extended to refer to highly sensitive people who react strongly to physical, environmental, and societal issues. I found an explanation in an article by Amy Scholten, MPH, entitled Making Sense of High Sensitivity. (Found at Scholten writes:
Are you more easily overwhelmed than most people? Does it seem that you feel and sense things more acutely than others? Do you need frequent time alone to recharge? Have you felt "different" from most people and out of step with the furious pace of modern life? (Yes, yes, yes, and yes I respond.)
"You're too sensitive," you've been told. Perhaps you sense that somehow you're a "misfit." The prickly implication here is that there's something wrong with you. But according to psychologist Elaine Aron, Ph.D, sensitivity isn't a weakness; it's simply an inborn trait. And in its healthiest form, sensitivity is a rare gift!
Oh, wow—isn’t that special? I love these people who can turn my prickliness—my rashes, my racing heart, and my uber reaction to the woes of the world into a rare gift. I’m still not sure I want to embrace this canary role. It could turn deadly—you know what happened to the canaries in the coal mines. Do you think I look yellow? Do you see any feathers emerging from my rashy skin? Don’t take me into a coal mine. Please.

Friday, September 4, 2015


photo credit Shutterstock
Last night, at about suppertime, I tried to call her. I haven’t seen her for probably 15 or more years—and when I worked with her she was in her 70s, so that would make her quite old now. I did an online search for her name and the area where I thought she had lived. I found a listing with her last name and dialed the number. It was a long shot.

A nice woman answered and said there was no one there named Marie Wise. She asked how old she would be and I said she probably was up in her 90s now. I apologized for disturbing her. She said, “It’s no trouble at all, but Aunt Marie doesn’t live here. She lives in a nursing home near Baltimore.”

“She’s your aunt? She’s still alive? Do you have a number for her? Could you get a message to her?” I asked.

“Well, no. I haven’t seen her for years, but I hear she’s still doing okay. I think she’s in Catonsville, up behind the Home Depot.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. But I added, “I just want Marie to know that she had a huge influence on me, that she is the kind of Christian I want to be. She probably doesn’t know, but I want to tell her.”

“Bless your heart,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll be talking to her.” We left it at that.

Marie was the front desk receptionist where I worked, back in the days when my marriage was ending and I was a mess. I loved that woman. I can still see her sitting at her desk, her worn Bible beside her, nearly every verse marked in some highlighter color, like Joseph’s coat of many colors. Often, at the end of the work day, I would just hang out with her for a few minutes, or I’d squeeze in a quick visit in the middle of the day to breath in a little of her peace. Her faith was like a rock and she exuded joy and wisdom, gifts that had to come from the grace of God. I wanted what she had.
On my final day at the job, when I was leaving and knew it was unlikely I would see her again, I stopped by the reception desk on my way out. She hugged me and we said that we loved one another, right out loud in the middle of the office. We had a special bond and I couldn't even appreciate at the time how much she meant to me. I'm sure I cried.

All these years later, as I think back about that time and wish I could talk to Marie now, I imagine how the conversation would go. What would Marie say to me?

She would say, “It’s always something, isn’t it? That’s just the way life is because we’re not in heaven yet. Trials and tribulations, uh huh, we’ve got that for sure. Ride it out, hold on to the hem of His garment, and put your troubles at the foot of the cross.”

Marie—a woman whose faith shone all around her—made me want to be her kind of Christian, a calm, convicted woman, with faith like a rock. So when I ask myself what would Marie do?—I know the answer. She’d pray, give it to Jesus, and keep waiting for heaven.
I love you, Marie, wherever you are. Thank you for the gifts you gave me.