Monday, October 9, 2017

The Diagnosis

There's a story that I love in the Old Testament of these three guys (you can call them Rack, Shack and Benny--it's easier than their real names). The King of Babylon wanted them to bow down and worship him, but their love and loyalty was to the LORD alone and they refused to bow down before any other. The king wasn't pleased with their rebellious ways and told them that if they didn't worship him, the king would throw them into a blazing hot, fiery furnace where they would surely die. "Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand," said the king. 

With confidence, the three men tell the king that the LORD will save them from the fiery furnace and they follow this bold statement with one of the most faithful and amazing lines in all of scripture: "But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” 

On Tuesday, September 12th, I went to bed feeling fine. On Wednesday morning, I woke up to the beginning of a new journey that I'm still trying to wrap my mind (and life) around. Fine Tuesday night; sudden onset of something called Lofgren's Syndrome on Wednesday morning. By Friday I was struggling to walk or move much, suffering from intense joint pain and swelling.

A doctor visit telling me I had the flu, an emergency room visit telling me that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis and a subsequent hospital stay later, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune/inflammatory disease called Sarcoidosis. There are only 200,000 of us in the U.S (I always knew that I was special). 

It is a systemic disease, meaning it can affect multiple organs, each needing to be assessed by a different specialist. The past month has included trips to Internal Medicine, Endocrinology, Rheumatology, Dermatology, Ophthalmology, and soon, Pulmonology. I have been poked and prodded and scanned to no end as we seek to discover where this disease is and just what it's up to. 

I don't have all of the answers yet and, in all honesty, I still don't have a handle on what it is exactly that I'm dealing with here. I know that everyday is different. Most days I'm tired, some days in pain, others not. 

I am still learning what it means to have this disease and how best to manage it/the symptoms. I have every reason to be incredibly hopeful that I will continue to respond well to treatment, and I'm extraordinarily fortunate to have such a knowledgeable team of specialists at Northwestern Hospital. A long way to go for doctor's visits, but I do not take for granted that I have access to it. 

I am grateful that I was able to get back to work after a fairly brief absence, but I know that have to be a little more mindful of how I spend my energy right now. I am thankful that I can still do what I love with the people I love. My church is amazing, and some days I think my call here at Hillcrest Covenant is too good to be true. I could not ask for a better community with whom to do life. 

I don't know if I will be one of the ones for whom treatment is effective after 1-2 years, and remission will occur. I don't know if I'll be someone who will have flare ups/relapses throughout my life. "They" have no idea what causes this and it's sometimes called the 'snowflake disease' because no two people react to it the same way (subsequently, no two people respond to treatment the same way). So there is no sure way to know how this story will unfold for me. But truth be told, there is no way for any one of us to know how our story or our days will unfold. 

We all have our "things." Sarcoidosis is now one of mine. It is not all of me, just a part of me.

Certainly I pray for healing for myself, even as I pray for the healing of many I love who are suffering far worse than I am. But ultimately I desire to have the faith and confidence of the three men who, when faced with death (which I am not! Not now anyway!) were not only able to trust that God would spare them, but were able to proclaim their faith and trust that God is good even if their story doesn't unfold as they pray it will. 

I realize full well that it is easier for me to say in my current situation than it is for many whose situations are filled with deeper pain, more significant illness, heartbreaking grief. It is difficult to say when we look out at a world that is so filled with heartbreak and division--when we see a world whose story isn't unfolding as it was created to. 

I may not fully understand what I'm dealing with. 

I may not know what tomorrow will hold. 
My story may not unfold as I thought it would (with regard to my health or any other thing).
But I believe with all that I am, that even if not, He is still good...and that He is enough. 


P.S. Nerdy like me? Here's some more info on this crazy thing:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Off Script

Something happens when you open up about your life with someone else. I have perfected the art of coming across a certain way. A polished and deliberate kind of way. The kind of polished that, if I really stopped to think about it, must make others see straight through me...and yet they don't seem to. I must be good at it. It's an art form really. I am confident and articulate, deliberate with my words and careful with everything that comes out of my mouth. It's as if much of my day is a different Act of a play that I have written and memorized. 

But something happens when I go off script. 
When I stumble over words and fumble with my thoughts. Something happens when, try as I might, I can't articulate my words with ease and coherence, because they are coming from a place that is foreign to me. 
My words are not going through the robotic mechanisms of the perfectly crafted factory that is my brain.
No, these words are coming from an undiscovered land where the terrain is so messy that I can't see what's ahead of me in enough time to perfect my response. This landscape is unfamiliar to me and yet it's as if I've been here before. 

I try to find my way back to the path that is known and comfortable, and yet the thing about feelings is that they demand to be felt. And so even as I try to come across as the me that everyone is familiar with, these feelings are making demands upon me that I am struggling to ignore.
I try to articulately speak over them, but my attempts are futile.
And so I go off script. 
I feel my heartbeat quicken, knowing that I have not  preplanned my words as they roll off my tongue. These words are raw and unfiltered and they frighten me.
They speak a truth that longs to be listened to; that longs to be known.
They are the words that make up the truest core of myself, not the impression of myself that I want others to know.
I fumble. I'm not good at this.
I shift in my seat. I left my comfort zone several stops backs. 
What comes out isn't polished or pre-screened.
It is messy.
I went off script today. 
My heartbeat has yet to return to normal, for the adrenaline of traversing unfamiliar territory is powerful.
I battle myself--wanting to smooth the rough edges and yet forcing myself to let them be. For the rough edges are far more honest than the glistening gems that I pass off as my truth.
I went off script today and let someone hear parts of my story that still seem foreign to me because I've spoken them so few times. 
Some people crave the out-of-control feeling that comes along with going off script. I write scripts because I despise that feeling.
But that still, small voice gently reminded me that I was never in control to begin with. My script-writing is a facade, for I've never been the one who holds the pen. 

I believed my own lies of a polished life. It seems like a raw deal--as if I am being asked to trade diamonds in for dust. 
But I went off script today and told a messy story about a messy life and I came out the other side, all of my parts in tact. Turns out I've been battling dragons that exist only in my mind.

I set the script ablaze and smile a crooked smile as I realize that I am not less of myself as I feared, but more of myself than I ever knew existed. 
I've no doubt that I'll try to climb back into the burning embers to retrieve the thing that is most comfortable to me, no matter the burn marks that it leaves...but for a brief moment in time I know that I went off script and survived to tell about it. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

To My Colleagues in Youth Ministry, On my Nephew's Birthday

Today is my oldest nephew's 12th birthday.
When he finally does join Facebook, I'm sure he'll murder me for posting this picture of him, but I just couldn't help it. That white/blond hair...those eyes...that little smirk? I obviously have an endless supply of more current photos of him, but I still have this picture in a frame in my office. I just can't replace it.
I have no idea how that happened.

I was just shy of 22 when I became an aunt for the first time. I was living in Canada and was millions of miles away from Caden for the first couple of years of his life. I was young and in college and had no idea that I was missing out on one of the greatest things that would come my way in this lifetime--being an aunt. 

Just 11-days ago, on January 1st, I marked the milestone of being in full-time ministry for a decade. For ten years, I have worked with kids Caden's age (and older). In my first few years of ministry, my nephews (and their parents) were a part of the church that I served. One of my very favorite "distractions" in my day was when Caden and Tage would come bouncing into my office. They'd sit at my computer or play with the countless knick-knacks on my desk. I had their artwork hanging from all of my bulletin boards, my students loved playing with the boys, and I would dream about the day when they'd be old enough to be in my youth group.

Well this year, Caden entered 6th grade. This is the year that I had been waiting for. This is the year that he could have joined my youth group. As life would have it, we have both moved on to different churches after all these years. He is exactly where he needs to be and while he reminded me on Christmas day that I "get him" cause I "hang out with kids his age all the time," it has given me a unique perspective into the work that I and my ministry peers do on a daily basis.

I have only ever known a life of working with adolescents. I still was an adolescent when I began working with them. I have to admit that somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought that I would eventually "outgrow" my love for working with students. It never happened.

But today, on my nephew's 12th birthday, I want to look at those in youth ministry from a different perspective. Today I want to thank my peers in ministry not as a colleague, but as the aunt of a 12-year-old.

Thank you to Caden's youth pastors and volunteers who are teaching him not only the Word of God, but that he is valued and relentlessly loved by the God of the universe.

Thank you to all of you who endure retreats and lock-ins, camps and conferences. Who listen to unending piles of questions that prevent you from actually explaining the very game that they are endlessly questioning you about.
Thank you for the hours that you spend in scripture so that you can model a life that reflects Christ.
Thank you for driving odd-shaped buses, 15-passenger vans, and other people's cars to get to events that took you months to plan and will take you weeks to recover from.
Thank you for your care of and patience with parents who are doing the best they can with what they have, during the most difficult season of parenting.
Thank you for planning and playing silly games, not because it's your favorite thing to do, but because it helps create an environment where my nephew is safe and cared for and having a good time.
Thank you for creating space where his friends are free to be themselves.
Thank you for welcoming his friends and for caring about them in the name of Christ.
Thank you for teaching my nephew and his friends that they don't have to wait until they are 'grown ups' to make a difference in this world. For providing opportunities for them to change the world now. For modeling kindness, justice, forgiveness, mercy, and what it means to have the heart of a servant.
Thank you for showing kids that they are accepted by God just as they are, and also loved by God enough to grow more fully into the person that they were created to be.
Thank you for withstanding all of the meetings, planning, and administrative work that has to be done in order for you to be able to pretend you don't do any of that when a kid pops in and needs to talk.

Caden has two unbelievably amazing parents who are incredible role models to him (and to me). Were they to do this parenting thing alone, Caden and his brother would still turn out to be amazing people (they already are, actually). But what a gift it is that their parents entrust them to the care of their pastors who walk alongside them as an additional reminder of God's love.

I spend the majority of my time with high school and college students at this phase of my life, so I have an inkling of what's ahead for Caden and his friends. But for all of you who are walking alongside them during their tumultuous middle school years...from the heart of a very lucky aunt, allow me to say "thanks."

Creating space in which kids are safe, cared for, welcomed, loved and able to know and learn about the unfailing love of God, is my greatest joy in life. And so to those of you who are doing that for my nephew and his friends--and for all kids his age, Thank you.

Happy 12th birthday, Caden. I wasn't an aunt until you came along and it is my very favorite role in life.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Walking Wounded

I love those moments in life when you have simultaneously opposing reactions to the very same thing. Reading the quip from above was one of those moments for me. The thoughtful, contemplative side of myself slowly nodded in agreement as I thought about the things in my life that, while painful, have aided in my ability to be a genuine and empathetic presence to another in need of care. The admittedly deeper and more raw side of myself simultaneously laughed with great cynicism and screamed with familiar fear, knowing that the most detestable things that I have done in ministry (and in life) have come out of my deepest hurts. 

Having been on both sides of this reality only deepens my belief in its truth. I have experienced firsthand the consequences of a pastor who ministered out of his own unhealth; who used those in his care to fill and serve his own woundedness, to the detriment of his congregants. The damage done was deep, widespread and has this tendency to linger like some sort of ghostly spirit that you can't touch but can always feel.

Adversely, having served in ministry for just shy of a decade now, and with much yet to learn, I have already experienced moments of retrospectively staring at myself in utter disbelief at my ability to use my woundedness to harm others. I didn't mean to. I didn't plan for it. It just sort of...happened. Perhaps it was a person or situation that, without my even realizing it, triggered an old wound within me and before I knew what happened, I responded out of a raw, unhealed place, inevitably creating new wounds for someone else. From bullying kids on the bus in middle school, to responding in a hostile way during a meeting at church, to knowingly saying the most unhelpful, dishonoring thing to a friend or family member--my track record is not what I'd love for it to be. 

In as simple a way as can possibly be said:

Being a wounded wounder is to take the easy way out. 
Being a wounded healer is a great deal of work.

For as good a work ethic as many of us were raised with, this kind of work is still not elevated to its deserved importance, nor is it the kind of work that is easy, feels good, or even has instant reward (all things we strive for in our culture). But the payoff, however long in coming, holds a significance that is unparalleled. That work doesn't mean that the pain is gone, that it's not still somewhat tender if prodded. I believe that being a wounded healer simply means that enough healing has happened that raw nerve isn't exposed--that if touched, you don't have knee-jerk responses to the sharp pain, flailing about to the detriment of those around you. 

Your most effective care of other people DOES come out of your deepest hurts.
Your most destructive responses towards other people ALSO come out of your deepest hurts. 

We are all wounded.
One of these things will happen. 
May the wounded healers outnumber the rest.
And let it begin with me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Words: Your Weapon of Choice

"Every time you meet another human being, you have the opportunity. It's a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things. either you will build him up, or you will tear him down. Either you will acknowledge that he is, or you will make him sorry that he is...You will create or you will destroy. And the things that you dignify or destroy are God's own property."
--Walter Wangerin

Social media has been particularly cruel these past few days. It's ironic (and not in the funny, ha-ha sort of way) that in the wake of violence, we have chosen more violence. Not with gunfire, but with the power of words, have we continuously committed violent acts against one another in the days that have followed the shooting in Connecticut.

Unanswered speculation will continue as to how calculated or thoughtless the shooter was regarding his weapon choice that day. But we have one very powerful option that he lacked that day: a 'delete' button. 
Perhaps it is easier to verbally assault one another than it is to face the raw emotion that surfaces when we think of 20 children who won't see another Christmas. It is our own outrage that causes us to attack one another over the endless accessibility to each other that social media allows for.

We all want answers; I understand that. But we can be assured that we won't ever find them amidst our cruel words to one another. If the 'pen is mightier than the sword,' then greater attention should be paid to the words we choose in the face of such violence then to the unanswerable questions regarding its origin. 

Debates are okay. Arguments are understandable. Good things can come from people who disagree and are willing to each have their minds opened/changed. But I hope that we remember that with each status update or article posted, we have the opportunity to 'dignify or destroy' human life. 
Enough lives have been destroyed recently. In the face of such violence, let us choose words that offer life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What Have We Done? What Have We Left Undone?

My high school students have never known a world where school shootings were not a reality. And I can’t help but wonder: what have we done?

They were still in diapers when the shootings at Columbine first awakened our country to such atrocities. They were learning their letters and numbers when the twin towers fell. They were navigating jr. high when their own community made the national news for the shootings at NIU. This is all they have ever known and I want to know: What have we done?

Our job is to protect them and we have seemingly done so by inundating them with so much violence that they are numb to its atrocities.

My students were fairly unfazed by the shootings in Connecticut, not because they are cruel or heartless—far from it. They were unfazed because it is just their reality. And we are not doing enough to awaken them to the horror of their indifference. And perhaps we are not doing enough to stop it because we recognize the roles that we have played within it.

Some blame guns or our lack of control over them. Others blame mental illness or our lack of care for those who suffer from it. Some blame video games and movies for their dismissal of the value of human life. Still others blame the media for giving such explicit attention to these situations that we give the perpetrators the very fame that they desired.

Perhaps we’re all so busy pointing fingers at one thing—wanting one thing to be the reason for these atrocities, because we are too overwhelmed by the reality that it is all of these things (and more). Each of these are merely the parts which equal a sum total that has constructed a culture of violence where human life is disregarded and destroyed.  

The more time and energy that we waste blaming the entirety of this situation on one thing or one issue, the more we are able to go on ignoring the reality that nothing productive or restorative is taking place. We aren’t merely wasting time, we are wasting lives. We are watching children grow up with profound desensitization and disregard for human life and that is just as great a tragedy as any one of these horrific massacres.  

I long for my students to live in a world where life is valued as much by each of us as by the very hands who first created it. I realize, however, that I won’t see that day until God’s Kingdom comes in its fullness. But I believe that even as we light a candle each week of Advent; that even as we anticipate the One who is to come—that we are charged with the responsibility of being active participants in God’s Kingdom here on earth, right now. And in our darkest days, I am reminded of the Sleeping at Last lyrics which read:

The smartest thing I’ve ever learned
Is that I don’t have all the answers
Just a little light to call my own.
Though it pales in comparison
To the overarching shadows,
A speck of light can reignite the sun
And swallow darkness whole.

May it be so.