Monday, October 12, 2020

I only look healthy.

I don't like talking about my health. Maybe HIPAA has conditioned me. Maybe I don't want to give haters another excuse for why I shouldn't follow my calling. Whatever it is, in the year of COVID, my silence is not serving me well. 

In the last year, after a decade of unexplained pain, and 2 years of not being able to move correctly, I finally got medicine that worked. It took several doctors to get to this point. And I don't even think the doctor has officially diagnosed the underlying cause. Mainly, my immune system has triggered inflammation in my body and if left untreated that inflammation will eat away my joints and bones until they need replaced. Basically my immune system over-reacts. 

I finally made it to the right specialist. He said the best medicines for this suppress your immune system. He wanted to avoid that so he put me on anti-inflammatory pain relievers. And he ordered an MRI. The MRI said what I think we both suspected: the inflammation was at a level that required more than what I was taking. So the doctor prescribed immune suppressing drugs. 

Before taking these drugs, the doctor had to make sure I was as healthy as possible. There was blood work to confirm I didn't have an underlying disease that needed full immune support. There were x-rays to make sure I didn't have pneumonia. There were vaccines to keep me healthy. There were instructions about ending medication if I spiked a fever. I passed all the tests and began to intentionally suppress my immune system so that I could walk again. 

Good news. It worked. The swelling went down. My ability to move went up. I could sleep through the night without pain.  I once again acted and looked like a healthy young mother. 

And then came COVID. And the thousands of questions. The constant reminding that I am young, and therefore safe. The constant badgering that my boundaries were too strict. The constant assurance that I didn't need to wear a mask this time. But the thing is I do. Every single time. I am on drugs that suppress my immune system. I am on them because my immune system often over-reacts with inflammation. I have had asthma related to that inflammation. 

What may feel like a cold to some, may very well put me in the hospital. A hospital stay would take me away from work that supports my family and provides them housing. A hospital stay would take me a way from my children. We moved away from family for my job, so my husband would have to hold down the fort without help from extended family. And there is the chance that I would face more than just a hospital stay. But you can't tell, because I look healthy. 

So that is why I wear a mask. Why I stay home as much as possible. Why I insist on distancing myself, even if you do not want me to. Even when you are fine with the risk on your own health. I can't afford the luxury of taking risks. I am not healthy enough too. When I ask you to put your mask on, it is not a political stance. It is so my kids have their mom for one more day, one more week, one more month, one more year. It is because I only look healthy.

Friday, August 14, 2020

School in 2020

Sending our kids to public school has always been an intentional decision. From the beginning, we wanted our kids around the diversity of our community. This year, public school looks different than it has in the past. With COVID-19 still a real and present danger, our local public school offered, along with in-person traditional school, a virtual option. We had a decision to make. 

Our family talked about our privileges and  even what we could sacrifice for the greater good of our community. We started with our privileges. As a pastor, much of my work during the week is study, preparation, correspondence, and administrative work. This used to happen in my office, but it can easily be shifted to home.  In fifth and seventh grades, my children are old enough to work without me reading instructions and guiding them at every step. They also do not have the needs of many of their peers for extra attention from their teachers. And we have really good internet.

Then there was the greater good for our community part. Attending virtually would take one less contact out of the school. Through my work at the church, if we brought home COVID from school, we could potentially infect other school systems. We could infect the elderly at church and their families and grandchildren as well. By staying home, we can break a lot of potential infection chains.

Were we willing to sacrifice seeing friends everyday? Learning being potentially more challenging? Were we will to take the extra responsibility of being where we needed to be online everyday? Were my husband and I willing to have our work interrupted during school hours Was our sacrifice worth what would be gained by us and our community? The best thing we could do for our community, our church, our school was to stay home. Because we can.  

We have been doing virtual school through our public school system for a week and half now and it's going way better than I had expected. Our school had not given us much on the way of how this would logistically work. We were just told to plan on being "in class" during normal school hours. While not having more details was annoying on our part, it allowed teachers flexibility to do what works best for them. I think it was really smart for our school system to trust its teachers and not do a one-size-fits-all approach. It also means school looks different for both of our kids. 

Our fifth grader is still in elementary school. His grade has 22 virtual students, and they are all grouped together into one class. His teacher's full attention is devoted to virtual students. She connects the kids virtually to specialty teachers like gym, art, music, etc. She quiets the room by asking her students to mute and requires them to have their video on so she can be sure they are in class. They raise their hands by putting ? in the chat. They are learning a lot...and not just about reading and math. 

Our seventh grader is in middle school. She logs into in-person classes with a video set up  8 periods a day. Teachers are intentional about checking in with their virtual students to make sure they don't have questions before dismissing them. All of her books are online. 

Deciding what to do is different for every family. School options are different for every school system. This is our story of how we came to virtual learning and how it is going so far. If hearing our story can help other families wrestling with what to do or other schools still making these decisions, it's worth sharing. There are still things we are figuring out, but I have a feeling this is going to be a good school year. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Community of Faith: New Places

This is an excerpt from some writing I did awhile back. I hope it leads you to think about your relationship with the church. When has the church been a "new place" for you? 

New Places
  I grew up on a farm in the middle of the northern Indiana. Many days were spent talking to livestock and jumping out of hay mounds with my three siblings. So, when I moved from rural community to rural community in the early days of adulthood, I did not feel like a fish out of water. The cornfields as far as the eye could see, the woods lining the back of our property, and the miles to the nearest grocery story all felt familiar and welcoming. I knew this terrain and loved the sound of cicadas and crickets in those early fall nights. 
I had also grown up as Old Blood in my town. The family joke was that my dad had to leave our small town to get a wife…because he was related to all the girls here. The third of four kids in a small rural school, the teachers loved me at the first glance of my last name. I was someone without even trying. This was not true in these new little towns I found myself moving to. I was a new person. They were the old blood and the familiar names and none of them had need for another friend. 
This was the reality that hit me hard when I took my toddlers to playgrounds or came to school sporting events. No one needed to bother with another person. I lived here, but I was not part of their community. Nor would I be. Each time I reached out, I was ignored or worse treated as a weirdo. Strangers don’t talk to each other in these places. 
This is the reality that hits many of us as we come to new places. We come as people whom the community doesn’t really care to include. The smaller the community the harder it is to break into. Indeed, some people who even marry into the local famous names, still never feel like they belong in these places. Forty years. Fifty years. This is not their place. They are only visitors. 
But not in God’s community. God’s church makes a place for new people. 
In fact, the Bible teaches that welcoming strangers is as old as Genesis. From travelers on Abraham’s doorstep all the way to Paul in Rome at the end of the New Testament. The church is a place for people without a place. Bible heroes are often heroes not for their capacity to love those in their city, but for their choice to love the travelers: Abraham, Lot, Rebekah, Rahab, the Woman at the well, the Disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Lydia. 
Each week the church lives into this with her welcome to strangers at her door. She welcomes in people without a community and gives them a place. She introduces new friends to old. She invites strangers into her community and then makes a way for these people in the larger community. She encourages residents to welcome newcomers.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Can the church survive seperation?

The news hit hard in this third week of social distancing of churches who are refusing to to suspend in person worship services, risking the lives of their congregation and the people the congregation comes in contact with. Not only is this dangerous, it also is bad theology.

For starters, the claim that God will "protect" his people in the sanctuary turns a virus into more than what it is. A virus is part of the natural order of the world, part of life itself. God allows viruses into our church buildings as much as he allows gravity, or the stray bird or bat. Viruses are not evil, they are nature. God doesn't curse people with illness, but he allows natural processes to happen.

While we are at it, lets talk about the sanctuary. The church building is not exempt from evil. It is a place we are intentional about meeting God, but God is intentional about meeting us every place we go. The sanctuary is not made holy by God's presence, its made holy by the searching for God that led us into it. No building is exempt from the worst of the world. In church buildings bombs and fires, gunshots and heart attacks have all occurred. A building does not protect you.

But we believe that the church is not a building, it is God's people. Can God's people still be together even if they can't touch each other? Our church is. People are calling each other, writing to each other, praying together, connecting together on Facebook not just one day but everyday of the week. We haven't stopped connecting because we can't come together physically on Sunday.

Now, lets talk faith. While those continuing to the meet claim they do so in faith, I argue that they are meeting because of a lack of faith. They are afraid that if they don't meet the church will not survive. I imagine that is what the early Christians thought when the Temple fell in their early days. But, she made it. And where ever Christians went, no matter how far from the building they were, God went with them. That's how the church grew.

It's much harder to have faith that the church will make it even if we are not meeting in the building, because we have to have faith in each other. We have to believe that when this is all over we will come back together to worship again. In my experience, it is much easier to trust God than to trust people. People have disappointed me more. But right now, we have to. We have to have faith in each other. We have to trust that we will not be forgotten. We have to do the work that has become harder: being the church even without a building. That is hard.

But maybe having a fast from our building, will help us remember what the church is. As the song says:

The church is not a building.The church is not a steeple.
The church is not a resting place. The church is People.
I am the church . You are the church. We are the church together.

Maybe God is teaching us how to be a more authentic faithful church.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Where are you, God?

Where are you, God? 

How many of us have wondered this in the last week as we have seen the world in chaos around us? As the news continues to stir anxiety and the shops remind us of the panic around us, we can lose sight of the One we trust in. God is here, and he has been reminding our house of that in small ways everyday. 

As we search for stationary to send notes of cheer to others and discover adult coloring books we can use, we hear God say, “I am here.”

As we discover the tennis balls I bought months ago and play tennis in an empty parking lot, we hear God whisper, “I am here.”

As we get a text from a friend after our first big meltdown, we hear God whisper, “I am here.”

As the gardening centers shut down, and we realize we already bought all the seeds we need, we hear God whisper, “I am here.”

As we get a new book of guitar chords for hymns and time to practice each day, we hear God say, “I am here.”

God reminds us in some little way every single day that God is here, with us. Even though life is uncertain…even though the world is chaotic…even though our daily lives have shifted…God is here. 

And even if the virus finds its way into our house…even if someone we love ends up in the hospital…even if the world is not the same after all of this…God is still here. 

God is with us whatever the future holds. Today, I choose to leave tomorrow with its worries in God’s hands. Today I am going to keep my ears  open for the whispers of God. Today I will live not in panic and anxiety, but in the sure hope that God is always with us. He is with us even when we are isolated from the rest of the world. I look to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

A Game of Monopoly

It has been a week since I started social distancing. I was sick, so I may have started in earnest before you did. Now I am just about over my cough and sore throat and feeling much better. That means staying home seems more like a prison than a luxury like it did last week. Luckily, after two very rainy days, today is beautiful. There is something about getting outside that makes one feel free. The dogs agree with me on this point. 

As I reflect on the Lent practice of fasting, I am really thinking about the things I have gained more than the things I have given up. Last night, Zeke set up Dog-opoly and we all came around the table happily to play. Zeke LOVES any version of monopoly and almost always wins. It wasn’t long before I owed him over $1000 in one round which meant I was left with less than $75. Ouch. It was looking really grim. So grim, that at one point I attempted to cheat and move forward one extra spot so I wouldn’t have to pay rent…until I realized no one owned that square yet. But then, later in that same round all 4 of my opponents rescued me. That’s right. They all changed the rules so I could live. 

That’s kind of where we are now, right? Out of compassion, those of us with much are changing the rules so that those with the least can live. Those who are the healthiest are staying home so the sickest can live. Those who are the wealthiest are finding ways to break the rules of capitalism to protect the most vulnerable. We are changing the rules of the game. I have felt that compassion in the leadership of the church as we change the rules of church.  I thank God that we have the resources to still connect from afar that weren’t available to those who faced pandemics in the 1918s or during the Black Plague. I am grateful that the God who was with people then is still the God who walks with us today. A God who never leaves us or forsakes us. A God that comforts us, provides for us, and brings joy into our lives. A God that still hears our prayers. I pray that we would all be responsible in limiting our contact with others. I pray that we would show extra care and encouragement to medical staff who have more demands on an already demanding job. 

Today is Lent. 
Today I give up my old ways of playing the game out of compassion for the most vulnerable. 
Today I give up my freedom to do as I please out of compassion for medical staff. 

Today I stay in and stay put that others may live. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

From a Pastor who is Coughing

March 16, 2020

It’s been a crazy weekend. After a lot of news the last several weeks about a new virus, the governor of Indiana and the Indiana United Methodist Church made some strong statements of limiting gatherings and encouraging social distancing. My church, although smaller that the 250 gathering limit, is primarily made of people in the most vulnerable population: 60+ year olds. The leadership wisely decided we should not meet at least this week. 

In the midst of these announcements I was sick. With a virus. And if I hadn’t gone through a box of Kleenexes in a day, I would have thought it was the new virus everyone was concerned about. Instead, I did my best to avoid people last week and hunkered down hard starting last Thursday. I saw my family doctor on Friday. They were cancelling all checkups with 60+ year olds over the phone as I checked in, and they didn’t require me to sign anything which meant I didn’t touch anything in the office. The doctor recommended I self-quarantine. She suspected the flu and gave me a little care bag of samples. She also said those ominous words, “You will probably get worse before you get better.” Great. 

Like every American I know, including a friend with MS, I hold a lot of guilt over “sick days.” I am always trying to push through the cold or rush back before I am actually well. As I have watched members of my congregation struggle with finding that balance, I have definitely longed for the day where sick people were given grace and allowed the full time they needed to get healthy. We are so busy doing things that could go without being done so that we have enough money to survive. It is quite crazy. We are so busy proving we are hard workers and responsible citizens that we put other lives in jeopardy of illness and disease.

And when we are scared, we want to jump to action. Which is super difficult in days like today. I feel really guilty about doing nothing. Yet my husband has told me not do anything. My doctor has told me not do anything. My governor has told me not to do anything.  God is whispering “BE STILL and know that I am God.” And yet, that voice whispering in my head says, “You are only worth the work you do.” 

So today I am letting go of the guilt. I am doing nothing. Lent is supposed to be a season of self-reflection and giving up those things that keep us from knowing God deeper. Today, I fast from feeling guilty. I am trusting God that tomorrow will come without me running. Tomorrow will come without me infecting others. Tomorrow will come even if I do nothing. 

Today’s Lent practice: 
Letting go of my need to be busy
Letting go of my feelings of guilt
Trusting that God will love me even when I do nothing