Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Did I Get Here?

Disclaimer: this post contains boring analysis of my health conditions and what they mean to me. And the journey I've been on. May not be interesting to anybody. Read at your own risk.

It's hard to know where to start. I think I'll start with the turning point that occurred about 13 or 14 years ago. Most of my life before that did not involve the intensity of health problems that came after. (I did have an abundance of health issues before that, which I'm sure all contributed to the turning point, but I can't recount my entire life story here.)

So in the winter of that year (around 2000 or maybe it was 1999--possibly even earlier or later), I had a very bad case of the flu. Probably the worst flu I've ever had. I remember it well. I was flat on my back for about 12 days. I lost about 20 pounds because I didn't really eat or drink anything. I became dehydrated like I never have before. I was really sick. It took a few weeks to feel normal again.

By that time, I developed what seemed to be a bladder infection, but turned out to be a kidney stone (probably induced by being severely dehydrated), although we didn't get that diagnosis for a couple of months. The stone was lodged in my ureter and was not moving and being passed. It took several different diagnostic tests of varying levels of humiliation before the urologist finally found where the bloody little thing was. Then I got to have a  procedure called lithotripsy, in which you are put under and sound waves are aimed at the blockage to break it into pieces so it will move. After that, you still get to pass the stone like usual. So I got to be sick with the stupid thing for three months, and as a bonus, I still got to pass the stone in the end. So fun.

To sum up--basically sick and miserable for about four months. This led to several things, some of which I didn't understand or realize for a very long time. The most outward and obvious one was that I sank further into the chronic depressive state that required medication. I'd been teetering on the edge of that cliff for decades, managing to function, but not necessarily well. (That's an entire book of analysis all on its own. It took at least a year to get stable.) Also, my body physically responded to this extended period of illness by interpreting it as an emergency of top priority, leading to my adrenals and thyroid becoming drained and failing to do their job, try as they might. You've probably heard of adrenal exhaustion. That.

Thus began an ordeal of doctor visits to see what could be done. Because I am more of an alternative medicine kind of gal, that's the route I took. I saw a homeopathic doctor for a while. She tried several remedies that didn't seem to be doing the trick. In hindsight, I realize two things. First, I didn't take my conditions seriously enough, resulting in not taking the remedies as thoroughly as possible. Second, I and the doc were too impatient for results to appear, so we moved on probably too soon to other options.

Frustrated with no progress there, I found an osteopath who treated thyroid condition known as Wilson's Thyroid Syndrome. This is a fun time that involves taking your temp three times a day at precise times and eating at precise times. If you know me, you know precise timing is not my thing. I struggled to adhere to the treatment, but it was causing more stress that probably taxed my poor adrenals even further. I ended up taking thyroid meds. I am not sure they ever really did me any good. Maybe they did. I can't tell. I took them for years.

For years, I underwent blood analysis and a barrage of supplements and yeast cleanses and foot detoxing and bioidentical hormone therapy.

On top of all that, the illnesses, shutdown of my adrenals, and antidepressants caused me to gain about 100 pounds. Which didn't do much for my personal self-esteem and well-being. Even when I weighed 110 pounds in college, I thought I was fat. So this wasn't helping my body image at all.

Then they decided to treat my cholesterol, which is extremely high. I took statins for years, which did help the cholesterol, but then I read that they had some causal links to diabetes, which puts you at higher risk for heart disease, which is the whole reason to reduce your cholesterol in the first place. I don't take those meds anymore.

One doc decided I needed more D3. On and on. I tried everything they made me do. I even tried to lose the weight. I managed to lose about 30 pounds, then plateaued and never got any further with that endeavor. (Later, through some intense reading, I learned that people with adrenal exhaustion create more exhaustion when trying to lose weight, because the body interprets the weight loss as a crisis and jumps in to stop it. Thus making it nearly impossible to lose weight.)

Which brings me approximately to 2013. The antidepressants I had been taking for about ten years and which had kept me stable and functional that whole time began to "poop out," as they say in the psychiatric world. At the same time, I began consulting with my chiropractor on some of these issues--like cholesterol, blood sugar, adrenal fatigue, thyroid, and digestive absorption. I started reading a whole bunch of books and articles about the lies of the medical "research" over the past several decades and the wrongness of much of the advice that is commonly  handed out by doctors.

Let me preface what I am about to say with another disclaimer. I have always been on the "other" side of much of what the medical establishment touts as the best thing. I never vaccinated my children because I did a lot of reading about vaccines--from all points of view--and decided they couldn't answer all my questions satisfactorily. I had two babies at home, despite the common looks of horror that many people gave me, thinking I was putting myself and the babies in grave danger. I don't do antibiotics and never allowed them to be given to my children. You get the picture. So I, more than the average person, am already halfway there when someone tells me the medical establishment has been lying to me. (As with cholesterol lowering meds, for example.)

Throughout this intense period of reading, which I continue to do a lot still, I made some discoveries that have impacted the way I look at my health and how I should approach it. I'm not saying these strategies are the ones everyone should use, but they are where I have come down on certain thoughts about health. I'm going to list them in no particular order.

1. I have realized that you can consume all the supplements you want, but if they're not being absorbed because you have digestive concerns, then they're doing you no good.

2. Healing the digestive system is a long process requiring a lot of patience.

3. Cholesterol is not the enemy. We need it for our bodies and brains to function. Focusing too much on that number is not that useful.

4. Saturated fat is not the enemy. Hydrogenated and trans fats--abundant in processed foods--are the enemy.

5. Carbs are not the enemy. Refined sugar and processed foods are.

6. Adrenal exhaustion requires a unique approach that most practitioners really don't understand. It involves sleeping a lot, eating really really good foods, and not over-exercising (which the body interprets as a stressor and thus creates more exhaustion).

7. My own personal timetable is very slow. I think of it as glacial. One healer said it's like a mountain. In other words, I may be at this for a very long time before I am at the state of wellness I'd like to achieve.

There are many other insights and details of how I look at things at this point. But my story in ongoing. Last summer I began experiencing frequent headaches of random duration. Headaches that worried me quite a bit. At first I thought it was from my new antidepressants. Then I thought it might be from eye strain. Or not getting enough water. Or too much sugar. After months of keeping a headache journal along with a food diary and an assessment of possible triggers, I still have no concrete answers as to what is causing these headaches or what I can do to prevent them. I am beginning to think they are caused by the random and strange fluctuations of hormones as I go through menopause.

Here's what I HAVE learned, though. The headaches came so that I would pay attention. So that I would search out the best health I can. And that has been a useful journey, which I continue on and will for the rest of my life. It starts with me, with paying attention to my body, its responses, and its intuitive knowing.

Now, I am sure that if any of my friends and family read this, you will undoubtedly want to share with me the miracles you have found for yourselves. Whether it's eating raw food, gluten free, paleo, vegetarian, or whatever. Please don't. I'm aware of the benefits of all those strategies, and I am actually following many of them in my own stew of strategies.

Where I have come down at this point is that I should be eating high quality foods, unprocessed foods, lots of water, plenty of good fats like butter/meat/coconut oil/etc, plenty of high quality protein, and as little sugar as I can. And I know that because change comes to me at a glacial pace, I can't be in a hurry. Therefore, I am tending to avoid looking at numbers like weight, cholesterol levels, and such. I will look at those numbers some, when it seems right. But I am looking inward more for the understanding I need. I am reading a ton of information, so if you have a good source and want to share it, feel free. Mostly I have learned that one thing that might be healthy for one person might not be healthy for me. I have learned that my weight has been a physical response to perceived crises, and that it may never go back to normal. Or after glacial years of taking the best possible care, my body might decide it is safe to let go of the weight. I can't afford to focus on the number right now.

It's a journey I've been on for all my life. I am realizing now that each step has taught me something of value. It's very hard to focus on how to get well when there are so many systems that are in need of healing: the digestion, the adrenals, the thyroid, the liver, the brain, the blood, etc. I find myself at this point open to what I can learn and do in order to restore and renew what I am able to. So, no specific answers and lots of questions, but an openness to seeing things differently. Not a bad place to be.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why a Tattoo?

Today I got my first tattoo. I've been planning this tattoo for years, so it wasn't like I just woke up one day and said, I'm doing this. And I didn't want to carve something into my skin for life that wasn't hugely meaningful to me. I didn't want just a butterfly or something.

So if you're interested, here is the story of my tattoo. First, the question why? I know my hubby wonders why anyone would volunteer to undergo pain and expense. He'd probably rather buy camping gear. The easy answer is it's a means of self expression, a way to visibly display something about myself. For me it goes deeper than that.

I was thinking about what it means to me and why I would go through with it all week as I anticipated the pain. I don't like pain. I have a high tolerance for it, but I don't like it. Here's what I realized. For me, this a a rite of passage of sorts. It's solely about me. All the other rites of passage I've had have been mostly me in connection with others. Which is a good thing. My wedding, the births of my children, graduations. All of those things have importance, permanence, and meaning in my life. Big time.

But over the past years as I have approached 50 (a milestone I reached last year and about which you can read at length elsewhere on my blog), I have thought more about myself as, well, My Self. The self I am when it's not about how I'm connected to others. Not that I don't like being connected to others, mind you, but I've never NOT been connected to others, so it was kind of strange to think about. Perhaps this is a normal developmental process for women "of a certain age." I mean, my children are almost all grown and I have more and more of my life that is my own. I'm fast approaching menopause (with welcome arms I might add). They don't call it the change of life for nothing. I have read that for women, this is a time where we come into our power, ourselves, our true selves. No longer are we living for others, but we can live for ourselves. Follow our dreams. Lots of women have whole new lives from this point forward. I don't anticipate a whole new life on the outside, but it does feel sometimes like there's a primal, earth moving, tectonic motion going on inside my spirit.

It's like a quote my friend Gregory posted recently from Victor Hugo. I'll paraphrase in case I don't get it just right: Forty is the old age of youth; 50 is the youth of old age. That is exactly how 50 feels to me. I'm not young anymore. Kind of a relief, to tell you the truth. I feel like I'm the young one of my generation. I am technically a Baby Boomer, but like that last one born. So I do feel like a youth of older folk. So what a perfect time to get a tattoo, huh? Isn't that the kind of things people do in their crazy youth? But I'm in my crazy second youth. I don't care what people think of me. (Something that was definitely not true of me in my youth.) I am not afraid of messing things up or having to live the rest of my life with artwork on my body. I have a bit of extra money to spend on myself. And I am getting to really, truly, know the me that is My Self.

So about the tattoo. It has three pieces, all of which have great meaning to me and stand alone, but together make up the essence of myself.

First there is an owl in flight. The owl is my spirit animal. You might not believe in that kind of thing. No problem. But I do. I have loved owls since I was a child. They are mysterious, powerful, supposedly wise, silent and yet not silent. They are magnificent, elegant. Cute even. I love owls of all kinds and types. Live and painted, sculpted, or otherwise depicted. On one of the lowest days of my life (years and years ago), David tried to cheer me up. He took me to a creek in the Black Hills, where we splashed and played like kids. He took me somewhere with mountains, water, and peace. On the way home that night, a huge owl greeted me on the road. It was in flight, just above the trees, truly magnificent. It was as if it was telling me everything would be all right. Maybe like an angel or a spirit. Or just an owl. Also, the owl symbolizes for the purposes of my tattoo, my love of nature. Nature is to me the visible evidence of God. Even God itself. In nature is when I am with God. The spirit in which I live and move and have my being.

Second, there are three shooting stars. Basically, these represent my children. They are the best things I have to offer the world. I have raised them, and now they are ready, or almost ready, to shoot off into the world to bring their own version of themselves to fruition. They are my shining stars. Also, last year on my 50th birthday at May Lake in Yosemite, we watched shooting stars. I saw three. I think the number three is the most mystical number there is. Plus, Yosemite on my 50th birthday was just one of the best times in the world.

Finally, there is a Celtic symbol, with three spirals all coming together as one. I could probably go on ad nauseum about the magical number of three. There are religious connotations like Father/Son/Holy Spirit. There are earth based patterns like earth/wind/fire, mountains/water/trees (my own personal recipe for enlightenment and peace), breath of life/air/spirit, mother/father/child, sun/moon/stars. Dozens of others. Probably ones I haven't even thought of yet. In yoga, when we say three Ohms at the end of a session, I have heard it explained this way: the distinct sounds you say when you say "Ohm" represent birth/life/death. You are speaking everything in that breath. I've also heard someone else describe it as the sound of the earth itself. As an earth person, I connect with that very deeply.

So that is what the symbols mean to me. Someone once said they thought it was stupid to have a tattoo that was so obtuse you had to explain the symbolism to everyone. Oh well. What's important to me is that I know the symbolism and the importance. After all, it's on my body. I don't care what anyone else thinks. (See above.)

I couldn't be happier with the results. The sketch the artist did for me was great, but the actual tattoo is about ten times more awesome. Yeah it hurt. I don't know if I'll ever get another. Only if I come up with a design that holds as much meaning for me as this one.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Our Story (from one point of view): Part One

Once upon a time, a little girl moved from the Big Apple out to the fresh air and mountains of South Dakota’s Black Hills. On her first day of school in Hot Springs, second grade, she noticed a boy across the room. She didn’t know his name, but he had very, very blond hair and a little scar on his temple from where he had scratched at his chicken pox. She had never had chicken pox. (More on that later.)

After that, they weren’t in the same homeroom very often, and she didn’t pay much attention to him. Their families went to the same church, and they were in youth group together in middle school.  She had a crush on his best friend at one point. They were both in band, both played flute. She was first chair. He wasn’t very good. Until he got put on bass drum in the marching band. He had rhythm, that’s for sure.

In high school, they both joined debate. Both still in band. Both in theater. (In Hot Springs you didn’t specialize. There just weren’t enough students. Everyone was a generalist.) During sophomore year, he started paying attention to her. Talking to her more than just the general ways classmates do. He finally asked her out over Christmas break. It was a dance with the local band Ivory playing. (Clap if you remember them. Yeah, two of you. That’s what I thought.) He drove his grandma’s car, and she got friends to buy beer for her. The ride home was not a pretty sight.

Still, he asked her out again. (In those days, you asked a girl out. You dated. You actually went on dates to do things.) Until they were pretty much a thing. She was 15. They went to lots of movies and lots of dances. More beer was involved. (That’s pretty much what you had in Hot Springs.)

They went to debate camp the next summer, and that’s where they started to fall in love. And that’s when they also realized they’d be excellent debate partners. During  junior and senior years, they won many, many debate tournaments, theater contests, band festivals, etc. They spent an awful lot of time together. Her parents worried. But he was a nice boy.

Oh, things happened. They got into some troubles. Those aren’t important. What’s important is that they loved each other. Then they graduated. She was valedictorian. He was a national merit scholar. They went to separate colleges. She was miserable. She had a car accident. She sprained her ankle multiple times. She hated being apart from him. So she transferred and life was back on track. They spent their college years at Carleton. He ran cross country and acted in theater. She played flute and wrote plays. Neither of them did debate.

They graduated. She was cum laude. He got distinction in his major. Then they got married. That was June 20, 1984. Twenty-nine years ago. That’s not the end of the story, but that’s how the story began. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Not an A Student

The end of the school year always comes with those assemblies where students get all kinds of awards. I remember when my kids were in elementary school, there were awards for perfect attendance. I always wondered how in the world that student was never sick, never had a dentist appointment, never had to take a day off to travel to see family for a holiday or special event. Was it really such an accomplishment?
I am not writing about our weird society that rewards kids for showing up and trying. Although that is a worthy topic of discussion, it’s not what I’m about today.
I’m here to talk about all the kids who don’t earn an award. Does that mean they are somehow less worthy of our acknowledgements?  I don’t think so. And I’m not here to laud the wonderful strength of students who, say, graduate despite all the odds against them, whatever they might be. I’m here to write about the ordinary kids who are usually not on anyone’s radar.
So, okay, I’m going to use my own son, Peter, as an example. Of course, I think Peter is extraordinary, but you don’t know him, so you probably don’t share my bias. There are a lot of qualities Peter has that make him awesome, but the ones I want to talk about today involve his attitudes toward school, learning, and matters of the mind.
As just a general example, Peter’s attitude about grades is approximately the opposite of most students I know. His belief is this: if he knows the subject matter, feels he has a reasonably good grasp and mastery of it, then he has no need to prove that to his teachers or his peers by jumping through what he sees as unnecessary hoops in order to get a good grade. To some, this might look like laziness. He doesn’t see any point in studying until 3:00 a.m. in order to get an A. He figures if he goes to class, pays attention, does his homework, and understands what he has learned, studying isn’t going to get him that much further. He knows what he knows. The end result of this attitude is that he doesn’t feel the need to do mindless extra credit work, doesn’t feel the need to do test corrections, doesn’t feel excessively compelled to turn in every last scrap of paper called homework.
Some parents would probably freak out over this. I mean, he doesn’t get straight A’s. Even though I’m pretty certain he could if he ramped up his effort the tiniest bit. He is wholly unmotivated by gold stars and letters on a transcript. But this doesn’t mean he is unmotivated. His motivation is internal, not external. I personally think this is a good thing. You know those job announcements that constantly want applicants who are self-motivated? Creative? Able to work without supervision? That’s Peter.
Sometimes Peter’s attitudes are at odds with his peers, which can tend to make him seem antisocial. For example, often in school, other students seem to be primarily interested in spending class time chatting, laughing, and generally not doing their work. (These are often, ironically, the same students who freak out if they don’t get a good grade and who stay up until 3:00 a.m. studying for a test.) Peter gets annoyed by these kids. He has said repeatedly that he wants to learn. He is there to learn. His motivation is not for the grade, but for the knowledge. One girl in his English class, for example, spent her class time applying fingernail polish. When Peter commented about this on a facebook post, she got upset because she felt he was calling her stupid. I think he just meant that he wanted to focus on class and the fumes from her nail polish made that difficult.
Then there’s English class. Peter is definitely a science geek, but he also has pretty good language and literature knowledge. When his class read Taming of the Shrew, he was the only one who had ever seen it produced. He was the only one who knew what the basic plot was. He was, from what I have heard, one of the few who was not completely freaked out by Elizabethan English. One of his English papers this year had to do with symbolism found in the piece of literature they were reading at the time.  Assignments like this frustrate the hell out of this kid. He doesn’t like to look at literature as “what is the author trying to say?” He would rather ask “what impact does this literature have on me?” (As an author and an English major, I wholeheartedly support this approach.) So in this particular paper, Peter quoted John Green, one of his favorite authors, who says when the author says the curtains are blue, he just means they are blue. He’s not trying to symbolize sadness or something. In short, Peter’s paper pretty much ignored the assigned task, but engaged in the literary work in a very real way, and for that he received 100%. Because he showed the teacher that he was actually thinking, and not just regurgitating what he thought she wanted to hear, he made a statement. The teacher could have easily given him a different grade because he didn’t really complete the assignment, but I give her credit for acknowledging that he had actually been more engaged in the assignment than anyone else in class.
Because of experiences like that, Peter has enjoyed his English class more than he expected to, despite the nail polish girl and the kids who wanted to watch videos rather than do work. While there are a lot of things I did not appreciate about this particular teacher, I think she did see that he was actually thinking about what they covered in class in a way that other kids weren’t.
Peter understands that if he wanted to, he could get straight A’s. And he knows that colleges will be looking at his GPA. And I’ve talked to him about how useful scholarships are for college. He may decide in the next school year that those rewards are worth jumping through a few more hoops than he might like. If not, he understands that certain doors may not open for him. Which is kind of sad for those on the other sides of the doors. I mean, if I were a college admissions officer of an elite science oriented school, I think I might be interested in a student who outfits his own personal chemistry lab at home for the summer, because he loves chemistry that much. I might want to encourage a student who thinks curiosity is the most important quality, because it leads to trying things in different ways until one gets the desired results.  I might find it interesting that this kid is learning a fictional language from a computer game, even creating clay tablets on which to write this language, not because he has to, but because he is fascinated by it. I might even want to invest scholarship money in someone who is so curious about life that he’d rather just learn than get a certain grade.

It reminds me of the joke my husband’s law school buddies used to tell, which bears a shocking truth. The A students became law professors—which doesn’t pay all that well. The B students became judges—again, not extremely high paying. And the C students became the litigators earning the big bucks. Now this is not to say that money is the end all. That is the last thing I’m about. However, it does pose an interesting idea. Being a C student doesn’t mean you won’t succeed. Book learning is not everything. (And yes, it feels somewhat blasphemous for me to say that, as the intellectual book geek that I am.) The practical ability to solve real-world issues is perhaps the greater good. And often, those people aren’t the ones earning all the top awards at end-of-year assemblies. They’re the ones quietly doing chemistry in their bedrooms over the summer. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Universe

     From time to time, I feel this desire to try to express my spiritual beliefs. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I don’t fit into any mold and it feels odd.
     The holiest days for most religions sort of heighten this odd-one-out feeling for me. Bernie Zaleha, a friend I met while attending the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship years ago has probably put it into words better than anyone. But I don’t want to merely reiterate him.
     For most of my adult life, I have attended United Methodist churches, save for about 7 years at BUUF. This really explains nothing of my beliefs except that I was raised in a protestant church with a Methodist minister, and so that probably has felt the most comfortable. Also, my kids have loved being in the choir program at this church we’ve called home for the last 23 years, and that’s a good enough reason for me. I love music, it is one of my spiritual practices, so a church with awesome music is a no-brainer for me.
     What do I actually believe? Sometimes it’s easier to say what you don’t believe.  I’ll attempt to do both here.
     I do believe in God, just not the God that most people mean when they say the word. I only refer to this presence as God because it seems the word understood by most people. I’ve also called this presence the Universe, Nature, Spirit, Holy, Goddess, Mother Earth, and probably some other things. Elizabeth Greene, the soon-to-be-retired minister at BUUF, has a prayer I remember well from my years there, in which she invokes the Spirit who goes by many names and yet remains untamed by human naming. That speaks it perfectly for me. Our names are wholly inadequate for the massiveness of the Holy. So sometimes I use God just because it’s easier than explaining my entire belief system. For the purposes of this reflection, I think I will use Universe, because that is usually the word I use in my own head.
     What I believe about this spiritual force, the Universe, is that something created this immensely complex and amazing world—the stars, the planets, black holes, trees, water, alligators, puppies, babies, our skeletons, and all of it. I fully believe this force acted not by accident or luck, but by some order.  It might be called science, physics, astronomy, evolution, but it has an order and purpose to it. The creative force, the Universe, continues to create all the time, evolving this creation more all the time.
     The Universe isn't just a creator that made the world and retreated. The Universe IS the world. The spirit IS the trees, the rocks, the people, the magma, the oceans, the clouds, everything. Yes, I’m saying God is not a being or spirit separate from us, in heaven somewhere else. God is right here, in everything around us, in us, part of us and connecting all of us and all of creation.
     Music, literature, art, human creations of all kinds can be seen as our attempts to connect to this holiness, our way to express what we feel. The best of our creative endeavors come close. I often say music is my religion. Music has the power to make me truly feel the presence of the Holy. So does lifting up my eyes to where the mountaintops meet the sky. Or watching a river splash over chunks of ancient granite.
     I think another way we search for the Holy is to join together in community—hence religion. As I understand it, most societies of people manage to form some sort of religious community. Yes, religion has also been used as a means of oppression and genocide. It’s a human construct, therefore subject to human failings. I have studied the beliefs of several major world religions, and one thing I see that they all have in common is some form of the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.  Love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, I find religions have more things in common than differences.
     So. . . what do I believe about Christianity? I believe in Jesus. He was a historical person. He lived.  I’m not sure I believe the virgin birth story. It doesn’t really matter to me. Jesus was divine because we are all divine. The Holy lives in us. One of my favorite affirmations of faith in the UMC hymnbook describes how God works in us and others by the spirit. That spirit lives in us.
     I think Jesus had some important messages for us. One was that we need to live radically, refusing to accept oppression, but seeking to right injustice and taking care of the poor, sick, elderly, disenfranchised.  He defied the religion of his youth to a large degree. He felt it had become corrupted by greed and posturing and laws. He preached about loving our enemies. He told us the kingdom of God is at hand. I don’t believe he meant heaven, as in an afterlife where those who believe get to go. I believe he meant it was at hand, as in right here, right now, as in all around us in all of creation. We are already in the kingdom of God. We should bloody well start acting like it.
     Every religion has its mythology—and by this I don’t mean myths as in untruths, but myths as in the things that get passed down and repeated. I can’t say for sure that Jesus rose and lived after death. And personally I don’t think it matters. Marcus Borg, one of the best contemporary Christian writers today in my opinion, talks about the Easter Jesus as being the beginning of our own rebirth into a new way of thinking, and more importantly, a new way of acting. A new way of seeing our world.
     Because I don’t believe in a heaven and hell, nor do I believe in God as a judge who punishes those who don’t believe, it doesn’t matter to me whether Jesus experienced a physical resurrection or not. I don’t need to believe in that version of events to experience the Holy, or the Kingdom. I live in the Holy in the Kingdom every moment.
     As for the Bible, I think it’s an interesting set of writings. I don’t believe it’s some infallible word of God that is every word of it true. I believe a lot of it is allegory, metaphor, poetry. I believe the original words of the Bible have been translated and changed so many times—not to mention that language itself changes over time too—that it is nearly impossible to figure out what the original texts actually said. Even then, words are always open to interpretation. And I think the Universe graced us with incredible minds not so that we could close them down and accept blindly all that is told to us, but so that we could use them to create our own understanding and interpretations.
     Also, the Bible was selected by humans. We know for a fact that there were quite a few other gospels about Jesus that did not get approved by those who selected the books of the New Testament. They depict different things about Jesus. The Old Testament has been dissected for centuries by Jewish scholars. So neither is it inherently perfect as written.
     I believe there are plenty of writings that evoke the Holy just as much as the Bible. Some of them are holy books in their own faith traditions and some are just really wonderful books. Things like To Kill a Mockingbird. Hardly considered by most to be a spiritual text, but the spirit comes through in that story, at least to me. Powerful literature shares universal and sacred truths.
     As for other religions besides Christianity, the ones I am most familiar with are Judaism and Buddhism. What I like about the Jewish faith is the highly earth-based rituals. The observance of seasonal changes. The taking time out for one complete day of spiritual focus. I like the Sukkoth in the fall, the Passover in the spring. I like the Rosh Hashanah tradition of throwing your breadcrumbs in the river to float away, like starting the new year with a clean slate.  I don’t like the legalistic aspects of some versions of Judaism, but I don’t like the legalistic aspects of fundamentalist Christianity either, so this isn’t specific to Judaism. The parts of Buddhism I find appealing are the focus on not doing harm to any living thing. It appeals to my sensibilities toward nature and my non-violent approach to other humans. I like the way Buddhist meditation turns one inward, toward the Holy that is in ourselves, for guidance and renewal and sustenance.
     I am somewhat familiar with Wicca, witchcraft, the Goddess movement, as well. Some of those believers might chastise me that those are three different things. And maybe they are. I don’t pretend to be an expert. But what I can say is that I love the earth based, seasonal rituals of this belief system. I love celebrating the winter solstice, as well as the summer solstice, the equinoxes, and the movement of the moon. These are special and spiritual events through the year, and I find them highly meaningful.
     My point here is to examine what I like of different religions. I find them all beautiful and useful. My goal on this journey is to focus on the pieces of religion that speak to me. Many people will say you can’t do that. My reply is, oh yes I can. So maybe I don’t fit in with your view of Christianity, but I consider myself primarily a Christian by religion. That is my background and that is the language of religion that I am familiar with. And that is probably why I identify with the Methodist church—there is no dogma. There is no judgment. There is love. Questioning is allowed, not frowned upon. I know several branches of Christianity that disapprove vehemently of anyone who dares to question the authority of the church. That’s not me. I always question authority of any kind.
     Pastor Duane, my pastor, talks about the name of God from the Old Testament: Yahweh. It’s breath. Yah—breathing in. Weh—breathing out. It’s chi, the energy force in many eastern traditions. The very beginning and ending of all that we can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. Or experience in our souls, beyond sensory input or human understanding. It is what it is. All I need to do is to remember that. Connect to that. And the kingdom of the Spirit is at hand, within me. In one of those other testaments of Jesus, I think in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says—If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you. And what is within us? Why, the Holy, of course.  If we could all bring that forth, imagine what a resurrection this world would experience. That is something to which I can holler “Hallelujah!”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What I know of Love

Here is what I know of love:

Real love is unconditional. It doesn't come and go. You don't love someone and then stop loving them. Romantic infatuation--that's another story. That can come and go a whole bunch. Unfortunately, too many people think that is real love. It's not. Real love is the fine, tested metal left after the impurities have been melted away, after the infatuation is gone.

Real love doesn't use the vocabulary "you," "me," "I." It's "WE." This is not to say that you lose your individuality. Real love allows that what's best for each individual is also best for the partner, and best for the couple. Real love knows that in a partnership, sometimes one partner's dream, needs, desires are temporarily the priority. Real love knows that at another time, it will be the other partner's turn. Real love doesn't keep score or count minutes, numbers, who does how many household chores or changes how many diapers. Real love knows it's all for the benefit of the couple.

Real love isn't sacrificial, though. It isn't hard. When you truly love another, you want the best for that person in every way. Having that person's best interests at heart doesn't negate your own best interests at all. It just means that this other person is important, so thinking of him, cheering him on, being there for him is not a sacrifice. It is a joyous piece of your life. It's easy to want to do those things. I'm not saying everything is easy when you love someone. Humans are messy, annoying, troublesome creatures. If you are married or in a long term relationship with the one you love, tending that relationship/marriage can have its difficulties, but the love is not the hard part. The hard part might be contending the human flaws of another person, but the love--that's easy.

Love gets better with age, maturity, shared memories, a life of partnering. Sure, the excitement of new love, young love, is fun, special, magical. But if real love is to be reached, that new love phase has to end. Not saying that real love isn't fun or special. It's a deeper fun and a deeper special. You hear people say things like they love their spouse more and more every day. When real love is present, this is so true. Love grows and expands. If it doesn't, that's not real love. Real love cannot contract.

Pure love does not need to make time for romance. There can be such romance sitting together in the same room in utter silence. That love doesn't need words, or gifts, or diamonds, or other people to see how in love you are. That love is pure and real and simple. Real love's romance can be as simple as a "thank you" or as grand a gesture as shouting from a mountaintop. It can be an inside joke. Or a bowl of soup when you're sick.

Real love is dependable. It won't be gone tomorrow if you mess things up today. It has a deep connection to forgiveness, compassion, friendship. It doesn't have to show off for others. It just is.

I am fortunate to have this kind of love in my life. My family, especially my husband, show love in many ways to me. I hope I return it in kind as often as possible. To the love of my life, might I just add that your good humor and patience demonstrate your love every single day. Your love is a safe, warm, delightful place where I am my best. Je t'aime.