7 Quick Takes: Food Allergies

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I had food allergies before it was cool. It came out of nowhere: one night my parents and I were eating dinner, and I started breaking out in hives. Thus began a nightmare of trying to figure out what was wrong. Since food allergies were hardly a blip on the radar back then, it took some time before my pediatrician referred us to an allergist. By that time, my skin was so sensitive that I couldn’t handle an allergy test (the “prick” test).

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Dermographism – no pens required.

In typical middle school angst mode, I decided I would “never ever” know what the deal was. Eventually we were able to do a test, and I was allergic to wheat, corn, and oats. Let me tell you, the coolest lunch you can bring to school is NOT rice cakes with peanut butter.

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Since then, food allergies are much more common, but I’d imagine it’s still pretty tough to deal with as a parent, especially if you didn’t have them yourself. From my own experience having them in middle and high school (and then a reboot in my twenties, because why not), here’s a bit of advice.

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First off, don’t make a big deal about it. I remember being more stressed out about my mom being stressed about it. Myself, I was just glad to get a diagnosis and stop being a human scratching post. Don’t make your kid feel guilty about how difficult it is to shop for their food or cook stuff from scratch, and don’t bemoan the things they use to eat. The less drama the better all around.

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A word about getting diagnoses: you should. I see a lot of people doing elimination diets, regardless of whether they’re sick or not, and this strikes me as odd. For one thing, it’s very difficult to do a real elimination diet without a doctor’s supervision and still get enough nutrients. Any time you cut out whole food groups, you’re at risk of causing a deficiency. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that your kid’s allergy will even get detected by such a process. Not everyone is allergic to peanuts and shellfish; we never would have guessed corn or oats, for example. And unless you make it your second job, it is very difficult to properly eliminate an ingredient, since things like corn and wheat and soy have code words listed in ingredients (and even in medications) that laymen just won’t recognize. It makes sense to go to an allergist and get tested. Plus, some schools or other organizations will take you more seriously if you have that official diagnosis.

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If your kids are old enough, expect to advocate for themselves once they understand what to avoid. Most kids lack the confidence to ask about ingredients, ask for substitutions, etc, just like many kids might shrink from making official phone calls or speaking in public. This is a great opportunity to nip that in the bud. If they can understand what the allergies consist of – the different “code words” in ingredients labels, for instance – then they can learn to speak up. Don’t jump in too quickly as their advocate (which is humiliating), but don’t give them an out either. If they want substitutions and special accommodations, they have to learn to ask.

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On a similar note, let them do typical kid stuff. I went on field trips and slumber parties and week-long summer camps with food allergies. And yes, it was awkward, getting my own stuff from the camp kitchen as we had pre-arranged, but everyone was nice about it, and it built confidence. Nowadays it’s probably even easier, since food allergies are much more public. Make sure teachers and camp counselors know about the allergies – what medications your child needs, what’s off limits, what reactions to watch out for. And then set them loose.

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Don’t stress too much about finding one-to-one substitutions. For one thing, you probably can’t. My poor mom tried to make me a wheat-free birthday cake, with mixed results. While there’s more and better alternatives nowadays, they’re often very expensive. Besides, most alternatives are sad and second-rate: would you ever eat carob and think “hey it really is like chocolate!”?

Instead, think of other foods altogether, and other cultures. American foods are heavily tied to wheat and corn and dairy, so if you have to avoid these it’s best to look at other cultures. Think of Mexican or South American or Asian cuisines. You can even look at different regions in the US. I was lucky, because Southern cuisine relies heavily on rice, and my family used tomato or meat based sauces rather than flour/white sauces. It’s OK to get outside the American paradigm of spaghetti and pizza and sandwiches.

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Prayers for Life

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Usually I try to keep things light on Seven Quick Takes, but there is so much sadness right now that I can’t manage it. The signs that we live in a culture of death are everywhere. Let us all work towards a just society.

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Yesterday, the state of Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner, the first woman executed in Georgia since World War II. Concerning its rarity, you might assume she was a hardened criminal, a menace to society, perhaps a bomber or terrorist. You would be wrong: she conspired to have a man kill her husband. The actual killer had his sentence reduced because of a plea bargain and will end up getting out in eight years. During her years in prison, she converted to Christianity, received a theological degree, and worked to help her fellow inmates. As a final irony, she gave another inmate the gift of life, talking her out of committing suicide. In light of her rehabilitation, thousands called the state department of corrections pleading for her life. As they prepared her for death, she sang Amazing Grace.

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By now you have likely heard of the most recent school shooting, this time at a community college in Oregon. The total number of deaths is still unknown as of this writing, though recent estimates say 10 including the shooter.

The night before the shooting, he allegedly boasted of his future killing spree on social media, where he was egged on and encouraged by others, who provided suggestions on weaponry and how to take hostages. He pondered that this would be his way onto the news. In other news, the NRA is still by far the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, on the right and the left.

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In response to the recent videos on Planned Parenthood, there has been a social media trend called “Shout Your Abortion.” The goal is to end the shame surrounding abortion, to bring it out of the darkness into the light. Yes, agreed. Let’s bring the practice out in the open so we can see exactly how many unborn are killed every year, how many viable infants are slaughtered, how many have developed brain stems and spinal cords when they are killed. Let’s look with open eyes at this darkness and call it what it is. Somehow I don’t think that’s what they have in mind.

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When US voters go to the polls in 2016, our only choices may consist of those who are pro-torture. They won’t say it that way: they will say they are pro “enhanced interrogation,” or they might try evading the question by saying that “America doesn’t torture” ala Jeb Bush. Perhaps, like Hillary Clinton, they were well aware of Abu Ghraib’s horrors, knew that psychologists were hired to determine exactly how to mentally and physically break prisoners. Right or left, most presidential candidates know that many Americans are happy to torture prisoners of war, or even US citizens, in the name of false security.

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What can we do in the face of darkness and evil? What options do we have when powerful lobbies and politicians and corporations benefit from the culture of death?

Look in your surroundings. Are there elderly people in nursing homes who have no one to visit them? Are there single mothers who need help with babysitting? Are there prisoners who need letters and visitors? Are there homeless people on the street who need someone to acknowledge them as people, to talk to them and shake their hands and give them bottled water?

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Fight the culture of death in the way that you talk and think of yourself and others. Do you see some people as less worthy of life? Do you honor the unborn but consider criminals to be scum? Is there some segment of society – an age group, a disability, a nationality – that strips someone of dignity in your mind? I fear that it begins when someone’s life threatens our own wealth and prosperity: the baby that came at the wrong time, the refugees that would “take our jobs,” the criminal that would require housing in prison, the elderly person requiring medical care. We value our happiness over the very lives of others.

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In 2013, Pope Francis had this to say about our culture of death:

What is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as “unnecessary.”

All too often… people do not choose life, they do not accept the Gospel of Life but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others…. As a result, the living God is replaced by fleeting human idols which offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death.”

May God save us from such idolatry.

Abortion Questions that Don’t Matter

In case you’ve been under a rock and didn’t know, the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, released 5 sting videos against Planned Parenthood. Apparently, the videos were heavily edited, although the full footage is also available for viewing. Here is an overview of that footage from a pro-choice writer that explains the primary concerns.

At the end of the article, she hits the nail on the head: what really matters is whether or not the fetus is a human person with a fundamental right to life. Every other question is secondary.

What frustrates me is that we waste our time on these secondary issues. Here is a list of questions/arguments I would love to never, ever see or hear again, on either side, that are either irrelevant or brush the surface:

  1. “Anti-abortionists only care about the baby before it’s born.” I don’t think that’s true, but what if it was? If the fetus is a human baby with a right to life, does it matter that the people trying to get abortion overturned are hypocritical or don’t have the best intentions? I’m sure there were plenty of Northerners fighting in the Civil War who couldn’t give two shits about what happened to black people once they were free, but slavery was still wrong.
  2.  “Crime has gone down since Roe v. Wade because abortions were chosen by women in poverty or abusive situations.” This argument was made in a book called Freakonomics, and I was dismayed to find it parroted in the show Orange is the New Black. The thesis is likely sound, but so what? We should not kill innocent people in order to prevent crimes that they might commit in future. Societal gains from abortion do not make it moral, unless you are such a strict utilitarian that individual deaths are irrelevant as long as the math goes the right way.
  3. “Women have the right to chose what to do with their own bodies.” This is arguably the worst argument, because even if the fetus is truly part of the woman’s body it doesn’t add up. If a woman tries to kill herself and she is seen by a social worker, they are required by law to take her to an emergency room. Suicide is still against the law, so no, we can’t just do what we want with our own bodies. Autonomy only goes so far. At the mental hospital where I stayed for a week, we had to give up our shoe laces and underwire bras so that we wouldn’t try to strangle ourselves, and we couldn’t even use plastic knives in the cafeteria. It is considered medical malpractice to cut out a functioning organ for no reason. And that’s without even getting into whether or not the fetus is actually part of the woman’s body.
  4. “Men can’t have any role in this decision because they can’t get pregnant.” This is moonshine. By this logic, you can only have a say in a moral or legal issue if you personally could be involved. Well, last time I checked, it’s OK for me to be anti-racism even though I’m white. It’s OK for me to be anti-child pornography even though I’m not a child. It’s OK for me to be against religious persecution of Muslims even though I’m a Christian. And even though there’s basically no way I could ever be on the Fortune 500, I can still expect those in positions of wealth and power to pay their employees a fair wage.
  5. “If you outlaw abortion it will just drive women to back alleys.” Back when I was pro-choice I used this argument, until one day someone asked me to use this logic for other laws. We have outlawed domestic violence, and it may indeed lead men to simply beat their wives behind closed doors. Does this mean we want a society where it’s legal to beat your wife in public? We outlaw things not simply based on practicality, though that does play a role, but on human rights. It is wrong to assault another person. It is wrong to rape. It is wrong to murder. These things are wrong not for arbitrary reasons but because they are an assault to the human person’s right to life.
  6. “There will always be unwanted babies.” Sadly that is true. That is still not a reason to kill them. Unless you’re Peter Singer et al, you would not countenance killing a born infant who is unwanted. Instead, we have drawn an arbitrary line somewhere near the birth canal, and we pretend it makes sense.

That’s what it’s really about. Is a fetus or embryo a human being that is its own person, just as much of a person as an infant who has just been delivered? Do human persons always have a right to life, or is that right sometimes breakable? These are not easy questions: there may indeed be times when you or I would kill out of self-defense. But let’s not pretend that the above questions are the real issues. Let’s at least be honest. If someone like Peter Singer or this writer for Salon says that the fetus is a real human being that should be killed, at least we all know where we stand, and reasonable people can see more clearly the line in the sand.

7QT: How to Make a Hospital Visit

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Step One: get the hospital name, address, and room number.

In the past, I have struggled with this step. I simply got the hospital name and forged ahead, blissfully forgetting that most hospitals have multiple buildings, possibly in multiple parts of town. Not this time: my cousin told me it was Emory hospital, the address, and the room number. “Home free” I thought as I drove there after work.

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Step Two: realize that the parking garage has little to no relation to the actual building

My first guess brought me to the parking deck for the children’s hospital, but a little wandering brought me safely to the main parking deck. I even found the holy grail of parking spots, on the ground floor next to the entrance, and a brief look-see showed me to the elevator. Huzzah! Even better, it was one of those glass elevators where you can see outside and the gears and everything as you go up. (I lived a sheltered life as a child; it doesn’t take much to amuse me).

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Step Three: realize you don’t know where this elevator should take you

The hospital with my grandfather was (in retrospect) straightforward about this. If you were in the green building, you went to green parking, and the parking deck elevator had these handy signs explaining to you where to go. Alas, this is not the norm. While I ooed and awed over the scenery in the elevator, it occurred to me that the room number might have zero connection to the actual floor, and that this elevator almost certainly wouldn’t take me to the correct wing. Since I like being in glass things, I got off on the floor with a glass walk-over, for funsies.

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Step Four: Use Logic, Watch it Fail

Since my aunt has cancer, I assumed she was in the cancer ward. And look – there’s a sign pointing to an entire building devoted to cancer. I happily marched to the building and found the reception desk, only to be told that the cancer ward did not, in fact, house cancer patients. “You need to go to the hospital” she said. Like, duh. “What the heck is this then?” I wondered. The whole shabang is called “the hospital,” right? But I dutifully memorized her instructions (down to floor T, take a left, then another left, then follow the hall until it dead-ends, then a right).

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Step Five: Contemplate How Weird Hospitals Are

The T hallway was like another world. They had tried to make you forget you were in a hospital, but it had the effect of falling down the rabbit hole with Alice. There were shrieking noises which (I assume) were recordings of birds. The walls were decorated with elaborate advertisements for North Georgia: lush mountains, descriptions of cabins and waterfalls and horseback riding. You couldn’t help thinking “I could be climbing Brass Town Ball and instead I’m at the hospital.”

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Step Six: Find a random employee and plead for help

At this point, you’ve followed the instructions, only to end up in a wing dedicated to labs and radiology and bodies on their way to the morgue. You may have to repeat this step several times, however, since hospital employees have forgotten that normal buildings do not have elevators A-E that can only be accessed on certain floors in a particular wing in which each elevator has a different way of mapping out the floors.

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Step Seven: Find the room

At long last, you will find the room. And your uncle might even offer you whiskey in a brown bag, “to take the edge off.” Because at this point you look like you need a drink.

(Note: please pray for my aunt. The surgeon who was going to remove a tumor on her pancreas discovered it had spread to stage four, and she has less than a year to live. She is in her fifties, so needless to say this is pretty shocking.)

I’m Getting Divorced

That’s become the easiest way to say it, quick and done.

There is so much to say to those close to me – and yet so little. So much of what happens between spouses stays between spouses, with perhaps a counselor thrown in, and then when it’s over you’ve lost an ear and a voice. I’m in pain, and I need to talk to him. But he knows, and I can’t.

Some days I feel happy, busy, engrossed in my job, reading, going to meet an old friend, cooking. Other days I start sobbing in the shower, on the road, in the grocery store parking lot.

This morning I helped a customer print his legal work, because his ex is trying to squeeze every last penny even though she comes from a multi-millionaire family. Sometimes it’s easier to be broke. No property to settle; we divvy up debts instead. I have the strange comfort of knowing he is ethical, that neither of us will steal or defame the other or seek to pit friends against friends. We have the comfort of knowing it wasn’t infidelity on either side. Of course, this means there’s no easy answer when people say “why” – those answers lie too deep, too close to broken places. “I’d rather not say” is on repeat.

It would be easy to feel that my life up to now has been a waste. We were best friends and high school sweet hearts, only dating each other, getting married young, thinking we could beat the odds. I didn’t develop a real career, but rather had a series of jobs as we moved around. And now I’m 28 years old, living with an old college friend, moving out in two weeks to rent a room from a family of four whose husband lost his job and needs extra rent money. I’ll share a bathroom with their two little boys; this morning I contemplated buying a shower bucket again, ala college community baths.

And yet, I don’t feel that it’s a waste, except in my darker moments. I don’t regret marrying young, taking a risk. I don’t regret much at all, except for making fun of a fellow middle school girl, and the times I walked past homeless men and women without a glance, and times when I let my anger control me. Decisions made for good reasons are not things I regret, even when they end in heartbreak.

After Saying Your Prayers

Last week, our priest did a homily on the New Testament reading from James, in which James tells us not to be like those who look in a mirror and immediately forget what we look like. And I sat in the pew and made a mental note to schedule confession and get back to praying.

After the immediate twinge of conscience, I began to ponder what it means to “forget what we look like.” What should we do immediately after praying? (Assuming, of course, that we remembered to pray during the course of the day, which unfortunately doesn’t always happen for me).

The question reminds me of praying as a child. Back then, the answer was obvious, because prayer was that thing you do before you do something important or regular. You pray before you eat, something like “Dear Lord, please bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and our bodies to your service,” an example of evangelical liturgy. You pray before bed: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. And God bless….” (My God bless list was highly regimented and organized according to family tree, which says a lot about how neurotic I was. Like generations before me, I also wondered what “Ifeyeshadie” meant.) You pray before something scary, like piano recitals or gym class. And of course you pray during church or chapel services, and at my Christian school we practically prayed before sneezing.

It also reminds me of the conversation between Curdie and Irene’s “great great grandmother” in the wonderful book The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald. She exhorts him to do only good things, and he wonders how one could even function, because surely “good things” consist of praying and works of charity. She laughs and teaches him that it’s a good thing to eat your dinner, even if it doesn’t make him necessarily “good” for doing it. There are many more good acts in this world than there are bad ones, when you remember that it’s good to brush your teeth and talk with friends and go to work.

If we think of prayer as a regular thing, something we simply always do, then it follows that regular, practical things happen after we pray. That said, it’s worth pondering, to wonder what you do after prayer. I realized that singing with the radio about “what’s love got to do with it” is not, perhaps, the best activity to follow up the Our Father with. Nor is going on Facebook to see if anyone commented on that awesomely clever post you put up.

But have I interrupted the rosary while driving to the tune of “Hail Mary full of what on earth are you thinking, God made blinkers for a reason”? So many times.

Why I Haven’t Been Posting

Yikes, it’s been awhile. The reason is that life is changing so fast, and much of it I’m not at liberty to discuss publicly yet. There are a few pieces I’d like to work on though, when I can put a gun to my head and say “Write damnit.” In no particular order, I commit to write about the following in the next week:

1. Pa Ingalls and Don Draper: my response to Carrots for Michaelmas

2. Praying and Mirrors: what do you do right after praying

3. 7 Quick Takes (topics to be determined)

Read anything good lately?

7QT: Worst Worship Songs

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Disclaimer: since I’m Protestant, I don’t have the same aversion to On Eagle’s Wings and Lord of the Dance. I dare say there are many terrible worship songs that I’ve missed.

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Our God is an Awesome God by Rich Mullins

In the 90s this song was ubiquitous. You might think this is a good song if you’ve only heard the innocuous chorus:

Our God is an awesome God

He reigns from heaven above

With wisdom, power, and love,

Our God is an awesome God.

Allow me to burst that happy bubble. The first verse goes like this:

When He rolls up His sleeves ain’t just puttin’ on the Ritz (Our God is an awesome God).

There is thunder in His footsteps and lightnin’ in His fists (Our God is an awesome God).

And the Lord wasn’t jokin’ when He kicked ’em out of Eden,

It wasn’t for no reason that He shed His blood,

His return is very close and so you better be believin’

That our God is an awesome God.

Did you do the hand motions? Did the music leader pretend to roll up his sleeves? Yikes.

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My Father’s House, by Audio Adrenalin

In Christian school, this was one of our favorites because you got to yell “Touchdown!” But did anyone sing it in church? Gracious I hope not.

Come and go with me to my Father’s house.

It’s a big, big, house, with lots and lots of room.

There’s a big, big, table, with lots and lots of food.

There’s a big, big, yard, where we can play football (TOUCHDOWN!)

It’s a big, big, house. It’s my Father’s house.

Not one of your better moments, Audio Adrenalin.

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I Could Sing of Your Love Forever by Hillsong Australia, the bearers of all things terrible

Hooo boy. This one would go on and on until you thought “Well, maybe YOU can sing forever but I’ve got places to be.” Worst of all was the bridge:

Oh I feel like dancing,

It’s foolishness I know.

But when the world has seen the light,

They will dance with joy like we’re dancing now.

Imagine this sung in a room full of awkward white people tapping the chairs in front of them out of rhythm.

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In the Secret, In the Quiet Place by Chris Tomlin

South Park did an entire episode on Christian music that made me laugh so hard I cried. Cartman decides that trying to do a secular band is hard work, so he forms a Christian rock band and makes platinum records in the niche industry. It satirizes the way that many Christian songs sound like they could be sung to your boyfriend.

Maybe the creators listened to this song for inspiration:

I want to know you, I want to hear your voice

I want to know you more.

I want to touch you, I want to see your face,

I want to know you more.

I know, Saint Julian of Norwich etc, but at least that woman was a good poet. This song never mentions God or Jesus, so you could be singing to your spouse or your boyfriend or your favorite member of the Backstreet Boys. Imagine singing this song surrounded by a bunch of adults when you’re a teenager. So awkward….

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Trading My Sorrows, by Darrell Evans

There are two things I hate about this song. First, there’s the chorus, which literally says “Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord” over and over until you want to cut off your ears. Second, there’s the idea that being a Christian means you magically lay down your sorrows and sickness and shame “for the joy of the Lord.”

If I had to pin-point my biggest problem with contemporary evangelicalism, it would be this health and wealth style theology. There’s no room for the Psalmist that weeps and curses and rages, because Christianity is all about being happy and oh so joyful now that Jesus made everything better. Except when it doesn’t work that way, and it’s implied that you must be doing it wrong, or maybe you’re not a Christian at all.

And to put this talk of sorrows and sickness to an upbeat tune and ask that people jump up and down during the chorus? Oy vey.

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Come, Now is the Time to Worship, by Philip Craig & Dean

True confession: in high school I sang on the chapel team. (It was a dark and desperate time). There were praise songs, which were upbeat and bouncy like “Trading My Sorrows,” and there were worship songs, which could steam up a car window. We did the praise songs first and then the worship songs, and this was almost always the transition. (Or the one below).

My biggest beef with this song, other than overuse, is the bridge. (Is it just me, or do song writers put the worst stuff in the bridges of worship songs?)

One day every knee will bow.

Still the greatest treasure remains for those

Who gladly chose you now.

Well aren’t we self-satisfied.

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This is the Air I Breathe, by Mercy Me

I saved the worst for last. You literally sing “this is the air I breathe,” in a breathy teenage-style sing-song, over and over until you get to the chorus:

And I, I-I-I-I, I’m desperate for you.

And I, I-I-I-I, I’m lost without you.

Etc. You can’t understand how bad it is until you’ve sung those words twenty-seven times in a gymnasium.

Did you attend evangelical churches in the last two decades? Which songs made you cringe? Which ones would you rather do instead?

To Thine Own Self Be True?

**Disclaimer: this post was inspired by a brilliant take on the subject by Mama Knows Honeychild. If you do not read her, rectify this situation immediately. Her post brought me to tears. The fact that a funny, creative extrovert wanted to be someone else seems unreal to me, but I guess we all want to be someone we’re not.

I started reading blogs when I was a senior in college.  My grandmama, who was like a mother to me, had died that year from Alzheimer’s. I had been volunteering as a victims’ advocate at a rape crisis center, which mostly meant getting calls at 1 a.m. to dress and go to the hospital and sit with a survivor and her family with my volunteer supervisor, sometimes explaining legal processes, sometimes just being a presence. It might take all night and then I would drive to campus, take a shower and go to class. It never occurred to me that this was crazy, because my college campus was full of addicts whose drug of choice was volunteering. It also never occurred to me to talk about these experiences with others; in fact, the rules of HIPAA were so ingrained that I wouldn’t talk about details with even my fiancé or my mom.

Years later I realized that what I was going through was the beginnings of PTSD. I went from being a happy college student with a wide group of friends, both men and women, to someone who wouldn’t go to Walmart alone, who tensed in the presence of men, who had panic attacks in crowds, who didn’t want to be touched. The modern world became a scary place full of rapists who wanted to destroy me. I started isolating, sitting in my dorm room staring at my laptop, looking into another world.

The first blogs I found were fundamentalist Protestant mommy blogs. They were the kind of people I tried to avoid in real life. I won’t name any names, but if you’ve been around the block you can guess. While sipping Ramen noodles I read about making your own yogurt and grinding wheat berries into flour. Their lives were highly structured yet simple, centered around the home, and they could pull out these Bibles verses to show that this fantastic Home Ec project was the only way to be a Real Christian ™. Best of all, they had the perfect rape prevention plan: keep your skirts long and your daughters at home. Don’t work outside the home, ever, unless it’s an Etsy business. Live your life according to an elaborate checklist and nothing dangerous will ever happen to you.

In my real life, I was promoted to supervisor at the rape crisis center, which gave me the responsibility of contacting nurses to perform rape kits and coordinating volunteer efforts. I once walked in a hospital room where a mom was making her teenage daughter remove her pants to show me where she was sodomized. My classmates and I watched the economy crash and contemplated the value of our liberal arts degrees as compared to our student loan debt. In a fit of terror, I decided to go to grad school (cue additional student loans) because it was common knowledge that all those ancient librarians were months from retiring. It didn’t occur to me that said librarians would work until they died because the economy affected them too. When life was big and scary, I opened my laptop and pondered the joys of homeschool curriculum and gardening. “The world is a scary place for single women” they preached, and I said Amen sister, that’s why I got mace in my purse and a perfect Resting Bitch Face. And a tiny voice said “But what if it’s not enough? It wasn’t enough for all those women you saw.”

Eventually I pulled myself away from the worst of these bloggers. (The last straw was a post arguing that women’s suffrage was the absolute worst calamity to befall the US, and that if she could change one thing in the entire world she would rectify this post-haste). Since I was also having a spiritual crisis at the time – because why not – I chanced upon Conversion Diary before Mrs. Fulwiler became super famous. After reading almost everything on the site, I ventured into other Catholic blogs. On the plus side, I learned that Catholics are Christians, a fact I would already have known had I taken that pre-1500 world history course in college. I learned about the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and I finally faced my illogical stances on abortion and the death penalty and IVF. I got to know, electronically, some marvelous people.

On the other hand… I forgot to live outside of my computer.

The lives of married Catholic women with multiple kids seemed much more appealing than my own. It didn’t occur to me that blogs are not exactly a mirror image of what goes on in a person’s life, anymore than one’s Facebook page is an accurate summation. Envy for what I didn’t have ate my soul. I wanted financial stability, to have my husband out of school, to be settled and not moving hither and yon, and most of all to be freed from these emotional demons called depression and anxiety. I wanted children and was well aware that I was nowhere near ready to have them, that I struggled to get out of bed in the morning much less take care of little ones. Worst of all, I figured that my life was not worth living, and that therefore no one would want to be friends with me, in real life or otherwise.

This has all come to a head in the past few weeks. Without going into details, I have had several personal crises, in addition to my grandfather’s death, which underlined my need for friends and a social life, for support. I tried carrying all my problems alone, even avoiding prayer with God, with predictable results.

Part of being yourself is accepting that these shitty circumstances are in your life. Maybe you even created some of the mess. Maybe you can’t look at yourself or your choices without cringing.

But God’s grace is always bigger. His love never fails. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

A real friend will not be offended by your shortcomings. They might even see your talents better than you can yourself. And if their lives look “perfect”? As the brilliant Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “The man who has not suffered, what does he know?” And as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ once said:

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Prayers for My Granddad

My grandfather died in a hospital bed in northwest Atlanta on Saturday. He went “peacefully” as they say; as per his living will, we removed the respirator and he lingered far longer than the doctor anticipated, for almost six hours. Gradually his heart rate and blood pressure dropped. Eventually, the heart rate said zero, but there were still electrical spikes in the line, until at last it flat-lined.

We were not close. He was a hard person to be close to, and perhaps the only person truly close to him was his wife who died of lung cancer 11 years ago. He poured her ashes in a golf hole nearest their house, where he made my father promise to pour his after his death. They were deeply in love from the time they met soon after World War II. His relationship with his three children was complicated; one daughter was completely estranged and was not at the hospital with us.

Further complicating things, my parents are the only Christians (that I know of) in the family. When my grandma died years ago, I believed that she was in hell and that I was partly responsible, that I hadn’t “witnessed” enough. I wasn’t able to actually mourn her loss because I was busy having nightmares about this sweet woman being tortured for eternity. Now of course, my beliefs are a bit different, but my parents’ aren’t.

These realities are so often a part of grief in families. And yet, you still want the best for the person who is sick. Thankfully, his suffering was not prolonged and his death was not violent, and he was surrounded by most of his family. The doctors and nurses did everything right and were so compassionate.

Please pray for peace in my family and for the repose of the soul of my grandfather, Harold.