Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Holy Moments

It was a holy moment. No one else would have seen it that way. Actually, no one else saw the moment at all. I was laying in bed in those first moments of lounging before getting up to face the day. Most nights I lay on one side or the other with my arm curled under my pillow supporting my head. It’s just the way I sleep. I like laying on my left side, for some reason, but the problem is an old rotator cuff shoulder injury makes that shoulder start hurting after laying on it awhile. Every night I seem to not remember that the next morning it’s going to hurt. So, in those first few minutes of waking, my shoulder hurts. I get up to use the facility and take two Tylenol. Then I lay back down, on my right side this time. I stretch out. The bed feels good beneath my feet. I curl my arm under my pillow just right savoring the smell of jasmine perfume that wafts from my nightstand. I love that smell. And when I turn on my right side the perfume bottle is close and a take a deep breath. Somehow it is the fragrance of the new me. And I am new.

My left arm runs down my side feeling the curves of my body. Instinctively, I ease my left elbow down on the mattress. This puts just enough stretch on my shoulder to make it feel better. In this position, my hand automatically rests on that area at the top of my pelvic bone and just under my rib cage. It’s my waist and this is the holy moment. Six years ago if I had attempted this position, I would have wound up like a beached whale. Although it is not a position of extremity in any sense of the word, it would have been for a woman who weighed well over 430 lbs. and couldn’t even remember ever knowing where her waist was.

I run my hand over my protruding pelvic bone and then over my rib cage. I run my hand back down and along my waist to the skin that lingers there at the front, my pennicula. Well, I can live with that. It’s a reminder of when I was so big it hurt to move. I run my hand down the top of my leg and feel my hip bone and then my thigh muscles.

This is indeed a holy moment. For God in His infinite mercy has allowed me to experience what it feels like to not be engulfed any longer in the addictive sin of overeating. He has allowed me through the miracle of modern-day surgery, to have my stomach resized much smaller and my intestines rerouted so that at least one-third of them are bypassed. This means several things. First, I can’t eat much at one time. The days of gorging at a meal until I could barely move are over. Even if I wanted to, and most days I do not want to, I cannot eat large amounts. I can eat about half what I used to eat. Even that concerns me as for several years after my surgery I could only eat about ¼ of what I used to eat.

I like the built-in control that having a smaller stomach brings to my life. I like saying, “No thank you. I’m full.” I like bringing home doggie bags. Strange what things you begin to savor after never having the control before. Of course, I could bring home the doggie bag, wait about an hour and eat the rest of it. That’s where the self-control or I should say the God controlling self comes in. I pray that God give me the truth of the situation and then I tell myself that I just ate and I am not really hungry. Most nights, it works. Amazingly, it works. And every time I realize, God cares more about this than I do. And this, too, is a holy moment.

Second, because of the bypass portion of the surgery, if I do overeat or eat something with high fat or carbohydrate composition, it will be bypassed and not absorbed by my system. Yes, friends that means it comes out the other end. After a few times of this happening, it is enough incentive to try to avoid that scenario. It is as if God Himself is reminding me again of my promise to make Him first instead of food. Ok, need I say it? This too is a holy moment.

Third, because I don’t absorb as much food, I also do not absorb as much vitamins and nutrients so I must take things like B12, calcium and multi-vitamins. It is a necessary thing for me, not an if-you-want-to thing. This too is a God-thing. If I want to be healthy, full of life and ready to do what God wants me to do, I need to do these small, seemingly insignificant things like take my vitamins. Now it is part of my daily ritual, morning and night to take my vitamins. The fact that God wants me to be healthy for His purposes makes this also a holy moment.

A fourth necessity is one I have to admit I’ve got away from but am back at and enjoying. It is exercise. I’ve never liked to exercise. That’s probably one reason I got in the shape I did, that and the wonderful cooks in my family. I found that water aerobics are my exercise of choice. As many mornings as possible I go to the local parks and recreation gym and either do water aerobics or walk for 30 minutes on their water track. I really enjoy the latter because I can do it at my own pace and on my own time. I can make my own rhythm. Also I make it a prayer and reflection time. It’s the time that the Lord and I have together. The sameness of the steps, the swing of my feet and arms and the presence of God all combine to make this once again, a holy moment.

One problem I have had since my surgery is a bladder issue. This nagging problem cropped up in earnest about a year after surgery, after I had lost about 200 lbs. I wondered if it could be the extra skin hanging over my waist line that was causing the problem. Doctors said no. About a year and a half ago, I went to my old OB/GYN. I told him my problems. He sent me to a urologist, who did tests and didn’t like what he saw. He sent me to a neurologist who did lots of other tests and came back with the very annoying diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The MRI he took shows 25-30 spots on my brain called lesions.

Although the only symptom I have of MS right now is the bladder difficulty, the doctor explained that I need to go on a daily injection of one of the MS drugs. Because the injection is expensive and hasn't been shown to cure the type of MS I have, I decided to get a second opinion. At the Mid America Neuroscience Institute in Lenexa, KS, they told me they would follow me and have me go through basic tests every three months to see how I am doing. This will point out any problems or new areas of concern. If the MS returns or affects some other part of my body, I may need to go on the injections. For now, I'm just being monitored without putting some drug in my body that no one is sure what it accomplishes.

In the next few months I am also having both knees replaced. Hopefully this will increase my ability to walk and engage more fully in my exercise routine. Although it won't be a piece of cake, I am praying the results will mean stability in standing and walking eventually without pain. I know that my knees are worn out because of all the weight that they carried for years. Sin has consequences. Even though I'm in a better place physically, I'm dealing with many of the consequences of my years of disobedience in eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and however much I wanted.

Obviously I have some lessons God would like for me to learn in all of this. Whatever, they are I will try to listen and get them the first time so that perhaps I won't have to go around the mountain a second, third, fourth, etc., time. My prayer is, by whatever means, in whatever process, God be praised.

So far the MS diagnosis and even the knee replacement surgery has forced me to get more particular about my routine. I make sure I take all my vitamins. I exercise at least three times a week, more if possible. I try to eat whole, healthy foods. I take time to pray, read my Bible, do my Bible study. I’ve cut things out of my life that eat up my time and are not things God has specifically told me to do. Now more than ever I realize the time, perhaps my functional time, is short. The talents and gifts God has given me in the area of writing have to come forth now. Whatever He wants me to say, whenever He talks to me, I will write it down. Just like this morning, even though I should be getting ready for church, God said, write it down and so I have. And this, too, is a holy moment.

©2010 by Teresa Parker

What part do you sing?

“People don’t want to tell you that,” my husband said to me following a conversation I’d had with a newcomer to our church.

“People like to talk about themselves,” I replied. “Problem is no one asks them questions and they don’t know what to say.”

I was either born to interview people or I’m just plain nosey. I haven’t decided which but many times when I do an interview with someone, they tell me things that they wouldn’t tell anyone else. It’s because I’m asking them to talk about themselves and people rarely get an audience to do that. I learned a long time ago, when I was publishing a Christian newspaper that I don’t tell everything in an article. Good News Journal had 100,000 circulation. Sometimes those I interviewed didn’t realize the wide readership. We distributed to many churches in Columbia, Jefferson City, Fulton, Boonville, Moberly, Fayette, Centralia, Mexico, even sometimes as far as Macon and Kirksville. We inserted in daily newspapers. If I put everything people told me in the articles I published, I would have been in deep trouble. I printed the things that were relevant to our readership, the good things.

I tried to follow Paul's advice. He tells us to think about the things that are “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst, the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” He says if we do that God “will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Phil 4:8-9, The Message).

I love that image of being worked into a harmony, almost like God has written a part just for me. I’m not that great a singer but I did sing in the choir, back when churches still had choirs. I think I sing somewhere between alto and tenor. Maybe I’m a second alto but those parts are hard to hear and stay on pitch while everyone else is singing other parts. It was only when the choir director stopped everything and worked directly with the two or three second altos that I could hear the part and then sing it and blend with the other parts.

My point is sometimes we have to sing out about who we are and allow our lives to harmonize with those around us. Sometimes we have to share who we are in an authentic way and trust others to only publish the best and not the worst. A word of caution when sharing your stuff, though, make sure you get a chance to read and censor before it is published. Rarely, though, did I have people change the stories I wrote. I wrote what I heard them say, the meaning behind the words. It might not have always been word for word but it was heart for heart. When I wrote down the actual words they said, that’s when they wanted changes in the story. Kind of like when someone repeats something you said out of context. It can have an entirely different meaning. The truth is not only the words we say but the feeling behind the words. A good writer will capture those as well. It might be by adding information about what the person does for a living, what type of home they live in, the ages of their children, even their pets. All that gives information to who that person is rather than just what words have come out of their mouths.

If someone were to write a story about your life, what would it say? What are the things that make you, you? How are you living your story today? What adjustments might you make to make your story more “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious?” How does your story harmonize with those around you?

What do you sing in your life story? I’d love to know and contrary to what my sweet husband says I know you want to tell me and those around you. So live your story with energy and life so that the world around you will know, you are alive. You matter. You care. You love. You make the song better. You make harmony.

“Write the vision. Make it plain so that those who read it, may run with it.”

©2010 Teresa Parker

Monday, June 28, 2010

Laying in on the line

The ambulance driver hit the switch as lights and siren cut through the hot August night. Tattooed and pierced 13-year old girls in shorts shorter than their baby’s diapers stepped back to let the vehicle through. Two older men with white hair leaned on their canes seemingly mesmerized by the red and white swirling lights atop the ambulance. Several men dressed in work boots, jeans and paint-splattered tshirts stood nearby, burly arms folded across their chest, scowls on their faces.

With the exception of the girls and their babies, the work boots and the older men, the crowd gathered near the sidewalk on my front lawn contained mainly boys, around age 10 or younger dressed in huge white t-shirts and baggy jeans. Some of their tennis shoes cost more than a week’s wages of the guys’ dressed in work boots.

One boy stood out immediately. He wore a dirty,green t-shirt. It was ripped down the front across a school name. His cut off jean shorts were frayed and worn. His feet were dusty. The night was warm but and he wore no shoes. His dark brown, almost black hair, was curly, not kinky like most of the other boys; his skin a warm shade of milk chocolate with a touch of vanilla added. He was the kind of kid a mother could love but I could tell his mother didn't. Big, blue eyes locked with mine for a second before he turned away. Yet he did not leave, not then or when the ambulance pulled away from the curb.

“You kids remember this night,” the police sergeant said looking at each face in the crowd as if memorizing it. “This is the night the Cut Throats claimed your neighborhood. He pointed to the red graffiti painted on a nearby power box.

“They think they have the power now. I don’t have to tell you what this means. All of you are in danger. All of you. It doesn’t matter who you know or what side you think you’re on. Leo thought he was safe. He was a Cut Throat. Even had the red tag on his arm. But it didn’t work. Why? Because this way of life never works.”

No one spoke. Everyone stared at a spot on the ground between their feet. “What can we do, Sarg?” Work Boot asked.

“Keep your eyes open. Report any unusual activity. Know where your kids are. Keep them inside. Send them to Grandma’s farm. It’s going to be a rough month until school starts, I’m afraid.”

I saw the curly haired boy slip to the back of the crowd. I figured he was going to leave before he heard what he needed to. Maybe he didn’t have a home or mom or dad who watched out for him. Maybe most of these kids out here didn’t have a mom, at least one who was home and not on Crack or working Main Street and 6th.

“Look, Guys, take it from a mom, OK?" I said my voice shaking just a little. "You know something, you tell the cops. They are your friends.” Every eye under 13 was looking at that space between their feet again. “I know a bunch of you are into things. Some of you are even wearing colors tonight. What are you thinking? You want to be the next one shot? You care whether you live or die? All of you, all of you have that I don’t care attitude.”

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a bit of green moving away from the crowd. “Except you,” I said pointing to the curly haired boy. “Don’t get mixed up in this.”

The work boots shook their heads. The old men tottered off to their homes. The little momma’s shifted screaming babies to their other hips and sashayed through the night. The 10-year olds, put on their ear phones, held their britches on with one hand and dance moved down the road, hitting each other on the shoulder, high-fiving as they parted to their separate spaces. The green shirt had disappeared and took the curly hair with him.

The sergeant looked at me, cocked his finger like a gun and pointed it my direction. “You just killed the green shirt. You can't just point someone out in a crowd like that. You don't know enough to get involved. You may have thought you were helping but you didn't help that boy. I just hope the next call isn't about him. Stay out of this. That's an order, Ma'am,” he said as he tipped his police cap. Then shaking his balding head, he plodded slowly, heavily towards his patrol car. I watched him pull out and until I saw the tail lights turn at the corner. He was gone.

Quiet had descended on the neighborhood like a blanket. Even porch lights had been turned off, doors locked and bolted. This happened on my front walk. I didn't care what the sargeant said. I was involved. I could sit back and be scared. Oh, I'd lock my doors. I would be safe. But there was no turning back now.

Leo was just a boy, not a gang member, just a boy riding his skateboard down the sidewalk. Sure he was wearing a red arm band but that was just to, hopefully, protect him, not make him a target.

What happened? What went wrong? I can’t do anything. But I can't not do anything. As Gram would have said, "It's time to fish or cut bait." Guess I'm going fishing.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Becoming a character

"As I worked on my novel, my character did what he wanted and ruined my story," says Donald Miller in A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. He goes on to draw parallels between himself as the writer and God as the Writer. With God as the Writer, each of us as a character has a story to live out. Problem is we fight against the story that the Writer wants to tell through us.

"Why didn't I trust God?" Miller says. "I believed He was the Writer who was not me and he could write a better story than I could, but I did not trust him."

I so relate to what Miller is saying, both as a writer and as a person in this great story called life. It is no secret to most anyone who knows me that I would like to write a book, but not just any book, a novel-length fiction story that has something meaningful to say that will change someone, if even in some small way, for the better.

I say I don't have an idea for a story, but the truth is I have lots of ideas. I just don't know if they are earth-shatteringly great ideas. When I think of a story, I start adding characters. Then they do very ordinary things and the story sort of never goes anywhere. The story is not intriguing because the character wants to stay in her comfort zone. She never wants to parachute out of the airplane or run a marathon or bunji jump off the cliff because it might hurt and she might... die.

Trouble is, if the character never parachutes, runs or jumps, or does the thing that scares her, she never will learn if she can survive, overcome, grow. Stories about people who sit in front of the television set, mow the lawn and do the laundry are not interesting. They are safe. They are static. They are boring.

Boring books I know a lot about. I don't just read books, I devour them. But there are only a few books I can tell you the story line of. Surprisingly some of the ones I remember most are true stories about ordinary people who found themselves in the middle of extraordinary events because they trusted the Writer and obeyed his direction.

One of my favorite books is the Heavenly Man, a story about Brother Yun, a dedicated Chinese house church leader who was persecuted for his faith. His courage and faith are extreme. And yet he was just an ordinary man living life in the village where he was placed by the Writer. He didn't run to a more comfortable place or hide his faith. He stood boldly in the face of what looked like certain death. He willingly stayed in the story and allowed the Writer to tell the story through him. He has led many to Christ and his story has inspired thousands maybe millions more.

Remember the movie about the mother and wife who is a CIA agent but no one in her family knows? Interesting stuff because every wife and mother can identify with wanting to do more, be more than just an ordinary person muddling through life. We want to know that what we are doing matters.

We don't have to work as a government agent or live a persecuted life in China to make a difference. But we do have to listen to the Writer and agree to go a little bit out of our comfort zone. It might be as simple as going to a different grocery store that the Writer is wanting to write into our script. When we agree with the Writer, we may find someone in need at that store or an old friend with whom we need to reconnect. If we say no to the Writer and make a conscious decision to stay in our old routines, probably nothing bad will happen. Probably nothing will happen at all.

That's why I've decided I will write something each week. Not a best seller, maybe not even a fictional story, but something.

This is my inciting incident. I'm announcing to anyone who cares to muddle through and read this in its entirety that I will write something at least each week and I'll post it here.

In processing through why I am not writing anything much, my daughter helped me see that it's because I don't have an audience. So perhaps you are my audience of one. But if you are, you are an audience. Perhaps these posts will become more meaningful as we go along but at least for now, I am determined to post. I am determined to become a character in my life story. I am determined to do more than wait for something to happen. I will begin. I will start today. I am a writer. I will write.