“I Am Legion”

I attended a conservative Christian middle school in the loop of the Bible Belt. My life and worldview have changed greatly since the days I was taught that the earth was  created in six 24-hour days,  or believed that Christian and Republican were synonymous, or thought the “Left Behind” books just might be prophetic. But a couple things haven’t changed: my belief in Christ, nourished by loving parents, caring teachers and kind friends (many of whom I am still connected to via Facebook). And the Bible. The same stories just keeping turning up, like precious, insistent pennies. 

Recently, a friend taught the story of Jesus exorcising the man with many demons (check it out in Mark 5)  at an international Bible study that I belong to. Jesus lands on a literally godforsaken side of the lake and meets a strong, naked, demon-possessed lunatic who lives among the tombs. When Jesus asks the demon’s name, the man replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (This is Ring-level creepy!) Jesus casts the demons into a herd of 2,000 pigs and they plunge off the cliff into the sea. Rather than being impressed by this miracle, the locals ask Jesus to leave, and he tells the man he healed to stay behind and spread his news. 

 I love this parable, partly because I remember doing a rap about it when I was in middle school. I had never heard rap (except of the Christian variety), but my two friends and I put on sunglasses, wore backwards baseball caps, and rapped our hearts out. The refrain, as I recall, was “I am Legion!”

I really, really wish I had a video. 

This time, I started thinking about it from the other people’s point of view. It helped me understand why they asked Jesus to leave. Somebody owned those pigs, and they were worth a lot of money. And then – poof! A total loss! 

“Who does this guy think he is, destroying all those pigs? If he can do that, what could he do to us? We thought the crazy guy was scary… this guy could destroy everything we hold dear!”

But somebody loved this man, loved him enough to try to take care of him – although he kept running off, although he behaved like a wild animal.

Just like I love my child, but more.

Jesus knew that this man’s life and sanity was worth far more than 2,000 pigs. Not that he doesn’t care about animals – He knows when a bird falls out of the nest (Matthew 10:29). Yet he allowed this to happen, because pigs and people are apples and oranges. 

How much is a human life worth today? 

Today this man might have a different label. “Schizophrenic.” “Multiple personalities.” “Subhuman.” The label may be different, but I think demons are still doing their dark work in our world today – on my mind is the recent Slenderman case

Today, people might still see this man’s life as not worth more than 2,000 pigs or the equivalent. But Jesus calls us to care, to support those with mental illness, or demons, those who are feared and ostracized. He cares for everyone. For embryos, for fetuses, for teenage moms, for 50 year old moms, for drug addicts and work addicts, for murderers on death row, for all of us sinners with our baggage. He grieves at the injustice that rules in our world. He came to break down barriers of ethnicity, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status – everything that we use to dismiss or dehumanize others. He still works through us to break those down today.

How is he seeking to use you? 

Easter Weekend

Again, I had to work Easter Weekend, just like last year. But guess what folks… this is the last time (for a long time) that I will work 12 hour shifts on a weekend!! Yay!!

I will start with Thursday, because that’s when we played handbells at the Maundy Thursday service. I really enjoyed the piece we played (What Wondrous Love) – beautiful and mournful and  exciting, just like Easter. I really love being part of a church that celebrates all these traditional elements of spiritual holidays. In college, I probably would have seen such things as archaic, but now I have grown into it!

On Friday, we had our 3rd surprise party of the year for our friend Chris PR – his first ever!  It was not what you would expect of a surprise party. Well, there were decorations, and wine, and cake and icecream, and dogs and good friends:

But our activities included Bananagrams and puzzling:

Yes, we demolished that 500 piece puzzle. And of course, the always fun “giraffe kissing”:

 

Finally, amongst med school partiers, no birthday is complete without sharing around the Peak Flow Meter:

So as you can see, a good time was had by all!

Saturday was Chris’s day off but I was working a 12 hour shift on bone marrow transplant. So what did my sweet husband do? Bring me lunch!! Right after that he got a call… one of his patients was ready to have her baby! Everything went well, he got home at 3AM and went to church the next day, napping intermittently. He’s something else! On Sunday I was again working a 12-hour shift on a hematology/oncology floor. After that I came home and had leftovers with  Chris before he left for his overnight shift.

Easter Monday, now… that was a good day! My mom ran the Boston marathon and did SPECTACULARLY, and this after she had suffered some crippling Achilles tendon pain. God healed her and she was able to run a 3:40! I am so proud of my mom and her 8:30 miles.

I also got to visit all of my church ladies. As a deacon, I was assigned several people to visit, and chatting with them has been so  fun and rewarding. This time, I delivered a bunch of Easter flowers that our church gets for them every year.

Well I could go on and on, about how one of my ladies fed me delectable chocolate chip meringues, or how we had Faith Fillers last night and wise ladies from Bible study tackled heavy questions like “how to influence your husband to faith” and “what is heaven like” and “why shouldn’t people live together,” or about how school is almost done for this semester. But instead I will just say… praise the Lord! He has given me a wonderful life and most importantly the ultimate gift of His Son’s sacrifice. I am so thankful and whatever may come,  I know He is in control. Happy belated Easter to all of you!

‘Tis the season… of Lent

It’s been over a year since I started keeping this blog, a year in which I have seen God’s incredible faithfulness to us through many things – the Match, house-buying, moving, starting school again, work, and residency.  And now it is that time of year again. Lent!

As I wrote in this post from a year ago, I was not very aware of Lent growing up. As a devout non-denominationalist, I thought Lent was a Catholic event and undesirable because it required deprivation. But now that we are Presbyterian, my eyes have been opened to the wonderful parts of Lent; it is a season of prayer and thoughtfulness and reflection.  Recently one of my friends mentioned that Lent is her husband’s favorite time of the year, and I can understand why.

But let’s back up. To kick Lent off in style, I went to a MFC Girls Night Out Mardi Gras party the night before. Chris was working an evening shift, and the location was literally around the corner, so even though I didn’t know the ladies well, I had no reason not to go! I wore all the Mardi Gras beads I owned and acquired a few more during the party.

There were a couple wonderful international ladies there who were quite surprised that Mardi Gras is an American “holiday.” That led to a long explanation about how, in most cases, it is really just an excuse to party, like St. Patrick’s Day. “But isn’t that Irish?” asked one of the ladies in surprise. Yes, I explained… and it too is a convenient excuse to party.

Mardi Gras was a rather sober party for me because I had given blood that day and, in case you don’t know, it’s a bad idea to drink alcohol the same day you give blood. However, I really enjoyed the two different kinds of king cake they had, and of course Girl Scout cookies were present. It was a great social time with some lovely Rochester ladies, and a good send-off to the Epiphany season.

So… what to do for Lent? I added this blog last year, so I decided to give up something this year. After lots of thought and reflection, I decided: CNN.

CNN has become my autopilot. When I’m bored, I’ll type in CNN, even though the articles haven’t changed from a few days before… even though all the news is at a 2nd grade reading level and skewed to the left… even though some of the proofreaders could use another day job. Sorry, CNN fans, you know it’s true. And after all, those things never kept me from going back to the website. Of course it’s good to be well-informed about the world, and helpful to know about pop-culture, but what I was doing wasn’t research. It was… addiction.

Instead of turning to CNN in a moment of boredom or frustration – instead of filling every waking minute with something to read – I need to be still. And that’s what I’ll be doing for the next 43 days.

***

I had to work on Ash Wednesday, but I came home to find my husband waiting up for me with something on his forehead.  On Thursday we went to handbells together and played some of the beautiful minor-key music of Lent. Today we had Bible study and discussed our Lenten observations.

Everybody observes Lent differently. Some ignore it; it’s not part of their spiritual culture, and that’s fine. Some people give up cheese or chocolate. (!!!!) And some add a Bible study or a devotional.

Whatever you add or give up or continue doing, I pray that this Lenten season will be a rich experience. I hope that it will draw you closer to God and that you will celebrate Easter, God’s ultimate gift to us, with your faith strengthened by your time in the desert.

Attitude and Gratitude

Have you ever had an “attitude attack?” I sure have. Those mornings when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and just feel negative all day. When everything sets me  off. When  nobody can do anything right. When the world just seems bound and determined to upset me. I think I’m a pretty easy going person, but some days I’m just downright irritable. I try not to snap at people – my behavior should be within my control even if my emotions aren’t – but I’m not always successful. My emotions are like the weather, somewhat predictable but not entirely controllable. Circumstances, hormones, cloudy skies… everything contributes to a bad attitude.

But today I’m having a “gratitude attack.” Everything is making me feel grateful. And believe me it’s not the beautiful weather we’re having because… it’s not beautiful. It’s drippy and rainy and gray. OK, so I’m not grateful for the weather, but here are some things I’m grateful for:

1) My amazing husband who in addition to all the other wonderful things he does, like buying me cute clothes and cooking delicious lemon meringue pies, CLEANED the toilets. Yes, you read that right, he took the chore I most dislike (tied with ironing which I never do… but that’s another post) and he volunteered to do it and did it! To paraphrase Proverbs “a good and capable spouse who can find? He is more valuable than rubies!”

2) My family, as previously mentioned, is awesome and I’m really looking forward to seeing them in the next week (and then again in May and June!) I am thankful for them and for their kindness to us and their willingness to visit. And our family of friends, who hang out with us at all hours and are loving and involved and help us become better people.

3) Rochester. Yes, as I ran my errands today in what has become a dear and familiar town, I thought about what a great place this is. (See? God made me grateful for something I was questioning earlier!) Rochester is a wonderful place and deserves its own blog post.

4)  My car (which just got a clean bill of health from the dealer). I must confess I’ve never named my white soft-top Toyota RAV4 – no offense but I just don’t get the naming of inanimate objects. I don’t think my parents feel the need either, after all they debated nicknaming their white Toyota Previa “the beluga” or “the jelly bean!”  But my RAV nonetheless has a personality for me. It’s a bare bones, hard working, tough, reliable, scrappy (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) little thing. Despite being rear ended a couple times and having the hood fly up on the highway, we’ve done pretty good. I’ve had this car for 3/7 of my life and I’m thankful to have such a good car. It’s not the prettiest thing on the lot, but it’s solid.

5) My job. I really like where I work, and the different people I work with, and the job I do. I even enjoy the (occasionally crazy) pace.

Well those are a few of the things I am feeling blessed by, and next time I have an “attitude attack” hopefully I will have the sense to look at this list.

24/6 and Sabbath

I just read a great book – 24/6 by Matthew Sleeth. A friend loaned me the book, and I really enjoyed it. As you can imagine, 24/ is about changing our lifestyle from 24/7 to 24/6 – backing off and taking a day off to focus on our faith and to really, deeply rest.

First, a bit about why I loved the book. It’s short and sweet – twelve chapters, well-written, and readable. The scripture and teaching is interwoven with the author’s clinical vignettes from his years of experience  as a physician in the Emergency Department. While those anecdotes particularly appealed to me as a medical professional, I think most people with any interest in medicine will find them compelling. He uses them to prove his point: we need to have purposeful rest time in order to hear God’s voice.

I encourage you to read this book. You won’t be sorry!

After I graduated from college and entered my “Lent” of life, I worked about 48 hours a week for awhile in three different jobs to make ends meet. At that point in my life, I needed to do that, and I learned a great deal from all that trial and tribulation.

But you know what? My relationship with God was not what it could have been during that time because I was working almost every weekend. And when I did have a day off, I was rushing to clean or grocery shop or lick stamps to send wedding invitations or recover from the inevitable series of colds I picked up. That period of time was not healthy, physically or spiritually, because I was not taking a Sabbath.

Now I am not saying (and the author of the book isn’t either) that Sabbath has to be one particular day a week.  In fact, he talks about how his family actually practices Sabbath on two different days – Friday nights are a family-togetherness sabbath and Sundays are a time set apart for communion with God.  What’s important is that time is set aside for those purposes.

It’s important to be thoughtful in what you do with your dedicated time – it’s not for playing on the Internet, reading random articles on the Internet (that’s me all right!), working on work, or working on church. No, Sabbath is time to think, to be, to allow another level of deepness in your life.

Before my sophomore year of college, I attended a retreat called Vocational Vertigo where we learned about our personality types and read and discussed and thought about our “callings.” I remember one of the workshops concerned Sabbath, taking time off to meditate and be.

At the time, I didn’t think I really needed it. It sounded boring. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Life is too short to take a day off every week.”

Now I realize that life is too short not to rest.

5 Things to Do on Match Day Eve

T’was the night before Match Day…

Tomorrow at noon medical students all over the country will find out where they are going for the next 1-7 years of their training.

Almost a month ago we made our rank list. Now we come to the “awarding of the door prizes” – most people will get one, the only question is whether it’s the iPod or the iPad!

Match Day is terrifying and exciting and thrilling and… terrifying. All at the same time.

Some people have a better idea than others where they are going to be. Some people know where they are going to be for four years but not for the next year. Some people have no idea at all except that they will be SOMEWHERE.

What do you do the night before such an enormous, life-changing event?

1) Pray. Prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for peace. We are thankful that Chris matched somewhere (we don’t know for sure where) and we pray that God’s hand will be on the final computer-generated decision.

2) Daydream about the residency lifestyle, conveniently forgetting the 80 hour weeks involved.

3) Try to relax, knowing that tomorrow will be a very busy and exciting day.

4) Watch TV shows that glorify the medical lifestyle, i.e. House, ER, Scrubs, etc etc

5) And yes we’re back to prayer… the Serenity Prayer  to be specific.

The Serenity Prayer, an AA classic, is great for trying times like these when you don’t know exactly what waits around the next corner.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Amen.

Cleaning the Mental Refrigerator

In church today, we played Gospel Mass by Robert Ray. It’s an excellent piece of music. Our director loves the jazzy piano part, and the singers enjoy the rockin’ gospelly riffs. As the solo flute, and not a professional musician I was a bit confused by my part, but enjoyed listening to everything from the heart of the orchestra.

But the deepest part of the day for me happened during children’s time at church when the pastor began talking about the difference between Lent and Lint. He was discussing how no matter how many times you clean the lint trap or do the dishes you have to do them again and my mind went to cleaning house…

I just had a good house-cleaning yesterday – I try to clean once a  week but it usually gets stretched out longer than that. You know, thorough moving of everything and vacuuming, counters and floors in the bathroom. I’m not the type to scrub my blinds but I do find light housekeeping satisfying, although only if I can see my progress.

But no matter how thoroughly I do it I have to do it again a couple weeks later… <sigh>…

Anyway, as I pondered the repetitive and liturgical nature of house cleaning, I thought about cleaning mental house. I had never really considered that before but sometimes we do need to sit down and go through what’s on our hearts. As Protestants we no longer do Confession and, although that’s good in it’s way, although we LIVE in grace, I somewhat miss that mandatory time to catalog my sins and be accountable to another human being.

Instead on a weekly basis as Presbyterians we have our private moment for confession and unison prayer of confession. Today I had them twice because I played in both services. With my eyes closed, I thought, before God, about all the sins sitting inside, like old food in the refrigerator – a cloudy broth of envy, a moldy block of bitterness, a sour vat of anger.

But they don’t have to sit there forever. He forgives them. He throws them away. Just like, once in  a great while, I go through and throw away all the tiny bits of leftovers still hanging out, all the mushy grapes and curdled yogurt. But if I’m willing, God will go through and clean more frequently!

No matter how thoroughly we do this (myself going through the refrigerator and he throwing sins away), we will have to do it again. As long as I’m human, envy, bitterness, anger, and other dark sins will reaccumulate on the shelves. (Just like we always have a ton of old pizza sauce when I go through the fridge. We just never use it all up!)

But he is faithful and just to forgive my sins, and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

I just have to take the time to go through my heart, to repent, regularly, so I don’t become overwhelmed.

Now just to clarify, I’m not talking about being “saved” over and over again. No,  I gave my life to God once and opened the door for Him to go in. Right now, I’m talking about the maintenance part of being a Christian, about confessing and repenting and keeping the lines of communication with God open.

I’m glad mental housekeeping isn’t something I have to do by myself. It’s something God will help me with, every step of the way.