Sometimes in life you have to get a little lost before you are truly able to find your way.

Posts tagged ‘Religion’

Migraine, Fibro and Gratitude.

Anyone who has followed this BLOG or who knows me personally is aware of my battle with intractable migraines. I have not discussed fibromyalgia here in any detail. For a very long time I didn’t feel I should even identify myself as someone with fibro. I have friends with fibro and have read the work of others living with fibro that is so invasive and debilitating that the few symptoms I had that led to my initial diagnosis many years ago felt insignificant. It felt like an insult to those who had “real fibro” for me to claim to be affected by it at all. About six months ago, all of that changed.

Fibromyalgia is a progressive condition (a syndrome rather than a disease) that affects “an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. and an estimated 3-6% of the world population” according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. That’s a lot of people in a lot of pain. But a large portion of those suffering from fibro go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years. The symptoms mimic those of many other conditions and there are still many in the medical field who refuse to even recognize fibro as a legitimate or real condition. Thankfully its recognition and thus its treatment has been rising steadily over the last decade.

I have no idea how long I’ve actually had fibro, because there was so much overlap between my fibro symptoms and those of my migraine condition and the side effects of several of my migraine medications. I was diagnosed with it about 7 years ago. At the time my symptoms were relatively inconspicuous. The most bothersome of any was the pain that was caused by even a light touch on my arms. My boyfriend would put his arm around me and rub my arm gently and it felt as though he were digging his fingers in as hard as he could. That seemed like small potatoes. It was nothing compared to what I dealt with from my migraine condition and nothing compared to what I knew others experienced from fibro. If you’ve read Mary Gelpi’s incredible blog, Fibromy-Awesome, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Illustration of the Reed Procedure

Illustration of the Reed Procedure – yes – I am the real deal bionic woman!

So what changed? Some of the symptoms from my migraine condition eased up after my neurostimulator implant surgeries (the Reed Procedure). I am on fewer medications than I have been at any other time in the last 13 years (only 16 a day! Woo-hoo!), and consequently dealing with far fewer side effects. Seemingly out of nowhere, my body turned alien. I started waking up with my hands so swollen I couldn’t make a fist. My legs and feet swelled so much that from the knees down I was a clone for someone 9 months pregnant and ready to burst. Many mornings my entire body is so stiff that merely getting up out of bed requires a series of countless tiny movements to stretch and ease the tension in every joint and muscle. Days of exhaustion so severe that I cannot do anything that is not an absolute physical necessity have become common. One day the joints in my left thumb were so painful when I awoke that it actually felt broken. My right wrist started intermittently hurting enough that I thought I must have started sleep walking and done something terrible to it. All of these symptoms and more. Apparently out of thin air. Some of them I recognized as fibro right away; others I had no idea could be part of this condition that I had essentially been denying I had at all for nearly a decade.

I was frustrated. I finally made a bit of real progress with my migraine pain for what? To swap it out for increased fibro pain? What in the world had I done to deserve this? It seemed so unfair. Then another thought occurred… what if I had had to deal with all of the fibro pain on top of the worst of my migraine pain? What if this sudden explosion of symptoms had occurred not following the surgeries that alleviated one condition, but had coincided with the onset of my intractable migraine? Could I have survived it all at once? Maybe this wasn’t the least fair thing in the world, but the greatest stroke of luck. Perhaps I should thank God and all my lucky stars that this is happening now, and not years ago when the pain in my head nearly drove me to take my own life.

I have lived by the saying “everything happens for a reason” my whole life. I believe it with every fiber of my being, even when it makes me curse whoever is in charge and when I know there is no way I will ever understand the reason. I do not believe in coincidences. I don’t believe in random chance. I have never been a religious person. My family identifies as Protestant, though we never attended church regularly, and only sometimes on Christmas and Easter. I attended Mass with my best friend as a child periodically. Her family was deeply religious (her father was a former priest). Mostly we giggled and whispered and got in trouble. I have, however, always believed in what some people refer to as God. I have always believed that our souls exist beyond the life of our bodies and that there is something somewhere greater than us all. It has been, at times, an internal battle with the scientist in me. I believe in evolution. No man in the sky created all that is in a week. But I look around the world and I find it impossible to ignore that everything is connected. There is nothing that happens in a vacuum or that does not have an effect that reaches far beyond what we can see.

A few years back on a trip to Grand Bahama Island to visit my father, I stood in a coral cave staring into a pool of fresh water sitting atop salt water. The experience was overwhelming. I found it nearly impossible to leave or resist returning once I had. The way the light came in through the collapsed ceiling where the less dense coral had eroded and eventually given way was amazing. It bounced around beneath the water’s surface making it nearly impossible to tell reflection from surface. The depth was impossible to gauge. The colors were more beautiful than any I had ever seen. It was, and continues to be one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever been. For me, it was a deeply spiritual experience. My father asked how my trip to the cave was and I told him (after several days of discussion about religion) that the cave was my church. I don’t need a building in which to worship. I don’t need a man to tell me what God says, or to be my messenger. If I want to talk to God I’ll do it myself. I don’t mean that to sound offensive; it’s simply what I believe. My relationship with God does not require any middleman or cathedral.

I know it seems I have gotten off course here with this discussion, but to bring it back around – what I have realized is that I don’t have control over the fact that I have intractable migraines or fibromyalgia. I didn’t have a say in when they started or how significantly they have affected my life. I could allow myself to become bitter and angry that when I started to experience a small amount of relief from one condition, the other flared up with an intensity I had always been grateful not to have experienced. But I choose not to do that. I choose not feel that way. I choose, instead, to be grateful. Grateful that I have not been dealing with fibro at this level for all of my life, or for the first 12 1/2 years that my migraines were completely unabated. I choose to believe that this series of events has unfolded in ways that I might not understand, but are not without reason. I choose to believe that even if I am meant to experience both of these conditions, something greater than us all protected me from experiencing them both at the same time in ways that were more than I could handle.

For those who know me best, much of this discussion will come as a shock. The girl who has studied and worked in the sciences going on about God and spirituality will seem a giant contradiction. I have spent years being critical of those who are deeply religious. Catholics, in particular. The “word of the Lord” as written in the Bible has been at the very heart of many a heated discussion with those who try to use God as an excuse for hatred and bigotry. But we all have a right to our opinions and our faith. That does not, however, excuse any harm we inflict on others in the name of religion or spirituality.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

I will conclude with this…a thank you to my mother who gave me a book of daily devotions (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young) that I would never have picked up on my own. She handed me her copy in the midst of a very dark moment when pain and fear and exhaustion were getting the better of me. She didn’t read it to me or insist that I read it. She simply left it by my side. Since then I have read it every day. While some of what is said in this book is at odds with what I believe, the messages, for the most part, have been not only comforting but kept me from falling into weak patterns without purpose or constructive thought. I will leave you with one of my favorite passages that zeros in on something that is both difficult and essential for everyone with a chronic illness;

When you are plagued by a persistent problem – one that goes on and on – view it as a rich opportunity. An ongoing problem is like a tutor who is always by your side. The learning possibilities are limited only by your willingness to be teachable.”  

Abortion Culture?

(Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In an interview yesterday with WEZS Radio in Laconia, NH, potential 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum discussed the role of “Abortion Culture” for the failures of our social security system. Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, blamed abortions for robbing the nation of 53 million workers who could be supporting retirees. His family, with seven children is “doing our part to fund the social security system.” The former senator noted that he feels the social security system “is a flawed design, period. But having said that, the design would work a lot better if we had stable demographic trends.” During the interview Santorum also stated that “a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion,” a statement that at best, merely attempts to make sense.

So what exactly is “Abortion Culture?” Well, that depends who you ask. Some people hold the view that Abortion Culture is a result of high abortion rates. Others say high abortion rates are caused by Abortion Culture. Others point toward countries like China that systematically use abortion (and sterilization) as a means of population control. So how does the U.S. fit into this mix of varied definitions? To begin answering this question it is important to get an overall idea of where America ranks among countries worldwide with regards to abortion rates. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), the U.S. is somewhere in the middle. Countries like The Netherlands have relatively low abortion rates (less than 10 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 per year. The U.S. falls in at just over 20. China is estimated to have around 30 per 1,000 women annually, while Romania and Vietnam, by contrast, are estimated to have at least 80. (Source: The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), Sharing Responsibility: Women, Society and Abortion Worldwide, New York, AGI, 1999, p. 28.) Worldwide then, the U.S. has a relatively low rate of abortion when compared to countries world-wide. It should be noted that the abortion rates cited above have almost no correlation with the legality of abortion in each country.

So if our abortion rates are not high (taken in the context of world-wide comparison), what then defines us as an Abortion Culture? Is it the fact that abortions are legal? If so, every country with legalized abortion, regardless of its abortion rate would have to be labelled an Abortion Culture, so that doesn’t seem to make much sense. Do we have legalized abortions here? Yes…for now, though that right is under constant fire. Relatively speaking, we do not have high rates of abortion. We do not use abortion as a government-enforced means of population control. Abortion is not widely used as a means of contraception. Given these facts, personally (and I recognize many will disagree with me on this), I have yet to find a logical explanation for claiming that we live in an Abortion Culture.

Getting back to Santorum’s remarks, I can’t help but reverse his logic. Perhaps the problem isn’t a lack of children, but rather too many retirees that is to blame. What about the baby-boomers? Could we not more logically look at the sudden rise in the number of births from this generation as the root of unstable population trends? And what happens if all of those women who have abortions instead choose to give birth? Would that really solve our social security problems? Given that the majority of women in the U.S. and worldwide cite the same reasons for choosing abortion (cannot afford to properly care for the child, the need to work to support themselves/their existing children, lack of relationships/healthy relationships with the child’s father, among others), what would the real impact of fewer abortions be in our society? More women unable to work? Well that doesn’t help support the large number of retirees, does it? More families relying on Welfare? Doesn’t sound like a great option. More children born into poverty/homelessness? Not a huge help when it comes to contributing to Social Security is it? Of course, if we were talking about 53 million children born into wealthy families with an abundance of opportunity, access to quality education and healthcare who are most likely to hold steady, high-paying jobs (children of a Senator, perhaps?)…well that might be a different story. Even so, more people…more resource use. We can’t ignore the far-reaching implications of ushering thousands of additional children into our society each year. The environmental impacts and social costs of such a rapidly growing population would be staggering.

In response to Santorum’s argument, then, I guess I’d say he ought to get back to the drawing board if he wants to fix Social Security. Abortion is a right, often a medical necessity, and certainly not the cause of any failure of our programs to support retirees. We have a world-wide over-population problem. Our planet cannot sustain the current rate of population growth. Attempting to increase population in a country that severely over-taxes nearly every resource?…not my idea of a great solution to anything. With regard to “Abortion Culture,” I’d say a significantly higher degree of care should be used in determining if that term can be accurately used to describe our country. As far as I can tell, for the moment anyway, 2011 America…not an Abortion Culture.

You don’t go to Hell for saying a swear-word

Growing up my family wasn’t particularly religious. We called ourselves Protestant and never went to church except for Easter and Christmas. And sometimes not even then. But my best friend’s (Meghan’s) family was Catholic. And they went to church all the time. I didn’t like it very much because they always went to 4:00 o’clock Mass on Saturdays (right in the middle of playtime, of course). When her parents invited me, I went with them, not because I had any interest in church, but because it seemed better than being apart. I got nervous when it was time for communion. I never knew what you were supposed to say when they gave you the little round wafers and I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to chew them or not and I was sure if I did the wrong thing it was probably a sin. And then everyone got back in the pews and knelt down and everybody seemed to know what was supposed to happen then except me. So I just made stuff up and hoped I wouldn’t get in trouble with God.

During the sermons, Meghan and I got in trouble for talking and giggling a lot, but I think in the end, her parents thought it was probably worth the trouble of taking me with them as long as I had some exposure to church!

One day during an ice skating lesson I accidentally let a swear-word slip. I had never said a bad word in my life, mind you. When we got home,  Meghan asked me what was wrong. I told her I was really scared because I was going to Hell. “What? What are you going to Hell for?” she asked. So I told her what happened. Being a good Catholic, she knew the rules much better than I did and she told me that “You don’t go to Hell for saying a swear-word; everybody knows that. If you ask for forgiveness, God forgives you and you go to Heaven.” I breathed a huge sigh of relief! Then she added, “The only thing you go to hell for is not going to church.”

And the funny thing was, the thing that scared me in that moment wasn’t the idea of going to Hell; it was the idea that when we died, I’d be going to Hell and she’d be going to Heaven and we wouldn’t be together…and that was the worse kind of punishment I could think of. To this day I cannot imagine my life without her.

Marriage…is it about religion, offspring or love?

A few days ago (March 11 to be exact), the Maryland legislature voted to table a bill on same sex marriage. The bill had passed in the state’s senate on February 24 and Governor Martin O’Malley had vowed to sign the bill into law if it came to his desk. The bill now goes back to the state’s judiciary committee where it will stay until the legislature reconvenes in 2012.

I’m going to try to keep this short, but I have some very strong feelings on this matter. Same sex relationships have existed for as long as we have been keeping history. This is nothing new. It is not wrong, or disgusting, or unnatural or any of the far worse words that have been used to describe it. It is also not a choice.

Over the years I have heard countless arguments about why same sex marriage should not be legal. I’ve yet to hear a single one that stands up to even the lightest bit of reason.

Argument #1. “It’s blasphemy.”

If that were really true, and you believe that God made us all, then he wouldn’t have made anyone homosexual. Also, if you take the time to really study the Bible in its historical context, you’ll realize that it tells a story that has  been told and retold over and over throughout centuries and translations, and that if you go back far enough, the truth is that sodomy does not refer to the practice of anal sex. Sodomy refers to the act of rape. Same sex relationships at the time that the Bible was written have been documented to have been wide-spread. The crime was not in the sexual act, it was in the forcing of one individual to participate in that act without consent.

Argument #2. “It betrays the sanctity of marriage.”

Really? Marriage is about the union of two people who love and honor one another.  Whether those two people are a man and a woman or two men or two women, that love and honor is still the basis for the union. It is still cherished and valued the same way.  Betraying the sanctity of marriage is not about the two people who enter into it, but about how carefully they choose to enter into it, their commitment to one another and to their marriage.

Argument #3. “Marriage exists for the purpose of reproduction.”

Oye. Ok, so then this isn’t really a gay/straight argument at all is it? This is about whether a couple is marrying for the purpose of producing offspring. So under those guidelines, if you do not know if you want to have children, or if you are unable to have children, you should not be afforded the right to marry. Period.  And while we’re at it, if you have married the love of your life and have either chosen not to have children or learned that you are unable to have children, you forfeit that right and the state should then come in and nullify your marriage.

Argument #4. “They have civil unions; why do they even need to get married?”

I can hardly address this one without shaking out of my skin with anger and frustration. Simply, it is a Human Rights issue. The minority should not be treated with any less respect, dignity or access to freedoms, rights and privileges. Two people who love each other should be able to choose marriage and all of the challenges, rights and privileges it affords them, no matter who those two people are.

There are other arguments, I know. But those are the four big ones I typically run into. I don’t claim to know everything, but I do know this. The same sex couples that I know are wonderful, genuine people who love each other. And from where I stand, there is not a reason in the world why they should not have the opportunity to enter into marriage, to love and honor one another and be afforded all of the respect, rights and privileges afforded to any heterosexual couple. Currently five states and the District of Columbia have legalized same sex marriage. The tide is changing…slowly, but it is changing. Like all human rights movements in our country’s history, this will be no quick event. Down the road though, we will look back on this and see the error of our ways, and be thankful we’ve righted a terrible wrong.

What about the other 14%…don’t they count?

There were several things I was choosing from to write about today. But then I got a forward from someone I love dearly, but disagree with on several issues. This one in particular started out with a statement on the Pledge of Allegiance. Then it went all the way to asking whether the U.S. is “ours” (meaning the Christians’) or the Muslims’. I’d like to tease apart some of the points made because much of what was in this forward is well-worth discussing.

I know the feelings about this issue are sensitive and I mean no disrespect with those of you with whom I do not agree.

To start with, here is the picture which, I presume, was the original forward:

If you take this all by itself, I would have a few reactions. Yes, it is in fact Kevin’s right not to stand for the pledge. That being said, we owe an incredible debt to every single soldier and their families for the sacrifices they have made to protect our freedoms and our rights. But do I agree with with the tactic of trying to guilt a child, or anyone, for that matter, into standing for the pledge? Absolutely not. We don’t know and should never presume to know the reasons why Kevin or anyone else is exercising this right. Sure, Kevin might be a disrespectful, ungrateful, lazy kid. On the other hand, Kevin might be someone who has carefully thought about this choice. He might be someone who does not feel comfortable expressing his patriotism through means that involve a pledge that talks about God. Kevin may have made his own pledge that doesn’t involve God and says it everyday and plans to enlist in the armed forces to defend this country…but we don’t know any of that, do we? And yet so many people find it easy to attack anyone who doesn’t stand for the pledge, or support having references to God on our currency.  I will come back to a few of these points, but I want to move on the rest of the forward.

Here is the text that followed this picture:

Isn’t life strange? I never met one Veteran who enlisted to
Fight for Socialism

86% will send this on.

I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO THE FLAG,
OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ,
AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT
STANDS, ONE NATION UNDER GOD,
INDIVISIBLE, WITH LIBERTY AND
JUSTICE FOR ALL!

If Muslims can pray on Madison Avenue, why are Christians
banned from praying in public and erecting religious displays
on their holy days?

Tell me again, whose country is this? Ours or the Muslims?

I was asked to send this on if I agree, or delete if I don’t. It is
said that 86% of Americans believe in God.

Therefore I have a very hard time understanding why there is
such a problem in having ‘In God We Trust’ on our money and
having ‘God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance.

I believe it’s time we stand up for what we believe!

Ok, let me take this one section at a time. First of all, if you’re meeting U.S. Veterans, no, you certainly will not find any that have enlisted to fight for Socialism as we are not a socialist nation and therefore have never battled for it. Perhaps if you chatted with a few veterans in a socialist nation you might have better luck.

86% will send this on. Well, OK, if you say so.

So if Muslims can pray on Madison Ave, why can’t Christians pray in public? Well, it’s not really true that they can’t. If anyone sits at their desk at lunch and says a prayer before they eat, I doubt anyone would have a problem with that. (without disturbing others or forcing others to listen…I’ve been in the company of many Muslims at prayer time and it is a quiet ritual…never bothered me any). If you want to sit out in a park with your church’s youth group and discuss Sunday’s sermon, don’t think anyone is going to bother you. We do, however, have separation of CHURCH and STATE. There is good, solid reason for this. By doing so we are protected from a CHURCH-RUN STATE. I, for one, am incredibly grateful for that right. And let us not forget, it is also one of the many things that our service-men and women put their lives on the line for. And if you haven’t noticed, in recent years we’ve been involved with some pretty gruesome conflicts in nations that could do well to adopt that same protection! One last thought on this…why is it that only Muslims are called out here? Just wondering…

Regarding the fact that Christians cannot erect religious displays on their holy days…well, I must live on the moon because I can’t even count how many manger scenes I saw last December around town. Once again, I think the issue is getting confused. It is a matter of the separation of Church and State. Do what you want on your property. I saw a 15-foot Santa this year. It made baby Jesus look a little insignificant by comparison, but I guess they didn’t have a giant baby Jesus at the store? I don’t know. In places where our government functions and in our public schools, to name a couple of places, why is it such a problem to honor the separation of church and state? These are places of government and institutions of learning. They are not religious centers…for anyone…not Christians, not Buddhists, not Muslims, not ANYONE.

Tell me again, whose country is this? Ours or the Muslims?

HONESTLY? Is this for real? First of all…I have to assume by the rest of the text here that “Ours” is meant to read “the Christians.” You might want to take a look at some recent statistics on the incredible number of religions currently represented in this country before you start separating the nation in TWO groups. And second…I don’t know how much of American history should play into this, but I’d wager there are quite a few Native Americans who would have a very interesting answer to this particular question!

So it’s “said that 86% of Americans believe in God.” Again, I have to assume the writer was referring solely to the Christian God. Well, I don’t know where this statistic came from and I don’t really care. Let’s just assume it is spot-on. What about the other 14% of Americans? Do their beliefs count for nothing? Should they be chastised in a school room for not standing up to take part in a pledge that discusses a God they do not believe in? Should each of them be reminded each time they purchase food for their families and hand over their money that perhaps they aren’t really welcome members of this so-called melting pot society?

Go ahead, stand up for what you believe. That too, is an American freedom. But think it through first. Consider not just your segment of this country’s population, but the whole country.

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