The Best Books I read in 2018 & 2019

Fiction

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

  This book is a fast, easy read and oh so enchanting.  I’m partial to it for many reasons, but mostly because I love historical fiction, realistic descriptions of nature,  mysteries, touches of magic, and stories of finding joy in hardship.  The story is set in the 1920’s, when people were beginning to homestead the Alaskan frontier.  The author grew up in Alaska, so her first-hand knowledge of its dangerous enchantments suck the reader right into the story.  It’s a beautiful tale of hope, sadness, and choosing joy after loss.  It’s historical fiction mixed with a fairy-tale.  Read it.  Then consider reading it to your teens.

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin

  This book is magical—in the most medieval Orthodox Russian sense of the word.  This was the book I chose to lug with me for 200 miles of the nearly 400 miles of the Camino de Santiago.  I could not have chosen a more perfect book for a pilgrimage.  It is the tale of a spiritual pilgrim named Arseny, who finds his way through an old world in which the line between faith and magic is inextricably blurred, and whose entire life is spent chasing God.  Not only is it a fantastic book that should be read, but for me, the parallel of reading it during my own spiritual pilgrimage gave it a more tangible import; so much so, I left it at one of the stops along the way, with an inscription to the next Camino pilgrim who picks it up.  Here is the crux of the book that I hope will give you a sense of its beauty. 

“And so, O Savior, give me at least some sign that I may know my path has not veered into madness, so I may, with that knowledge, walk the most difficult road, walk as long as need be and no longer feel weariness.” [says Arseny]

“What sign do you want and what knowledge?” asked an elder standing [nearby]. “Do you not know that any journey harbors danger within itself? Any journey — and if you do not acknowledge this, then why move? So you say faith is not enough for you and you want knowledge, too. But knowledge does not involve spiritual effort; knowledge is obvious. Faith assumes effort. Knowledge is repose and faith is motion.”

“But were the venerable not aspiring for the harmony of repose?” asked Arseny.

“They took the route of faith,” answered the elder. “And their faith was so strong it turned into knowledge.”

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

This was an audiobook that I chose for the Camino.  I don’t know how many times I found myself walking up and down mountains, guffawing at the antics of the two main characters in the book (especially the Christmas pageant part). It is a well-crafted story.  There is mystery aplenty, the characters are unique, the narrator gives you just enough hints to make you wonder how you get from the beginning of the book to the end, with just enough strangeness and hilarity that you can’t stop reading.

Circe by Madeline Miller

  I think this was my favorite Fiction from 2019.  It was so beautifully written, and so creative.  After finishing Homer’s Odyssey a few years ago, I felt dissatisfied because I had a multitude of unanswered questions all pertaining to the origins and story of the ever-tantalizing Circe.  Apparently, Miller thought along those same lines and wrote herself a beautifully fleshed-out answer in book form.  If you enjoy Greek/Roman/Nordick myths, fantasy, or an appreciation for the classics, you’ll love this.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

  After reading two of his other books, “Remains of the Day” and “When We Were Orphans” (both of which I highly recommend), I felt a sufficient enough amount of faith in his story-telling abilities that I could endeavor to set aside my cynicism regarding the implausibility of the situation on which this particular sci-fi story hinges. And enjoy it, I did.  A lot. The characters and their relationships are wonderful and complex.  The exploration of psychology is enjoyable and the narration is divine.  Narration, I believe, is Ishiguro’s greatest asset.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

  This book contains all of my favorite things: southern foods and language that always take me back home, mystery, murder, drama, and lots of nature.  The only downside for me—and maybe 1% of the population—was the romantic stuff (necessary I guess, but boring).  That being said, it’s a great book. 

Classics

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  As you might be able to tell from my comments above, I’m the least romantic person I know with a very low tolerance for emotional frittering.  So, for many years, because I knew the basic gist of the plot (an affair between Vronksy and Anna and how that affair drives Anna into desperation and madness), I kept finding reasons to avoid this book.  For some reason that escapes me now, I decided to take the plunge last year.  I’m so glad I did.  It is an amazing book and amongst my favorites now.

Here is something important that no one tells you about this book: there are 2 parallel story arcs (the Anna and Vronksy affair is only one of them), with 2 main characters, Anna Karenina, and arguably more important, Konstantine Levin, but only the former is ever talked about.  If you’ve watched the most recent cinematic iteration, Levin and his plot line are left out entirely.  I think this is the gravest disservice that one could do to the telling of this story because it robs it of its meaning and depth.  I suppose Levin and his plot is left out of retellings because his story is not as dramatic as Anna’s and Vronky’s, but at least to me, it was his story and the contrast of it against theirs that gave everything meaning. 

  I loved the depth of character of Levin.  I loved how he thought, his grappling with questions of faith, his way of thinking, his hard-working, decisive nature.  His appreciation for nature.  I identified so much with him and wondered if he was based on someone Tolstoy knew.  Much to my delight, I learned that Levin was an autobiographical portrait of Tolstoy himself!  If you read it, I’d love to know what you think.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

  I get a kick out of Victorian who-dun-its.  Especially when they’re penned by Wilkie Collins.  His “sensation novels” are always slightly over-dramatic, full of fragile, fainting women, and men who speak in passionate hushed tones of the sensibilities of ladies.  And yet, Collins always manages, even within the drama, to keep it light-handed and with a touch of tongue-in-cheek.  It’s a fun and wonderful story that I imagine him writing with one arched eyebrow and a smirk on his face.

Fantasy

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

  Always fantastic.  I’ve written about his books nearly every year. Here’s the review regarding the first book in this amazing series.

The Magician’s by Lev Grossman (the series)

  I was a little iffy going into this series, but the ideas, although dark, interested me.  Many people who’ve mentioned this series compare it to a very dark version of Narnia.  That’s accurate, and I do love Narnia, but there are many creative, and rather original ideas within the books too.  A former professor of mine recommended it and knowing that she and I have similar taste in books, I had to read it. I’m very glad I did.

Warning: There is quite a bit of language and some sexual content in the first book.  You may just want to skip over some of that (that’s what I did and there’s no plot-loss because of it). By book two, the series hits its stride and has less of the “bleh” and more of the “cool.”

Legion by Brandon Sanderson (series of novellas)

  I love reading something that you can tell that the author had a grand ole time writing. This was a fun, original, odd, mystery/thriller sci-fi novella.  

Parenting Books

The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis

I wrote a review of this a few years ago, when I’d only had the experience of raising traumatized siblings (which I’ve since learned most people don’t count as actual parenting) but now that I have actually parented other traumatized children for a year (which yes, is exactly the same as raising ones siblings), this is my parenting Bible.  I’ve read many, many parenting books, and I have to tell you, it doesn’t matter if your kids are traumatized or not, this is the best parenting book you will read. The loving principles within are applied every.single.day. in our home. I don’t generally re-read books, but I’ve read this one at least 20 times now.

Better Behavior for Ages 2-10: Small Miracles that Work Like Magic by Tara Egan

   This is a little-known gem and it dovetails perfectly with the parenting techniques laid out in the Connected Child (also known as TBRI). And if you are parenting traumatized children, there are only a few slight modifications that you will need to make to some of the techniques in this book (but if you read The Connected Child first, it’s obvious).  

Historical 

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

  You may be wondering why anyone would voluntarily read an entire book about the Donner party? Well, for three reasons.  1) I read this because sometimes when my own life sucks, I need to read about people who had it WAY worse, to put my little trials into perspective.  2) Since reading Brown’s Boys on the Boat, I would read a phonebook if he wrote it, And 3) since I was mostly self-educated, there are things that I missed learning about, and knowing more than the Donner party ate each other, is one of them.  

The series of unfortunate events that led up to the horrific events is unbelievable.  And to me, the extraordinary amount of research that went into this writing, but also the empathy, his ability to connect with the people who experienced the events (through letters, other histories, journals), his sensitivity and attention to detail, is what makes Brown much more than just another bored historian retelling a well-known story.  If you can stomach it (no pun intended), you should read this.

Nonfiction

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

  I suppose that he will always make my list.  The man’s stories make me laugh out loud.  Perhaps it’s his mixture of humorously self-deprecating stories while simultaneously looking down on everyone around him and placing them in some sort of narrative box to write them into later.  This particular book was my favorite of all of his books because it’s about hiking and that is something I’m actually semi-knowledgeable about.  I laughed so much at the hilariously ignorant antics of him and his friend “Stephen Katz” as they navigated the Appalachian trail. As with all of his books, there is a perfect blend of actual information about hiking the Appalachian, exaggeration of things to fear while on the trail, his personal stories of mistakes, and the history and ecology of the trail.  You can’t go wrong.  

Historical Fiction

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

  This was a well-crafted story about a fictional family living through mostly non-fiction events.  The story revolves around a real black market baby adoption scheme in the 1920’s that kidnapped children and coerced destitute families to give up their children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.  It was fascinating and eye-opening.  It is a good mystery, and well told.  You should read it.

Memoir

Educated by Tara Westover

  I loved this book because I could identify so much with it.  If you want to understand those from dysfunctional homes whose lives are daily affected by severe mental illness and violence, this is going to be an educational read.  The Westover family was a fringe Mormon survivalist family in Idaho.  They were self-taught, abused, and whose beliefs revolved around everything their bipolar, possibly schizophrenic, father taught them.  Tara is a survivor and her story is important because her story, although extreme, is not unlike the story of many.

2018: Sometimes Grace Looks Like a Broken Knob

Picture a slightly comedic Rockwell version of George Bailey (from It’s a Wonderful Life) standing in his pj’s and bathrobe missing its belt, one sock missing, hair standing at attention in a disheveled heap, a five o’ clock shadow (because who has time to shave when life is falling apart?), and holding the symbolic broken knob from that blasted staircase bannister in his hand.  Ours was a very George Bailey-and-the-broken-knob kind of year. Aunt Mary’s Christmas card accurately summed up our year in 2 sentences (yes, she is that amazing). 

If this sounds like a frustrating year and you’re pretty sure that you don’t want to read about it because you too have had a hard year, I don’t blame you.  I’ve had my finger hovering over the delete button multiple times, but if I don’t tell you the frustrating parts, you can’t see the goodness of God’s faithfulness either, and like gum in a girl’s long hair, those two things are nearly impossible to separate.

To help you to understand our 2018, I need to start back in 2017 for a couple of the pieces. And most of which I can only tell you about vaguely, which is a shame because they were the most dramatic parts of our 2018.

The Backstory (duh, duh, duh)

In 2017, DB (dear boy) graduated high school (by our blood, sweat, and tears, the grace of God, the school principal, and his teachers).  By mid 2017, he was getting his life together after a hard previous year.  The end of 2017 was our cut-off date to decide whether or not DB would be capable of living on his own or not.  And after a year of intense observation and prayer, we determined that although he has made great strides and wants to be completely independent, he’s still far from capable of living on his own and will possibly always need a moderately high level of support.  So, we came up with a plan…which we will get to in a minute.

Also in 2017…

I began taking vocal rehabilitation lessons to see if it was possible to get my singing voice back.  Since first being diagnosed with CFS/ME in 2011, I was sick so often, had acquired new allergies and had so much vocal fatigue, that singing became a thing I used to do.  After only a 10 minute warm-up, my throat would be raw and I’d have lost my voice.  Since singing was my livelihood and an integral part of the joy of my life, that was a devastating blow.  I still sang for church, but it was always weak, faltering, and painful. Midway through 2017, I started to see improvements in my CFS/ME, so I started researching an Italian school that specializes in vocal rehabilitation for singers with health issues like mine and discovered a teacher 40 minutes away that uses that same methodology.  I took lessons until May 2018, and although I stumped her often and had plenty of setbacks, I began to see slow and steady progress.  By June of 2018, I had my voice back and stronger than ever.  I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be able to sing again without pain, and with freedom and clarity.  I feel like me again.  Praise God!!

Christmas and New Years of 2017/2018 found me hard at work creating a multi-leveled ESL work-related curriculum for my refugees class.  The old one was too advanced for most of the newly-arrived students and it was creating student frustration and volunteer teacher hemorrhaging.  By May 2018, the new curriculum was tested and kinks were mostly worked out and I had to step down because my own life was getting crazy.

Okay, now for 2018.

In January, Ethan and I officially started the adoption process.  From the time we started our first class, the clock started ticking.  We had one year to complete all the classes, paperwork, interviews, and pass the home safety inspection.  So, we attended the classes and began the long and arduous process of paperwork, background checks, etc…  We learned so much that we wished we’d known when DB came to live with us 6 years ago (how trauma affects the brain, what that looks like, and how to work with someone who is highly affected by it).  We learned why some strategies worked and others didn’t, and the classes helped me to understand myself and my own attachment issues better.  It was also heartening to be told by our social workers that the difficulties that we’ve experienced in parenting DB are considered to be on the far side of the difficulties faced by adoptive parents. 

There was just one major piece to get into place: in order to adopt children, we would have to build an apartment for DB and get him moved in by December so that we could put kids in his old room.  So, we came up with a plan. 

Plan A: turn our two defunct garages into one larger garage with an efficiency apartment above it.  

Just having the plans drawn up was really expensive.  Nope.

Plan B: we’ll take half of the downstairs of our house (the storage closet, guest bedroom, and the enclosed, but outside coal storage area) and turn it into a small apartment.

I began to demolish things and uh-oh.  Black mold.  LOTS of black mold along the outside wall (as well as dead mice everywhere).  Why didn’t we smell it or notice sooner, you ask? Because there were three layers of walls (drywall, panel board, horse hair plaster) before getting to the foundation wall.  And that foundation wall had so many holes in it that not only was water pouring in, one could also see right through those holes to the outside.  If plan A had worked out, we wouldn’t have known this and things would’ve gotten much worse.  Yep, God’s grace.

Exhibit A: Black mold
Exhibit B: Harry the mouse. He was one of hundreds of corpses that we removed from the ceilings and walls.

Plan C: Put in a French drain outside and patch up the holes.

No problem.  Except that to dig the 15 feet down around the foundation wall, we’d have to dig up our oil tank, pay to have the soil tested, remove the A/C unit and redo the entire HVAC.

Exhibit C: The moat leading to our front door.
Exhibit D: This is where our oil tank used to be.
Exhibit E: This is the finished french drain. And featured in the foreground is the first engine I had to repair.
Exhibit F: These are the finished retaining walls that Ethan, Steve, and I built.

Plan D: We’d talked about the need for a more efficient heating/cooling system for years, so we’ll just replace it a bit sooner than expected.  So, we started contacting businesses for quotes.  We finally decided on one and, bear with me here for a second, although this next piece of information seems completely superfluous, I assure you, it’s not.  The HVAC company had just been bought out by a larger local company a few months prior, and, as we learned in the newspaper the day after we gave them a substantial down-payment, the larger company was being investigated for bank fraud.  The very next day, the HVAC and parent company closed their doors and declared bankruptcy.  We would’ve lost our substantial deposit except that Ethan had thought to put it on the credit card.  The grace of God.

Plan E: Find another HVAC company.  

After another two months of trying to convince people to do the very out-of-the-box work that our unique 1930 house requires, no one was willing to take it on…except the original company that had gone bankrupt and restarted itself independently of the parent company.  

And maybe I didn’t mention this, but between February and August, I saw Ethan for a total of almost 2 weeks.  He was traveling for work, so I was the unofficial foreman who was trying to keep clear communication to all contractors, keep them supplied, and repaired engines and mechanical devices whenever they broke.  Yes, small engine repair is my new hobby. So, I had a full teaching load, and did construction and repairs in my “spare” time.

In June, I was rebuilding a stone wall and despite my proper attire (long sleeves, jeans, work boots), I was bitten by a Black Widow spider. It hurt, I worked a bit longer, then showered up. The bite got to be pretty big and I was sick for two weeks, but the whole reason I’m writing this is so that you know, if you are ever bitten by a venomous spider, just wash it off with soap and water and it will be unlikely to look like the necrotic pictures on the internet.

In July, we had our interview with the social worker who told us that we couldn’t be approved until the house was safe.  I tried to convince her that a house with a moat—heck, we could throw in an alligator—was the latest in home security, but she didn’t buy it.  Theoretically, everything was supposed to be done by then, but between the record-breaking rainfall and the HVAC delay, we were only halfway done.  And before we could be approved, we had to have the downstairs apartment finished for DB, so that we could redo his old room for our hypothetical children.  And, to help you understand how fragile a human I am, small annoyances, like no A/C all summer, no water most days, and no electricity or internet most of the time, all seemed to add up over time so that I felt like a violin string taut and ready to snap with the stress.  Plus, since January, I’d had back and neck issues that just wouldn’t seem to go away, but thankfully, very few CFS issues (yes, definitely the grace of God in that).

August was creeping up before we knew it and with it, our trip that we’d been planning for a few years. We’d decided at the beginning of the year to take a spiritual pilgrimage hiking the Camino, our “babymoon” (if you will), before we adopted.  We were scheduled to leave on August 21.  But there was a problem.  Who could we find to oversee the ongoing construction projects, take care of the pets, and keep an eye on DB (who always seems to have panic attacks when we’re away) for one entire month?  Enter God’s providence.  We got a call from Ethan’s cousin Fritha.  Their family decided to move from Florida up to PA and needed a place to live for a month starting August 21 and going through September 21st and would it be possible for them to stay at our house and not be homeless? THE EXACT TIME WE WOULD BE AWAY.  I’m pretty sure I may have wept tears of relief.  Jeff, Fritha’s husband, I knew would be more than capable with the construction aspect of things and Fritha is a nurse and DB could go to her for any medical needs. Wow, the grace of God.

We left on August 21 for our flight from JFK to Madrid and from there to Oviedo where we took a rest day to get acclimated.  It was a few days into our trip that we found out someone had stolen our credit card number and was using it in Yonkers to buy movie tickets and Gym memberships. I hope they saw a good movie and got fit.  Thankfully, I thought to bring an international back up…just in case.

At some point, I hope to write about our Camino experience in a much more detailed way (I made sure to keep a journal), but for now, just know that it was exactly the “rest” that our souls needed.  We walked 380 miles, and it took a good 200 miles for me to leave behind the massive amounts of stress that clung to my mind.  I did have some issues with CFS (mostly joint problems) that I always conveniently forget the existence of until it’s painfully obvious.  At home, thanks to the capable Jeff and Fritha, the few things that would’ve been a big problem for anyone else, were taken care of with aplomb and without our knowledge until after we got home.

The goodness of kinetic tape when your joints and connective tissues don’t work well 🙂

We returned to surprise medical bills telling us that DB had spent several nights in the hospital while we were away and he didn’t tell anyone because he has major trust issues.  That was expensive.  Anyway, we dove right back into the phrenetic pace of trying to race the clock to get everything set for the adoption home inspection, and finances being tight, we knew we needed to do the rest by ourselves.  So we did. 

My handsome and steadfast man. Ain’t he cute?

Then, I had some unexpected health stuff happen.  I still don’t know what it is, and it is better now than it was in October/November but the only thing that was ruled out with the CT scan and MRI was that it is not a brain tumor.  Whew. I still need to go to a neurologist and figure things out, but that got put on the back burner because something else came up.

October 23rd, we were officially approved for adoption.  Yay!  DB was all moved into his downstairs apartment and loving the independence.  Things were calming down.

The week before Thanksgiving, the last few years came back to haunt us. So now it was a case of DB or hypothetical children.  We’d planned to start the adoption process 6 years ago when instead, we became legal guardians to DB.  We could not put it off again and we also could never give him up.

So, Thanksgiving found us finishing more home projects while simultaneously figuring out our options.  I looked into supervised living options for young adults with special needs, but the waiting list and cost for that kind of place was ridiculous.

As we begin this new year, I’m excited, hopeful, exhausted, and extremely grateful.  We don’t know when kids will be living with us, it could be tomorrow, or it could be next year.  And because of the added responsibilities with DB, I decided to go ahead and find other teachers for all of my students.  I couldn’t keep teaching full-time, especially if we have kids living with us sooner rather than later.  So, in some ways, I’m happy because I’ll hopefully have time to write in the waiting period and that is super exciting.

And if you like photos, here are a few of the finished home projects. We are not putting up photos of the apartment though (even though it turned out beautifully).

Hiking: The Ups and Downs of It

My husband Ethan and I love to hike.  He posts snapshots of those hikes on social media, but I’ve always thought it might be nice to tell the story of the hikes behind the pictures.  So, thanks to the inspiration of another hiking friend who is also a far more prolific writer than I am (go to his blog here), I thought I might finally write a bit about some of our hikes and what it’s like to be an active person with a chronic illness (if you want to know more about that illness, here’s a link). And there is no better place to start than our hikes in Colorado.

Last Thursday night, Ethan and I flew into Denver, Colorado, ready for adventure.  We stayed the night in Denver, and drove to Breckenridge the next morning, stopping along the way for a hike to Mohawk Lake.  Although we didn’t know it, the altitude we started the hike at was 10,000 ft. That is significant because the science of altitude acclimatization is this: your body will acclimate to about 5,000 feet within the first 24 hours.  For each day thereafter, your body acclimates about 1000 feet.  All that to say, we were in no way—having arrived less than 24 hours ago—properly acclimatized.

The hike was said to be an easy 7 1/2 mile out and back jaunt to a series of beautiful mountain lakes.  It was also about a 2000 ft. gain from the trailhead.  That is when I learned the first and possibly only perk of having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: I didn’t get altitude sickness nearly as badly as Ethan because my body is used to running on a lower amount of blood oxygen.  Yay?

The hike itself was beautiful.  We took our time, both out of necessity and because we were enjoying the blue sky overhead and the shady evergreens surrounding us.  The air, although thin, was air was crisp and refreshing.  The first little lake that we arrived at (to stop and have snack) was MayFlower Lake.  The clear teal water reflected the looming mountains surrounding us.  We sat, basking in the warm sun, but in only a matter of minutes, the sun was blocked out by fast-moving grey snow clouds that had crossed the mountain range.  It began to snow, lightly at first, and with the snow, came the temperature drop.  Wearing only sweatshirts, we were not quite prepared, so we decided to get a move on to the upper lake.

Mayflower Lake

The last 800 ft. was comprised of steep rocks and involved some scrambling.  The hiking term “scrambling” means that you have to use your hands.  Along the way, we saw some old abandoned mining cabins and a large rusty metal pulley system.  As for the weather, the higher up we went, the harder the snow became.   I was a bit dizzy from the altitude, but Ethan was feeling nauseas and more out of breath from the altitude.  As we got to Mohawk Lake, we watched a man catch an orange fish, took a couple of pictures, and booked it back down.

Note the snow in my hair

Lower Mohawk Lake

The lower we descended, the more the snow turned to cold rain and made the rocks slippery.  Much of the way back down was not memorable because I was focused on staying warm in my soaked-through clothing.  Thankfully, we went straight to the hotel, checked-in, and took immediate advantage of the hot tubs.  Ahh.

The next day, Ethan wanted to climb Quandary Peak, which is a 14,000 ft. mountain and I refused because it was supposed to be snowing and raining the whole day and I wanted at least one more day to acclimate.  For the non-hiker, or east coast hiker such as myself, a 14,000 ft.  mountain is considered between high altitude and extremely high altitude—depending upon the body and acclimatization of the hiker.  Climbing at this elevation, especially if one is not properly acclimated, can be life-threatening.  That being said, Ethan acquiesced and we took a “rest” day, by attending a yoga class, walked around the picturesque Breckenridge, visited a few museums, and attended vigil mass.  We ended up walking about 8 miles…Oops.  So much for rest!

The Beautiful Breckenridge, CO

That night, I didn’t sleep much because I was dreading the next day’s hike.  Don’t get me wrong, I love hiking, but I don’t enjoy hiking not knowing how my body will react or how much I will have to pay for it later.  This would be my first 14er and I know from experience that CFS is not always predictable and sometimes does not hit until 2 weeks later, or other times, it slams me like a freight train right then and there, my body surging with pain and fatigue.  Mostly, I had a fear of passing out toward the top or having muscles seize up because my body was not producing enough oxygen (both are likely outcomes and they’ve happened before).  In a way, this would be a sort of test.  Since our hikes in Alaska, where we did several difficult hikes, and one brutal one, Ethan and I have figured out how my impaired mitochondrial DNA intake nutrition and how much or little it turns into usable energy.   We know that if I’m able to keep my heart rate below 140, I can remain in aerobic zone, thus burning fat instead of building up lactic acid and burning muscle (which happens immediately for me in anaerobic zone and quickly incapacitates me).  Knowing this has helped me to get much better than I was even 2 years ago.  We also have learned that I need to eat something every hour, otherwise, my body goes pretty far out of whack. It’s a delicate balancing act.

We also learned one extremely important lesson when hiking in Alaska that every hiker should know and which I will gladly pass along to you, in case you should ever consider hiking large mountains:

Native hikers always understate the trail difficulty as a way of humble-bragging.

Example: “Bird Ridge was a gorgeous hike! My friend and I used trekking poles that definitely helped going down. Be prepared for false peaks. Once you get on the Ridge it gets easier-ish. Peak 3 is where the survey monument.” —A native Alaskan reviewing Bird Ridge

Reality: Easy is not a word to be used regarding this hike.  There were 6 false peaks, the elevation was extremely steep, and there were no switch-backs.  If you stop to get your breath for a moment anywhere below the tree line, softball size mosquitos will swarm you in a black cloud and suck your blood through your clothing.  Towards the top, you must walk through 3 feet of snow, making sure that you don’t accidentally step off too far to either side because otherwise you will fall hundreds of feet down steep drop-offs. Yes, it was gorgeous and no, the review wasn’t accurate.

Knowing that, and looking up reviews for this hike that was said to be the “easiest of the 14ers,” I found this gem and wondered how inaccurate it would turn out to be.

“Only 3.3 miles from parking lot to summit; about 3 hrs to get up top. Makes this a great ‘first timer’ 14,000 ft summit.”—A Native Coloradan, reviewing Quandary Peak

The big morning arrived.  Ethan was annoyingly giddy with anticipation before I’d had my coffee.  I was dreading this hike far more than I was looking forward to it, but I was trying to have an optimistic attitude about it.  Our goal was to summit by noon when the weather would have the highest possibility of being good.  The forecast was 25 degrees, 30-40 mile an hour winds, with a windchill of 7.  We packed layers of clothing and hoped for the best.

Quandary Peak Trailhead

The hike up to the tree line was beautiful, green, relatively easy, and surrounded by vast, snow-covered mountains.  At the base of the mountains were two beautiful, iced-over lakes. Up ahead, blocking the view of most of the ridge, were dense snow clouds, but Ethan had estimated that by the time we got there, it would be passable as long as we dressed well.  He was right.  Thankfully, I married a man who knows his cold weather hiking, so we were prepared with the right gear and were perfectly toasty the whole time.

Most of the people that had passed us earlier in the hike (we were taking it slow) ventured to the ridge just beyond the tree line and were forced to turn around.  They were coming back down as we were headed up. We estimated that only around 25-30% of people who hiked that day actually summited.  The hike up the ridge was very windy, but also relatively easy.  We kept our heart rates low and the clouds cleared to reveal a crystal blue sky.

The snow clouds the we just missed climbing the ridge.

The challenge came at about 13, 700 ft.  The last false peaks were snowy, rocky, and extremely steep.  This was the part I was worried about.  As I had feared, my muscles started to react the lack of oxygen, so the climb up was extremely slow.  I couldn’t keep my heart rate low either, due to the extreme altitude. It was so painfully slow, and it didn’t help morale to see “those damn Colorado native twenty-somethings bounding up the mountain like mountain goats” *said in grumpy old man voice.*  So we slogged, Ethan feeling quite bad from the altitude, but being the amazing person he is,  he remained optimistic and cheerful.  He asked me at one point if I wanted to stop (because he knows that if I stop talking, it means that I am completely focused on finishing), and as he suspected, I told him something to the extent of, “we’ve come this far.  There’s no way I’m stopping now.”  It felt like a hellish eternity (an hour and a half) until we made it to the summit.  I had hoped to feel some sense of accomplishment or elation at the summit, but what I felt instead was the need to relieve myself because I’d been holding it for 2 hours.  So I did, and then had to quickly redress because a young, frustratingly not-breathless Coloradan guy came bounding out of nowhere.

The Summit

Ethan, my sweet, adrenaline-loving man, “Woohoo-ed” and “Yeah-ed” and took pictures, feeling completely elated.  I sat on a rock and enjoyed the view, but oddly, felt nothing but dread of the way back down.  We didn’t stay at the top very long because the wind was biting through our many layers.  As we headed back down, I realized that as I had feared, my small stabilizer muscles had lost their coordination.  I had none of the usual signs of Acute Mountain Sickness, but I was experiencing a sort of Ataxia (lack of muscle control) which is dangerous when you have to climb down a mountain, but thankfully, this is something I’ve experienced often and know how to maneuver.   I know I looked like one of those marathoners who has no muscle control left, but I didn’t care.  What I did care about was the terrible pain shooting through my neck from old injuries.  I kept praying that God would help me to have a better attitude about the whole thing, because yes, I was in a magnificently beautiful place, but I was so wrapped up in the pain in my own body and the effort to make it down, I could not enjoy it.  A great metaphor for life, eh?

On the way down though, God was kind.  In my path, was a butterfly lying in the snow, beautiful purple and vibrant orange standing out against the white.  It was unmoving, and probably brought up by the wind gusts.  Its beauty (even in death) made me grateful that I can even think of climbing mountains since most people with CFS can’t even get out of bed and I couldn’t even have imagined doing this even a few years ago.  A little time later, two shaggy mountain goats made their way up the steep rocky path.  They looked at us with an intermittent mix of disinterest and curiosity.  Their beards had chucks of ice hanging off, making them look like decorative beads.  It was another kindness from God.

C.C. Mountain Goat Massive
Author: Darklich14

By the time we made the tree line, I could barely keep my eyes open.   This used to happen often when my CFS would get really bad and I would nearly fall asleep while running.  The way down was slow and by the time we reached the bottom, the hike had drawn out to 7 hours and I just needed to sleep.  So we reached the rental Jeep, took off a few layers and Ethan drove to Colorado Springs while I closed my eyes for an hour or so.

Was it worth it?  I don’t know yet.  Was it smart?  That’s debatable.  I’ll know better in a couple of weeks.  But I’m glad I did it and I’m especially thankful for an encouraging husband who doesn’t mind hiking a little slower for his old lady 😉

Treatise of a Hypocrite: Attachment, Millennial Migration, and the Problem of the American Church

Before you begin reading, please know that I am coming from a place of love, not of judgment.  Also, like every other imperfect human being in the world, I struggle on a regular basis with living a balanced life of love and truth consistently.  In essence, I’m a hypocrite– down in the trenches alongside everybody else who’s trying to figure things out.

A few days ago, I posted a controversial little article on Facebook about how the church drove Millennials away because it offered more judgement, hatred, and bigotry than love.  The people who’ve left the church, “liked” it, while those who still attend church, said, “But truth!  Truth!”  So, being the person who loves people on both sides of the proverbial fence, my mind has been churning with a small bit of the complexities as to why, I firmly believe, something seemingly unrelated is of utmost importance to the church.

First, let’s look at the two viewpoints of those who have left the church and those who’ve stayed.

Here are the 4 most common reasons I’ve heard from friends who’ve left the church:

  1. Hypocrisy (anti-abortion but also anti-human rights—like refugees, immigrants and the death penalty)
  2. Judgmentalism/self-righteousness (believing ourselves superior to others)
  3. Inconsistency between beliefs and practice (saying you love everyone, but hating the LGBTQ community, for instance.  Chick-fil-A sandwich, anyone?)
  4. Irrelevance (where’s the church when ___________ was happening?)

(It’s interesting to note that people who’ve left the church and espouse zero love for it, still believe its people should live up to a higher standard than the rest of society. Example: Those pointing out the hypocrisy of Joel Osteen not opening his church in the Texas flood.)

The #1 reason many current church-goers believe so many have left the church?

  1. Because they don’t like the Truth

Since the beginning of time, truth hasn’t really changed, but now, people are leaving the church in droves.  And since I don’t buy that this generation has a greater aversion to truth than former generations, what’s really changed?  I think it’s more complicated than simply Love vs. Truth.  So, let’s look at a bit of historical context to get a better idea.

Beginning in the 1730’s, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield led what would come to be known as “The Great Awakening.”  This, most would argue, was also the birth of the Evangelicalism.  This period emphasized high moral standards, hellfire and damnation, personal redemption, and introspection.  This movement was in contrast to the Enlightenment period whose hallmarks were Rationalism, and adherence to rituals and traditions.

The 1790’s-1850’s brought the “Second Great Awakening,” characterized by emotionalism, and super-naturalism; eventually spawning the Restorationist Movement.  That, in turn, featured the concept of preparing and cleansing ourselves for the end times.

From there came Pentecostalism which began at the 1906 Asuza Street revival.  It emphasized miracles, inter-racial worshipping together, and emotionally charged services.  In reaction to this movement, came the Fundamentalist Movement alongside of it, which emphasized strict literal interpretations of certain Scripture passages, rigid adherence to dogma, and making clear distinctions between themselves and other religious groups.

By the 1960’s, the Jesus Movement was the newest trend and paired well with the hippy mindset of peace and love.  It emphasized miracles and feelings, and much of it was Restorationist in theology.  This movement spawned what we think of today as the “Christian right” and “Christian left.”  The left sticking with the more Charismatic nature, and the right veering into the reactionary Authoritarian/Fundamentalist side of things.  Is it clear how this pendulum swing of love and truth is throughout each generation?

And now we arrive at those “damn Millennials.”

By the time I was born in the 1980’s, the Fundamentalist/Authoritarian mindset was in full swing throughout much of the country.  The church was great at boldly stating what it didn’t stand for and took on a fight-the-culture mindset: home schooling became popular, Christian music became a thing, and Christian movies and actors got their start.  The church created its own sub-culture to shelter its people from the common sinful pitfalls of the heathen culture around it.  We were taught to live by strict rules, to keep ourselves pure from evil influences, and were judged harshly if we didn’t.

And it is this little history lesson of pendulum-like reactions that brings me to why I believe that Millennials have left the church.

For one more moment, I beg of you to take a seemingly large, unrelated leap with me. I’d like you to consider the two following scenarios.

Scenario #1: It is your first visit to a new doctor.  You admit that you smoke frequently and immediately he responds, “You know, you need to stop smoking because it can cause A, B, and C…”

Scenario #2: Your beloved spouse of 10 years tells you, “Today, you really worried me because you were wheezing and breathless as you were going up the stairs.  Please try to quit smoking because I want you to still be beside me 20 years from now.”

Which of these two scenarios seems more likely to move you, the smoker, to action?  If you have a healthy relationship with your spouse, probably scenario #2, because even though your spouse is not the expert, you have a long relationship built on trust.  The truth was told in both scenarios, but one told you the truth out of love and used your trust of their intentions to communicate to you.  In other words, your spouse used your attachment to him/her.

What is attachment and why is it so crucial to the everyone, especially the church?  My own definition would be this: attachment is love and trust over time.  For anyone who’s parented a child with attachment issues, you already know that attachment is EVERYTHING.  Without it, there is no relationship and especially, no disciplining your child.  If you discipline a child who has a tenuous attachment at best, the child is likely to shutdown, meltdown, or run away.  And this doesn’t just apply to children.  Like the doctor scenario, it doesn’t matter if you have all of the right answers, if you haven’t taken the time to build that loving trust.  As my dear therapist once put it, “it’s okay to have high expectations if you have an equal amount of love to go with it.”

All human beings seek attachment: it is a biological necessity.  And this is the order in which it MUST proceed.

  1. Physical needs.  If those basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and safety are met, there is enough trust in place for the next level.
  2. Mental/Emotional needs.  Physically being there for the child, loving them, showing goodness to them, no matter their behaviors. This is the stage where children (aka everyone) learns that they are loved and they belong, no matter their choices. This is where they understand their precious personhood.  And only then, when they have learned that no one is abandoning them, or hating them, or judging them, are they ready for the next step into something deeper.
  3. Spiritual needs.  This is where children can observe and emulate a parents’ moral compass, develop empathy, guilt, learn right from wrong, and hopefully, develop their own beliefs.

Reading this list, can you see the connection between the generation raised in Fundamentalist (and for me, Evangelical) churches that emphasized lots of truth, sometimes outright hatred, very little love, and the strong reaction (historical pendulum swing) of those tenuously attached Millennials to run the other way?

I find it interesting how many New Testament verses there are about adoption.  My favorite, which I believe, sums up the very foundation of our faith is this one:  “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15)  This verse explains the intimacy that we are supposed to have with God our loving Father.  So how do we, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, help people to build that connection with God?  I truly believe it’s through being a kind of placeholder, building attachment over time.  Here are my ideas.

  1. Physical needs.  The church does this pretty well.  Keep providing for basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, but make sure it’s consistent over time.
  1. Mental/Emotional needs.  This step is probably the most lacking in the current American (especially Evangelical) church.  Our job as Christians is to be Christ-like, not to be Christ.  It’s not our job to change hearts nor to judge.  It’s not our job to hurry things along, which, as an impatient person, I’m very bad at.  It’s our job to give time, love, compassion, and space to everyone. We must wait with them in love.  It’s hard because it may mean sacrificing our time, our comfort, etc…  And we must do all this, without believing we are somehow better than “them.”
  2. Spiritual needs.  This is where most church-goers assume that everyone around them is at.  But honestly, many people are stuck back at the second step.  The time for the big “T” (and by that I mean truth) will come when it comes.  We don’t have to hide it or shy away from it, and more often than not, a ready heart will seek truth out; especially when it’s safe to do so.  Truth from a loving place is sometimes hard to give, but if we must confront someone, we must first ask ourselves, “Do they already know that I love them?  Do they trust that I want the best for them?”  The answer may be no.  You may not be the right person or it may not be the right time.  And so many times, if we’re really living out God’s truth and love in our own lives, not much needs to be said.

To my dear friends who’ve left the church:

Yes, we, the church, have failed you and even though we have, God won’t.  Maybe you no longer believe in God, or maybe just not his people.  Either way, please keep telling us the truth in love—hopefully, sometime soon, we’ll get the hang of listening.

Grasping at Consistency: Honest Thoughts On A Religious Journey Part 2

I’d like to tell you a story, but I would like to start near the end of the story because really, it’s closest to the beginning.

It was an oddly warm morning this past October and like almost all mornings, I took my dog Aera for a walk.  I decided to go to the outdoor track behind the YMCA because I needed a change of scenery from our usual places.  One of the best things about having a dog is the necessity of a silent walk—perfect for praying.  And that particular morning, my heart was heavy with a decision that I’d made.  I was praying that God would give me one last confirmation—a Biblical fleece, I guess you could call it—to show me that I was indeed, following His will.  So as I prayed and walked, we passed a lady who was running and she smiled and waved to us.  And because this track is a large loop, we passed her several more times.  At one point, she stopped running to talk with us.  We made small talk about the weather, dogs, and then she asked me a question I was not expecting.

“I know this is going to sound strange,” she said, sounding a bit hesitant. “But do you believe in God?”

“I do,” I replied.

She looked relieved.  “You may not believe this, but as I kept passing you, I received a word from the Lord.”

Now I know very well that the phrase “word from the Lord” is a Pentecostal phrase that means, God spoke to me about you, so I was very interested to see where this was going.

“Oh?” I asked, trying to show her that this was indeed welcome information.

“The word I got was ‘courage,’” she continued on without much of a pause. “You see, I think it has something to do with a decision you are making and that you should have the courage to go through with it and not be afraid.  This is what you’re supposed to do.”

For a person skeptical of the more mystical side of Christianity, I’ve had quite a few things like this happen throughout my life, so I couldn’t help but smile. “You know, you’ll never believe this,” I responded. “But I was just praying for confirmation for a decision I’m making—that it’s the right one and that God would give me a sign.”

She beamed at that point, “Take this as confirmation.  I also feel this has something to do with those close to you—your family?  Maybe telling them something they don’t want to hear.”

“Yes,” I said, shaking her hand.  “Thank you so much for having the courage to tell me this.  It really is what I needed to hear.  Your words are an answer to prayer.”

She stood for a few moments, seeming hopeful that I would explain what all of this was about, but I didn’t.  I didn’t want to shake her faith.

We kindly parted ways and I shook my head, trying to contain my laughter at God’s sense of humor.  You see, what had just taken place was this: a Pentecostal had just told a Presbyterian to become Catholic and to have courage to tell her Southern Baptist dad about her decision.  See the humor now?

The following is my thought-process throughout this 5-year journey, it is in no way a complete look into my thoughts, but it is enough.  That being said, here is my journey towards Catholicism.  I’ll start with the boring stuff I had to come to grips with first about the Catholic Church.  If you’re not interested, then feel free to skip to the last paragraph.

Problem #1:  Authority

Part 1: I have always had a problem with trusting authority because throughout my life, I’ve had a front-row seat to religious leaders and others in authority abusing their powers (whether through sexual abuse, misleading “truths” to push a personal agenda or to gain notoriety, etc…).  Many people my age have left the church because the great amount of hypocrisy they’ve seen.  I have not left because I know that a church is a place full of sinners who need God (and the only difference between people in a church and outside of a church is that church-goers admit that they need help to be more like God).  For me, God has always been much better and higher than His sin-tainted church.  But we try and that’s the point.

What about all of those children sexually-abused by Catholic priests, you are asking?  How can you ignore that?  I don’t.  Here’s the thing, the Catholic church is huge.  There are an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics in the world currently.  In 2010, there were an estimated 800 million Protestants (many different denominations).  I grew up Evangelical and knew that the same awful stuff was happening in most of the churches I’ve attended, the difference being, the churches are smaller and can cover it up more easily.  The Catholic church is huge, and thus, much easier to expose.  I’m glad that the sins of the Catholic church were exposed because hopefully it can heal and change.

Part 2:  Accepting Apostolic Succession.  This was not a hard one for me.  Catholic theology teaches that when Jesus told Peter “Upon you I will build my church,” it was meant literally.  Apostolic succession is through the laying on of hands from one Apostle to another.  The Apostles were the first bishops of the church.

Part 3: The all-male Magisterium (bishops of the church who have ruled on interpretation of questionable scriptures throughout history).  I do not love that women are excluded as deacons and priests, especially since Junia was named in the Bible as an Apostle (bishop) and is recognized as such in Catholic church history as such, and Priscilla and Phoebe, recognized as a deacons.  Thus, historically and Biblically, women should still be eligible for includsion in church authority but they currently are not.  That being said, the exclusion of females in governing leadership is nothing new to me.  Presbyterians, for example have a Presbytery and only men are considered for pastor, elder or diaconate roles.  I tend to give a bit more leeway to Protestants because they think they are acting Biblically.  For example, Junia is argued by John Piper in his work in helping to translate for the New English Standard Version to really be Junias (even though there is less-than-nothing to back up that claim besides his own distinctly patriarchal p.o.v.).  Protestants shrug at the inclusion of Priscilla as a deacon because they say that she was paired as a “helper” to her husband Aquilla who was the real deacon and was not really referred to as a deacon.  The many verses in Timothy about women being silent in church, etc…is always taken out of the patriarchal cultural context at the time too, but whatever.  I could go Episcopal or Anglican, but those tend to be pretty liberal leaning or non-existent in our area.

So why am I becoming Catholic despite this?  Because progress is being made and the church is open to it.  For the last 50 years, many strong nuns and leading female (and male) Catholic writers and sympathetic priests have raised this issue.  Every few years, the current Pope brings it up as something that must be changed.  Summits are held, voices are heard.  Change is slow, but I am happy to lend my voice to this cause.

Part 4: The Pope, the Magisterium, and our ultimate need for consistent authority. Whether or not Protestants like to admit it, we all have our own “Popes” or “Magisterium.”  Whether we ourselves are the final authority on what we believe or whether it is a favorite pastor or a more celebrity-type leader (like the Graham’s, Dr. Dobson, Bill Gothard, John Piper), we all listen to someone as the final authority.  Becoming Catholic, I am choosing an authority with a long history, both good and bad, that has been consistent in its teachings throughout the centuries.

Problem #2:  The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

I’ve read the Protoevangelium of James (aka the Gospel of James).  I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty weird and I have a tougher time with this one.  It’s an account of Mary’s upbringing, Christ’s birth, and testimony to Mary’s perpetual virginity.   But what about the mention of Jesus’ brothers in Scripture?  The church teaches that they were most likely the children of Joseph from a previous marriage or cousins.  But having accepted the church’s authority in general, this is one I can live with. And because the Catholic church dates back to Jesus’ Disciples and what they taught, I’m going to believe the people who knew Mary personally.  So even if you are a Protestant and are thinking, “for shame,” just remember that the original Church Reformer, Martin Luther, believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity too.

 

So I’ve told you what I had to really work through, but what simultaneously drew me?

 

A Consistent Theology of Life, Love and Truth in Action

I was 21 when I picked up a copy of “Death of Innocents” by Sister Helen Prejean from the library.  I knew absolutely nothing about the book, I just liked the title when I came across it on the shelf.  It was a book about those wrongfully convicted on death row and the idea that the death penalty is always morally wrong (innocent or not).  I wrestled with the concept at the time, but now I see that it comes from a theology that is all about respecting the entirety of life. I love that the Catholic Church is pro-life all the way through life and in every aspect.  Pro-life to Catholics means much more than just protecting the unborn.  It also means caring for and loving the refugee, the prisoner, the oppressed, the mentally ill, the homeless, the elderly, the poor, your enemy; and all of these are equally as important.  It means that Catholics were the main overlapping group who attended both the women’s march, the march for life, and refugee rallies across the US.  It means having a theology that says others who’ve never heard of Christ but who believe in God in the way that they are able, will likely be alongside Christians in Heaven.  It’s a theology that embraces the idea that it is our job to be good stewards of the earth that we live on and we are to care for all of its inhabitants (plant, animal, human).  It is a theology that says, yes, God created the earth, but we don’t have to deny science to still believe that.  It is a beautiful thing and one, that without putting words to it, I have always believed and tried to live out.

 

Complexity and Suffering

The churches I grew up in were somewhat fundamentalist, but Advanced Training Institute (ATI) was legalistic to the extreme.  They taught us that there were always clear, black-and-white, Biblical answers to every problem that could arise in life.  Special rules were formed for that reason: you should not dance, because dancing could lead to sin, for example.  Remember King David dancing before the Ark and how that turned out?  That was the ATI example of why one should never dance.  The philosophy was, it’s better to avoid things that could lead to sin, rather than come near temptation—a sort of bubble wrap theology. I believe very firmly, and always have, that God did not call his people to take the simple path.  He did not create for us a simplistic black-and-white, all-or-nothing, comfortable world with easy Biblical answers that we can close our eyes and point to and say, “problem solved!”  It would be convenient if the world worked that way, but it doesn’t and can’t. (I’m also not saying that we should purposefully go out of our way to put ourselves in losing situations either).

Although the Catholic church has the same downfalls as any other religion/denomination to ere on either side, its core theology is embracing of that fine line, that delicate balancing act of being in the world fully, but not of the world.  It is subtle, nuanced, difficult and complex, and never quick nor easy to explain.  Much of what Protestants (including myself a few years ago) say the Catholic church believes is an inaccurate soundbite of the actual belief that misses all of the important complexity.  “Catholics believe that you can work for your salvation” is one, for example.  In reality, Catholics believe that salvation through Christ’s redemption is the only way, but they take the verse in James, “Faith without works is dead,” very seriously.

Within a portion of that embracing of the complexity, it also means embracing ideas that could lead to suffering.  The Catholic church teaches that suffering is a good thing and a normal part of the Christian’s life, and although suffering for suffering’s sake is never right, they encourage believers to not shy away from it, and in some respects, to expect it. In a very real way, if one is truly pro-life and acting on that by visiting the sick, the prisoner, or giving aid to refugees, you might be placed in dangerous situations.  You may become ill, you may die, doing what you are called to do and this is what the church is much quicker to embrace than many Protestants.  There are two movies that I think really embrace the complexity of trying to grapple with difficult issues of faith, suffering, and what part God has called us to play: The Mission, and Silence.  I would encourage you to watch them if you haven’t yet.

The main thing that I would like you as the reader to know is that I’ve put much thought and prayer into all of this as I hope was clear.  If you know me well, you know that I’m not just following my husband (as some well-meaning people have assumed).  For a handful of people that are very dear to me, I have not told you before now because we have not been face-to-face since I’ve made my decision, and how do you awkwardly work in “oh and by the way, I’m being confirmed in the Catholic Church” into the end of an e-mail, text, or a two second conversation?  I know for many people, this might be controversial and that is okay. Note that I did not site scriptures or texts, but they are easily Google-able, so if you want to discuss something, feel free to look it up first and we’ll talk.

One last thing.  Please know that I did not make my decisions based upon a dislike of Protestantism, but a love for Catholicism and foremost, because God has called me here.

If you would like to read about my thoughts when Ethan became Catholic (Part 1), here’s the link.

A False Dichotomy and Other Lies We Republicans Tell Ourselves

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We’ve only got two choices: Trump or Clinton.  At least, that’s what everyone’s told us. “Choose from the lesser of two evils” they say. They’ve also told us that the only issue that matters is the Supreme Court Justice picks.  If they truly believed that, they’d vote for Evan McMullin or Gary Johnson because, as I’ve noted before, there is little chance that Trump will keep any promises he’s made because he very likely has NPD.

Many Evangelicals believe that we are seeing the beginning of the end times and are folding their arms in resignation.  But is giving up when the going gets rough really the lesson that we want to pass on to future generations?

“It’s always been between Democrat and Republican—it’s always been that way,” I imagine a staunch, grey- haired Baby Boomer explaining to me.  And he would be right—almost—with the stellar exception of Abraham Lincoln.

The problem is, I’m a scrappy Gen-X-er and was taught by the Boomer generation slogans like “think outside of the box,” or “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  So here’s the deal.  If you don’t like the rules of the game, change them.  And yes, I’m talking to you Gen-Xers and Millennials.  It’s up to us.  We’ve believed the lie that we have to play by the old rules of the game.  But we don’t.

The problem is not that we don’t have a good choice, it’s that we’ve believed the lie that we can be lazy in our democracy—thinking that a good democratic republic doesn’t require massive amounts of effort and sacrifice to maintain.  Do you think we just woke up one day after complaining about the unfair British rule, and suddenly had independence?  I think not.

So let’s look realistically at our options.

Gary Johnson—Best option for Moderate Republicans, Independents, and Centrist Democrats.

The Good: He is currently polling as the highest of all three third-party candidates, especially amongst young voters.  At this point, he has the overwhelming support of his home state, New Mexico. He is on the ballot in all 50 states.  He has experience as a highly successful Republican Governor.

The Bad: He doesn’t know where Aleppo is and can’t think very well on his feet (probably thanks to all of his former pot smoking).  Although personally pro-life, he believes the decision of abortion should be decided on by state, rather than at the Federal level (aka not pro-life on the birth end of things, but pro-life for the end of life and pro-life in quality of life for all).

To Learn more: https://www.johnsonweld.com

Evan McMullin—Best option for Conservative Republicans and Pro-Lifer’s

The Good: He worked in the Middle East in the CIA, as an investment banker for Goldman and Sachs, and served on the House of Foreign Affairs committee.  He is unabashedly pro-life and truly conservative.  He is on the ballot in 12 states.

The Bad: He has access as a write-in candidate in 20 states, and is on the ballot in 12.  There is no spelling auto-correct on the ballots.  If you are going to vote for him, make sure you know how to spell his name.

To learn more: https://www.evanmcmullin.com

Possible outcomes:

Evan McMullin could win his home state of Utah and the vote could go to the House of Representatives.

Gary Johnson could win his home state of New Mexico and the vote could go to the House of Representatives.

So what can we do?  We young people are great at protesting what we don’t like, but are usually unwilling to put in the work that change requires.  So here’s what we can do.

  1. Register to vote.  Today is the last day to register in PA.
  2. Educate yourself.  Know what is important and what you’re looking for in a candidate.
  3. Spread the word and educate others (that doesn’t mean have a shouting match).  Volunteer.  Every one of those websites has ways that you can volunteer.
  4. Petition.  If you like Gary Johnson, but want more pro-life leaning Supreme Court Justice picks, petition.
  5. Work at the polls.  Make a homemade sign, talk to people knowledgeably about your candidate.
  6. Send all of your friends in Utah and New Mexico information about the candidates most likely to win their state.

The point is, let’s stop complaining and work together to change the tide.

There is Only One Reason You Should Not Vote for Donald J. Trump

A few days ago, I resigned from my post as Republican Committee Woman in order to tell you why I, as a Moderate Republican, will not be voting for our newly nominated Republican candidate and the one thing you need to know if you are considering it.

For most Republicans, it boils down to the pro-life issue.  Maybe you’ve felt the same way.

One of the most common sentiments I’ve heard from fellow disgruntled Republicans is, “I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.  I don’t want to vote for either of them.  I won’t vote for Hillary because she’s a crook and will choose a very pro-choice liberal Supreme Court Justice.  At least with Trump, he’s pro-life and will choose a pro-life Supreme Court Justice.”

And this, I’ve found is the main reason that good, intelligent people are holding their noses and voting for Trump.  The problem is, is he really pro-life? I’d say no and I’ll explain more fully in a moment.

My definition of pro-life is problematic because I believe that it means to encompass the entirety of life, not just the short unborn portion.  And Trump has shown himself to have a high disregard for non-white, non-male lives.  If you can’t think of any examples off the top of your head, I’ll be happy to supply a few (and in his own words too!):

  1. He belittles and degrades women.
  2. He promotes violence to silence dissension and makes personal attacks when questioned or criticized.
  3. And most especially, he is blatantly racist.

But here’s the thing.  Even if your definition of pro-life is defined as protecting the life of the unborn, you only have a 50% chance that Trump will live up to his word.

So why would I say he cannot be counted on to be pro-life by either definition?

Because Donald J. Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  For at least a year now, psychologists have been warning people that Trump is a textbook case and to beware (NPD is very different from simply having narcissistic tendencies).  However, they have not done a very good job of telling people why it’s the most important factor in deciding whether or not he is a viable candidate for our country’s highest office: decisions made by someone with NPD cannot be trusted.

If you are unfamiliar with what this particular personality disorder, please do your fellow Americans a favor and educate yourself by clicking here to learn about NPD.  That is not a suggestion–click on it.

If you’ve ever lived with someone who has NPD, as I have, I would not need to tell you any of this.  You would already know by the first time you heard Trump speak or by watching his children speak about him, that he has NPD.  However, if you are like most people, you’ve not experienced this before (lucky you).  NPD rules almost every aspect of the person who has it.  Here is what a man with NPD will look like in office.

Emotions control the logic of a person with a personality disorder. People continually question Trump’s logic, but that’s because his decisions are made on his emotions at that moment, not logic.  “In the study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, a team of German researchers used modern brain scanning technology to examine the brain structure of 34 volunteers…the authors of the study linked the presence of narcissism to increased activity in another part of the cerebral cortex that helps control impulsive behavior. This activity increase diminishes impulse control, and thereby increases the likelihood of poor decision-making in affected individuals.”–(see above link)

No, he is not just making bombastic statements to gain attention.  Many of Trump’s loudest followers are people who love his quality of “saying what he thinks” and his screw-the-man persona.  Unfortunately, this is no act.  He really has little regard for others because he has little to no empathy. (see link on previous point)

He will change his mind and reverse his stances–over and over and over.  This is one of the most terrifying aspects of this personality disorder.  What’s worse is, we’ve already seen this happen on the campaign trail, but people forget because he’s so passionate about his current decision in the moment.  And that’s the thing, a person with NPD believes exactly what he says at that very moment, but it may change in a week or a day or a month.  And how does Trump get away with it?  Attacking the person who points out the inconsistencies.

He does not have the ability to take counsel.  How many times when people asked Trump from whom does he seek advice, did he say himself?  And it seems pretty easy to see that Trump felt forced by the Republican Party Salvagers into choosing Mike Pence as his running mate.  Did you see his lackluster RNC speech for Pence?  People have the idea that Pence somehow make all of the rough edges of Trump okay because deep down they believe that a man who was so successful in business will make a great leader.  In the business world, self-promotion for self-serving reasons is a must.  However, the president is supposed to make decisions that may be self-sacrificing for the greater good.  As a person experienced with NPD, I know that will not happen–no matter who your VP is.  That brings me to my next point.

He will do what is in his own self-interest before anyone else’s.  He claims to speak for America and fancies himself our champion, but what has he done for anyone besides himself?  You can’t go by what he says, so let’s look at what he’s done for others where he’s received no personal benefit.   Hmm…that was quick.

Look at who Trump idolizes to know what he wants America to become.  In the past, he’s publicly praised and admired both Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jung Un.  If you want to know more about Putin (whom I’ve followed politically since I was a teenager) I recommend an informative book called, “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin” by Steven Lee Meyers.  The title is pretty self-explanatory as to why Trump idolizes him.  And the relationship with Putin is already getting scary.  Russia has already taken responsibility for leaking the DNC e-mails.  And then there’s the money.  ” ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ ” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008…” (WP)

So what is a person who loves their country and is aware of all of this supposed to do?

Inform people and suggest a more sane option.

Although my solution is not perfect, and if I am going by my “whole life, pro-life” definition, the most pro-life candidate (looking at all policies), is Gary Johnson.  I am in no way a Libertarian, and generally detest many Libertarian stances, especially when someone quotes Ayn Rand’s “objectivism,” as a legitimate social/economic strategy *eye roll.*  However, Johnson and Weld were both Republican Governors and still retain many of their more Republican stances.  (Ideally, I’d rather see Weld as the Presidential candidate).  And the cool thing is, this time around, the third party candidate has a shot at the presidency.  But there you have it.

“Vote your conscience…”–Ted Cruz (Lol)

Christmas…New Year’s Letter

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Each year, I have the best intentions of writing a Christmas update letter and every year, I sit staring at a blank screen, referring to our calendars and thinking to myself,“We did so much…” and “How in the world do I make a letter that doesn’t sound as exciting as a grocery list?”  And, as you can tell from the prolific amount of Christmas letters you’ve received over the years (yes, that would be a whopping zero), I come up with no answer, shrug and console myself that there is always next year…

So Christmas has obviously passed (unless you’re Catholic), but the New Year is just around the corner and I have energy, so here goes nothing.

Where to start?  I suppose it would be easiest to tell you what has not changed. Ethan is still Catholic and I am still a Catholic-loving Protestant.  I still teach piano and voice lessons and accompany for two strings studios.  Ethan is the CEO of Demme Learning and is a Township Supervisor.

In the early months of the year, Nick and Ethan took Tae Kwon Do at the YMCA until Ethan started traveling for work in the spring and Nicolas got a full-time responsibility in the form of a sweet little fur-ball that he named Aera (pronounced: Air-uh) because it sounded cool.  After naming her, we found out the name means “Lion” in Hindu, which is exactly opposite of our dog’s loving personality, so we’ll say that we’re being hipster and named her ironically.  For Nicolas, having a dog has been such a life-changer.  He is so good to his dog and takes such good care of her.  He’s really stepped up his game in taking responsibility in most areas of life.  We’re so proud of him.

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In March, my brother Philip came up to live with us while he decided what was next in his life.  He’s currently enrolled in HACC while working full-time in the pharmaceutical industry.

Ethan and Nicolas also began a project to fix up this old car so that Nicolas will have something of his own to drive soon.

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In school, Nicolas has found an affinity for all things computer, and loves his video production classes.  He is hoping to attend the Lancaster CTC for his senior year if he can pass two tough classes this semester (Chemistry and Algebra).

In his spare time (hyuck, hyuck), Ethan trained for and completed a Half Ironman, a Marathon, climbed a 14,000 ft. mountain, and participated in the annual 100 mile bike ride for YSC (Young Survivors Coalition).  You understand the laughter in the last sentence if you know anyone training for anything longer than a half marathon.  Training takes up all the would-be fun parts of life.  Example:

Me: What do you want to do this weekend?

Ethan: Well, I have to get in a long (choose two: run, ride, swim) Saturday and Sunday.  After that, I’ll probably be wiped, so let’s just watch some TV or something.

Me: Woohoo (sarcastically).

As for me, for the first time in over four years, I began to feel better in late May.  I still have setbacks on a weekly basis, and my new normal is not my old normal, but I’ll take it!  In everyday life, this means that I’m able to sing again (yay!) and am able to be more regular with commitments and writing.  It also means that I am slowly getting back to running races.  This year, I completed the Mt. Gretna triathlon and accomplished my biggest goal, which was to run a 10k.  My times were pretty slow for both, but I finished strong.

This upcoming year already promises to be a tough but exciting year.  Nicolas will be finishing up his Junior year of high school, Ethan is running a very heated race for State Senate, and I will be starting back to helping refugee families get resettled in Lancaster after a four year hiatus.

So here’s to a New Year!  God bless!

The What, How and Why of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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“I’ve heard of Chronic Fatigue,” several people have told me.  “That’s where you’re tired all the time, right?”  They then proceed to tell me I should just get more sleep.  I smile and think to myself, “If you only knew.”  So here is my effort to bring people into the “know.”

It’s been 4 1/2 years since I got sick and I have a hard time trying to write about it. That’s right, this is the dreaded post about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, as it’s called in the UK).  There are three reasons I’ve not wanted to write the following blog post:

  1. No one likes reading/hearing about illness, especially when it’s chronic and can’t be “fixed.”
  2. I don’t want my illness to define me.
  3. I don’t like to come across as whining, complaining or wanting sympathy.

So why, you may ask, am I writing this post that no one wants to read and that I don’t want to write?  Because I think it’s important to understand what CFS is, how it affects people that you may know, and what you can do to be a good friend to them.

How does it feel to have CFS?

Imagine you’ve just finished a half marathon that you didn’t train enough for (that’s the only thing I can compare it to from experience): you’re joints are aching and sore, your muscles are fatigued in the extreme and are constantly on the verge of cramping.  Now on top of that, you have a very bad case of the flu, and you’ve not slept for four days straight prior to the race so you can barely keep your eyes open or think straight.  You have a headache, and your heart is skipping beats every now and again.  That is what Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is like a majority of the time. It’s painful, you’re tired, and you are painfully aware of how much dumber you are because you just can’t think clearly.

 

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome really?

Each cell of your body is made up of anywhere from 2 to 2,500 mitochondria.  Mitochondria are the “energy factories” in each cell.  They turn nutrients from food into energy and oxygen that powers each organ and muscle throughout the body.  For a person with CFS, these mitochondria are impaired; thus, rendering their ability to absorb nutrients and thus, turn it into oxygen and energy, ineffective. That is why the entire body (including the mental capacity) of a person with CFS is affected: it’s starving for oxygen and energy! That’s why, on a daily basis, I and others with it, experience anywhere from 1-80 symptoms.  Before I was officially diagnosed, the seemingly random symptoms were worrisome because they mimicked other, more life-threatening conditions.  But after an official diagnosis and a few years experience, I’ve learned better to listen to my body and now only experience around 30-40 symptoms on a monthly basis.

So why can’t you just sleep a lot and overload yourself with vitamins?  You can, and people have–under the supervision of doctors, of course–only to experience little to no benefit or relapses that left them worse off than before.  Long story short, there is no cure, but sometimes those with CFS can improve over time.

If it’s incurable, is there anything to be done to manage it?

The best advice that I’ve read is that you have to stay within your energy limitations, eat healthily, sleep regular hours, and use graded exercise.

Many people who know that I still run and do sprint triathlons think that since I do them, I must not be too bad off.  It depends on the day.  And even when I do run/bike/swim, I go slowly and take lots of precautions.  I don’t run nearly as fast or as long as I used to, but I do still love running.  When I first got sick and tried to run like usual (not knowing what I had), I had heart palpitations, terrible leg cramps, and several times, almost fell asleep while running.  It was crazy.  Thanks to my husband pushing me to get a heart monitor watch, I learned to run by heart rate and by feeling (something I’d not done previously).

I also try to eat highly nutritional foods every day (and take vitamins for the elderly).  Thankfully, I’ve always loved collard greens, kale, spinach, and the like, so not much had to change.  I still have a weak spot for cinnamon Pop Tarts though…

 

Why do people get CFS/ME?

After finally being diagnosed as having CFS after one and a half years of testing in the Thomas Edison fashion, I wanted to know why.  Why me?  Why others?  After lots of research and reading, here’s what I found.  Let’s pretend there is a checklist of how to guarantee that you will develop CFS.  Having one or more of the following increases the chances of developing CFS or some other chronic illness, dramatically:

  1. Have one or more preexisting diseases that affect the immune system
  2. Contract the Epstein-Barr virus (or Mono)
  3. Be an over-achiever, or live under high amounts of stress for a prolonged period of time
  4. Score a 3 or higher on the ACE test (I scored a 7)

It would be a miracle if I didn’t develop CFS since I can check off each one of those things (several more than once).  The one that put me over the edge was contracting Mono while Ethan and I were visiting Russia in 2011.

The most eye-opening part of this journey was learning about the ACE test and understanding how trauma/stress affects the body.  I encourage you to click on the link.

What important things am I learning?

  1. Happiness always comes from within.  Even though circumstances suck, and I awoke most mornings feeling worse than when I went to bed, I learned to look closely for the little beautiful things in life.  As much as I ragged “One Thousand Gifts” by Anne Voskamp for the fluffy and distracting writing style, it was a helpful book in reminding me to always be thankful and noticing all the small gifts God gives.
  2. It’s normal to grieve the loss of the self I thought I was.  I am learning to embrace that my identity is not in what I do, but in who I am.  It is a constant battle for me because I’ve always been a doer and a perfectionistic one at that.  I have to be okay with a messier house, an overgrown yard, and having less energy to be creative.
  3. “No” is a difficult word for everyone.  I don’t know how many things I had to quit because I was just too tired and felt too bad.  These were things that I really loved.  But overall, it was freeing to having fewer expectations.  Speaking of which…
  4. Good friends hang around without expectations, others only call when they want something.  There were so many times that people asked me to do something for them and I told them “no” with the explanation that I didn’t feel well enough.  And after saying similar things to, “I’m sorry you feel bad,” they would many times end with “but could you still do this very quick little favor for me?  It’s easy.  It shouldn’t take long.”
  5. It’s okay to ask for help.  I suppose it goes along with being a doer, but I’m not good at asking for help.  I’m still pretty bad at this one, but through necessity, I think there is slight improvement 🙂
  6. Humility.  This word takes on a whole new meaning when your brain and body are completely unreliable.  I quit softball because I felt so badly during games and could not focus enough to know what was going on.  I had difficulty playing piano because either my hands were arthritic or I would have days I could not focus enough to read the music.  I was not able to sing much for several years because I was constantly sick with other illnesses.  The most humbling part is constantly feeling stupid and knowing that I’m not that dumb.
  7. Looks can be deceiving.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “You don’t look sick to me.”  I never know if people mean they don’t believe me, or that it’s all in my head, or they mean it as a compliment.  For a long time, before my diagnosis, the only way that certain doctors believed me was that I ran a non-stop fever for three years.  The picture at the top of this post is a good example. I don’t look sick, but I had a high fever, was dizzy and still had to hike the rest of the six miles down the mountain.

So there you go.  Whew.  I’m glad to have this post finished 🙂

The Ugly Truth about the Church and Mental Illness

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I’ve seen quite a few people writing recently about the subject of how churches are dealing with mental illness. They are good philosophical arguments complete with quotes from scripture and testimonials from people who struggle with depression.  But what about those people that are bat-shit crazy?  Then what?

I have always found it trite and academic when people in church debate Calvin’s theology of predestination.  I was introduced to this theological point in Sunday school, during my senior year of high school.  The idea is that God chooses some people to go to Heaven and others are simply created for destruction and eternal damnation.  I could give you my theological/philosophical argument as to why I think that is incorrect, but I’d rather not.  I’d rather you see it through my lens instead.

It’s easy to say you believe in predestination when your life is comfortable.  It’s easy to ask those questions if your brother you grew up with wasn’t a schizo-affective disordered sociopath and believed by many to be destined for hell.  It’s not difficult to believe in God’s creating and subsequently choosing certain people to hate, when its not your brother yelling commands to his demon army in the backyard at two in the morning.  It’s easy to say yes, God chooses some to send to hell for absolutely no reason–just because.

It’s also enjoyable to debate Nature vs. Nurture, unless you’ve wrestled with understanding that line your whole life.  How much is he really responsible for?  And can I love him even if he’s responsible for all of it?

I’d like to take you through my personal experiences as a siblings of someone diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder (that’s basically bi-polar and schizophrenia rolled into one) and as a sociopath, and what the church’s role was in our lives.

Jeremy was a sweet, pretty much perfect baby.  He had curly golden locks, and big animated blue eyes.  Life was good.  Then, he began to talk.  One of his first phrases was to call us, his siblings, “Dodo birds.”  Not only did we realize that he was calling us names, we had no idea where he’d gotten that name.  We looked it up and thought how strange it was that he was calling us extinct birds.  How did he know about Dodo birds when we had never even heard of them?  From there, the phrases progressed to “I hate you,” “everybody hates me,” “I’m going to kill you,” and “No one loves me, I’m gonna kill myself.”  Writing this, I realize how odd it is for a child to say these things, but Mom said similar things at times, and we were all used to Jeremy’s dramatic nature, so didn’t think much of it.

By five, he’d already attempted to throw himself from a moving vehicle onto the highway (multiple times), tried to kill me with a knife, and when I talked him down, he turned it on himself before I wrangled it from him.  Trying to strangle people was also regular occurrence, although I’m not sure if I can attribute that solely to Jeremy since I remember Mom doing that several times to me and we kids doing it to each other when we were angry.

Jeremy has never admitted to feeling guilty about anything, and I remember well, his satisfied smile at witnessing the pain of others.  We knew early on that he had the uncanny ability to read people, but he only saw the negative.  He was incredibly smart, but never understood most humor but especially, sarcasm. For him, sarcasm seemed a way for people to say the negative things to him and get away with it.  Half the time, he was probably right.

It was around his sixth or seventh birthday that Mom found a crack-pot “Christian” child psychologist to evaluate Jeremy.  Her first diagnoses were “sociopath,” “ADD” and “bipolar.”  (It is not common nor recommended practice for anyone under 18 years of age to be diagnosed with the labels bipolar or sociopath). Her major caveat though, was a big one; it was most likely “demon possession.”  So, I was ushered from the room to take care of my siblings in the waiting room, while the psychologist prayed over (exorcised) Jeremy.

After the session, Mom attested to the fact that Jeremy became angry and agitated while the woman was praying for him.  She failed to mention until much later that the woman was holding him down on the floor while they prayed the demons out of him.  Her final diagnosis?  “There’s not much I can do for him.”  At this point, I’ve not made it hard to tell that I find this ridiculous.  Do I believe that people can be demon-possessed?  In theory, yes.  However, the Fundamentalist culture in which I was raised (ATI, etc…) was always far too quick to dismiss mental illness as a spiritual problem.  That being said, I’ll continue.

At one point, my parents took Jeremy to a pastor in the Gothard inner circle who deemed Jeremy the worst type of fool: the “Steadfast Fool.”  Again, the idea being, nothing could be done for him; he will go straight to hell if he doesn’t change his ways.  No one considered the fact that maybe there was something terribly broken in his brain.

At some point, my parents sent Jeremy to live on a farm in Waycross, GA for troubled teens.  He did pretty well there, because the one thing that showed Jeremy’s humanness was animals.  He truly cared for them and did well taking care of them.  He also learned the finer points of growing pot, what it feels like to be shot at close-range with a BB gun to the stomach, and how to make a tasty squirrel stew.

We went to visit him once as a family.  Things were going well…until we turned off the lights to go to bed.  I was thinking that maybe he really was changing for the better, when out of the darkness, he grabbed my arm and started shouting at me calling me a “fucking bitch,” etc.  Nope, I guess I was wrong.  Still crazy.  Our relationship was another complicated piece of the puzzle that added an extra dynamic to the insanity, but I will leave it out for right now.

After the farm, Jeremy began a go-to-jail, come-home, go-back to jail, cycle.  I think he was about 15 the first time he went to Juvenile Hall, but to be honest, my timeline is a bit hazy since there was so much other ongoing drama.  I also don’t remember what it was that landed him there the first time, but I do remember the relief we felt.  For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about him going crazy and killing us all in our sleep.

Once old enough, he went to jail mostly on assault and possession charges.  Each time he returned home from wherever he was living, he had a different accent and varied vocabulary.  After the farm, he had a thick hick accent and after a long stint in jail, he fused it with Ebonics which was an odd and interesting combination.  He still speaks with a lesser hybrid of both.

Up to this point, can you see the role that the church has taken? That’s right.  It’s non-existent— unless you count the shoddy exorcism attempts (which were not even connected to our churches).  It is easy to avoid people that are messed up, weird, different.  Jeremy is twenty-six, his brilliant mind is gone from years of heavy drug-use, his body is like that of a 70 year-old man, and he spends most of his time smoking and talking about his how he is “the Beast” prophesied about in Revelations. So what has the church done for him?  Well, in a few of his more lucid moments, he says that he believes that God cannot love him or forgive him, and that his soul belongs to Satan (because he sold it to him in exchange for taking his sadness and anger from him).  Jeremy still believes that no one loves him and that he is, in fact, likely to die and go straight to hell.

Most of my family takes no pity on him because they can only see the damage he’s done to himself and our family.  They think that every stupid thing he’s done is his choice.  And that’s the hardest part: loving someone with such severe mental problems and trying to sort out what was a choice and what wasn’t.  Has he made bad choices?  Certainly.  Was he born with a problem?  Definitely.  Was there ever any help for him?  I don’t know.  But I do know this: he’s a human being who stills needs hope and love to thrive.  It’s easy to hate him, to hold back compassion from him.  My bones still remind me of our tumultuous relationship each time I sit in certain chairs or whenever a storm front is coming.  The problem is, I love him and I’ve seen his humanness.  I’ve seen the way he cares for animals.  I know that he loves animals because they don’t judge him and they accept him for who he is: broken and crazy. I’ve seen the light of hope in his eyes when he decides to garden and make things beautiful.  I’ve seen his sadness at thinking that he is unloved.

Jesus loved crazy (demon-possessed) people.  They didn’t bring themselves to be healed—their families brought them or the family had already given up on them—and half the time, the crazy people came just to mock Jesus.  But Jesus always had compassion on them.  Aren’t the crazy ones “the least of these” that we are told to love and care for?  Is it hard and sometimes on the verge of impossible?  Yes.

I hold no animosity toward the church, and I don’t blame the church for wanting to hide its face from the ugliness that is mental illness.  Many people within the church are unequipped to handle mental illness, and that’s okay.  What’s not okay is ignoring the reality of mental illness and saying that it’s definitively a spiritual problem when it’s not.

So this week, as I’m trying to convince my dad that Jeremy needs to live in a personal care facility, it’s not because I hate Jeremy.  It’s because I love him and I have hope that at some point in his life, he may be able to feel love.