In-between times

If anyone is still out there, hello!

As you can see, I’ve been AWOL for some time, and will likely be on hiatus for a while longer. Doing some deep interior work, now that several health issues have been resolved.

Reading Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward.” Finding myself at that tipping point between the first half of life and the second. It feels a bit unsettling and messy. The consolation is learning that this is the way it’s supposed to be.

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Dreams and discernment

Joseph dreamingWhile praying with today’s readings this morning, Joseph’s story seemed to grab my attention. Here is a man who had dreams, paid attention to them, and followed them.

Discernment is a process; sometimes it takes longer than other times. With Joseph, the dreams he received required immediate action – no time for weighing pros and cons – his family faced a life or death situation after Jesus was born. He followed the instructions in that dream without having an advance plan.

Some questions that come to mind in my own prayer…I’ll share them for your own prayer, reflection, sharing. Feel free to respond or add your own questions.

  1. How many times do I dismiss my own dreams as foolish, or unfeasible, or unworthy, or … ?
  2. Am I rushing to get to an outcome without taking adequate time for discernment?
  3. Is remaining in discernment an excuse for not making a difficult decision?

I’ll start the ball rolling, and hope some of you will respond.

As you may know, I just retired from my academic position. I’ve had several difficult years, and didn’t deal with the signs of burnout until it was too late. So here I am, with a good 15-20 years of work time ahead of me, but no concrete plans for my next ministry.

But… I do have a good idea of what I’d like to pursue…call it a dream, but I’d like to work with students on assistive technology projects, helping them to bridge the gap between a great design benefitting one client and commercializing that solution so others with similar challenges are able to acquire and benefit from these great ideas.

When I first thought about starting an organization to do this, I suspected it could be merely an excuse for getting out of my then current position, so I needed some time to test out the idea. Now that I’ve left the other position, the desire to pursue this is still with me, so perhaps this dream has legs…

Still, there’s more information I don’t yet have that needs to be considered. Is my health solid enough to undertake such a enterprise? Will I be able to convince my community and donors (or investors, if it works better as a for profit) to support the endeavor? Will my former employer and other schools and universities be interested in partnering with such an organization? If not, am I prepared to pivot to focus solely on the design, production and sales of the products and let go of the education piece?

I hope to have some decent answers to the health question by the end of January, which will then shape how I go forward in my discernment. As for having ALL the answers to every possible question about starting something new, I need to let go of unreasonable expectations and just make the best possible decision when the time comes.

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The tunnel is open!!

tunnel

Dear friends, it is so good to be back after such a long hiatus. As many of you know, I have been dealing with job burnout for some time, and after trying to come back part time in August, I quickly found myself sucking wind again. The body doesn’t lie.

So as of Sunday night, a little after midnight, my last set of grades as an engineering professor, at least for the foreseeable future, has been submitted, and my healing process is sure to accelerate as I look forward to how I will reinvent myself… better yet, how God will re-form me for service to the mission of Jesus.

There will be much more to share as I get a little space and distance from the fray, but I just wanted to let you know that I finally got to the light at the end of the tunnel. Blessed Christmas to those of you who mark that holiday, if I don’t get back here before then.

Please invite your friends to come over and join the conversation once the discussion topics start to flow again.

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What a year!!

Some of you have arrived at this page via my delayed holiday greetings this year, so if this is your first visit to my blog, welcome! As you can see by the number of posts I made in 2012, I have not been much of a frequent visitor myself. I cannot promise that will change, at least right away, but hope springs eternal…

I am looking forward to an interesting 2013, coming off a year full of falling apart and coming together in a number of senses. Hard to say briefly what my experience of 2012 has been, as I’m still trying to figure it out myself.

Here’s a sampling of some of the ups and downs:

At the beginning of 2012, I was convinced that academic leadership was the next step for me professionally, and had become a candidate for the open dean position. Not getting that position was devastating in a sense, but a profound blessing in a more important sense – my physical and mental health. You see, a series of seemingly disconnected health issues had been coming up for me at higher frequencies as time passed, and I’m now convinced that the additional stress of administration would only have accelerated my decline.

Getting the message loud and clear, I did the best I could to decrease stress levels, let go of extra duties at work, and tune back into what my body needed from me. Near the end of a summer in which I took lots of rest and play time (that included my adopted Cairn Terrier, Rabbie Burns), I ended up in emergency for my first ever inpatient hospital stay, the one I wrote about in a previous post here.

Cutting back even more to just teaching and the minimum amount of service work to fulfill my baseline duties apparently was not enough. It seemed like the harder I tried to catch up with work, the farther behind I fell. Fortunately, I was open to the advice of my heath care professionals who intervened to put me on a short disability leave to heal from whatever mystery ailment(s) knocked me out of action. I have a sense that I will be returning to work soon, but only God knows how all this will eventually work out.

I was hoping I would write this post from the other side of this experience, but I have delayed sending my holiday cards long enough, and this post is partly for those on my mailing list who are inclined to check it out.

In the meantime, know that I appreciate your prayers and support as I continue to stay open to God’s grace for me at this uncertain place in my life.

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Reflecting on a recent encounter with the medical establishment

Gosh darn it…I had a pretty good streak going…more than 54 years without an inpatient stay at a hospital. Until the latter part of this past July, that is.

My experience of that stay, along with a focused effort to get to the bottom of a health mystery, has prompted me to say something about the state of health care and medical education in this country. The mystery? A long standing conviction that an underlying systemic dysfunction has been responsible for an abiding fatigue and general worsening of my health over that past 5-6 years.

In the event of a trauma to the body or an acute medical emergency, the U.S. medical establishment provides high-quality intervention to address the problem and promote subsequent healing. The surge of adrenaline combined with a thorough command of what a doctor learns in the various stages of his/her education, provides a great shot at full recovery from even the most life-threatening adverse health events. If I break a bone, am shot, have a heart attack or stroke, or am in a motor vehicle accident, take me to the emergency room.

On the other hand, many hospitals and doctors seem less well-equipped to help patients who suffer from chronic conditions for which it is difficult to obtain clear evidence from diagnostic tests. Patient presents with complaint, doctor orders blood or other tests to confirm or rule out the most likely disease, test comes back negative, patient still complains, more tests ordered with same or different results, and the cycle continues, and often the outcome is that the doctor can find no hard evidence to support the patient’s complaint. Conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with the patient. Patient still feels unwell, becomes more frustrated, well, you see how this goes… In the worst case, the doctor may tell the patient there is nothing wrong with them and that what they are experiencing is “in their head.”

I think the problem is that the medical establishment has tended to reinforce a growing specialization in smaller and smaller areas of expertise, so that every possible complaint corresponds to a matching medical specialty, and the chronically unwell patient begins the endless cycle of running from specialist to specialist as new complaints arise, never mind that these seemingly unrelated complaints are actually the consequences of a failure to find and treat the underlying disease process. Medical education seems to have evolved to an increasingly brutal quest to commit to memory as much stuff as possible, leaving little to no time for students to think about how the various major systems in the body interact, as well as how and why they respond to toxins, nutrients, and other stimuli. Never mind the growing realization that these effects may present in very different ways in different individuals. This is precisely my story…

In my case, I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis earlier this summer and was promptly sent off to CVS with a prescription for synthetic thyroid hormone, never mind that my TSH and free T4 levels are normal. Apparently this is standard treatment for this finding. But here’s the thing. There are a number of possible disease pathways that result in a positive test for thyroid antibodies, only one of which responds to synthroid.

To make a long story short, my discovery that eliminating gluten from my diet is key to stopping the auto-immune attack on my thryoid and restoring my health came through my own diligent search for an explanation for my declining health. Never once did either my primary care doctor or any of the specialists to whom I was sent ever suggested that a food sensitivity could be responsible for the alarming and mysterious decline in my health. I was not satisfied with the treatment of every new ailment as if it were isolated from every other condition. I am not interested in amassing a veritable stable of experts, each of whom treats a part of my body as a mechanic would treat a faulty water pump in a car.

The story is not yet finished. It will take some time to regain the health I had before all of this started, but I am heartily encouraged by the difference I feel having committed to the elimination of gluten from my diet. My energy levels have improved, and my metabolism seems to have restarted – Rabbie (my 11-month old Cairn Terrier) gets much of the credit for a reduction in my stress levels and an increase in my physical activity, resulting in a reversal of the slow but steady weight gain that has accompanied my declining health. However, without a more active metabolism, I would not have been able to continue the weight loss and reduce the dose of medication I’ve needed just to keep my eyes open during the work day.

No matter how the story unfolds, my main take away comes as an image of an orchestra. My wellness on all levels – physical, mental, spiritual, emotional – depends on a number of key team members. But no matter how good the individual practitioners, they need me to be an active and engaged conductor to focus their efforts in achieving the best possible performance.

I wonder if my story and the stories of others might reach the hearts and minds of those who are preparing our future MDs and DOs for practice. It seems from what I am finding in my own self-directed study of the functional medicine paradigm, chiropractors, nurses, nutritionists, and alternative healthcare providers have been getting the message in far greater proportions than have the docs who wield most of the power to influence healthcare policies and practices, and whose participation will help to lower out-of-pocket costs for patients desperate for relief. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to find a primary care physician who does have some background in functional medicine. God is good, and if a stay in the hospital is what I needed to give me time to engage in a little medical research, I guess I can say I’m grateful for the end of my streak of luck in avoiding inpatient hospital stays.

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Pondering…freedom coming out of experience of oppression…

I’ve been praying these days for the board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) who have been meeting to pray about their response to Vatican-imposed sanctions they learned about last month. LCWR represents Catholic women religious in a large number of U.S. congregations, including my own. I have to say how impressed I’ve been with how they have handled this so far, choosing not to succumb to knee-jerk reactions in public, but to graciously pause to pray about what this means for the conference going forward and waiting to consult with the board members before making any statement. It takes great constraint to avoid lashing back at what seems to be an egregious abuse of power, and they are wise enough to know that a too-hasty reaction to the injustice only allows the perpetrators to point to the reaction and use it as “proof” of their suspicions.

Those of you who have been regular readers of my blog may be surprised at my silence on the issue so far — I was free to express my views at any time, and chose to wait for the response from those most directly affected by the sanctions — the LCWR leaders and membership. Following their lead seems to be the respectful thing to do.

Ironically, though, while I have personally experienced this latest Vatican action as an attempt to silence or punish U.S. women religious, the more prevalent experience for me is one of freedom. The timing of the board meeting of LCWR happening in this week of Pentecost seems to be no coincidence. This great feast carries the grace to accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to proclaim these gifts in new ways.

For example, I have been very careful not to publicly disagree with the “official” Church teachings on a number of difficult issues. If you look back at a number of my blog posts on touchy subjects like homosexuality and women’s roles in the Church, you’ll see that I don’t express disagreement, only state that I find them difficult or hard to understand. I may point to seeming contradictions in the arguments used to defend the teachings, but always with a request for and openness to an explanation that can help me to resolve the contradictions.

The recent action by the Vatican takes a load off, in a way. Our leaders have been similarly careful not to express public disagreement with official teachings, and now that seems not to be enough for some in the hierarchy. Not only must we not dissent, but we must participate in the active dissemination of some of the most problematic “teachings,” even when our consciences and solid pastoral practices tell us otherwise. As a real-life example, when I completed a basic unit of CPE (clinical pastoral education) many years ago, the issue of a couple wanting baptism for their stillborn child came up. My classmates were in a quandary about what to do. For me, the answer was simple…that was not the time for those parents to receive a lesson in sacramental theology. They were looking for comfort, and if blessing the child in a theoretically non-valid baptism accomplished that, so be it.

These days it seems that contraception and a number of issues (sexual violence, bullying, marriage, housing and employment discrimination, etc.) affecting LGBTQ Americans are a few of the hot-button topics the American bishops have decided are hills they would be willing to die on; funny that they picked an election year to come to that. So here’s what I really think, and remember that these views are mine — they do not represent the views of my congregation or my employer.

I have long struggled with divisive rhetoric on both sides of the abortion divide. For the life of me, I do not see why we cannot seem to start with what I think almost everyone could agree with; that a world with no abortions is worth working towards. Many folks who are strong in their pro choice stands would agree (even if not publicly) that abortion is a terrible choice for a woman to have to make. I could never judge someone who struggles with such a decision without having walked in her shoes. I also am appalled with what seem to be a number of cases in which this decision is treated lightly, as if abortion were just another method of birth control, and multiple abortions don’t seem to merit a second thought.

Still, I would be willing to say that very few people on either side of the debate are pro-abortion. Saying that people on the “pro-life” side do not care about women’s health is a fallacy, and calling those who are “pro-choice” pro-abortion is just as false. The difference between the groups is simply the means to get to a world where every child conceived is wanted and brought to term into a loving environment. Does criminalizing abortion accomplish this? I don’t believe it does, unless the state is willing to throw the men who impregnate the women into jail as well (and that probably won’t help either.) I think addressing the underlying causes that put women in difficult situations that lead them to consider terminating pregnancies — rape, incest, sexual violence, poverty, lack of education, etc. — this is going to have the most effect on the number of abortions. I also don’t believe that making access to and affordability of contraceptives more difficult is helpful in reducing the incidence of abortion. Neither is cutting back on food, health, and housing assistance to families with children…

So there it is, the rope to hang myself. But as Audre Lorde once said, “Your silence will not protect you.” This seems to be the lesson that I have learned from the doctrinal assessment of LCWR.

Finally, I’m expecting that this post will attract a lot of lively discussion, so I would remind everyone that this blog is a “flame-free zone.” That means I have an expectation that however much you may disagree with me or any of the other commenters, you will think about your position before you post and refrain from aiming to discredit or otherwise diminish another’s dignity, but limit your debate to the issue. If you don’t see your response come up here within a day or two of posting it, that means I chose not to approve it. I intend to moderate all comments for the present, so please be patient as I probably won’t check in more than once every day or two to approve comments.

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Introducing Rabbie Burns


This little guy came into my life about 3 weeks ago from the Michigan Humane Society. I have not had a dog since I was in high school, and even then, Dino was really more my grandparents’ dog than mine, at least in terms of his devotion. Rabbie (pronounced “Robbie”) is a cairn terrier (think Toto on the Wizard of Oz), and is only 6 months old — a bundle of energy, but a quite a cuddle-bug when he’s not bounding around or barking to protect against imagined intruders (wish he had been here when a real burglar came last month…)

He’s already helping me to change my sedentary habits…barking at me when I’ve been sitting too long, getting me out for a couple of walks every day. Also a good stress buster — daily grooming seems to relax both of us before bedtime, which now happens on a regular schedule, and earlier than I had been retiring.

We’ve had our issues, and likely will continue to have our differences, but I’d have to say that between deterring crime and helping to support my resolve to make healthier choices, Rabbie has already done much to earn his keep. It’s not too many things that can keep me away from my e-mail and Facebook for days at a time…

As for the name, a variant of the name Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, I felt it appropriate for a dog of a breed that originated in Scotland. I have also learned that this famous poet is in my family tree, so I wanted to pass the name on to my sassy little gentleman.

I feel that God will have much to teach me through my adventures with Rabbie.

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Delicate and powerful are not opposites.


As I sat down to pray about what I wanted to say to you today after such a long hiatus from this blog ministry, those two words came to mind as a pretty apt description for the state of my heart, not only at this moment, but for a while.

There are so many things happening in my life, the Church, the world  that beg for some thoughtful reflection, analysis, deep prayer these days — AND — I will continue to ponder and then invite you to reflect with me on some of these things. And of course, as always, the invitation to contribute to “nunsuch” as a guest blogger is open. For the less adventurous who would like to see me address a topic or issue, but who do not wish to start off our conversation here, just send me a private message by clicking here, and I will respond. This blog is meant to be safe, sacred space for us to have conversations with each other about things that matter.

Some of you have been with me long enough to know that I find paradox fascinating, and love to play around with how something can be two things at the same time, when we can sometimes think of the two things as stark binary quantities. So of course, delicate and powerful live together quite amicably in the inner landscape of my soul, and as I continue to tend to the mystery of God’s action in my life and in the world, my outsides tend to match my insides more closely, which is quite a consolation for someone who values integrity so highly.

My relationship with God has been characterized by an abiding sense of consolation, even in the midst of a series of quite extreme ups and downs on almost every level of my life — physical, mental, emotional, professional, vocational. So while much of the state of my life is quite fragile, there’s an inner strength from that rock-solid, visceral sense of knowing I am God’s beloved.

This strong connection seems to persist no matter what comes along, and does not seem dependent on my faithfulness to a daily prayer regimen — it is sheer grace. And that is probably the message that has taken me so long to learn — that God is the initiator and sustainer of this blessed period in my life, and just as I can take no credit for this gift, so there is no need to beat up on myself when I fall short of my ideals or something unpleasant happens in my life. I just know that God is loving and faithful, and that while I go through the ups and downs on many levels, the only thing that matters is that fundamental truth.

Not a bad grace for this Easter season, eh?

So how goes it with you? How is God making a difference in YOUR life?

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Where to begin…

Yes, it has been ages, and I so much want to be more consistent and frequent with my reflections on this blog. Alas, I’m not sure that a period of such constancy is coming anytime soon. It’s not that I’m not reflecting and writing. The reflecting and writing has been more of an interior discipline lately, and it is bearing much fruit, even if I cannot yet put words to it that are ready to be shared here.

So because I’m sitting down with a cup of tea at the end of this Christmas feast day, my thoughts turn to this wonder of the incarnation, and the lengths to which God will go to get my attention and convince me that I am God’s beloved. This Christmas feast is full of paradox, and God knows, I love pondering paradox…

Those who walk in darkness have seen a great light.

As Fr. J mentioned last night in his homily, it was shepherds to whom the angels announced the birth of the Savior, not the upper crust, the high priests, but the smelly, dirty folks who didn’t count for much in society.

Seems to me that we all have a bit of shepherd in us…that part of us that is unfettered by sophisticated thoughts and arguments, free from the need to be right, of a disposition to receive without condition the good news that God is with us, in us.

May that good news take root in us in deeper and more powerful ways during this blessed season. God knows, the world needs some good news.

N.B. To avoid the trap of romanticizing the shepherds, allow me to point out that we may bathe regularly, but if you are like me, there are times when “stinkin’ thinkin’” wants to creep in…

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Mixed blessings – a time for sober optimism?

Familiar images flooded media sources yesterday as the news of Muammar Gaddafi’s death spread. My initial response: “I don’t have time for this. Between work deadlines pressing on me and my body’s seeming insistence on rest as I recover from the flu, there simply isn’t time to consider these events and then deal with the emotions they evoke in me, let alone to reflect and then post a thoughtful reflection on this blog.”

So you can see that I chose not to go with that initial response. And my reaction to the news, as you might guess, is full of conflicted feelings. I’m not a mental health expert, but it was pretty clear that something was “off” with the colonel, and for so much power to be concentrated in one person, even a perfectly sane person, is a recipe for trouble. I have been praying for an end to the terror and violence inflicted by this man and his followers on their own people for many years, and I regret that it took violence to accomplish his removal from power. Still, I must say, I am glad that this man will no longer be able to terrorize others.

It appeared to me that in the skirmish that led to Gaddafi’s death that he was injured in the first wave of the attack, and that the close range gunshot wounds to the head suggest that he may have been summarily executed after capture. It’s not for me to say what exactly happened, as it often takes time for the facts to emerge, but if he was indeed executed instead of being tried in a court of justice, it makes me wonder with some concern about what the people of Libya will be facing in its next leaders. And with the seeming easy access to high-powered combat weapons (again, my uninformed perception), I feel a need to pray that Libya will be able to make the transition to a peaceful, just society, and not fall into a state of anarchy that will provide the opportunity for a new oppressor to step in.

Yes, I understand the relief in knowing that the Gaddafi regime is finished, and that it is understandable to celebrate the freedom from this regime. Still, lots of guns plus lots of intense emotions make for a risky situation. I pray for the safety and solidarity of Libya’s people in this important and historic time the history of all of humankind.

 

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