The Harm in That

Harm in That Cover

Gentle Reader,

The LORD upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.

– Psalm 145:14 (NKJV)

I hate pants.

Three abdominal surgeries have left me with very sensitive skin and internal organs that don’t function properly. Anything tight is a big no-no. It’s a good thing that my style leans in the casual, comfortable direction already; I can’t really wear anything that is the correct size.

I was reminded of this yesterday after foolishly wearing a belt. My outfit for church was, if I may say so, very cute. Floaty summer top and slim khakis. But the pants don’t fit right. So I slipped the belt through the loops and anchored it as loosely as I could while ensuring that my underwear did not make an unexpected appearance.

Cue the nausea.

Hannah Anderson tweeted this yesterday:

So now I’m sitting here thinking about link [between] conservatives’ approach to healthcare [conversation] & [G]nosticism prevalent in evangelical church…

Gnosticism is our modern term for various ideas and philosophies, originating in the Jewish world of the first and second centuries, the proponents of which sought to attain “higher” or “secret” spiritual knowledge. An inter-religious movement rather than a distinct belief system, gnostics tended toward asceticism, disdaining the body and physical world as corrupted and of lesser importance when compared to the spiritual. Highly influenced by Platonism and comfortable with syncretism, Gnosticism emphasized personal experience over systematic doctrine and liturgy.

How is Gnosticism present in American, evangelical Christian teaching today, specifically in the context of healthcare?

Right there in the assumption that a Christian should be able to conquer her body.

If you would just eat this…. If you would just do that…. If you would drink this…. If you would take this herb/read this book/buy this flaxseed pillow…. If you would exercise harder…. If you would pray more….

The body is nothing. It is lesser. Mind over matter. Control.

Consider our Christian celebrity culture. What prominent pastor, teacher or author can any of us name who isn’t conventionally attractive? Who doesn’t have decent health? (Not perfect; we do love those who have beaten cancer). Joni Eareckson Tada, of course, but her teaching is really just for “those people,” right?

The ones that make us uncomfortable. The ones we shuffle off to the side.

No room for bodies that don’t conform.

I write very generally and I don’t seek to condemn. Not all Christians have these beliefs and assumptions. There is much compassion and acceptance among the people of God. But we struggle. It’s easy to comfort someone diagnosed with terminal illness. Even in our awkwardness, we know how to hold hands and shed tears and bake casseroles. This is good, necessary, gracious work.

When it comes to those whose pain has no expiration date, though, we don’t know how to respond. We don’t know what to do. Such suffering messes with our tidy theology. And so we let fear or discomfort cause us to release such people from the bonds of fellowship, never thinking to find creative ways to support and love them. Or, if we do think of it, we become terrified of doing it all wrong and stay away. Worse, we indulge in arrogance, taking health for granted and wondering, in some corner of our minds, if the chronically ill didn’t do something to bring on the illness.

Never mind that any one of us can be struck down, at any moment.

The next clear, painless breath is not guaranteed.

We don’t think about that.

We don’t dare.

So what do we do with verses like Psalm 145:14, which show us that God is intimately involved with the suffering? He holds up people who can’t take another step. He carries them. There is no hint of anger, no trace of, “well, if you had just….” What do we do with “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, emphasis mine)? How can we fully embrace that Christ was “beaten, He was tortured” (Isaiah 53:7a, MSG)?

This is why I wrote The Harm in That: False Gospels, Alternative Medicine and Suffering. Not to scream at people who hold fast to essential oils. Not to shame those who don’t understand exactly what they buy into when they accept “health and wealth” teaching. Not to make anyone feel bad and myself feel superior. I wrote this book because we, Christians, people of God, have go to come to grips with suffering. We have to learn to accept it as part of life on this broken earth, even as the eternal part of us, the part that cries out to God and knows that this is not how things were meant to be, rebels.

I pitched this book to many agents and several publishing houses last summer and fall. Over and over again I was told that my writing was good and the topic was one that needs addressing, but nobody wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Because it’s not a “happy, feel good” book. It’s not warm fuzzies and rah-rah time. It’s not a guaranteed best-seller. It steps on toes. Confronts some cherished beliefs. It’s messy. Unpretty. (It’s also not a “woman’s book,” but that’s an entirely separate issue, one that I could go off on for hours. I will spare you that).

So, convinced that this was something God would have me do, I self-published the thing back in January. No fanfare. No fuss. It’s sold a few copies. I’ve achieved starving artist status. Woohoo.

Really, making money isn’t my concern. This is a book that people need to read. Not because I’m amazing or the best author ever. I’m not. I simply believe that I have a perspective that is often lacking in Christian teaching. Again, not because I’m a genius. Rather, because the sick and suffering are marginalized, however unwittingly, by a church that doesn’t know how to respond, doesn’t have a clear understanding of how illness and faith can exist in the same body. Their voices are silenced in the face of a callousness that many probably don’t even know they possess.

Would I like you to buy my book? Of course. I got bills. But if you can’t afford the cost, I’ll send it to you. Free of charge. (No substitutions, exchanges or refunds, though). You can find my contact information on the “about” page. One thing I do beg of you: Please don’t take advantage of me. Like I said, I got bills.

Oh, if you do get the book, leave a review on Amazon. It’s painless and makes you an extra-awesome person. You don’t even have to leave a good review.

Okay, enough with the very uncomfortable self-promotion. Continue on with your regular activities.

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What’s Goin’ On

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Sometimes the need to write is strong but the desire to tell the story that comes, seemingly unbidden through the fingers, is lacking. Need, but no want.

If I could explain that better, I would. One of those weird writer things, I suppose.

I left this blog just before Christmas, creeping back, unannounced, a few weeks ago. The sabbatical was necessary. Last Fall – I bit off more than I could chew. I got burned out. Still am burned out, in many ways.

With no pretense at a smooth segue, here’s what’s been going on the last four months:

  1. I’m back in therapy. After a five-ish year absence, I have returned to the cozy office and comfortable couch of the wise, godly woman who walked with me through some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced. Again I can taste the dirt and feel the bruises that come from falling, suddenly, into the ravine. I’m on a low dose of Zoloft, the only antidepressant I can take given my liver problems, which tackles my brain’s habit of flooding itself with “fight or flight” chemicals for no dang good reason. Stops the hands from shaking and the sweat from trickling down my neck so that, with great effort, I can focus on what’s actually bothering me – not something I plan on sharing at this time.
  2. My health is very unsteady. December 2016 was golden. Great. I made it to work every day. Exercised every morning. Few aches and pains. Limited nausea. I got this little taste of what it might be like to feel “normal,” or at least as normal as it would be possible for me to feel. Then, crash. Bang. Boom. Thud. Increased migraines. Liver swelling and all the discomfort that comes with it. Insomnia. Exhaustion. Eczema that won’t go away. Yay.
  3. I have doubted my ability and calling to write. Not looking for you to soothe my ego here. I’ve been doing this for nine years. I failed, miserably, at getting a book traditionally published. A huge part of me wonders if I’m making any difference when there seems to be no progress or measurable impact…
  4. …but then I see all the straight-up bad “teaching” out there. And I feel compelled.
  5. Still, I find myself with big questions. What does God want of me? What is my purpose?
  6. That book nobody wanted? I published it myself. It’s titled The Harm in That: False Gospels, Alternative Medicine and Suffering. (You can click on the image to the right of this post and check it out over on Amazon. No pressure to buy). This book isn’t a long rant against people who are into alternative medicine. I know and love many who are. Disagree with them, but love them. Rather, this book tackles the question, “What does the Bible actually say about medicine, illness and suffering?” Not a medical textbook. Not expert testimony. It is a very broad commentary laced with snippets of my own experience.
  7. In continuing writing, I must come to terms with the fact that I don’t “do it” in a way that is readily embraced by today’s celebrity-obsessed and often-shallow Christian culture. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Church. I love Christians. But how many Amish fiction series do we need? How many books about the Nahum diet? (That doesn’t exist).
  8. Cleaning up my online life. Oh, the things I “liked” and “tweeted” years ago. Embarrassing.
  9. Small group drawing to a close. Normally, I am against groups taking a break for the summer. It’s so easy to fall out of good study habits. This year…did I mention that I’m burned out? We’ve been meeting for two years. I love these people. But I need a nap. A long one.
  10. Church changes. Our pastor left in October. As one who thrives in routine, the resulting shifts have been interesting some days, highly difficult others. Things have smoothed out recently.
  11. Drawing away from social media. I’m all for fun. For memes. For photos. Right now, I simply have a desire to share only what’s worthwhile and participate in conversations that mean something.
  12. Near-paranoia regarding Bible teachers. I am the last person who’s going to claim perfection. I don’t know everything. I want to learn from solid, wise, orthodox, godly people. But, boy, the amount of concerning statements and associations lately… My innate cynicism and suspicion has, to use a culturally favored pair of words, been triggered.
  13. Miscellaneous. Afternoon coffee. Avocados. New study Bible. Snoring dogs who look so handsome after going to the beauty shop. Trying recipes from The Great British Bake-Off.

So, there’s your wide-lens view of this blogger’s life. Still seeking to slay the dragons of anxiety and depression. Still sarcastic. Still longing to know and love the Lord better each day.

Now with 50% less dog fur covering her shirts.

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Photo credit: Beata Ratuszniak

Five Minute Friday: Rest

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Ten years.

A decade.

Sometimes it feels like eternity. Sometimes it feels like a few months. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. Marriage. It’s nothing like I thought it would be. Not better. Not worse. Different. In all the right ways.

Marriage is work. Marriage is mystery. Marriage is laughter and tears and empty bank accounts and cold nights made warm by the presence of another. Marriage is lighting candles because that will make your husband feel good when he comes home from work. Marriage is sitting, wrapped up in a blanket, fighting nausea while your husband brushes your hair.

Marriage is a holy thing.

Chris, I’m glad to walking this weird, wonky, wonderful road with you.

Go.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are My ways higher than your ways
    and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

– Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV)

I am arrested by these words recorded by the prophet.

This portion of the Isaianic corpus concludes with a divine invitation. It is an invitation of grace, to receive lifegiving water free of charge. It recalls Yahweh’s earlier provision of manna and water in the desert and foreshadows the One who said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37).

Vv. 6-7 are a final appeal to the exiles to seek Yahweh and return to him. Vv. 8-9 remind the people that their deliverance is beyond human comprehension. God’s word has promised it. It will not return void. We recall the opening verses of this portion of the book of Isaiah, “The word of our God stands forever” (40:8).

The prophet concludes this section by announcing and celebrating the departure from exile. Again, this act of deliverance will cause all creation to join in the celebration, and restored Israel will stand as an everlasting sign to all the nations that Yahweh is faithful to His covenant. – Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

“Yahweh is faithful to His covenant.”

In the middle of the swirling, soupy clouds that so often block our vision, He clears a path. A space. He bids us come and sit with Him.

And there is rest.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Jan Schulz

Five Minute Friday: Want

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Wrapped in the golden haze of this early summer evening, I stare out the small square of window that remains unblocked by the air conditioning unit and the closed blinds. Faded roses, in desperate need of pruning, grab my attention. If it’s possible to feel like a spent blossom looks, then I do. Long week.

Knowing that my area is sliding into the tortuously warm sunny season deepens the weariness. Tonight, thankfully, the temperature is bearable. Even pleasant.

Kate asks us what we: want.

Go.

Tomorrow is another day, Scarlett says.

Another doctor’s visit.

This life of chronic illness is one of slow, uphill climb toward a peak always hidden. Some days I face the trek with brave, squared shoulders and a smile on my face. Other days, I sit, back pressed against the immovable ledge, feet dangling into nothingness. There is no end in sight and the idea of continuing grates on the soul.

I want an end.

My thoughts are not bleak. I’m not hopeless. What I am is tired. Tired of the pain in my side, of seeing the doctor, of not sleeping well, of being tired. Tomorrow’s visit is about a prescription. Next month is the needle and the vials. In the not-distant future are the biopsy and the MRI.

I’m sure what I need is to have a good cry, the kind that sends me crashing into the oblivion of dreamless sleep. Things will look better in the morning. I want them to look better now, but if there is one thing I have learned, it’s that joy is the grit that gets you through the not-better moments. It keeps you looking into the hope of the guaranteed future in the presence of the Lord.

These mountain pauses, I don’t think my Savior condemns me for them. I think He sits next to me, in the space of grace, understanding that my spirit longs to fly but my body is made of cement. He points out things to me, things in the valley below that only He and I know about. It is our history together. Deceptively beautiful meadows filled with gorgeous, poisonous blooms. Sticky, dark swamps. Crossroads.

The rock pokes my back. Dirt feels rough beneath my hands. Sweat slides down my neck. I will not sit here long, for it is not comfortable. Difficult as the journey is, it is preferable to remaining still. I know He will offer me His hand and pull me onward soon. Where would I be, if not for the Lord? Yes, if not for the Lord. Isn’t that the tagline of our lives?

Some days I feel as if there is no end, but my theology preaches otherwise.

I want the otherwise.

More than that, more than wanting an end, what I am learning, slowly, to want the very most is God. Give me God. I am no saint. I whine. I complain. I sometimes swear. But if I have to spend the rest of my life attempting to surmount the Everest of sickness but the taxing ascent, the climb that will take everything I have, means knowing and loving Him better, if it means the true and sweet intimacy of relationship with the Master, then tired as I get, cranky as I can be, give me the thin air and the taunt muscles and the inability to look back for fear of falling. If in the mysteriousness of Divine will and fallen universe this obstacle is what is required to keep me close to His side, then so be it.

Lord Jesus, on days like today when I cannot take another step, please give me more of You. When I tremble in fear of the unknown, strengthen my trust in You. When I weep in the pain and the sorrow, comfort me. Most of all, Lord of All, please allow me, as You did Moses, to know and see You. I do not want to be anywhere You aren’t.

Stop.

I find particular comfort in this psalm set to music right now.

May you be encouraged.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Cosmic Timetraveler