sick (part ii)

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t get out of bed.  My limbs felt like they were made of the iron that I lacked, and every time I moved I was crushed with a wave of dizziness and nausea.  I feel a little better after eating, sure.  But I’m leaving the country on Friday, so I’m a little nervous.  This isn’t a surprise, though, due to the fact that I ate too little yesterday and my iron levels, which are supposed to be 13-150, are less than 5.

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of writing this post for a long time now, and it’s ironic that this has given me the space I need to write it.  I talk to very few people about it, so this should be part confession and part discussion.

I can’t ever remember being truly healthy.  We’ve been trying to solve my health issues – stomach problems, low immune system, occasional anemia – for a lifetime.  Sometimes, it was fine.  Until last year, really, it was under control, and I didn’t really think about it.  But there would be days when I would wake up in the middle of the night so ill that I could not sleep.  I felt so frustrated, as though I was trying to calm my body like a crying child.  I would take the shaking and the pain and throw medicines and food at it.  I would throw up my dinner involuntarily at five in the morning, not understanding, and weep into my hands in anger as I watched the pale, blank sky and listened to the premature chirping of the birds outside my window.

I realized just recently the effect that my body’s had on my understanding of the relationship between the body and the soul.  I’ve always put such a heavy emphasis on the soul over the body, regarding the latter as broken.  This past year, I’ve getting pretty tired of my physicality.  It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve realized that there will be a resurrection of the body as well – John Donne’s helped me broaden my understanding immensely.  I’m trying to bypass the hatred and betrayal that I’ve felt to my corporeal form for so long.

This summer, I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease.

There was a week in between the autoimmune test’s positivity and the diagnosis where I thought a lot about what it would mean to know, and what it would mean to actually start getting better.  I thought I would have a sort of identity crisis.  Not in a basic theological way, of course, but in the details.  Celiac is genetic; I’ve had it for my entire life.  I broke out in eczema, one of its symptoms, when I was three days old.  Before I had a name, I had been identified by this disorder.  Did I sleep so much because it was part of my personality, or because of the fatigue? How much of me has been shaped by this? And who would I be without it?

I shouldn’t have worried so much.  Not much has changed.  In part, I’ve realized that celiac’s diagnosis makes a lot of sense.  All of the symptoms I’d been experiencing over the years stemmed from this one disorder.  Here’s how it works: people with celiac can’t digest any sort of gluten, which is a key part of foods like wheat, rye, and barley.  Because we can’t digest it, it slowly wears away at the digestive tract, causing inflammation, pain, and malabsorption.  This malabsorption leads to fatigue and deficiency in things like B-12 and iron.

When I was diagnosed, I was upset.  Having celiac means devoting constant attention to what you eat, because even a little bit of gluten sneaking in can wreak havoc on my whole system.  Gluten comes from the Latin word for glue, and so sometimes, it feels a little bit like I’m coming apart without it, but I’m learning to navigate it.  I may put up a page on this blog with a few tips for the newly diagnosed, or make a separate post on celiac advice.  The strangest part was this: the worse I got, the more wheat I ate.  I thought it was making me better – I saw it as the one thing that was ‘safe’.

For twenty years, I poisoned myself, thinking it was the cure.  If that doesn’t have theological implications, I’m not sure what does.  As humans, we crave the thing that kills us, and we turn for comfort to the very thing that will ultimately destroy us.  Even sin can be beautiful to us, drawing us into a comfortable dependence and our ultimate demise.  The things that are good for us are painful at first.  However, the more I eat the foods I can, the more disgusting the others seem.  The more we live with God, the more repulsive sin will become to us, and the healthier we will become.

So here’s to figuring out painful things, and moving in the direction of getting well.

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p.s. I’m fine, guys.  Haha.  This was a little dramatic. Do not worry.

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death

About a month ago, my father gave me a copy of my own will to read over before we left for my great-aunt’s funeral.  Suffice it to say, I did a lot of thinking about death that weekend.

It was a lovely service, but then came the moment that I always dreaded.  I hate looking into the casket and seeing the waxy, lifeless body of the person I had once known.  Their features are fixed in place, caked with a garish sort of makeup, and you can tell that there is no spark there.  “It doesn’t look like her,” I whispered to my father.  “That’s because it isn’t,” he returned.

That’s why I hate looking in there.  I understand why it happens, as a final farewell and to give closure to the grieved.  But you can tell when you look that something has left.  Everything that made up their personality, their tiny quirks, opinions, and Great Loves has gone.  Their soul has left that flimsy, mortal shell and entered into eternity.

A storm was brewing on our way to the funeral, ominous in the distance.  It split the sky into dark and light geometrics on our right, fading from black to white on the left.  We were in Oklahoma, and it looked very honestly as though some of the clouds would touch down.

My family was worried.  My brother hates tornadoes.  I turned to him and asked him what the worst thing that could happen was.  “Uh, we all die a horrible death?” he replied.  I met his eyes.  “Is that all?”

Because for the believer, death does not hold the same dreadful power that it once did.  It’s a crossing over from one dimension to the next – the vehicle that takes us (in a Narnian vocabulary) to Aslan’s Country.  “Death opens a door,” says C.S. Lewis, “out of a little, dark room (that’s all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet.”

We no longer fear death, because all it can threaten is a better life than the one we have known here.  Eternity with God lies on the other side, and it is magnificent.  As someone once pointed out to me, life on earth is as close to hell as the Christian will ever be.  And if life here is so beautiful even despite the decay and depravity of this world, can you imagine what heaven will be like?  This world is but a dim reflection of the next, and eternity is being in God’s presence forever.

Just as we need not fear the consequence of death, we can also have faith in its timing.  And that’s scary, too, because there’s so much we want to do here, so many people we’re connected to, and so much life we want to live.  But I have realized this: if God takes me, then He will be even more glorified in my death.  If I die tomorrow, it simply means that my time here is finished and that my work here is done.  As long as there is still breath in my lungs and blood running in my veins, I have a mission.  The only reason I am still alive right now is because God has not finished with me here.

This summer I was driving my friend back to her house, moaning as we hit our third red light in a row.  She answered, “Maybe God just wants us to spend more time together.”  I laughed.  “No, seriously,” she said.

I think I forget how much of my life God has planned out.  He is a God of big pictures, but He is also a God of precise details.  There are so many reasons why we could have hit those lights.  What if we would have gotten in an accident if I’d gone through – and died?

I wondered then with shock – how many times has God saved my life without me even knowing?  How many details, breaths, or decisions could have resulted in my death had they been even slightly different?

My mortality stares me in the face at times like these – at funerals, during car rides, at night when I stare up at the shelves above my bed.  But I can stare back, unafraid and unangered.  I do not despair at death because I know that there is life beyond its threshold.  And it hurts, and the grief is almost too much to handle, and we don’t understand why God has Death take our loved ones when He does.  All I can say is that He knows better than we do.

One of the reasons that I love The Book Thief so much is that its narrator, Death, is not depicted as evil, but as tired, sad, and haunted by humans.  Death is only the messenger, and he is an old friend.  He tips his hat in my direction and I nod in his, knowing that he does his job without spite.  He takes each soul and carries it gently at its perfectly ordained time. I watch him pass, and he acknowledges me, and I know that when the day arrives when he comes for me, my work here will be finished, and I will have nothing to fear from him.

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Read this: 

“Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.”

“Crossing the Bar”, Alfred Lord Tennyson

keats, classes, and the future

So this morning, at 8:30, I signed up for classes for next semester.  Translation: I had freaked out about it all day yesterday, talked to several professors and parents until I finally had some semblance of a schedule… So I woke up at 8:25, clicked some buttons on my laptop while still in bed, and went back to sleep instead of going to Calc.  Uh…

Basically, I’ve decided to take Chem next semester, just to keep my options open.  And… well, lots of angsty feelings and miniature crises.

I rediscovered John Keats a few months ago, when I found a book of his poetry in a bookstore and bought it on the spot.  He has a marvellously sad and beautiful story (let’s add him to the list of my historical crushes who die young…).  Basically, he was a doctor, and he was torn between practicing medicine and writing poetry.  The enormous amount of time he spent being a doctor meant that he didn’t have time to write, and eventually (and scandalously), he left his career in order to pursue poetry.

Thank goodness he did, because he didn’t have much time to do so.  He was engaged to Fanny Brawne when his tuberculosis worsened, and because of his medical training, he knew that he was going to die.  It’s absolutely heartbreaking.  He died in Italy in the arms of his best friend.  He was only twenty-five.  Twenty five!

But as I sit in my MedPrep class (which basically tells you what it’s like becoming a doctor), I feel like Keats.  Okay, no, I’m not an amazing poet who will forever be remembered by history.  But I understand why he felt the way he did.  I understand feeling split between two very different things, feeling like that Raskolnikov, like a split soul.  I understand worrying that writing isn’t a real job, that I don’t have anything good to say.

Honestly? I hate making decisions.  Thinking about my future makes me feel a little sick to my stomach.  And I’m just tired, and burnt out, and just focusing on getting through finals and to summer.  But that also means another year passing, getting one step closer to making a dreadfully important choice.

And I don’t want to choose something, because I can see myself doing so many different things.  My problem? I love everything.

Alright, that’s a lie.  I don’t love diseases, or ants, or not sleeping, or being sick, or mosquitos, or homework, or fatty foods, or people reading over my shoulder, or getting bad grades, or axe murderers (oh… wait, also a lie… see Rodion Romonovich Raskolnikov…).  I don’t love decisions.

But you know what I mean.

My friends call Wednesdays, when I have MedPrep, my existential crisis days, which is pretty accurate.  It’s frustrating, because it reminds me of all the reasons I wanted to be a doctor in the first place and shows me how hard it is to balance medicine with anything else.

I love problem solving, people, helping others, learning new things, and seeing the beauty of the human body.  I love the logical side to it, the fact that it’s a puzzle with a solution.

But I don’t love how much time it takes.  It’d be years before I became a doctor, and then once you’re there, it’s so time consuming.  Medicine takes over your life, and I don’t know if I could deal with that.  That and people dying.

So, I’m struggling with this.  And thinking about it terrifies me.  Honestly, I just want to go and travel the world or live in a big city where I can learn and meet new people and collect their stories as I go.  I love meeting people and talking to them about the things that really matter.  The eternal things.

I’ve tried to give it up to God but a) I’m very good at worrying and b) I don’t know what He wants me to do.  Honestly? I just want to do whatever He would use me best in.  I know that He’ll use me in whatever I do… but still.

I want to do something that matters.  And sometimes I don’t know if that’s fueled by my own selfish desires for greatness or for the right reasons.  But I don’t want to waste my life.

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P.S.  I’m terribly sorry for the poorly-written, intensely personal post.  I don’t think I was very clear and or insightful.  Excuse me while I melt into an awkward puddle of feelings.

EDIT:I just got back from my meeting with my Christian group, and we talked about… worrying.  God is good, all the time, and He keeps reminding me to trust in Him and find my worth through that.

sick.

My brother does this thing.

There are so many things that he could say instead, as most people do.  I’m sorry.  Feel better.  A soft, murmured, poor thing.  A pat on the back, a sympathetic groan, a thoughtful do you need anything?  They’re all things we say to people that are sick and really hurting, and they’re all perfectly wonderful things to say.  They truly make me feel a little bit better.

But my little brother looks up at you with a soft smile and offers up a quiet, songlike “I love you”.  Sure, he says the other things, too.  But somewhere in there that simple phrase softly emerges, putting emphasis on the love every time – “I love you” – as if those three words could go farther than a healing of the soul to a physical healing of my body.  And that seems ridiuclous at first.  Why would he say that?  Great, but how’s that going to make me better?  The thing is, I have never once thought that when I hear the words leave his mouth.  It never makes me bitter, because it’s hard to look at pure love and feel upset.

And I think my little brother has the right idea.  I think (as much as I want to separate the two) that the soul and the body are more closely linked than we imagine or want to believe.  Love is so much stronger than we even realize, and we don’t see that.  We look for complex solutions, pragmatic findings, things that can be tested and proven.  And of course this matters.  But sometimes – most of the time – we need to know that we are loved as much as we need medicine or the right diet.  It might not heal our bodies by itself (although I have no doubt that it helps), but it reaches in and heals our hearts.

When we’re the most vulnerable, all we want to know is that we are valued, loved, and cherished.  That’s why those other things mean so much, too.  The sympathy, hugs, acts of service.  They’re all ways of sharing an immense love, and it’s a beautiful things in the midst of feeling absolutely awful.

Love heals.  Jesus cares about our bodies as well as our souls – why else would he have healed all the people that he did?  It was a way to show his love and his power to them and also meet their needs.  Not only that, but he healed us completely, in all our being.  Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins was the ultimate sacrifice of his very life that brought the ultimate and eternal healing of our souls.  We’ll get new bodies, too, in a resurrection to mirror His.  We will beraisedwith Him to live in eternity, forever made new and forever healed.

I’ve had the flu since Sunday, when I woke up with a fever.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m enjoying this, or that this is how I really wanted to spend my Spring Break (truthfully, it’s pretty terrible).  It’s really, really difficult to find the bright side in spending my only week at home on the couch in the study, surrounded by meds, toast, blankets, a thermometer, and Netflix (okay, that sounds kind of nice, now add the flu).

But I am loved, and I know that.  I am loved so much more than I deserve.  And a hug, just being held by someone who knows full well that I’m contagious, is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

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Read this: “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Also, I read Blue Like Jazz (<click) a few days ago, and it was brilliant and amazing.  Go buy it now, or check it out from the library, or borrow it from a friend.  It’s beautiful, and fantastic, and honest, and I loved it.  I don’t really know how to explain it.  So read it, and maybe I’ll write a post on it soon.

See this: I’ve watched a heck of a lot of TV these past few days.  I wouldn’t recommend that telenovela or the end of the Mummy #3 (I think…?) where Brendan Fraser and his attractive British son use great teamwork to stab a Chinese mummy (uh)…  But the 1950’s version of The Importance of Being Earnest was pretty fantastic.  My family’s also forced me to watch a heck of a lot of Burn Notice, and I’ve watched some Phineas and Ferb (NO REGRETS).  Oh, and expect something soon about Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

a confession

Hear this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpI5tJoncS0  <<Pertinent and on repeat.

Okay.

Lately…

I’ve been feeling a certain unrest in my soul.  By lately, I don’t mean the-past-week lately, although it’s certainly been resurfacing within recent weeks.  I want to do something important- something that matters.  I was talking to my friend about this, and she pointed out that that unrest wasn’t necessarily a bad thing- that in those moments, we don’t become complacent, but instead notice the things that we need to change and fix.  And I completely agree.

But I’ve been entirely too hard on myself.  I beat myself up all the time for not doing anything important, for not doing as well in school as I think I should do, for being less than others are.  I want to be great, and that sounds terrible as I type this, but this is a confession of sorts.  As I read these fantastic authors’ work, Dostoevsky, Keats, Joyce, Dickens, Shakespeare, Eliot, Donne, Lewis… I can’t help but want to join them in some way.

Is it bad that I yearn for greatness, to make a difference, to be known or remembered?  Not necessarily.  But my motives bear an explanation.  What has been driving me to such distress?  Do I crave this because God has placed it in me and because I want to say something important, change people’s hearts, and speak his truth as an instrument of his will?  Or do I simply want to make a name for myself, draw attention to my own talents and abilities, and be remembered by humanity for my skills and intelligence rather than the Holy Spirit inside of me?

I want to know I’m doing something important.  I want to have a purpose in this life.  And yes, I know my purpose is to praise God in whatever I’m doing, but it’s frustrating not knowing what he’s created and formed me for.

Comparing myself to others to gauge my own worth or progress isn’t helpful, either.  In fact, it’s terribly detrimental.  Whenever I try to measure myself off of others, which is something I struggle with every day, I can never come close.  I end up feeling stupid, out of place, and worthless, and that’s certainly not a good place to be.  I read the work of these beautiful, fantastic, amazingly brilliant authors and think to myself almost every day, I will never measure up.  I could never create such a thing of beauty as they have already, so why try? 

I focus in too closely on myself and let this selfishness grow until these worries consume me, pull me down, and pull me away from the problems of other people.  I could be showing them the love of God, but instead, I tear myself down from the inside out with worries about the future, about my calling, and about what I do with myself right now.

And… here’s the thing.  I’m not writing the next great American novel right now.  I haven’t produced anything radically world-altering or brilliant.  I don’t do something every day that would be considered successful in the eyes of the world… and that’s okay.

Trusting that God will guide me is hard, because I’m fallible, and I’m human, and I doubt and forget what he’s done for me every single day, getting mired down in stupid things.  But I’m trying.  Scratch that.  I don’t have to try, because nothing that I do could get me any closer to God.  He’s already done and given it all for me.  In my weakness, I rely on His strength.  And I’m not saying that I won’t relapse, or that everything will be fixed tomorrow.  I will, and it won’t.  These are things I struggle with all of the time, doubting and idolizing my intelligence or personal glory above God and His power and plans.

But He is changing me, and will show me what He has planned for me in His timing.  That’s a beautiful thing.  And although it’s dreadfully hard to rest in this uncertainty, He makes it a possibility.

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Read this: “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.” Hamlet, V.i

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will” V.ii

We’ve been in Hamlet for my Shakespeare class (it’s GREAT, I have a minor crush on him… problematic?), and he’s got a lot to say about fleeting greatness and God as the orchestrator of fate.  Well, he gets there.  Eventually.

nothing else matters.

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.  When human souls have beome as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.” Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis

Last night, I went to a worship event in another state.  It was sort of a spur of the moment decision, but it was one of the best ones I’ve made in a while.  Clearly, it was a lot of fun, and I got to bond with people, have milkshakes, and be silly afterwards.  But the actual worship was fantastic.

I worry about the same things a lot.  My thoughts cycle through future job woes, how I’m dreadfully undecided, the amount of homework I have, etc.  But, here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter.

Jobs, your future, work, what you’re going to wear, problems in your social life.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our best in these things (because of course we should).  But in the long run, they don’t matter at all.  When it comes right down to it, this world will pass, and you and I will pass, and we can’t take anything with us when we are translated over except our souls.

Nothing matters but Jesus, and what he’s done, and who he is, and what he’s sacrificed for us.  He loves us astoundingly, amazingly, in such a way that we can’t even comprehend the volume of his love.  He came to us, even though we don’t deserve it, and gave his very life in order to share it with us.

It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

I can’t remember much of the particulars of the worship night.  I don’t remember exactly which songs we sang, or if the band was good, or what the content was exactly of my desperate, fervent, muttered prayers.

But I remember the peace of the God of the universe filling me up until I thought I would overflow or burst or laugh or cry, and I remember God grabbing my heart and refusing to let go.  I remember knowing that he was there, with us, ready to take us in and change us entirely and turn our lives upside down in order to put them back together in a better way that centers completely on Him.

He’s still here with me, now.  And I know that he’s not going to leave.

It doesn’t matter what I end up doing, as long as I’m doing it for Him.  I pray that he’d take away my pride and fallen-ness and fill me up so much with the Holy Spirit that his love would flow out of me and reach those that need him desperately.

I hope I won’t lose sight of what’s important.  And I know I will, at least a little bit.  I still live in this world, and that will distract me.  I have to be refreshed every day and refocus on what truly matters.  But one day, we’ll get there.  One day we will truly understand the weight of God’s glory.

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Read this: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Romans 8 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8&version=NIV )

Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis: http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf  .  I really struggled with finding a quote to start this post off with because every word of this is absolutely amazing.  READ IT!!!

hell (and why the sermon was fantastic).

It’s not something that churches talk about much anymore, really.  Either they’re afraid to scare people off with fire and brimstone, or they don’t think that hell is something that important in today’s day and age.  Maybe they just don’t think about it much.  Or maybe they don’t believe in it at all.

This sermon, however, was fantastic.

I heard it at my church last Saturday, and I was rapt for the entire half hour to forty-five minutes.  Firstly, the pastor did in fact reference Brian Regan, worldviews, Aldous Huxley (post!), C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, and Jonathan Edwards.  There were so many of my favorite things that the people surrounding me chuckled every time I freaked out (which was often).

Secondly, it was presented with Biblical evidence and in a philosophical and intellectual way, showing us what hell really is: the trajectory of a self-centered soul into infinity until it loses all individuality and humanity.

I believe that there is a God, and he did send his Son to die for our law-breaking, and there is a heaven, and there is also a hell.  Talk to me about it sometime.  So without further ado:

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Read this: Reason for God, Tim Keller: http://timothykeller.com/books/the_reason_for_god/