Monday, July 28, 2014

Thoughts that crawl and climb like ivy

I have been a terrible blogger this summer. Appointments have cropped up, weddings and parties, weird weather, visits with friends and family—all have been speeding past me until my head is spinning a tad.

Then last week, somehow, I was struck by dreaded poison ivy. And I don't just get a happy patch or two, heck NO—I get bumpy, itchy rashes all over my body. Apparently my skin reacts to the oil, then all the rest of my body reacts to that bit of skin... Fun stuff. And then, the rash stays, and stays. Sometimes the redness dies down, and I get excited and think that perhaps, the urushiol oil is finished binding to the proteins in my skin and has begun to break down. But then, as I said, white bumps start to show up everywhere else... and I realize that the suffering isn't over yet.

Knowing this pattern, and my skin, I gave up fairly quickly after discerning the problem and I made a doctor appointment. I alternately scratched and applied calamine lotions for 36 hours, then drove to the doc to beg and weep for a steroid of some kind. I hate to be a quitter, but honestly, I'm going to let myself off the hook this time. I have washed every item that could possibly have housed the awful oil. I have threatened husband and son who may have brought it into the house. I have directed countless hairy eyeballs at the neighbor's side yard, which was littered with the stuff until just a few days ago. And I've been taking steroids, which are working, although not without other issues: sleepless nights, restless days, fingers and toes I can't keep still, stomach yuck. But I'm not scratching myself raw, so that's something. Right?

I keep thinking about the experience, though, and a few thoughts stand out. I think, not for the first time, of how different this rash might have looked for some poor pioneers who set out and had to clear trees and woods in order to do pretty much anything else, even just move forward. If I've been miserable, I with my lotions and air conditioning and comfy light fabrics—then how much more must they have suffered with long, heavy clothes, perspiration, and relentless heat beating on them. I wonder if they knew of the devilish green poison, if perhaps some of them knew where to find aloe or jewel weed to ease the irritation. I wonder if any ignorant newcomers, city-folk perhaps, touched the terrible plant, or (worse) burned it... and then scratched every part of themselves, thus spreading the horror. I wonder how long it took for people to get smart and recognize the cause. Or give their oil-bearing dog a bath. Or whatever.

(I think about older cultures often; I thought of them constantly after having a baby. I think of them when I do laundry in my easy-peasey washing machine. I think of them when I drive a car and arrive in minutes instead of hours. How lazy they would likely think us all. No wonder there's an obesity epidemic.)

I've been pondering, too, just how remarkably easy it is to be unaware of suffering and torment unless it is your own. I know other people with skin issues, far more serious conditions than a temporary redness. With constant pain, even. So I itch for a couple of days and have a mini-breakdown... Pretty pathetic. Our son woke up last week with a pinched nerve in his neck, and for a day had trouble turning his head one way, and it was so awful—yet we know someone who has that trouble daily, and on a much more serious scale. Even my 9-year-old recognized the teachable moment by commenting that now he understood better what life must be like for that friend of ours.

We are all such self-centered creatures for the most part, and then our shallow, me-first culture further ingrains that sort of thinking until it is quite easy to avoid considering, especially in depth, what others around us are suffering. My prayer today is not just to be grateful, but also to have more sensitivity to whatever the people around me are enduring. Whatever their troubles are, I know that to each of them who carry the burden, that trouble is heaviest. We are all shouldering something, but we can help each other, notice each other, connect personally, and most of all? We can take our burdens to the Savior. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and hearts, and Jesus invites us to accept His mercy and share it with all.

This was a rather meandering post, wasn't it? Back to the rash, I think this is officially an item on my "questions to ask God someday" list. Why poison ivy? It'll show up slightly above or below the "why mosquitos?" question, depending on the timing of my most recent ivy outbreak.

Wear gloves and spray on some Deet, then go in peace.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. -John 14:27 (KJV)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Diatribe, or die tryin'

My goodness, I certainly have been an absentee blogger, haven't I?! I didn't realize just how many days had passed since my last post. It's been a loooong time. This might be my new record for blog neglect. Alas, the hiatus has ended because I am moved to write.

I finally caved and became a Facebook member; I'm sad to report that it is often as pathetic and pointless as I feared. Yet. It seems to invite people to become at least partially informed, if you happen to be friendly with informed people who post meaningful links to factual information. Facebook is responsible, at least in part, for my need to express myself today.

Why am I writing? I suppose that I'm at my wit's end with clueless people. I'm frustrated by the general lack of interest most Americans display. I'm embarrassed that my fellows would rather follow the World Cup than the immigration crisis and its mealy-mouthed managers. I want to shout at the masses, to expound upon the reasons why we even had all those picnics and fireworks last weekend. Did you know that an alarming amount of Americans don't understand the point of Independence Day, let alone how and when it came to exist? They know the finalists on the latest television talent show, but they don't know about the recent Supreme Court rulings that had conservatives celebrating a tad.

When did apathy become fashionable? And more importantly, when did the land of the free become the land of free? How quickly we choose to be distracted from bad news, from violence and murdered children, from evil marching across a country with intent to destroy good. If it's not our country, or our children, we turn the channel. It's disheartening how quickly we disconnect from everything that does not directly affect us.

But what happens here will affect us, you see. Because we're a united group of states, under Oblamma's inept leadership and tutelage. We're like the separate systems of the body, which also function to create one large being. And we all end up impacting each other—just like all the water eventually gets mixed with all the other water, rain and storm drain and purified sewage and chemical run-off. One drop must be affected by the rest. We are not exclusive.

And what happens in our high levels of government affects us all, in time. What happens in other countries and their economies affects us, in time. We're all globally interconnected. But I can't even touch on that whole mishmash of ignorance about world affairs. I'm too concerned about ignorance at home.

People came to this country years and years ago because they were desperate. They wanted freedom to pursue the things they valued: God, jobs, family, community, food and homes. They wanted to start fresh in a place where your rank in society paled in comparison to your work ethic. Equal opportunity was intended to mean access to opportunities, not assured success and acceptance. The home of the free was aptly named because people exchanged tyranny and control for opportunities to work and earn, to climb from poverty on a sturdy ladder that would not sway or snap when the government changed hands.

The land of the free isn't supposed to offer everything for free. Capitalism believes in competition. That is where opportunity truly lies. And everybody in America will never all be completely equal. Some people are smarter or richer, some are destitute or unattractive, some had a great childhood while other scraped a living out of garbage. But the opportunities still exist for everyone to grow, to learn, to change their story. That's freedom. It's not government-dictated equality. People will share when they have enough to do so, or when they are moved by their faith in someone bigger than themselves to help them multiply what they have to help take care for others. Charity and generosity of spirit can't be mandated without resulting bitterness and hard feelings.

Hobby Lobby is not telling its employees they cannot seek an abortion. Hobby Lobby is not denying its employees the opportunity to end an unborn life. It's not even forbidding them to use birth control; in fact, it's still paying for some of those prescriptions. Hobby Lobby's offense? It's simply not interested in paying for the more gruesome forms of that "choice" to terminate a pregnancy. Isn't that the right of the employer? If I owned a business, and had an employee who drank loads of hard liquor daily, then came to me and wanted me to pay for a life-or-death kidney transplant, I'd have a problem with that. The condition, after all, was caused by choices that person made. That's why people created this country—to have choices. Isn't it? Why is a bakery being forced to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple? Isn't that the choice of the bakery? It's certainly the choice of the people in love who are shopping for a cake to go where they want. That's why competition works, people. Because there are choices. If someone bakes horrid cakes, no one goes there. If someone bakes great gay cakes, then word gets out. Right?

Choices. We must uphold the ability to choose in this country. To choose. Period. Our self-appointed king and his big-mouthed wife can tell their own children what to eat for lunch; I'll make that decision for myself and my own family. And citizenship? Yes, it's a choice, and an opportunity. We will never be able to make all those helpless children into comfortable citizens. Even if we do? By the time they're grown, the term "citizen" will have no meaning, and the greatness of the country that drew those people will have fallen to unrecognizable standards that no longer even resemble our forefathers' Republic.

Those first true Americans weren't perfect. They were determined, and they had an opportunity... and ultimately those were worth more than any hand-out. Don't let their hard work slip away. Watch, read, learn, and speak when informed. It's still your choice.

For now, at least.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The place to be

Last Saturday, I fought the road construction, the latest "fundraising walk of the week" road closures, and the general mayhem and confusion that is driving in downtown Pittsburgh. I fought it because by God, the kid and I had decided we were going to visit the Ft. Pitt museum and learn about old-fashioned Pittsburgh leisure activities.

We headed toward town, ended up being forced off the parkway thanks to lane restrictions, then (thanks to stadium lot closures) found ourselves in a no-way-back trek northward in the HOV lane (no, we did not want or intend to head north), and then finally came back down to town... where we paid too much to park near Point State Park. In addition to Ft. Pitt Museum's throwback leisure day (where I kicked my child's butt at lawn bowling), there was an outdoor festival happening simultaneously—lots of kiosks and stands dedicated to encouraging people and families to get outdoors and climb, hike, ride, explore, etc. It was quite inspiring, and less than stellar weather did not slow anyone down. Youngsters climbed a wall, my son tried out a 3-wheeler intended to rehabilitate folks with lower-body injuries, and we indulged in the most expensive soft pretzel ever. (Luckily, it wasn't bad...)

But we were at the Point. And short of a torrential downpour, floods, tornadoes, or black ice, one simply cannot visit the Point without making the walk to the Big Fountain. It's impossible to resist. The foaming tower of water, the hordes of humans milling around its base, the fantastic scene that unfolds before you in every direction—it's a favorite destination for a reason. Everybody loves it. You feel bigger there, and yet smaller, too. You are surrounded by manmade grandeur, yet also steeped in history. You're not far from that primitive little blockhouse, oldest structure in the 'burgh, but you're also staring across the water at a submarine, a football stadium, the science center cone, and one of the two inclines that crawl up and down the face of Mt. Washington. You're standing where original city settlers stood, where Frenchmen made a stand, where native Americans came aground. You're positioned right in the midst of Lewis and Clark's starting point.

A lot has happened on that piece of property.

And a lot is still happening there, albeit perhaps on a different scale. As we walked toward the fount, a park worker offered to take our photo. (He must have pitied us, as we attempted a somewhat-centered dual selfie while perched on a rock.) We accepted his kindness, posing, then chatted with him. He shared a funny story about a recent visitor to the park. A smallish fellow had come walking on the very same path we were exploring, had struck up a conversation with this gardener. They'd talked about how the fellow was staying uptown near the Consol Center, and eventually the visitor's identity became clear: Kenny G. Yep, the Kenny G. He was strolling anonymously through the park before his big concert performance. How cool is that? Our new friend shared how friendly and unassuming Kenny had been, how'd he'd laughed at the suggestion that he should be exploring the fair city with an entourage.

Even Kenny G likes Point State Park, and wanders through the shady greenery while gazing out at the massive waters that flow past.

If you can make your way around that vast fountain, and observe children giggling in the spray, and watch lovers adoring each other as they whisper sweet nothings in the clamor of the tumbling waters... If you can hear the tugboats alert each other as they pass, and trains send their high-pitched whistle skyward—if you can take all that in without smiling, then you're a rare human being... and quite possibly a joyless one.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yellow car syndrome

Someone came up with this funny phrase to describe a sudden hyper-awareness of something that you really hadn't much noticed before. For example, you buy a yellow car—and then, over and over, you are amazed at how many other people drive yellow vehicles, too. (We here in our home call it the "super-old Chevy Cavalier station wagon" syndrome... Or, we would call it that if we ever saw any other old Chevy wagons...)

I'm experiencing the yellow car syndrome myself these days; in the past few months, I've become extremely sensitive to the aging, frail population around me. I had already known that Pittsburgh was way up there on the list of cities with unusually high numbers of oldsters; I remember fretting about it in my single days. Yet suddenly, everywhere I look, I am visually accosted by the elderly, many of them struggling to complete simple daily tasks.

Now, I realize that this is partly because I have free time during weekday mornings in which to run errands, do shopping, and complete other household tasks. Of course I'm going to see more retired and infirm people then. (Weekends, on the other hand, are the time when you are inundated with babies and toddlers being dragged from place to place.) But my awareness isn't just age-related—it goes deeper. I am noticing crippled and gnarled fingers, bent-over spines, and people with walkers and canes. I even find myself counting the walkers, noting without trying just how many people around me require walking assistance. I am frequently arrested by just how many of the handicapped spaces are taken—sometimes all of them. Without trying, I notice a delicate white-haired lady at the grocery, trying desperately, with swollen, bent fingers, to open the clear plastic bag in which to put her produce. (Yes, I helped her.) It seems that everywhere, overnight, people have begun moving slowly, painstakingly, with difficulty.

And it's not just the older folks. I am suddenly, by way of association, aware of young people with physical limitations,too. We know a few people who have ongoing physical conditions, and now I find myself making note of similar symptoms and movements that would indicate that same or a related condition. I recognize the expression of pain on someone's face, the stiffness of joints that necessitates careful, gradual movements.

I'm sure my heightened sensitivity is related to my mother's failing health. I'm equally certain that my own advancing age, well into middle years at this point, might also be bringing home the point that these bodies of ours aren't meant to last forever. They are weak, and breakable. They can mend themselves in our youth and well beyond. But then? Those so-called golden years? Nature demands that we begin to deteriorate.

The most heartbreaking scene for me lately was a perky older woman pushing a younger lady in a wheelchair through Michaels craft store. There I was, inwardly kvetching about the traffic, and how I wasn't getting everything done that I'd hope to do, and how the sun wasn't out, grouch, groan. At that moment, the woman rolled her wheelchair-bound companion slowly past me, talking gently as she went. She reached for something on the shelf for her friend, placed it in her lap, and the recipient offered a barely audible, hardly decipherable word of thanks. I noticed how lovingly the elder woman responded, the kindness in her voice, the unhurried way she helped the other. I felt very small, and spoiled, and shallow.

It is good to be aware of this sort of thing. Good, because I can act when I see a need. Good, because I will appreciate my health, my body that still mostly does what I ask it to do. Good, because God has opened my eyes. I pray I will remember to be His hands to this growing number of opportunities. I hope I will remember to be thankful, and to act with gladness and obedience. Any of the folks I've been noticing could be, likely will be, me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Game changer

Knowing how these extended holiday weekends shake out (very busy, lots of running and distractions), I thought I'd better jump on here now. Better early than absent, eh?

Everybody thinks Christmas is the big Christian holy day. But Christmas means nothing without the climax of the resurrection.

Don't let Easter Sunday slip by without watching this.

(I haven't a clue who's behind it—just stumbled upon it, and consequently was lifted and encouraged.)

Happy Easter to you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Aw, for cryin' out loud...

Snow? Really? On tax day??? We've all had quite enough, thank you very much. Everywhere I went, people wore sour expressions with narrowed eyes. The neighbors even went so far as to stage an impromptu protest. Of course, they quickly became distracted by some new, chilled grass niblets... (See photo.)

There's something so wrong about admiring a blooming magnolia tree through a veil of icy flakes. SO wrong.

Alas. It is what it is. I guess I'll give up, put on some socks, and hold my kvetchin' tongue.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Not everything is awesome

This'll come much later than the what-was-big-and-now-is-past release of The Lego Movie. I haven't yet seen said movie, because when my boys went on opening day, it was a Daddy/Son event and I was not invited. Wahh. (It's all right, really—I'll see it on vid.) After they returned, though, our home was filled for the next few days with a catchy yet increasingly annoying little ditty called "Everything Is Awesome."

I don't know if Tegan and Sara wrote the lyrics; I was never a huge fan of theirs to begin with. I guess it really doesn't matter; some adult wrote them, likely. The words are sung very quickly, especially the "rapping" (talking) sections of the song, where men's voices are heard speaking the lyrics at lightning speed. Even sung quickly, however, most of the words are easily understood.

After a few [tens of] times hearing the song, I couldn't help feeling disgruntled by the lyrics. They're brainless. I clearly grok that this song is not intended to be a lasting contribution to the world's collection of meaningful compositions. Yet. A lot of the words are inane, and some of them? Downright lies.

Have you heard the news? Everyone's talking
Life is good 'cause everything's awesome
Lost my job, there's a new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community
I feel more awesome than an awesome possum
Dip my body in chocolate frosting
Three years later wash off the frosting
Smelling like a blossom, everything is awesome
Stepped in mud, got new brown shoes
It's awesome to win and it's awesome to lose


Blue skies, bouncy springs
We just named two awesome things
A Nobel prize, a piece of string
You know what's awesome? Everything!
Trees, frogs, clogs they're awesome
Rocks, clocks and socks they're awesome
Figs and jigs and twigs that's awesome
Everything you see or think or say is awesome

Okay, I took out all the touchy-feely parts of the song, where the girls shriek about how it's awesome to be part of a team, and we should all party forever... It's basically harmless, I suppose. This song is not a terrible song, and it's certainly not the first popular song to feature pointless, random lyrics (although it might be the only song I've ever heard that talks about frosting—no, wait, there's that awful MacArthur Park song from the 70s...)

But the line that broke my straw was that last line. The one I marked in bold. It's crap. It flies absolutely in the face of every Biblical tenant about mankind. So, I had to go and get all serious and address this with my kid. We've seen poverty, and illness, and people abusing other people, I said to him. We've seen car accidents, and arguments. Are those awesome? No, answered my son. And God tells us that thinking a sin is as bad as doing it, right (Matthew 5:27-28)? That's right. And the tongue? God calls is a fire, full of deadly poison (James 3:5-8). Not such a ringing endorsement for what we say, eh? And my boy agreed.

Obviously, this Lego song is not meant to deliver serious, meaningful messages to kids. Still, they're all walking around singing it. Not as much, now that it's not so new... but the lyrics are being written on kids' hearts. Those lyrics are being learned, internalized. Do the kids who hear and sing them also believe them? I have to think that some of them do. And that disturbs me.

Here is something that I'd rather hide in my heart, and my kiddo's heart. This is what I'd rather remember and refer to in times of confusion:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9