Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Answer to My Problem

It has been a crazy week.

Last Thursday, I woke up with my back hurting mildly. I shrugged it off, figuring I slept wrong. Long story short, it got really, really bad, really, really fast. I went to a massage therapist over the weekend, and when that didn't help, to a doctor on Monday. After agonizing and even crippling pain the past few days, I went back today - and when she saw me at my worst, she sent me to the ER...

It took a bit of fighting at the ER for them to not shrug me off and send me home with a referral to see someone else later. Instead, they gave me an x-ray, and when they were confused at it coming back fine, they gave me a referral for an MRI. Stubborn with the support of Emily (my driver and SUCH a trooper for waiting with me!), I insisted upon getting it there and then, as I'd already seen a doctor and they sent me here. That - and I'm supposed to leave on a mission trip in 5 days!

So I got it - and finally we got answers! I have a bulging disc in my spinal column. The bad news is that its still uber-painful and there isn't much we can do to fix it before we go. The good news is that they gave me strong pain meds (Vicodin), a muscle relaxer, and they affirm me going on the trip to Costa Rica!
The bad news is that I need physical therapy and have to see a spinal specialist in Glenview for it. The good news is that it isn't further along, and if we get it treated now, I shouldn't need surgery. This means more good news of a better chance of NOT having chronic back pain the rest of my life as a result of this...

This has been an ongoing drama in my life for the past week, but it has felt like a month. So many things have changed as a result of this... including work I was not able to get done. As I have been unable to sit and write for more than a few minutes at a time (I have already gotten up twice in writing this entry), I could not sit to do the necessary work toward completing my commissioning paper work. Everything is due tomorrow. After making the decision on Monday not to further stress my back by trying to keep writing, I finally sent an email today to the powers that be to formally withdraw myself from the commissioning process.

I will continue as a certified candidate, and can try another year. It was a big decision and a huge change made in only a little bit of time, but after having gotten up 3 times now for this short entry, I am confident it was the right decision. God must have something else in store for me... and I am confident something else will work out. I'll come back to this another day...

Peace, friends. I am off to get rest. Prayers for continued healing are certainly welcome.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

We will not go down (Song for Gaza)

A graphic, truthful, bold song of hope for Palestinians in Gaza.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Circle of Life

January has been a difficult time for me for several years now.

It was in January of 2004 that I first discovered my father had a relentless cancer, and was given 6 months to live (he fought for nearly 8).

It was in January of 2006 that the lives were needlessly taken from 7 people I knew and loved... 6 of them in 2 separate car accidents. The seventh was my dear friend Jenny, who died in her sleep due to an aneurysm. She was one of the dearest friends I have ever been blessed with; I still miss and love you, Jenny.

I have been grieving this week for a dear friend who is losing her father to a rough struggle with cancer.

Today, I received more news that makes my heart deeply sad. Marcie Sidie was my Spanish teacher in jr high/high school. I took classes with her for 5 years, but more than my teacher, she was a friend. She is responsible for forming the first support group I was ever a part of - and no one knew she was doing it until it was done. This is because while most students take 1-2 years of foreign language in high school, there were 7 of us that stayed with her for the long haul. She was gone a lot - in and out of treatments for her cancer that would go in and out of remission. And we were supportive as we knew how to be without being invasive. We sent cards, flowers, balloons - and not least of all our love and prayers. It was always a celebration when she was able to return to us. We did not always learn a lot as a result of having frequent substitutes who did not know Spanish, but we always managed to work independently well enough to legitimately pass the course.

So the 8 of us - her 7 students and Señorita Sidie herself, grew to be very close. We laughed, played games, taught (at the elementary school), and learned together. When we had reason to celebrate, we celebrated together. When there was reason to be sad, we took time out of our class to mourn together and support each other. When the planes hit the towers that dreadful morning of September 11, 2001, we sat in speechless terror and watched together. Then she was the only teacher we had who was willing to talk about it and debrief with us rather than respond with "if our lives stop and we talk about it, we're letting them win."

In the process of our relationship-building, she won our trust and as such, I learned more from her than any other teacher I've had. Further, she provided a space for us that allowed some unlikely folks to become the best of friends, relationships that I still keep up with today (even if only via facebook and gatherings are seldom due to distance).

On Monday, the same day that new life entered this world through my close friends' first son, little James Bennett Baker, Señorita Sidie passed away. The obituary did not list her cause of death, and from afar my best guess is that she finally lost her decade-long struggle with cancer.

I certainly wish the 7 of us could be together for one last time at her services on Friday, saying something ridiculous in Spanish that I know would give her a smile. Since we can't, I am pleased to know that many of her students who have come after us will be honoring her by doing just that. As for me, I honor her with this farewell and an old picture from our final day of class only days before our high school graduation.Rest in Peace, Ms Sidie. We'll miss you.

A Step Back

I was a part of something last summer that was huge. It was something so much larger than myself that on days like today, something small triggers memories and how incredible that journey was sinks in a little more. It is something beyond articulation, beyond the pictures and slideshows and videos. It's even beyond the numbers or the thousands of dollars we raised.

I've seen this video a few times before, but when another rider posted it on Facebook tonight, I felt compelled to watch it again. Only this time, it left a pit in the bottom of my stomach. It left me thinking about how HUGE this was, about how this may have been the most incredible thing I have ever been a part of.

Tonight, that feels like a bigger statement than ever before. This week, I have been reminded countless times (both by my own reflections and by others) what a blessed life I lead, and how incredible it is that I have been able to do and be a part of so many different things. I absolutely love my life, and I know I am blessed to be living this life and feel called to live this life. A life of love and ministry and travel and full of opportunities to worship a God so big and so great that God makes all of the huge, incredible things of my life, seem so small...

As I sit tonight reading a book on Eschatology for a paper I need to write, I am simultaneously working on the many questions I need to answer for commissioning as an elder in The UMC (commissioning is the next step toward ordination). I am tossing around all of these things and making lists of everything I need to do... I am constantly thinking about my future and what it holds as my graduation is now only 4 months (128 days) away.

Something occured to me tonight that I have never even considered before (nor do I want to!): with every incredible and "unbeatable" experience I have so early in life, am I setting myself up for disappointments of slowing adventures in the future? Now, there are a lot of reasons I do not like that this came up. First - how devastating! But more importantly -that's nonsense! I have been able to be a part of incredible things, yes. BUT - no two have ever been alike, and each thing has brought with it incredible people and relationships that teach me new things and encourage me with new insight and passions! That, I am absolutely certain, will never change!

Besides that, I also think it is important to consider that my life will only ever be as adventurous as I allow it to be. If I wanted to stop seeking adventure, stop seeking a deeper, unique and more meaningful way to serve God, then I could. I could back down and take an "easier" path that I have no doubt my mother would prefer. But what fun is that when I know God has blessed me with the passion, energy, excitement and determination to always take the extra step!?

So I go. Sometimes, I go too much. Like now... when I've only been back in the US for 12 days, and I have only 12 days until I must be ready for my next adventure (a mission trip to Costa Rica). Sure, there are sacrifices I make to do these things. Like the fact that I'm even still up right now: there is not actually enough time to get everything done, so extensions and last-minute work have at times become the norm. (In good procrastinator style, my goal is to keep up on my work next semester - my LAST semester! - so the last few weeks are not so crazy... wish me luck!)

I suppose all of this is simply to say, "whoa!" It is good to step outside myself once in a while and reflect on this crazy life I lead. I hope I never settle for anything less than what feeds me in this way . and I cannot wait to see what is in store for my life next.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Welcome, Stinker!

Perhaps it is because I have never been so close to a couple (certainly not close to the male) having a child, perhaps it is because they are such close friends, perhaps it is because they are nearby and I got to walk next to them through most of the pregnancy, but I have never before been so very, very, very excited about the birth of a beautiful child. (I am so excited you would almost guess it were my own - not that I want my own right now - or at least immediate family!)

My very good friends Ross and Amanda are proud mommy and daddy of their first child, a baby BOY(!!), James Bennett, who was born this evening. Mom and baby are doing VERY well, and he is absolutely the most precious, beautiful little child I have seen in my life (and I have only seen pictures). I cannot wait to meet him!!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Understanding of an Old Conflict

The Israeli-Gaza conflict...

It hits different when it is a place you have been. Places I visited only days before the conflict heightened. My understanding of the conflict has shifted greatly as a result of the people we encountered, the conversations we held, the places we visited. I fear in different ways when I have friends there, whether they are in immediate danger or not. Instead of allowing this fear to cripple me or allow me to worry, it is a fear that brings anger at injustice and positively draws more prayer.

The injustice of how we define "terrorist" makes me sick to my stomach, and I think the name calling in this conflict is backwards. I wish we (the United States) weren't funding all of these lives being destroyed... and that I could do more about it than having sent letters to my senators and an appeal through Amnesty to our Secretary of State.

I cannot shake the image of the teenagers (as young as 16) carrying around huge guns all over Israel. As Israel sends ground troops into Gaza today, I can't shake the pictures of a "substantial number" of teenagers moving in and using those very weapons...

I continue to pray for peace in the Middle East...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

I am looking forward to a new 2009, and it could not have began better. I spent the evening with some friends at an impromptu New Year's Even gathering, and it was splendid. I do not remember the last time I laughed so much...

2009 is of to a crazy start in the world, but I am looking forward to the new adventures it will bring. I have no idea what might be in store for me by the end of this year, so I can securely say I'm in for some good surprises!

All the best to you and yours in the new year to come!