When God Doesn’t Listen

“Why is my pain unending
and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
like a spring that fails.”
                                  – Jeremiah 15:18


You may (or may not) have noticed I’ve been off the grid for a long time. You may (or may not) have also noticed I last posted about lots of uncertainty and health issues.

Without going into gory details, I have been diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis. These are both chronic illnesses that come with some really unpleasant side effects. I’ll get into that some other time, I promise.

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in college, so I’m already old hat at being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Still, having done my research on endometriosis and adenomyosis, finding out I have both conditions hit me kind of hard.

Dealing with diagnosis of a chronic illness is in some ways its own grieving process. It’s not a straightforward progressing, but I’m going through the stages. Some days I’m militant about getting people educated. You will see this going forward, I’m certain. Some days I’m sobbing uncontrollably over the life I won’t get to have. Some days I’m so angry I want to rip my uterus out with my bare hands. Some days I still haven’t accepted it, others I shrug my shoulders and carry on.

When the pain is bad, it’s tough. And believe me, the pain does get bad. Even though I only just had surgery six months ago, even though I have an IUD in place to help control my hormones so they don’t encourage quicker growth and progression of the diseases, even though I don’t have it nearly as bad as a lot of women with more advanced stages of the diseases. This weekend I’ve been in pain. I’ve been curled up, groaning every time I try to move, crying out for some relief.

In spite of the pain, I still had to play for church this morning. I hobbled up the stairs to the church balcony. I squirmed with discomfort as I sat on the organ bench. I prayed for it to be over quickly. My entire inner monologue – and even some things spoken aloud on my way to church – cried out to God about my pain. If I’m being completely honest, I was probably being kind of whiney. But seriously, the pain was bad.

In times of pain it’s far too easy to think God isn’t listening. It’s not that I necessarily thought He wasn’t listening, but I was definitely feeling like my pain just wasn’t that important…and really, technically it isn’t, not in the grand scheme of things. Either way, I was throwing myself a bit of a pity party, to which God was invited.

Our first reading this Sunday came from Jeremiah 15. It’s been way too long since my Old Testament classes, but from what I remember, Jeremiah was a complainer. And that’s OK; we all have our faults. In the reading, Jeremiah is complaining to God (shocker). He says a few other things first, but verse 18 jumped out at me: “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.”

As I heard these words, God said to me, “I hear you. I know you’re hurting. I know you’re in pain.”

Yes, sometimes when we’re struggling, when we’re hurting, when we’re trying to cope with the impossibly difficult, God can seem deceptive. I suppose a modern interpretation of “a spring that fails” would be a bubbler that loses its water pressure as soon as you go to take a drink. Note: Yes, it is a bubbler. First of all, I’m from Wisconsin and that’s what we call it. Secondly, check the patent from Kohler…it’s a bubbler!

The very next verse though, verse 19, the Lord responds to Jeremiah. And He doesn’t just say, “Thanks for leaving a message, someone from corporate will get back to you shortly with a response.” He responds with several verses of promises. He addresses Jeremiah’s complaints and promises to use Jeremiah for HIS glory, to be with him, and to save him when the bad stuff comes for him.

And again, God said to me, “I promised difficulties and struggles. That’s life. But I am here. And I will not leave you. I’ll get you through it. I’m bigger than the pain.”

OK God, I got it. Sometimes You have to tell me things more than once to get it through my head, but I got it. Just in case though, don’t stop reminding me?

And this is what we have to remember, a promise of which we can be certain. Even when it feels like He’s not listening to us, He hears us. And He always has a response for us too. It might not be what we want to hear, but it will be what we need to hear and it will be what is best for us. There’s not a magical way to pray that will make Him listen better or “grant our wishes” like some genie. We can’t get God to owe us favors and we can’t buy favorable outcomes.

So what can we do? We can lay it at Jesus’s feet. We can leave it there, walk away unburdened, and trust Him. He’s bigger than any situation. He’s got this. He didn’t stop listening, and He knows. He’s listening…are we?


Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)

The title belongs to Garth Brooks, so take up the language with him. Or maybe don’t. I borrowed it without his permission, and I don’t want to get into trouble. (Please, Mr. Brooks, don’t sue me over this blog post title??)

I’m 34. That’s young. I keep hearing how young I am from pretty much everyone I ever happen to discuss age with. And I’m not actually 42 claiming to be 34; I’m a solid 34. 34 and six weeks, to be more accurate. Kids claim their full age proudly, so I will too. When I was celebrating my birthday, coworkers etc. were generally shocked that I’m not in my 20s. Apparently I’ve aged well.

But anytime I want to let that go to my head, all I have to do is ask a group of children how old they think I am, and I’m reminded that age is relative. To kids I could either be 10 or 60, and sometimes I think they might be right.

The reason I’ve been on a break from my blog is, simply, that I’m aging. Aging faster than I’d like. No, I haven’t quite qualified for my AARP membership – counting the years though, because they have a GREAT magazine and some sweet benefits! – it’s just that I’ve been…so…tired. Exhausted. TO MY BONES.

It’s been bad. Really bad. But the extreme fatigue doesn’t just start from nowhere. My mystery lower abdominal pain ushers it in. First the ache warms up, my lower belly feeling uncomfortably “full” and crampy and “period-y.” Before it starts to really hurt, I get this sensation that maybe I just have to go to the bathroom and it will get better. But even when I do (pun not intended, but really it could be either type of bathroom visit as there’s pressure on bladder AND bowels), the pain is unaffected. Next my body introduces the stabby, tearing, breath-taking, teeth-gritting pain that brings tears to my eyes. Movement is discouraged. Touching me or anything on which I sit or recline is discouraged. At this point my body is experiencing an inner battle akin to Gandalf vs. the Balrog. I know eventually good will defeat evil, but the struggle is epic and many tears will be shed. Once this pain sets in, my energy is sapped. It’s that battery drain old phones experience where they go from 75% power to forcing a shutdown without notice. My latest fun new thing is at this point I have also begun to experience migraines. After surviving all of these things, the energy comes back once the pain subsides somewhat. A dull sensitive ache remains in the abdomen, but it’s not as sharp or high-pressured as it had been.

Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a never-ending cycle.

I got to experience colonoscopy prep for the first time in my life, a week before my birthday. Great fun. Actually, if you’re due for a colonoscopy and/or have a history of colon cancer in your family, please get checked out. They can save lives. #themoreyouknow #psaforoldpeople

I also just participated in a sleep study. Because you know, all those sleep conditions that cause lower abdominal pain…

Doctors and insurance companies have insisted I jump through their expensive hoops to ultimately do exploratory surgery to look for endometriosis. The symptoms are there and have been pretty much since puberty. I’ve been asking doctors every few years if maybe it might be endometriosis, and each time I’ve been dismissed. Here’s a play-by-play of an actual experience I had in Urgent Care a handful of years ago in my mid-20s. Now, keep in mind: I was experiencing so much abdominal pain that I made the decision to go to Urgent Care.

Doctor: What seems to be the problem?

Me: So…I’ve been having this pain here *points to lower abdomen on right side* …and I can’t figure out what’s causing it and it’s been happening for awhile and I’m getting worried.

Doctor: It might just be indigestion.

Me: Well, I don’t think it really seems to matter if I eat anything. I’ve had issues with my period like all my life and I was looking into abdominal pain, and I realize a bunch of things can cause abdominal pain, but I was wondering…could it be endometriosis?

Doctor *poking my stomach twice*: No, you probably just have IBS.

Me: But…???

Doctor: Just watch what you eat. You’ll be fine. The nurse will show you out. *exits room*

So I spent a few years just assuming I have IBS. Nothing against IBS and I’m not saying it’s not a real thing that causes real issues and can be detrimental to those who suffer from it, but it was a bogus “diagnosis” from literally being poked twice in the stomach. Not cool, Urgent Care. Who knows? Maybe I do have IBS. But I probably don’t. Also, when I met with my gastroenterologist (good luck pronouncing that one correctly more than once ever in your life and not sounding drunk) prior to having a colonoscopy, he listened to all my symptoms and ruled out IBS as the cause and he explained why in a way that made perfect sense to me.

I like my gastroenterologist. I mean, if you’re going to have a doctor perform that kind of procedure, it might as well be a doctor you like and trust, right? If it’s important to you to have a professional, trusting relationship with your gastroenterologist, you are OLD. Sorry, but you just are.

Ok. Now after poking diagnoses, rounds and rounds of tests ruling things out that I knew all along I didn’t have, and so much time waiting for appointments and tests and results…now I’ve finally had a doctor tell me the next step is checking for endometriosis. And know what? I’m scared.

I am scared.

What if they go in and don’t find anything? What if I still don’t get an explanation for all this pain and this complete exhaustion? What if I continue to just feel so ridiculously old and still don’t get any answers? What if this never gets figured out and I just fall apart until the pieces can’t be put back together??

Yeah, I’m terrified.

I had a couple of good-ish days, but today was bad. The fullness, the pain, the horrible swelling in my abdomen, the inability to move around like a normal human being my age. And so it begins again. 34, going on…90?

I may not have answers, but I do know that, if this is endometriosis, it sucks. Period.

Only Temporary

I am a church organist. It’s a pretty cool job, actually. Preservice music is “background noise” for most people, but I enjoy selecting pieces that fit the readings and message theme to help prepare them for the service.

Whether or not they’re listening for it, the music is there to speak to their hearts.

My commute to church is about 40 minutes (that’s how we measure distance in Wisconsin). It can be a scenic drive but gets daunting when the weather doesn’t cooperate. On a recent Sunday morning drive the weather became decidedly uncooperative.

Storms had been moving through the area off and on that week, some with heavy downpours, amidst scorching heat. As I headed south on the highway that morning, the heavens opened. The deluge slowed traffic considerably. My whole world turned dark gray; there was no difference between the sky, the road, or anything in between. Windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. A number of drivers turned on their hazard lights and pulled over to wait it out.

Given the distance I had to cover, I opted to keep going. I drove with caution, I assure you. I had somewhere to be, after all, and everyone notices if the organist is late for church.

The rain just did not let up, not my entire drive down the interstate. Posted speed limit signs may be 70mph, but I was lucky if I averaged 30. Thankfully I only saw a couple of reckless drivers attempting to go faster than the rest of traffic.

After what felt like an eternity I reached my exit. (Twelve minutes left to my commute, for those of you keeping track, now turning west.) It was still pouring. I was focused on operating my vehicle, focused on the road, focused on other drivers. My hands gripped the wheel and my entire body was a bit on the tense side from being hyper-focused for the entire drive.

As I neared my destination, I opted to turn on K-LOVE, a Christian radio station, to help get me in the mindset for worship. You see, being an organist is more than a job. I go to church to be with my church family, to hear the Word of God and to worship God with them. So I was doing what I could (at the end of stressful travel) to prepare myself.

And then the coolest thing happened.

I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe began playing. A few words into the first verse, my world was no longer gray. Not because of the song (though I do love the song), but because sunlight began streaming through the clouds above. The rain hadn’t let up, but up ahead there was a break in the clouds and a bright blue sunny sky could be seen above them.

It was one of those “God moments” that give you the chills because you don’t have to sit around waiting for a meaning or waiting for it to make sense.

The world around us has been pretty gray and heavy lately. It’s all we can do to just keep going instead of pulling over and giving up. We focus on current circumstances, on the horrific things going on all around us, on the hate, on the hurt. We turn in on ourselves, just trying to get by. The longer it goes on, the tougher it is to remember that these circumstances are only temporary.

There is a peace that is timeless. Hope is waiting, just beyond the storm clouds. The sun is shining, even when we can’t see it. The Son will shine His light even through these terrible storms. And the best news is that these storms won’t last forever. As Christians, we do not look forward to an eternity of conflict and struggles; we look forward to an eternity of joy.

Jesus died to take on all our shortcomings and our failures. He rose again to show that even death was conquered, something He assured us He had defeated for us as well. Then He went back to Heaven to prepare a place for us. We don’t know much about Heaven, but Jesus went through an awful lot of trouble to make sure we could be with Him there. The light of that promise can shine through any rain that might come our way.

Just remember: there will be difficult storms – it’s part of life – but they are only temporary. God is timeless, and so is His love for us. Joy is coming. The Son is coming.

Why We #PRAY

You are going about your day when your footing shifts suddenly – there’s been yet another tragedy somewhere in the world. It may have been in your country, it may have been halfway around the world. Shooting rampage, natural disaster, terrorist attack, plane crash…whatever the event, you are faced with the fact that something terrible has happened. People have lost their lives. People have lost their loved ones. Whether or not you are directly affected (and let’s face it, you probably aren’t, not directly), your heart hurts knowing that the unthinkable has happened to fellow human beings.

It’s an unfortunately all too familiar occurrence these days. I fear we are growing calloused to the news. I fear that I too will become calloused to it.

The past few tragedies – and oh my good Lord, sweet Jesus, that I have to reference several breaks my heart – I have noticed a trend for a growing number of people to speak out in anger toward any mention of prayer with regard to the tragedy. As in, “Stop praying and do something to fix the problem already,” or “You jerks are over there praying. Why aren’t you helping?!?” In the wake of these tragedies, those who choose to pray have been told that their contribution of prayer is useless. (Honesty, the comments on prayer are usually much crueler and curse-laden, but you get the idea.)

Spoiler alert: I pray.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me explain why. You see, I have this collection of love letters from God called the Bible; in the Bible, He says He wants me to pray. If God wants me to do something, it’s because it’s for my own good and I should really try to follow what He says.

I’m sorry, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself with these “religious” words. What is prayer? Well, if the Bible is a collection of love letters from God to me, then prayer is my response. All prayer really is…is a response. Some people think prayer equals “gimme Daddy, now!” No. Just no. God is not our personal sky genie. Prayer also is not simply about asking for things. If you pray but all you do is ask for stuff, then I’m telling you right now you’re doing it wrong. Prayer is a response, a message, directed to God.

Also not to get ahead of myself, let me specify God’s role in all this. God is not a distant deity floating in the clouds, oblivious to the goings-on of this world unless we cry out loud enough to get His attention. God is also not an absent father. He doesn’t need us to tell Him what’s going on in the world or in our lives; He already knows.

OK. So a tragedy has happened. I’ve acknowledged God already knows about it and isn’t just hanging out waiting to grant wishes. So why do I pray in these situations? Why does it even matter?

This might be a bit of a copout, but guess what? Praying is actually good for you. Prayer counteracts the effects of stress, which is actually a major health benefit. It also helps aid in self-control, reduces anger/aggression, helps a person to be more forgiving of those for whom they pray, and increases trust among those who pray together (in other words, it helps create unity). These benefits have been observed in multiple scientific studies, outside of religious angles.

If that’s all there was to it, that’s reason enough to be more accepting of people who choose to pray. But wait, there’s more…

Prayer has spiritual benefits as well. One-sided conversations are boring. Prayer engages us in a conversation with God, with our Father, our Dad. It’s good to know we can run to Him for any reason. Maybe we’re happy, maybe we’re sad, maybe we’re scared; but the fear can be lessened, the pain dulled, or the joy enhanced if we’re in His embrace.

Throughout the Bible whenever God told His people to do something, He always had a reason and it was always for their benefit, for our benefit. He told us to pray. I’ve got a verse for you from one of God’s love letters: “Pray continually,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Instructions to pray and how to pray are woven throughout Old and New Testaments. God wants us to pray. More specifically, He wants us to pray continually. It should be like breathing. It should be done in hard times and in joyful times. It should be done for our enemies. It should be done to thank God and to ask Him for what we need – with the understanding that as our loving Father He will listen to our requests and do what is best for us, sometimes in spite of our begging.

All this is well and good, but this all is pretty self-centered for the most part, and if that’s all prayer did, then putting a hashtag out there for others to see could be considered selfish.

But prayer is not just for the person praying.

From the perspective of someone who does not believe in God and does not see any purpose to prayer beyond the quantifiable, look back to those studies I mentioned. Prayer promotes peace and, among groups of people who pray together, unity. Just imagine for a moment what might happen if we all stopped to pray together as a nation.

Also from a non-religious perspective, the offering of prayers can be a comfort to those who are suffering. Even those who don’t believe in “the power of prayer” can feel a lift in spirits by the words “I’m praying for you,” spoken in kindness. A kind sentiment is never useless.

I cannot bend the will of God. He does not do my bidding. (This is a good thing, I assure you.) I won’t claim to understand God fully. It’s just not for us to fully know this side of Heaven. But I do know that the Holy Spirit works through prayer. If God the Father is Dad, then God the Holy Spirit is the ninja assassin out doing spiritual battle on our behalf and performing spiritual resurrections on a daily basis. (I might not’ve pulled that exact wording from any Scripture, but it’s all in there.) With the Holy Spirit involved and prayers being offered in the name of Jesus, God who lived a human life so He understands our struggles and died so we could live forever, we’re calling out the heavy hitters.

An argument I’ve heard is that obviously prayer isn’t working, since bad things keep happening. If there was a magical formula to get bad things to stop happening, I’m sure someone with a lot more training than I would’ve already figured it out. Since Dad isn’t a genie in the sky though, and since most Christians have at least a general understanding that this world will continue to have sin and bad stuff in it until the end of the world, quite literally, we generally don’t walk into prayer demanding an end to all evil.

What do I pray in times like these? Sometimes words are hard to form, but let me give you an example, based on the recent events in France.

God, I wish I could ask why, but I already know sometimes there just isn’t an answer we can understand. My heart is breaking for all the families broken by this cowardly attack. Lord, be with those who are grieving. Hold them. I just can’t imagine… Please be with the leaders of their country as they struggle to figure out how best to proceed. And with the people of France whose hearts must be hurting. Bring healing to the victims hanging onto life. Bring comfort to those who lost loved ones. Bring peace to their hearts and to the grieving nation, to so many around the world grieving with them. Don’t let this turn half the world into a powder keg. Please. Lord, please. Help me to be Your hands and feet. Help me to help where help is needed and to change what I can change for the better. Above all this Lord, I pray for you to come back soon. This world needs You more than anything. But however bad it gets before Your return, please keep reminding us that You are on Your throne. I know there is so much more to pray in times such as these. I don’t have the words, but You know the prayers of our hearts. Please Lord, hold us and keep us, and bring us all closer to Your heart. In the name of Jesus who died for all, regardless of nationality, race, or gender, our Savior and friend who chose to die in our place, I pray to You boldly, knowing that You hear me. Amen.

Now I realize my prayer hasn’t ended terrorism, and it hasn’t brought the dead back to life. It is, however, my response to God after the horrific attack. If I can pray this with others and let the people of France know that we are taking time to offer prayers for them, then the prayers are far from useless.

Prayer is a small voice speaking out for peace and love in a world full of darkness and hatred and fear. One small voice might not be much, but it is far more beautiful than silence.

You don’t have to pray with me, but you do not get to silence me. That having been said, I humbly extend a hand and invite you to join me. Won’t you join me in praying for a world that’s hurting?


Disney Movies Set Us Up for Relationship Failure

Disney PrincessesWas there anything better than having Mom pop open a large plastic VHS case and push the tape into the VCR on any given day? Not unless you were lucky enough to get to watch two in a row (or, let’s face it, the same movie over again after it was rewound). Disney movies were THE BEST. THE. BEST.

Okay, who am I kidding? They still are pretty great. Thinking about the Disney films of my childhood still gives me the warm fuzzies. I may or may not have purchased DVDs of my favorites when I moved out on my own and began forming my larger than average DVD/Blu-Ray collection. I should probably note that most of my collection is comprised of non-Disney films; that needed to be clarified. But I have The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Cinderella, and Frozen, among others. (Yes, I said Frozen. Which came out when I was already in my 30s. And I have no children. Go ahead, judge me. But it’s a good movie and you know it.)

Unfortunately as we were taking in all those great stories and songs and whatnot, these sacred movies were working dark magic on us. Sorry to report this, but it’s true. You see, these animated classics were encouraging us to dream. And they introduced us to amazing love stories that, when you really start to think about it, might not be the best examples for impressionable young minds.

Before you cry “Feminist!” like it’s a four letter word and stop reading, please, just hear me out. Think about your favorite Disney film. Now (all in good fun) take a look at this list and see if anything sounds familiar. Based on your favorite Disney movie, I’m going to guess what has caused your relationships to fail. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I did try to include all the major “traditional” Disney movies – the animated films with honest to goodness breaking into song, particularly those containing a love story. A few Pixar films have been tossed in just because. If I haven’t seen it, if it’s not as popular, or if it’s live action/mixed it has been excluded.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – As long as he shows up at the right time, you think he’ll be the one. In the meantime, you bide your time cooking and cleaning for lesser men. Just keep in mind that for Snow White, the “right time” was after she choked to death. Here in the real world, I don’t care how good of a kisser the guy might be, he’s not bringing you back from that.

Pinocchio – You tend to fall for guys who don’t really understand consequences. They have questionable ethics, lie frequently, and don’t often realize what they’ve done until it’s far too late to repair the damages. There’s also some family history there that you just can’t quite work out. Better to avoid the trouble and get a nice coffee table instead.

Dumbo – You have a soft spot for the hopeless cases, the really damaged guys. But a guy who lost his mother at a young age and was abused as a child might need therapy more than he needs you. Actually, maybe you should just become a therapist. Just don’t sing “Baby Mine” to any patients.

Bambi – It’s hard to find someone who cares as much about the environment as you do. Your worst nightmare has come true more than once: you meet a guy, he seems great, and then you find out he’s a hunter.

Cinderella – You expect the right man to chase you and make you his princess. But this is the real world, honey. Glass slippers cause blisters, and once the guy catches you he’ll either lose interest or you’ll end up cleaning up after him instead of your stepfamily.

Alice in Wonderland – You’re into druggies. There’s no way to sugarcoat this one. Sure, the highs might be fun, but the lows are downright frightening. Do not go down this rabbit hole ever again.

Peter Pan – You’re type will never grow up. That does not make for an equal partnership. He refuses to take on responsibility, which means you’ll never land a future with him.

Lady and the Tramp – Unlike in this movie, when an ex-girlfriend of the guy you’re seeing tells you he’s bad news and he’s going to use you and lose you, that is what will actually happen. Also, slurping spaghetti just isn’t as romantic in real life, which is quite a letdown.

Sleeping Beauty – You think you can just lay around in bed and the perfect guy will come to you. Instead, weirdos who think it’s OK to do things when you’re asleep keep showing up. Unconscious means NO, people!

One Hundred and One Dalmatians – Your love of dogs may be your downfall. Sure, they’re great companions, but the reality of finding someone who loves dogs as much as you do is you’ll need to find a really big home. Roger and Anita would’ve had animal control knocking on their door before you could finish one verse of “Cruella Deville.” You and your significant other will never have time for each other, what with walking and feeding all those dogs…

The Jungle Book – You’re far more interested in hanging out with friends than meeting people. But when you do date, you give that person your undivided attention and completely drop your friends. You need balance.

Robin Hood – Social crusaders rarely have time to properly develop and maintain healthy relationships in real life. Don’t expect them to have time for you. Or maybe you drive them away with all the outfits you have for your various pets.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – The guys you fall for tend to be a bit clueless – dare I say it? – bumbling idiots. Constantly getting them out of the troubles in which they’ve gotten stuck can be taxing on your sanity. They may be loyal, but thinking is not their strong suit.

The Fox and the Hound – You are much too emotionally fragile to fall in love with anyone, knowing that they will someday be taken away from you. You protect your heart at all costs after the number this film did on you.

Oliver & Company – Excitement over substance. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough, he won’t stick around. Also, he won’t be Billy Joel circa late 1980s. There’s no way he can be what you need.

The Little Mermaid – You fall for men who are incredibly shallow and don’t actually care about you as much as they care about you looking and acting (and sounding) a certain way. You will change everything about yourself and alienate yourself from your family just to have a chance with him. Then, just when you think you’ve got him, some (b/w)itch walks by and steals him away. Girl, if she can steal him, he wasn’t worth it!

Beauty and the Beast – You enter relationships thinking you can change him, then you get frustrated when it turns out he’s not under a magical spell that your true love can lift. Turns out he’s just a controlling jerk with a temper. It’s also possible he’s abusive. Run. Just get out of there.

Aladdin – You fall for the bad boys. And, unlike in the magical world of Disney, bad boys are not diamonds in the rough with a genie and a magic carpet to fly you to a whole new world; bad boys are immature and likely to either get you caught up in their troubles or split when things get tough. Stay away from the bad boys.

The Lion King – The guy who runs from responsibility is your type. He may or may not have had a father figure to teach him how to be a man. Also, in the non-Disney world, he may or may not have fathered multiple children with multiple women. He’s shirking responsibilities now, he’ll do the same to you eventually. Dump him before you’re holding up a newborn and singing “Circle of Life.”

Pocahontas – You fall for your complete opposite. It’s like you’re from two different worlds. Need encouragement to break this tempting rut? Look at the real life story: John Smith was a creepy old man who made up the romantic relationship with a much younger Pocahontas, who eventually married a different British man and was dragged over to England only to fall ill and die a world away from her family and the home she loved. Yeah, so there’s that…

Toy Story – You can’t seem to find anyone who wants to stick around after he’s seen you extensive collection of childhood toys and stuffed animals.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – The controlling type is never a good one to get involved with. He won’t let you be yourself, or he’ll be a recluse who never wants to go out and do anything.

Hercules – You fall for the vain type. Sure, he’s strong and handsome and all that, but it’s not like he’s a god. You can’t help but get the feeling that he’s always out to prove something, so it will never really be about you.

Mulan – For some reason, the guys you fall for turn out to be just as into guys as you are. Or they’re turned off by your pet cricket and free-roaming pet lizard.

Tarzan – You fall hard for surfer dudes. There’s something about the way they move and the fact that they wear so little. Or maybe it’s their shaggy hair? Sadly, you can’t live your life in the jungle (or on the beach), and he just doesn’t look the same dressed up like a regular human, nor can he interact like one.

Monsters, Inc. – The big, hairy, goofballs are your type. It seems like a safe bet, but the hairy part might start to get on your nerves. If you haven’t invested in lint rollers, it can’t last.

Lilo & Stitch – You think the guys you bring home are quirky, cute, mysterious. Your family knows better. If they tell you he’s probably dangerous and they don’t like him, just listen to them. Even if he can sing like Elvis.

Finding Nemo – Nervous, overbearing single dads are your thing. It’s great that they seem to care so much, but there’s something a bit neurotic about them that just doesn’t bode well for your relationship longterm. Besides, it’s pretty clear that you care more about the kid than you care about the dad. That kid’s gonna have enough to talk about in therapy without getting attached to you only to have you disappear one day.

Ratatouille – You love guys who throw themselves into their work, artists of all kinds – chefs, painters, musicians, etc. What you don’t realize is their obsession with their art leaves little time for you in their lives. Sure, there will be some delicious meals on occasion, but most nights you’ll be home alone eating Chinese takeout, making conversation with your pet rat.

WALL-E – You have a hard time communicating. You fall for quiet people, but eventually you realize someone will have to verbalize more than what either of you can.

Up – No one will ever live up to the first two minutes of this film. No one. And even if you think maybe you can see yourself living those snapshots with the right guy, the thought of the heartache and loss stops you cold. Either that, or your strange affinity for balloons is chasing them away.

The Princess and the Frog – You expect adventure and excitement, so when it all becomes familiar routine, you get bored. Either that or you scare guys away with your pet frogs or your obsession with voodoo.

Tangled – Sorry to say it, but you’re pretty naive when it comes to interacting with the opposite sex. When you fall, you fall hard. And you’ll fall alright – for the first guy who comes along. Even if he’s actually a criminal. But there’s also the possibility that your situation at home isn’t entirely healthy either, so I’m not sure what chances you had in the first place.

Brave – Your family life is far too complicated right now to even think about dating. Your combative nature fends off the weak naturally. The rest? Probably bears.

Frozen – You keep finding guys who finish your sandwiches – even when you wanted to finish them yourself. Actually, know what? You’ve got better things to do than to bother with stupid relationships. Go build your ice castle in peace.

What My Cats Have Taught Me About Life (So Far)

Cats may have been gods in ancient Egypt, but their reputation has been less than stellar in more recent history. From bad luck to demonic creatures, lazy jerks, aloof, uncaring, etc. And cat owners don’t have it much better either. I have cats – plural – and I’m a woman, so I’m a crazy cat lady. I am anti-social. I wander around my hoarder apartment in fluffy slippers and a ratty bathrobe while my apathetic cats scratch all my furniture and go to the bathroom everywhere.

As fun as that all sounds (and as awesome as it would be to have a demonic minion capable of sucking souls out of sleeping children), I assure you cats are far more social and loving than non-cat people think. Not having a cat to come home to for six months just about killed me. Losing Evie brought on a grief the likes of which I have never before experienced. Cats have individual personalities and traits. The right cat can quickly flop and roll its way into your heart. And, once it’s there, you can learn quite a lot from that furry little weirdo.

Sleep. It’s important. Being adorable is hard work. You need to get plenty of rest. Eight hours, ten hours, sixteen hours, honestly more is better. Speaking of which, I think it’s time for my late afternoon nap…

Show affection, always. Even when it’s 3am and the person just wants to sleep. Paw at their face if you must. Don’t be subtle about it either. Head-butt, cuddle, and awkwardly sprawl on the ones you love. They need to know you care.

Sometimes you need to be vocal to get what you want. Be persistent. If you don’t speak up for yourself, who will? Being diminutive can lead to being overlooked. Don’t let that happen. Whine and cry and yowl and be loud. That can of tuna is not going to open itself.

Be observant. There’s a lot of life going on around you. Take it all in, even if you’re acting like you don’t care what’s happening. Also, watch for opportunities like stray bugs, birds out the window, a shadow or laser pointer that need chasing, or an empty lap in need of warming.

It’s OK to change your mind. Sometimes you really need to go outside…until you get there. Then you realize you really need to be inside. And then you want to go back outside, and so on. That’s okay. These are your life choices, and they will eventually lead you to where you belong. Which of course is atop the pile of freshly cleaned clothes stacked on the bed. Obviously.

Take time to bask in the sunlight. This goes paw in paw with sleeping, but here we are also reminded to relax. Be still. Enjoy that patch of sunlight before it moves to a wall.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Take care of yourself and take pride in your appearance. Again life is to be enjoyed, so enjoy the act of keeping up your coat. Bonus points if you can do kitty yoga poses at the same time.

Play. Don’t run around stressing! Run around chasing a fake mouse or feather toy. (Or if you’re particularly dim, chase your own tail. What else could it possibly be good for, other than swishing in faces, food, drinks, and candle warmers?!).

Be creative. Don’t settle for the easy distractions of expensive toys or cat trees. A cardboard box could be anything – go for the cardboard box. It is versatile and can be found everywhere. It can be a toy, a snack, a bed, a scratch pad, a hiding place…pretty much everything you could ever want. Just use your imagination.

Be gracious. When you’re appreciative, show it. Find an especially juicy mouse or other rodent and share with that special someone. Leave them the juiciest bits in a place where they’ll find them. Or, if you really want to show gratitude, bring them a live snack to play with. They will never forget such a personal gift.

Fluff is beautiful. When you’re cuddly and soft, you’re easier to love. I’m sure it’s a measurable fact. Wear that fluff with pride.

Be curious. Even if it’s something that scares you a little at first. Explore. Maybe even get into a little trouble. How else will you learn not to jump onto a lit three-wick candle if you don’t light yourself on fire once or twice?

Never run out of necessities. Food, for example. If the bowl is half-full, it may as well be empty. Make sure it’s full always. You do not want to run out of food. Water? If it’s not streaming from the faucet in the sink, there will be trouble. Insist on access to the essentials. You deserve it.

Insist on your worth. You deserve to be the center of attention if you want to be. Book? Lie on it. Computer? Lie on it. Phone? Knock it from their hand and lie on it. Walking? Lie down in front of them. Lying down immediately shifts attention to you in pretty much every situation. Remember this trick.

Persevere. Keep chasing that shadow/laser pointer/etc. You’ll catch it some day. Don’t give up. It has to rest eventually.

There’s never enough time. Even with nine lives, time with your loved ones is short. It’s why showing affection is so important. Others may come into your life, but each one is special in their own way, so enjoy them. Goodbye will be sooner than you think, so love while you can.


To all the cats who have been a part of my life (so far): Pinky, Ally, Angel, Kitty (and her brothers), “Evie” Evelyn Poe, and my current cats Eddie and Emily. Thanks for the inspiration. And Ed, thanks for not burning the apartment down.


In general, I think we’ve become a far too sensitive society. Yes, I realize I am stating this from my middle class “white privilege” position within this society, so it’s a pretty un-PC statement. But I’m just going to go out on a limb here and voice my opinion, as is my right under the First Amendment.

When I was in grade school – circa early 1990s – the A through F letter grades were set aside. Why? Because issuing lower letter grades to students may injure their self-esteem. What did we receive instead? Different letter grades. I don’t remember the letters themselves, but one meant Excellent, one Average, one Needs Improvement, etc. The key for each letter was listed on the report card. Not joking. How precisely was a “C” going to harm our precious self-esteem but Needs Improvement wasn’t?

From that moment on, my generation was hobbled. Think I’m being overdramatic? We are the generation that came up with MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. We are the generation that insists “I” am far more important than “we.” By insisting on preserving, protecting, and bolstering self-esteem in my generation and forward, our country has incubated the virus of undeserved self-importance.

What does this mean in plain English?

  • Obviously the world wants to see 500 pictures of my duck face and the fast food I just bought.
  • Obviously the world cares about my every passing thought (yup, calling myself out on this one).
  • Obviously the world cares about every little thing that offends me.
  • Obviously my struggles matter more than anyone else’s.
  • Obviously adding a hashtag to a passing thought about someone else’s “real” struggles is going to change the world. #prayforJapan

In other words, we’ve turned Kennedy’s oft-repeated quote on its head. It’s not about what we can do for our country or the world anymore; it’s all about me, me, glorious me.

With a nation full of narcissists (In general. I truly hope it’s not all of us.), how does this lead to the First Amendment? Doesn’t it mean more people are exercising their First Amendment rights than ever before? Well…yes, and no. The issue isn’t with people voicing their opinions. It’s with people jumping in and assuming that another person’s differing opinion somehow tramples on their rights as an individual.

And this, my friends, brings us to the horrifying dystopian society set forth in Orwell’s 1984.

Are we as bad as Oceania? Not quite there yet, but we sure are working on it.

Big Brother: Well, we haven’t given as much power to our government as Oceania had, but just give us time. We already have a government that has a lot of power and sway. As for Big Brother’s spying tactics? Love him or hate him, Edward Snowden revealed that our government has been collecting far more data on everyday citizens than most people realized was possible.

Thought Police: The media, in an attempt to remain relevant, has done its best to destroy those who do not fall in line with accepted societal beliefs. They may not have the power to detain citizens and reprogram them (yet), but they certainly have a constant presence in our homes and businesses with their screens promoting the party’s speech. And for those who do not share points of view? They will be cowed into submission.

Crimethink: Here we really get to the heart of it. Am I allowed to have a different opinion than you? According to the First Amendment, I am and have every right to continue voicing it. However, if my opinion differs from yours and you become offended, my opinion has now become subversive, harmful, completely out of line. My opinion is dangerous and must be quashed, lest I share it with others. My opinion may even be punishable by the governmental authorities, due to its harmful nature.

Unfortunately, I fear we have set ourselves up to become Oceania in some form or another. If we cannot have honest discourse amongst ourselves, how can we prevent the furthering of Thought Police and the slippery slope toward Thoughtcrime?

We aren’t there yet. We don’t have a police state. We have more personal control over our lives than Winston or Julia. But we must be careful that, in our effort to be heard and seen and accepted and celebrated, we do not step on the voices, presence, acceptance, and celebration of other fellow citizens and human beings.

Just my humble opinion. Sadly, it’s a dangerous one these days.

We All Like Goats…I Mean Sheep

My sister and her family own and operate an idyllic farm in New York. (No, not that New York. There’s a lot more to NY than NYC. Seriously, look at a map.) They raise goats, some sheep on occasion, egg-laying chickens, and meat birds. They’ve also brought Wisconsin to New York by making the best cheeses (newest endeavor: string cheese!). Gelato is also in the mix, but they haven’t shipped me any to try, which makes me sad because I hear it’s amazing.

I work hard. I keep very busy with work and church obligations. I have little money left after bills are paid. Needless to say, I don’t get out to the farm as often as I’d like. But when I do go, I fully expect to be put to work. Animals don’t take a day off, after all.

On one such occasion in early summer, my parents and I had driven out for a visit. We arrived mid-afternoon, and farm work was in full swing. Hellos and hugs were exchanged, then my sister asked if we’d come help bring the goats back to the barn. It was a beautiful day and our legs needed a stretch. This would be fun!

My nieces led the way (carefully) crossing the road and down into a beautiful valley full of grasses and wildflowers, the field of green just breathtaking against the blue sky. But…where were the goats? We had to go find them, my sister explained.



The goats should be beyond those trees. It didn’t look that far. Little did I know there was a valley to cross and a hill to climb, hidden by the rise and all that green.


Land was fenced, but they could still trek quite far, looking for grass to nibble and water to drink and do other goat things that goats like to do. (Hey, I’m no goat expert.) Sometimes goats found a break in the fence or another way out. But my sister and brother-in-law always found them and brought them back. Looking across the expanse (not seeing any goats) I couldn’t imagine searching it all to find one or two lost goats.

As we made our way down into the valley I quickly discovered the way could be treacherous. Rocks dotted the uneven terrain. Thorny prickers jutted out from many of the plants, scratching our ankles and legs. The sun overhead began to feel more like a heat lamp; the breeze wasn’t enough to cool us. What had appeared a relatively small valley grew the further we went. Running through the middle we reached a stream and had to cross it, careful not to slip from a stepping stone and twist an ankle.

And then, at the other side of the valley, we reached a steep climb up through more thorns. Where were these goats?? My older niece and sister crested the hill before me. I paused with my younger niece to catch my breath. That’s when I felt it. Felt it before I heard it. Did New York get earthquakes? The ground was shaking. My older niece shouted “Everybody out of the way!” as she reached the top of the hill. I instinctively jumped back – into more thorns – and made sure my younger niece was also out of the way. A split second later, goats were pouring down the hillside, tromping past us, flowing into the valley below.



…but they were stampeding past us at full speed!

Once I realized these were goats not cattle, I relaxed ever so slightly.



Down the hill…


My sister and her girls expertly led their herd through the valley, across the stream, back up the hill and across the road to the barn. I’m not sure how, but all animals were accounted for. The gate to the barnyard was closed for the evening.



…until all were safely home within the shelter of the barn.


After the adventure (I am a city gal, after all), I took inventory of the scrapes and cuts and sore muscles and strained joints. This was an uneventful journey to bring the goats and sheep back to the barn. We encountered no wild animals, the weather cooperated, as did the livestock. This was one day. My sister and her family did this every day. And were perhaps prepared to do far more to care for and protect their animals. I was in awe at the sheer amount of work and heart that went into the life of a farmer, the life of a shepherd.

Fast forward to the following winter. Lent had begun.

For those of you unfamiliar with this part of the church year, Lent is the time between Ash Wednesday (a.k.a. the day after Mardi Gras) and Easter. Well, technically I think it ends after Good Friday, but this gives you a general idea. It’s the time when lots of Catholics eat fish on Fridays and people talk about what they’re “giving up for Lent.”

Lent is actually a time of solemn reflection on the many sacrifices Jesus made on our behalf, culminating in His death on the cross. It is not about our giving up chocolate or fast food or swearing or alcohol or meat on Fridays. If we could sacrifice anything to participate in our salvation, God would have told us. We could never do enough; that’s why God had to give the ultimate sacrifice in our place.

So…we were in the midst of Lent. I filled in as a guest organist for Sunday services at a local church. Between services I opted to sit in on the Bible class. Bibles were handed out for those of us who hadn’t brought our own. The class had been working through Isaiah – one of my favorite Old Testament books, chock full of Messianic prophesies (promises pointing toward the coming Savior).

I listened quietly to various readings and discussion points. And then we reached a part of Isaiah that I’ve always loved but never quite got. Until that moment…

“We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

– Isaiah 53:6

It was an AHA moment if there ever was one. Before that day, the transition from straying sheep to the torture delivered to Him instead of us was, frankly, jarring. What did sheep have to do with such afflictions?

But on that day, in the church basement, with a battered church Bible open in front of me, among strangers, I raised my hand and told of my visit to my sister’s farm…

You see, even in ideal conditions, thorns and stones scraped and pierced. Even though the goats were in no danger, it took time and effort to seek them out and retrieve them. They were not my goats, but how much more would I endure if they were mine, if I knew they were in mortal danger?

And how would they get into mortal danger? The shepherd had placed fences to keep them safe, to keep them in a place where they have everything they need. Only by straying or by the enemy breaking in could they end up in harm’s way. This, too, would end up being fixed/protected against by the shepherd.

All we – all of us – like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way. The next part is not a separate thought. It is the result of the first. We might as well have added the word “because” to the beginning of the verse. Because we have gone astray, He will be made to suffer. Because we have gone astray, He will be pierced. Because we strayed, He will be stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Because of us – because of me – He had to suffer and die.

“Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

– Isaiah 53:4-5

The previous verses are setting the reader up to understand the cost. The cost was great. The cost was the ultimate price – one which we could not pay. Also, these verses impress upon the reader the completeness of our salvation. Isaiah does not say, “and by His wounds, we begin healing.” No. By His wounds we are healed.

Was there anything more those goats and sheep could’ve done to be safer or happier, or otherwise improved their situation? Simply by belonging to a shepherd who cared for them, they had all they needed. My sister’s family was responsible for providing, for making the necessary sacrifices of cost or comfort in order to assure every need was covered.

Did Jesus suffer and die to somehow purchase us? The Bible does say we were “bought at a price,” but in the case of this section of Isaiah, I would argue that His suffering was not payment in exchange for our souls. He didn’t endure pain, torture, and death to make us His. He endured pain, torture, and death because we are His. Just like that good shepherd that goes out to find his sheep, not counting each scrape and tear, it’s not a matter of Jesus doing “enough” to win us. We were already His. We had just wandered off and put ourselves in danger.

We’re sheep. It’s what we do.

He saved us, not caring what it would cost Him. He’s our farmer, our Shepherd. It’s what He does.

That great sacrifice, made by the only one who could possibly make it, retrieved us from danger…His precious, oblivious, straying sheep.

One final thought on the subject (for now): In high school my choir had the pleasure of singing “All We Like Sheep” from Handel’s Messiah. Listen to this piece now and think of the terrible cost our Shepherd endured because of all that straying, all so He could safely gather us to Him.

Technology, Part II

I am a tech junkie.

I’ve already posted about my need to have my cell phone on my at all times and how difficult it is for me to be in the moment because I share the modern urge to photograph and post about experiences as they’re happening.

It’s a problem. I’m working on it.

For as attached as I’ve become to my cell phone, I’ve spent less and less time on my computer. That makes me sad. I have a Mac and I love Macs. I love Macs. I grew up playing Frogger and losing plenty of family members to dysentery on Oregon Trail on the old, boxy Apple IIs and their successive Apple models. (Seriously, Oregon Trail was the best game EVER.) I was hooked.

I was beyond excited when I was able to buy my very own Mac laptop my senior year of high school. It was around the time that iMacs were egg-shaped and named after fruit. My clamshell twenty-pound blueberry monstrosity was the best.

I’m using a lot of superlatives. I can’t help it. It’s been a lifelong romance with Apple/Mac. When you find the one, nothing else will do.

Sadly, my blue and white laptop was not built to last. The screen died after a few years. Replacing it would’ve cost as much as buying a new laptop. I was a bit devastated, not gonna lie. Thankfully, I was able to update to the new eMac model – read “uber egg-shaped, all white desktop computer” – and all was right with the world.


Emily loved perching on top of the "egg" eMac. New computers don't make good perches!

Four or five years down the road, the screen on my eMac went dim. By this point I was living on my own and had a real job in the real world and had real bills. Yikes! I talked to the good people at Apple. Sounded like a faulty part that was surprisingly covered by some kind of warranty. I lovingly brought my eMac to an Apple Store for repair (free of charge – cool!).

Weeks later, I was assured that the faulty part could be replaced. However, this part was going out on lots of different computers and it could be a while. Since they’d had my computer for a few weeks and it could be a few weeks more, they offered me two options: I could wait for the part and have it fixed for free, or they could give me a brand new comparable iMac…for free. New computer – new Mac – free? To replace a computer that I’d gotten plenty of use out of for several years? Free? Um…where do I sign?!

And that was the last time I brought home a Mac. 2006. That was ten years ago. Computers probably fly around and cook for you by now, right? My free iMac has served me well. The screen started getting vertical lines on it four or five years ago, so I’ve tried to give it lots of rest time. Also, I opted to cut the chord (not literally…that would be dumb) a few years back and use my phone exclusively for internet access. This meant less time spent on the computer.

I’ve missed using my Mac regularly. I sit at a desk all day, so I don’t crave sitting at a desk at home. A laptop was the obvious choice, but do you know how much those things cost?! Still, the whole love affair with Macs and my need to have a good computer to write more often and create documents for my piano teaching, so…I saved up and sucked it up.


This afternoon, I became the proud owner of a brand new MacBook Pro. It’s beautiful. And tiny! (When did computers get so thin and light??) I almost wrote “It’s beautiful” again. There, I did it. I may or may not have cried just a little when I opened the box and saw it packaged so neatly. I heard angels singing when I powered it up. I’m in love all over again. Typing on my glowing keyboard makes me want to type for hours.

I’ll still need to transfer all my files from the ancient iMac, but I’m excited to go forward with this (probably already obsolete) technology. It doesn’t fly. It doesn’t cook for me. But it does everything I need it to do and more. And it’s a Mac.

For me, it’ll always be a Mac.

Just Breathe

It’s as easy as breathing…

I am so sick of that phrase. Literally. (And yes, I understand what “literally” means.)

Breathing is supposed to be easy. When it’s not, the medical community runs tests, assigns diagnoses, and prescribes treatments. Allergies. Asthma. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Cystic Fybrosis. Emphysema. Lung cancer. Steroids to prevent airway constriction. Anti-inflammatory medications. Vaporized medications. Breathing therapies. Medical bracelets. Chemo. Surgeries. Transplants. Supplemental oxygen.

I would like to start out by assuring you I am in no way marginalizing the above chronic pulmonary issues. I have known and loved people who have struggled with such conditions, some of whom are no longer with us. That having been said…


Not of the conditions themselves. Absolutely not. No, what makes me jealous is that their foe, their albatross if you will, has a name. It is widely recognized and understood amongst the medical community. The general population has a general understanding that the condition exists and don’t question its validity. There are a set of approved treatments. People know what to do in the case of an attack or when someone suffering from one of these conditions is experiencing some type of medical distress. How do they know? That’s right, I’m even jealous of the medical bracelet they get to wear. I’m even jealous when I see someone carting along an oxygen tank on wheels.

No, I don’t have some weird psychological disfunction that makes me want to have a potentially debilitating condition or disease. The thing is, I have a debilitating condition. But you’ve never heard of it.

Don’t feel too bad. Most people haven’t. It’s so unknown that even I don’t know its name. (Ha ha.)

Let me start from the beginning. I haven’t always had respiratory problems. I may have had other issues, but my lungs were good. Until bronchitis took me down pretty bad in high school. Sophomore year, I believe, 1999 for those of you keeping track.

Bronchitis sucked, but I got over it eventually with lots of rest and the help of some drugs. You know, the kind that kill everything in your body, whether or not it’s supposed to be in your body. But my lungs were still…sluggish. They took longer to recover than the rest of me. I had these completely random and completely terrifying episodes of not being able to breathe. A followup with the doctor labeled me as asthmatic, I got an albuterol inhaler, and I was on my way.

It was all well and good until my first episode after the diagnosis. In the panic of not getting oxygen, I gulped in two puffs of chalky albuterol deep into my lungs and…nothing. I still couldn’t breathe. No change, except the steroid made my throat feel weird (and the little bit that hit the back of my tongue – GROSS!), and afterward I felt very shaky.

Nevertheless, I continued to faithfully use my rescue inhaler as directed. After all, I had asthma; inhalers treat asthma. Junior year I started to realize that the episodes – I now refer to them as “reactions” – had a specific trigger: cigarette smoke. Yes, standing next to someone smoking was out of the question. But I could tell you who every smoker in my class was, based solely on who I couldn’t sit anywhere near in any given classroom. Risidual smoke lingering on their clothing was enough to give me trouble, whether or not I could smell it. Inhalers still did me no good. Life was pretty terrifying.

By senior year I’d had enough. I hated how jittery the inhaler made me so I just wasn’t using it. I had begun to explain my condition as being “allergic” to cigarette smoke. My parents sent me to an allergist to try to get this figured out.

Interesting side note: I am severely allergic to grass and dust, fairly allergic to pollen and mold, and somewhat allergic to cats. I’ll use that as an excuse to get out of mowing, dusting, cleaning, and generally spending time in nature…but I refuse to let a little cat allergy get in my way of enjoying cat cuddles. Not ever.

Scene: Allergist’s office. I’d just gotten the results of my scratch test. My back and one arm were pretty itchy. I was a frightened teenager who just wanted some answers already. My mother was in the room with me, also wanting answers, because the only thing more frightening than not knowing why you can’t breathe sometimes is not knowing why your child can’t breathe simetimes.

The allergist (allergy doctor? um…what is the correct term for this type of doctor?) came in to inform me of my obvious allergies. When I explained my reactions to smoke, she immediately dismissed me. “Oh, no you can’t be allergic to cigarette smoke.” Her exact words. She tested me for asthma using some breathing tests, and…I passed. I did not have asthma.

I repeat: I did NOT have asthma. This was great, albeit obvious, news!

I asked the doctor what this might be, if it wasn’t asthma and it wasn’t an allergic reaction. Her response – to my mother, because she never acknowledged me as a human person the entire time – was that it was all in my head, that I was having a panic attack from smelling the smoke.

God bless my mother. She could have taken what the doctor said to heart. She could have told me to work through my issues mentally to get over it (the doctor’s advice). Instead, she told the allergist she didn’t know what she was talking about, that my reactions were not “all in my head,” that they happen whether or not I could see or smell the smoke. I was beyond grateful to know that Mom believed me over this doctor. But of course she did; she had witnessed my reactions firsthand, this doctor never had.

I was disappointed that I left with more questions, but at least I knew it wasn’t asthma. Or, I guess, allergies.

I headed to college with no proper diagnosis and very little information. College presented its own set of challenges. For the first time in my life, I lived among smokers. Every trip outdoors posed a danger. Leaving a window open in my dorm room was done at my own risk.

I had mild reactions at least a few times a month. I was getting pretty good at holding my breath in anticipation of exposure to smoke while leaving or entering buildings. Not the best solution, but it helped a little.

And then I had multiple reactions within one week. I went to a clarinet lesson already experiencing difficulty, but my professor could tell right away something was very wrong. I was disoriented. I had breathing problems. I couldn’t focus. She arranged for someone from my floor to come get me and take me to a nearby E.R. I don’t know who drove me and sat with me in the waiting room – maybe my RA? – but I’m glad she was there. I was completely out of it. The doctor didn’t know what to make of my symptoms. I remember asking for oxygen a few times. Eventually he set me up with a nebulizer and an oxygen mix. After being released, I was deposited in my dorm room, where I slept for at least twelve hours. I kept the wristband from that visit for years…a reminder of just how serious this nameless foe could be.

I missed class. I had some other close calls. We had a fire drill during which all students were to gather on the lawn between residence buildings. Students packed closely together during mandatory outdoor time and some of them lit up cigarettes. College was probably the scariest time in my life, thanks to fellow students. But what could I possibly tell them? I didn’t know what was wrong, and if it doesn’t have a name, it doesn’t count as a medical condition.

My college campus sat in view of one of the best hospitals in the Midwest, Froedtert Hospital. After the emergency room scare, it was decided that I needed to see a specialist and we needed to try to find some answers. If treatment wasn’t an option, maybe I could at least get some answers.

The pulmonary specialist at Froedtert looked a lot like my seventh grade teacher. (I think it was the thick mustache and big glasses.) I remember shaking I was so nervous for the possibility of getting answers, or of being told by another medical professional that it was “all in my head.” There were tests. I breathed into too many different machines to count. I don’t remember most of my time at the hospital, but I do remember meeting with the doctor when all the results came back.

Reactive Airways Disease.


Three little letters. It had a name. Well, sort of. At the time I was diagnosed (circa 2002-2003), not much was known. But it was clear to my doctor that my lungs responded adversely to specific stimuli, causing a harmful and dangerous reaction. He confirmed that I did not have asthma. I only cared that he acknowledged my symptoms!

What is R.A.D., you ask? Well, here’s the problem…Reactive Airways Disease is actually a catchall term for an entire family of respiratory conditions, asthma among them. Fun fact: as of a few years ago, it was the fastest growing health problem amongst children, thanks to secondhand smoke, caused by children’s exposure and/or expectant mothers’ exposure. In other words, SMOKING IS BAD FOR YOU AND WORSE FOR EVERYONE ELSE. In case you weren’t aware. You’re welcome. PSA done.

Armed with a (sort of) diagnosis, info on the dangers of smoke, and a growing knowledge of state laws regarding smoking regulations, I returned to campus on fire – forgive the terrible pun – to make the school safer for me and for my classmates. I lobbied for a campus-wide smoking ban, which was laughed away. However, existing rules stated in the student handbook regarding distance from buildings were no longer overlooked and ash cans were moved to the correct legal distance from doorways. Small victories. I wasn’t very popular among smokers. But hey, a girl’s gotta breathe…

Senior year I was cast in an all female production of Waiting for Godot. Yes, I’m sure Beckett was rolling over in his grave; you do not mess with Beckett. Still, I was so very proud of that entire production. Our cast was a joy to work with. The director Jay was crazy enough to pull it all off, plus he was our set design professor, so the set was ridiculous (I mean that in the best possible way!!!). I played Pozzo, the self-centered jerk. I had to learn two skills to play Pozzo: crack a whip (yes, I learned), and light a pipe. Jay knew of my condition, so he bought a brand new never-been-used pipe and taught me how to actually light it. Every performance I “lit” the pipe like a pro, causing mild heart attacks among friends and family in attendance.

Now that I live in the “real world,” I continue to have run-ins with smoke, though it happens less often. The trouble with my condition is that it is degenerative – as in, it won’t go away and it will continue to get worse.

The state of Wisconsin passed a law about five years ago which bans indoor smoking in all workplaces, with very few exceptions. Bar owners and Republicans fought pretty hard against passing this law, screaming loss of income and individual freedoms. I was pleased to virtually pen a letter to a local representative whom I know (my former high school Government teacher). He had been speaking out against the law; I shared my personal experiences with him, along with some facts gleaned from research into both Reactive Airways Diseases and the harmful effects of secondhand smoke in general. We discussed our points of view, and some of the information I provided struck a chord. He shared my letter with some of his fellow politicians. I don’t know for sure what impact I had, but the law passed. Businesses did not see a loss of income; in fact, patronage increased in most bars and restaurants.

Before you begin screaming “personal freedoms” at me, think of it this way:

Drinking alcohol is legal, if you’re of proper drinking age; you can even get drunk, legally. Where your personal freedom to become intoxicated ends is where your right to get drunk can infringe on other people’s rights. Drunk driving is illegal and taken very seriously. If exposure to secondhand smoke causes as many serious health issues as medical research has shown, how is smoking in public acceptable? Why should his right to smoke trump anyone else’s right to breathe?

What exactly is a reaction? Not knowing a name beyond R.A.D. has numbed me to the horror of describing it all. So, here goes…

I can breathe normally most of the time. However, when tobacco smoke is introduced into my lungs (this has happened both indoors and outside), the change is immediate. I have a sort of stuttering cough – as my lungs try to expel the undesirable chemicals, I assume. Inevitably I need to take another breath, as I didn’t get the oxygen I needed with the previous breath. I try not to, knowing what’s coming, but if I take a normal or deep breath in, I feel the strange sensation of breathing in “heavy, dead air;” I am able to take air into my lungs normally, but my lungs are no longer pulling the oxygen into the bloodstream to circulate it throughout my body. I’ll admit, at this point I do panic. I have no experience with drowning, but I can imagine the sensation is similar, since our airways can’t pull oxygen from water.

As my blood circulates poorly oxygenated blood, I become lightheaded, my brain starts to feel “fuzzy.” And time slows down. All this time I am gasping and trying to get away from the smoke. If I don’t know where the smoke is coming from and/or if I don’t have a friend or family member with me, this can be particularly frightening. I know that I have lost consciousness from this in the past, and I am afraid what might happen if I pass out and don’t get oxygen in time.

By this point, my breathing attempts are shallow. My entire body feels heavy, sluggish. I can’t focus on anything. I feel an irresistible need to sleep. Can’t keep my eyes open. The panic remains, but my body is numb. If I haven’t gotten away from the smoke by now, I will absolutely need to go to the E.R. and get oxygen.

Once removed from danger, my reaction is far from over. The lack of oxygen – I believe this could easily be considered respiratory distress – has lingering effects. I am exhausted beyond belief, sometimes sleeping for twelve or more hours straight as soon as I get to a bed/couch/chair/floor. The need for rest has become irresistible by this point. For the next week or two events don’t always stick in my short-term memory; I can’t remember words, and I feel like a total ditz. The “fuzziness” in my brain seems to take forever to go away. Physically, the effects also linger. I yawn a lot. A LOT. This lasts for at least a few days. My limbs feel weaker, and I usually find strange random bruises – not from running into or hitting anything, so I really don’t know where they come from. I feel like my heart is beating faster, working harder after the lack of oxygen. It also feels like there’s a lot of crud in my lungs, and I cough/clear my throat more than normal. Sometimes with the more severe reactions I cough up blood. This used to scare me. Now I’m used to it.

My nameless Reactive Airways Disease is very real, I assure you. I have lived with it for over fifteen years. I may very well die from it, or complications caused by it. I have found myself shifting between the various stages of grief while dealing with whatever it is I’ve got. Sometimes I’m very angry and I hate smokers. Sometimes I’m in denial about it. Sometimes I dwell on what will happen as it gets worse, and I’m sad. Other times I’ve almost accepted it…almost.

But I still want answers. And more than that, I want this condition to be common knowledge in the medical community so that no one else ends up misdiagnosed, misunderstood, doubted, and feeling so alone for so many years. I want oxygen to bring with me the way asthmatics have inhalers. I want stricter smoking laws and I want them enforced. I want people to believe me instead of accusing me of “overreacting.” I want a lot of things, I suppose.

Most of all, I just want to be able to breathe and take it for granted…