Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I spent most of last week running around ferrying my sister and mother to various doctor's appointments. The good news is, we think we have a diagnosis for Patty! It appears that she is suffering from temporal arteritis. That means that the big artery that comes off the carotid artery, up her left temple and on across to various parts of her head, has become inflamed and stopped pumping the blood correctly. Thus the places it serves, which includes the optic nerve, are not getting proper bloodflow, and it is the oxygen deprivation this causes that is causing the pain. She had a biopsy done on the temporal artery on Thursday and we are still waiting for the formal results to come back. But we really, really expect it to confirm the diagnosis. They went ahead and started her on steroids, which is the treatment, and she is experiencing some relief already.

She is really fortunate because if left untreated, this could have caused permanent blindness in her left eye. I wonder how long it has to go untreated for that to happen, though -- she had this headache with increasing frequency over a period of months and then constantly, without a minute'e relief, for over three weeks.

Of course, devoting a couple of weeks primarily to these extended family concerns has completely upset the delicate balance I had struck in how I spend my days and how I manage my job search and my emotional state. I still find very few viable opportunities to pursue. That said, though, I went on a job interview yesterday. It was the first one I've had since January. The job isn't one I would normally have pursued, but after interviewing with them I am still interested if they are. (I don't have extremely high hopes because it is outside my real area of experience. I have to suspect they can find better qualified candidates out there. But if they are interested in taking a chance on me, I'm still interested!)

I had this weird, awkward, sort of painful interaction with my sister on Friday. I have always wanted to write and in fact have always written, just not for paid publication. Looking back, probably my greatest regret in life is that I let myself become convinced during college that I couldn't afford to pursue writing as a career, and went off to study other more "marketable" things. My sister, on the other hand, was always interested in arts and crafts and animals and lots of non-bookish things. She is dyslexic and therefore did badly in school, so her focus was just completely different.

Now, she's developed an interest in writing. She's joined a little writers' group there in Zanesville and writes stories for fun. She's imaginative and thinks up cute ideas, but the whole dyslexia thing comes to play in the process of translating them to writing. So her clever ideas get sort of drowned in a sea of bad spelling and syntax errors. This development has always made me uncomfortable. Not that she's writing, just when she talks with me about it. I can tell she has no idea how much I've wanted to write and how disappointed I am in myself that I haven't written more, and been published. So Friday, she tells me while I'm unemployed I ought to write a book.

There I stood with my sick sister, knowing she has just spent the better part of a month in constant pain. I know she means this as an encouraging statement. I know her motives are purely positive. And yet it took all my strength not to burst into tears. I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut. Does she think I haven't thought of that? Does she think I don't feel like the biggest failure in the world because during this period where I've had huge blocks of available time I feel like every ounce of creativity I ever had has escaped? I haven't even been able to thumbnail a plot for a short story. I can't even come up with the core kernel of a plotline. There are days it takes all my discipline just to write something, anything for this blog!

And even though I know this is irrational and unfair, I also had a bit of a feeling of "How dare she?" How dare she talk to me about writing a book like she knows more about it than I do? How dare she imply that she and I are on the same plane about this? I'm ashamed of myself for feeling that way, but in all honesty, I do. It was one of the most awkward, difficult moments I've ever had with her. I just sort of froze up and didn't say anything, and after a few minutes she sort of got the hint and moved on to another subject. But I know she has no idea why I reacted the way I did, or what I was really feeling. I didn't feel like I could explain it to her, even after some time had passed, because there's no way to do so without admitting that I don't have much respect for the stuff she writes. And while I don't have respect for the writing, I have a great deal of respect for the fact that she puts herself out there. I just don't want her to do it in front of me, or to try to tell me how I should be going about it.

So there's my sad and sordid tale of family life. Tomorrow, I write about something more upbeat!

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm continuing in my Lenten theme. As some of you know, I used to do a daily meditation blog in Lent and I guess I still feel a strong motivation in that direction.

Yesterday, the sermon I heard was based on the Ten Commandments. The Pastor talked about how it's too bad we've come to view discipline as a negative word, when in fact it is very positive. He talked about how parents of small children have to discipline them to protect them from exploring things that would hurt them, and indeed it is a LACK of discipline that is the unloving response.

As he went on about the positive nature of discipline in our lives, and how we tend to be much happier when there is discipline in our life than when there is not, I had one of those "aha" moments. I have always been a person who has to struggle with her weight -- it fluctuates as much as 15 pounds, and hardly ever stays where I want it for very long at a time. My moment of insight was that I should learn to pay better attention to what's happening with my weight not out of vanity or concern about my weight per se, but because my weight going up almost always signals an overall loss of discipline in my life.

When I am exercising properly and being mindful about what I eat (not dieting, just paying attention and self-monitoring) I am usually also praying on a regular basis, reaching out to other people, taking appropriate steps for my career -- in general, living a disciplined existence. But usually by the time I realize I have put on 10 or 15 pounds, I look around and realize that I have fallen into self-indulgence and inertia in other areas of my life, too. For example, though I didn't lose my job until the beginning of October, I realize now that I started putting on weight around July or August. Realistically, I think there were signs that things were going badly at that time, and since I didn't know how to fix them, I reacted in a general breakdown of good habits.

I hope I can hang onto this insight! I see it as beneficial in two ways. First, it is another great motivator to not allow myself to wander off the straight and narrow of exercise and eating right. Second, I really believe that if I pay attention, this will be an early warning signal that allows me to turn the tide before things really go wrong.

It is an interesting Lent for me. I have been continuing to read the books about prayer that I mentioned, and I feel like they are helping me focus my efforts. I am not increasing my prayer time as much as I'd like, but I have definitely increased it some, and increased the quality. I think I have a greater awareness of the need for prayer and the little opportunities that present themselves every day.

On the other hand, I am constantly running, helping my mother and sister while keeping my family running. And the lack of a job remains a spiritual struggle as well as an economic one. God is generously providing for us and I have no reason to fear that we will really suffer for months yet, if ever. And I believe that when the time is right, God will lead me to the right opportunity. I know that I just need to stay open to the possibilities and eventually, the right thing will fall in place. But I have moments -- OK, sometimes days -- where it is very difficult to keep that faith. I fall into fret and worry and what-if and why-didn't-I and all the rest of those boogeymen of the mind.

Tonight I travel to Zanesville to stay at least two nights, as my mom has her second cataract surgery tomorrow, with a follow-up visit to the surgeon Wednesday morning. And by now, my sister's neurologist should have the results of Friday's MRI, so I hope we can get an appointment scheduled to follow up on that. So I don't know how many days it will be before I can post again. I just ask that if you read this, please send out a little prayer for my mom and sis and for my safe travels.

Monday, March 09, 2009

My mother has lived with my sister, who is single, for a little over 20 years. My mom is now 84 years old and her health and strength are slipping, so Patty has increasingly taken on the role of caregiver for our mother. I have tried to help out here and there, but clearly, the largest burden has fallen to her.

The weekend before last, my sister thought she had a migraine headache. She didn’t have a history of them, though she had been having more routine headaches a lot for about the past three months. Over a few days time, the headache didn’t get better, but became much more localized around her eyes. She also found that her balance is off, and fell down at home several times. Once she realized she could not safely go to work (in the deli at Kroger) she called her doctor. He was on vacation, but she was seen by someone else in his office.

My sister has a long history of health problems of her own. In a way, I always believed that was one reason she and my mother living together worked out so well. Mom didn’t feel like she was being a burden because often my sister needed her help, too. I mention that because it explains why she was already the patient of a neurologist.

Jumping forward to spare all the tedious details, an MRI was run that may or may not have shown a spot on her brain; we don’t know because they ran it without color contrast, which is apparently pretty essential in a brain scan. She has been sent to an ophthalmologist, who has determined that her eyes are not the cause of the problem. He said her eyes themselves are fine and he can tell her that there is not an increase of pressure on her brain, as he would have been able to detect that. Her neurologist is waiting for the color contrast version of the MRI to figure out what it tells us about her brain. And Patty is at home, unable to drive and barely able to walk around without falling into a wall.

Thus it is that this morning I drove to Zanesville (a little over an hour’s drive from my home) to take her to one doctor’s appointment and expect to be back there on Wednesday to take my mom to a doctor and on Friday to take Patty to have the MRI done. Unless someone cancels and they can schedule her MRI sooner, or something else changes.

I’m really worried about my sister. She looks very ill. Her eyes have that sunken look people get when they dehydrate, and the left one seems partially closed. She literally cannot walk down a hall without staggering. I also noticed that her short-term memory seemed worse than usual, and she had trouble coming up with the word she wanted as she talked. She reports that when the episodes of headache get bad (which occurs more than once daily now) she often sees flashes of colored light. She is very light sensitive, too.

I hate even putting this fear into words, but I am so afraid that we are dealing with a brain tumor! She is a breast cancer survivor. About ten years later it metastasized into her bones, but they were able to beat it into remission with radiation. It has been about another ten years since then, so I feel like a tumor is not an unreasonable thought.

Of course, she has had a seizure disorder for years, too, which is somewhat of a wildcard. We never really knew what caused that. Whatever it is could be at the root of these episodes, too. And as always in these medical situations, the not-knowing is the very worst part. Without information, we tend to imagine the worst.

The fact that Patty is our mother’s caregiver makes it particularly problematic. Even a few years ago, it wouldn’t have been so dire because they had a circle of close friends like most of us do who would have provided some transportation and support. But in just the last two years, probably, they have been plagued with the deaths and moves to warmer climates of many of their closest neighbors and friends. At this point, they are feeling pretty alone in the city of Zanesville.

It is fortuitous, really, that I am unemployed at this moment and can make frequent trips down there to help them. But they both feel bad about it and I can’t seem to completely convince them to look at it as a blessing of timing. And I suspect that if I stay on this frequent a commuting schedule, I may begin to have trouble seeing the blessing in it, too, after a while. That said, though, I am at the moment very grateful that I am able to be of some help.

I ask my readers to pray for Patty and for the whole family. Prayer makes a difference – and we need it right now!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I don’t mean to turn my blog into just a book review, but I have been sitting down to it each day after my period of reading and prayer, so it has been leaning in that direction. Let me just share three key quotes from the chapter I read today:

“The formative power of God within us urges us to form ourselves in his likeness. We are impelled by this Divine Form to seek wholeness and holiness of life. Peace-filled joy, the blessed life, is the birthright of the Christian.”

“Each of us is called to be a unique manifestation of the glory of God, unique and yet in harmony with the overall divine direction of universe and history.”

“Peace of mind is the healthy and natural state God created humanity to enjoy.”

I found all three of those statements deeply comforting and inspiring. And somehow, they just seem true. I don’t think God means for us to be miserable all the time, to be consumed by hustle and bustle and the shallow pursuits of the world. I think – no, I feel – that he really does want us each to be a manifestation of his glory.

It was a well-timed reading for me, because I have been ruminating on how I feel I have lost something essential about myself in recent years. There were quite a few years where I had a strong sense of identity and purpose. Looking back I think it may have been a little too tied up in my professional life, but at least back then I didn’t doubt who I was. For the past decade or so it feels like my time has been so compressed, the various roles of my life so demanding, that I have been feeling less “whole” than I used to. But at some level I think this is a growth period for me, and there’s something I’m supposed to learn from where I am at this very moment. So I’ll keep plugging away at the reading and the prayer and the blogging and see where it leads!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Today I started reading Practicing the Prayer of Presence. There was one passage in the preface that really spoke to me: “Prayer is many things, yet it is one: It is the soaring of the human spirit to meet and be with the Spirit of God.”

I think maybe the reason that really touched me was that it ties together all the different things that we can mean when we talk about prayer. As the author had just covered in the book, we know prayer to be petitioning God for help for ourselves for others, we know it as just talking to God as we live our lives, we know it as reciting poetic words that we have been taught to communicate with God, we know it as sitting in silence and as experiencing God in nature. The word prayer can cover all those different things and more – and that definition makes it all make sense. Anything is prayer if it evokes the soaring of our spirit to be with the Spirit of God.

To some extent, I’ve always been a prayerful person. I don’t mean that as any kind of boast – it is just something I have always felt drawn to. When I was very young, when my family wasn’t really active in a church, I found my mother’s prayer book she had received at Confirmation and was fascinated by it. I used to pray those prayers all by myself when I was 9 or 10 years old. I tend to do a lot of “talking to God as I do my daily tasks,” and over the years I developed a strong discipline of praying for those around me. People who know me well always give me prayer requests because they know I actually do something about them. But I had never understood it in this way before.

Yet as soon as I read that passage, it rang true. That’s why I have always liked to pray – because I love that feeling of my spirit meeting with the Spirit of God.

I figure it is no coincidence that I found this Lenten discipline this year. Being unemployed, I am filled with a confusing array of emotions about life in general. I really don't know where I will land or how I will hold up my end of providing for my family if I haven't found something by the time the unemployment runs out. When I allow myself, I can become quite frightened and worry a lot. I know that when one is job hunting one should exude confidence and hope, but instead I find myself riddled with self-doubt. What a blessing it is to do something every day that lifts me up, draws me closer to God and affirms me.

The Lord works in mysterious ways; blessed are the ways of the Lord!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I think it was a good choice to follow a different discipline this Lent. I don't have the same sense of drudgery I had begun to develop about the daily lectionary, which I had done annually for several years.

I ended up starting with the book Finding Grace at the Center -- The Beginning of Centering Prayer. It was a good choice. It's a small book -- just a collection of four essays with a little forward and summary, really. But it spells out how to go about a Christian form of prayer that is similar to Transcendental Meditation.

So today, for the first time, I tried to actually apply it. My success was limited. The book recommends that you set aside at least 20 minutes for this type of prayer. In fact, it says "Less than this hardly gives one a chance to get fully into the prayer and be wholly refreshed." But I found at the end of my first attempt that it had consumed all of five minutes. Still, I did feel that for a period there, I had brought my mind to a more relaxed, peaceful state. So I assume the rest will come gradually, with practice. I suspect I got the beginning and end right and shortchanged the middle. (Arguably, the most important part.)

I reviewed the rest of the books again this afternoon, deciding which one to read next. I think I'm going to turn next to Practicing the Prayer of Presence, though I think I will intersperse it with The World According to Mister Rogers. I think the former will be more of the kind of thing I found in the first book, while I think the Mister Rogers book will be stimulating in a whole different way.

I'm not sure if I will ever get around to the other books I had pulled out. The more I look at them, the more academic they seem. I can sort of remember being the cerebral, grad-school kinda girl who got heavily into that sort of deep philosophical navel-gazing, but I don't know that they actually speak to me now. I find at age 50 I am less cerebral but also less arrogant; there have been a lot of trade-offs in how how I view the world, and I don't think I want to work as hard as those books would make me work when I'm not convinced the benefit is there.

As my readers mostly know, I have a son who is 15 years old. At times now I hear him wrestling with philosophical, cosmological and theological issues that used to interest me. My first instinct is to sort of brush it off, to tell him it's not worth the energy he is putting into it. But I have to stop and remind myself that at 15 (and 20 and 25, even) one must work through some of those things. I can't expect him to view the world from my 50-year-old perspective. I have become increasingly a conflict-avoider; I've learned to make ideological compromises that let me sleep at night. He's still ready to fight the universe over inequities and injustices and to rail against inconsistencies in logic and belief. And that is exactly as it should be.