Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Routines are good


I found this post in the Drafts folder of my “Everyday Thinking” blog, dated June 5, 2007.

It's been three months since I posted on my so-called Daily Blog. So much for trying to start a new good habit. :-)

I should note here that I started this blog, originally titled “Me, 365” in response to a writing challenge from RevGalBlogPals.   The first line in the first entry reads, “A spiritual discipline must have a starting point, so I begin here in my Daily Blog.”    Obviously,  it didn’t stay “Daily” for very long.   Coincidentally, I was thinking about daily spiritual practices just this morning.

One of my seminary professors gave us an assignment to develop a Daily Rule for ourselves - a routine of prayer, meditation, and writing that we would follow every day for the entire semester.  Naturally, my Rule was color coded and totally organized.  It included chanting a Psalm every morning, so many minutes of meditation, so many minutes of intercessory prayer, even,  if I remember correctly, praying a rosary daily.  Plus, of course, daily journalling on my spiritual life.   I followed it religiously every day for the entire semester.   And realized that this is not what works for me.  

Yes, I love routines.  I fall into ruts with some regularity.  I do the same things in the same order most days.  Left to my own devices, I would eat the same meals every day.  People who know me well can probably say, “If it is 7 am on Monday, Maria is doing such and so.”  Given half a chance I will wear the same outfit every day - a different (clean) top and bottom, but exactly the same style, day after day.  I tend to get growly if people mess with my routine.  But for some reason I find being required to follow a specific routine, especially a spiritual routine, extremely difficult.

I pray every day.  I meditate, also.  But unlike those people who can sit and spend 30 minutes praying intentionally for a list of persons and situations, I tend to be a popcorn pray-er.   If I think of you, I pray for you, at any random time throughout the day.  I have been known to stand in the middle of a parking lot with my hand on someone’s shoulder praying for him.  My meditation, likewise, is less a formal period of sitting somewhere quiet with candle and music and more simply a few minutes spent focusing on not much of anything, allowing God to whisper in my ear.  

I read Scripture every day, and ponder what I’ve read.  I read a couple of devotionals every day - one in the morning and one at bedtime - although I often forget whatever they were about within minutes of reading them.  

I write a gratitude list every day, usually while I am enjoying my first cup of coffee (and after I have fed the Cats).  Sometimes I miss a day because my routine is broken for one reason or another.  If I had to get up extra early, or if there is some crisis going on that has my attention focused elsewhere, I might forget to do the gratitude list first thing in the morning.  

I remember to reach out to other humans every day, because I am perfectly happy living in solitude with the Cats.  So I text and email and write postcards and participate in on-line writing forums.  I go out for meals and attend discussion groups so that I will have contact with people I wouldn’t see otherwise.   I even went out and dropped in on someone yesterday without panicking over it!  (For those who do not know me, this is a pretty big deal.)

Now, if I could just remember to do the physically healthy things every day - walking on the treadmill and doing stretches for my back and listing all the foods I eat in MyFitnessPal.  I could write myself a Rule, but I am pretty sure I know what would happen.   I used to do those things . . . and something changed my routine.  Guess I’m going to have to change it back.

Routines are good.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sermon Writing - Maria Style

My church members know that I write my sermons early on Sunday morning.   Some think that means  I start doing the work on Sunday morning, but actually, by Sunday morning I have already spent well over 15 hours on preparation.   I thought I'd share a bit about my process, and how I got to this point.

I took three preaching classes in seminary.   I was only required to take one, but I had read that MLK Jr took six (6!) preaching classes, so I figured I would take all the help I could get.  Preaching wasn't exactly something I was looking forward to having to do, because I am terrified of public speaking!  Yes, I took a public speaking class in college, and yes, I passed with a A.  But I always wore long skirts on days when I had to speak so no one could see my knees knocking together. 
(Yes, I do wear long skirts on Sunday mornings.  Why do you ask?)

Anyway . . . I took three preaching classes.  One was sort of "intro to preaching" and included preaching lots of different kinds of sermons - inductive and deductive, preaching for funerals, even a section on Black preaching  (I was dinged for under-use of alliteration.)  I learned many things in that class, including the importance of following the lectionary and that I would most likely need to become best friends with the sound tech, as I have a fairly soft voice.  The most important thing I learned was that I had a lot more to learn.  Luckily, my preacher teacher Ron Allen has written a gazillion books on preaching which I have found extremely helpful

The second class was on a particular preaching style.  We were instructed to ALWAYS begin our sermons with a cultural reference, a quote from music or a movie or trend that would catch people's attention and to NEVER begin our message by recapping the scripture reading.  We must ALWAYS use a specific number of examples, each lasting a specific number of minutes.  We must NEVER refer to our selves while preaching.  I disliked the rigidity of the form intensely.  It felt awkward and constraining.  (Plus, I'm not a huge fan of being told "Always" or "Never" do whatever.)  But I did learn a couple of really important things.  First, not everyone will resonate well with whatever cultural references I choose because not everyone lives in the same culture - even in Indiana.  And second, but most important - if I lose you in the first sentence, or choose an example that upsets you, you will not hear one more word that I say.

For example, I began one of my in-class sermons with a quote from Elvis Presley's song "In the Ghetto." I forget what the sermon was about, or what my point was supposed to be.  But I do remember that one of my classmates came from the ghetto in Chicago, the place Elvis was talking about, and the song made her angry, as if it was inevitable that a boy born in the ghetto was going to die with a gun in his hand.  She had no idea what the rest of my message was about.

Another example.  At my first church I was preaching one of the wilderness scriptures, and spoke of the desert as a place many people would find inhospitable and forbidding.  I went on to extol the beauty of the desert, and the need to sometimes go to a deserted place to be with God, but one of the ladies in the church didn't hear any of that.  She stopped listening when she thought she heard me say the desert was not beautiful, and that made her angry because her home is in the high desert, and she loves it.   

The last class focused mostly on story-telling sermons, and that is where I found my joy.  I love telling stories.  And I learned that I may tell stories that I am in, as long as I am not the hero.  As long as someone else made the difference, or saved me, or taught me something.   Fred Craddock (my preaching idol) is renowned for telling stories about people he knew, and conversations he had with them, and  things that happened in their town last week.  I also learned that it really didn't matter how long I have been preaching, sermon prep was going to take about 20 hours of my week, every week.  Some have said that shouldn't be the case because with practice it should get easier, but I figure, if Fred Craddock, who had been preaching for 50 years or more, was still taking 20 hours a week to prep and write, then how can I think I don't need at least that much time?     

Oh yes.  Without exception, all my preacher teachers said, "Don't wait till Sunday morning to write your message."  And I don't.  Not really.  Except, I do, kind of.

I used to spend all day Saturday writing, and tweaking each word, and making sure the message was exactly what I wanted it to be.  And almost invariably I would wake up on Sunday morning with an entirely different message in my head - a totally unappreciated gift from the Holy Spirit.  Which meant every Sunday I was re-writing my message for that day.  I finally gave up on Saturday writing. 
So - the process.

My sermon prep for this week's message began when I selected the scripture reading, which happened about two months ago.   When I selected the reading I also chose a title and found a hymn to follow the sermon, which hopefully will reinforce whatever I intend to say in the message.   For the last two months, when I have found a story or example that suits that reading, I have dropped it into the message.  When I have a reaction to some news story and it relates, I drop that into the message. 

This week I will keep the message document open most of the time so that I can review what I've done so far.  I read commentaries and look at other people's sermons on this reading. I look back to see what I've done with this passage before - but I can't use my old message because the world has changed since then.  The people I am preaching to have changed.  I have changed since then.  I review with great care my examples, hoping to select the ones that will offend no one - like the Elvis song or the desert story.  The message might offend or upset, mind you.  But I at least want people to hear the message and not get lost in the first paragraph.

Likewise, the selection of artwork is a challenge.  I might have picked the artwork way back when I selected the scripture reading, although most often the art selection doesn't happen until the week I am preaching.  And I have help with that, in the person of our PowerPoint tech.  Between us we do our best to find the right artwork to speak to the message, again, without losing anyone right away.

Sunday morning:   I get up early - sometime between 3 and 4 am. I am in my office at the church before 6 am, and I begin typing.  I put all my examples and ideas and teaching moments that I have been working on together in the document.  That takes any where from 2 to 3 hours.  Then I read it and re-read it, out loud, so that if there are sections that will tangle my tongue I know that in advance.  I post it to my preaching blog, and on Facebook, and I send the link to our Website guru.  And then, it's go time. 

There's a lot of prayer involved, and research, and conversation.  But have no doubt, there is a lot of time spent every week on preaching prep.  Maybe I'm prepping this Sunday's message, and maybe I'm working on something I won't preach until October.  But at least 20 hours every week are going into sermon prep. 

And then, on Sunday morning, I write. 

                                                                                                                                                                         

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

So this happened.


I posted a thing on Facebook that said, in its essence, “Sometimes the thing that is lawful is not the thing that is just.”  I had posted several similar things, but this particular one upset a friend, who thought it meant that I was calling the President a Nazi. Since that is absolutely not what I meant, I explained what I did mean, and my friend accepted my explanation.  A third person commented that she understood my reasons for posting the thing, but felt I was far too soft in my opinions, then attacked my friend personally.  As I will not accept this sort of behavior on my page, I deleted the hateful comment and blocked that person.  Sadly, my friend, the person I was defending by deleting the ugliness, chose to unfriend me.   
We are living in a time when two people holding different opinions cannot discuss those differences civilly.  And even on those increasingly rare occasions when two people can politely agree to disagree, other people will dog pile on the side they oppose and make any sort of conversation impossible.  This is so sad, and such a commentary on the terrible divide that has grown up, not just in our country, but around the world.  Even in the so-called “debates” between candidates for political office in every nation, we are seeing far more in the way of personal attacks and far less reasoned discussion of actual issues.  This, I’m told is simply the way the world is today, and I must accept it.
Actually - no.  I do not have to accept this.  
Paul said to the church in Rome, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
I’m pretty sure the will of God does not call for us to speak hatefully to or about one another at any time, for any reason.  Rather, the will of God is that we are to love one another as we love ourselves.  The will of God is that we treat one another as we, ourselves, wish to be treated. If someone is upset with us, we should seek to be reconciled, for Jesus said, " if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24)
If we are truly to be Christ followers, let us leave behind the ways of the world.  Let us stop allowing the anger that surrounds us to guide us in our own behavior.  Let us instead seek to find the good in everyone, embrace the Christ in everyone, so that all the world may, through our individual efforts, be reconciled in God’s grace. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Take me out to the ball game . . . . please?


There’s a Fresno Grizzlies game tonight, and it’s church night!  The seats were priced right, and lots more people from our church bought tickets than we had expected.  I have my church shirt and my Grizzlies hat and even got some cash for the ridiculously expensive concession stand.  I filled my gas tank yesterday and I know where I’m supposed to park.  I’m all ready to go  . . . 

. . . and I’m having an anxiety attack.  I’ll probably stay home feeling guilty and relieved in equal measures.

I went last time.  I rode with someone else who didn’t want to go alone, and because my back was really bad then we agreed that we’d leave when I was too uncomfortable to stay.   We got there a bit late and left just after the 7th inning stretch. It was lots of fun and I was really looking forward to going again . . . 

. . . but I’m having an anxiety attack.  The idea of getting out of my car in the parking structure and walking to the stadium and then trying to find my friends is overwhelming me.

It’s the being surrounded a huge crowd of people, but not entirely.  It’s the walking into a huge place full of strangers by myself and not knowing exactly where to look for my friends, but not entirely.  It’s the driving to a strange place by myself, but not entirely.  

It’s the not knowing for sure that I will be safe - entirely.  It’s PTSD.

I can’t tell you how often I am all ready to go to an event I really want to attend and an anxiety attack keeps me home.  Then I have to contact someone who is expecting me to show up and come up with some lame excuse because God forbid I should get honest and say, “I’m having an anxiety attack that is keeping me from leaving the house.”  

I’m not an expert on PTSD, so I keep realizing new things about my particular variety of the disorder.  Like today, when I finally realized that the reason I have anxiety attacks that keep me from going to events I REALLY WANT TO GO TO is PTSD.  It’s not one symptom or another.  It’s not social anxiety or agoraphobia or introversion.  It’s the whole Post-traumatic Stress Disorder thing.   In the years since I was first diagnosed I have learned that PTSD is not always a reaction to one specific traumatic experience.  In some cases (like mine) it is a response to a series of events.  So not one punch to the face or kick to the spine, but a lot of physical abuse over a period of years.  Not one rape, but repeated rapes.  Not one instance of emotional abuse, but so many insults and put-downs from so many people over decades.

Unlike the fact that I’m afraid of heights because one time when I was 12 I was in a tree house when it fell out of the tree, a fear that I have been steadily working on eradicating, the events that caused my PTSD were spread over decades.  I know what some of my triggers are, and I recognize some of my symptoms and reactions to triggers, but not all of them.   It took years to realize that the panic attacks when I am not sure where I am while driving were because I didn’t know how to get to a safe place, and that they  were PTSD related (and I am SO grateful for SIRI!).  And today I suddenly realized that my anxiety attacks before going to a new or crowded place by myself are also PTSD related - because I do not know for sure that I will be in a safe place.

I’m getting better at dealing with my anxiety attacks.  I’m much more willing to go to events where there will be strangers as long as I am with friends, and as long as my friends understand that I might have to leave suddenly if something triggers me.  But I still end of sitting in my house way too often instead of being someplace doing something I’d really like to do . . . 

I suppose I really should always find someone to go places with me, someone who is wiling to leave when I need to because the crowd gets too much for me.  I suppose I should be more open about why it is so difficult to go to new places or crowded places at all, never mind going by myself.  I suppose I need to finally get around to finding a new therapist who can work with me, and help me learn how to function better in situations like today.

Meanwhile, I guess I will stay home tonight.  Again.  *sigh*  

Go Grizzlies!  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Me, Too.

He was a neighbor.  He went to my church.  He socialized with my parents.  He had seven children and a lovely wife.  His oldest daughter was friends with my sister.  He was my first gynecologist.  

He didn’t have an office nurse, at least, not anytime I had an appointment.  He told me the thing he was doing with his hands was to relax me so that the speculum would go in more easily.   He made sure I was aware of his erection.  He told me that all women were filthy creatures and that I needed to douche every day with vinegar.  He said I had cysts on my ovaries and gave me medication.  But he also said the medication probably wouldn’t work so he scheduled surgery to remove them.  

A week or so later I hemorrhaged, and went to the ER.  When he was called he screamed at me, calling me low class for going to the emergency when it was nothing but a heavy period!  But it wasn’t. I could tell the difference.  He wouldn’t listen.

When I got to the hospital he came to examine me before surgery.  The hospital nurse wouldn’t let him be alone with me - there are rules, doncha know.   He was angry at being interfered with.  He was angrier that my cysts were gone, so no surgery.  No removal of ovaries.  The nurse suggested very carefully I might want to find another gynecologist. 

My family doctor couldn’t understand why I went from having low blood pressure to high blood pressure in a matter of months for no apparent reason.  I learned about White Coat Syndrome.  I tried to forget Dr. Larkin.  Successfully.  For decades.  I just always told my doctors I had White Coat Syndrome and went to female gynecologists.

Two years ago someone in my GP’s office didn’t listen when I said I needed to be referred to a female OB/GYN.  When the male doctor walked into the room I had a panic attack, right then and there.  I suddenly remembered Dr. Larkin and told the story to that doctor and his nurse.  They were horrified, and apologetic, and understanding.  They referred me to another doctor.

It was liberating.  My BP has been perfectly normal at all my doctor’s appointments since that day.  I have answers to some of the questions that came up when I was diagnosed with PTSD several years ago.   

The #Me,Too movement has given me the freedom to tell this story out loud.  I am grateful for all the women and men who have spoken out, and hopeful that all of these stories can bring about change.




Monday, January 29, 2018

My Mother's Pearls

On their 25th wedding anniversary my father gave my mother a string of pearls.  It was one of her prized possessions.  When she wasn't wearing them, she kept them in a velvet pouch.  But she wore them frequently because she said that if pearls are not worn they lose their luster.

When Mother died my sister and I talked about the pearls, and chose to give them to my brother's wife, Carol.   Mother had lived with Nick and Carol for a couple of years before she died.  I knew from experience how challenging life with Mother could be in those later years and really thought if anyone deserved those pearls, it was Carol.  When my brother died a few years later, Carol gave the pearls to me, saying she thought they needed to be in the family.  Although I graciously accepted the gift, in my head I was kind of freaking out. "What am I going to do with pearls?  Do I look like a pearl wearing woman?"   When I got home, I put the velvet pouch holding my mother's pearls in my jewelry box and proceeded to wait for the proper occasion to wear them.

The invitation to a Steampunk themed costume event said, "Here is your chance to wear your best corset and pearls!"  I thought about it for a while.  Although I dearly love costume events (especially if I get to wear a corset!), I gave it a pass.  I wasn't sure that was the appropriate venue for the pearls. Fake pearls, sure.  Pearls I bought myself, why not?  But my mother's 25th anniversary pearls?  I don't think so.

Then came Election Day.   Hordes of pantsuited, pearl wearing women proclaimed their vote with their attire.  I didn't see what pearls had to do with anything.  I mean, yes, I get the symbolism, but we're talking about my mother's 25th anniversary pearls, here!  They are way too important to wear as if they were an "I voted" sticker.

And suddenly I remembered watching Mother getting ready to go out one time, and asking her why she always wore her pearls.  "Because," she said, "pearls need to be worn or they will lose their luster.  They will just be round, white beads, not the glowing things of beauty that you are holding.  They need to be kept warm and cared for and loved."

So I went to my jewelry box and took out the velvet bag.  I poured the pearls into my hand, then put them on.  I felt their weight and warmth around my neck and realized something important.

They aren't my mother's pearls any more.  They're mine.  And anytime I wear them is a special occasion.





Saturday, January 27, 2018

Is this for real? Questions about Health Insurance

Is this for real?  Questions about Health Insurance

I got a statement from my health insurance company the other day, a report of what my health care costs were for 2017. 

Background:  I am 66 years old, on Medicare and paying $134 per month for coverage.  Last year I had HealthNet for my doctor appointments and such, with no premium.  I don’t make much money so I have free prescription coverage through Medicare.  That means my total health insurance cost per month is $134.00

During 2017 I had a colonoscopy, a mammogram, an MRI, one (minor) outpatient surgery by my OB/GYN oncologist, several doctor appointments and some lab work.  No illnesses, not even a serious cold, and no prescriptions (except for the colonoscopy prep - yuck.) 

The statement said that my medical costs for 2017 were as follows:
Amount billed by medical providers $27,560.71
Amount approved by insurer $. 4,036.19
Amount paid by insurer $. 3,668.96
My share $.   335.00

So, what I want to know is - what about the $23,524 that wasn’t paid by either my insurance company or me?  Do all doctors and hospitals and labs, etc. overcharge by that much knowing they’re going to receive such a small amount from the insurance company?  

And, if I didn’t have insurance, would I have been responsible for that entire amount?   Never mind.  I already know the answer to that one.  :( 

I know at least one woman who has health insurance through her employer and can’t afford an MRI of her lower spine because it would cost her $2,000 out of pocket.  In December I had the same procedure at a cost to me of $215.    There is something seriously wrong with this picture.

Mind you, I don’t know much about health insurance.  I don’t even really understand my coverage, or the difference between Part A and B and C and whatever.  When I have questions or problems I contact my insurance agent, who does understand all the things that confuse me.  

But I do think that there is something seriously broken in our health care system if someone who is really pretty healthy had medical bills that exceeded my annual salary - and because of my insurance coverage less than 1/4 of the billed amount actually had to be paid.  I mean, how is that even possible?  What if I had been really sick?  Or been in an accident? 

And what about that $23,524 that neither the insurance company nor I had to pay?  Are those legitimate charges that go unpaid or just seriously inflated so they will get what they actually should charge everyone from the insurance companies?