“But You Look So Good!”

I’ve been living with a chronic illness all my life and with a diagnosis for about 10 years. Those living with chronic illness learn how to fight battles every single day without attracting attention. We learn to keep trudging along our daily lives with a smile on our faces because people don’t want to hear about the gritty details of why the answer to “how are you?” is not “good.” And we don’t want the bad kind of attention.

The attention that comes in the form of judgment and pity. 

We don’t want pity. We don’t want the big eyes of sadness and misunderstanding. Most people I’ve met with chronic illness don’t feel bad for themselves. Yes, there are moments where our lives totally suck and there are phases when we want the illness to go away more than anything else in the world. For the majority of the time, however, those suffering with chronic illness have learned to live with the reality of daily discomfort or pain. 
The exhibition of this looks different for each person, but there is a common resolution to keep going–at least that’s what I’ve found in my short life experience. 

Because of this, chronics are seen through the facade they portray–healthy, strong, and just plain old okay. 

The gravity of this hit me this week. I’m currently seven and a half months pregnant. I get told all the time that I “look great!” And “are you really that far along?” 

First off–thanks! I’m glad that I’m looking good in the yoga pants and button down shirt that I’m rocking today because real pants just aren’t going to happen. And yes, I am that far along. I’m a small(ish) person, so I’m not surprised my baby isn’t ginormous. I feel like a blimp, though.

Frankly, of course I look great. I don’t mean that in a “I know I’m fabulous! Shield your eyes from my glorious complexion and bow down to my beautifully curvaceous body carved by the gods.” I mean that I am good on putting the happy face when I need to. I’m used to hiding the fact that I don’t feel well. I don’t find joy or satisfaction in parading around the fact that I am feeling the full force of the third trimester life, so I’m not going to talk about it unless probed. So yes, I have all the symptoms of third trimester pregnancy, but I don’t talk about them or necessarily show it on my face.

Because I don’t want the pity. I don’t want the big eyes of sadness and misunderstanding.

At the same time, don’t assume that I’m okay or good. We all learned the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we seem to forget that it is a completely legitimate metaphor for people. While I look completely normal, I’m currently trying to ignore all the spasms and pain throughout my body. But this is my new normal. This is my new good. It’s all relative. 

For my fellow chronics (or preggos), find comfort in that you are not alone! May our trudging turn into determined steps evolving into victorious leaps. Our circumstances do not own us.

To our loved ones, please recognize our daily reality of struggling with physical distress and our perception. Please don’t assume how we are feeling. If you genuinely want to know, maybe phrase the question-turned-greeting of, “how are you” as “how are you feeling today? How is x, y, or z going?” Little things like this mean the world.


2015: A Year in Review

I don’t normally do anything special to ring in the New Year or really do much reflection on a specific year because I am a fairly self-reflective person all-year-round.

But this year feels different. Probably because it is so different.

Quite the plethora of things have happened in 2015. Looking back, everything is condensed into chunks: the spring semester, the summer, and the fall into Christmas.

This past May I graduated from Gordon College with my Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies. The spring semester was distinctly different from any other semester with 4 blizzards, living off campus, taking my first graduate class, dipping my toe in the dating pool, applying for jobs–and the list could go on! There were so many opportunities–like speaking in chapel–and wonderful times–walking to the beach in a blizzard–that rather astound me looking back. I did this. I did that. Wow. How amazing!

In May I began my first “real” job and in my field! I got a job at a large church in the area where I have learned much and been able to apply so many skills I’ve picked up over the years–from growing up the a large church, to my IT experience, to my chapel internship, to my classes at Gordon. It has been a great fit right out of the collegiate gate.

The summer was a strange transition from being a college student to being a full time employee–an adult contributing to society. On one hand, you have to put in your 40 hours. On the other hand, you don’t have homework. The transition hasn’t been bad, just different.

The end of the summer was distinctly marked by a few items. Firstly, by working a church, one tends to follow the ebb and flow of the church calendar and the school year. September was the “ministry year kick off” of sorts with a new series and all new curriculum unrolling, so work definitely kicked into gear. Secondly, and most importantly, I was greeted by rather life-altering news: I’m going to be a mom.

That’s right: I’m pregnant.

This is huge. Like, holy crap/what is happening/where did my life plan go/ahhhhhh.

But it is also the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. I’m a mom. Yes, my little one is not due until April, but I love my child more than anything else in this world. My heart skips with joy everytime I feel a kick or punch in my belly.

When reflecting on this year, I think of my life before motherhood and my life since.

All my priorities have shifted. Every cent I earn and spend are considered in light of my baby. I am saving money to cover future medical expenses (i.e. childbirth) rather than saving up for a trip or something else fun that recent college graduates do. Much of my dreams are still very much the same but look slightly different now that the timeline has inevitably changed. I’ve entered one new phase of life a lot more quickly than I had originally planned while pausing other ambitions in the meantime.

Yes, my life has changed. And I would argue this is one of those life changes that are for the better. Like with all change, there are growing pains (in this case, both emotional and physical as I get bigger and bigger…and bigger.) These pains are not bad. There are some days when they irk or just straight up hurt. Fortunately, they have been few and far between.

On paper, the wee babe and I have quite an uphill battle to climb. I’m an unwed mother in a “progressive” age that doesn’t actually know what to do with people like me. But one of the amazing things this journey has already taught me is how strong I am.

No one knows what they are made of until they are tested–and boy would I count this as one of those times. When people hear of my circumstance or strangers notice my ever-growing belly, I get comments and looks attempting to shame us. I refuse to let them win. I refuse to let anyone suck the joy out of this exciting new phase of life.

Yes, I am on an uphill climb; good thing I have hiking gear.

I was asked to share a devotional at work about a month ago. There were so many stories throughout Scripture that I resonated with, especially as a young woman involved in a difficult circumstance with some sort of sexual exploit in the picture. I, like many female characters in Scripture, are the picture of a social minority or even outcast. It feels like every story of women in Scripture includes these ingredients. Working so closely on Advent services this year made me identify more with  Mary than I ever have. We are two young, pregnant women–and rather overwhelmed!

But the story I chose to meditate on was that of an unnamed woman, more commonly known as the “adulterous woman.” Please read a passage below (John 8:1b-11):

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

My instinct wanted to go through the details and look at commentaries, but that’s not why I was drawn to this passage. I was drawn to this woman and this Jesus. There are so many times over the past few months where I have felt like I’m being dragged in front of a judge, being accused by my peers, while they wait for the go-ahead to stone me.

To stick with the theme of “All About Jesus” (the devotional theme this year), I wanted to take a look at Jesus’s character here. One of God’s primary reasons for sending himself as the Incarnate was to institute a mediator or intercessor of His almighty grace. Hebrews goes onto explain Jesus’ greatness above the prophets, priests, and the old covenant, but this passage in John is a perfect example of Jesus overthrowing the old ways.  

According to the Jewish law, this woman and her partner would be stoned if she was engaged. We don’t know if she fit the criteria–hence it being a trap for Jesus–but there would certainly be basis for some sort of punishment. In Jesus’s omniscience and wisdom, he turns the tables. There are some traditions that suggest that when Jesus bends down to write in the ground with his finger that he is writing out the accusers’ sins. Whether he wrote that or drew an icthus like the Jesus movie I grew up on showed, Jesus’ famous line, “let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” definitively ends the debate. His job as mediator in this scene is done.

It’s amazing to serve a God who chose to be an intercessor and mediator. What this passage showed me was a Jesus who not only embodies those traits between the me and the Father but between me and my fellow person. I often forget that through Jesus I am protected from all judgment, no matter the source.

There are days when others cast shame on me too heavy to carry, but Jesus is between me and the crowd. While friends and enemies alike are throwing their proverbial stones at me, Jesus protects me. Not because I’m perfect but because he cares, loves, and forgives me.

The crowd will not win. I refuse to let them.

Today marks 100 days until my due date. I can’t wait to meet this little one who has changed my life forever for the better. Oh how different 2016 will be!


Photo Credit: mynameisharsha via Compfight cc

Pondering Places and Conflict

What do you do when you’ve fallen in love with a place that you can’t call home? What do you do when this place that taught you a new way to love people has become war-torn in a matter of weeks after you left?

In three days it will have been a month since I have returned from my five week excursion in the Middle East.

And I don’t really know what to do about it. Or even think about it.

I can’t even bring myself to look at the news in the morning because it brings me such sorrow. Yet, I can’t ignore the realities of the situation because I am now cognizant of how our lives are connected. While these people are suffering and dying at each other’s hands, I am suffering.

I want to go back and do something, but I know so little. I can do so little. All I would do is get in the way.

I recently finished reading a book called Building a Culture of Faith and there was a quote from Lila Watson that I cannot get out of my mind: “If you have come here to help, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mind, then let us work together.”

It makes me think of short-term missions. Do we go to rekindle our fire for God or to engage with the people because we lose sleep over their (and our collective) oppression–no matter what those oppressive circumstances are, like poverty, tyrannical government, “silent” systemic oppression, etc.

Oh gosh. I have the news on in the background on silent. I see footage of women and men in Israel. I’m not sure if the footage is in Palestinian or Israeli territory, but it hurts to watch. Muslim women are whipping each other with scarves in mobs. Soldiers are binding and dragging away those that are instigating more fighting. I’m glad I can’t read the closed captions from here.

I’m reminded of the time when I was right outside Jaffa Gate by the Old City in Jerusalem waiting for the Pope to drive by. Many fights broke out in anticipation and protest–mostly those bearing Palestinian flags. At the time, it almost seemed funny that an individual would charge ten soldiers with machine guns. I just didn’t get it; it seemed illogical.

We got used to seeing soldiers everywhere. I got used to seeing those my age or a few years younger holding machine guns in one hand and iPhones in the other. Part of the military training is to learn Israel’s history, so there were many times we were at historical sites alongside draftees who were learning the same content we were–or at least I think the same content…I can’t understand Hebrew.

During the chaos of the Pope in town, I felt safe by expanded military presence. Nothing was going to happen to me while they’re around.

How could I be so selfish? Military presence isn’t a sign of peace and safety; it’s an attempt to stop any possible attacks.

Having been there and learned just a tiny bit about the history of the whole Israel-Palestine debacle, I realize that there is no way I am going to really understand this issue. I am a young, white, American woman raised in the suburbs. How could I possibly understand the political and personal complexities of a conflict like this in a culture I just barely encountered let alone understood?

Maybe I will never fully understand it, but I feel for it. I  don’t know how to define those feelings right now, but they are not joyful ones. They are ones that mourn every act of injustice and yearn for effective and swift reconciliation.

I pray for Jesus to come down as the Prince of Peace and have the Holy Spirit intervene on behalf of justice.

Because I don’t know what else to do.