Thursday, February 24, 2011

Song # 10: Breaking Down Walls

      In song #3 I wrote about my "new father", Harry Harmon, who married my mom when I was four years old and gave us a new name.  With his name, we also inherited his reputation. I am thankful to say it was a good one, but even more importantly, Dad, along with other coaches, helped to change the attitude and reputation of an entire community by standing up for the rights of Afro-American and Hispanic people who lived there. I was not aware of how unique his influence was until a few years ago when Mom told me about Dad's absence of prejudice and how he was among the Little League coaches who insisted that every child who wanted to play on a team should be allowed to do so, regardless of race. It was only a few days ago that I learned how their courage to stand up for what they believed to be right helped to change an entire generation of Crane children.
     We moved to Crane in 1959 when Dad accepted a job with Texaco. I was getting ready to start first grade and had a new baby sister who occupied a lot of my mom's time. Dad had fixed up an old bike for me, and I was free to roam within limits. Having come from the isolated Pegasus Gas Camp where there was next to nothing to do, I was delighted to explore the modern, two-story public library, swim in the three free city swimming pools where swimming and diving lessons were also offered at no cost, and participate in the free summer recreation programs offered to the town kids during the summers. Dad was excited about the Little League and Pony League games and Golden Glove boxing as well as the Crane High School football, baseball, and basketball teams. He was quite the sports fan. 
     As a family we joined the First Baptist Church where my young parents, at only twenty-five and twenty-six years of age, became actively involved in teaching the youth. Mom also became a working member of the Women's Missionary Union that participated in mission efforts both at home and abroad. She was well aware that mission fields exist in our own back yards. It wasn't long before Dad was coaching Little League or Pony League teams and helping with Golden Gloves, and Mom was  having the young people over for cocoa and her homemade giant sugar cookies.
     The swimming pools were located at our city park, the summer recreation programs were held at the exhibition hall nearby, and the baseball games were at the fields just north of that. We lived just up the road on Elizabeth Street, and I was allowed to walk from our house on  hot summer afternoons  to the swimming pools and to other activities around the park. We often had picnics near croquet courts that were laid out for the public to enjoy.
     Behind those croquet courts, the baseball fields, and the city park was a long, stone and mortar wall, which I always assumed was just the boundary line of the park.  Beyond that was the section of town where most of the "colored folks" (as we called them then) lived. The black boys would walk across  from their neighborhood to participate in  the Little League games.  We were often in that part of town for the baseball games or because some of the poor folks lived there, as Mom and Dad were frequently helping out a family in need, black or white, who were down on their luck. I noticed on those trips behind the wall that there was another school (Bethune)  and even another swimming pool in that part of town. It seemed odd, but it was understood that those were the places where the "colored folks" went to school and swam. However, there were no separate ball fields to keep the races apart.
     Once Dad started coaching Little League, he was eager to have all kinds of kids playing on his teams. He himself had grown up poor, the youngest of nine children being reared by a single, widowed mother, and he was not a practitioner of racial or social prejudice. Even though schools were not yet integrated in Crane, Dad chose interracial teams. Dad's team performed well, and  a few of his players became some of Crane's best athletes.  Other coaches also led the way toward integration by having integrated teams.
     Back row, left to right: Assistant Coach Cecil Gibson, Vance Gibson, (unknown), Ellis Lane, Billie Perdue, Mark Evans, Coach Harry Harmon.
     Bottom Row, left to right: Randy Robbins, Bill Caldwell (another contact says "Mike"), (unknown), Jackie Jeffrey or Jackie Ellison, Vance Newland, Ron Gurley, Dexter Tooke, Tommy Jones or Jackie McCoy .
(June 11, 1961, Double "E" Photo, 1107 S. Catherine, Crane, TX)

     When I tagged along with Dad to practices and games, I got to know the guys on his teams. They probably don't remember me, but I admired them and ran after their foul balls when they knocked them out of the park. Some of those balls even rolled over by "the wall". I eagerly retrieved them and sometimes got a free snow-cone for my efforts. 
     It's funny how the kids on the teams didn't seem to have any problem getting along with each other. I have since learned that it was the racial blending of the Little League teams that helped to smooth the path and prepare the way for racial integration in the public schools later and to break down the walls between the races in Crane. I am proud of my dad for being a catalyst of this change.
      That same stone wall behind the ball fields, I discovered recently, was more than a boundary for the park; it was a physical  and concrete reminder of the hard-held beliefs of some of the town leaders that the Blacks should be kept in their place and separate from the rest of the white folks and their children.  I discovered this disturbing fact by reading "Hiding in Plain Sight: The Crane Wall", an article by Margaret Elder Collins written February 16, 2011, and shared with Crane historians. Ms. Collins lived in Crane for two years in the 1950's. In her article she describes how the wall was built at the direction of the FHA to allow higher priced homes to be built in the area and to prevent endangering of their property values by being in proximity to the "colored" part of town. She even relates stories of black families being uprooted and physically moved behind the wall. I reprint here a quote she uses from Friday Night Lights, a book about West Texas football,  by H.G. Bissinger:

"Crane was the kind of town where the big hangout was the Dairy Mart on Sixth Street because it had curb service, where Saturday afternoons meant plunking down a quarter for a matinee at the movie theater on Fifth Street and Saturday nights meant either a dance over at the county exhibition hall or a drag or two up and down North Gaston looking for girls and a little beer.

Fathers liked Crane because there was steady work in the oil field.  Mothers liked Crane because there were few temptations that could entice their offspring.  But not everyone liked it and L.V. Miles (Boobie’s Uncle)  had been one of those.  For him, as for a handful of others who had the same skin color, the Crane he grew up in might as well have been on another planet.

His life had been defined by a five-foot high wall of rock and concrete.  It ran along a street and had been built so the whites who lived on the edge of Niggertown would not have to see it."

     It was quite a revelation to me to learn that a seemingly innocent wall, so familiar to me as a child, had been erected for the purpose of shutting a group of people away from the eyes and concern of the white townspeople. The separate school and swimming pool were built to keep them in the part of town "where they belonged". It somewhat reminds me of how Native Americans in our history were forced onto reservations. How terrible that the Miles family (mentioned in the quote) felt they had to move to another city to escape discrimination.
     I, however, saw a different side of Crane. I was never aware, during the ten years we lived in Crane (1959-69) that the wall was intended to be a segregation wall. It certainly didn't serve that purpose for my dad's team members, the Little League baseball teams, or for us as a family. By the time we were in high school, I think that most of my generation were oblivious to the wall and its purported meaning--but perhaps I speak only for the white kids.  Nevertheless, it never entered into our conversations, and both Afro-American and Hispanic kids became our friends. Most of the e-mails I have received about the wall and this photo have been in agreement about the wall, but in disagreement about who all is in the photo! 
     Here is a quote from an e-mail from Randy Robbins (first boy, left, bottom row): 
       "After living in the world away from Crane, I soon realized that men like Vance's dad, my dad Jeff, and Harry Harmon were ahead of their time in trying to change attitudes concerning racism. It was fathers and coaches like Harry who contributed to many of my generation's hatred of injustice and an enduring belief that "all men are created equal." When this picture was taken desegregation through Brown vs Board of Education was a few years in the future. I have always been proud that my hometown was ahead of the curve with respects to racial equality, and the the two men in that picture provided the foundation of that pride."
Thanks, Randy. 

     Over time, our community became less racially divided in other areas. Not long after Daddy started coaching in Crane, he was approached by a Hispanic man who also wanted to coach baseball. Knowing that Dad was unbiased, he asked Dad to speak for him.  The next year the Hispanic man had his own team.
     Crane had excellent schools, and I received a superior education there.  The students and community benefited from the influx of oil money. The races were kept "separate, but equal" for many years, but the wall of that separation eventually came down.
     When the black students finally came to "'our" school, several were already "old friends" to me. Although I am sure there were many others, I remember Leon, Jackie, Daisy, and Yolanda Jeffrey, Argie Hollins, Terry "Duffy" Neal, and Louis and Tommy Jones. Tommy was a super basketball player, making the Texas 2A All-State Basketball Team for three years in a row (1968-69) and scoring 51 points in one game.   At one spectacular game we attended, the cheering shouts of the crowd in the gymnasium were so loud I thought my head would burst. I looked at Dad, only to see him cheering for Tommy, with tears in his eyes, eight years after Tommy had been on Dad's Little League team. 
     I wore Terry Neal's football number on my homecoming mum along with that of another player (who was white) for the Homecoming Game during the 1968 season; they were BOTH my friends, and I wanted to support them both. At least 25 years later I ran across Terry at a jazz club where we were both listening to a famous saxophone player. He related a story to me that I didn't even remember. He, however, had never forgotten an occasion in school when the two of us shared a candy bar, and he was stunned that a white girl would take a bite off of a black boy's candy bar. It never occurred to me to do otherwise. "My mom and dad didn't teach me that way," as they say. We hugged and cried over our friendship from so many years ago. There were no walls between us then, and there are none now.
    Walls. Even today, portions of the wall behind the ballpark still exist. I am told it even has a historical plaque on it to remind present-day people of Crane's past, no matter how distasteful that past may be. I am grateful to my parents for living out their Christianity in their daily lives and for teaching me that physical walls can neither keep out  nor lock up the human heart. Walls will not deter the hand of God when He chooses to move them. Remember Jericho? The walls came tumbling down when the people obeyed God and moved at His direction. 

 "For He Himself is our Peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father." Ephesians 2:13-18 (NASB)

P.S. L. Crumley writes this about the photographer:
"I think his name was A. L. Elrod.  He worked for my father at Texas Electric as a linesman.  He took photos of weddings ect. on the weekends."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#8.1 The Keeper of my Heart: My Sickness and His Healing

(This is the continuation of #8 that I promised.)
     Blog #8 referred to Jesus' quote, "It is not those who are healthy (of strength) who need a physician, but those who are sick." Matthew 9:12. 
     For most of my young adult life, I didn't think anything was wrong with me. I was physically healthy and mentally sound --I thought. However, I came to a point where God did break through my pride to show me otherwise, and He did it through my heart. 
     I remember a time when I thought I was "healthy" and "of strength" when I was finishing up my first year of residency training. I didn't believe I was among those who needed a physician, as Jesus mentions in Matthew 9:12 and Luke 5:31. In fact, I actually was beginning to feel competent in my role as a physician during the long nights of in-hospital call and my ability to handle crises as they occurred. 
     On one particular night when I was on call at the hospital, we had a vicious storm blow through Dallas, taking out huge trees and power lines and leaving our hospital without electricity or phones, except for the pay phones. I sloshed through the inky blackness of a tree littered campus in ankle deep water trying to get to the various units in different buildings and reassure the patients huddled in the dark halls that everything would be okay--that they were safe, and we were still "in control." I was even commended later for my efforts in handling the emergency and tending to the needs of the staff and patients.
     But, just as I was beginning to bask in the glow of that confidence, I became ill with my first episode of pericarditis, and I learned how little control I actually had.

"Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall." I Corinthians 10:11

     I was knocked on my rear. The more I tried to get better, the worse I became. I was following doctor's orders and taking my prescribed medicine and getting worse! I  slept only about two hours at a time, had constant chest pain and fatigue, and wasn't even able to walk down the driveway to my mailbox. It was one of those times I was crying out to God, "I don't understand!" Actually, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.
     Two seminal events happened to help me start getting better. First, my mother came to help me, noticed what a dither I was in, and asked why I was so upset. When I explained to her the possible prognosis of pericarditis, she went on to ask me what I was really afraid of. My answers were as follows:
"What if I don't get over it and am debilitated?" 
Her answer: "Well, do you trust God that He can handle that?" I said that I did.
Then, I countered, "But what if I can't get back to work and finish my residency?" 
She replied, "Do you think God can handle that too?" 
Again, I said, "Yes." 
Then she asked, "What are you really worried about?" 
When I confessed that I might die and leave the kids with no mother, she quietly responded, "And, is God able to take care of you in that event?"
Again, "yes."
"Is He able to see after your children?"
"Yes. I guess He is."
"Well, then I don't see what you have to worry about." She had taken all the wind out of my storm of anxiety, and peace followed.
     The second event was the visit of a friend and fellow physician who had been out of town on a spiritual retreat. She had stayed at a monastery during her time away. Oddly, she had experienced a dream or vision of God performing surgery on her heart, opening the pericardium (the sack around the heart), and removing the infection and disease He found there. Then, He told her to go share her dream with me when she returned home.
     Mind you, she was not aware that I was ill when she had the dream because she had been out of town. And, yes, this may sound like a very strange story. But, it happened. I was embarrassed to let her see me in my condition. My "public face" was not what she would see. Instead, she would find a perspiring, flushed, round-faced woman who had gained thirty-five pounds on steroid therapy since last seen at work. That's not how I wanted the world to see me. My friend drove out to Terrell from Dallas, brought a meal for my family, and related the dream. 
     She was the conduit God chose to use to get through to me. He was trying to tell me that my heart infection was more than a physical illness; it was a spiritual condition. He sent that message to me through my friend. She didn't offer the explanation to me. It was clear through the conviction of the Holy Spirit within me.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:17 (NASB)     I was neither healthy nor whole. I still had parts of my heart that no one was allowed to enter, not even my God. I thought I was "of strength"--sufficient in my own will and determination to handle some things and trusting God with others. I had a divided loyalty --partly to God and the rest to my own reasoning. He wanted access to all of me, both to heal my physically sick heart and to clean out the bitterness left over from wounds, disappointments, broken relationships, and unfulfilled longings. He didn't just want to repair it; He wanted to give me a heart transplant!
"And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God."  Ezekiel 11:19-20
     I didn't fully trust my Heavenly Father because I was never able to trust my earthly one. Because I was accustomed to being disappointed by my alcoholic dad, I expected to be let down by God as well. He wanted to prove me wrong and to show Himself trustworthy and strong.
     Here is the song I wrote in response to that epiphany:

    Purify My Heart
   Lord, won't You purify my heart, Lord, purify my heart?
   Won't you burn away the part that isn't holy?
   Cleanse away the part of me that keeps the world from seeing Thee,
   And then take Your place upon Your throne.  
   Make my heart each day to be Your home. (fine)

   Make my mind to know the truth.
   Help my eyes to see.
   Urge my mouth to speak it out,
   And prove my life to be
   Yours, Lord. Only Yours, Lord.
   Won't You cleanse my heart and make it wholly Yours?
   Yours Lord. I am Yours, Lord.
   Won't You cleanse my heart and make it holy? Yours.
(d.c. al fine)

     I was blessed to have such a mother, fortunate to have such a friend. And, how glorious to have such a GOD! He took this heart of stone broken into many pieces and formed it into something He could use -- a vessel fit for His Spirit, pliable in His hands.
"Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, "Can I not, O house of Israel, dial with you as this potter does?" declares the Lord. "Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel." Jeremiah 18:3-6
     I started getting better and was finally able to return to work. During my time off, God taught me through His Word about how He is able to purify us. He uses the metaphors of refining silver by burning away the dross and sifting the grain to get rid of the chaff. Peter had just such a sifting.
     But God was also preparing me to face tougher times. On the day after the first night I was able to stay at the hospital to take call again, I returned home to discover that my husband had made a decision to leave. Separation and divorce were soon to follow, and tragedy on the heals of that.
     Yet, God proved Himself trustworthy and faithful. He is the Keeper of my heart.  "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."Psalm 73:26

     Here is "You're the Keeper of My Heart"


Saturday, February 19, 2011

#9 One Blue Flower

          Today I saw one blue flower. It was a tiny thing, the first harbinger of spring in my front flower bed –Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’. In a week or so it will be a thatched carpet of blue lying just beside my front walk, greeting all who come to our door.
          That one blue flower brought a smile today and a surge of joy that, yes, I am able to see another spring (accent on SEE), and I can still distinguish that Veronica IS blue. I thank God for that privilege that I am still seeing His colorful creation. Ten years ago when I first was told that I am going blind, I didn’t know how long I would be able to continue seeing. Thus, each spring is a gift.
          What is remarkable to me is how much I appreciate small things—the tiniest flower, a slender ballpoint pen with an extra fine line, a flash of red on a cardinal at the bird feeder, the flecks of green in my daughter’s eyes,  the crinkles in my husband’s smile, and photographs on my i-phone. Each of these is a discovery I have made over the last few months as I have had to face losing more of my vision. As the big picture becomes smaller and the edges blurrier, I have learned to appreciate the little details more. The towering pine tree is lovelier than the forest, the blade of grass finer than a vast expanse of lawn, and the lovely face of a single pansy more fascinating than a swath of garden color.
          When I recently had a low vision evaluation, I learned that others with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) start writing in a smaller hand as they lose their vision. But, I have always had tiny handwriting. I can fit more words into a small space now than when I was painting flowers on tiny china disks for earrings and selling them at craft fairs to make money for medical school. So, adapting my writing to a shrinking visual field has not been difficult  for me.
          My older daughter asked me recently, when we were in Midland for the funeral of a friend, why I am taking so many pictures of her and the rest of the family. She looked so cute that day in a new jacket, and I wanted to capture that image and take it home with me. It dawned on me that when I take a photo, the image of someone is then miniaturized so that I am then able to see the whole person! Only by taking the picture could I tell Jenny how cute she looked in her outfit that day, from her cascades of curls framing her face down to her black stilettos.
          There are also drawbacks to having blind spots and primarily central vision. I experienced one such handicap when we visited a restaurant in Mobile, Alabama, on a vacation. It was the “home of the throwed rolls” , and, yes, they will throw the rolls at you. Even though I warned the waiter not to throw them at me, he still tossed hot rolls in my direction, and they smacked me in the face!!  Awkward! Those same blind spots make it difficult for me to play tennis now, although that was my game back in junior high and high school. I had a mean serve and could cram the ball into the middle of my opponent’s belly as well as anyone on my team. Now, I have trouble even finding the ball, and if I rare back to cram the shot, I am apt to miss it altogether! I have found, however, that I am still quite good with a gun and target shooting! I might consider taking up darts next.
          It’s easier to concentrate on a friend’s face too. I don’t find myself distracted by extraneous movements because I mostly see the top half of the person with whom I am speaking and don’t notice other people walking up from the sides. The only problem though is I also won’t notice if someone is sticking out his hand to shake mine, and I am afraid I might be perceived as rude for not shaking what I don’t see!
          When I am singing, I think about the words more—the message of the song. One I particularly love is  “Blessed Be Your Name”, by Matt Redman:
Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's 'all as it should be'
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

          The darkness may be closing in on me, but the SON is shining ever brighter. I appreciate Him more each day and see His hand faithfully guiding me. "Lord, blessed be Your name!"
English Standard Version (©2001)
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me Micah 7:8

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#8 "It Is Not Those Who Are Healthy That Need a Physician"

     I see a variety of people in my psychiatric practice--roughly 60 to 75 patients per week. When I do a psychiatric evaluation, it includes a review of medical records and test results from other physicians and also counselors and psychologists. Prospective patients are required to fill out a four-page self assessment questionnaire prior to their visit that describes their reason for seeking help, their past medical and psychiatric history, events in their lives that are causing them stress, their family and marital history, their education, work, and military experience, their religious beliefs, and their drug and alcohol history. The patient returns this form to me before I schedule the first appointment. Once I see the patient in the office for the evaluation, I already know quite a lot about him from reviewing the records and the self-assessment form, but I still always ask, "Why are you here?" Sometimes I also say, "Why now?"
     One might be surprised at the answers I get:
"My probation officer thinks I should see a shrink."
"I want one of those happy pills."
"My wife says she's gonna leave me if I don't see somebody."
"My lawyer says if I get a psychiatric evaluation before I see the judge, he might not put me in jail."
"My family doctor won't give me any more Xanax."
"I dunno."
My tongue in cheek "favorite" is the non-verbal answer:  a cold stare with arms crossed--obviously someone who does NOT want to be in a psychiatrist's office and who was forced to show up.
     My true favorite, however, is the person who says, "I have tried everything I know to do, and I'm not getting better. I'm at my wit's end and just hoping there is something you can do." That person actually wants help and may be willing to do what I suggest after we have completed the evaluation. He may come to trust me enough, once I have spent some time with him, that he will go along with my written treatment plan and even take medications as prescribed. But, if he reads no further than the first few lines of the treatment plan, the only thing he is going to be doing is taking medicine but not doing all the rest of the tasks I suggest for him to help him get better.
      I wonder what God thinks about those of us who show up to "see" Him at a church service. Does He ask us, "Why are you here?" or "Why now?" Is Sunday morning worship an appointment we keep because someone says we should be there or because we are looking for fire insurance? Are we truly seeking a remedy for our illness, or do we even believe we are sick? Perhaps some of us are hoping to escape punishment for our misdeeds. Despite the reasons we go, we sometimes receive something entirely different than we expected because there is a Spirit that draws us to Christ.

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 "And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 "of sin, because they do not believe in Me;  10 "of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;  11 "of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged."  John 16:7-11

 Somehow, by this Helper, we are convicted of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
     Jesus said, "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." Matthew 9:12

     It doesn't do much good for a person to come to my office for an appointment if he doesn't think he has a problem, although it does give me the opportunity to ask questions and shine a light on possible problem areas that become evident in the interview. A little education sometimes goes a long way also.
     Perhaps showing up for church affords the same chance for the sick sinner who believes he's well and whole. God's word is like a living search light of the soul.

 "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

God's word works like that.

10 As the rain and the snow
   come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
   without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
   so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
   It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
   and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:10-11

     Wow! I wish the advice I give my patients would always "accomplish what I desire". But, it doesn't. The patient has to be willing to cooperate with the treatment plan and with me. In short, he needs to have faith in me, his physician, and in my knowledge and skills, have patience, and be willing to make some lifestyle changes. If he does these things, then he has a better chance for recovery.
     But, I don't have the ability to make someone "whole", as Jesus does.

"For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;" Colossians 2:9-10

    Completeness, wholeness. Isn't that what we all seek? Many of my patients have made terrible decisions in their lives attempting to fill an empty hole with poor substitutes for Jesus: drugs, alcohol, relationships, sex, spending, and food are some of them. I have been guilty of some of the same misguided behavior. But, one must learn that he will not find that wholeness in any of those places. It is found only through our Lord. 
      Jesus was among sinners dining in the house of a  tax-collector when the Pharisees asked Him why he was there. His answer is quoted above. Some versions read, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.", but "whole" or "of strength" is a better translation, (according to Strong's). 
     Perhaps those in attendance at the dinner didn't realize that they were not "whole", but Jesus did. He knew that they were in need of Him. He was the Great Physician making a house call. In fact, the same story as told in Luke 5:27-29 reveals that the tax collector was Levi, the disciple who had just responded to Jesus' invitation, "follow me", by leaving everything behind and beginning to follow Jesus. The dinner was actually a reception that Levi was giving for Jesus! He "received Him!" Levi, who had all the money he could desire, found that wealth did not fill him; he needed something more. When he found it, he wanted to share it with his friends whom he realized were also sick and needy.
     Don't we do that even with the little things that we find make our lives better? We share recipes,  recommend hairdressers, tout certain vitamin supplements, and try diets that have worked for others. We readily recommend good doctors, but do we just as freely trust our lives to the reputation of that Great Physician? Do we refer others to Him?
     My treatment plans recommend more than prescriptions medications. I address diet, exercise, therapy, 12-step groups, supplements, substances to avoid, habits to stop, tests to be done, and follow-up. God also has a  treatment plan for our lives. Do we follow it? Or do we not get past the prescription of John 3:16?
     It is not health, but sickness that drives someone to seek a physician. And, it is not wholeness, but brokenness that drives us to the Lord. I praise Him for bringing me to a point of brokenness in my own life so that I am able to know Him now and experience His abundant grace and healing balm. I will talk more about this point of healing in my next blog. I believe that it is from this place that I can then offer the same medicine to others and point them to the Great Physician.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

#7 "It's me, Father!!"

     I have children who read. I like to think it is because I read to them, but they are all inquisitive in their own right. My son, Thomas, started school a year early in a Montessori public magnet program in Ft. Worth and was reading at 4. Today he devours science fiction and fantasy novels, and he's an articulate and funny writer. I read to Jenny from her infancy.  As a toddler she wanted The Three Bears read every night for awhile. She liked Winnie the Pooh so much that we began calling her "Jenny the Pooh". (We still do.) In grade school she read lots of Ramona books and Hank the Cow Dog stories , then the various Babysitter's Club novels, and then The Chronicles of Narnia herself.  In high school she graduated to Shakespeare and was particularly moved by Potok's The Chosen, a novel about two friends who had conflicts arising out of  their religious differences as they were coming of age. She became quite a literary scholar and competed in Literary Criticism for two years with dogged determination and faithful studying.
      Then came Kate. I read and sang to her at night--Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne, poetry, Raggedy Ann and Andy, the Narnia books-- and her dad made up puppet shows using Beanie Babies as comic actors on a bedspread stage. She couldn't go to sleep for many years without going through these nighttime rituals of stories and songs.
     Kate told me at three years of age that she wanted to learn to read for herself. Thus, I found a book entitled Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and we started it. She begged every night to get out our  "weeding book" and was reading full pages of text by the end of three months. I came home from work one day to discover Charlotte's Web on the den sofa, propped open about half-way through the book. When I asked aloud, "Who's been reading Charlotte's Web?" my curly-headed four-year-old moppet popped her head through the open door and said, "ME, Mommy!" I was duly impressed--incredulous really--and so proud of her spunk. She's never stopped.
     The clerks at Barnes and Noble know her by her first name. She progressed from Little Golden Books  and Winnie the Pooh to Junie B. Jones stories to Jane Austen to James Joyce and now C.S. Lewis. She just finished Surprised by Joy and did a project on it for school. I love to see my children reading and pray that God will help them to know truth when they see it. He tells us,
     "Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that doesn't need to be ashamed, rightly 
      dividing  the word of truth." II Timothy 2:15
     I had a mother who read to me also. Although we had  tough times after my parents' divorce and sometimes lived in fear of what my father might do to us, I felt loved and secure with my mom. I would get on my pajamas and little pink robe, plop myself  up in the bed with her at bedtime, and then listen to her read to me.  We moved around a lot, living with different relatives, in government housing, and even on the "street most likely to flood" in a little duplex in Odessa, Texas. (Tom Green Street, for those of you who know Odessa.) But, no matter how lowly our living circumstances, I was transported to a special place when Mom snuggled me up close, put her arm around me, and read.
     She read Mother Goose nursery rhymes,  the Better Homes and Gardens Story Book, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and the Bible to me. Later on she read to her grandchildren and always had different voices she used for each character. She was captivating.
     In school I went from fumbling through Tip and Mitten in first grade to inhaling Nancy Drew mysteries in grade school. (I had to read every one and haunted the public library until I did.) I mooned over romance novels in junior high and came alive to C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia in the sixth grade.
      I was transported to Narnia as if to a place of heavenly bliss. Narnia, though other worldly and magical, made sense and clearly spelled out the difference to me between good and evil. It created in me a desire to go to that place and to know Aslan, the majestic and gloriously beautiful king of the animals. It was a longing for the eternal, the spiritual, the supernatural. I think Narnia gave me that pang of joy that Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy. It was indeed sacred and magical territory for me and created a hunger to know more of the same. I went on to read his science fiction trilogy, learned he was friends with J.R.R. Tolkien and read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in college, went on to ferret out works by George McDonald, and finally found Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. For me, one author leads to another and then to another. If C.S. Lewis was inspired by a particular writer, then I sought out that author as well. Currently I can't get enough of John Patrick, M.D., who is much like a modern day C.S. Lewis.
     So, where did all that reading lead me? I remember saying in high school to my English teacher, "I don't know what my major will be in college, but I'm sure it will never be English!" Well, one should never say "never."  I ended  up with a major and master's degree in English and then taught it in secondary and college settings until I completed pre-med courses and started medical school.
     After medical school and residency I got to a point where I didn't do much reading for pleasure. I was busy building my practice and tending to my family. If I had any time for reading, I thought I needed to be using it to study my medical journals. I felt guilty reading anything else.If I couldn't keep up with those, then what business did I have reading for pleasure?
     However, when times got really difficult with my health and marriage, and I couldn't sleep well, I began reading again: my Bible, books on faith, healing, and rebuilding broken relationships, and even fifteen-year old letters written by my grandmother from the years when I was first married. Even after Grandma had been in heaven over ten years, reading her letters brought me comfort, offered Godly wisdom, and gave me direction.The truths she spoke in love brought tears to my eyes years after she had written the words. Even today I find myself wondering what Grandma would say about a particular problem, and I wish I had more of her precious letters to go back to, to pour over, and to cherish.
     Grandma, an avid reader herself, tried to write to all of her children and grandchildren. She had a wish to live long enough to see all her grandchildren come to know the Lord. She prayed for each grandchild specifically (all  23 of us) and then trusted God with that request, believing the truth of the following scripture:
    " I know Whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to   
      Him until that day." II Timothy 1:12
      Her continuing influence on my life is proof of God's faithfulness to tend to the things that concern us even after our earthly lives are spent. He also promises to complete the work that He has started in us:
     "He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." 
      Philippians 1:6
     It gives me pleasure to see that my children are curious and enjoy reading and learning new things. I'm glad that they can discuss ideas, and I am so proud of them. But, my dearest  hope is that my children and their children yet unborn will all come to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. There is nothing that I desire more for them in this life or the next than that.
     They don't have as many letters from me as I had from my grandmother because a lot of what we communicate is done by texting or e-mails. They do have some letters from my mother, and those will grow more precious through the years if they manage to hold on to them.  But our letters are of no importance compared to reading and believing those their Heavenly Father has left for them and all of His children.
     I wonder what God thinks when He sees his children reading his letters? Like my Grandma, He took the time to see that His thoughts and messages were written down for us through the centuries and preserved His word for us today. When He sees our Bible propped open on the den sofa, does He smile and say, "Who's reading Proverbs?"   I hope that all of us can smile and exclaim,  "It's me, Father!!!"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

#6 Chill Days--Still Days. Snow Days-- Know Days

     In north and east Texas we are preparing for another winter blast tomorrow, the second in a week. Weather forecasters say we are in for a layer of ice first and then snow on top of it, and it may not melt enough to accommodate our commutes to school and work onThursday morning. Our school children may actually have another snow day --unusual for East Texans.
     In general, we are not as prepared for winter weather as our northern neighbors because we don't have snow plows or snow tires. We are also short on snow-savvy drivers. Without salting, the ice on the roads doesn't melt, and the cars just slide around like giant bumper cars under the influence of hands unaccustomed to driving on ice. So, most people stay home.
     If the schools close, then so do some of the businesses and government offices. Last week I was excused from jury duty because of the snow, and my dad didn't get to have his eye exam because it was canceled due to weather. Some of my friends and patients are complaining about the inconvenience of it all, but perhaps these cold cloudy days with rolling blackouts do more for us than we realize.
    What a great opportunity to stay in with our families, have some uninterrupted time together, and invest in our relationships! Even the rolling blackouts were not so bad when we were able to heat some water for instant cocoa, light some candles, and snuggle up under a blanket on the couch. The silent television and dark computer screens were powerless to disturb the peace of the day, but we still had battery-powered phones if we needed them. It was actually comforting to know we didn't have to dress up to be somewhere by a certain deadline. We were fairly insulated from the intrusions of the outside world.
      But what if you are alone during the bad weather, sequestered from family and friends? You have a chance to be still and have some communion with our Lord. How often are we allowed that option in our overly scheduled days? Do we ever turn everything off and schedule nothing on our calendars on purpose to be able to spend time with God? Yet, He actually tells us to be still:

 "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10

     Personally, I am glad that God occasionally supplies opportunities for us to be still with Him. Sometimes we are stopped by weather; other times it may be an illness or a change in circumstances. For Jonah, that circumstance was three days in the belly of a big fish. For me, it was when I have had episodes of pericarditis. I was forced to be still to get well, both physically and spiritually. But, we know it when it happens. We are no longer in control, and we can either grouse about it or lean back and go with the flow. First comes the being still; then--if we choose to listen-- the knowing. We have to be still enough to realize that He is God and we are not. Rest. Be still. Listen.
     For a few hours our fast-paced world  has to slow or shut down  and wait on the weather to cooperate with our demands for fast travel and instant access to everything. Savor the interruption, seize the moments, and stay warm. Take a few moments to listen and enjoy this link to Steven Curtis Chapman's  song, "Be Still and Know":

      Now, don't run off just yet. Be still, and allow yourself to watch a different version of the same song. It gives God a chance to get through to you if  the first listen didn't do it. Let His message soak into you, and praise Him for His faithfulness in pursuing you. He wants us to know Him and tells us how to do it.
     Thank you, Lord, for snow days, for the brilliance of sunlight on fresh snow, for the peace and comfort of a warm home, and for the time to be still and hear Your voice and know that You are God.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

#5: God's Recipe: Muffins from Pumpkin Pie Mix

     This entry is not just another take on "when you find yourself with too many lemons, make lemonade." It's more about when you intended to make orange juice and found out you purchased lemons!!
     When I go to the grocery store these days, I am often there for two hours at a time--even with a list. With the tunnel vision that is part of retinitis pigmentosa, I find it difficult to locate a particular item on the myriad layers of shelves packed with a mosaic of products. Other shoppers sometimes glare at me with impatient grimaces because I spend too much time in the aisle with my shopping cart looking for Kate's favorite cereal. One such occasion was the week before Thanksgiving at Central Market in Dallas. Two separate basket-pushers gave me "the look" when I was apparently in their way and impeding their progress toward their goal of completing their pre-holiday shopping.
     I was looking for canned pumpkin and, under pressure and with not-so-perfect vision, accidentally ended up with huge cans of pumpkin pie mix. Now, for those of you who use pumpkin pie mix, I am not being critical of your preference not to cook from scratch. I just like to start with the canned pumpkin. (I have actually started with the whole raw pumpkin a couple of times in the past, but that was just to-o-o-o labor intensive and time consuming.) When I got home and discovered I had bought pumpkin pie mix, I was dismayed and exasperated with myself and didn't know what to do with it. I put it on my already well-stocked pantry shelf at the edge of the fruit section (two cans, mind you!), and they have fallen off a few times to smack my shins, bang my knees, or smash my toes. Injuries like these are far too common, because I am prone to knocking things off counters and shelves because I just don't see them. Big, heavy bulky cans like these are a particular problem.
     The second part of the story is that Kate was supposed to be in charge of the the pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving. She didn't want to use pumpkin pie mix either. When she discovered that her Aunt Gloria had already made pumpkin pies the day before and that there was no need for more pumpkin pie, Kate went ahead and made her now "famous" coconut flan from a recipe she had wangled  from the Crystal Palace at Disney World. She just got over her disappointment and made something new. Wow! It turned out perfectly and was delicious, but I was still stuck with two BIG cans of pumpkin pie mix waiting to ambush me every time I stepped in the pantry to search for a can!
      Last week I spent a day reorganizing my pantry. Sure enough, the pumpkin pie mix kept falling off the shelf and being a constant annoyance. Finally, I removed it from the pantry shelf, set a can on the kitchen counter, and glared at it thinking, "What am I going to do with you?" Those cans had become a symbol of my own growing ineptitude and evidence that I continue to make mistakes because of my poor vision. I resented them and didn't WANT to use them, yet, in my stubborn frugality, I refused to give or throw them away. I picked up the can and looked at the label which read "frequently asked questions and recipes inside". I didn't want to see the recipes, but, boy, did I have questions!
     "Lord, why do I keep making so many mistakes? Why do I keep injuring myself? Why does it have to take me so long to shop? Why do I have such a hard time staying organized any more? Why is it taking me so long to clean this pantry? Why does life have to be so hard? Why do I have to have this vision problem? Why?"
   In my frustration (and pain) I was asking the Lord of the universe why He allowed me to have this handicap, why He chose to make me this way, and why He allows difficulties in my life. Why? Because I need such challenges to teach me some things God thinks I need to know. A simple can of pumpkin pie mix focuses God's magnifying glass over my impatience, my stubbornness, and my problem with pride.
     Pride? Yes. Absolutely. I recently had a friend tell me that I didn't have a problem with pride. Either she doesn't know me as well as she thinks, or I am doing a "good" job at hiding my true self. It is pride that has driven me to hide my visual disability from those around me as much as possible over the last ten years. I used my mobility cane only when I couldn't afford to be without it but still suffered the consequences of not having it even when I thought I was safe. I fell in a candy store in Rome because I thought I was safe once inside a building away from the uneven cobblestone streets. I fell on the handicap ramp outside our new Crosswalk Center the first Sunday we had worship services there and bruised my elbows, wrists, and knees because I felt safe at my place of worship. I broke my toe tripping over a coffee table leg in my own living room because I felt safe going barefoot in my own home. But what I was really doing was protecting my pride.
     Carl, my vocational rehab counselor with DARS-Division for the Blind, told me that I have been trying to pass for sighted for far too long. That statement hit home with me. I was indeed trying to appear "normal" and go on with my life unhindered by public scrutiny, invisible to most people as I shopped the mall or traveled. I didn't want to draw attention to myself, I said, but in truth I didn't want uninvited attention. It's one thing to get attention for giving a good speech, teaching a class, or singing a song and quite another to be looked at differently and with pity or disdain because of a disability. I didn't want that kind of attention.
     However, I started doing what my counselors and physicians advised. I am using a cane most of the time now, and it does change the way people treat me. In the grocery store shoppers don't seem to be quite so impatient with my slowness. In my home I wear solid-soled slippers which my sweet husband gave me at Christmas. No more broken toes. At church I get into the choir loft with less risk and more safety to myself (and others) and then fold up my cane and put it away. My heart is no longer racing when I start to sing! At work I sometimes have to explain to my patients why there is a cane leaning against the wall. It helps them not be as upset with me when I mistakenly leave something blank on their prescriptions (because I see only a portion of the page at a time.) At the airport I even get to pre-board! I bump fewer people and get seated in a timely fashion instead of having people wait on me.
     God has no use for perfect people. There aren't any anyway, but people don't readily accept that fact. If we could be perfect, there would have been no need for God's Son Jesus to come! Many of us keep trying to be perfect instead of accepting God's grace and His ability to work with our imperfections. He wants us to be more transparent about our flaws and failures and to give Him the chance to work through those problems and use them for His glory.
     Using my cane one night at a play performed in a dark theatre provided an opportunity for friends to ask questions about it (some with more tact than others) and opened a door for a woman to share with me that she has a hearing problem that has affected her career. On that common ground we are becoming actual friends rather than just acquaintances, and her friendship is a developing blessing in my life.
     So, what about that pumpkin pie mix? I finally swallowed my pride, looked behind the label, and read the recipes, one of which was for pumpkin muffins. They were amazingly easy, low fat, cooked up quickly, and provided a great snack for the students in Kate's Art Club. And using that blasted can of pumpkin pie mix got it out of my pantry and off my feet!
     What do you have in your pantry? What's hiding behind the cupboard doors that you think you have no use for? Does it get in your way or cause you pain? God has special recipes to help us use even the unwanted ingredients in our lives too, if we will just look behind the label, "Holy Bible".

" My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and health to all their whole body." Proverbs 4:20-22