Archive for April, 2012

In the fall he got shingles. A lot of people get shingles, you know. It’s relatively common, especially once you hit 40. I can’t count the number of friends and acquaintances I have who have gotten shingles.

The doctor did what a lot of doctors do and wrote a prescription for prednisone. That’s one of those common drugs that anyone who has children has been thankful for. I guarantee that if you live in America, are in the middle or upper classes and have at least one child you have at some point filled a prescription for prednisone. (ETA: I now hear from a lot of friends who actually won’t take or allow their kids to take prednisone. I KNEW I shouldn’t have made such a blanket statement.)

Its very commonality makes it seem non-threatening. “Prednisone? I’ve given that to my dog!” “Prednisone? I took that for really bad allergies last spring!” It’s up there with things like Tylenol and Z-Pacs. People know it and that familiarity breeds comfort.

So nobody really thought much of it when he started taking prednisone for the shingles.

Now, five months later I think there are a lot of people wondering why we didn’t burn the prescription instead of getting it filled. Why didn’t we flush those pills? Why? Why?

Actually, several of us have been asking that question since Christmas. We watched him have trouble sleeping, have trouble gathering his thoughts and fall into bizarre mania. We watched him propose outlandish solutions to problems that weren’t really problems. Just things his altered mind dredged up to taunt him.

Like hundreds of thousands of other people, my brother-in-law was a victim of Prednisone Psychosis. It’s a very real thing, but most people don’t know about it until their spouse or other loved or–God Forbid–they themselves switch from a person with a painful itch to a person with a broken brain.

I’ll not go into all the details of the last few months because they aren’t germane. The number of hospitalisations and medications attempted to treat the problem are all kind of moot at this point. Because like 3% of people with Prednisone Psychosis do, my brother-in-law killed himself. The break in his mind took over and he took the only way out he could see.

In the fall he got shingles. In the spring he got a casket.

There are almost always alternatives to prednisone and other steroids. If your doctor prescribes that medicine for you, ask about alternatives that do NOT involve steroids. If there are no alternatives please let your loved ones, your pastor, your support people know to keep an eye on you. Keep an eye on yourself. Leave yourself a note insisting that if you stop sleeping or start thinking that selling all your cars would be a GREAT idea that you get back to the doctor right away.

Prednisone is not harmless. Let me salvage hope for others out of this tragedy.

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Two days ago I got a really weird Facebook message. The person sending it said they just realised that “Coble” was my married name and that they had no idea what my pre-married name had been and what, if any, history we had.

I am mortified. Because I actually wrote up our history when recalling one of my life’s most embarrassing moments.

Yes, guy. That is correct. I completely mortified myself at your expense, and have done for twenty-five years now.

But the weird part is this. That whole thing is this major episode of my past and something I still have creep to the front of my mind when I am tossing in bed at 3:00am thinking about the myriad ways in which I have failed to be spectacular. But to this guy, this other person, I’m just some random person whom he friended on Facebook because we have a shared alma mater and a slap dozen mutual friends. I’m a walk-on.

That whole thing is weirding me out more than time-travel and alternate universes (which is the thing that I fall back on to weird me out on a regular basis.) Not just with this fellow, but in general. Lately whenever I talk to someone it strikes me how I view our conversation in a particular way but to them it means a totally different thing. To them I’m the lady who needs to wash her hair but had to come to Kroger to get a 12-pack of Orange Fanta. To them I’m the weird shut-in they know from blogging. Or I’m the childless aunt who tries to give advice but comes off more like the crazy cat lady aunt.

I star in my own movie, and aside from being kind of same-y here in the middle part I’ve liked this film so far. But it’s so humbling to think that nobody else cares about me and what I do nearly as much as I do. I am glad of this sometimes, because it would creep me out to be a god figure over a world of tiny peoople and what little tastes of celebrity I’ve had over the years–notoriety, more like–have not been things I enjoy.

But it’s also weird in a way that I can’t hit upon. It makes me feel like vapor, moving in and around people but never leaving much of an impression.

I’d at least like to be wicker and leave lines on butts.

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This is not going to be a popular post, and I’m sorry. This is an issue about which I feel very strongly.

When I was a little kid going to church meant learning about the stories in the Bible. The summer I was nine I went to two summer camps. The one my grandma sent me to did not allow girls to wear pants or shorts and had no pool. We went swimming at the city pool once; they made the city kick all the boys out because they didn’t believe in “Mixed bathing”.

I was nine. Nine.

We also had a whole class at that camp that year about our Changing Bodies. It was led by a man that to this day gives me the creeps. Why was a paunchy middle aged guy teaching nine year olds about vaginal discharge? You know, the more I think about that the more disturbed I get. But that’s changing the subject, and no one touched me funnily or made me uncomfortable.

But from that point on being a Christian Girl meant that it wasn’t going to be about Bible Stories as much anymore.

That was also the year I found a copy of Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex in our basement bookshelves, which I read cover to cover. My parents let me and only said to see them if I had questions. When I did have questions they answered them straightforwardly. My parents weren’t big into body guilt or body shaming. Thank Jesus.

Unfortunately a lot of the other people in my universe WERE into that sort of thing. As I mentioned here before I sat through many a class and lesson about how I was to not lead the boys astray with my heaving bosom and naked knees.

This is what passes for “Girls’ Ministry” in a lot of circles. They call it “ministry”. They call it “a take on Modesty”. What it really is is body-shaming. It is making a woman view her body as a sinful tool instead of a blessing.

Yes, I believe wholeheartedly in modesty. Anyone who sees the way I dress knows that. But I think there’s a way to teach it that emphasises the positives–the virtue of self-respect, the beauty of shared intimacy with your selected lover–instead of driving the constantly negative point of “Your boobs cause boys to sin”.

Girls’ Ministry needs to stop being about the dangers of our bodies and start being about the wonders of our gifts. God made each of us uniquely talented and wonderful and assets to the kingdom. Let’s talk about that. I cannot remember a single “girls’ ministry” class that talked to me about using my writing for the Lord or my memory skills or my love of animals or my healing abilities. I remember dozens of lectures about keeping boys on the straight and narrow. As though my only role in the church is to not let some guy have dirty thoughts about me.

I’m not even keeping this post coherent. Instead I’m ranting about something that won’t ever change.

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Bryan Thomas Schmidt is blogging about how George R.R. Martin leaves him cold.

Are people really this bad? Probably. But why are we celebrating it? Why are we putting that out there as a tale of fantasy when it’s really more a tale of sad reality?

It’s turning into an interesting conversation.

I’m reading through the series again and still assembling the reasons why I love it. I keep hearing from people who are on the first go round and who want to drop off after this or that turn of events. I understand them. I really do. There are many discouraging, frustrating things about the series.

I still love it, though. But more and more I find myself struggling to put the “why” into words. The places are sweepingly envisioned. The people are multidimensional. Even tertiary characters have high and low points. (Not all of them. I mean the Tickler is just wicked. Period.) But there’s so much going on. When we watched this Sunday’s Game Of Thrones: A Naked Interpretation Of Surface Events In The Book…Or Not Always In The Book I told my husband that one of my favourite things about it all is seeing how one small decision unfolds in myriad ways. It’s like watching sparks travel along a course.

When I watched Sesame Street as a kid one of my favourite bits was the thing where the ball slid through the gizmo and set off chain reactions. I think it was a counting video. (Thank you, Internet.) To me the books are like a grown up version of that.

But I can see how if what you want is Good Triumphing Over Evil and Happy Endings this series is not for you. Mike Duran has written several articles about how literature must have a transcendent meaning in order to be worthwhile, and must reflect the Divine conquering evil in order to qualify as great literature. We disagree on this point, and A Song Of Ice And Fire is my number one go-to example. This is a book that understands people, the grand tragedy of life and the sad comedy woven through that tragedy. There’s nothing of the Divine in it, unless you count the multiple gods in multiple countries, all of whom have their own followers with their own interpretations on events.

When I as a Christian read a book like this it stands to me as great literature because it uses the magic of words to take me to a place enough different from my own to explore the truths of this world. And the truths of this world are not always happy. But I have a happy ending within my own life, in my own heart. I have the hope of that, and having that hope inside me makes the unpacking of literary Pandora’s boxes an interesting enterprise in its own right.

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Ask yourself one question. What do you hope to accomplish by flashing photos of infant corpses?

I know that among those of my friends who are pro-life, this is always meant as a statement against the horrors of abortion. Look!At!The!Dead!Baby! these pictures say. This is what abortion does! It kills babies!

From the outside of the echo chamber I tell you this. It has the exact opposite effect. Women who are vacillating about having an abortion often no longer see Christians and the Pro Life camp as an understanding, safe alternative.

How did Christ welcome you? With open arms, the shepherd rejoicing at the return of his sheep. And until you opened the door, all he did was stand and knock. A gentle knock. He did not hammer down the door screaming “Hell IS COMING FOR YOU UNLESS YOU OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW, YOUNG LADY!!!”

So what makes us think we know better than Christ? What makes us think that we will save the lives of babies when we are abusing women into making the choice we want them to make?

Women choose abortion because they are in dire circumstances and they want the problem to go away. If we want women to make a different choice we do better to persuade them with kindness, with love and with help. The things Jesus told us to do. Instead we’re standing outside clinics with visual stones, throwing gruesome pictures in the faces of those who are already in grim and gruesome circumstance.

We are so sure of how right we are that we don’t stop to consider the wrongness of our actions.

People defend these pictures by claiming that they are thinking of the unborn babies. What they don’t seem to get–what doesn’t sink in–is that 14, 15, 19, 34 years ago that woman making the decision was an unborn baby. The Abortion conflict has got much of the Pro-Life camp thinking that these Born Babies Turned Women are the enemy. The enemy isn’t poverty, grief, hopelessness and despair. The enemy is a woman. A woman who should be punished.

That isn’t how Christ works, folks. That isn’t how Grace works.

I’m bringing this up because there was yet another dead baby in my Facebook feed today. The caption says that we “need to remember all the babies who are murdered by abortion”.

I promise you right now that there is at least one woman seeing that picture who had a painful miscarriage. And there is at least one woman seeing that picture who has had an abortion.

In my years of being a pro-life, pro-woman advocate I have heard from dozens of women in conservative churches who come to me and admit that for one reason or another they had an abortion when they were younger. And every time something condemning comes up–gruesome pictures, angry words–they feel attacked. Attacked by people who should be supporting them in Grace, loving them and lifting them up.

Let’s take a quick look at Psalm 103, and then let’s think of other ways we can fight abortion. Ways that are more in line with that God who does not remember our transgressions but loves us without fail.

1Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
19The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
21Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
22Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.

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Every now and again I’ll go on a binge reading marathon. It helps when said marathons coincide with the times my body goes on strike, because then I can fill two purposes with one volume.

I do read every day, regardless of how I feel. Even if it’s only a few pages, I read. After forty years I kind of feel empty if I come to the end of a day and haven’t read.

But the binge days are different. They hit every six or seven weeks, completely out of step with my other biorhythms. When they arrive I feel this gut-wrenching crave for reading. I don’t want to do anything else. I just read. I plow through books like the razor prow of a ship slicing through the thick salt sea and let idea after idea churn in the foam.

This particular binge has been inconveniently overlaid on my chemo days, which are better suited for unremitting nausea and inescapable sleep. So I solved the problem by reading during every waking moment, rising above the nausea by focusing all my brain’s intent on Winterfell.

The bad thing about this has been the dreams. I’ve read four books in three days, finishing three new ones and meandering through A Clash Of Kings the way one meanders through a book they’ve read and read and read. But when I sleep–and I sleep a lot–the four books sort of congeal and reform a sort of…what’s that word…chimera. A chimera of love story and murder story and high fantasy and low humour.

I’m scared to sleep now.

I’m sure this happens to other people; I’m not anything all that special. I wonder if they, too, get to the place where they’re startled to hear someone speak to them. In the books no one talks to you. Even when the writer breaks the fourth wall you always know that there are millions of yous being addressed. You are never the only you in a book. It is kind of strange to suddenly be pulled back to the plane where you exist in truth.

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Normally when I do a book review I’ll put the cover of the book up for illustration. Since this cover is particularly creepy, I think I’ll pass.

And, really, this isn’t a book review because I’m only 75% of the way through it and given the way this book twists and turns like a mountain road, there’s no telling how I’ll feel about it five percent from now.

I will say this. Everyone has been saying that this book “defies description” and that “you’ve never read a book like this.”

Neither of those things are true. The book is very easily described; it’s just that any description gives away what is only a twist if you are one of the people who have never read a book like this.

If, like me, you HAVE read a book like this (and very recently), The Man From Primrose Lane is STILL a good book. It’s good enough that I read it 75% of the way through in one sitting even while distracted by monstrous pain.

So the complaints I have are only niggling ones at this point, and are less with the story than they are with the way everyone acts like the story is the second coming of Story Christ.

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With me it started right after a surgery designed to treat my endometriosis. I had resisted the surgery for years out of a fear of anesthesia but so many people knew so many other people who “got pregnant a couple of months after!” that I finally gave in. I have quite literally never been the same. I woke up from that surgery in pain. But I also felt like I never fully woke up. I was fatigued. I hurt everywhere. Sometimes the pain was so bad I’d have to strip off all my clothes and lay on the floor and just cry. Wearing the clothes hurt too bad.

This went on for a couple of years. Every time I saw a doctor about it I received the answer a person dreads==”It’s all in your head.” Actually, they don’t really say that anymore. Instead they say “I can’t find anything wrong” or something else to the same effect. Something that means “you aren’t physically ill. It’s your mind.”

To this day there is nothing I loathe more than being told that your brain is responsible for your health. Okay, there is. I also loathe being told that I am sick because God is punishing me for my sin.*

In a post today Mike Duran writes

who can deny that the condition of one’s mind effects the condition of their body, for good or ill. How someone thinks has definite implications upon their quality of life. Of course, the extreme would suggest that all disease or poverty is a symptom of bad thinking. Which is patently absurd. So where do we draw the line?

I can answer that.

Your body is like a car. Having a disease is like having something wrong with your car. A disease like mine (Or I should say “diseases like mine” since I have several coexistent problems) is something like having a lemon. Being happy, being positive, being prayerful…none of that fixes the car. But it makes the car much easier to deal with.

There are mental tricks that any ill person benefits from knowing. I’m a big fan of self-hypnosis for pain control. But that doesn’t ever make the pain go away; it simply retrains your mind into focusing on something else. I’m also a big fan of keeping your mind as busy as possible. Having goals to focus on prevents the illness from taking over. Having books to read, books to write, books to colour in gives your mind something to do other than dwelling on the negativity of your situation. Otherwise it’s very easy to sit around and be angry at God, angry at healthy people, angry at malingerers.

Your mind didn’t make the illness happen, but your mind and attitude definitely contribute to how well you play the hand you’ve been dealt.

*Let’s get this out of the way right here. I believe that God allows me to be ill. I believe that God could cure me if God so chose, but my illness is a tool that God uses for ministry. Some people get sent to Africa. Some people get sent to South America. I got sent to Chronic Pain.

When it comes to it, my illness has brought me closer to Christ than anything else. That’s too valuable for words. So no. God didn’t make me sick. But God also doesn’t make me well. I’m not angry about that. I rejoice in that.

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New Wood

My husband is building his work table for the Stained Glass Studio. He’s been planning, drafting, re-drafting and replanning it for about four months now, and it’s finally taking shape.

Since our garage is full of lumber, sheetrock, MDF and other building sundries the entire house smells like it did when it was brand new. It’s kind of a weird feeling, actually. Here we are now with the stained carpets and the ice maker that won’t make ice and the washing machine that needs the fabric softener distribution thingie replaced…a life that is thirteen years on from when we first moved in. But then the garage door opens and it smells like hope and new and maybe we’ll have dinner parties and someday we’ll even put in a pool.

I love trees. Back in the Nervous Time when there were real worries about possibly having to move my heart broke at the thought of leaving the trees we planted. I’ve left one Sycamore in my childhood backyard. When we moved into the new house on Popp Road I was 16 and college was looming so I didn’t want to commit to any of the trees. At this house, where we moved when I was 29, we’ve planted a weeping willow, an oak and a sweet gum. There is an Osage Orange, a river birch and a Bradford Pear that were here before we moved in. I love them all; they feel like very old friends I can trust.

I say all of this to say why I feel guilty loving new wood so much. New wood means an old tree has been chopped down. But now that I think about it, I do think it’s fantastically wonderful that the trees can keep bringing their trustworthiness along with them. And of course they bring hope too. That fantastic smell of going to the lumber yard with my dad to pick out the boards for our major swingset. The exciting smell of the woodworking shop in the basement where I made my projects for wood shop and where my dad and I put together my dollhouse from a kit.

Wood is just a wonderful gift. I think there should always be wood in a home.

I keep thinking I ought to bring this around to some serious point that ties it all together, but I don’t know that I have one. It’s 2am and I’m up and in pain and the rain is threatening to keep at it and I have this massive zit on my forehead and I just watched that show “Girls” on HBO and I’m just really aware of all the ways in which the world can massively go off the rails.

But then there are still trees. And wood from those trees. And that’s how I know there’s more to life than zits and ennui. Maybe that’ll have to be my concluding thought. Because, really, is there a better one?

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I made the mistake of reading a ‘new’ Titanic story this week. It was marketed as the story of one lifeboat of survivors and what their lives were like after the experience. In reality it was yet another story like all the other stories that have come out about the boat in the last thirty years. Titanic stories have become a write-by-numbers enterprise.

I love history. Both of my parents were History majors in college, and most of the books in our house were about history in one scope or another. As a Christian educated in Christian schools I’ve lived my life with my head always half inside the histories presented in The Bible. When those Easter movies air on TV, I realised this year, they don’t play like stories from foreign times to me, but like familiar tales. For me a movie set in Jesus’ Jerusalem feels contemporary.

I get that most people don’t really like history all that much. If you have a bad history teacher or a mind more suited to other things, the past can seem flat and dull and completely disconnected from who and what you are today. I really think that it is for those people, the history-averse, that these types of accounts are written.

He sailed in steerage on the Titanic
An Irishman named Linus O'Malley, he was travelling to America to see his sister for the first time in 20 years

Whether it’s the Titanic or Ancient Egypt or The Blitz, when writers try to draw people into history they do so by exploiting grim tragedy. ETA: We get to hear seemingly quirky details about Life Back Then to emphasise how it differs from our life. The manifests for the cargo hold on Titanic provide endless fascination for this type of thing. A Car. Several dogs. Live Chickens. Opium. We have to hear tidbits that humanise the people–she had just received a doll for her fourth birthday that she slept with always!–before watching grisly events bring about the people’s death. I hate it because it turns history into a freakish sideshow of Redshirts And How They Bought The Farm.

Real history isn’t so death-obsessed. It focuses on life. It shows us how lives were lived and why they were lived that way.

We are always doomed to repeat the central fact of history; mankind is mortal and we all will die. But the history we can change is that history that happened around the living. Why do governments slide into fascism and what does it look like when they do? (Hint: TSA) Why do treaties work? Why do other treaties fail? What wars were just, and why were they

Trafalgar Square
I ate at a Pizza Hut here with my brother

fought? Is this war we are about to embark upon one of those? Is this war we are in the middle of waging still just or has it turned pear-shaped?

History can tell us so much. It’s a shame that we’ve let grief-porn pass for history for the last decade.

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