Saturday, November 21, 2015

Young Love, Good and Bad

Today we spent the afternoon at my son Andy's girlfriend's housewarming party. It was good to spend time with Jenny, getting to know her. We've not been around her very much in the last two years of dating because she's rather shy. Add in that neither Jim nor I were very sure exactly how serious their relationship is. Seems like it's getting more serious than either of us thought.

We had a very nice time. Jenny is lovely, her new home is lovely, her animals are lovely. We enjoyed the long drive through the beautiful fall Virginia countryside to her new home. We were happy to meet various members of her family, especially her parents. Jim and I discovered we had a number of things in common with her parents. Her father is also ex-military, like Jim and we found out that not only Andy but his girlfriend Jenny were born in Germany. Small world.

Her parents were apparently eager to meet us and said some very nice things about Andy. I was glad because you always wonder what the other partner's family is going to be like. In May Andy will be leaving his job and moving out of the townhouse he shares with his younger sister, her boyfriend and a friend of theirs from high school, moving out to the new house in the countryside of Virginia with Jenny. Now that I've seen the house, met the parents and talked to those involved it eases my mind somewhat. Andy will still have to find a job, but I feel certain that something will turn up in the area. 

This led to some interesting discussion on the drive home and later with friends online. I admit I was concerned about this relationship because I think it's the first really what you might call 'serious' relationship Andy has been in. He's dated and he's had girlfriends, but not like this. I just want him to be as sure as he can be, because I don't want him deciding a year or five years down the road that he's somehow missed out or made a mistake.

And mistakes are so easy to make. Jim and I talked about some of our relationship missteps with others before we started seeing each other while we rode home. I cannot help but remember when my first real boyfriend, the guy I necked with in the school cloakroom when I was 14. When we were doing all that cloakroom necking, going to school dances together and holding hands in the local Burger King during our six month romance Mike gave me a present that my father teased me endlessly about. Mike gave me a white pet rat. My father howled with laughter and called it the 'Engagement Rat', saying that boys were supposed to give you a promise ring, not a rodent as a present. We broke up shortly after that, and I had to rehome the rat with my friend Frances.

When I was 21, working, going to school and trying to raise my daughter on my own my old clunker of a car broke down as I was on my way to work after class. I managed to pull into a convenience store cum filling station and get the hood up only to find I had a split hose, the hose that went to the heater core. A kind young man stopped to help me and it was Mike, my first boyfriend. He stayed with me until the tow truck came before giving me a ride home. We talked on the ride and Mike kept telling me he'd never forgotten me and that he still loved me.

Seven long years after our first romance I started dating him again, but it was obvious pretty quickly that there had never been enough there between us, at least from my side. Plus I found his family pretty horrifying on so many levels. While Mike worked a decent job and got decent wages his family lived in and out of public housing and on welfare with a pile of children. The adults drank, drugged and seemed very shiftless. Mike was like a changeling dropped in their midst by mistake. I found myself cringing so many times in their presence. While Mike was a decent guy, a good guy, there was just no spark there, no love and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't summon up any feeling beyond friendship for him no matter how much he said I was the love of his life.  I ended up breaking up with Mike a second time.

That's the thing I learned the second time around with Mike. You cannot fake it, you cannot will up feelings for someone because they happen to have certain feelings for you. Everything else are surmountable problems.

I cannot tell you how happy I am to see Andy with a young woman that loves him, that's a good person and that he has a good relationship with her parents. You can't fake those things, or force them if they are not there. I'm glad he hasn't had the same long search for love that both Jim and I went through before finding each other.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bathrooms and Gender

Warning: If frank talk about bowel movements offends you then you should ditch now....

One surprising and interesting thing the recent elections highlighted is the fact that people still hold the old view that a man, even a man whose chosen gender is female, is considered a threat to the women using that public restroom.

Kind of makes me sick, that old fundamentalist thought that no man can resist no stray vagina and just might fall straight into it. That's not how life works! Most men, at least the ones that aren't weak, whiny, fundamentalist Christian men, and yeah, even the transgendered ones, can control their sexual impulses. Most women can too. It sets us apart from animals, who cannot.

You are way more likely to be molested or raped by someone with real continuous access to your life, like say a pastor, or family member, than some random person using a public restroom.

I guess for me this sharing of restrooms with others of the opposite sex that feel more comfortable using the restroom of their identified sexuality and gender is a non-issue. Why? One thing. IBS, something I've dealt with for years now, sometimes violating the gender rules of public restrooms.

You see all those ads on television promoting medicines for Colitis or IBS that have the hapless sufferer looking for the nearest restroom everywhere they go? Yeah, it's like that. You never really know when it's going to strike and how quickly you can get to that restroom lest you shit your pants.

You don't give a flying fart in a whirlwind what the gender label is on the restroom. When you're having a acute bout you could likely break land-speed records with how fast you run. My husband can tell you there have been incidences of IBS where he's had to guard the door for me because my need was so urgent that I could no longer wait for the ladies room to free up. He's guarded the door and shooed away random guys while I'm in there.

Which is better than some incidents that have happened because of my IBS, like the time it struck when I was locked out of the house and could not drive the three blocks to the nearest public restroom. All I'm going to say is it's a good thing I had just watched a wilderness survival show or it could have gotten ugly. Then there was the time when it struck me when we were traveling and staying in a hotel in Costa Rica. Jim was shaving and brushing his teeth but my need could not wait for him to finish. I did something I've not done in nearly 30 years we've been married, shouted 'Out of my way!", pushing him aside to use the toilet right in front of him. We laughed over it afterward. 

I've reached the point where I just don't care. The need is too urgent and I know the smells and sounds are probably enough to scare off any would-be rapist. Plus I've come to realize that the likelihood of gender mixing in the rest room to lead to sexual assault is very unlikely.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Starbucks Cup-Troversy - Symptom of a Deeper Problem

On Saturday morn I noticed a strange set of memes and videos going around Facebook. Posted on the pages of those people I know that are still going to either evangelical or fundamentalist churches in my area were images and comments on how Starbucks was persecuting Christians. How? By this year's holiday coffee cup design.

This year's cup features a very minimalist design, a bright red fading into a deep crimson with the company logo picked out in deep green.  I stared at the new cup design and went 'huh'? I couldn't understand anyone getting upset over the new design to the point where they could possibly claim that it was somehow 'anti-Christian' or part of the media-created 'War on Christmas'.

Every year Starbucks changes the design of their holiday cup. Usually it has something on it like penguins, or stars, or snowflakes, cheery winter scenes meant to pay homage to the season. This year's design is no more or no less Christian than any of the previous years. None of the Starbucks holiday cup designs have had Christian symbols on them.

This morning I got treated to this manufactured outrage in person, witnessing two older gentleman behaving in very childish ways while demanding the poor barista shout out 'Merry Christmas' loudly and repeatedly before they would pick up their coffee orders at the counter. Did I miss the part of the Beatitudes where Jesus said for his followers to go forth and act like jerks in his name?

 Had a chance to ask the young folks working at this Starbucks if they'd encountered a lot of this behavior. Several said that they had and at first they were taken aback, not sure what was going on. The general consensus among the baristas seemed to be that it was a little on the kooky-weird side.

As I sat in Starbucks thinking about this newest and dumbest bit of martyrdom by American Evangelicals I could not help but conclude this is a big part of what's wrong with the Evangelical church in America. This is why statistics show that young people are leaving the church in droves, why so many are so done with church and why another recent study showed that kids raised in fundamentalist faiths were less altruistic than those unchurched. The Evangelical church has lost its damn mind.

Instead of being concerned with the hungry and poor in our communities they've decided it's more important to complain that the cups are a direct slam on Jesus. There's none of what Jesus said to do, take care of the widow and orphan, or visit those in jail, oh no, nope. Now it's make sure that the transgendered cannot use certain restrooms, telling the poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop living on welfare.  The American Evangelical church that is the umbrella that Quiverfull falls under wants to regulate everything about every woman's body so that the nation is Quiverfull no matter how they feel about it.

Fear is being taught from many pulpits and many are being incited to hate those that are different from them. Fear is weakening the church and it has infested just about every doctrine these days. That fear drives so many of the reasons evangelicals are busy putting others down, claiming they are the ones being persecuted when it's really them upset that they cannot force everyone else to believe the same way as them, as well as keeping them distracted from the real problems in the world and the true words of Christ.

Mostly I kept thinking about that old tried and true practical rule of parenting, 'Pick your battles', meaning not everything you disagree with your kid over is worth expending time and energy on fighting. There have been plenty of young people driven away from their parents because the parents chose to fight and nag at them over some small thing, some issue of dress or manners, that really is not a big thing in the scheme of things, while ignoring the glaring obvious thing that needs to be addressed.

 Ultimately I think these moments of outrage are simply a bonding ritual. Used to be in the church that you and your fellow believers did things together as a group for the good of others, and it brought you closer to each other. Everyone is in search of significance, and it used to be that people found that feeling of making a difference and being part of the whole through servicing others through the church. Since that's fallen by the wayside these protests and boycotts seem to take the place of bonding with your fellow believers into the cohesive one for that sense of belonging.

By making a huge deal out of things like Starbucks changing their cup design, yet not saying a word in protest when something worth protesting happens, such as a church covering up for a pastor who makes untoward advances on underage young women (Hello Vision Forum, IBLP and IFB among other offenders!) the message is pretty clear to the outside world. There's no accountability or credibility left, only silly outrage over issues they're being distracted with by evangelical leadership.

This is why the church is dying!

This is why the world thinks the church is filled with nasty mean hypocrites!

This is why people aren't flocking to join the American Evangelical church!

This is why church must change or go the way of the dinosaurs!

Be outraged for the right reasons, for your neighbor being alone on the holidays, for someone needing a hand while they go through treatment for cancer, for children without enough food, for the many homeless veterans, for the lonely, the sick and the needy in our world. Not over some dumb coffee cup that no one will remember by January. But your neighbor that needs a listening ear or a ride to chemo is still going to remember what you did for them many months later.

Evangelicals, grow up and take the words of the guy you claim to be following seriously!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Crimson (Butt) and Clover or How I Got Spanking For Dancing to a Tommy James & the Shondell's Song

One of the few benefits of having been sidelined with my various ailments lately as I've been able to indulge in one of my past times in a huge way. I am a voracious reader. I love books and my Kindle is always loaded with a crazy variety of reads, from biographies to history to straight up fiction to things from university presses.

Right now I'm reading a book I would never have picked up if I hadn't have been watching a religious show on night on television, it might have been 'The 700 Club' and been intrigued by an interview they were doing. It was with Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells. Once I heard him talking of his history with the Mafia and his faith I knew I had to read the book.

It wasn't just the Beatles and the Stones that were the soundtrack of my childhood in the sixties, it was many other bands too, like Tommy James and the Shondells. The station in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that my parents kept tuned to on our giant old radio on top of the fridge was WLCS, a top forty station. Songs by the Shondells I heard over and over from the top of the fridge included, 'Crimson and Clover,' 'Crystal Blue Persuasion,' 'Mony Mony,' 'Draggin' The Line' and many others.

The sixties were sort of an odd time to be a kid. By the end of the decade so many things that we'd assumed would stand forever were crumbling and society was in a state of flux. But I was too young to pick up much angst over those things, I just remember the great music.

So I'm reading 'Me, the Mob, and the Music' by Tommy James, reliving some of that era in my childhood. It's pretty decent read. I'm surprised and not surprised by parts of it. One of the crime families James mentions my father was nominally involved with when he hired someone to bug my mother's telephone in the mid-sixties. I only discovered Dad's mob connection after I married and there was an update to my husband's security clearance. Yes, there is apparently an old FBI file on my father.

But mostly I keep thinking about one of the few spankings/beatings I received as a child. It was because of 'Mony Mony' a song James says he named that double name because he was writing the lyrics and looked out at the Mutual of New York sign on a nearby building.

One of my favorite things to do as a kid on those weekends when my mother did endless shopping was for my dad and I to go to Baton Rouge's own personal redneck Riviera - Thunderbird Beach. Thunderbird was a giant man-made pond lined with white sand and with more imported truckloads of white sand dumped around the pond to make a pseudo beach. They also had a back pond with paddle boats you could ride, pinball machine arcade, snack bar, bandstand area with bands on the weekends and a handful of carnival rides.

One of the carnival rides was called The Himalayan, I think. It was some sort of warped merry go round sort of thing that went round and round very fast at some odd angle. The ride was painted in the colors of a winter wonderland with pictures of skiing. On a summer day with the temps in the high 90s there was nothing more refreshing than riding The Himalayan in your wet swim suit.

Out front of this ride was a mechanical go-go dancer on a platform, dressed in the requisite mini skirt, shiny top, long hair and hip looking hat. With the music blaring this thing jerked and shook. I was fascinated.

This was the same summer that 'Mony Mony' was huge, 1968, I would have been eight years old. So after I'd watched the go-go dancer I got the bright idea to climb up on a rock on the beach in front of the ride and dance along with the music and the go-go dancer.

Never made that mistake again. My father, who usually spoiled me rotten, snatched me off that rock quickly and gave me the worst whipping in my life. In public. Why? For acting slutty/whore-y he said. I always think about that incident when I hear the song and still feel a sense of injustice over the whipping. There was no thought of being sexual or attracting the wrong attention from men when I climbed up on that rock to dance. I was just filled with joy and wonder over that stupid jerking manikin.

My father never spanked me again but the memory remains. Funny how the injustices still stay with us over forty years later. I realize now that his own fear drove his spanking of me. Keeping me 'pure' and innocent was something he was strict about, even if he was not Evangelical, but still Catholic at that time. If Purity Balls had been a thing back then I feel pretty sure he would have insisted we attend and I make that vow. As I grew older he spend way too much time trying to police my interactions with the opposite sex to some crazy extremes.

Years later as I've found my way out of evangelicalism I've come to realize that the way sex, sexuality, normal sexual behaviors manifested in children and teens is treated no differently that my father beating me for dancing what he thought was a suggestive manner.  It makes me realize that those poor children raised in restrictive Christian environments who manage to free themselves as adults are going to be dealing with a big pile of feelings of injustice, of being convicted of something they aren't guilty of.

Shame and sexuality. Toxic combo being taught from the pulpit.

Me? I got up and danced early today to 'Mony Mony' as a way of saying 'up yours' to the injustice done to me many years ago. To reclaim myself yet again. Sometimes symbolic actions are necessary to heal from the crap in your life.

Here's the song I'm talking about for all the folks too young to have heard this. Dig that crazy Nehru jacket and all the love beads:

Friday, November 06, 2015

If It Ain't Baroque Don't Fix It

Last month has been tough, and not just because I'm having a serious dose of missing the beach. Mostly it has to do with the ongoing mess that is my health. I've been having more and more asthma attacks, the meds that used to help aren't helping and the new meds are merely giving me more problems.

One of the biggest problems I've had is that after my pulmo went nuts and left or whatever happened to him (he's in another town as a hospital pulmo only) is finding another pulmo I like. I tried the one in the next town over and after less than a year we ended up at loggerheads. She made the mistake of trying to tell me I had no right to be frustrated and upset. No one tells me my feelings are invalid. Ever. I stopped that when I left my old church.

She also said she refused to continue me on the only treatment that gave me much relief, twice a month injections of the DNA recombiant drug Xolair. Right now I have ten thousand dollars worth of Xolair still sitting in my fridge, good for another year. I'm saving it in case I need it. She also wanted me to have a procedure that basically sears your airways open. Hopkins said I wasn't a good candidate for it.

The one good thing she did do for me was to get me over to Johns Hopkins to be seen and put into one of their research projects for the immunio problems I have. They have helped some, but not much with the asthma. The physical therapy I got to learn to keep breathing through my vocal cords trying to close during an asthma attack has turned out to be the best thing ever. I can keep my airways open during an attack.

My new doctor is a young woman, recently finishing up her residency and board certifications at our local teaching hospital. I like her, I like that she's like my first doctor in the way that she's open to trying new things. Started seeing her a four months ago. Now she's changing all my meds around.

Thankfully there are a few new ones I haven't tried. First one I told her I was unlikely to be able to tolerate because it is in an inhaler. Told her I am allergic, react every time to the propellant in an inhaler just like I do to aerosols being used around me. Still tried it. Made my asthma worst.

Being that it was an inhaled steroid I ended up with my low grade lingering sinus infection going berzerkers. I'm getting ready to go back in tomorrow morning and get my regular doctor to give me a different antibiotic as the one they put me on to kill the raging sinus infection from the steroid isn't doing diddily, and I'm having a hard time sitting or standing without falling down because my balance is completely screwed up.

I've been mostly in the bed these weeks, only leaving to do things like go to class or I went one Sunday to get a pedicure, went to brunch and got waxed and styled at the salon with my youngest. I'm sick and tired of being sick... the only good that has come of it is that I was completely relaxed by the piles of meds I'm on at my Spanish test and passed with a high grade instead of being tense and forgetting everything I learned like last test.

Jim's frustrated with me because I've done very little, but he's never really gotten how sick I am. He only 'gets' it when something happens like it did in Florida and I just about go into respiratory arrest. On the way to class yesterday I started having an attack in the car because of the chemicals from the roadwork we passed. Once at school I sat in the student lounge huffing on my nebulizer for about forty minutes until the attack eased. I joined the last half of class. My illness just fucking screws with everything. I'm sick of it. Back frustrated again.

Tomorrow is another trip to another doctor for another fucking prescription of pills. Bah. Feel ready to chuck it all in as living like I have for the last ten years is physically miserable. Limited and limiting.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Importance of Dying Well

About three weeks ago I received a book for review on the subject of dying. The book, "Peaceful Passages: A Hospice Nurse's Stories of Dying Well" written by Janet Wehr, was a fascinating one. Not necessarily a religious book or even a Christian book, but an inspired and moving account of the journey from life into death. I could not put the book down, finishing it in a few scant days.

But whenever I sat down to write a review I blanked, experiencing writers block, complete unable to come up with a fitting review for a book I believe everyone needs to read, if for no other reason than to preparing yourself for losing your loved ones and how to handle the end. I kept staring at the blank word document on my computer screen, willing the words to come but finding I had nothing to say.

At least I had nothing to say until a story broke in the news this week, the story of a dying child and her parent's decision to allow her to determine when enough was enough. Five year old Julianna Snow has suffered from one of the most severe forms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease from birth. Her story will not have a happy ending. Her life has been an endless round of medical tests and treatments that would be tough even on a grown up. Her future is one that could end with the next cold or virus.

What brings her story into the eyes of the media and the attention of others is that Julianna's family is Christian and they've recently asked her if she wants to stop fighting her illness and go to heaven or continue with the painful, invasive and ultimately useless medical treatments in the hospital. The child has chosen to die at home, and no longer go to the hospital. She is choosing, a five year old child, how her end will come. Even a child wants to die well.

The problem is that most of the world doesn't think that a child, the one actually suffering, should have any say over their treatment or final plans. Many argue that a child cannot possibly be mature enough to know what she's giving up by deciding to stop heroic medical measures. They say that the parents are abdicating their responsibility to provide ongoing medical care for Julianna's CMT disease. Julianna's mother is a doctor, someone that too clearly understands what more her child faces from this illness. She and her husband decided that their child, being the one who is suffering, should also be the one who calls the game, when it's too much and her quality of life is abysmal.

Before reading "Peaceful Passages" I would have likely joined in on that internet crowd blaming and shaming the parents for allowing a child to decide her own fate. Not now, now I have to consider that each of us is ultimately the captains of our own futures. Why should the family not honor the wishes of a dying child to have some say over her own death. Even if you remove the religious element, heaven and hell, and look at the situation logically it seems as though even a child should be the decider over her own ending. She has known nothing but a life filled with pain, knowing her illness with bring less and less of a life to her.

Which is what a large part of this book is about, people choosing to die on their own terms. So many of the touching stories in "Peaceful Passages" are about just that, deciding what that end will be.  Janet Wehr's experiences in the book tell me that we all need to have those conversations with loved ones, young and old, healthy or facing a lifelong illness. We need to make sure that those that love us know what we need in order to die well, to have our wishes known and honored.  To be surrounded by those that support and love us as we transition into the great unknown.

I cried more than once when reading through the stories of dying collected in this book.

I wish there was some way to get a copy of this book to Julianna Snow's family because I believe that it would be a great comfort to them in this time and when Julianna leaves this planet. There is nothing more difficult that watching your child suffer like this, as I discovered when my youngest child was four years old and she was in and out of the hospital for ITP (idiopathic thrombocytic purpura) for quite some time. I remember the fear, the bargaining with God to strike me but leave my child alone and the months of slogging back and forth to the hospital for treatment.

One of the big benefits of this book is that it completely demystified the role of Hospice in the end of life. Hospice is shown as it is, a help to both the patient the family as the end nears. When the family understands how Hospice helps make the patient make the most of their remaining time it takes away some of the worries and struggles involved. This is a great read for anyone preparing to help a loved one dealing with a life threatening illness. Janet Wher has done a great service by sharing her years working in Hospice with anyone interested in how to die well.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Finding the Strength to Give Yourself Permission to Leave

I remember the last two years before I walked away from my old church. Every Saturday night or early Sunday morning I would have a nightmare involving church. They always involved church. It might be something like the pastor calling me out for some imagined sin from the pulpit and he and I fighting in the sanctuary. One time I dreamed that my home was filled with an abundance, a crazy wild abundance of things, like opening the bread box to have three fresh loaves leaping out instead of one, or opening the silverware drawer and finding set after set of silver in the drawer. That dream was terrifying because I was attempting to get my pastor to see the heaping helpings of abundance every where I turned in my home and he was scoffing, saying hateful things.

It wasn't only the pastor I dreamed about. Church members that I knew to have issues or to be a bit on the hateful side featured prominently. I woke up one Sunday morning horrified that I'd dreamed of beheading a fellow parishioner in the chapel out back..

But occasionally the dreams would not feature anyone I knew. Dreamed one morning that I was walking down a dark country road late at night and I spied God coming down from the heavens like a white robed wraith. I ran to him, calling out, screaming that He was all I wanted. As God drew near to me I could see him instantly change from the Almighty to a dark demon, who grabbed my hands and would not let go.

The nightmares stopped as soon as my husband convinced me to go with him to a local mainstream United Methodist church. I've not had another nightmare involving any church or pastor or church goes again.

After almost nine years away I've come to conclude now that it wasn't 'the devil' making me have all these horrible dreams. I was told when I timidly asked about nightmares at the old church that I was under direct attack from Satan to stop going to church. But that's not it.

I think now that it was my sub conscience screaming at me to wake up and run! What I could not perceive as unhealthy, twisted and cult-like while I was awake because I was in denial, brainwashed even, my inner mind knew was bad. All stimuli had to be switched off for the message to make its way into my active mind. The inner parts screaming at me to run away as quickly as possible, to protect myself and go.

Starting to know that I had to leave wasn't hard. But what was hard was the actual going, the giving myself permission to leave a toxic environment for a healthier future. After what I went through leaving my old church I think I now have some small inkling on a very primitive level why abused women stay with their abusers. Giving yourself permission to leave is hard. It requires that you recognize and admit to yourself, that regardless of how hard you tried to make things work that it was never going to work. It's admitting a failure, even if that failure isn't caused by you. It is hard to give up a dream, a vision of how things really should be and finally being able to take a long hard look at the reality of your situation.

It goes well beyond the practicalities of detangling yourself financially and physically from a religious organization. It involves almost amputating yourself from the body, sometimes in a radical and bloody way. But it's worth it, after you finish licking your wounds that is. Because no one else at the place you're leaving is going to give you permission to go. They're going to insist you don't have that right, or that you are deceived, to please stay because it is 'God's will'.

Let's get one thing straight, if you are being spiritually abused none of the abusers has the right to stop you from leaving. But they will try to stop you and insist that they are doing it out of love.

Even after nine years there are still people I run into from the old church that insist I'm sinning by having left, or that I'm going to hell for adminning No Longer Quivering, or they think I'm running around doing 'UnGodly' things. They don't understand that I hold all my own power and their attempts to control me are like mosquitoes tried to bring down a Harrier jet.

You don't owe them explanations.
You don't need them to give you permission to leave.
You don't have to keep allowing them to try and make you feel guilty.

You are strong.
You are enough.