3.27.2014

Zealots Have Too Much Zeal

I have discovered something about zealots – I mean, other than that they’re annoying – they have too much, well, zeal. That overflow tends to have a couple of counterproductive effects:

(1)  First, they make you feel bad about yourself and your own more moderate (and likely more rational) approach. That is, if you are sympathetic to their cause in any way; if not, skip straight to step 2.

(2)  They turn you away. Extremists generally only attract other extremists. Unreasonableness and lack of empathy never won anyone over to any cause. To the contrary, it turns people away.
I think we should stand-up for what we believe, not lacking and not hiding our conviction. But sometimes I think we also need to remember we *might* be wrong. Or partly-wrong. Or more convincing if we can sympathize with the opposition.

For example, take a few areas that commonly create extremism:
 
Religion
My religion is integrally important to who I am. However, I prefer to retain the ability to converse outside the confines of overt apologetics. This is how I maintain friendships with people who do not share my beliefs – how they can stand to be around me long enough to actually see my beliefs in action. Proselytizing to an empty room is like angrily preaching abomination to an unbeliever… Do either really accomplish anything productive?


Health

Health matters are near and dear to my heart (literally and figuratively.) Two ravaging diseases and standing on the brink of death is pretty effective at turning one’s attention to their health. Regardless of the motivation of my crusade for healthful choices, it’s an awareness I am committed to and want for everyone. Even so, sometimes moderation is the key to longevity.
My family and I still eat out occasionally. We generally eat what other people serve us, even if it’s not something we would buy/make in our own home. And I often let my kids try things they are curious about, so they’re not overly interested, not ostracized from their community of friends over a simple food experience, and to help prevent a backlash of them gorging themselves whenever given the occasion to have a forbidden item.

Frozen pizza and soda at a friends’ will not ruin my child’s organs for eternity, and store-bought breakfast cereal is perhaps not of the devil himself. (Although McDonalds might be; the jury is still out on that one.)
 
Politics

Do I even need to say anything else about this one? Did that one word conjure images of the intolerable people you know who are staunchly right or left and in your face about it? You know the ones, you try to slide past them in social situations and hide their Facebook feeds.



Ironically, if the goal of persuasion reigns over discussion, on any topic, the persuasive powers are diminished. Lectures, sermons, advice from experts, and everyone's opinions all have their place - often very important places. However, that place is not always an aggressive accusation or a mistimed, one-sided conversation with no ears to hear your opposition. 
Look, if I'm honest, sometimes tireless support (yours and mine) just, well, tires me. I want to run these races for a lifetime - not sprint and then fall away.
And sometimes, like extreme animal rights activists that would value a kitten over a human child, the credibility of fanatics is diminished by their very fanaticism.
It is possible to be gentle and still strong in your convictions. It is possible to be convinced but remain open-minded or empathetic, whichever the situation calls for.

You other people can take your zeal and shove it… in a Captain Jesus cereal box made out of kitties and American flags.

3.11.2014

Joy

Let me tell you a story...

It's my very favorite story to tell. I've told it before. I'm sure I'll tell it again.

When I recently was given the opportunity to contribute to a book in-the-works, this is the story I chose. The below is a bit longer than a normal post, but hang in there dear reader; it has a good ending.


 
  
The worn, white sheets stretch across the hospital bed beneath me. The floor is clean and cold, the window too small and doesn’t open. My limp, battered arm is attached to an IV; a taped needle in my overworked, over-prodded vein keeps me tethered to the coat rack on wheels at my side as I lay quietly in the sea of white… white walls, white bedding, white floors. 
I have been here before - so very many times in the last year and half.
I have been sicker than I previously understood existed, diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, undergone chemotherapy, tests, blood draw after blood draw, ER trips, blood transfusions, surgeries…
Yes, I have been here before. Not this very room, but this sea of white.
This time, though, is so very different. Today, it is not trauma or brokenness that brings me here. It is light, joy, life. Today I have just given birth.
My daughter, my second child, is a tiny eight pounds of perfection sprawled across my scarred chest.
I have been to the depths of darkness and hurt on the path to bringing her to life. I was told a second child would be near bouts impossible for me. When I did shockingly conceive, it was a troublesome nine days into my radiation treatment and I was told I would likely miscarry. Or, perhaps I would birth a deformed child. Perhaps I should consider abortion.
My husband and I did not accede those perhaps’.
I carried my baby for nine shaky months, and then some. I added Obstetricians and Perinatologists to the hoard of medical practitioners whom I carried business cards for in my already-too-full wallet.
As the months of her gestation crept forward, the appointments turned to increasingly good news. I had a growing baby. And I had hope.
Then though, there were some steps backward.
I was sick and unable to take medication. I was reeling from the many dark months just over my shoulder. Nightmares of leaving my toddler son motherless were interrupting my sleep, and my thoughts. And then there was the bloody night in the ER, when I thought I was losing my baby in the miscarriage that I had been warned was so likely.
But here I am. Here we are.
They wipe her off and place her naked onto my chest for skin-to-skin contact. Between my marred and scarred breasts lays a tiny bundle of perfection. She is real and she is here.
Every other thing in the world drifts away as I feel the weight of that warm, breathing baby pressing onto my broken chest. I stare into her little, dark eyes, that are staring right back at me. I run my hands over the long, dark hair covering her flawlessly round head. I feel the length of her back.
The tears are streaming down my cheeks in one of the happiest moments I have experienced. My overjoyed husband lovingly strokes our daughter’s fingers, and then mine. We are so grateful. So happy.
*          *          *
It's a hazy, cool morning, the day after she is born. I stand in front of the shuttered windows of our momentarily quiet recovery room, holding her in my arms and looking out to the view. There's a large medical building across the street from the hospital, not your typical inspiring view, but one that I am appreciating.

The building houses my OB-GYN's office, in particular, the office location I saw the doctor during the early months of my pregnancy. I showed up there as a cancer patient with a pregnancy that wasn't likely to succeed. And here I stand, as a happy new mother in the maternity ward. It is so good to be across the street.

And, it's good to be upstairs. The precarious night where I was bleeding and fearing the baby's loss was just a few floors down in the ER. That could have so easily gone the other way and I wouldn't be standing here today. I clutch my baby closer. It didn't. She is here.

I settle back into the semi-soft bed of white for some more quality time staring at my precious girl. Nurses come and go. Doctors stop by to check on us. A breakfast tray arrives. The business of the hospital carries on around us, but I mostly just see her, taking in her every feature and movement, her smell and the feel of her soft skin.
A woman on the housekeeping staff pushes her cart and mop into the room. She has a long braid down her back and a thick Hispanic accent; she clearly loves to chat and finds me a willing listener. My trash cans get emptied, counters wiped and floors moped and, meanwhile, I learn about her life: how she loves to stay busy to pass the workday, how she has two children at home, and how she recently lost her husband to cancer.
Oh that evil cancer! I relate and tell her briefly how I am familiar with the cancer battle. She looks at me, halfway squinting in surprise. Maybe then she sees my ultra-short hair, newly grown-in since the last round of chemo. Maybe she sees my bruised, weak arms. Maybe she sees my uneven, implant breasts beneath the thin hospital gown. …Or maybe she just sees a young mom, holding her new baby.
Whatever she sees, she is full of empathy and even more advice. Her eyes dart around the room, searching out more things to clean to prolong her visit with me.
Later, when I'm wheeled out the door to the discharge area, I'll look down the hall and see her and her coworkers having a chat as they lean on their carts and mops. I'll raise my arm up over a sleeping baby and give a wave goodbye. A small flood of cheers of congratulations and encouragement will follow me down the hallway in a quite perfect send-off from my new friends: the hospital cleaning staff.

Home we will go, my daughter and I. …Home to a precious big brother and loving daddy awaiting us. Home to a life set back on the track of normal. I step outside the maternity wing with her in my arms and I have just stepped out of the wilderness and back onto a path of life that is comprehensible, pleasant, beautiful.

I am beaming with a gratitude that is so deep, it will never leave me.
*          *          *
 
My struggles with treatment and medication side effects, body image, and life expectancy will continue to parade their ugly selves across my every day for the rest of my life, but will grow weaker in intensity. I will have to fight to work through the pervasive trauma of the last two years of horrible, but the dark memories will eventually dim into a life rebalanced with light.
My daughter is a gift from God that will help me move forward, not begrudging the cancer that stole so much from me, but being grateful that I have been so blessed as to forge back into a life that knows joy.
Joy… my daughter’s middle name.