Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Seem 10% Nuttier than You Actually Are

Generally, I have no trouble passing myself off as a normal, rational human being with very few quirks. As long as no one is looking at me, that is. With no one around, everything goes smoothly. I sail through life like an eagle riding an updraft--all glory, power, and smooth motion.

Then I leave the house for the day, and everything falls apart.

I'm sure you know what I mean, because at some point, it happens to all of us.

How to Seem 10% Nuttier than You Actually Are:
  1. Walk through a spider's web.
  2. Get an itch in a weird place.
  3. Head through a door the minute someone else walks out the other way.
  4. Take a sip of milk that you thought was orange juice. 
  5. Back into an activated electric fence.
  6. Try to explain something that you don't actually understand very well.
  7. Practice a tricky bit of dialogue from your new play out loud before you remember that you're working in the coffee shop today.
  8. Breathe a gnat in through your nose.
  9. Think there's a step down when there isn't.
  10. Think there's not a step down when there is.
  11. Sneeze uncontrollably. 
  12. Be the only one who didn't get the memo about dress code.
  13. Have a nose whistle. 
  14. Itch your face with the wrong end of the pen.
  15. Wave your arms to conduct the music (that's playing in your head).
  16. Forget to take down your car's sun shield until you've already backed out of the space and put the car in "Drive."
  17. Forget why you've come to the store; wander around staring at things; leave. 
  18. Accidentally stand near a fire ant hill.
  19. Smile too much. 
  20. Mistake literally anything for a snake. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Line Keeps Moving

Photo courtesy of Nevit Dilmen (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I'm a goal setter. I have yearly reading goals, weekly workout goals, and daily writing goals. I have personal goals, professional goals, and spiritual goals. I'm also an overachiever, meaning once I've set a goal, I feel driven to exceed my own expectations. You would think that with all of this goal-setting and overachieving, I'd feel more accomplished, but I don't. Not really. The satisfaction of meeting a goal comes, but it's fleeting.

That's because the line of success keeps moving.

When I first started writing, I thought I would be happy if I just published a play. Then I needed to publish two plays to confirm that the first one wasn't a fluke. Then I needed to publish one per year to show that I wasn't washed up. Now I need to branch out from youth comedies to prove that I have range.

Prove? To whom? To myself? To you?

Who knows.

What I do know is that the line doesn't care. It doesn't stop to acknowledge my accomplishments. It just keeps moving.

While drawing lines may drive some of us to greater achievements, we must be careful not to let the lines define us.

We must anchor our self-worth in something more stable than shifting expectations.
For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf (Hebrews 6:16-19). 

Friday, August 21, 2015

16 Reasons to Run in Florida

16 Reasons to Run in Florida:
  1. The alligators are chasing you.
  2. The cows are chasing you.
  3. The hogs are chasing you. 
  4. The bears are chasing you.
  5. The scorpions are chasing you.
  6. The mosquitoes are chasing you. 
  7. The pythons are chasing you.
  8. The wolf spiders are chasing you.
  9. A hurricane is chasing you.
  10. A bath salts zombie who wants to eat your face is chasing you.
  11. You love slicing through the warm bath water that passes for air.
  12. You love misery.
  13. You want to keep fit.
  14. You want to show off for the elderly. 
  15. You want to get inside before the sun rises and melts your face off.
  16. You want to die of heat stroke. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Stopping by Woods on a Saucy Evening: Frost Meets Millay

Two sonnets meet in the woods on a cold winter's night. 

Anything could happen.

Stopping by Woods on a Saucy Evening

by Robert Frost, 
Edna St. Vincent Millay, 
and R. Buchanan

Whose lips I've kissed, I think you know.
My husband's still home sleeping, though. 
He will not see me stopping here,
Recalling long-forgotten beaux.
My heart throbs quietly with pain,
Rememb'ring those brave lads again.
Now they've all vanished, one by one:
Like flitting birds, they've come and gone.
Where once their summer sang through me,
Now stand I here, a frost-stripped tree.
These woods are lonely, dark and deep,
And I have promises to keep
To my new bridegroom, home asleep.
To my new bridegroom, home asleep. 

* * * *

The Originals:

* * * *

Hat Tip to Bethany for inadvertently providing the inspiration for this mashup.

Want to see more like this? Feel free to suggest poetic mashups in the comments section below. 

Better yet, try some of your own! 

The world needs this.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Living with the Chronically Pained, Part 3: Lightening the Load

Since approximately one third of the American population deals with some level of chronic pain, most of us live alongside someone who's suffering. We want to help, but because not everyone suffers in the same way, not everyone can be helped in the same way. 

One of the keys to helping your Chronically Pained friend is to understand first what sort of a sufferer he is. After that, you may have an easier time determining what (if any) role you may have in lightening the load. 

If, for example, your pained friend is one of the Stoic Sufferers, you may find helping him almost impossible. For one thing, you may not even know that he experiences chronic pain. Even if you do, he's so quiet about it that you have no idea when help may be warranted. In an effort not to be a complainer, he's let the pendulum swing so far in the other direction that he keeps everything bottled inside until pain levels reach critical mass. That can be frustrating, especially if you have to deal with the fallout.

On the other hand, if your Chronically Pained friend is trapped in the Martyr Mentality, you may clearly understand her cause of pain, her level of suffering, and perhaps even the specific ways you can help. (You can't really miss it. It's all she talks about.) She has no trouble telling you her woes, and may even accept some tangible help; but when you offer a word of encouragement, you're emotionally stiff-armed, perhaps with an implication that there's no way you could ever understand. You may still offer help, but you feel conflicted because her attitude often dampens your feelings of compassion. Just being around her incites an internal battle. That's definitely frustrating.  

I speak here in gross caricature, of course. Hardly anybody falls neatly into either of these two extremes, and there's a whole swath of grey in between. The point, though, is that before you can help the Chronically Pained, you must understand their most basic need; and before they can accept your help, they may need to understand a few things as well. 

Although the Stoic Sufferers may feel that their silence is noble, it could be that their silence is actually a form of pride. Furthermore, by refusing to speak of their pain, they're actually robbing the people around them of seeing the full spectrum of God at work. We need to see the beauty of grace under pressure, and we can't do that if everyone around us keeps their struggles private. Additionally, Stoic Sufferers are shortchanging friends and family of the opportunity to serve, love, and support them. 

The body of Christ is intended to minister to one another, and we can't do that if we're always keeping our needs locked down.

The Martyrs have a more obvious growth arc (at least, one that's more obvious to others. Whether or not they recognize it themselves is questionable). Martyrs must learn to balance their openness about pain with discernment: when to share, with whom, and how much. They must learn not to wield their pain like a battering ram. They must understand that Compassion Fatigue and Sympathy Fatigue (mentioned by my friend Joanne in a comment under a previous post) are both real processes with important implications for their loved ones.

The body of Christ is intended to minister to one another, and we can't do that if we're more focused on our own pain than on anything else.

(If it sounds as if I'm giving as much advice to the Chronically Pained as to anyone else, well... I sort of am. This process takes cooperation on both sides, and most of us have room for growth.)

The bottom line is this: if you're going to come alongside the Chronically Pained, remember: you can't block the pain, but you can lighten the load. Sometimes that's all that counts. 

How to Lighten the Load:

1. Listen. Although "just listening" may feel small to you, it doesn't feel small to the person doing the talking. Listen. Listen, listen, listen. Once you've listened, you'll know what best to say to be an encouragement. It could be, however, that there's really nothing you can say, in the end. That's okay, too. As discussed in last week's post, a little listening goes a long way. A lot of listening goes further.  
2. Understand. Simply understanding where your friend is along the spectrum can help you gain a little bit of perspective. This understanding might free you from a needless sense of guilt (in the case of the Martyr) or open your eyes to ways in which you could be more proactive about offering help and encouragement (in the case of the Stoic). 
3. Ask. There may be nothing specific you can do, but asking how you can help demonstrates willingness and compassion. Be as specific as you can. "Is there anything I can do to help?" sounds trite and only half-sincere (even when it's not). "I'd like to come over for an hour this week and help you around the house. Would it help if you made a list of things I can do when I come?" That's specific and committed. 
4. Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Don't just pray for your friends; pray with them. Pray not just for ease of suffering, but for patience, courage, fortitude, and grace. 

Last, remember that just because a person keeps showing up and "doing life," that doesn't mean she's fine. Many of the Chronically Pained choose just to put their heads down and power through as long as they're physically able. 

This sentiment was expressed perfectly a few weeks ago by my friend Marie. I'll leave you with her words:
[In the past], I've been the person saying, "Well, you must be fine because you're here," and while I know better now, at the time it came from a place of, "If I were in pain, I would not be here; you are here so you must not be in pain. Yay, I'm glad you're not in pain!" 
Partly it's seizing on a perceived reason to celebrate (when someone you love is hurting all the time you start getting desperate for any sign of improvement in their situation) but mostly I just didn't realize at the time how often people Just Do Stuff even though they are suffering. 
It's something that can be difficult to get your head around if you've never experienced it yourself. Relatively minor maladies have me canceling life until further notice, so it's easy for me to forget that my friends with chronic pain are, of necessity, stronger than that. 
Posts like this are a helpful reminder. 
* * * * *
Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Living with the Chronically Pained, Part 2: A Conversational Starter Kit

If you're going to be friends with someone who suffers with chronic pain, the first thing you need to know is that the Chronically Pained don't have the luxury of forgetting that they suffer. 

The second thing you need to know is that they deal with a lot of advice, most of it unsolicited and contradictory. 

For proof of this, we need only look as far as last week's post, in which I mentioned that like one third of all Americans, I deal with chronic pain. People instantly began chiming in with all sorts of good advice, posting comments on Facebook and sending texts and messages recommending that I take water aerobics; that I meditate; that I stretch more; that I keep a pain journal; that I stop eating gluten, wheat, rye, white sugar, caffeine, dairy, red meats, soy, night shade vegetables, and library paste; that I use heating pads and/or ice packs; that I bathe in essential oils; that I sleep more, sleep less, try acupuncture, start running, stop running, and take herbal supplements. 

Okay. Perhaps I hyperbolize. 

But I have received a lot of advice, mostly contradictory, and much of it offered without knowing the nature of my pain, how long I've been dealing with it, what I've already tried, the treatment plan I'm currently on, whether I've been following my doctor's advice, and how it's all working. 

Now, I'm not going to say that I don't appreciate the care of others, because that would just make me seem like a jerk. It also wouldn't be true! Contrary to how this blog post may or may not be coming across, I do recognize advice for what it is: a sincere expression of concern and an open-hearted willingness to share helpful information.  

I'm also not going to say that you should never offer advice to the Chronically Pained, because what sort of world would this be if we didn't do what we could to ease each other's suffering? Besides, some of the best advice I've gotten on pain management has been unsolicited.

All I'm saying is that if there's any sort of process for these things, step one should always be to ask questions before offering advice. (Actually, that's good advice for all areas of life, but let's stay focused.)

A Conversational Starter Kit:

1. Do you know what's causing your pain?
2. How long have you had this condition?
3. Is it getting better or worse?
5. What have you already tried?
6. Are you being treated by a health care professional? (If not, why?)
5. What treatment plan has been recommended?
7. Are you following the plan? (If not, why? If so, is it working?)
8. Have you tried anything to help supplement or enhance the plan? 
9. What other plans have you tried in the past? Why did you stop?

Asking questions will do more than just keep you from offering unrelated advice. It will establish a foundation of personal understanding that will lend credence to any suggestions that you might offer. 

There's one more question to add to the list, but we're going to tackle it next week in Part 3: "What Can I Do to Help?"

* * * *

Personal Note: Just as with last week's post, I spent quite a bit of time waffling about whether or not I actually wanted to write this, knowing that no matter how I worded it, someone would probably end up being offended; but because dealing with advice is such a big part of living with chronic pain, I decided that I couldn't go without posting it. 

Please know that these comments aren't directed toward anybody in particular and that I do love you all and appreciate your care and concern so much.

I even took one piece of advice offered last week--and I'm glad I did! 

It's been helpful, and I'm thankful.