Birthday Greetings


I’ve been dealing with an illness for 9 months.  That’s not so unusual. We all get sick and many deal with long-term treatment for high cholesterol or diabetes or high blood-pressure etc.  It’s no big deal for most folks over the age of 50 and many in their 30 and 40s.  So what!

Well, my illness just happens to be in my lungs.  Lungs are an under-valued organ. We get all excited about the heart but rarely give a second thought to how important our lungs are. At least, I always did – until they stopped working correctly. Suddenly I woke up one morning, took a deep breath and my world changed forever.

It took 4 months to diagnose the problem. It has an impressive name: Non-specific Interstitial pneumonitis. NSIP.  It is rare. It is serious. (all lung diseases are serious, life-shortening stuff) I’ve spent the next 5 months treating the disease.  It is one of the few lung diseases that can be treated and even cured.  There is only one medicine that is effective – prednisone.  It is nasty stuff!  I’ve been on an aggressive regimen of steroids with a myriad of side effects that make me wonder which is worse, the illness or the cure.

Good news:  I am getting off the steroids!  Yeah!  I will no longer be dealing with the muscle weakness, headaches, insomnia and mood swings.  This is a good thing!

Bad news:  The medicine has not cured anything.  NSIP is still attacking my lungs.  It seems to be stable for now.  It’s not getting better.  It’s not getting worse (today).  It will get worse and one day I will wake up and find myself in a sudden, irreversible decline leading to my death. My life expectancy is 6-10 years.  That’s what the doctor says.

This week is my birthday.  I am 55. That means AARP likes me. (I don’t like them) It means I am definitely “middle-age”.  It also means that I got a birthday present from my doctor; a prescription for a handicap sticker for my car.  Whoohoo!  I am handicap.  I am disabled. I am terminal.  All of these labels are accurate.  Harsh but true.

I am also a child of God, a servant of Jesus Christ. This label is also accurate and true. This means that my days are ordered and guided by Him.  He has determined the days of my life and regardless of my disease or any other circumstance of life  I will breathe my last breath when He says it’s time – not one day earlier than this.  My life is in His hands.  It was before my lungs began to fail.  It still is.

So… we get on with living life – full and filled with fun and purpose and lots of love.  I just can’t do any strenuous activities anymore.  I never liked strenuous. I no longer can do what I didn’t want to do in the first place.  Happy Birthday to me.  I now have a reason to be sedentary.

As a minister I was given the opportunity to opt out of Social Security.  I haven’t paid into that system for several years. This is a good thing because I am clearly never going to draw a dime from the program. I’m probably dying before I reach 65. The 15 years of payments I made to the system prior to opting out will be my contribution to the general good. But the rest of my retirement funds are not controlled or owned by the government and will be passed on to my children.  I no longer need to be concerned about putting away more money for my retirement. That’s a good thing.  Happy Birthday.

I am actively involved in building a new church; I am a newlywed actively involved in loving my new husband; I am a mom and a sister, a friend and a grandma.  All these labels are accurate and true.  Happy Birthday!

Everyone of us have both good and bad in our lives.  Positive and negative truths exist side by side.  What determines the quality of our life is not the good or the bad. It is which one we will focus on that determines our general happiness. So… though I have shed a tear or two about my disease…(it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!) I find myself happy and contented with my daily life.  I’m good.  My relationships are good.  My life in Christ secure.  It’s all good. Happy Birthday to me!

Karen

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Say It Ain’t So!


It happened to me.  I was minding my own business…. well, maybe that’s why it happened… I wasn’t minding my own business… I was distracted.  That’s as good a reason as I can come up with.  There are other possible explanations but I don’t like them so we’ll go with distracted.

Ron and I took a trip to our friendly Meijers store for some basic necessities.  We shop there because it’s close not because I like the store.  It’s big and you have to walk a mile just to get a dozen eggs which they purposefully place at the farthest, back corner of the store so you will have to walk past every product they are selling in hopes you will put some of them in your cart.  I don’t like being “handled”.  I resent being manipulated and marketed. So I’ll admit I was not in a pleasant frame of mind when I entered the store.

We made a serious tactical error. It was March 1st.  Never go grocery shopping on the first of the month.  That’s when the pension checks go out and the store is filled with seniors.  I like seniors. Ron just turned 60 so he is a senior.  It’s just that when you get a few hundred of them armed with shopping carts and motorized wheelchairs loose in the same store it can be challenging.  What should have taken 10 minutes turned into an hour.  Every aisle was filled with folks moving very slowly and with an inability to share the “road” with others.  Blindly oblivious to the presence of others, they read the labels and looked for items on the shelf with their cart firmly parked across the aisle.  It’s hard to block an aisle in Meijers. You have to work at it to obstruct their purposefully wide aisles.  But it can be done.  

We finally made our way to the checkout feeling victorious that we had gotten what we came for and managed not to lose our patience or our nerve. The lanes were quite full of shoppers so we picked what seemed to be the shortest line and parked our cart with its few items and waiting our turn….patiently.  We had 14 items.  In hindsight I should have thrown two items overboard so we could get in the self-scan lane.  Instead we waited.  And waited.

The senior lady ahead of us had multiple coupons which she needed to sort out as the clerk scanned the items.  She had special bags that she wanted the items placed in; green cloth for produce, blue cloth for frozen foods. I’ve never seen a more particular shopper. She clearly had a well-planned system in place.  It was impressive.  It was exacting.  It was annoying.

Then Ron and I made eye contact and it became clear that we had both noticed something not quite right about our clerk.  He was…. slow.  At first I thought it was “I don’t care, I’m here till closing so what’s the hurry” kind of slow.  But that was not it.  I gave a puzzled look to Ron and He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.  I mouthed the words “SLOW” and he nodded an emphatic, “YES”.  Another senior lady got in line behind us.  I turned to her and warned her that the line was moving very slow and she might want to pick another. She didn’t seem bothered by that and stood her ground.Image

The clerk moved each item over the scanner in a motion that looked like something espn’s slow-motion replay.  His face expressionless. His hands steady and smooth unaware of the crowd around him and unconcerned with time.  He methodically scanned each item and then in an even slower movement placed the item in the appropriate colored bag.  Ron and I spent 20 minutes in the checkout watching the clerk do his thing.  We came to the conclusion that his slowness was not due to attitude.  It was a “medicated” slow.  He was clearly taking something that slowed his responses significantly.  Let’s just say you wouldn’t want him working the drive thru of any fastfood joint.  

We finally made our way out of the store one hour after we entered with our 14 items bought and bagged.  Ron and I talked about the regrettable experience and how we would never again make the mistake of going into a grocery store on the first of the month.  We crossed the driveway carefully.  The parking lot was particularly busy and the drivers just a tad confused and…. slow.  That is when it happened.

ImageWe got about half-way down the parking lot and suddenly it dawned on us; we had no idea where we had parked.  It was near a cart corral.  Yeah, Ron always parks near the cart corral.  Do you know how many cart corrals are in a Meijers parking lot?  We wandered aimlessly for several minutes looking desperately for our vehicle.  We stood in the space where we were both certain the car had been parked and thought perhaps it had been stolen.  Ron drives a very old, quite beaten-up Buick with duct tape holding the back fender in place.  Nobody is gonna steal that car. We were not the victims of crime.  We were simply having what can only be described as a “senior moment”.  

Lost in the parking lot. Two seemingly able and intelligent adults in need of a clue.  Not enough memory between us to find our way back to where we started. We split up and started walking the aisles in search of a beat-up Buick.  10 minutes later I found the car resting 3 spots down from the cart corral two rows from where we thought it should have been.  I hollered for Ron which made both of us look and feel foolish.  It’s one thing to be lost and clueless.  It’s quite another thing to announce it to the rest of the shoppers. A senior lady walked by with her cart as I waited for Ron to catch up and she smiled, nodded her head in a knowing fashion and said to me, “I just hate it when that happens.”  She knew. She’d been there before; lost and clueless in  the parking lot.

There you have it.  Ron and I have just shared our first “senior moment”.  It was humiliating. It was humbling, especially since I am NOT a senior adult.  I’m blaming on my medication.

It also occurred to me that it was really a good thing that Ron and I did not get impatient or at least allow our impatience to give us an excuse to be rude.  Yes, EVERYONE, from customer to clerk was slow and a bit, (dare I say it?) impaired.  But apparently, on that day, Ron and I were among our peers – our equals.  We were…. them.  Maybe we all are quite capable of being just as annoying as the people we find so annoying.  Maybe we are all in need of some kindness and patience as we go through our day.  Maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to explain away my senior moment.

We made it home in one piece with needed groceries in hand.  It took us a little longer than expected but I felt some sense of victory that I had not allowed frustration to get the best of me. I seemed amazingly mellow considering the hour-long patience testing I had just endured. Maybe it’s the benefit of maturity.  Maybe it’s the evidence of grace and human-kindness flowing through me.  Maybe it’s my medication.  

Whatever the cause; whatever the challenge; let’s all try to get through the day with an awareness of the fact that we all have some tough days with challenges that can push even the sanest person to the edge of madness.  Let’s all try and be a little less impatient and a little more gracious to the “impaired” folks all around us.  It’s the decent thing to do.  It’s the practical response to the annoyances of others.  It’s the smart thing to do because tomorrow it could be you wandering aimlessly in need of a clue… and a car.

Be kind.  Be patient. Be aware.  We all hurt. We all struggle. We all need a little help along the way.  

I told Ron to put one of those Disney antenna balls on his car so we could find it the next time.  He’s resistant.  I’ve been doing that for years on my car.  So I’m blaming the senior moment entirely on him. He’s the one who just turned 60.  I was just going along for the ride. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Karen

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Smart Phone Phobia


I bought a smart phone. It’s a technological wonder.  It does everything. It can replace my gps and my calendar and my mp3 player and my camera.  I’m not so sure it can’t fold my laundry and brush my teeth. It’s amazing.

It’s also downright spooky. The primary purpose of a phone is to make and receive calls. It also is quite handy for texting.  That’s it.  That’s all it really needs to do.  I take the occasional picture or download an appropriately jolly ringtone for the season but I do those tasks mostly out of boredom not necessity.  I just want to use my phone.  My phone, however is clearly in charge.

It makes calls when I don’t want it to.  It sends me messages about the weather and other stuff that I have never asked it to do.  It thinks it is running my life and some days I’m not so sure it hasn’t taken over.  My phone is smarter than me.  I can’t begin to tell you how unnerving that is.

And it’s not just my phone that’s got me rattled.  My computer also seems to have some issues with authority.  I am the master of my technology.  At least, that’s how the world ought to operate.  Clearly that is not always the case.  There are other people, unseen and definitely uninvited, accessing my computer.

Every time I sign on there are adds that are clearly tracking my every move and reminding me that I was looking for coach purses or donut shops the last time I accessed the internet. This is troubling.  Who is tracking me? How much of my personal life are they tracking? Do they know what I bought my husband for his birthday? Do they know who my husband is? They clearly know what brand of flavored water I drink. Spooky.  Invasive.  Rude.

I also have an issue with Apple.  I do not own an Apple product of any kind. I refuse to drink the coolaid. I did however, have to upgrade a software product recently and found that  in the process it also installed Apple Itunes on my computer. Now Apple thinks it own all my music and insists that I access it only through them.  That’s just heavy-handed rudeness.  I also found that google chrome decided that it should be my web browser from now on and not only made themselves my preferred web page but delegated explorer to some nether region of my computer forcing me to go searching for it.  Google chrome may be a fine browser.  It may even be the best.  But on principal alone I am reluctant to use anything that is forced upon me without even so much as a polite, “mother may I?”.  

Call me controlling.  Tell me I have authority issues.  I don’t care.  I just want my technology (and pretty much every other part of my life) to do what I ask it to do and not take over.  These gadgets are suppose to make our lives easier.  They seem to be stressing us out and complicating things.  I just want a computer that knows its boundaries and doesn’t invade my privacy.  I just want a phone that doesn’t act like it’s smarter than me. I want a smart phone – not a smarty-pants phone. I don’t mind it being smarter than me I just don’t think it’s necessary that it mock me while it’s dropping my call.  I may not actually be the master of my technology but they should at least pretend like I’m in control.  It’s the polite thing to do since I paid for the gadgets.  

Then there is Windows 8.  Clearly an Apple-wanna-be program.  A hybrid of computer/tablet.  A new operating system that comes with a giant learning curve for all of us.  I don’t mind learning new stuff when it actually does something significantly better than the old stuff.  This is just a new filing system – rearranging the chairs on the deck.  Not better – just different.  I don’t want to be forced into learning yet another system that doesn’t dramatically improve on the old system.  Why can’t the techno=gurus just leave well enough alone?  Give our brains and our pocket-books a break.  If it’s not broke don’t fix it! 

Well, that’s my rant. I love technology and all it does for us.  I hate technology and how it has taken over our lives.  We have become slaves to it.  I need it.  I hate the fact that I need it.  It’s failures frustrate me.  It’s intrusive heavy-handedness concerns me.  It’s controlling behavior insults me.  And the scary part is – I have no idea who “It” is.  Who do I complain to?  Who do I tell to “back off and get your nose out of my business”? 

Now I’m sounding paranoid.  Just because your crazy doesn’t mean they’re not following you.  I think my smart phone is stalking me!  Oh wait, it’s beeping at me.  Does it know I’m unhappy with it? Maybe the computer and the phone are buddies and they’re taking over my life!  NO!  I’m smarter than this.  I’m in control of my technology. I’m the master. They work for me.

Whatever is overwhelming you today – hang in there.  Life can be scary. Forces beyond our control can invade our contentment.  Grief would be one of those forces.  If it’s getting on your very last nerve and making you just a little bit crazy I would suggest you do what I’m going to do with my technology today –   step away.  Unplug.  Go do something else. Distract.  Deflect.  Run away.  I’m turning off my phone for a few hours and reading a good book.  I am doing what I can to bring some sense of control back into my life.  Do the best you can. When it get too much to bear- step away.   

That’s all I got.  The phone just sent me a text.  Gotta go.

Karen

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