Monday, October 29, 2012

"What do you want me to do for you?"

"What do you want me to do for you?"

Those simple words are running through my mind over and over today.  They were in the Gospel reading from this week, and I can't get them out of my mind.

Seems there was this blind guy, Bartimeaus, who was Timeaus's kid, who was begging.  He heard that Jesus was passing down that road, and he got all riled up and started yelling and carrying on, crying out for the Savior.  Jesus called for him.

Okay, I have to interrupt the story right there for a minute.  I already love this guy.  Bartimeaus was creating a major ruckus because he KNEW who Jesus was.  I know who Jesus is.  Do I bother to create a ruckus?  No, because it wouldn't LOOK proper.  Fortunately, Bartimaeus is also blind to the reactions of those around him.  As a blind beggar, he has probably stopped caring what he looks like to others. He wants what Jesus has! He wants to see, and believes that Jesus can make that happen!  I'd love to be just a little more like Bartimaeus.

Not to mention, I'd probably wet my pants if Jesus called me over. I'd be all "Never mind...I'm not go on, Jesus...go raise that little girl, and fix Peter's mother-in-law..."  Not Brave Bartimaeus!  He dropped all his gear and took off in the direction of his hope. And Jesus asked him the question he's been asking me all day.

"What do you want me to do for you?"

Truth is, I don't know.  I don't know what I would ask Jesus to do for me.  It's not like seeing Santa, and asking for a bike, or an iPod or a Red Rider BB Gun.  What would I ask Jesus to do for me? You may think I'd want him to take away my heart problems, but with the right medicines, I can manage okay.  I'd ask him to protect my children, maybe, but not protect them so much that they never need him.  My mind has been running circles on this one all day. I don't like the answers coming to the forefront.  Especially since I already know what he did.

"Die for me."

Love me enough to die for me, that's all. Take my place.  That's what I want you to do for me, Jesus, and I have no right to ask it, but will you take my punishment for me?  Will you bear my cross?  Will you love me enough to take my buffets and spitting?  Will you love me enough to hang on the cross for me? I could never ask him that.  Not to his face. I can thank him for it, but I don't think I could ask it. Even though he already said yes to exactly that!  

"What do you want me to do for you?"

Let it race around your thoughts for a while.  What would you ask for?  What is he asking YOU for?



Saturday, October 27, 2012

A couple of Thompson boys

Uncle Tommy died.  

He is the youngest brother of my father, and I always thought his life and my dad's were very different.   Now I wonder.  

I went to West Virginia for the funeral, and was surprised to find that Uncle Tommy lived in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.  In the hills of West Virginia, you can see the veins of coal laid bare in the mountain side that was cut away to make room for the road. Uncle Tommy mined that coal.  My dad, on the other hand, went into the Air Force and moved to Michigan to pursue his extensive law enforcement career.

You know that guy that everyone in town knows and loves?  That guy that's at EVERY church event, helping out however he can?  You know that gray-haired dude that's the usher, and the video guy and the one who makes sure his grand kids have whatever they need?  That's my Dad.  That's Uncle Tommy, too. They both are exactly that guy.  

Uncle Tommy is the guy that would call me out of the blue, just to shoot the breeze, because we both have February birthdays, and that makes us special.  I didn't have to do or be anything special for Uncle Tommy to love me.  I just had to let him.  

Letting someone love you is hard sometimes.  Sometimes it means that you have to be willing to accept that they can only love you the way they know how.  You have to be willing to accept them the way they are, not how you think they should be. Dads aren't perfect.  Sometimes dads make you furious when they...well, when they're just trying to be your dad!  They try to  help, and you feel like they think you're too dumb to figure stuff out yourself.  Really, they just want to love you.  Sometimes they say what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear and it lights your fire!  But again, they just love you.  

And sometimes they die.  

My heart goes out to my cousins, Tommy and Tammy.  I love you guys a ton, and I know your dad wasn't perfect, either.  You don't have to agree with his choices, but I know he loves you. He's your dad.  

My dad buried his baby brother on Tuesday, then celebrated his 70th birthday on Friday.  It's been a hard week for him.  My prayer for my dad is that he will receive peace and the knowledge that his brother rests in the arms of his Creator.  Uncle Tommy was proud to be a Knight of Columbus, and now he gets his chance to guard the throne of the Savior.  

As for my Dad, Happy Birthday, Dad, I love you.  I hope I have you around to bug the crap out of for a really REALLY long time!  I know you love me.  I'm here when you need me.  It's all good. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

30 Things About MY Invisible (but NOT Imaginary) Illness!

1. The illness I live with is: Arrhythmia.  My full diagnosis is "Ideopathic Ventricular Tachycardia/Ventricular Fibrillation which means we don't know why, but your heart goes too fast then stops!    
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: 2008, after my cardiac arrest.  
3. But I had symptoms since: Well, the cardiac arrest was the first big symptom.  Unmistakable, really.  It was a really REALLY good symptom to have.  
4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: to SLOW DOWN and RELAX!
5. Most people assume: I'm cured.  There is treatment, and I'm doing very well, but I'm not cured.  
6. The hardest part about mornings are: getting moving.  But I've never been a morning person. 
7. My favorite medical TV show is: House. I keep hoping a real-life House will show up and diagnose me with something I can just take an aspirin for and be all better.  Then I would run a 5K, get skinny, and hit the talk show circuit.  Then the Unicorns start flying me over the rainbows...but a girl can dream.  
 8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: the Maximo VRII AICD that lives in my chest and shocks me when my rhythm gets too fast.  
9. The hardest part about nights are: shutting down my mind as it races with thoughts and memories and fears about my heart.  What if this is my last day?  Have I lived it properly?  Will my kids have good memories of me if this is it?  Have I told everyone I love them.  Would God be pleased to see me?  Have I loved Luke well enough?  Do my friends know how I feel about them?  Have I apologized?  Have I prayed?  
10. Each day I take 13 pills & vitamins. (No comments, please)
11. Regarding alternative treatments I: do what I can to be healthy.  
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: Sometimes it would be better to be visible, but I don't like pity. It would have been better to have a visible disability than when I was on the wrong beta blockers.  Mostly I looked (and felt) like I was on a bad drug trip, or having an extended "Woodstock-type" experience.  It would have been nice for people to see that I was medicated and not just bizarre.  
13. Regarding working and career: My heart event was the catalyst to becoming a published writer.  I am thankful for my heart disease reminding me that if I die now, I take all my thoughts and stories and ideas with me.  God's got lots of stories already, He wrote them all!  No point in taking them all with me!  
14. People would be surprised to know: how much control they REALLY have over their cardiac health.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: I have to be a little less critical of myself.  I've always been my own worst critic, and I've had to learn to give myself a break.  
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: Dance my socks off at the Symposium!  
17. The commercials about my illness: Don't exist. 
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: Dancing for hours with wild abandon.  I had to reel in the abandon, and cut the hours.  I do love to dance!  
19. It was really hard to have to give up: Running.  I know this surprises some of you, since I'm not a good runner.  I ran my first and second 5K the summer before my diagnosis.  It's not that I loved to's just that I COULD run.  I don't like being "unable" to do anything!  I just can't run yet.  Maybe someday, but not today.  
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: BLOGGING!!
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: just enjoy it.  I do have days when I forget about my heart disease, or at least tolerate the little things I need to do to feel like a real live girl.  I truly am blessed with lots of good days.  Bad heart days are terrible.  I wouldn't wish them on anyone.  
22. My illness has taught me: to forgive and forget.  Life is too short to stay mad.  Some things can be left on the salon floor.  I an learning to forgive my body for betraying me, but that's a work in progress.  We're talking.  We go to dinner sometimes.  We're working on getting back together.  
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: "I don't have heart disease, I just have..." then they list a myriad of cardiac problems a mile long that ARE heart disease!  I used to do this too. DENIAL!  "I don't have heart disease, I just have a rhythm problem." BUNK!  Dude, I was dead on the floor without my own pulse!  It's called HEART DISEASE!  A Dis-Ease of the HEART!  Now I say it.  Now I own it.  
24. But I love it when people: tell me they are glad I'm still here.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: "The light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it." Also, when I pray and ask God why, He always responds the same. "Because I love you!"
26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: It won't always feel like this. Just hang in there.  You are not alone, you've got lots of heart sisters!  
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: how many others are walking around with similar issues that are living in fear and loneliness.  
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: Pray for me and with me. 
29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: I thought you'd want to know what it's like to look healthy on the outside, but not so much on the inside.  
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: Strong, loved, heard, blessed, and like maybe I'm taking one for the team!    

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Falling Flat on my Face

The stitches have been removed, and the skin has healed, but I have a dark scar that everyone can see if they look me in the face.  For awhile I avoided looking straight at people because I was embarrassed.  

I felt ashamed that everyone could see my mistake literally written all over my face.  They knew my misstep the minute they  looked at me.  They would look at me with shock and disgust and say (aloud or to themselves) "What happened to you?"  The disapproving, curious looks only feed my self-consciousness.  Like it wasn't embarrassing enough when it happened.  

 I was doing great!  I was strong, healthy, and blessed enough to give to others.  I tripped over a little curb, and found myself windmilling out of control.  The harder I tried to get control, the closer my face got to the pavement, until that awful moment when teeth hit asphalt. There were about 30 people standing around, and they all heard the sound.  A collective "oh!" went up from the crowd as I lay there for a minute, praying that my front teeth would come off the parking lot still attached.

Instantly this man was by my side.  "It's OK, Little Mama.  I got you Little Mama.." He comforted me and lifted me off the ground, to my feet.  He carried me back inside Ministry with Community,  the day shelter where I had just helped serve the meal. He held me while I spit out the gravel and blood that were collecting in my mouth, told me it was okay, "Go on and spit it right out, Little Mama. I got you." He said, lovingly, and directed another member to get me a cold wet rag to wipe off my face. Within minutes, my friends (including this new one) loaded me in my van and took me to the ER to get 4 stitches in my upper lip.  I never saw his face.  

As I mentioned, the stitches are now gone, but the experience (and the dark scar) stay with me.  I've had the blessing of volunteering at MwC lots of times, but this time was different.  This was the day I officially became a member.   

My misstep (over the curb) left me flailing and fighting for control.  It's not the first time for me, or the other members.  Sometimes the curb looks more like a bottle, or an abusive mate, or a crack pipe.  Sometimes it's a curb of depression or loss that someone else put there and pushes you over, either way, there you are.  Falling fast, out of control, thinking you've almost got it.  Sometimes there's a crowd gathered, they're watching, but don't know how to help.  Sometimes, you think no one notices and you can quietly get a bandage and try to stop the bleeding on your own.   

I'm glad I wasn't alone.  

"I got you, Little Mama."  He said, and it was true. He physically carried me (although my feet were helping) back into the building, where I was cared for and doted on.  Looking back, the things I was worried about were foolish.        

I was afraid to see my face.  Smiling really IS my favorite, and I was afraid mine was gone.  How can I smile with broken teeth?  They were cracked and chipped, but still attached. Then I thought of the members here.  They smile through broken teeth, missing teeth, even broken hearts and spirits.  The teeth don't make the smile, the love does.  That's what makes MwC what it is, too.  I was offered love and compassion when I needed help.  I was embraced and comforted by a face I won't recognize, because I was in the crisis of being newly broken.  This is what Ministry with Community does. They pick you up with a loving "I got you Little Mama," and hold you close, until you can look in the mirror and see your cracked teeth, and still smile.  I love this place.  

Think of your curbs.  

What trips you up?  What makes you lay on the ground, face to the asphalt in front of a crowd, and stops you completely?  Who calls you "Little Mama" and gently takes you in?  Are you still worried about what you look like?  Do you have scars that show when people look you in the face?  Are you hiding them, or choosing to embrace them as battle wounds in this epic challenge called life?  What are you going to do?   

I'm choosing to thank my Maker for all of it.  Thank you, God,  for the ones who were there to help. They provided me with stitches, a cool wet rag, and a warm smile through missing teeth.  I may not remember their faces.  I may not know their names, but God bless them, because whoever they are, they are helping me heal.            



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Double-dipping Jesus

At Catholic Heart Work Camp we went to Mass in a hot stuffy room in the middle of the school with very little air flow.  It was 4:30 in the afternoon, after our work day, and we were sweaty and hungry and (at least me) a little cranky.  We were "making do" for the week, sleeping on classroom floors in a room with 15 other people.  It was, in a word, awesome.  

So anyway, back to Mass.  Several of the kids from our youth group chose to attend this particular Mass, which was very exciting since Mass is optional.  I thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Mass with these youths that I have come to love as my own.  So it comes to my favorite part of Mass.  The priest elevates the host and asks God to allow it to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  I accept to the core of my being that God says yes, every single time.  So the people at Mass line up, and we take our turn ingesting the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, as He asked us to do in memory of Him.  

I'm greedy for the body and blood of Christ.  On this particular day, I really REALLY need Christ in every cell of my being. I need Him to be my strength, because I'm tapped out.  I need his love, because as I mentioned, I'm cranky, and not being very loving.  I get to the front of the line, and the priest says, "The Body of Christ."  I have done this probably a thousand times since I was 7 years old, but today as I say "Amen" I am stricken with the truth of it. I tear up.  I accept the host into my mouth, feeling unworthy to touch the body of my Lord with my unclean hands, then I realize...he gave me two!  

I'm overjoyed!  Extra Jesus!  Bonus Savior!  It's a two-fer!  Score!  In the midst of my celebration, I catch the eye of Dawn, my dear friend sitting next to me, and she looks like she just stole something.  "I got that okay?" She mouths silently.  I shake my head yes, realizing that her reaction was probably a better one than mine.  I'm still geeked.  

After Mass, a few of us converse about this "double-dip of Communion".  You usually only get one, you see, and there was some concern among us that we were hogging up the Jesus.  Usually in a church they have a Tabernacle, which is a lovely gold box that the body and blood of Christ left over from being consecrated in Mass resides in until it is used in the next Mass.  As you can imagine, this is a very special little house for these very sacred pieces of Savior. We are in a school which doesn't have a Tabernacle.  So the priest puts these blessed pieces of Christ in the most Holy receptacle he has  

This blows my mind.  

My body is the home of Jesus.  The Most High God becomes physically part of my body every single time I take Communion, and sometimes I get a double dose, because my body is the holiest place for Him to be.  Wow.  Do you think of your body as a holy place?  Yeah, me either. I realize that I am dust, and to dust I will return, but God breathed on this dust and gave it life.  Jesus found it lovable enough to die for.  I never thought of my body this way before.     

Now that I know, I feel a responsibility to treat myself like the temple God created me to be.  I feel I need to respect His home.  Thank you again, God, for giving me exactly what I need.                  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A New Vintage

Luke and I had the good fortune to join some friends at Contessa Winery for their 10th Anniversary Celebration.  For 10 years now, Tony and Liz Peterson have been creating their own wines.  First they had to buy grapes from other vineyards, now they grow their own.  As I chatted with friends, my eye was drawn to a stack of boxes in the basement labeled "New Vintage".  This sent me into blog mode.  What a funny oxymoron: New Vintage.

Sylvia's first Communion is more on the "New" side than the "Vintage".  She's still sweet grapes that haven't been crushed yet.  Life will certainly crush her a bit, but I hope she remains sweet and fruity as long as she can!

Isaac's Confirmation is New Vintage.  "Fruit of the vine, and the work of human hands." Isaac is just beginning to form his life with the sweet fruit he produces by being a branch of Jesus the Vine.  His life is already being mixed with the sweetness of blessings, just like the sugar the vintner adds to the grapes.  In choosing to become a disciple of Christ, he welcomes the gifts of the Holy Spirit like the vintner's yeast. They will expand his Knowledge and Understanding, and fill him with Piety and Good Counsel.  He will swell with Fortitude and  be broken down again in Fear and Awe of the Lord. These gifts will create in him a new vintage, a new creation that can't be contained within an old wineskin.  He will become whole and increasingly Holy.

And me.  I'm feeling like the New Vintage that was in the boxes at the winery.  I had a turn being sweet grapes.  The sweetness of blessings have been added.  The yeast has worked it's miracles, and the Spirit's Gifts continue to change and bless me.  I have been pressed hard, with only the best parts allowed to remain.  I have left behind chunks of who I was to become something even more beautiful.  Me. Reminiscent of the grapes I was born, but so much more.  Now, as I look to all the other bottles lining the shelves, still changing on the inside, I am reminded of the words of the song that reminds me of being with my Creator..."For you O Lord, my soul in stillness waits.  Surely my hope is in you...."

New Vintage.  My sediment still falls to the bottom of my bottle.  God has not finished curing me yet.  But one day, I will be poured out in a lovely glass for my Creator to enjoy.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sylvia's First Holy Communion

That's right, Sylvia's First Holy Communion.  It's the first time she will taste the Body and Blood of Christ.  As I sit in the pew looking at my beautiful little baby girl all dressed in white, looking angelic, I find myself praying.  Praying for her, about her, in support of her.  I pray that she understands that she is not eating bread and wine.  I pray that she understands that Jesus will become a part of every cell of her being once she ingests Him in the Eucharist.  I pray that she sees the beauty in what she's doing, and that it has very little to do with her pretty dress (which, by the way, is stunning!)  

We go forward.  She receives her Savior and returns to her seat, beaming.  She bows her head to pray after Communion as she's been taught, and I can't hold back my tears any more. 

These are tears of Joy.  Tears of Communion.  I received my Savior also, as I have hundreds of times, and it still fills me with awe. The Truth of it is overwhelming.  In those moments after Communion, I am one cell in the entire physical body of Christ.  I am connected to every other person who has ever tasted the Body of Christ and ever will.  Past, present and future come crashing all together in one amazing, glorious point in time. My grandparents are with me.  All our ancestors, all my aunts and uncles. This Communion is the Communion of all the Saints in glory, and those on Earth here below.  All those Martyrs who died defending this, our Faith, are here with me in this moment when the Body and Blood of Christ are present in my body.  

Now Sylvia is here too.   

It's so much more than being able to sit at the big kid table.  I'm praying again.  I ask God to let her meet her Grandma Swager, even just for a minute.  I ask God to let her feel the presence of her beloved Pops Swager who died just 2 years ago.   I love her so much, and I want her to feel the love that I know they have for her, and I have for her.  I thank God that I'm here in person to see this day.  I just thank God for too many blessings to count.  

After Mass, we go to the reception, and I feel like I'm only partly there, and partly stuck in my prayers.  (I get that way after Mass sometimes).  Later I was talking to Tim (my dear friend, co-catechist, and our Director of Religious Ed) and he told me he had the strangest sensation during Mass.  He's never met Sylvia's grandparents, but he felt himself praying about them being there.  Hmmm.  I think he felt their presence also. 

The picture above was taken at the cemetery after First Communion while she was still in her beautiful dress.  It is one of my favorite pictures of that day, because it shows the communion between those who have gone on before us, the present, and the future. The links that connect them are Love and Sylvia.  And today Sylvia got to enjoy her First Communion of Love with her Blessed Savior.