Bowing and Other Rituals…

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Our Pastor has a really cool way of making important, memorable points during the children’s homily each week. This past Sunday was no exception.  As he talked to the kids about “Spiritual Muscle Memory” – the things we do routinely to support spiritual practices that strengthen our life in Christ, he told a story of a woman who recently began attending our church.

She came from another religious tradition and it took some time for her to become accustomed to the ritualistic practices in our Lutheran service. After attending for several weeks, she approached Pastor to ask about a specific practice:  “Why do you bow to the cross during the processional and recessional for the gospel reading?”

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Pastor explained that we bow to the cross of Christ to express honor to the King, just as someone would bow to royalty today. Also, we bow in order to humble ourselves and adopt a submissive posture before the Lord.  He went on to explain that these practices are not mandated.  You don’t have to bow.  One of Martin Luther’s major critiques of the Roman Catholic Church centered on this issue.  They’d made optional practices and rituals into laws that members had to follow.  Christ did not mandate much of the spiritual practices in the mass.  But, as a church, we find them helpful and useful for communicating the proper glory of God and our relative humility.

One Sunday, after having this conversation, Pastor noticed the woman bow to the cross.

This story made me think of rituals and spiritual practices. Why do we do what we do?

The message on Ash Wednesday, which was based on the text of the hypocrites, showing off their prayers and acts of piety, came from the Gospel of Matthew:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their rewards. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And you Father who sees in secret with reward you. Matthew 6:1-4.

Pastor pointed out that in several places Jesus told his disciples that their motivation was what mattered. It’s not what you do, but why you do it, that matters to God.  Charity and praying to God, so that your neighbors view you as a righteous person, does not delight the Lord.

Similarly, the rituals and practices in the traditional liturgy are often criticized by non-practitioners as rote and meaningless. Certainly, one could go through the motions of reciting prayers, making the Sign of the Cross, genuflecting, and otherwise participating in the mass in order to be seen as a “good Christian” to those around them. One could fulfill the “law” of attending mass on a regular basis, but if their motivation isn’t communion with Christ and worship of God, then their reward will be limited to their neighbors’ esteem. However, for those who understand the deep meaning of what is happening in the liturgy – Word and Sacraments poured out on us from God – each word, action, and motion is full of significance.

My favorite part of the liturgy is after the consecration when we say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”  Although this (along with many other parts of the liturgy) are said each and every week, the meaning continues to grow deeper and more significant to me.  It has not become rote at all.  Speaking these words of surrender and humility before communing helps me remember my need for a Savior and complete dependence on Christ for life and salvation.

Sunrises and Sunsets

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This morning, as Dennis, Teo, and I woke Sienna from her peaceful slumber, I pulled open her curtains and announced, “Look at the beautiful sunrise. I love sunrises!”

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“Well, I love both sunrises and sunsets.”

That exchange got me thinking…

Sunrises and sunsets are both moments of reflective calm. In the midst of a busy day, I love to take those moments to gaze at the sun as it rises and again as it falls from the sky.  They both help me to be still.  I’ll look around and soak in the beauty, while taking a deep breath and letting my mind rest quietly.

The sunrise is energizing. It symbolizes rebirth and enthusiasm for what the day ahead will hold.

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The sunset is peaceful as the night falls and it’s time to rest. I look forward to cuddling with my loved ones, reading a book, and resting for the night.

Today is the second anniversary of the day I started this blog and, as it seems with everything in life, what this blog means to me has evolved. At the beginning, I wrote about revelations that were so incredible to me.  Learning to be in the moment was a hugely powerful transformation in my life and I was so excited to share my insights with the world.

Now that I’ve practiced (and practiced and practiced) being in the moment for a few years, I’m no longer astonished by the insights. Instead, being still means that I’m present in the moment (as much as possible) to act in accordance with God’s will for my life.  Which, for the most part means, I’m mindfully loving and serving the people around me.

What does that look like?

On Saturday, while out at lunch, Sienna was teasing me about ordering lamb at the Mediterranean restaurant we visited. She’d brought a lamb stuffed animal along and feigned shock that I would eat a lamb.  Her joking crossed the line when my plate arrived and she said, “I hate you for eating that, Mom!”  Dennis and I were both quick with the reprimands.  “We don’t say that in our family, Sienna,” I said.  “Don’t you ever say that.  You don’t talk that way to your Mom,” Dennis scolded.  I watched as Sienna’s face crumbled and she started to cry.

I related. Oh, how I related.  She was upset at being corrected by her father (I know this because I’d been correcting her behavior somewhat sternly for the last two days and she didn’t shed a tear). I remembered how much I couldn’t stand disappointing my dad growing up.

I slid into the booth next to Sienna and comforted her with a cuddle. As I soothed her I explained, “Sienna, what just happened is totally normal. You didn’t know how strongly we feel about the word “hate” and you were testing to see if it was okay to say.  Now you know that it’s not.  Mommy and Daddy love you unconditionally, all the time, no matter what.  But, it’s our job to correct your behavior.  We’re just telling you that word is not okay to say.  We’re not mad at you.” She calmed down pretty quickly after those reassuring words.

This exchange reminded me how critically important it is to make that distinction within our family. Giving someone feedback or correcting their behavior is entirely separate from our love for one another.  Loving each other is a given, it’s steadfast.  But, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to approve of everything the other person does.  This goes for kids, but also for spouses.

Yesterday, Dennis and I had a brief “date” while the kids were in their Sunday school class. This has become a weekly routine that I cherish!  Typically we walk a couple blocks over to a Farmer’s Market to stroll, drink some coffee, and occasionally pick up some veggies or flowers.  This week, we broke up the routine a bit and headed to the little coffee “shack” across the street from church. We discovered that they have a cool little back deck that was basked in the mid-morning sunshine.  With our coffees in hand, we sat on the bench, knee-to-knee, and talked.

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With work, kids, the house, and the demands of daily life, it’s amazing how quickly you can begin to feel disconnected from your best friend, spouse, and other half. This time of talking and mindfully reconnecting set the stage for an absolutely perfect day.

We took the kids to Balboa Park to have a picnic lunch, explore a couple museums, visit our wedding site (the kids always ask to see it!), enjoy the beautiful day, and watch the kids eat ice cream cones.  Sienna ate hers delicately and barely spilled a drop. Teo was an adorable mess of chocolate ice cream drippings and 5-year-old enthusiasm.

This morning, before the sunrise and sunset conversation, Sienna was slow to wake and Teo was getting on her nerves (already!), so Dennis came in the room to escort Teo out. I began singing to Sienna this song, “Rise and Shine”.  I remember it from my parents’ Christian retreat group years ago.  The chorus goes: Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory. Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory.  Rise and shine AND give God the glory, glory, children of the Lord.

Over the years, I’ve sporadically and playfully sung this to the kids as they’re waking up. This morning, Dennis had Teo in his arms and was bouncing him up and down to the beat.  As I sang the chorus through a second and third time, Teo’s laughter became contagious and we were all giggling.  What a joyful moment!  And on a Monday morning, no less.

Being still, relishing the morning sunrise and the evening sunset, and being present in the moment mean that I’m able to see and react to the pain in my child’s face, feel when my husband and I need to reconnect, and fully engage when a fun and silly moment presents itself. It means I’m living life fully, while trusting in God to take care of everything.

Thank you for reading these past two years. It means so much.

Love.

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A bouquet of flowers just arrived at my office, and they were for me!  My sweet husband sent me flowers with a loving card that included our kids as the flower “givers”.  He really knows what is meaningful to me.

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When I turned the vase around and saw the silver heart on it, I started laughing.  It’s very similar to the heart necklace that Dennis gave me for our first Christmas together.  The silver heart on the necklace has beautiful diamonds in the middle, but that’s not what makes the gift memorable.  Just a few days before opening this gift, Dennis and I were chatting and I commented: “I hate heart jewelry.  It’s so juvenile looking.”  When I opened his gift, he kind of hung his head and said, “I know you don’t like heart jewelry…”  I had some fast talking and reassuring to do!  Now it’s a funny anecdote to look back on.

We’ve never been into the big fancy dinner dates for Valentine’s Day.  In fact, our first Valentine’s Day as a couple came 10 months into our courtship.  We didn’t get to spend the day together because Dennis was attending his aunt’s funeral up in Northern California and I was busy with graduate school.  As an early gift, he presented me with three of my favorite movies on DVD: Sleepless in Seattle, Father of the Bride, and Father of the Bride II. I spent Valentine’s Day watching these movies and being grateful for a boyfriend who understood me.

Twelve years later, we have a pretty established Valentine’s Day tradition.  I make us steak, sautéed mushrooms, and asparagus.  We enjoy some chocolate and red wine and watch Sleepless in Seattle after the kids go to bed.  Traditions make things fun and feel familiar.  It makes a day that’s commercialized and makes it feel like “us.”

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Part of the fun of Valentine’s Day is the kids’ activities too.  I came home for the pool this morning and was tickled to see Sienna’s outfit.  She had one head-to-toe hearts!  The skirt she chose has been sitting in her drawer, unworn, for over a year.  When I would try to get her to wear it, she’d claim “It’s for Valentine’s Day!”

This year I crafted the valentines for Teo’s class.  Sienna actually picked the penguin craft out of a magazine, but then she bailed on helping make them.  I figured pulling together 12 for Teo’s class was easier than 28 for Sienna’s!  Also, the candy we used to fill the little baggies that the penguin was going to hold turned out to be too heavy.  I decided to make little frosted heart butter cookies instead.  Homemade treats are okay at the church preschool, not so much at the public elementary school.  So, Sienna took cute little baggies of Twizzlers pieces with a heart tag that said “Happy Valentine’s Day” for her class.

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I’m bummed that I neglected to take a picture of the finished penguin valentines!  The picture is from the magazine, but Teo’s version had a frosted pink heart in the twist-tie baggie with a heart tag that he signed the back of.  So fun!

Another tradition that I’m going to fulfill this afternoon is making cards for Dennis, Sienna, and Mateo at my office Valentine’s Day “party”.  We’ve put out materials for folks to make cards for their loved ones for the past four years or so.  It’s sweet, creative, and a little silly to sit around making cards with your coworkers.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

 

The Discovery of Insulin

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I’ve been thinking about diabetes more than usual recently.  Fortunately, it’s not because my blood sugars have been out of control, which is typically when diabetes takes up more of my mental space.  No, the reasons have been diverse and pretty interesting.

First, I just finished reading a book that sat on my Good Reads “To Read” list for many, many years.  The Discovery of Insulin was written by Canadian historian Michael Bliss back in the early 1980s, years before I was diagnosed with diabetes.  This book is a study of the nuanced and often conflicting stories of how insulin was discovered in Toronto in 1921.

The traditional story is that a young physician, Frederick Banting, and his medical student assistant, Charles Best, discovered insulin in the summer of 1921 after Banting had a sudden stroke of genius regarding the external and internal secretions of the pancreas.  They spent that steamy summer removing the pancreas from dozens of dogs in order to make them diabetic, deriving pancreas extract from other dogs (though a complicated process), and then injecting that extract into the diabetic dogs.  Their results were amazing.  The extract reliably lowered the blood sugar in the dogs.

The story that Bliss tells provides significant detail about the context in which Banting and Bliss made their discovery.  A number of researchers in Europe were also close to discovering this “anti-diabetic” extract in the early 1920s.  It was widely known that the high blood sugar of diabetics was caused by an inability to metabolize carbohydrates and researches had zeroed in on the pancreas (and liver) as the organs responsible for this metabolic function.

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There was a major controversy surrounding the discovery of insulin and it centered around who was awarded credit for the discovery.  Banting and Best were logical choices, but they received significant assistance from the head of their laboratory and internationally known expert in carbohydrate metabolism, J.J.R. Macleod as well as J.B. Collip, the biochemist who helped refined the extract.  When the Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to Banting and Macleod (who were not on speaking terms at the time), they shared their awards with Best and Collip, respectively.  Apparently, Banting lived for decades with a deep resentment toward Macleod because of his belief that his original idea was the catalyst for the discovery of insulin, and that Macleod was trying to steal the credit that was rightfully his.

As interesting as the history was to me, I found myself more deeply moved by the description of life for diabetics before the discovery of insulin.  Chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) leads to ketosis (the burning of fat to fuel the body) which causes acidosis (excessive acidity in the blood) which quickly leads to death.  The best method for prolonging life in diabetics (before insulin) was a starvation diet.  Diabetics could actually live for 2 to 4 years by sticking to a strict, low carbohydrate and low calorie diet – often less than 500 calories per day.  If they chose to eat normally, they’d waste away more quickly and die from ketoacidosis within a matter of weeks.

Reading this history, I imagined and empathized with the pain and suffering of these individuals.  People who had the same disease I do but were unfortunate to live before this literally life-changing discovery.  What a weird feeling to know that my life depends on this extract that was discovered less than 100 years ago.

With this story very fresh in my mind, I met the parents of another young mother with Type 1 Diabetes.  At a mutual friend’s party, these parents sought me out when they learned that I had diabetes.  Dennis and I spent about an hour chatting with these knowledgeable and concerned parents.  The story they told was very different than my diagnosis.  Their daughter has struggled to accept her diabetes since she was diagnosed 15 years ago at the age of 17.

Talking about my experience and the way my parents handled my diabetes diagnosis made me very reflective.  Just a week before, my mom reminded me of something I asked her while still in the hospital upon diagnosis.  I looked at her and said, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, right Mom?”  My optimism helped me through those early days.  I also recalled that my dad encouraged me to see this disease as something that I had to overcome and that would, ultimately, make me stronger.  I don’t recall my parents treating me like a victim or feeling sorry for me (I’m sure they did, but they didn’t let me see it).

Several years ago, I had the realization that I never rebelled against my diabetes management (blood glucose tests, injections, etc.), in part because my care was always in my own hands.  It wasn’t like my parents managed my diabetes or enforced a strict diet on me.  From the beginning, it was mine to manage, for better or worse.  My control wasn’t very good in my teen years, but that independence and self-confidence helped me transition to adulthood without a dramatic rebellion against diabetes self-care.

In trying to describe my experience to parents who understand diabetes so intimately, I found myself feeling love and gratitude for my mom and dad.  I now appreciate, as a parent myself, how devastating and frightening my diabetes diagnosis was for them.

Finally, the timeline of diabetes seems to be moving along: from death sentence to chronic condition to a cure, as recent study results seem to point to a cure in my lifetime.  A friend of mine participated in one of the first human trials at a San Diego based company who announced promising study results today.  They were able to insert modified stem cells, encapsulated in a permeable pod, into patients.  After several months, they removed the pods and found that the cells had been producing insulin and other hormones that are missing in Type 1 diabetics. There’s still several years of study and refinement ahead, but it’s a very promising step.

It’s funny, living with this disease for over 22 years, it can often remain pretty much in the background of my daily life.  Eating a low carbohydrate diet, exercising regularly, wearing an insulin pump, and now taking this new medication, all contribute to fairly steady and predictable blood sugars.  I enjoyed reflecting on diabetes in a more conscious way through these recent experiences and have a newfound sense of gratitude for the ability to live well with diabetes.

Thirty-six.

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I’m sitting here, on the night of my thirty-sixth birthday, listening to the hollowing winds and sipping my rum and Diet Coke.  It’s been a good day and I’m thinking about how it feels to enter the second half of my thirties.

It’s funny, for some reason I think of 36 as the age of parents.  I think it was the age my parents were when I first realized how old they were.  For some reason, when I learn someone’s age, they sort of stay that age in my mind forever.  To me, thirty-six is a parental age and that’s largely how I identify myself these days.

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Yesterday I made my first “anti-aging” cosmetic purchase.  I got a dark spot corrector after several weeks of examining the dark spots on my upper cheeks.  I told myself that they were freckles for quite awhile before admitting they were dark spots from the sun and needed repair. Ironically, I was at a gathering yesterday and chatting with a friend-of-a-friend when I noted that Humboldt County was my home.  She replied, “Oh, you’re from Northern California, that’s why you have such nice skin, you weren’t out in the sun all the time.”

One person’s sun spots are another person’s nice skin, apparently.

It was wonderful to enjoy a divine service on my birthday and then attend a congregational meeting with my church family afterwards.  However, I was highly embarrassed (and I’m sure beet red) when Pastor started the meeting by having everyone sing “Happy Birthday” to me.  He said, “Let’s all wish Kelsey a happy 49th birthday,” which got a good laugh.

We had a little cocktail party this afternoon with some good friends. My friend Mahmoud kept wishing me a “Happy 26th Birthday,” which tickled me.  Most of the friends who gathered this evening were in their 40s or 50s, so he was teasing me about being the youngest.

Funny, there was little mention of my actual age today.  It seems to be a fitting commentary on this stage of life… I’m somewhere between 26 and 49. 🙂