More on changing faith

To continue my thoughts on ‘changing faith’: this reflection was initially a letter, written in early 2008 to someone who asked why I stayed at Church of the Apostles. I have since added and revised to reflect my current thoughts, not changing the main premise: I stay because of community.

I was raised Lutheran and felt quite comfortable in the Lutheran denomination and theology. Fresh in Seattle in Sept. 2004, it was my first time alone, outside of college, with the responsibility to find a church community. I found a progressive Lutheran church that I attended for awhile. There was however, something missing from this experience. Friendly for worship, I hungered for deeper connections with my church community. This might surprise you, but they were, in a way, too liberal. And by that, I mean no negativity at all, rather I was worshiping with folk whose theological issues left me a bit out of the loop. I’d consider myself liberal, but I approached church differently. Their issues were about not using “he” for God, which wasn’t an issue for me.  Sure, it excited me to explore varying names and expressions for God and be a part of a thriving social justice ministry, but the worship life, although musical and liturgical, seemed stagnant. This isn’t due to lack of variety, there was a hunger for community.
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An Awakening: How I Found Myself in Tübingen

I wrote the following on ‘changing faith’ four years ago, reflecting on the year I studied at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, in southwestern Germany. A piece of this was published in the May 2006 issue of The Lutheran, a magazine publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the full text appeared online and I moderated a forum discussion about changing faith). Another post reflecting about what has changed since 2006 and where my faith life is presently will be posted here sometime soon. Until then, enjoy this piece…

An Awakening: How I Found Myself in Tübingen

14 October 2001
I picked up a leaf and started walking. I noticed the leaves as they fell, how some fell straight down to the ground, others fell on top of branches and bushes, and yet still more floated gracefully and gently to the earth. Every leaf that fell to the ground covered the ground and would someday become a part of the earth. This is a cycle, this is a season. My life has changed seasons…

It was a beautiful autumn day when I wrote the leaf meditation–almost two months after I had moved to Tübingen, Germany. Indeed, the entire 11-month journey was a seasonal change in my young adult life and defies any simple description. I could fill pages with stories of travel, study, and culture—but often untold is how Tübingen changed my faith.

As an undergraduate, my dream to study meteorology ended with a failure in calculus. Overwhelmed and depressed, I abandoned meteorology for German and applied to study in Tübingen the following year (2001-2002). With the guidance of a mentor, I began the process of discerning what, if not meteorology, was my vocational calling.

In Tübingen, I attended classes in German and imbibed on local culture. I wrote to family and friends about travel adventures, German culture, and living through September 11 in Germany. Untold, however, are the stories of spiritual soul-searching.

Every day began with several Psalms. Centering myself with breath prayer, I meditated on Scripture and wrote my deepest thoughts in journals. My worship life flourished not inside, but rather outside church walls. I prayerfully walked along the Neckar river and through the forest. The physical act of running became prayer as I visualized Jesus running with me.

This intimate relationship with God (and with myself) nurtured my soul, and cultivated an intense discernment process where I wrestled with a call into ministry. My life had more in common with the mystics than I am often willing to acknowledge. It was truly an awakening.

Reflecting back, I don’t think I would have been as open to deep soul-searching had I not painfully struggled with calculus. Neither would I have had such an intense faith journey without someone to mentor me through.

This journey–now four years ago–lives in me, ever guiding and sustaining my spirit. It has helped me be a light for others as I have engaged in more public forms of faith sharing and ministry. Now a city-dweller in Seattle, my faith is changing again. And I look forward to what this second seasonal change will bring.

Cursing My Disease (or, not the way to start a day)

meg.jpgThis morning I cursed my disease.  The genetic disease Neurofibromatosis (NF) is always with me, as are the 30+ tumors on my body.  I am a strong woman, but there are days when it defeats me.

I don’t sleep as heavily as in years past.  Regular bouts of insomnia have interrupted my sleep over the last six months.  Stabilization is slowly coming, and I’m grateful for that.  This week was a good week, so I am surprised at this unsettling feeling.  Sometimes that quick moment of stability is disrupted and I cannot contain my sadness and frustration.

This morning I awoke too early and anxiety attacked.  Thoughts raced through my head that I didn’t want to think about (friends, family, health, past, future, present…).  But the worst of it was the bleeding coming from one of the small tumors on my face, just to the left of my chin.  “Fuck it!” I said as I popped out of my bed.  Who wants to deal with that at 6:30 am on a Sunday morning?  It’s a little thing and was not profusely bleeding, but this is a tumor that is normally soft.  Yesterday it became hard, is sensitive to pressure and is an open sore.  This has happened before, as I am sure it will happen again.  Usually the swelling dies down and the tumor returns to normal.  Though the bleeding was not great, it is certainly concerning…and in my anxious state bitter thoughts rang toward my lack of health insurance.  Bitter thoughts spewed against this disease.

I’m growing weary of this disease that changes and progresses.  I must deal with it the rest of my life as I continue to live a public life in the world.  In spite of my embarrassment for a suddenly larger irritated tumor on my face, I must wake up and go about the day, talk to the people who saw me the day before, visit the grocery store to buy food… My strong faith keeps me going, most of the time.

When I woke up this morning I wanted nothing to do with the world or anyone I know in it.  Instead, I wanted to hide all day and obliterate the tumor from my body.  I didn’t care enough to pray, either.   It wasn’t just this morning—it bled last night before bed, too.  I watched the sunrise, with a tissue clutched over the tumor, but met anyone’s presence with me as an intrusion.  Obliterating the tumor and hiding are not healthy options.  But it isn’t easy to go on.  Oh, I love life and those who share it with me and all those I have yet to meet in this life.  I don’t know what to do, except continue to wake every morning and call myself beautiful, even when my tumors ache, change, grow, or cause discomfort.

God give me the strength to arise graciously even when I curse what is happening to my body!

Yet as I write these words, I know of a suffering even greater.  I am mourning the loss of someone I only know through acquantance from my hometown.  A young man and his family grieving the loss of his father—suddenly, due to a brain aneurysm.  sigh.

Spiritual Struggles with Disease

“You are beautiful” they chorused.  “You are sexy.”  My lip was quivering, and I could scarcely respond.  The group looked at me intently and lovingly while tears rolled down my face.  I wanted to repeat those words for myself, but my body wouldn’t let the words pass my lips.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.  A smile formed.  I had just been told I’m beautiful and sexy by the three males in my group—a married man in his 40’s, a Dominican brother wearing a habit, and a 20-something young man.  And it was safe and comfortable for all to do so. This moment, one of the last times my chaplaincy group met, was one of the most intimate I experienced during the 11 week unit.

The issue I had brought before the group provides some context for this intimate moment:  As many young women do, I have struggled with my appearance.  In my situation, my physical appearance and body have been painful–physically and emotionally.  I was born with a genetic disease called Neurofibromatosis, which among other manifestations, causes tumors and birthmarks.  The tumors are presetly unpredictable, unstoppable , and can grow anywhere on the body where there are nerves.  The gene is dominant, thus each carrier has a 50% chance of passing it on to his/her children.

I have 30+ tumors on my body, mostly small and underneath the skin.  The problem area has been the right side of my face and neck and my right ear.  The tumor and brithmark that define my face cause me the most grief, yet I despise all of them.  How can I call this body beautiful?

Having this disease has forced me to reflect deeply on a regular basis about myself, my faith in God, and perceptions of others.  I’ve had three surgeries and I know the pain of being in intensive care after 9 hours in the operating room.  This disease gives my mind a reason to destroy my self-confidence and self-love.  This is why it is so hard for me to say, “I am beautiful,” and mean it.

Long ago I rejected the God of the Purpose Driven life, who as author Rick Warren states, makes us right down to our DNA.  That’s bullshit, I say.  I don’t want to believe in a God that would create a genetic mutation and intentionally give it to me…so what, if it’s a gift so others can admire and receive strength?  Well, they do.  But courage, strength, and hope are often all I have when facing something without a cure, that probably won’t kill me but has potential to cause more discomfort…maybe even a brain or spinal tumor.  I’d give the extra courage and admiration away if it meant I could live without the presence of these tumors.

So today I visited a genetics clinic in Seattle and will begin the process with doctors and surgeons about what is going on with my tumors and if surgery can be done.  This has been on my mind for months now (and added to my emotional swing this week), and today the process has officially begun.  May I find a job soon with good benefits!

When my chaplaincy group supported me, my heart was touched.  I need that kind of love and support.  Three years later, I still struggle…and it’s so hard when there aren’t many honest moments for another to say to me, “you are beautiful, you are sexy.”   The strength and courage I posses are qualities that many people admire about me.  This disease, while constantly challenging my faith, has also strengthened it.  I have experienced a deep love of God through the faith, doubt, surgeries, and recurrence of tumors.

However, God’s love cannot completely satisfy the longings of my heart.  Some of the loneliness I express in these posts have surfaced when I see good friends dating.  So lovely together.  And I go to bed at night alone and weep, while my hands rub over my tumors.   Is anyone ever going to stare at me with love to say, “you are beautiful!”  The only stares I get are people curious about what’s on my face.  Will anyone actually want to touch my face, my arms, and all the other places where there are tumors?  I don’t know, but I can hope…

This is long and deeply personal.  But one reason for others’ admiration of me is that I am able to share such struggles with candor.  I’ll end by professing this disease has given me courage to boldly proclaim the Resurrection.  By believing in the resurrection, I know there is more than this, and that I don’t suffer alone.

Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!