Sunday, April 10, 2016

My Blog Has Moved

Thank you for checking out my blog. In the interest of consolidating websites, etc., I am moving my blog entries to my website. Here's the link.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

There's No Place in Medical Care for Shame

Dear Doctors:

It's me, Karen, your former patient. I'm sure you never even noticed when I left your practice, but I want you to know anyway that there's a reason I'm a former patient. While a few of you have been excellent (okay, a nurse practitioner, a physician's assistant, a naturopath, and a few chiropractors have been excellent), the rest of you haven't been so great.

I get it. I'm fat and doctors hate that. I'm sure that's why your primary advice for years has been to lose weight.

Here's the thing. I've tried very hard to lose weight by exactly following your recommendations, I really have. But whenever I've done so, the weight has piled on. When I come to you and I tell you the weight gain has come on while I was doing what you told me to, you've all called me a liar.

The doctor who started it all was the one I worked with when I was an aerobics instructor and competitive bodybuilder. You told me that eating low fat and reduced calories would make my body fat fall away. When it didn't on the 1800 calories a day you recommended, you suggested I cut down to 1200, and then down to 800. The 800-calorie a day diet worked...until it didn't. My weight dropped for competition, but then it started slowly creeping up again. You told me to exercise more. At the time I was spending about four hours at the gym six days a week, lifting weights and sweating on the stairclimber. I started running for 45 minutes every day, too. My body ached and I was exhausted. I was cold all of the time, and I felt like I had a low-grade fever every day. My brain was often so foggy I didn't even know my own name.

One day I came to you, and my weight was still creeping upwards. You asked me what I was doing to gain weight so quickly. You told me I must be lying about how little I was eating and how much I was exercising. I wasn't. I logged every weight I lifted, every mile I ran or climbed stairs, and every calorie I ate. You still didn't believe me. You told me that all of my physical ailments were because of the weight gain, and you told me to lose weight. When I asked if maybe it could be my thyroid, you smirked and told me that all fat people wanted to blame their glands, but it never was.

While I was in your care, it was the first time I experienced shame about my weight and my body. I woke up every morning and felt like a horrible person. I looked in the mirror and cried because I was so weak willed that I couldn't be as thin as you told me I needed to be.

Then my body broke completely. I was sick and exhausted. My glands were swollen all the time. I was in chronic pain. I went to a different doctor, because I could no longer bear to look you in the eyes as you berated me about my weight.

Second doctor, you were a lot like my first.  You told me I had chronic fatigue syndrome and that the best thing I could do for it was to stop being so fat. You told me to exercise. When I told you that every time I exercised my body ached and I got a fever and swollen glands, you told me to work through it. I asked you about my thyroid. You gave me a look of disgust (I can still visualize it to this day), and said, "It's not your glands. It's what you eat."

You also recommended very low calories and very low fat. You told me that what I really need was to stop eating meat. You suggested I become a vegetarian. I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian - although occasionally I ate meat when I went out to dinner at restaurants or other people's houses. My weight continued to creep upward, and you continued to excoriate me for my "terrible" eating habits and laziness. The thing is, my eating habits were following your recommendations 90 percent of the time. During the other 10 percent when I ate "off plan," I could barely stand myself. I was so ashamed at my lack of willpower.

As for exercise, I really tried. I was still spending about an hour a day in the gym and feeling worse and worse. When I tried to do more, my body just refused. I began to see myself as lazy. This was when I started also experiencing chronic intestinal problems. You told me it was because I was fat, and all I had to do was lose weight, and it would all go away.

Once again, I had a doctor I could no longer look in the eye because reflected in his eyes I saw my new self image: a fat, lazy, liar. That's when I came to you, my third doctor. You told me that being a vegetarian wasn't enough. You told me it was time to become a vegan. You advised me to eat lots of soy, tempeh, and seitan. You told me to continue eating low-fat and to try to keep my calories around 1,000 per day. You told me to be sure I worked out.

It was following your recommended diet that I gained the bulk of my weight, which I am still trying to get rid of all these years later. It came on fast. I was never warm. I was losing hair. I was exhausted and could never get enough sleep, no matter how much  I slept. My skin was dry and flaky. My memory was terrible - I felt like a deep fog had settled on my brain. It was during this time that I also started getting migraines.

I discussed all of this with you and asked you to please check my thyroid. You snorted and told me it wasn't my thyroid. You told me the headaches and issues would go away when I lost weight. Come to think of it, you were the meanest doctor of all. I didn't last long with you. I crawled off with my tail between my legs and stopped seeing any doctors unless it was an emergency. I just couldn't take the shame any longer. After all, by this time I no longer needed you to shame me. I was shaming myself.

Then, there was the arrogant physician's assistant I went to at a local urgent care clinic when I had a kidney stone. It wasn't my first kidney stone...I'd had them many times before. Still, I came to you in hopes of avoiding the cost of the emergency room. You told me to stop diagnosing myself and to lose weight. You said I probably had either a kidney infection or a back spasm from being so fat. You said all this as your hands rested on the substantial paunch of your belly, lofty in your moral superiority that, while you carried a little extra weight, you weren't a big fat fatty like the woman sitting in front of you.

That night, I wound up in the emergency room. It turned out I had a 5.8 mm kidney stone. I had that kidney stone for the next six months (however, the physician's assistant I saw at the urologist was fantastic). Now, if I need to go visit your urgent care clinic, I call first and make sure you aren't there.

Of course, let's not forget the rheumatologist I went to see. By the time I came to see you, I'd had chronic pain for the past 20 years. I hadn't had a single day in 20 years that was pain-free. Your exam consisted of watching me walk and bend over. You refused to take x-rays (too fat to show anything), and you told me that all of my pain would go away if only I lost weight. Then you sent me on my way. As you might imagine, you were a one visit wonder. I never came back to you.

When I started seeing a nurse practitioner, I thought I was finally on the right track. You suggested a thyroid test without my even asking. When you called and told me I was hypothryoid and prescribed medication, I cried like a baby. I was so relieved that finally someone was doing something to help me. You also got me on migraine medication instead of telling me my headaches were from being fat. Unfortunately, my insurance company came between us. They insisted I take a preventive migraine medication, and they wouldn't pay for the natural desiccated thyroid medication that worked so well for me. While the migraine preventive definitely helped my headaches (and had the side effect of causing weight loss), it also made me dull. It robbed me of my intelligence and creativity, and it had some other nasty side effects, as well. After a year, I went off that medication against your advice (because you liked the weight loss). I also gave up fighting with you over putting me back on the natural thyroid (which worked) and taking me off the synthetic thyroid (which didn't). When you changed your practice to cash only, I realized that what had once been a beautiful and collaborative relationship had soured, and I moved on.

After a few experiences with more mean doctors who only focused on my weight to the exclusion of my symptoms, I stopped seeing doctors again. To a person, they told me my digestive issues were because I was fat. I once timidly suggested someone test me for celiac disease, and the doctor refused. Another time, I asked if a dairy allergy could be causing some of my sinus and digestive issues, and I was told not to give up skim milk because my bones would be brittle under the weight of my unwieldily body. I also asked about the possibility of following a low-carb or paleo-style diet and was told that my blood lipids would rise out of control, that my arteries would clog, that my kidneys would fail, and that I'd be dead in short order if I did that. So thanks, you were all great.

I realized, however, that it was time to stop shaming myself for my weight. I knew it was time to take control of my health. I insisted on celiac testing (which was grossly unpleasant and there's no way I would have suggested swallowing a camera just for the fun of it if I didn't truly believe celiac disease might be an issue) and surprise of all surprises, I had celiac disease. I've probably had it since my digestive issues started more than 15 years ago. I insisted on going back on natural desiccated thyroid medication, and I'm warm for the first time in years. I gave up gluten (because of the celiac disease) and dairy (because of the casein allergy, which was diagnosed when I was a kid), and all sorts of things happened. First, my pain went away. After more than 20 years, it was magically gone. My digestive issues went away, too. I no longer spent hours a day in the bathroom. My hair stopped falling out and my brain fog cleared up. My chronic sinus congestion became a thing of the past. Things were definitely looking up.

Then, after doing a lot of research, I did what all of you advised against. I switched over to a low-carb paleo diet. Since I did, my energy has begun to improve and I've been losing weight. My kidneys haven't failed, and my blood lipids (especially triglycerides) are in the same good shape they've always been. The food is delicious and sustainable, and I don't need to eat doll-sized proportions. I'm not hungry and tired all of the time. I also haven't had a migraine (which at the peak of them occurred about 15 days out of every month) since I started eating this way.

Doctors, perhaps its time to set aside your prejudices. Being fat does not mean that is the only health issue going on, and everything stems from the obesity. In fact, I'd posit that perhaps the fat is a symptom of other medical problems - like autoimmune disease, thyroid disease, food intolerances, sugar/carbohydrate intolerance, or similar issues. I'd also like to suggest that you change how you talk to overweight people. Shaming them does not work. If it worked, then I'd be super thin because of all of the shame I've heaped on myself over the years. Accusing patients of lying is also pretty uncool. If you've ever had patients disappear without a trace, I suggest it was because they no longer could bear to be in your shaming and smug presence.

I'd also encourage you all to listen to patients when, after due diligence, they ask you to test them for a specific condition. In some cases the results may be negative. However, in my case, every test I asked for and was denied ultimately turned out to be exactly what was going on with me. Please set your egos aside and listen to your patients. They know their bodies far better than you do, and they just may be onto something.

Finally, perhaps its time to review the dietary wisdom you dole out. I'm not saying that low-fat, low-calorie, vegetarian, or even vegan diets don't work for some people. However, I am saying that there is no one-size fits all way of eating that works for 100 percent of the population. People have different biological needs. If a patient says she is following a diet exactly as you prescribe but is encountering health problems and/or weight gain, then maybe you need to step away from your dietary dogma and explore the possibility that something else might work better for them.

Doctors, I can't blame you for missing the celiac disease--I know how difficult it can be to recognize--or the hypothyroidism. I don't even really blame you for focusing only on the amount of body fat I had to the exclusion of virtually everything else. But I do blame you for the shame you heaped on me for years, and I'm angry at myself for entertaining that shame for even a moment. No patient who is coming to you and trying to get better deserves to be shamed by their health care provider. It is a violation of doctor-patient trust, and instead of motivating your patients to improve their health, it often drives them away from seeking health care altogether.

For the chiropractors, nurse practitioners, naturopaths, and physicians assistant who actually cared about the person instead of the fat, I thank you. In my experience, caregivers like you who listen to their patients and realize everyone's needs are different are few and far between, and I'm grateful to have found my way into your offices.



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Soap Nuts, Dryer Balls, and Other Hippie Stuff

by Karen Frazier

I'm not going to lie. Things have gotten a little weird around here lately. I think I've become a hippie.

I have always had what others have referred to as "a little granola" in me, but I've lived a conventional enough life that I was just shy of full-on hippie. Now, that has changed.

It started simply enough with a little bit of alternative health care. You see, I've always believed that my autoimmune diseases and chronic health issues arose from living in modern civilization with the chemical assault on our bodies that comes with a standard American diet. Therefore, for most of my adult life I've frequently sought alternative care solutions to health issues. Over the years, I've visited naturopaths, aromatherapists, reiki practitioners, hypnotists, massage therapists, and chiropractors. I've even taken the time to learn energy healing techniques myself (I am a reiki practitioner), and I have a large collection of essential oils I use to promote my own health.

I've sprinkled these therapies in amongst more "conventional" medical care throughout the years. It's probably elicited a few eye rolls from the people who know me, but I believe that the body has the power to heal itself when you remove toxins and provide it with proper nourishment.

Still, I've always managed to keep this aspect of myself under control. I believed I struck a nice balance between natural and conventional. But my health kept devolving, and I realized I needed to do even more.

Most recently, I've become aware of how strongly I am affected by estrogen-like compounds in the foods we eat and the products we use. In foods, these compounds are phytoestrogens. In industrial products, they are xenoestrogens. Both compounds can upset the delicate hormonal balance in the body, and my peri-menopausal body was showing definite signs of hormonal imbalances.

Changing my diet was fairly easy. Jim and I recently switched to a paleo-style diet free of non-organic foods, grains, dairy, industrial seed oils, legumes, sugar, and processed foods, which pretty much took care of the phytoestrogens. Then, I started to do some research, and I discovered how many of the products we use contain xenoestrogens and other harmful chemicals.

In my research, these are just a few of the products I discovered:

  • Laundry detergent
  • Fabric softener
  • Bleach
  • Dryer sheets
  • Air freshener
  • Cleaning products
  • Hair care products (shampoo, conditioner, etc.)
  • Lotions
  • Soaps and cleansers
  • Makeup
  • Fragrance
  • Deodorant
In other words, pretty much everything I was using. I knew it was time to make a change. I began to research.

The first thing I tackled was my laundry. I've always used conventional (HE) laundry detergent, conventional fabric softener, bleach, and dryer sheets. Recently, we'd also added scent pellets to our laundry. Fortunately, I found several things that will substitute for these items, and now my laundry has completely changed. In fact, it's become just a little bit phallic. 

For laundry, I use soap nuts in the washer, which are a natural berry that has surfactants in it. In the dryer, I use alpaca wool dryer balls, which prevent static cling and actually help my laundry to dry more quickly. For fabric softener, I use white vinegar with a few drops of essential oil in the rinse cycle.  In place of bleach I use hydrogen peroxide. While I was initially skeptical, it turns out my laundry is clean, my clothes are soft, my whites are white, and nothing smells of vinegar. So it's all good. Plus, my laundry now has a much lower cost per load than it did before, and it's xenoestrogen free. I call that a win.

Next, I looked towards all of my house cleaning products. After doing some research (yay Internet!), I came up with natural home cleaning products I can use, like citrus juice, vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, water, and castile soap. Mixing my cleaners just took a few minutes, and I have several reusable spray bottles filled with them. I also use a hand steamer with a few drops of essential oil in it for deep cleaning. These homemade cleansers do the job, and, once again, are way cheaper than the commercial cleaners I was buying. My house is clean, and it smells pretty good (I use essential oils if I want to add a little scent - I even made my own "Febreze.") 

Finally, I tackled personal care items. Here, I looked into homemade stuff, but it was a bit crunchy granola, even for me. Thankfully, the EWG Skin Deep Database helped me find safe products to replace those that I was using. I found a very affordable brand called Herbal Choice Mari that has a wide range of well-reviewed products, including shampoo and conditioner, tooth gel, and mouthwash. For face, hand, and body cleanser I've started using castile soap. For moisturizer I'm using plain coconut oil with a few drops of essential oil. If I need to exfoliate, I'm making my own salt or sugar scrub. Oh - and I make my own deodorant. So far, I'm not stinky, my skin and hair are soft, and my teeth are clean, so I'm considering it a win. 

I always thought making these changes would be a huge undertaking, but it turns out it wasn't very difficult at all. I never really saw myself as someone who would go this far, but when health comes into play, suddenly all bets are off. I'm quite pleased with the results. Along with the cost savings and reduced packaging waste, I have no complaints about the functionality of the home and personal care items I am now using.

As far as I know, my metamorphosis to hippie is complete. I still have a little bit of conventional left in me. For example, I still color the grey in my hair, and I have no plans to begin dressing in hemp clothing anytime soon. I'll never be a vegan (at least not again - I tried it for a few years and my meat-deprived body cried out for sustenance). I'll never stop enjoying delicious (albeit organic) food and good wine. Kale will not be a mainstay in my diet (although it does make an occasional appearance). I'll never look good in tie-dye. And I'll never eat granola (it has grains and gluten) or tofu or any other classically hippie foods. So, alas, while I'll probably never be a card carrying hippie, I'll continue to try to eliminate the toxic chemicals that have wreaked such havoc with my health.

photo credit: gadl via photopin cc

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Avoiding Gluten Cross Contamination in the Kitchen

By Karen Frazier

I have celiac disease. It is  an autoimmune disorder in which the body reacts strongly to the presence of gluten in the diet.  Current statistics suggest about one in 133 people has been diagnosed with celiac disease.

When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, the body views it as an invader and attacks. The result is that the villi in the small intestine are destroyed. Villi play a significant role in the digestive process, because they absorb nutrients from food. When gluten destroys the villi, the result is that the person with uncontrolled celiac disease experiences malabsorption issues. In cases of people who have had uncontrolled celiac disease for years, they may have many conditions arising from malnutrition, regardless of how much food they eat or how nutritious that food is.

Along with intestinal damage and malabsorption issues, people with celiac disease often also experience severe gastrointestinal distress when they come in contact with even trace amounts of gluten. In fact, gluten levels of lower than 20 PPM are considered safe for people with celiac disease, which shows you just how powerful even a trace of gluten can be to someone with the condition.

The only way to control celiac disease is to eliminate all traces of gluten from the diet. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and some oats. However, it also exists in every food that contains trace amounts of these ingredients, as well as in foods that are processed on the same equipment as these ingredients.

While most celiacs are easily able to control their diet, they often wind up getting "glutened" anyway - an event that causes further damage to villi, as well as a whole host of physical ailments such as brain fog, nausea, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain, and many others. Many of these incidents arise due to cross contamination.

Because gluten-containing foods are so prevalent in our society, cross contamination happens easily and frequently. Flour particles in the air can cause cross contamination. So can kissing someone who just ate piece of bread or drank a beer. Touching microwave buttons after someone who's touched bread, and then using your hands to eat can cause cross contamination. So can using a wooden spoon that was once used to stir gluten-containing ingredients.

While I eat gluten-free, my celiac disease has been poorly controlled due to cross contamination. I live in a household of gluten eaters, and it has been very difficult to avoid contamination in the past. However, with my only child heading off to college, I'm redoubling my efforts to avoid cross contamination so I can finally feel better most of the time.

I've begun the slow and painstaking process of removing every possibility for cross contamination in my kitchen. These are the steps people with celiac disease need to take to remove gluten contamination from their homes.

  • Remove any gluten-containing foods, including flour, cereals, breads, and other items. If you do have gluten eaters in the house, isolate a single drawer or cupboard to store gluten ingredients, and, if you have the counter space, specify an isolated section of the counter for preparation of gluten-containing foods. In my kitchen, I am using a stretch of counter next to the sink that is separate from all other counters in the kitchen. This is where I keep the toaster for gluten breads (I have a separate toaster for gluten-free), as well as the toaster oven, which hubby and kids use to prepare frozen pizzas.
  • Empty all cupboards, pantries, and drawers and vacuum them out. Wipe out the cupboards and drawers with cleanser, using paper towels. The way I go about is completing a first pass with paper towels and a cleanser, and then changing the paper towels and doing a second pass with paper towels and cleanser to ensure no gluten residue remains. Finally, use cleanser and a clean paper towel to wipe the drawer and cabinet pulls to remove any gluten residue.
  • In the dishwasher, wash any dishes, pots and pans, and bakeware that have been in contact with gluten. 
  • Replace all items in cupboards and drawers, keeping gluten foods and utensils completely free from any gluten-containing foods, dishes, and utensils. I use separate cupboards, but if you lack the cupboard space for this, then you can place gluten containing foods on lower shelves and gluten-free foods on higher shelves.
  • If any of the following items have been used to prepare gluten-containing foods, then you need to purchase new items to be used only for gluten-free foods. Label the gluten-free items so you know which is which: knife blocks, wooden spoons, non-stick cookware with scratches in it, toasters, wooden cutting boards, colanders, rolling pins, baking mats. Store gluten-free items separately from gluten items.
  • Clean out the refrigerator and freezer to ensure that gluten containing and gluten-free items are stored separately and clearly labeled. Vacuum the refrigerator and freezer to remove any gluten crumbs, and then use cleanser and paper towels to perform the double cleaning method. Always store gluten-free items on shelves above gluten-containing items.
  • Read labels of condiments, processed foods, spices, pantry items and other ingredients to determine whether they contain gluten. If they do, discard them and purchase gluten-free substitutes. There are many online lists that can help you find good gluten-free versions of your favorite foods.
  • Clean the oven on the heat cleaning cycle and vacuum out any residue.
  • Clean out the microwave oven, cleaning twice - the second time with a clean paper towel. Finish by using a clean paper towel to clean the outside of the microwave, including the buttons.
  • Vacuum countertops, focusing on crevices where gluten crumbs may remain. Then, use cleanser to clean counters thoroughly using the double cleaning method and fresh paper towels.
  • Clean around the edges of sinks and countertops to remove any residue that may have gluten. When done, do a double wipe down of the faucet and handles. 
  • Vacuum the floors, paying careful attention to cracks under countertops, etc. Then, mop the floor.
  • Thoroughly wash kitchen towels, pot holders, tablecloths, and other textiles to remove any traces of gluten. 
  • Replace any kitchen sponges that have been used to wipe up gluten, or designate separate sponges for gluten-free and gluten cleaning.
  • Check your beauty products (such as makeup, lipstick, and shampoo) for gluten-containing ingredients. Again, you can find a number of online resources to help you locate gluten-free versions of these products.
  • Check supplements and medications and discard any containing gluten. You can find online resources to replace with gluten-free alternatives.
If you are quite sensitive to gluten, it's important that while you do these things you wear a mask to keep from breathing in gluten, as well as gloves. If you don't wear gloves, wash your hands frequently, particularly as you stop to eat or drink. As you work clean, work from high surfaces (like cupboards) to low surfaces, starting with tall cupboards and working your way down to the floor. Clean counters and floors last. Finally, empty the vacuum bag of any gluten you've vacuumed up.

Sounds like fun, right? While it's a pain in the rump, the results will help you avoid cross contamination in your own home so you know that you are preparing foods for yourself that help you heal. When you feel better and have fewer instances of glutening, you'll be glad you made the effort.

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment letting me know what you do to avoid cross contamination.

photo credit: Whatsername? via photo pin cc

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Emptying the Nest

by Karen Frazier

Eighteen years have passed in the blink of an eye. For that period, I can sum up my primary self-identification in a single word: mother. Of course, I am and always have been far more than a mother, but being one has informed every single decision I've made from the moment I learned there was a new life growing inside of me more than 18 years ago.

Now the boy is college-bound in just a few weeks, and nothing will ever be the same again.

I've had a long time to come to terms with it. After all, we spend 18 years preparing our children to leave the nest, so I can't really say it has come as a surprise. I always knew this moment would come. I just didn't expect it to be quite so soon. Eighteen years flew by with the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

It hits me in random moments--the realization that everything in my life is about to change permanently. For example, a few weeks ago we had updated cable service installed. I mentioned to Tanner that it was happening and he asked me when it would be. In that moment I realized that soon he wouldn't really live here any longer--at least not for any extended periods. Instead, it will just be Jim and me in this big old house, with the occasional weekend when Tanner comes home or Kevin joins us from his mom's house.

While I'm sad that my time as the primary caregiver for a child has come to an end, I'm also excited. Jim and I have never lived alone as a married couple. Because we each came into our relationship with a child, we skipped that part of marriage. Often, our alone time has been usurped by the needs of our boys, which was as it should be. Now, our relationship can come more into focus as we finally get the alone time we've missed for so many years.

Even as I let go of Tanner, I can feel myself reaching out for other things. Already, I am discovering new parts of myself, new interests, and new experiences that have nothing to do with being mom and everything to do with being me. I'm ready to embrace this transition and enter into this new period of my life.

That doesn't mean I'll speed past Tanner's university, barely slowing to kick him out the door as we fly past his dorm with our tires screeching. I'm sure when the moment comes to say goodbye, I'll do my best to suppress my tears and fail miserably. I'm sure I'll come home and note that the house feels huge and empty without his ever present music and the clomping of his size 14 feet as he walks around upstairs. But I expect it to be bittersweet. While I'm naturally a bit sad this phase of my life is ending, a fresh breeze is already blowing its way across my horizon, laden with the possibilities of who and what I can become.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jesus Was a the Son of Carpenter.* Please Don't Use Him as a Hammer

If you spend any time on the Internet, chances are you've read all sorts of quotes about what Jesus would and wouldn't do. Some of them are pretty stupid.

For instance, just today I participated in an online conversation where someone wrote that people should never earn or charge money for gifts that come from God, because Jesus certainly wouldn't have done that. In the context in which the comment was made, it seemed to be a judgmental put down about the "non-holy" way someone else was choosing to make a living.

My response to that person was that all talents and abilities come from God. We are given those capabilities in order to be able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. In our consumer-driven society, this means that we use those talents and abilities in our professions in order to earn a living - that is, to earn money. Therefore, everyone who earns a living is using gifts from God to make money. I don't think God minds.

My response was probably a little sharper and less kind than it could have been. My initial emotional reaction was equal parts frustration, indignation for my friend who was being judged, and a flare of anger. I get frustrated with people who use Jesus - or any religious figure for that matter - as a weapon to judge others.

I'm not one who gets riled up easily, but I freely admit this is a hot button issue of mine. It's probably because I've had the Jesus hammer used on me at various times in my life by different people.  I am sure the people who do this believe that they are speaking up for God, and that they have righteousness on their side. Such proselytization is probably well-intended in an attempt to save me from eternal damnation.

I understand the desire to share one's religious beliefs. One of the basic principles of organized religion is to bring others into the faith in order to help them find the same favor with God that the followers of a particular religion believe they have found.

However, while religion is about God, it is a man-made construct. Religions were created by humans based on their best interpretation of whatever texts they are using as the basis for their religious doctrine. Religion provides a template for faith that sometimes allows little room for dissent or variances in personal experience. This may not be true for every person or every religion, but it has been my experience with the religions I've tried.

I believe faith is a deeply personal experience. With organized religion, we turn it into a group project.

Providing a template for faith has helped many find their way, but organized religion didn't work for me. I felt it prevented me from the enriching experience of finding my own way to the Divine.

Choosing to participate in a religion is one way to find God, but it is far from the only way. My path has often meandered away from the traditional, and it's been a breathtaking experience. I'm grateful for every step along the way.

*My original title was Jesus was a Carpenter. Please Don't Use Him as a Hammer. However, as my dad pointed out, "Interesting title except the bible does not give us info about him being a carpenter. That was Joseph.

"One school of thought is that the family owned no land and had to make due at one of the lowest stations. Probably a laborer. The bible reference to carpenter is also interpreted as laborer--or more closely, a certain class of landless laborers who relied on their labors to provide for the family. Remembering that the four gospels were originally written in Greek and that there were no printing presses but countless scribes who rewrote all early manuscripts by hand, leaves ample room for much "misinformation". Along this line I might suggest Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman as interesting reading."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lessons from Monkey

Monkey, in her customary position on my chest as I work.
All week long, it's been very sunny and very cold in my corner of the Pacific Northwest. This is my favorite type of weather - I love the quality of light, the slant of the sun, and the crisp air against my skin. I also love being bundled up inside, cozy and warm while the outside reaches sub-freezing temperatures.

Our living room has two walls of windows. One wall extends along the front of the house, looking out over the Chehalis River Valley below. The windows face almost directly south. In the winter, the low angle of the sun often means that, on sunny days like we've had this week, bright light slants through the window and directly into my eyes.

Unfortunately, I've been sitting in the living room with my laptop this week, trying to get some work done. When the sun slants in, it shines directly on my laptop, making it difficult to work. All week long, this has frustrated me, although I've tried to ignore it and soldiered on with my work.

Today, I was working on an article when the sun slanted through my windows and directly into my eyes. As I often do when I write, I had one of my dogs, Monkey, sitting on my chest. When the sun shone through the window, she nuzzled her cheek against mine, closed her eyes, and turned her face to the light.

I followed her lead. I set aside my computer and invited the two other dogs into my lap, as well. With Monkey's cheek nuzzled into mine, we all closed our eyes and turned our faces to the sunlight. I was immediately filled with peace, joy, and wellbeing. We sat there, enjoying the moment, for as long as the sun allowed, until it moved to the right, hiding behind a piece of furniture.

It was a perfect moment in time, and it made me realize something. When the sun slants through my windows in such a way, it isn't there as a hindrance. It's there as an invitation to pause in my work, close my eyes, and enjoy the beauty the universe offers in such moments. It is an invitation to be present in my life. It is an opportunity to experience joy.

It makes me wonder. How many times am I so distracted that I let these moments pass without pausing and relishing all the beauty the universe has to offer? Maybe I should take a cue from my dogs more often, allowing myself to experience these perfect moments, which offer peace and joy if I have the presence of mind to accept the gift.