Integrity

To me, integrity is one of the most important things a person can have.  All the values I’ve done monthly quote collations of are important, don’t get me wrong, but integrity is definitely near the top of the list.  It often requires many of the other virtues to enact.  In its simplest form, it is being true to yourself and doing the right thing, even when that is hard or detrimental.

It’s important to me in my personal life, but it’s also really important to me professionally.  Believe it or not, lawyers have an incredibly strict code of ethics.  One of my jobs is regulating practitioners who fall short or outright violate that code.  The code makes it clear that our first duty is to the court, and our second to the client.  Even if it hurts your client, you cannot mislead the court; even if it hurts you, you must serve your client to the best of your ability.  So, despite what TV may suggest, a lawyer (in Australia, at least) cannot go in front of the court and argue that their client is innocent of a crime if the client has told the lawyer that they are guilty.  If a client tells you one thing, you cannot tell the court another, and if your client insists that you must, you need to withdraw from the case, no matter how many dollarydoos you’ll get by staying in it.

There’s a whole bunch of other things in that code that we have to uphold – we have to be courteous, not bring the profession into disrepute, act in a timely manner, etc.

I’m really passionate about this, so it bothers me massively when I see people (particularly my fellow lawyers) breaching our ethical code, failing to uphold or enforce the law, or generally taking the easy way out just because the hard way is, well, hard.  My family and colleagues have had to sit through several rants recently when I got outraged that someone was behaving in a way that I did not think demonstrated integrity.  I hope I never do lose that outrage, even if it bores the people around me, because this is important.

As a result, this is a month I was really quite excited to do the quotes for.

Please excuse my cover picture of the doughnut, by the way.  I use a free stock photo engine for my cover photos, and the only thing for “integrity” was a picture of circuit boards, so in the end I had to go with “goodness”, which offered me many pictures of attractive men and one of a doughnut.  I’m pretty into doughnuts, so I figured that at least that would be true to myself, which is part of integrity…so, yes.  A doughnut is now the symbol of integrity.

One final side-note: I’ve decided to start linking the author of the quote to a short thing about them in case you like a quote and want to find out more about the person who said it.  Let me know in the comments if that is useful or just unnecessary and boring.

Anyway, the quotes.

  1. “Supporting the truth, even when it is unpopular, shows the capacity for honesty and integrity.”  – Steve Brunkhorst
  2. “One of your most prized possessions is integrity; if this is you, then you should never compromise it.” – Byron Pulsifer
  3. “Power really is a test of character.  In the hands of a person of integrity, it is a tremendous benefit; in the hands of a tyrant, it causes terrible destruction.”  – John Maxwell
  4. “Make living your life with absolute integrity and kindness your first priority.” – Richard Carlson
  5. “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr
  6. “Be impeccable with your word.  Speak with integrity.  Say only what you mean.  Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.  Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” – Miguel Angel Ruiz
  7. “Admitting one’s own faults is the first step to changing them, and it is a demonstration of true bravery and integrity” – Philip Johnson (If I have correctly attributed this quote, I recognise the irony of quoting a Nazi sympathiser and possible Nazi agent who was utterly lacking in integrity, and I think it is important to acknowledge that there is absolutely no integrity in just paying lip service to the concept.  If I’ve attributed this wrongly, then I apologise to the Philip Johnson who actually said it and sincerely hope he isn’t a Nazi.)
  8. “The personal cost of keeping your own ethics sound and true may seem a bit of a burden at times but that is a minimal price to pay to be true to yourself.  There is absolutely no advantage to changing or altering a set of ethics that portray a person of value and integrity.” – Byron Pulsifer
  9. “When you make a commitment to yourself, do so with the clear understanding that you’re pledging your integrity.” – Stephen Covey
  10. “A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.” – Baltasar Gracian
  11. “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” – Chinua Achebe
  12. “Six eseential qualities that are the key to success: sincerity, personal integrity, humility, courtesy, wisdom, charity.” – Dr William Menninger
  13. “Having a grateful disposition brings about other virtues, including generosity, compassion, humility, joy, wisdom, trust and integrity.” – Bree Miller
  14. “We learned about honesty and integrity – that the truth matters…that you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules…and success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square.” – Michelle Obama
  15. “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”  – C. S. Lewis
  16. “A life lived with integrity – even if it lacks the trappings of fame and fortune – is a shining star in whose light others my follow in the years to come.” – Denis Waitley
  17. “You can’t, in sound morals, condemn a man for taking care of his own integrity.  It is his clear duty.” – Joseph Conrad
  18. “Integrity is making sure that the things you do and the things you say are in alignment.” – Katrina Mayer
  19. “With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” – Zig Ziglar
  20. “Characterise people by their actions and you will never be fooled by their words.” – Anonymous
  21. “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters .” – Albert Einstein
  22. “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.” – Franklin Roosevelt
  23. “People may doubt what you say but they will always believe what you do.” – Anonymous
  24. “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody is going to know whether you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey
  25. “To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.” – Confucius
  26. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare
  27. “What is left when honour is lost?” – Publilius Syrus
  28. “No one can be happy who has been thurst outside the pale of turth.  And there are two ways that one can be removed from this realm: by lying, or by being lied to.” – Seneca
  29. “There are seven things that will destroy us: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; religion with sacrifice; politics without principle; science without humanity; business without ethics.” – Gandhi
  30. “May integrity and uprightness guard me as I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:2

What is the most valuable virtue for you?

 

April Gratitude

Another month has passed astonishingly fast, and it’s that time again – a monthly gratitude post.

Not going to lie, April has been super hard, and so finding things to be grateful about has been trickier than usual.  I haven’t really had any spectacular lows, but it’s felt like I’ve been in a constant slump.  I’ve had a number of sick days, and had a really bad experience with my last Prostap injection (a painful infection at the injection site and ongoing struggles with the side-effects).  The ongoing pressure of the adenomyosis and the general malaise and lack of hope that comes with chronic pain has been exceptionally hard to deal with.

However, I made a commitment to be more grateful and positive this year, and these posts force me to consider the good things in my life, so let’s go.

1)  Easter

Close-up Photo of Bunny Plush Toy
Image description: a grey felted rabbit holding a pink felted egg with white spots.  It is standing on a next on a wooden board and there are some white flowers next to it.  

I wrote about what Easter means to me as a chronically ill Christian, so I hope I’m not cheating by mentioning it again.  There are plenty of reasons to be grateful for it, though.  A four-day weekend (followed shortly by ANZAC Day), lots of chocolate, and, of course, the celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice that means an afterlife in paradise.  That’s always good.

2)  Girl’s night

I got a chance to spend the evening with my four best girls.  We are a diverse group in both personalities and backgrounds, but we still have plenty in common – enough that we have stayed friends for ten years during the most turbulent times of our lives.  Perhaps our greatest commonality is our love of great food, which we ate at tonne of.  One of this fabulous group is from Bangladesh, and boy, does her mum create the most amazing feasts ever.  I could LIVE off her dahl.  Her spinach is mind-blowingly good.  She is single-handedly responsible for making me like cauliflower.

Sure, it was incredibly high FODMAP and I was in agony the next day, and I accidentally ate a chilli, but it was entirely worth it.  And now I’m craving her spinach.  Damn it.

Also, the chance to see my four wonderful best friends is always so good.  Everyone should have that friend or group of friends that they love and trust and always feel incredibly happy to see, even when life is hard or you don’t want to socialise.  This is that group.  There is no feeling in the world like spending time with my girls.

3)  ANZAC Day

Red Petaled Flower in Macro Photography
Image Description: a red poppy on a field of grey grass.

I may be pretty anti-violence, but I am not against people standing up to invaders.  I can also appreciate the courage, heroism and comradeship displayed by the ANZACS and the other soldiers of WW1.  Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to suddenly see a tank coming over the horizon in a war where cavalry with swords were still in common usage?  Can you imagine the mud, the blood, the terror, the cold in winter and the searing heat in summer, the disease, the privation and the utter uncertainty?  I don’t think war is something to celebrate, but the qualities of the soldiers who fought are, and their deaths should be remembered and commemorated.  I am grateful for what they did to ensure that we won the war.

4) An income

In the last month I’ve seen a lot of articles and the like on the difficulties of people with chronic illnesses who also have to deal with a low income or poverty.  This one in particular tugged at my heartstrings.  Australia has a good social security system compared to some countries, but as a lawyer I heard a lot of stories about people struggling with bureaucracy and a lack of understanding of the nuances of their condition.  I am incredibly grateful that I don’t have to battle for Centrelink, or try and live on the amount dispensed.  A stable income, having enough left in your pay after the necessities to save or give to charity – these are privileges that cannot be underestimated.

5)  Changing leaves

Landscape Photography of Trees
Image description: a tree with golden and green leaves shades a green field to the left and a brown path to the right.  The path has red and gold trees on the right that form a sort of tunnel.  Glimpses of bright blue sky are visible at the top of the image.  

As I wrote last month, I love autumn.  I’m enjoying the cooler weather still, although I’m not thrilled with some of the very cold mornings.  What I am loving this month is the beautiful autumn colours as the leaves change from green to shades of gold and red.  Some of the older suburbs with the European trees are just incredibly beautiful in autumn.  It was a particularly big shock for me when I took a week off sick at work to go from driving down the street my office is on and seeing it go from a green tunnel to suddenly almost bare, with the road covered in golden drifts of leaves.  I also really love the smell of autumn leaves as they break down.  It’s so earthy and rich.

6) Fitness 

During April I took advantage of a Fernwood sale and bought myself a membership with some personal training.  My PT, Emily, is really fun and works me within my limits, but doesn’t let me slack off.  I’m really exciting to be getting my fitness back on track, and have been taking on some additional exercise as well (I swam a kilometre for fun the other day!).  I’m doing almost an hour of warm-up before my sessions, and it is really, really relaxing for the brain.  I can just focus on my body and making it work.  It’s great mindfulness.

I also really enjoy feeling exhausted and sore for a good reason, as opposed to just feeling exhausted and sore because disease.  It’s satisfying and makes me feel proud of my achievements.  I’m not losing any obvious weight (thanks menopause!) but I am feeling my muscles harden up and I have a little bitty line on my biceps that looks like it could be a muscle.

7) Vegan smoked salmon

Since going vegan, people often ask me if I miss meat.   Generally speaking, no.  Sure, I enjoyed bacon and rissoles, but I never really got excited about steaks or chicken.  I genuinely do enjoy the taste and texture of fake meats better in 99% of cases.  However, I loved fish.  I definitely didn’t give up eating fish because I hated the taste.  Gardein Fishless Fillets filled a big gap for me, but I really, really missed smoked salmon.  Thankfully, the Cruelty Free Shop has started carrying Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Smoked Salmon.  It’s not a perfect replica but it is very close and soooo tasty.  I had so many slices of toast with Tofutti cream cheese and some chives.  Heaven.  Happy little vegan.

8) Macaron adventures

Three Assorted Flavor Breads
Image description: three macarons in a pile.  The bottom is cream, the middle is pink and the top is brown.  

Disclaimer: the macarons in the picture above are not mine.  Mine only vaguely resembled macarons.

Image may contain: food
Image description: macarons with the insides exploded out.
Image may contain: food
Image description: a slightly less exploded macaron.  

 

Pictured above: attempts one and two.  They tasted fine.  I’ve never tasted macarons before, vegan or otherwise, so I have no point of reference, but these were nice, with a light marzipan flavour.  I definitely need to have another crack and try and get them better, but I think eventually I’ll get it.

I baked them with my sister and it was a bit of a giggle.  It took us HOURS and she managed to turn our sugar syrup into a solid rock, but I enjoyed it, even if it was incredibly frustrating to put in all that work and just get explosions.

This is the recipe I used.  On my second batch I turned the oven down to 250F and it worked much better.  I’ll keep playing and let you know if I ever manage it.

9) Love Nikki

Image result for love nikki
Image description: a pink-haired anime girl with flowers.  She has pale skin and brown eyes and is smiling.  She is the titular character in the game Love Nikki,  

If you play mobile games with pop-up ads you have probably seen some for Love Nikki.  It’s basically like Pokemon but for fashion.  Your character, Nikki, is inexplicably transported to another world with her cat, Momo, and ends up in a bunch of styling contests.  The game has a bunch of content and paying players definitely have a big advantage, but even my cheap self who just plays the free version can get heaps out of it.

It may seem like a silly thing to be grateful for, but it’s another thing I can do for fun when I’m really sick and stuck in bed.  Apps are great for the chronically ill.  Plus, I really like anime and pretty clothes, so this ticks all the boxes.  Let me know in the comments if you’d like a more in-depth review.

10) Sex Education

Image result for sex education

I don’t mean the school lessons – mine were patchy and weird at best.  Highlights included being told repeatedly to just “keep your pants on!” in a strong US accent, and pictures of diseased genitalia.  That’s a Christian school vs a public school for you, I suppose.  Both freakish and not particular useful, just in very different ways.

What I am actually referring to is the Netflix show, Sex Education, starring Asa Butterfield (you may recognise him as the titular character of Ender’s Game).  Whilst this show does have more sex scenes than I really want to see (probably unsurprising, given the name), it also deals really, really well with some very real issues – poverty, abandonment, over-protective parents, divorce, sexual trauma, abortion, vaginismus, slut-shaming, parental pressure, revenge porn, stigma against virginity, stalking, drugs, homosexuality (both repressed and flambouyant) and the attendant prejudice and danger, and a raft of others.  The characters are engaging – some are deeply loveable, some are deeply tragic, and it is just incredibly well-written.  If you don’t mind a whole bunch of nudity and want a show that really tugs the heart-strings, this is a good one for you.  I was hooked.  I am not kidding when I say I laughed, I cried, and I determined to teach my hypothetical future children strong lessons about their self-worth and ensure that they get proper sex education.

Why Easter Matters to Me

CW: It’s an Easter post.  It inevitably talks about religion, suffering and death.

I’ve written before about my faith, but today I want to talk about why Easter specifically matters to me so much as a chronically ill person.

(Before I jump into it, a quick note on the cover photo for today, which is a person in a giant rabbit costume staring out over a shadowed landscape under a cloudy sky.  I have absolutely no idea what possessed someone to take this photo.  It is not quite the crosses-on-the-hill image I was looking for, but it is so strange I couldn’t help but use it.  I love it.  I have so many questions.)

To any of my readers who have somehow escaped hearing what Easter is in the Christian calendar, it is the celebration of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.  In Christian canon, Jesus is the sinless son of God in human form, with all human frailties and weaknesses, who experienced the full range of human emotion and physical pain.  He began his ministry and around 30, and was eventually put on trial and killed after stirring up a whole lot of trouble amongst conservative Jewish elders, mostly by calling them hypocrites who cared more about the appearance of holiness than actual connection with God, and doing forbidden things like hanging out with prostitutes and healing people on the Sabbath.  After being beaten, humiliated, whipped, crucified and stabbed, he died, was buried in a tomb with a big old rock in front of it, went to hell for a few days, then rose again and did some more preaching before ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of God.

Here are some of the things from the Easter story that stick with me more than ever as a permanently sick person:

1) Jesus knows what I am going through

As noted above, the idea that Jesus became fully human means that he experienced hope, despair, exhaustion, frustration and disappointment just as I do.  He also experienced fear, and a desire to not have to go through with more pain and suffering.  In the garden at Gethsemane, when he was praying prior to his arrest, he begged the Lord to “take this cup away from me.”  I know exactly what it is like to ask that question.  I don’t know what is coming in my future as clearly as Jesus did, but I know that there is likely to be more bad stuff.  Jesus has felt that and asked for it to be taken from him.  There’s no shame in me doing it.

He also experienced unimaginable agony.  Endometriosis has sometimes made me feel like there is a monster tearing my uterus apart from the inside, but I’ve never been whipped, starved (except for colonoscopies, but that is different), refused any liquid but vinegar, and hung on a cross for hours, which historians tell us is a truly horrific way to die.  Jesus knew pain.  He knew how it feels like it will never end, like you can’t go on, like there is nothing but that pain.  He understands intimately how I feel when my pain is bad.

2) Jesus didn’t get better either

Ok, I know that sounds weird, but hear me out.  Sure, Jesus may not have had a chronic illness, but from the moment his trial began and the pain started, there was no respite.  He did not get a break from pain and privation.  His pain ended only with his death (and then he went to hell, so he probably got a whole new kind of pain there).

Now, that may sound really bleak, but it is a lot less frustrating and a lot more realistic to me than people saying, “This too will pass.”  The whole point of chronic pain is that it doesn’t pass.  Sometimes, we just endure it until we die. However, when it doesn’t we sometimes feel as if we are doing something wrong, or worse, get treated as if we are.  I’ve written before about how Christians will sometimes treat other Christians as if their ongoing illness is somehow evidence of sin.  But there was no relief for Jesus, the man who never sinned, so I’m not doing something wrong by failing to be healed.

In this lifetime, it didn’t pass for Jesus, and it may not pass for me.  But, that’s ok, because…

3) It does get better after that

This is probably where I’m losing the non-religious folks, because I can understand how anything “after death” can sound a bit wacky to people who believe you die and that’s it.  The big promise of Easter, though, is that we don’t die and that’s it.  We die and are reborn in heaven.  We don’t suffer any more.  We experience such incredible joy that it is as if we have never suffered.  I used this CS Lewis quote in my last article, but I’m going to use it again here because it sums it up so well:

That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. ..And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.

Because of Jesus, my place in heaven is guaranteed and I will one day have healing that will make my pain-free days on earth look like poo.  I will be healthy again.  I will know peace and energy and absolute, perfect love.

4) I’m worthy as I am

Jesus wasn’t crucified alone.  Two actual criminals – thieves – were hung on either side of him.  One of them turned to Jesus and said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Now, I’m no angel, but I don’t steal things.  I’ve never been convicted of a crime.  I’m not an adulterer.  Jesus forgave people who were.  He will and constantly does forgive me.

I’m being a little long-winded about this, but bear with me.  In this world, we have to do a lot of things to be accepted – to be viewed as worthy.  The chronically ill are often told that they aren’t good enough, or aren’t trying hard enough.  Spiritually, though, none of us are – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, after all – but Jesus doesn’t care.  He loves me and thinks I am just as worthy as any more able-bodied person.  His forgiveness grants me a place in heaven regardless of whether I meet society’s standards of what constitutes worthy or not.

 

Do any of my Christian readers have a different take on the Easter story, or get a different kind of comfort from it?  For all my readers – join me in being so damn grateful for a four-day weekend, plus ANZAC Day later this week!  I loved stacked public holidays.

How Christians Can Respond to the Chronically Ill

One of my favourite stories in the Bible, probably for obvious reasons, is when the woman with chronic menstrual issues pushes through a throng of people surrounding Jesus, saying to herself, “if I can just touch the hem of his cloak, I’ll be healed.” She was desperate for healing, which resonates with me deeply. She was also incredibly brave – as she couldn’t stop menstruating, she was ritually unclean and was forbidden from mingling with society, let alone touching a rabbi. So she was also socially isolated and, I suspect, depressed and taking quite the hit to her self-esteem. Uniquely (to my admittedly less-than-professional biblical knowledge), she doesn’t ask Jesus for healing. She touches him, filled with unshakeable faith, and his power flows out of him and heals her. Her courage and faith heal her. It’s a story that thrills and inspires me, because I can so strongly imagine what she felt, and I can aspire to have her conviction.

What I mean to say with my long-winded introduction is that the Bible, and Jesus (who commends the woman) have a place for the chronically ill and the beaten down. Unfortunately, sometimes the church doesn’t. It almost always comes from a place of goodwill, but it still hurts when they get it wrong.  I’ve been mostly lucky in my church – things that have hurt me have been things said by well-meaning people in general conversation, rather than directed to me, but I draw from the experience of many people in writing this, and they have all been wounded by it. That’s why I want to talk about how churches and Christians in general can be more welcoming to the chronically ill.  Below I offer three don’ts and three dos as to how Christians can achieve that goal.

1) Don’t resort to platitudes

This is a good tip for anyone when responding to the chronically ill (or anyone enduring any sort of suffering, from anxiety to grief), but I think Christians are the worst at it because we have an entire book of handy phrases neatly packaged up in the form of the Bible.  Many of those verses are great, but they all have a time and a context, and usually they aren’t appropriate to say to us.  Here’s some examples that I don’t think are helpful:-

  • Verses about God’s ways being higher than our ways so we can’t know the meaning of things;
  • Verses about there being a time and a season;
  • Verses about God’s healing;
  • Verses about how suffering is to teach lessons.

There are probably others, but those are the main culprits.  The reasons that these aren’t helpful is that we know God’s ways are higher than our ways.  Telling us that is not comforting.  I adore the poetry of Ecclesiastes,  but telling us that there is a time and a season is not helpful to the chronically ill because our whole lives are going to be the time and the season.  We know the verses about God’s healing, but the healing itself is not being shared with us right now.  Finally, the idea that we might learn something from our intense pain does nothing to counteract the, you know, intense pain.  It would have to be a truly mind-blowing lesson to be anything close to worth it.

2) Don’t tell us that we are Christianing wrong 

Some Christians take the view that either:-

  • We sick because we sinned; or
  • We aren’t getting better because we aren’t praying hard enough.

Wrong.  Wrong and unbiblical.  Just as we aren’t matyrs who suffer to learn great spiritual truth, we’re also no worse than anyone else.  We all sin.  We don’t all have chronic illnesses.  Job was one of the most righteous men in the bible, and he lost his home, his family, his wealth, his friends, and his health in two devastating attacks.  In John 9, Jesus specifically said that the man born blind was not blind because of any sin he or his family had committed.  Bad things happen to good people and vice versa.  We are not cursed or unclean or any more sinful than you.  We’re just sick.

Likewise, God doesn’t necessarily hand out a free healing to those who get enough stamps on their loyalty prayer card.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12 that he begged the Lord to heal “the thorn in his flesh,” and the Lord refused.  Is anyone honestly going to suggest it was because Paul, possibly the most influential Christian in history, lacked faith?  Sometimes – often – God doesn’t heal.  I don’t know why, but I do know that it isn’t the fault of the person begging for healing.

Saying these kind of things isn’t just unhelpful and inaccurate, it’s damaging.  If people believe you when you say this, they are going to feel inadequate, rejected by the church and by God, and you will deal a horrible blow to their faith.  Stop it.

3) Don’t publicly pray for us unless we request it, or force us into group prayer sessions

It is nice to be remembered in people’s prayers, but please don’t pray for us in the congregational prayer without at least checking with us that it’s ok.  Some people aren’t “out” about their chronic illness.  Some people just don’t want to be the centre of attention, or have unnecessary attention drawn to their illness.  It can lead to embarrassing and intrusive questions at the end of the service that we may not want to field.

Likewise, being drawn into a group prayer session, or even a one-on-one prayer for healing can be embarrassing.  It creates this expectation of healing, and if it doesn’t work, you run the risk of people doing something from point 2.  If the sick person is fine with it, go for it, but please make sure that they are actually fine with it and don’t feel pressured into it.  If they say no, or seem uneasy, please drop it and ask if you can just pray for them on your own.

4) Do make church accessible (not just for the chronically ill)

Have an ambulant toilet (near the other toilets, not down a corridor, through an office and behind a locked door that you need an elder to open).  Have spaces for wheelchairs.  Have nice cushy seats for people with pain.  Have braille on the toilet door.  See if a church member speaks Auslan and is willing to interpret, or project the points the pastor is making onto a screen.  Make your church camps, getaways, meetups and breakfasts at times and locations that sick people can attend.

For me, the biggest thing is good seats.  I cannot sit on the usual school chairs and benches most churches provide without a lot of pain after a very short time.  Having some comfier chairs at the back of the church – not out in the foyer so I have to watch through the doors! – can make the difference between me being able to go to church and not.

5) Do offer practical assistance

It’s all well and good to pray for someone.  Indeed, God commands it.  He also praises people engaging in practical acts of service.  Perhaps you could cook them a couple of freezer meals, or ask if they need any help around the house, or check if they need a lift to and from church on Sundays.  Those are all small things that could make a huge difference.  Just don’t make a big deal out of it – treat your sick fellows like everyone else in the church.  We should all be serving each other in whatever way we can.

6) Do represent the sick and disabled

Whether by having sick/disabled people on the ministry team or praising them for their courage and strength in sermons, represent us in the church.  Don’t glorify us or turn us into inspiration porn, but preach on that woman with the menstruation problems.  Preach on the lepers and the blind.  Show that Jesus loved the sick and disabled too, and show that we are people, not just parables.  Keep us human, and keep us involved.

 

That’s my list of quick tips for the inclusive Christian.  Do you agree with these points?  What do you wish your church would do to make it a more inclusive space?  What good things is it already doing?  Do any of my readers from other religions or groups have similar experiences?  Let me know in the comments.

Hating Pain, Loving God

One of the challenges presented to Christianity most often is the question of how a good God can allow people to suffer.  That’s a question that entire books have been written about, so I’m not going to answer it.  What I am going to talk about is why I’m still a Christian despite what I’ve gone through with endometriosis.  This post isn’t intended to be an attempt to convert anyone or to lecture on how all you sinful types need to clean up your acts to be magically healed, nor is it an attempt to ignore the realities of chronic illness and suggest faith will magically make it ok.  It will not.  This is just my personal experience on having faith in the midst on a chronic illness.

I’ve already talked about my experiences with endometriosis here.  They aren’t great, and I can see how someone going through that may well feel that no loving God could put them through that.  I have often wondered, “Why me?  What did I do to deserve this?”

I suppose whether I deserve it really depends on your view of justice.  I mean, overall I’m not a bad person, but I have my vices.  I think rude things about people, and far too often those things make it out of my mouth in the form of gossip.  Thinking bad things may be a victimless crime (although the Bible makes it clear that’s it is still totally wrong and you need to change your mindset if you do it) but gossiping definitely isn’t.  I also covet my neighbour’s possessions on a regular basis, and haven’t always respected my parents.  I’ve missed opportunities to give or help, sometimes deliberately, even when I could have done it.  So, I definitely haven’t done anything that would suggest I warrant a perfect life.

However, that’s not how Christianity works.  Jesus made it very clear that even good lives were going to be full of suffering; in fact, those the modern church considers the very best Christians, such as Paul, went through some truly horrific experiences.  Most of the disciples were jailed, killed or both.  Just look at Job as an example of a really good man, loved by God, enduring some bad stuff (spoiler: literally his entire family dies).  Meanwhile, Herod, who ordered the massacre of Jewish children and babies (recorded also by the Jewish historian Josephus) lived a long, wealthy and powerful life (although did apparently die an excruciating death).  Anyway, the moral of the story is that what you go through in life is not a reflection of what you deserve, so I can rest easy that my pain is not connected to any action or failure on my part.

So, God didn’t cause my suffering.  On the other hand, He hasn’t stopped it either, despite many prayers from my family and even my heathen husband.  I trust that God has the power to heal me, so not doing so is an active choice.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’m not God (thank goodness.  Sounds like a horrible job).  The Bible is also very clear that we often won’t know God’s reason, and that’s fine; it’s part of having faith.  Maybe there is a lesson I am supposed to learn from it that will transform me into a better person and a better Christian.  More likely, I think, is that this world is not a fair place, and part of the burden and challenge of our lives is dealing with that.  I don’t think it is a test to see how well I cope; it is just what it is.  We all face different problems.  Mine happens to be endometriosis.

And even though I don’t have hope for the immediate future that everything is going to magically get better, I do have hope for my long-term future.  Very long-term.  As in when I die.  One of my favourite Christian authors is C S Lewis, and I love his quote from The Great Divorce:

That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. ..And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.

Revelations 21:4 seems to agree: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  

In my last post, I wrote that the lessons I have learned from endo are not worth the pain.  Heaven doesn’t make it “worth it” either, because heaven is not the consequence of having endured the pain well or something.  It releases you into a a blissful, healing glory so intense that every pain you have every suffered is wiped away.

So, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong, and I don’t think God is being deliberately mean by not healing me.  He does answer my prayers in other ways, by giving me strength, courage, and patience when mine is failing.  Moreover, I think that when I cry, He is crying with me.  This is the God that loved the world so much that He sent his own son to die for humankind even when we had collectively turned away and abandoned him on a pretty regular basis since the beginning.  The God of Christianity is not one that revels in my pain or who is indifferent to it.  I believe in a God who is just as shattered as I am at what I have to endure.  In a perfect world, that’s not how He would have my life be, but this isn’t a perfect world.

One thing that the Bible constantly emphasises is how much God loves us, cares for us, and will not abandon us.  I particularly love Isaiah 43:2: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” Even if everyone else in my life gets sick of me and kicks me to the curb, there is nothing I can do that will ever drive God away, and no suffering He is not willing to endure with me.  For more verses on God’s presence in our pain check out this very pretty list.

Finally, while I’ve used male pronouns for God throughout this piece, that’s mostly just because it is the habit of a lifetime.  I don’t think God is male or female or anything in between.  I think he embodies everything we could ever think about gender.  (Organisations like Junia and Christians for Biblical Equality get much more detailed and scholarly than me on that point).  Certainly, even in the Bible, He is not afraid to use “female” metaphors.  In Isaiah 66:13 He says “I will comfort you as a mother comforts her child.” (For a full list of similar metaphors check out the Women’s Ordination Conference).  This makes me feel much closer to God during the depths of a flare-up than it would if God could only possibly be male.  I don’t mean this to exclude transmen, who are absolutely males who understand endo, but cis-men are simply not going to – they can sympathise, but this is a pain they will just never experience.  It is a pain unique to uteruses.  While I don’t think God has a uterus, conceptualising God as not-male helps me think, “Yes, God gets it too.”

To summarise:-

  1. Endo is not a punishment from God;
  2. God is not causing my endo;
  3. God still answers my prayers in other ways;
  4. On entering into heaven, this will all be wiped away;
  5. God loves me, cries with me, and feels my pain.  

 

None of this makes my endo any less painful.  That’s not the point of it.  It just means that my faith is not made any harder.

If you’d like to read some far more coherent thoughts than mine by people who actually dedicate their entire blogs to this subject, head on over to The Glorious Table, Hope in the Healing, Emily Ryan (formerly Emily Lofgren), Life in Slow Motion, or Inkblots of Hope.

I would love to hear the thoughts of any other religious endo-warriors out there, regardless of what you believe in.  Have you had doubts about your faith because of your pain?  What keeps you strong in your dark moments?  Let me know in the comments below.  I’d also love to hear if anyone from another faith would like to consider a guest post about the interaction of their faith and their illness.