Monday, December 26, 2011

A Homeless Man in Holy Socks

I drove my usual route to work one gloomy January Tuesday. It was 42 degrees and misty in Dallas. Along the sidewalk near my office strode a slender man about forty, in need of a shave and carrying a small duffle bag. Nothing intimidating about him; he did not appear threatening. He just walked. But it was 42 degrees and he wore only a flannel shirt, jeans and flip-flops with socks. If you can call them socks. They were more like holes held together with string.

I was young, petite, alone in my car and afraid to offer a ride. I had maybe 50 cents in my wallet. I wondered what I could give him. I considered making a u-turn and running in to the convenience store to purchase something, anything, to warm him but feared he’d be gone before I returned. Just days before, I’d had a packing blanket in the trunk of my car. If only I hadn’t stored it away. All I had to offer was a prayer for his safety and comfort.

When I arrived at my office, I asked if anyone else had seen him. Though most had entered from the same direction at about the same time, they had not. I peered down to the street from my sixth floor window. I could see quite a distance, but the only people around were other workers scurrying in from the cold. Where had he gone? When I went out at lunch, I searched street corners. Surely, a homeless man in holey socks would be panhandling as there were no shelters in the area. He was gone!

A Colin Raye song played in my mind. “What if Jesus came back like that?” the song asks. “Where would He find our hearts are at? Would we let Him in or turn our backs? What if Jesus came back like that?” I had turned my back! The stranger was in need, and I had not assisted him in any way. I was unprepared.

At home that evening I packed the blanket back in my trunk. Then I took a brand new pair of my husband’s socks from his drawer and tucked them under the front passenger seat of my car. There those socks remained for five years.

I drove that same route to work every day, and each morning I hoped to see the man along the sidewalk. I prayed for him, that his circumstances had improved, and if I saw him again, I’d be prepared to clothe the King (Matthew 25:34-40 NIV).

Although the man did not physically get into my car, he has journeyed with me through the past 10 years. I’ve often thought of the homeless man in holy socks and wondered what became of him, or if he was even real. Perhaps the man was an angel sent to remind me, “There will always be poor people in the land,” and to instruct me, “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11, NIV).

At this season of giving, let’s remember those around us who may are struggling to make ends meet. Let’s edit our finances and help another in need so no one else walks the thread right out of their socks.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared in 2009. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, let's remember to BE Jesus to the world.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

How Do You Edit Pain?

Good Monday morning, friends! As many of you know, I am blessed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Yes, blessed. Sometimes I say that sarcastically, but I mean it sincerely. Really! Here’s the way I see it: God only gives assignments He knows we can handle with His help. He has graced me with a chronic illness that has no cure, that will progressively worsen, and whose treatments can potentially cause more harm than help. That can be a real downer! However, I choose to view my ailment as an instrument of God to draw me close to Him and to direct others to Him. It reminds me of my daily need for His compassion and His grace, and it alerts me to His unending mercy.

Not too long ago, I told you about some ways RA has edited my life. I’m on a similar task today. Let me explain that sometimes having a chronic illness requires me not only to receive mercy, but also to offer it, especially to the medical community. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a challenge to live with and a challenge to treat, because it affects every patient differently. Yes, there are common identifiers, but those are not always apparent in all patients. For this reason, rheumatologists have developed assessments to help them know how to best treat each individual.

Every time I visit my doctor, I have to fill out a survey that ranks my pain in a variety of situations on a scale of one to 10. For example, am I able to turn on and off faucets with no pain, some pain, or a lot of pain? Can I walk on flat ground with no pain, some pain, or a lot of pain? Can I get in and out of a car with no pain, some pain, or a lot of pain? Can I get out of bed with no pain, some pain, or a lot of pain? You get the picture. Seems simple enough, right? The problem is that people living with chronic pain—severe, intense, prolonged, unending pain—sort of get used to it. They—we—develop a high tolerance to pain, because we live with it daily. My friend Kelly of RA Warrior explains it well in her article, “4 Funny Things about Pain Scale Charts”:
   Another difficulty with measuring pain is that people who live with
   severe pain such as Rheumatoid Arthritis tend to adapt to it. They
   increase their tolerance to pain out of necessity. This is the reason
   that people living with RA often complain that pain scales “don’t
   work because they don’t go high enough.” RA pain often starts out
   as the most severe pain a person has ever experienced, so they
   might rate it with a high number. But then, if pain worsens or
   occurs in numerous joints at a time, they wish for a bigger number.
   Consequently, they adapt their personal pain threshold and now
   rate the pain which was previously a “9” as a “7” in order to be
   sure to fit all of their pain onto the scale. RA patients tend to
   continually increase their pain tolerance in this way.
A funny but accurate way to look at it!

Kelly has challenged us to edit the pain scale. (You can view some real samples at the NIH Pain Consortium.) So I need your help! Knowing the conundrum described above of 1) how RA is unique to each individual and 2) RA patients adjust their pain tolerance out of necessity, what would be a more effective way for patients to communicate their level of pain to their physicians?

Personally, I detest the pain scale. In the realm of writing, sometimes a piece just must be scrapped. Even after innumerable edits, certain elements just do not work. The only thing to do is hit DELETE. In my opinion, it’s time to delete the entire pain scale concept!

I think the physician should treat each patient with real compassion and concern. Instead of having us fill out a chart of meaningless numbers, sit down and talk to us. Ask me what I do each day. Ask me how my pain hinders those activities. Ask me my specific concerns. Ask me how I manage. Ask me things that relate to my ability to live my daily life, and listen to what I have to say. Understand that every day is different. Understand that medication may keep symptoms at bay, but that doesn’t mean the disease is gone. Get to know me and my disease. Do not dismiss me. Believe my tears. Care.

I am grateful that my RA is manageable and that my current pain level is low, relatively speaking, of course. I am grateful to have a doctor who looks out for my best interest instead of marking me a statistic, and I wish my fellow sufferers the same for their Christmas wish!

If you have comments or suggestions, I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

*This article is part of a blog carnival hosted by RA Warrior. Read what others have to say about their experience here.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Patience Really IS a Virtue

In publishing, patience is definitely a virtue. Ironically, though, it takes time to develop patience. I have a friend who is new to the blogging world. She reminds me of myself a few years ago. She wants the exposure now. She wants the big fan base now. She wants the success now. And who doesn’t, right?

My friend is anxious for her site to take off, and though the waiting is hard, she’s doing a lot of things right.
  • She’s pitching herself to owners of similar sites, and she’s careful not to spam them. Her introductory letter simply lets the recipient know about what she offers, and she doesn’t ask for anything in return except that they keep her in mind and if her site interests them, that they consider becoming a fan or a follower. Why is this good? She may have the best material available on her topic, but if no one knows it’s there, her efforts are going to waste.
  • She’s asking lots of questions. She’s researching the market. She’s getting advice from those more experienced. Why is this good? She’s learning what not to do at the same time she’s learning what to do.
  • She’s putting that advice to practice. She’s a good student. She’s taking notes and applying that information. Why is this good? The people advising her have experience and success in this field. If she can learn from their mistakes, she can avoid making the same ones herself. It puts her ahead of the game.
  • She’s building her platform. (I know, the dreaded “P” word!). She’s acquiring columnist positions on established online publications as well as writing for her own site, and she’s developing her own publications. Why is this good? She is getting her name out there and establishing herself as a trusted and talented resource in her field. It’s the beginning of that fan base she’s so
    desperate to gain.
  • She’s writing, writing, writing! You know the old cliché: Practice makes perfect. It is very true! Why is this good? The more she writes, the better she will get. The better she gets, the more  writing opportunities will be offered her. The more opportunities available, the more exposure she will get. The more exposure she gets, the more fans and followers she will gain. You get the picture here, right? 
Success is rarely an overnight occurrence. It takes persistence, perseverance and most of all, patience.  So I suggest you "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:14 ).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Life, Edited

I will not mourn the passing of 2011. This has been a year I’m ready to put behind me. Good riddance! Adios! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out! You know, one of those years.

From its very beginning, 2011 has had it in for me. It has torn my heart to shreds, danced a little jig on it, then slowly started stitching it back together. Problem is, the pieces have all been rearranged—edited, so it seems. I guess it’s not really a problem per se, as the changes have brought improvement. However, the revision has required some major adjustments. Old ways of thinking have been radically transformed. Faulty mindsets have been corrected. “The old has gone; the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I believe life, like a masterful piece of literature, requires periodic tweaking. I know when I write, it is very hard for me to declare a work finished. Personally, I could edit to infinity! Even in my printed pieces I often see room for improvement. A time or two, I’ve been embarrassed to think I set a certain article before the public eye. Even here on my blog I’ve been known to go back and modify a post that had already published. You could call it obsession, but I prefer to think I’m striving to present the most effective message I can write.

When it comes to life’s edits, I believe the demolition and reconstruction occurs so “…that our God may count [us] worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of [ours] and every act prompted by [our] faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). So as painful and challenging as the tear down/build up process is, I welcome the stroke of the Master’s red pen.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Following God through the Bible: The Book of Ecclesiastes

The latest in AMG Publishers' Following God through the Bible series, Ecclesiastes: Understanding What Matters Most, is a six-week workbook study that takes an in-depth look at Ecclesiastes. This debut offering from author Stephanie Shott provides a Christian woman’s unique perspective into an oft misunderstood book of the Bible.

To place events in context, the study begins with an historical overview of how Solomon became king. As the son of King David, Solomon’s life had been mapped out for him, and he embraced it fully.

When time came for Solomon to take his father’s throne, God spoke to him, offering Solomon whatever he should ask. Solomon chose wisdom. God was so pleased with this humble request, he also granted Solomon great success and favor. However, Solomon made many mistakes throughout his reign. Despite doing much to honor the Lord, Solomon also made many unwise choices. And he recorded all he learned in the process in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Stephanie Shott’s honest and sincere approach immediately dissolves any trepidation readers may have about looking at their own lives and the choices they’ve made along the way. In this study, she graciously points out the heart of every man is written in the pages of Scripture. Readers in all walks of life are sure to identify with and be encouraged by Solomon’s wisdom. As they turn this pages of this workbook, they will be challenged to live lives of purpose and will come to know “what really matters most in this life we live under the sun.”

*I received a complimentary copy of this book for review and promotion.
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Friday, October 7, 2011

Blog Under Reconstruction

New & improved blog coming soon. Thank you for your patience!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Taking a Break

This blog is on temporary hiatus. I hope to resume regular posts in September. Thank you!

Monday, March 14, 2011

How Well Do You Hear?

I explained in my last post that I am learning new ways to listen. I am a bit discouraged to report my hearing has not been restored, but I have hope. Like I said in that article, I am being more diligent to listen and not just hear.

Well, the writing process mimics life to the extent that we must be attentive to the story that's longing to be told. Be it fiction or non, our job as writers is to communicate. If we are not tuned into that message, the pieces we write will be ineffectual.

I don't like to waste words, so I make sure I do not interfere with what needs to be heard. Here's how I get ME out of the way:

"Remove the ME"
by Jodi Whisenhunt

just fail.
am in the way.
Lord, take
away, remove
Speak through
Live through
Flow from
cease to exist.
Don't make
Your instrument.
am Yours already, just
remove the ME.

May the Lord fill you with Himself so you may be receptive to His word and effective in His ministry.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Learning New Ways to Listen

I guess I got too good at tuning things out, so God turned off my left ear. I’m hoping it’s temporary, and I go to the doctor on Wednesday to check things out, but for the last three weeks my hearing has been lopsided.

What happened?

Well, to be completely honest, I lived life my way. I made some decisions I thought were alright with God, despite the fact I never truly had peace about them. I marched forward anyway thinking it was an opportunity of a lifetime. I thought surely since the door had been opened I was meant to walk through it.

But not all open doors are held by the hand of God.

I’m not saying God physically punished me for disobedience, although He is capable of such thing. He did, however, allow certain consequences to occur in response to my lack of faithfulness.

So I am learning new ways to listen:
1)      I am attentive to God’s voice. I make conscious effort to hear Him speak. And He almost never shouts.
2)      I request discernment. I want to hear His voice and none other. The voice of truth, not of deceit.
3)      I get Satan behind me. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, NIV). Satan is “a stumbling block to me,” so with Jesus’ help I send him away (Matthew 16:23, NIV).
4)      I get myself behind me. Personal pride just trips me up. “…not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NIV).
5)      I obey. I repent and ask forgiveness and then I DO. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, NKJV).

My ear will heal, be it now or when I get home to heaven. In the meantime, I will listen intently.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Edited by RA

Writing can sometimes be a pain. For me, literally. I am blessed with an autoimmune disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). That is a bit of a misnomer, as RA is neither rheumatic nor arthritic. It is a confused human body that wages war against its own healthy tissue, destroying joints, connective tissue, and internal organs, and causing a plethora of other potential debilities. It disfigures. It hinders. It hurts. A lot. It progressively worsens and it never goes away.

RA has edited my life.

But I know a real-life warrior! She battles this disease herself, but she doesn’t fight alone. Her name is Kelly Young, and she advocates for patients with autoimmune diseases, such as the one she and I share. This post today is part of a blog carnival to increase awareness of these illnesses and bring better understanding and better treatment and care to those afflicted. Thank you for indulging me a bit today, as this Aim for Perfection Editing post ventures from the realm of writing!

One thing Kelly has discovered by interacting with thousands of folks via her RAWarrior website is that RA and other similar ailments are often misdiagnosed and misunderstood, and therefore mistreated or not treated at all. I suppose I am fortunate to have received an accurate diagnosis immediately upon onset. Many are not so lucky and spend years suffering needlessly. Some are told repeatedly that they are not sick, because autoimmune diseases can be invisible. Oftentimes, symptoms do not show outwardly; there are no physical signs. Sometimes, the markers, or lab numbers, do not register in blood work. Other times, an uncompassionate physician simply dismisses the patient’s complaints.

What could be done to reduce the time it takes to receive a diagnosis in such cases? I think doctors need to educate themselves—not by reading textbooks but by listening to their patients—and stop looking at numbers and statistics to define debility. Every patient is unique. Certain symptoms can be present across the board, but sometimes they are missing from the equation. If our condition has brought us to the point of seeking help, we need you to help us.

We do not need to be doubted. We do not need to be judged. We do not need you to minimize what we say we feel. We do not need to be drugged and dismissed. We do need to be heard. We need compassion. We need relief. We need your support, because we need hope.

I have a wonderful rheumatologist now who listens to my concerns, who cares about reducing the limitations RA imposes on my life, who works with me to relieve flares and prevent further damage. She asks me questions, and she pays attention to my reply. I appreciate her very much!

People have asked me why I say I am blessed with RA when it seems a curse. My answer is simple. God has chosen me for this task. He deems me worthy to do His work. A difficult chore, yes, but I am honored to have been selected and I am blessed to receive this assignment.

Read others’ experiences and find my onset story at RAWarrior. See more blog carnival articles here.

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This sums it up ;)

This sums it up ;)