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 ).

This sums it up ;)

This sums it up ;)