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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

When I was 33 weeks pregnant with my first son in 2006, I developed a condition called Bell’s Palsy. It’s facial paralysis. They don’t know what causes it, but one of the major facial nerves is affected, causing the muscles on that side of the face to droop. In my case, the left side of my face was affected. I couldn’t move the left side of my face or blink my left eye for several months.

Yeah, it was bad. It didn’t hurt, which was about the only good thing. I couldn’t taste salty food very well, because the taste buds on the left side of my tongue were affected. I couldn’t close my left eye, so I had to tape it shut at night. And the worst: I couldn’t smile. I had always thought I had a great smile, and then I no longer had a smile at all. And I didn’t know if I’d ever be the same again.

I have almost no pictures of me with my son in the early days of his life. I felt so horrible about my face that I just couldn’t allow myself to be photographed. Even as I shunned the camera, I mourned the absence of photos of me with him. I sobbed over not getting the chance to be photographed beaming over my newborn son. I couldn’t smile over him at all.

It was, to put it mildly, not a good time in my life. I did a fair amount of “why me”-ing. Of beseeching God to please just restore my face. Of praying and crying. For someone who’d had a relatively easy life, it was about the closest to “a dark night of the soul” that I’d ever had.

My face improved when my son was a couple of months old. The left side of my face stopped drooping so much. The left side of my mouth began to move a little bit again. And by the time he was four months old, I could blink again. But I never regained my regular face again. It has stayed a little asymmetrical. I cannot raise my left eyebrow, for example. So when I am surprised or shocked, I can widen my eyes, but only my right eyebrow goes up. It would be cool to be able to raise only one eyebrow sometimes, but I wish that I could raise both when I want to.

Even so, I was delighted to regain even a lopsided smile. I am careful now to put my “good” side toward the camera when I have my picture taken. I am used to making such small concessions. It’s not really a big deal anymore.

Last night, however, the area around my left ear near my jawline began to feel funny, sort of sore. Remembering that I’d experienced some mild ear pain before the Bell’s Palsy set in, I began to worry. Tonight, the ache began to feel a little worse, and I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s just fatigue, or maybe I’m getting sick, or something. Earlier tonight, I was in bed, but I started to feel nervous again, so I got out of bed and carefully inspected my face in the mirror. I couldn’t tell if anything looked different, but I felt that ache and imagined that my face was starting to sag a little. I worried that the left side of my face was feeling a little stiff. I worried that Bell’s Palsy was coming back.

So I paced around the hallway for a few minutes, freaking out. I panicked that if I went to sleep, I’d wake up with a paralyzed face again. I took a few pictures of my face with my camera and studied the images, trying to decide if I could detect any changes.

Finally, I just sat down to write. This is what I do. I write. I write to remember things. I write to process things. I write to ask questions. I write to work out answers. And right now, I’m just writing to stay calm. My sons and my husband are asleep, as they should be. I am just trying to stave off a full-blown panic attack, wondering if it’d be too selfish to ask God to please spare my face this time.

And honestly, there really is nothing I can do about this, except for pray. There is no cure for Bell’s Palsy. There’s not even much of a treatment for it. A round of corticosteroids, but that’s it, and it doesn’t always make any difference. And it’s late. Even in my late-night panic mode, I’m not going to call a doctor and ask for him to call in a prescription at this hour. So, until around 8 or 9 a.m., it’s just me and this computer. And God. I think God is here. I hope so.

I think we’ve all had these times, haven’t we? You’d think maybe we’d be better equipped to deal with them as we get older. Are we? Or do we just dread them more, because we know how dark it feels?

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No, thanks. I don’t want to see any pictures of Osama bin Laden’s body. I’ll take the President’s word for it that he’s dead and gone. If someone else needs proof, however, that’s fine. They can file a FOIA request for the photographs and study them all they want, but I don’t want to see them.

I’ve been wrestling with how to feel ever since my Twitter feed (shameless plug: I’m @JenniferLarson, if you want to follow me) told me on Sunday night that a special forces unit had managed to find and kill Osama bin Laden this past weekend. My initial reaction was just simple disbelief. “No way,” I thought. “We’ve had people looking for him for 10 years. Surely that’s a mistaken report.”

But the tweets kept on coming. And they started rolling in from reputable news agencies. It started to seem true after all. I called to my husband in another room, “Hey, I’m reading reports that they’ve killed bin Laden.” And he immediately got on his iPad and started reading, too. A half hour or so later, we watched President Obama’s speech to the nation on CNN.

“Wow,” I said. “I…can’t believe it.”

Part of me expected to feel relieved. And I did. No matter how you look at it, Osama bin Laden was the perpetrator of horrible, unspeakable evil. Our country, our people, have suffered great pain because of his actions. He masterminded and inflamed thousands of people to continue to perpetrate evil. He was inspired by hate. He inspired others to hate. He is not around any longer to do those things, and it’s a relief to not have to worry about how a military or civil trial would play out–and whether it could ever truly bring that man to justice.

Part of me expected to feel proud. And I did. As a former Navy wife, I was proud of the Navy SEALS team members who risked their lives to carry out such a dangerous mission. I’m proud of those men for caring so much about others that they would undertake a mission that could have easily resulted in their own deaths.

But part of me expected to feel joy upon hearing the news of his death. And I didn’t. I felt great sorrow that such a man had existed and done the things that he had. I felt sorrow that Osama bin Laden never repented from the evil that suffused his soul and his actions. And I also felt sorrow that even his death could not bring back all the people who died because of him. His death didn’t bring back the people who felt like they had no choice but to jump from the top stories of the World Trade Center buildings, or the firefighters who tried to save them, or the people working in the part of the Pentagon that got destroyed, or the people on any of the four airplanes that crashed on September 11, 2001.

And part of me also felt conflicted by the great, uncomplicated joy that some people seemed to be feeling. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners wrote a post on his God’s Politics blog yesterday titled “How Should We Respond to the Death of Osama bin Laden? Wallis, who referred to bin Laden as “an apostle of hate,” wrote the following:

“[It] is never a Christian response to celebrate the death of any human being, even one so given over to the face of evil. Violence is always an indication of our failure to resolve our conflicts by peaceful means, and is always an occasion for deeper reflection.”

And he quoted the Vatican’s official statement, which read in part:

“In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”

As a Christian, I cannot bring myself to shout and shriek and dance in the streets, even though I fully admit that I am very glad that bin Laden is gone. And I am glad. I just wish that what happened that brought us to that point hadn’t happened. I can’t rejoice in death.

Here’s another take on the situation by Andrew Zirschky titled “Bonhoeffer and Bin Laden: Why We Can’t Rejoice.”  In referring to theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by Hitler’s regime during World War II, he makes the point that we really shouldn’t rejoice in death, even death of a terrible person. Perhaps the killing of bin Laden was a matter of choosing the least evil, and I happen to think that’s the case. No one could possibly argue that it would have been a good idea to have bin Laden still floating around out there, wreaking havoc, and yet as Christians, can we really embrace the killing of another person?

Zirschky wrote:

“It is ethical arrogance that leads us to rejoice in death.  Whether you believe that responsible action should have led us to the murder of bin Laden, or whether you believe responsible action would have kept us from this, Bonhoeffer calls for a Christian response that is sober, even mournful, as it recognizes my guilt, our guilt, and the guilt of others.

Where Bonhoeffer leaves us is with ignorance at to the goodness of our actions, he calls us toward humility in those actions, ownership of both repentance and guilt in the midst of those actions, and utter dependence upon God’s grace to judge our actions. There is no room for rejoicing.”

I am praying for the people who lost loved ones because of Osama bin Laden. I am praying for the people he seduced into committing unspeakable acts. I am praying for all of us as we figure out how to respond, how to move forward, and how to discern what God wants us to do.

And so I don’t want to see any photographs of the body of bin Laden. I don’t need to see them to feel vindication or anything like that. I’ve had enough of him. Now I need to continue figuring out how to make myself right with God. Because it’s too late for bin Laden. But it’s not too late for the rest of us.

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I serve on the board of directors for a non-profit organization called All About Women.  All About Women was founded about a decade ago with the goal of helping women improve their lives, their health and their well-being. Last year, we launched a really wonderful blog series that focuses on the lives of two very different women, Lily and Z, who are negotiating the journeys of their lives with humor and sincerity. This week, the character of Lily blogged about counting her blessings.

It made me stop and count my own blessings. And I have many, many blessings. For example… Last night, my husband and I had to take our younger son to the emergency room because he developed a wicked-sounding croup. As he breathed in and out, he made a horrible, striderous sound that made both of us very nervous.

Luckily for him (and his parents), he responded very well to a breathing treatment and an oral medication. We walked out there in less than three hours with a healthy, smiling baby. Not everyone is that lucky. But we were. And we were grateful. So grateful. So grateful for our healthy son. Two healthy sons, actually.

In about five minutes, the women of my Disciple class will be taking a few moments out of their busy days to say a prayer.  We meet as a small group each Monday morning, but we are doing a communal prayer on our own each Friday at noon during Lent. Our leaders send out an email each Friday morning to remind us to stop, close our eyes and say a few words to God.

And as we do it, we know that our friends are praying at the same time. It’s still being part of the community of faith even when we’re not in the physical presence of that community.

I thought I’d share my prayer this week with you, my blog readers.

Creating God, Thank you for all the blessings that you have bestowed upon me. Help me to remember those blessings whenever I get down or discouraged. Help  me see and feel the Holy Spirit within me–and within others–this week. Please give comfort to all the people who were affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Please give strength to all the people who are fighting for freedom and justice all over the world. Please be with all the women in my Disciple class–these women who support me, shape my thoughts and faith and give comfort to each other when we need it. And please let me find new ways to respond to the amazing miracle that is your love for us. Amen.

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If you’re searching for information about Lent, here are a few meditations that you might enjoy reading:

Diana Butler Bass’  Beliefnet column refers to a poem this week:  “Ash Wednesday: Lent Begins.”

Georgia Preach’s blog entry “Walk Humbly.” 

A Holy Experience’s “Why Do Lent? Why a Failing Lent Actually Succeeds.”

Here’s a social justice-type resource from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Hunger Program on fasting during Lent, if you’re up for that sort of thing:

A Lenten Fast: From Insight to Action in the Gospel of John

Here’s a seven-week faith formation resource that has information, meditations and ideas for each week of Lent:

Lent 4.5

And here are a couple of resources for observing Lent with your children–or finding ways to help children as part of your Lenten observance:

Caroline Kelly of Central Presbyterian Church (Atlanta) on “Observing Lent in the Context of Children at Risk.”

Talking With Children About Lent and Easter

The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s resource on “Helping Children and Youth Participate in Lent.”

The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s “Family Table for the Season of Lent.”  

“Thoughts for Lent: Faith of a Child” from First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas.

As for my family and our Lenten observance, well…we aren’t really doing one this year. I thought about trying to find a way to do something with my four-year-old son to observe Lent, but I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I mean, we had trouble even getting the Advent calendar done each night back in December. I also didn’t want to take on anything that really went over my son’s head. What’s the point of introducing him to something if it’s too complex for him to understand? But we have talked a little bit about the season of Lent being a little like the season of Advent, in that we prepare for a major event involving Jesus. And I was open to finding other age-appropriate things to do, too.

So I was pleased  to find a wonderful little section in the “Family Table” resource (above)  that talks about pretzels:  “Pretzels are traditional for the season of Lent because they remind us of arms folded in prayer. Many years ago the bread was known by its Latin name, bracellae or ‘little arms.’ Over time, that word changed into ‘bretzel’ and then ‘pretzel.'”

Interesting, huh? I never knew that. But I think I might have to incorporate pretezels into our Lenten observance around here. I think it would really appeal to my always-hungry child. At least it would give us an accessible way to start talking about Lent and lead up to Holy Week.

I probably should have named this blog post “Holy Pretzels,” now that I’m thinking about it.

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Every year, the question comes up:  “What should I give up for Lent?”

It’s a common practice among Christians, giving up something for Lent. It goes along with the whole penitence aspect of the time period. You give up something. You sacrifice. At least theoretically, you are supposed to give up something that means something to you. It’s not really that meaningful to give up running if, in fact, you’re not a runner. It’s not that big a deal to give up chocolate if you rarely eat chocolate.

I fully admit that I almost never give something up and make it all the way through Lent. Some years, I cave halfway through Lent. Some years, I just don’t even try to give something up.

About 10 or 15 years ago, I decided to try something different. I decided to take up something good during Lent, rather than give up something. I tried to drink more milk. Yes, you may be laughing at me right now, but I was sincere. I knew I needed to drink more milk, and it seemed like as good an idea as any. It was still a sacrifice in some small way to drink a big glass of milk each night instead of the Coke that I really wanted.

Three years ago, my Disciple class decided to institute a class-wide Lenten discipline: we would all stop and pray at noon on Fridays during Lent. Even though we would not be together, we would find a sense of community in knowing that we were all praying at the same time.

It almost becomes an endurance test for some people. Or a point of honor for making it all the way through, like the people who power through those Couch to 5K programs. I know some people who fast at certain times during Lent. I know some people who commit to praying every single day for the period of Lent. I know some people who try to give up complaining, hitting the snooze bar, drinking wine, using Facebook or watching television. I have one friend right now who is deliberating whether she should give up Chick-fil-A or Coke this year.

As of yesterday, I still didn’t know what I was going to (try to) do this year.

But today, I had a few free minutes, and I was spending them browsing in a small gift shop called Obelisk, which is located in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville. Obelisk carries handmade jewelry by Freshie & Zero, one of my favorites. I spotted a modest silver cross necklace, and then it hit me. That’s what I needed. That cross necklace.

A number of people at my (very Presbyterian) church have been talking about ways to be more visible with our faith recently. One church friend wears a cross every day during Lent. She does it because it’s not something she might ordinarily do. Often we Presbyterians aren’t very outwardly demonstrative. We don’t want to offend. We aren’t happy-clappy. We don’t wear t-shirts from the Christian bookstore. We are often thoughtful, intellectual and restrained. We do things decently and in order. Those aren’t bad things, not at all. But they do often translate into a quieter, less visible faith.

And that is me, all over. I have friends who are not Christian, and I have never wanted them to feel uncomfortable around me because I am Christian. And part of that stems from the bad rap that some people who call themselves Christian have given the rest of us. I haven’t felt very comfortable wearing a cross because I haven’t wanted others to think that I’m one of those people, the ones who do not represent the Christ I believe in. 

Well, how else am I going to let others know that there are people like me who are Christian, if I don’t give them a sign? Even if–especially if–it makes me feel a little vulnerable and uncomfortable being that upfront?

So here’s my sign. I wore my cross necklace out of the store. I will be wearing it every day during Lent. And hopefully beyond.

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If you are Christian and you’re reading this, what are you doing to honor the observance of Lent? Please leave a comment!

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