Flu Shots

I have never had a flu shot. I do not like the notion of putting something into my body that made of the disease. Despite it being a prevention or cure, it is still disease and that bothers me. There is also the method of administering the disease that involves sticking a sharp metal object into my skin that causes more pain than it possibly cures. I never think about it as a worthwhile measure until the days each year where the flu is rampant and each pharmacy advertises flu shots.

I didn’t consider a flu shot until the week I was sidelined. I was miserable. Every joint ached. It was hard to breathe because of congestion. Full breaths hurt because of the stress something as insignificant as a breath had on the aching muscles and joints. I coughed until I was exhausted. Sleep only came with the help of medicine. The fever was spiking unpredictably.

There was a deeper level to the pain of this sickness. I’ve had the flu four times. However, this is the only time I’ve had it when I have had children. My toddler also had contracted the flu and was suffering with the same afflictions I mentioned above. This hurt me far more the the actual symptoms from which I was suffering. I could only watch her from a distance. She couldn’t voice her feelings completely as adults or children do. Her eyes told a story of unrelenting illness and pain. I hurt for her and had a feeling of helplessness I hadn’t known before.

The one thing that eased my suffering in her sickness was the great mediator between the world of the sick and the healthy:  my spouse. During this time, I was given medicine, food, time for rest, and a reprieve from the chores of the house. My daughter also received 24/7 attention – attention that I couldn’t possibly give her because of my feeble physical state.

My spouse worked tirelessly during this time. At times I thought I heard my spouse coughing and sniffling. The deep fear that we would all be sick terrified me. My feelings put my toddler before myself, of course, and I began to wonder how I could get her to the doctor in my state. The first impulse to take her was on the weekend which would mean a trip to the emergency room. The next time was at a better time during the physician’s work week – a less expensive charge to my insurance. My spouse would be up to bat again, giving up precious days off to take care of this.

I couldn’t help but think of how I would do this by myself without her. It would be absolutely miserable. Is this the pain a single parent must face each time a struggle comes about? How does this measure against a working single parent or a single parent on welfare who works but has to manage a family as well? How does a single parent manage the situation of under-employment and being sick on top of having a sick child? How much does an emergency room trip cost a single teenage mother? How much does a person without insurance cover the cost with a minimum wage job and no benefits? How can a parent manage this if they have no family nearby to provide support during these times? These hypothetical situations can’t help but be speculated when the 2011 census report tells us that there are 10 million single mothers and 5.2 million of them are owed child support. I can’t understand this and I hope that I never have to do so. My pain is great enough just watching a child go through this – and I have the means to take care of the illness.

That found me thinking of some of the things the church has said about children lately. It’s not the standard chapter and verse where Jesus suffers not the children to come to Him or how a father shouldn’t provoke his children to wrath. It’s the highly politicized message of judgment toward children that portrays christians as hateful and vindictive when we publicly voice an opinion on homosexuality and abortion. Most christians, upon reading that last statement, will automatically reach for their six-shooters and arm themselves with the verses from Romans, Matthew, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and similar passages that show what the Bible says about the two hot-button subjects. I do not think the church considers what it has done with this message.

We have voiced a hatred not only for abortion, but for those who have them, consider having them, and/or support the procedure. We do not consider the pain and deep-seeded, life-altering emotion that comes with having abortion. We do not consider the events that lead up to the pregnancy that brings about the choice on whether or not to abort:  how sensitive are we to rape, incest, or lifestyle that has taught that abortion is simply an option of birth control? We do not consider the under-the-gun, split-second decision of a mother who, in the delivery room, has to make the choice to abort or deliver and risk her own life. Notice that I’m not providing a list of excuses supporting the practice of abortion, but rather a list of real subjects we ignore when we make flippant statements or trite internet posts. We think that we are voicing God’s word on the issue when we really are displaying our own limited understanding of the topic and voicing an opinion that is buckshot and will hit anyone regardless of where they stand on the issue. It is understood that christians will generally fall on the side of opposing the practice. What is not understood is why christians aren’t willing to support the solution to “the problem.” We want to outlaw the procedure at the operating table and that has always baffled me. This is like trying to avoid a flood by fighting the crest of a tidal wave instead of providing regular, preventive maintainance to a dam that could burst without proper care. More simply stated, christians are battling the issue at the wrong point of expedition and that makes them come across as ignorant of the issue and ignorant of the text from which their beliefs come. They generally speak against sex education, providing cheap or free contraception, programs that rehab and/or provide contraception for prostitutes, and homosexuality. Some even go further and battle funding for education and health care – two issues that would by nature limit the practice.

It is made clear what christians seem to hate – and that’s the problem. Christianity isn’t defined by what one hates – it’s defined and even governed by what one loves. In the message of hate we lose what christians actually want, especially when it comes to children. There’s no outcry for fostering and adoption of children that are up for abortion. Christians won’t drop their signs of protest at abortion clinics to plead with any woman in order to adopt her unborn child. The religious blowhards on FaceBook make every election about abortion in part – not about adoption, fostering, or safe sexual and familial practices. The elections are not made about preventing unwanted pregnancies or improving health care so children are, quite frankly and callously, more affordable or are least not the death blow to a struggling woman or family (and just as a side note, every president since Roe v. Wade has had to support abortion, swearing as he entered office to uphold law despite the personal beliefs he or she campaigned on). We’re too busy throwing our personal beliefs about a procedure or a candidate around on social networks like FaceBook to do anything productive to solve the problem. Despite its personal nature, FaceBook opinions are seen by way too many to not touch someone who has had the pain of a lost child in their lives. Despite intention, these broadcasted “truths” are still judgmental, depicting the pious broadcaster unaware that the truth wrapped in the sin of judgment and insult is still sin. In truth, matters of a sexual, reproductive, and familial nature should not be so loudly broadcasted. We don’t announce “I didn’t abort my baby and let her be born!” via FaceBook (yes, it’s a silly example), so why would we profess other matters against another person so insensitively?

The same goes for same-sex union. Christians will protest and broadcast their feelings on same-sex union anytime an issue comes up in a public forum. A couple gets married, christians protest. A set of laws come up on a ballot, christians protest. A president gets elected, christians protest and often exclaim that one candidate is “pro-gay marriage” and will proudly take membership as a branch department of one political party or another. We want to outlaw the practice of marriage between same-sex couples at the alter, or better stated:  at the wrong point of expedition. We do not consider that there is no protest of the practice of divorce nor outcry for its repeal at election time (and as a side note, future President Reagan – an oft-quoted patron saint to many christians – made divorce as quick as same-day with his No Fault Divorce Law – a sign of the times in 1960 that is still flourishing today past his death). We do not consider that man allowed the state to recognize a religious institution, to determine the exact time it began and license that union, that man decided how to tax a marriage, that man decided what civil rights “marriage” is entitled, that man decided how/when/for what reason marriage can end by law, that broken marriages are still governed in child support by the state, and that marriage could be altered permissably by democratic process.

Furthermore, as we bring the subject back around to children, we deny children who could be adopted into loving homes their chance of having a family because christians are too busy judging the process that will allow a two parent home, a two parent income, a two parent power of attorney, and a two parent support network the opportunity to raise that child even if we disagree with the nature of the union. We don’t want to call same-sex union “marriage” and we don’t want the freedom of democracy to prevail and allow “civil unions.” We essentially say that we would rather leave God’s gift unattended with no parents or at best, government care, than to have a child grow up in a home with loving parents. This point, I’m sure, makes most christians’ blood boil. They assume that I advocate homosexuality because I advocate union by civil law, the right to adopt, the civil rights that allow one person power of attorney in another’s life, the possibility to take responsibility for actions by law.

Therein is the problem:  you’re too busy judging me to be part of the solution. In 2012, there were  approx. 424,000 children in foster care in the United States according to www.childrensrights.org. Their average stay in the system is three years, shorter than the period most god-fearing christians have to wait to vote a “gay-loving, abortion-having” president out of office. In the 2008 census, the number of christians in the United States numbered 173,402,000. That’s roughly 409 christians for every child in foster care. According to our message, the message about our deep personal beliefs professing our own adoption into a family that is a City on a Hill, there should be no child without a family. There should be no orphan in a religion that in its purest form boils down to caring for the widows and the fatherless. A population that lives this remedy will be represented by civil authority accordingly. Our current message is demonstrated by our fruits and our fruits scream hypocrisy. For christians who still can’t fathom this idea as part of faith, consider that Rahab, a lady who is recorded in history as a hooker, is known more for what what credited her as righteousness and faith rather than her sexual exploits. Consider that she wasn’t a member of Israel, God’s chosen group. Consider that she, not you, is compared to Moses and the other legends of true faith.

There is an important truth I know about children when it comes to theology:  “Children are a gift of the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a reward.”

When we treat God’s gifts (whether that be the children or the womb that bears the fruit) with contempt, judgment, or disdain we heap His judgment onto ourselves. We aren’t fostering or adopting vehemently. Our voices at election time don’t scream, “I’ll adopt NOW. I’ll foster NOW. Let me HELP.” We reek of judgment, ignorance, and obstinance. Our language is the language of hatred. We voice personal opinions in a buckshot manner and then relinquish owning up to our statements by saying, “it’s what God said.” How dare we blame God!

When God said it, he said it with His voice in His own words. He governed how you should say it with the two greatest commandments:  Love God; Love you neighbor. There are also those examples derived from these laws that use phrases like “as a mother gently nurses her young” and “language seasoned with salt.” There is also that verse that says something like “be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you.” One can’t be “prepared” to give an answer to someone to whom they speak if they don’t know that person, the situations that frame the conversant’s mindset, or the common language in which to frame the love of God. Preparation in this event isn’t a one-way street. It simply is not possible.

It’s time we owned our message and spread some love. It’s time to put our foot in the race to push forward, not kicking against the thorns. It’s time to fight the good fight.

I can’t imagine how I would have remedied our illnesses without the aid of my spouse. I cannot imagine taking my child to the hospital and being denied entrance to the facilities because my name isn’t on a piece of paper that man devised. I cannot imagine the pain or dispair of a decision that would cause me to give up my child because of the increase in suffering on a life without proper income, healthcare, or education. Why have we taken a simple issue and politicized it? Why do we call those in need “entitled” when we are all one tragedy away from the same position? It all simply disagrees with my faith.

I am thankful for my blessings of children and spouse. I am also thankful that the flu is quickly cured. However, my earlier views reflect the more serious matters of discussion. I don’t want to put a view that is mostly disease into my body. I don’t want to push away others and cause pain by the method in which “love for neighbor” is too often enacted. I don’t think about such messages until the disease that affects many christians rears its ugly head and I have to explain my views to those with whom I’ve had longstanding conversations about the actual message of Love. The flu is quickly cured. The other disease needs the methods of a much Greater Physician.

Day 17: I Am Thankful For a Cell Phone

Today I am thankful for a cell phone. Not my cell phone, mind you, but a cell phone I saw this past Saturday.

My drive to work took me on a detour route through a rougher part of town just off my normal route downtown. A homeless man sat at the corner of an intersection with his belongings gathered closely beside him. I assumed the bags were his since it seemed he had one that looked to be clothing and personal effects. Another seemed to be cans and/or various things that could be put into one of the local machines for some quick change. There was also a blanket draped between the bags and over his lap. He did have one belonging that seemed not to match the others. He sat talking on a cell phone as cars passed and the city began to show the life of the weekend and almost-holiday activity.

I was sitting comfortably in my car when I saw him. I had my coffee in the console and my coat laying in the passenger seat. I hadn’t put the coat on because I had taken the time while getting ready that morning to preheat the car for a few minutes before driving it. However, one needs a coat in the car just in case of a flat tire or other emergency. I saw him talking on his cell phone as I sat in traffic two lanes away from him. I thought of stopping to see if he needed anything but by my clock, I was pushing just getting to work on time. I needed to get there on time in order to post a FaceBook status that would let those there know where in the building to meet. Time was of the essence and by my car thermometer it had already warmed up a degree since I’d started my drive.

It wasn’t the coldest Saturday that we’d had but it was close to it. At 37 degrees it wasn’t freezing. I made the walk from the house to the car earlier without discomfort but I’d have been a fool to not bring a coat along. I had felt the bite of the cold on my ears as I got into my car. It was cold enough that at that intersection that the man’s hat was stretched down as far as it would go. His coat was wrapped tight, hood pulled up, and cell phone inserted between hood and hat and he held it with gloved hands. I assumed he was under the blanket earlier but his conversation may have turned his attention away from keeping the blanket tight. Perhaps 37 degrees now seemed warm compared to the dip down in the 20s just a few hours earlier before sunrise. I cannot say for what reason he had moved the blanket or why he had felt no need to use it now.

I am thankful for that cell phone.

I am thankful that he had a line outside of his existence that could reach a shelter, emergency service, agency, church, or hotline. I am thankful that he had a way of reaching family members and friends. I am thankful that he had a line that routed to him personally in the event of an employer calling for labor. I am thankful that someone, somewhere had the kindness to give it to him, buy it for him, or provide a way for him to purchase it whether that someone was a friend, family member, non-profit agency, church, or the government.

I am thankful that he had the courage to use the phone in public. The judgment of those driving by is not an easy load to bear, I’m sure. It had to be hard to ask for his simple needs such as food, shelter, or currency when those he asks draw any number of assumptions about his hunger or other needs as he’s holding a cell phone. Those assumptions happen quickly and come with massive weight. It seems that there are those who wish to begrudge the poor not only of their poverty but also of the belongings they may own – as if a cell phone were an insult to the state of poverty or owning one despite being homeless is an insult to those above poverty level.

I am no different from those who make assumptions. I know at first glance I assumed he was homeless, that the things sitting around him were his, that the phone was given to him rather than purchased of his own accord by his own means. I made the assumption that he had something to keep him warm in the 37 degree weather (after all, he had a cell phone, right?). I analyzed the sight of him and weighed it against my agenda for the morning. I could have stopped but my excuses were many:  the light turned green, there was a lane of cars that prevented me from turning to stop and help him, I have a scheduled appointment, and he looks like he has “stuff”, he has a cell phone and it’s obviously working, and it’s only 37 degrees – not freezing. He may not have even been homeless, for crying out loud. I am thankful for that cell phone – so that the Lord has provided him a line to reach out and talk to someone if for no other reason than to give him a person with whom he could speak about enduring the assumptions and resulting judgment of a sinner like me.

This phone was an older “flip phone”, not a smart phone, and for that I am also thankful. I would hate for him to have had immediate access to the pious, posturing throngs on social networks like FaceBook who post about the poor who own cell phones and the poor who buy frivolous luxuries like smart phones when they should be purchasing only absolute necessities or should instead be out looking for jobs. Everyone with social networking capability has friends, “religious” and/or “patriotic” pontificators, who are the first to profess the burden this man on a cell phone places upon them personally.  I would hate for him to have seen the posts regarding a lazy, poor man who had no sense to get out of the bitter cold, or was too lazy to get a job, or preferred to mooch off “lawabiding taxpayers” but doesn’t mind talking on his “government” or “Obama” cell phone. I’m sure he would have been judged the same way if he were in the grocery store standing in line to purchase whatever food can be purchased with the money that can be made from a grocery bag of recycled cans (I’m assuming that was his job – shame on me). I am also thankful that I didn’t see someone taking a phone camera picture of him to post on FaceBook with some trite, politicized statement about the economy, the poor or poverty, or, God forbid, a political candidate or partisan idea. I would have hated this for the man’s dignity even though I wasn’t sure how incurring public judgment, his demonization, or stripping him of dignity measures up against a night in freezing temperatures. I barely know the pain of any of these situations and I didn’t stop to help him in his situation, so how can I know what is worse?

He helped me realize I have no true understanding of the plight and perspective of those who are pushed by poverty into the fringes of our society. I realized that my assumptions and judgment didn’t help this man one tiny bit when he needed it most and that my prayer at that moment didn’t warm him, feed him, shelter him, befriend him, educate him, or share the love of Christ with him. The congregation I donate to each week wasn’t there to give to him anything. The non-profit organization to which I donate wasn’t there to shelter him, shower him, feed him or warm him. At best, at very best, I can hope that what I pay in taxes helped provide that phone that gave him a tiny path out of the pain of the cold. I know what I pay in taxes is small in comparison to others and that it is then diluted by the amounts paid the millions of Americans who also pay into that system. However, I do hope that some of that went to him. Upon realizing that a man was left in the cold, I didn’t care whether my taxes were routed directly from a government program or from a government benefit to a non-profit that has enough compassion to provide such. It’s a very, very long shot that it did, but it may ease my conscience if I knew absolutely and without a doubt that he benefitted from something I provided. This long shot is a statement of guilt that shows that I’ve chosen the judgment of myself that provides the least shame to me. This does not change that my whole assessment and action is shameful and reproachable, full of greed and selfishness. It’s shameful on me as a christian, an American, and as a person that I reduced the situation to “taxes.” I can’t guarantee that my taxes helped this man. I can, however, guarantee that I’ve helped build and perpetuate a world that is sustained and can only be navigated well and efficiently by owning and overusing cell phones, computers, and technology. I helped him have the need of owning a cell phone to function and prosper. I can’t say I helped him get one.

In my mind I had wished him to “go in peace, be warmed and filled” and was even arrogant enough to offer a prayer to my God on his behalf knowing full well that God had already answered this prayer and sent a people to cheerfully warm and fill him. How dare I assume this man needed no blessing that morning. How dare I presume to weigh the hypothetical situations of taxes, abuse of charity, another’s lack of responsibility, or political ideology against the very real sight of a human being sitting in the cold. What was the danger or risk in this to me? This man could have been a thief, a murderer, or an addict which my scripture says is an offense to him. However, I didn’t know any of this – I couldn’t know any of this. The only true assumption is that this man was cold and unsheltered – and my scripture says that this is an offense credited to me.

Lord, my prayer now is to ask You to please save this man from sinners like me. 

I am thankful that his cell phone brought about my confession. Confessing weakness and ignorance is, I pray, the beginning of strength and knowledge. Hearing this about myself brings about faith, and hearing this is just like hearing the word of Christ at the end of Matthew 25. I’d heard that passage many times before read aloud and recited publicly. That Saturday, I actually heard it. Faith will come by hearing; and hearing by that word.

I am so thankful that he had a cell phone so that he could call someone, anyone, better than I was that day. Whether he knew it or not, he called someone better for me.