Gasping for Air

Many times I wake up at 2 or 3 AM gasping for air. It takes me a few minutes to catch my breath. The whole time this is going on, my husband is fast asleep beside me, oblivious to the world.

I don’t know what a marriage is, other than it’s a struggle. Sometimes huge explosions happen in a seemingly innocent manner after dinner to be repaired in the kitchen in the morning. There are those times when the explosions last for weeks. Usually that’s because I can hold a pretty hefty grudge.

I don’t want to put myself down. I don’t wanna put anybody down. But it’s down to yourself to get up out of the muck and mire.

Jesus said, “Pick up your mat and walk!” If you want it, you have to receive it.

Those are my thoughts of the day.

These thoughts are echoed in my book, It’s Okay, Magic Happens, available in print and as an e-book.

Handling Church Communications During COVID-19

For the past 10 years, I have been the Media Director for a small rural church that is somewhere between 119-120 years old. In American years, that’s super old for a church in the middle of nowhere away from the East and West coasts.

I began this volunteer position because my father is the preaching minister at this church, and a hobby of mine as a preteen and teen was learning HTML and CSS. I also enjoyed teaching myself graphic design and software tools for fun. Yes, I was a nerd. Before the days of YouTube I was on LiveJournal reading tutorials on how to use GIMP and Coral.

The church did not have a functional website, so one day in my senior year of high school, I simply decided I was going to build them one.

I have built 3 iterations of the website since, and they have all been progressively better. In addition to web building, I added on social media, which has been crucial to the church’s growth and sense of community.

So why am I talking about this and COVID?

Well, social distancing has forced pretty much everyone with a level head to quarantine. Worried about the future of the church, many churches have turned to live-streaming.

Now, all over the internet I have seen Christians bash churches going online, and I want to say, shame on you!

I am immune suppressed, and the majority of the congregation I serve is over 60 or under 2 years old – the most vulnerable populations. Never would I ever spit on wanting to keep any of these precious people safe in the pursuit of personal holiness, such as not being afraid of no virus!

Hello, there’s more than just you on this planet!

This attitude is what makes me afraid of living in the Bible belt, that my fellow Christians are going to kill everyone else off.

So, to go back to my congregation. We are less than 40 people in size, and most people are technology illiterate. The best can use Facebook and go to a website on their smartphones. Most don’t have laptops or a desktop. Many don’t have smartphones or email. The ones who do have Facebook have been posting wild conspiracy theories.

What too many churches and Christians I’ve seen online is that they take their technology for granted, as well as their urban and suburban settings. Not all churches have Twitter accounts, or laser shows, or a stereo setup in their buildings. Some flat out don’t want a few of those things.

I’d like to shed some light that the US is not the most technologically advanced country in the world. There are internet and cellular dead zones 45 minutes away from major cities – this is where the church I volunteer for is and where I grew up. People manage without it. Living there was like a time warp back 50 years, and when I moved away I hardly didn’t know what to do with myself.

Nowadays, rich folks have discovered the area, and things are slowly starting to change. But most of the people at the church are still technologically illiterate, although some of the newcomers work in IT.

My father’s question was, how do we keep the church together, how do we keep them uplifted, and how do we keep them safe while in quarantine?

We had never live-streamed before. Until about 2009 media wasn’t used at all during service – just a basic PowerPoint. The answer we knew was to livestream, however, we had to get the word out, and to convince the deacons of the church live-streaming was the answer.

After setting up and testing technology for a live-stream, my father successfully received approval from the deacons. Next was to communicate to the congregation what was going on.

We decided to use Zoom for our live-stream, because people without internet could phone in and listen to the service. That way, everyone was included. The rest of my team and I took to social media, Canva, and various word editors to create attractive, clear and concise graphics, letters, and emails to send out to the congregation. My mom called all 40 people in the congregation.

It’s been all hands on deck and none of us has gotten a break. This is to say, if your church is actively trying to communicate with you in any shape or form during the COVID quarantine, please be grateful to them. It isn’t easy on them, and they’d rather not be quarantined either – but we’re all in this together.

2am Pain Flare Prayer Time Reflections

Crown of thorns with text “Exploring faith and pain”

Very often I wake up at 2am in intense pain. The pain continues until sunrise; I’m unable to fall back asleep. I do many things while the pain has set on. Mainly I read, write, and design. My largest comfort by far is prayer and some light Bible reading.

I wrote a piece for the Mighty entitled How My Faith Gives Me Comfort and Companionship With Chronic Illness about this phenomenon, how I read through the Gospels aloud and cry, knowing the Savior himself also had chronic pain for his last time on Earth. We serve a God who was disabled in the flesh for a time as a human being, yet was still perfect. I can’t think of a greater comfort.

Tonight I started out by thanking God for the gift of his son Jesus, for giving me someone I could always relate to. Someone who could show me I did not have to strive to be accepted, to be loved, to love myself back, even in the midst of all this pain I was in in the middle of a world that did not understand me.

Perhaps this is something of what it means in John 1 where it is written: “The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

Possibly very obviously so, as no one understood Jesus and he understood what was in a person, so he understands us when no one understands us.

As I contemplate these things after my prayer of thanksgiving for the Christ and the intricacies of my husband, I felt the pain lift a little after a while. Miraculous healing or redirecting of the mind? Probably both. God gives us peace and hope when we focus on Him.

Peace be with you,

M. O’Shea

Reflection

I follow the Memes for Jesus page. One time I actually messaged them and got no response.

Recently I thought of a meme about PKs, or preachers kids. Often times in the comments of the Instagram page people seem to have the idea that the PK does whatever they want. That wasn’t my experience.

My idea was that PKs on the inside were the song Reflection from Mulan. In the song, Mulan expresses sadness and anxiety for perceiving to not live up to her family’s expectations. Generally all PKs I know are balls of perfectionism and anxiety, whether they end up functional or heroin addicts, Christian or otherwise. This is a mix of expectations from their parents congregation and expectations of their parents to be perfect examples of Jesus to the community.

I still grapple much with my upbringing and my faith. There’s a lot I wish were different, but you do the best you can with what you have.

Sometimes all you have is six chords and the truth or a bible and your tears, and that’s enough.

Whatever enough for you is, know that you are worthy, no matter who your mother or your daddy was.

The choices we make

Throughout history, different people have come up with numerous ways to determine how to define a human being, or rather, a person’s worth.

The most common in the west is money, that ones value is determined by what a person gives to the economy. I tried so hard to give to the blessed mother economy that has given me so much. Say what you want but in the end I was its slave. A marker of adulthood is being a willing one, and I was, but I had fallen down and was thrown to the side with the chaff.

Worse of all, I am now applying for disability. I am asking money from the government, an act considered so heinous by many people I know I don’t deserve the donated clothes on my back.

Many conservative people will tell you a woman belongs with a man. I will not disclose why but I have decided my husband and I cannot do this marriage journey in our short time together. This will bring me shame from my surrounding conservative community.

Oftentimes when I volunteered to cook at funerals people would ask when I was going to get a man because my food was so good. It took me six years to find one, but it turned out to be a bad love.

At first I thought I would be relieved, but then the tears started coming every day. I’ve been listening to “The Redheaded Stranger” album by Willie Nelson on repeat the past two days.

I am afraid I will lose my sense of personhood through all of these losses, but I am doing what I can do hold on to Christ and what he says, that I am God’s child and his princess. I am royalty, even if the world says otherwise. No one can take my crown. If it needs adjusting then I do and keep marching on.

Does this all go down to the choices we make consciously?

Could I have foreseen being rejected by a dollar, or what was to go down with my husband?

I don’t know if I could have at all. But there were points where I could have demanded more or walked out. And I did try that, to no avail.

You end up where you are and there’s no use reminiscing. You straighten your crown and march on.

That’s a crown from God that no illness or man can take away, ladies and gents, and it’s on your head whether you believe in it or not.

Being Well When We’re Ill: Round 1

I’ve had Being Well When We’re Ill, a Christian take on Chronic Illness by the theologian Marva J. Dawn for a week now. I was wary of it at first, as the first two chapters are rather dark, speaking to the soul of a downtrodden spoonie, and this I understand. I often cry out in writing to other chronically ill and disabled people in the hopes of touching someone else – and Marva does exactly that.

Marva herself has multiple illnesses and at times is a wheelchair user. Still, she does many wonderful things. She travels to speak at conferences, sings, teaches children, and still goes on missions trips! The book quickly becomes uplifting and a delight to read, while still staying doctrinally sound while never being preachy. The book is full of tenderness while explaining some basic tenets of Christianity, as if she is grabbing a long time Christian and slowly guiding them home to comfort, or bringing a new visitor in and seating them home on the couch.

There are many golden nuggets in this book and I’m not quite a third of the way in yet, but this gem made me smile from my lower belly up to my retinas:

“Author Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) is known for her novels and short stories dealing with people’s vain attempts to escape God’s grace. Before she died of the lupus that crippled her for the last 10 years of her life, she recorded some of her struggles in letters to friends. In one letter to Louise Abbot she wrote,

‘I think that there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.

What some people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than to not believe…

Whatever you do anyway, remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself.

… I don’t set myself up to give spiritual advice but all I would like you to know is that I sympathize and I suffer this way myself. When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead…. you arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things for you. It is trust, not certainty.’

The spiritual practice of recognizing that Jesus called us to take up our cross (and not our teddy bear!) enables us to live with the uncertainty of abiding in faith. Even though we cannot know or feel with certainty, we can know the Trinity with trust because we participate in it with Jesus, whose cross conquered sin and death forever. That we know!” – Marva J. Dawn

As someone who has grappled with the idea of God on an emotional level since childhood, but still looked for him everywhere, searching until my heart broke and I left the faith to come back as an adult, I often felt defective. I never felt like a real Christian. But this passage maybe makes me believe I have credibility of a sort. We seek and we find, but what we find may all be different. For those of us with chronic illnesses, our finds may be drastically different!

I am looking forward to the rest of this book. For any other struggling Christians, I have a question so I know I’m not alone:

Have you watched the SNL movie Superstar? If you have, do you find Will Ferrell Jesus weirdly comforting? I always find the idea of God easier to grapple with after watching Will Ferrell Jesus. It’s weird. It’s irreverent. I know. Probably need to get my salvation card back from the library.

Recap:

Pocket full of starlight: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on a light.” – Albus Dumbledore

Pocket full of darkness – Was Albus Dumbledore just that kid who made one-liner witticisms in class? Then he grew up, became super old and grew a beard so instead of being that jerk in class people now think he’s wise?

Grief

Grief is such a nebulous term.

Some people ascribe it to everything in their life – grief over losing their job, grief over childhood bullying, grief over a chronic illness, and grief over loss of an identity. It is often used to write off anger. While these are all valid uses of the term grief, none of these are what this post is about.

As a minister’s daughter, grief is an old companion of mine. My dad serves a small congregation and naturally, when someone passed, my family was all hands on deck to try to serve the family of the person. Sometimes things blew up in our faces, and we were met with anger. To this day my father is haunted by the times he could not fully serve those around him, and works diligently for each next time someone will, inevitably, leave us.

This past week there was a death in the congregation. I am not taking it well, my sister is not taking it well, my parents are not taking it well at all. It is especially hard for me this time, because I cannot attend and serve at the funeral. Yes, today I baked pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to be delivered to the church. However I don’t have a car, and I managed to get an appointment with a research neurologist downtown, over an hour and a half away from my residence, a month ago. My  mother does not want me to miss the appointment. Today we cooked for the grieving family so mom could drive me downtown, and we will both miss saying our goodbyes and not help my father.

Oftentimes when I was a child, I would wake up at night to a black room. Maybe this does not sound odd to most of my readers, but I slept with a nightlight on. I could not see anything but the silver outline of a person. As an adult whenever I was told a person passed and their funeral was to be held at my father’s church, I would see such an image while walking to the bathroom around midnight. I like to call this my own way of grieving.

Sometimes I wonder if holidays like Día de Los Muertos have it right – introduce and embrace death young, so you know your dearly departed are not truly departed. Remove the shroud and mystery of death.

During this time I was asked to help sort pictures. As I did so, I was astounded by what a life this woman led, and how beautiful she was in all of the pictures. How even though time had passed, I could still pick her out in a photograph from years ago, and others in her family that I knew.

Anyways, dear Sister in Christ, you know who you are, and I miss you dearly. To your family, I can’t say any words. But please know the cookies I made were made with love.