Strength in Numbers

{Sigh} 2020 is the actual worst. We all know this. I don’t need to list the reasons why, but one of them is that I have been laid off (again!) Never in my wildest thoughts did I think that I, as a physical therapist, would be laid off twice in the span of 8 months. But, covid19.

After reaching out to employers, doing the job searches, joining the job community fairs (virtually, of course), and collecting the unemployment, it became apparent that I was not getting hired any time soon this time around. There simply haven’t been jobs out there for a PT in my region. Unemployment has worked out for our family, and we’ve been able to stay afloat with the added funds from the CARES act, but the clock was running on that.

I am known for loudly and emphatically saying that I would NEVER want to own my own PT clinic. My husband suggested I think about it years ago, and I firmly said no thank you, sir. Who would want the stress of dealing with insurance, billing, and marketing when I could just show up to work every morning, treat my patients, type up my notes, and go home? But with the lack of job options on the horizon, and the need (and desire) to work still very much present, my mind started to go there.

About 5 years ago, I had taken a continuing education class on Chronic Pain. It was heavily based in the latest neuroscience, and argued that we as a society and a medical community still have a poor understanding of pain. Tissue damage does not equal pain, but most people, medical professionals included, tend to still think and act that way. It was a mind-blowing course, I geeked out all weekend, took a ton of notes, and felt that we were really missing the point the way we were currently treating people for chronic pain. But I went back to work and didn’t know what to do with it, since the approach the class argued we should take would look very different from traditional PT. Much less hands-on manual work, and much more talking, teaching, and getting to the roots of the problem.

Fast forward to getting laid off this past March, seeing that there weren’t going to be job options for a long time, and starting to think out of the box. What if I could open my own clinic, focused on a different approach to treating chronic pain? I could dive in deep and really mix it up, tackling this complex, complicated issue from a more holistic approach. Running my own clinic, I could allow things to look different from traditional PT.

I started looking into it. First I looked to see if anyone else in Spokane was doing this. I stumbled across a few other wellness groups. One clinic is run by an ARNP who has become a friend and mentor, and who strongly encouraged me to go for it and open my own place. So I reached out to former co-workers, gals who handled the insurance side of things. And the strong message I got from them was DON’T DO IT. Don’t work with insurance, it’ll be too much for you to handle by yourself, you’d need to hire someone right away to manage it all. You’ll be on hold for 45-minutes for every patient, calling all of their individual plans to verify benefits only to get obtuse, confusing answers, and end up seeing them without dotting some i or crossing some t that will mean you won’t get paid for the work you already did.

Ok. Yikes.

A friend from PT school sent me info on cash-based PT, with articles, blogs and resources to go out-of-network. This looked more promising. I could see patients and bill them directly, get paid upfront, and the patients could send in my bill to be reimbursed via their out-of-network benefits. There are successful PT clinics doing this around the country, in big cities and rural towns.

My next Google search pulled up the other cash-based PT clinics in the area. There were 2. I knew the woman, a former co-worker, running one of them, who reiterated that I should not work with insurance if I wanted to run my own place. I reached out to the other cash-based PT owner, who immediately offered to mentor me, answered ALL the questions I blitzed her way while she was on vacation, no less, and set up a video chat for when she returned from vacation.

Ok. I’m doing this.

Things start coming together. I reach out to a woman who runs her own acupuncture clinic that I had frequented as a patient, and she is happy to let me share space with her and work on the days she isn’t there. She is super chill and doesn’t mind if I share her furniture and treatment table, or hang posters in “her” room of the last 10 years. Her landlord immediately agrees to let me sublease, and she herself is an ARNP who used to run a wellness clinic out of the building and is really excited about what I’m trying to do.

Website made, business license acquired, business bank account opened, malpractice insurance secured, documentation system figured out, marketing begun.

I set a Grand Opening date for the first week of August. Now it looks like I own, run, manage and treat in my own PT clinic! Wahoo! NONE of this would have been remotely possible without the help of an army of people. The whole “self-made man” is such a myth. I guarantee you that any successful anyone did not get there without the help of others. I am so grateful to have friends, coworkers, mentors and a supportive spouse to have helped make this a reality. And I’m grateful to The Octonauts for entertaining my daughter while my son napped so I could get any work done during the day.

Earlier this year, my daughter and I attempted to grow an avocado tree from the seed of an avocado we had eaten, a regular, non-organic grocery store avocado. I do not possess a green thumb, so my hopes were not high. And shockingly, it worked! The seed cracked open, a sweet little root started working its way out, the crack split the seed from top to bottom, the tentative stem started to reach for the sky, and as of today, it has 3 leaves!! I’ve taken it as an omen. That little seed that I did not think would do anything has turned into a tree. And my little clinic, which I opened out of desperation, a lack of options, and a prayer, will hopefully Flourish into something strong and nourishing and beautiful.

(I would be remiss not to ask you to check me out if you live in the Spokane area and have any PT needs! 😉 FlourishPhysicalTherapyandWellness.com)

It’s Complicated

Life has felt more than a little crazy as of late. We’re still fighting a pandemic, which people have seemed to stop caring about. We are seeing the largest rise of racial justice protests and movement I’ve ever witnessed in my life, both across every state in the US and in countries around the world! That is both exciting and depressing that it took the murder of another undeserving person of color to get people to finally care enough to do something. We’re coming up to a Presidential election which is always its own special kind of crazy. We’re still in an economic crisis. Whew.

As I’ve been getting more and more engaged with politics and civil issues, I’ve found a very tempting tendency, which I have certainly fallen into many times, of over-simplifying things. It’s mentally easy to make things black and white, good and evil, right and wrong with no in-betweens, no gray zones. I’ve never used the n-word, so I’m not racist. I’m a Christian, so I vote Democrat (in my case; I think for a lot of people it’s the reverse). Welfare recipients are taking advantage of the system. Immigrants are bad/dangerous/stealing our jobs. When in reality, it’s never that simple.

Especially as I’ve learned more and more about racism in the US, I’ve been blown away by how ingrained and complex it can be. One of the podcasts or books I’ve read on the topic said that racism is the air we breath in the US. It can be hard to see, hard to define, and hard to identify when we’ve grown up here, especially as white people. But it is a very complicated topic and history. Do the research.

As a Christian, I’ve grown up reading the Bible. I’ve read the whole thing multiple times and many books several times. I haven’t been to seminary and I don’t have a degree in theology or Biblical studies, but I’ve been reading lots of books by people who have. They have taught me that the Bible is complicated. The many different books (66) are written by many different authors in many different writing styles (poetry, history, prophetic, personal letters) and in more than one language. Each book was written to a specific group of people in a specific era with a specific lived experience that would have common knowledge within itself which is no longer common knowledge to us today. The Bible was not written to or for modern day Americans. It’s not trying to answer all the questions we may have with today’s mind. It was very preoccupied with its own questions (most notably how to explain the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon, did God abandon them? Etc etc) So the stories, the meaning, the implications – it’s all complicated. We miss out on a lot when we don’t do the research.

I understand the desire to make things simple. Life is crazy, busy, difficult, stressful, and complicated as it is. In addition to the entire first paragraph above, we all have our own personal issues, drama, family problems, health problems, financial stress etc. Life is hard! It can be equally beautiful, but it is hard! So it’s nice to take the easy way, to not do the extra research or searching or thinking, and go with the pre-formed ideas that come out of whatever package we ascribe to. I get it. I’ve done it.

The truth is, in very every single issue in politics, in religion, and in life, things are complicated! I’ve been reading a fantastic book on politics called I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers. They do such an amazing job of discussing politics from each side of the traditional aisle (Sarah from the Left and Beth from the Right) and doing so in a nuanced, grace-filled, amicable way. Their book is the closest thing to therapy I’ve ever read. It’s pointed out areas that I’ve fallen back on talking the party talk. They bring up many examples of different political hot-topics – welfare, trade, healthcare, abortion, etc  – and show how truly complicated these issues often are. I certainly have not done all the research to fully understand many if not all of these topics. I have “formed hardened opinions on subjects without understanding them.”

We all only have so much mental energy, so much time, so much brain power. It is necessary and ok to prioritize and have boundaries. What I’ve been realizing is that I need to keep my mouth shut more often when I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I don’t have the right to get into heated conversations if I haven’t done the research. And I should be doing the research more often. We live in the nirvana age of access to information. I can do a quick google search on my phone, make sure I’m looking at a trusted source (and hopefully a few), and learn some background on a topic. The ladies who wrote the book I’m reading have a podcast called Pantsuit Politics, in which they’ve done several “primers” on complicated political topics to give people the background knowledge in 20-30 min sessions. There are books and podcasts on any topic you care about that make it easier to learn from someone else who has done the deep dive.

I think if I, and more of us, could stay calm when discussing current events and politics, and could stay open and humble, we could enjoy a much more friendly atmosphere. Staying humble allows us to truly care about the person we’re talking to, to remember that they are in fact fully human and deserving of dignity, even when we don’t agree, and to listen with curiosity before jumping to respond. Staying open allows us to dig down to the root issues of why people think the way they do and find that maybe there is some common ground that has translated into different courses of action.

I’ll be honest. I’ve truly struggled with understanding anyone who supports President Trump. I see him act in ways completely counter to what I value as a Christian and as a decent human being. They are too many to list here. He’s one of the few people that I truly find despicable. However, I know people who voted for him. The people I know personally who voted for Trump are good, loving people. They volunteer and spend their time and money helping others. Again, it’s complicated. I’ve seen a lot of people unfriending and unfollowing people they disagree with or who vote differently than they do. I think that is so dangerous. The more we cancel each other out, the more set in our ways we all get.

Let’s try to find a way to have healthy conversations again. Let’s stop villainizing the “other side.” Let’s remember the full humanity of everyone we’re talking too. People are complicated, motivations are complicated, issues are complicated. Let’s stop taking the easy, lazy way and actually do a little research. Actually learn about the issues and the history. It’s always more complicated than it seems. Maybe your stance doesn’t change, but at least you get more sympathetic to other viewpoints. I think if we can practice true listening, humble hearts, and open minds, we can change the ugly state of US politics. And especially with an election coming up, that is my deepest prayer.

To My Fellow White People

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago. It was an insulated upbringing. My world was white. White staff at school, white classmates, white pastors at church, white friends. There was some diversity, but little enough that it was very noticeable. I never had to think about race. I fully assumed that my culture was just “normal life.” Anything else was “ethnic,” “exotic,” “other.”

My mom worked for the local police department for a period of time, so I knew some of the officers on a first name basis, and would roll my eyes if they pulled me over while driving around with my friends, knowing they wanted to scope out us high school girls. Never once worried about the results of such an encounter.

I would go for long, long bike rides down miles of suburban and country roads. I would jog around the local lake by myself. I would have friends over regularly for bonfires. We’d sneak around in the dark to TP each other’s houses. I worked as a lifeguard at the lake, and various other fast-food jobs throughout high school. Never once worried about my skin putting me in danger.

I went away to Marquette University in Milwaukee and finally encountered more diversity. Not really within my classes at MU, which was still predominantly white. But through the neighborhood, through volunteering with groups like Big Brother/Big Sister and different soup kitchens and after-school tutoring programs. I noticed the differences in Milwaukee’s communities of people of color, noticed the fear of wandering too far off campus into the “dangerous” outlying neighborhood.

I was fortunate to have been paired with a random, freshman roommate who became a sister for life. Her family was from India, and through her I ended up joining the Indian Student Association on campus, and participated in their cultural events and dance shows. I learned a Diwali candle dance and Bharatanatyam style dances. Most importantly, I was exposed to a huge friend group of people who mostly did not look like me. And, still ignorant to my white privilege, I remember thinking how FUN it was to be the only white person at some of our parties, and how cool I felt. Not realizing that for a lot of my new friends, the experience of being the only brown person in the room a majority of the time could be alienating and exhausting.

I traveled farther away for one semester to Melbourne, Australia, and there I made friends from all over the world. I made lots of friends from Australia, but also from Malaysia, Mexico, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, the Philippines, and lots of fellow Americans from around the States. And I began to appreciate the absolute beauty that comes from diversity, from seeing humanity in all it’s beautiful, colorful, varied, fascinating and messy differences. I was in the minority again, this time for being a Christian. Australia is very atheist, and there is a strong presence of Islam from different ethnic groups. I was beginning to see more of what my identity meant beyond “the norm.” The way I lived and acted, ate and worshipped was not the norm for most of the rest of the world.

Fast forward to young adulthood. I’ve gotten more political, started paying better attention really to the world around me. And the terrifying reality of white supremacy was showing itself to me. I started watching the sickening pattern in the news:

Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd.

I started reading books:

When They Call You a Terrorist by Asha Bandelle and Patrisse Cullors

The Warmth of Other Sun’s by Isabel Wilkerson

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey

Defining Moments in Black History by Dick Gregory

Me and the White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Seven Sisters and a Brother: Friendship, Resistance, and Untold Truths Behind Black Student Activism in the 1960s

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Granny

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin Curtice

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkens

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

So You Want to Talk about Race By Ijeoma Oluo

The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit In by Ayser Salman.

I started to learn more about the full history of our country. Of course I’d always known that white Europeans came over and wiped out the Indians, ended up kidnapping and stealing people away from their homeland in Africa to work as slaves, and established America. But SO MUCH got glossed over, and not fully examined in that history and the long-reaching after effects it has had on the very fabric and nature of this country.

There is a lot of history there and a lot to learn. And white people don’t have to bother since we are often not directly affected by race. Unless you marry someone of another color, or someone in your family does, or you or someone you know adopts a child of another color (and even in all those situations), it is very easy to remain ignorant. But we do so at the peril of Black and Brown lives.

America was founded on the idea of white supremacy, that the “Christian” (I don’t know how to call people who believed in manifest destiny and were totally ok with genocide and owning other humans Christians without the biggest eye roll in the world) founders of this country believed that they were superior to the people already here and the people they’d stolen away from their homelands to work for free and literally build the country. To stomach genocide and owning people, white people had to lie to themselves that those folks were less than fully human. And that lie has stuck around in a thousand different ways.

And not only has the belief that white is better, that white is “normal” and anything else is too [loud, ethnic, foreign, different, aggressive, etc etc] stuck around, but racist practices and laws were molded into the very fabric of America. Red lining, funding differences to predominantly black school districts, sentencing differences for crime, racial profiling; race laws are as prevalent as they are ugly.

Racism is still here, because it is a core part of America. White people NEED to recognize that, to educate themselves on the topic since our white schools did not teach us the full truth, and we need to speak up. We need to be calling our elected officials; we need to be voting in anti-racist politicians. We need to increase our exposure to diversity and read books, watch movies and shows, and follow black and brown artists. We need to examine our whiteness and what the invisible effects that has had on our lives. Me and the White Supremacy is a great book for that, and there are a lot of black activists out there doing the work that we can follow and support. The Great Unlearn / Rachel Cargle, Lisa Sharon Harper, Writing to Change the Narrative/Nyasha Williams, United Street Tours / Chakita Sharnise, Speaking of Racism, TNQ Show (The Next Question) / Austin Channing Brown, Latasha Morrison, Ibram X. Kendi, Black Lives Matter, there are many.

To my fellow white people: PLEASE do the work. Please learn about racism and white supremacy. Please be humble, be aware of our history and how that has affected us as white people over people of color, whether you feel it personally or not. Please try not to get defensive or to bury your head in the sand and pretend like we had a Black President so racism must be over. It is not. I promise you. And the longer we stay ignorant, the more of our black and brown brothers and sisters will keep dying. There is a lot to learn and a LOT of work to do to overcome it and become truly a country with Liberty and Freedom for ALL. And we need everyone on board.

Faith, hope, and love

Our living room has seen a lot of sacred moments. My husband and I got legally married in front of the fireplace, with our pastor, my best friend and future brother-in-law as witnesses (our wedding itself was in another state that wouldn’t allow us to use an out-of-state pastor). We’ve broken bread and drank bottles of wine in countless meals with beloved friends. We’ve delicately held newborn babies and attempted to nap with them on the couches. And, most recently, we’ve had church. My husband likes to turn on the twinkly lights on the mantle, light all the candles, and set up a little altar on our couch table with my old, wooden cross from Belize. The kids are running around and paying no attention, but we manage to get a few holy moments.

In the sermon from this past Sunday, one of our pastors was talking about faith as waiting and watching. Faith means not having black and white answers, but resting in the unknown, and staying calm in the face of mysteries. He quoted my favorite author of all time, Madeleine L’Engle, who I give credit to forming much of my early spiritual development. She was a mystic and blew my mind from early on with her open-handed approach to life and faith and Christianity. She was not afraid of mystery, but embraced it whole-heartedly. So I’ve been ok in gray spaces filled with unknowns and haven’t always needed to find the black and white absolutes.

I’m seeing a lot of talk lately admonishing people to “live in faith, not fear.” I’ve seen it mainly from people who are confrontatiously critical of the government-mandated social isolation and business closures affecting our country right now. “Live in faith” seems to be code for, go about your normal business and trust that God will protect you. When did faith become an anti-viral?

There are so many things wrong with this logic that it’s difficult to know where to start. First of all, God does not promise to protect us from germs. I know a lot of religious people that have gotten sick. Along that argument, for folks saying “no big deal” if they catch COVID-19, it is selfish and unloving to willingly expose yourself and to not prevent that exposure to those you encounter in life. Secondly, the Bible warns us, with Jesus himself providing a strong example, not to test God. Arrogantly saying that God will protect you from the global pandemic because you have faith would have been like Jesus throwing himself off the cliff to be caught by angels when tempted by Satan. Having faith does not mean ignoring science and best practices for healthy living.

I understand the push back against life as we know it getting a hard pause. The financial strain alone is enough reason to freak out and urgently want to reopen businesses. I know businesses that have shut down permanently from this, others that have laid off or furloughed employees (I myself being one of the millions of the unemployed from this virus). People are worried about the businesses they’ve painstakingly built or about keeping/getting a job so they can keep food on the table. There is a lot of stress for everyone right now, no matter your situation. Add to that the American mentality of “each man for himself” and not being in the habit of caring for the well-being of our communities as a whole, and you’ve got people protesting in the streets. (A small number of people by the way, seems bigger than it is from being reported in the news).

“Live in faith, Not fear” to me means that I will respect the recommendations and pleas coming from healthcare experts and front-line staff to stay home in order to stop the spread. I have faith that life will go on if we all do the smart thing and protect each other. And I value life more than finances. I don’t say that to demean people who are worried about their business. But maybe business can start over and rebuild, or get revamped and redefined? I have faith in our creativity and resourcefulness. Maybe we need to grossly overhaul the system and build in more safety nets to protect all of us in these scary situations. Maybe we can all learn to live on less and give up some of our privileged expectations and assumed comforts.

I believe that life is all about love and relationships. In the Bible, it says, “what is important is faith expressing itself in love.” I think it is more loving to sacrifice our financial security, our ability to go out and have fun, our social lives, and our routines in order to protect vulnerable people in our very communities. The numbers are staying relatively low because people have been doing that. The “antibiotics” are working, so don’t stop taking them because we’re starting to feel better.

This is a scary, unique, mysterious new reality we find ourselves in. There are a lot of questions and few concrete answers. So much has changed and will not go back to the way it was before the pandemic. We are living in a gray zone, a world of mystery with an unseen future. The faith that I have is a belief in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-seeing Creator who did not send this as a punishment or a test. I think blessings and challenges come from life itself, the random colliding of a million chance encounters and exchanges. I think that God sees us, knows us, and is present with us if we only pay attention. God will be with us in this pandemic, in our unemployment, while shuttering our businesses and tightening up our belts. God can guide us to live in a spirit of peace, joy and gratitude even in the midst of suffering. Here’s to faith, hope, and love.

On Walks

Surprise encounters with deer, turkey, bison and horses.

Smells of pine, pollen and manure.

The startle of finding clean-picked bones in the brush.

Sounds of birdcall, a few passing cars, fewer planes overhead.

The invigorating feel of the breeze, scattered raindrops, warm sunbeams.

The stimulation and inspiration of wisdom pouring through my earbuds.

The warmth of my blood coursing through muscle, the reverberating force of foot on pavement.

Writing on an old stone wall while neighbors pass by.

Taking the time to slow down,

and live.

Upside-down Easter

Easter weekend. In quarantine. As a full time stay at home mom on unemployment since I have been laid off because of COVID-19. What a strange time. I never thought I would be laid off twice in 6 months as a physical therapist! I certainly never thought the whole world would get shut down by an invisible virus, grinding everything as we know it to a halt. Everything is a mess right now.

The Easter story is one of absolute disappointment, shock, and dismay as the leader of this new movement within the occupied Jewish population in the Roman Empire was killed by the state. Jesus lived a radical life, eschewing the norms and wandering around the region, homeless, preaching and teaching about this “Kingdom of God.” Jews were excited to hear him talk, as an occupied people who had never recovered from being exiled, thinking he was finally going to liberate them and give them their own country/land/home. That he would throw off the shackles from the Roman empire who had wiggled its way into corrupt Jewish leaders.

And yet. He died. That was it. He had said enough things to royally threaten both the religious leaders with all his talk of free and unearned love and forgiveness, and the political leaders with his casual disregard for the empire, and they killed him. We could not stomach the free, unearned grace Jesus offered, so we killed him. It couldn’t be that easy, God! People have to believe/do/pray/say the right things before they get your love, right?? Religion did not care for Jesus’ disinterest in judgement and rules.

“Give to Caesar what it Caesar’s,” when asked about paying taxes. Caesar wants your money? So what, give it to him, big deal. I want your very life, your very soul. I want you to live completely contrary to the small-minded ways of this world. Fame, power, wealth are completely meaningless. Love, joy, compassion, peace – these are the things I value and want you to live for. The empire didn’t like that. A bunch of liberated people walking around, immune to the enticements the empire could dangle as false hope? What a threat!

I can only imagine the deep shock and depression of Jesus’ followers after his death. This man, the physical representation of God on earth, that they loved and believed in so deeply, many leaving their jobs and families to follow, was gone. The Romans were still in charge, the Church was still corrupt. They were expecting massive change and revolution, and it looked like nothing had happened. It’s hard living in that space.

It’s hard living in this space of so many unknowns. How long has this virus been here? Is anyone immune or are we all still in danger? How long am I going to be holed up in my house, unable to go out and enjoy the world and socialize? If I risk it, could I be a silent carrier and bring this virus to someone vulnerable? How is my community going to survive this, is my business going to survive this? How am I going to pay the bills? What is going to happen here?? How does this end? Is this going to keep happening every year? If a vaccine comes out, will it be safe? Can I trust the people in charge?

These are not easy questions or easy times. Conspiracy theories are flying around like pollen in the air. The level of crazy-talk I have seen on social media is a new shock for me. And I sort of get it. Believing in one of these conspiracies provides some sense of order and explanation. It can be oddly comforting to think that someone (the Chinese, the democrats, whoever) created this thing, because at least then someone is in charge, even if in an evil way. The truth – that viruses are a fact of life, are frighteningly transmittable in our global economy, are adaptable and deadly, and that we are not prepared for this – is scary to deal with since it can make us feel powerless. The scary truth is that we are powerless against so many things – viruses, hurricanes, cancer, tornadoes, death. There simply are no guarantees in this life.

After the despair of Good Friday, after the shock and bitter, total disappointment of sitting around on Saturday knowing Jesus has died, we get the story of Easter. Of resurrection. Jesus defeating death, returning to his people, and giving them a message of hope. What a twist. Jesus didn’t defeat the Romans, he didn’t liberate the Jews from their oppression, he didn’t create a grand kingdom and set up all his followers with a lavish life. Instead, he lived a counter-cultural life, showing us a different way to operate in the world. An upside down way, where the leader acted like a grungy servant and washed his friends’s nasty feet. An upside down way, that cared nothing for worldly power and influence and instead drew the outsiders, the powerless, women, slaves, children and minorities to him like moths to a flame. An upside down way, which opened to doors to anyone willing to admit their powerlessness, their need to be seen and known and loved, no matter their religion or ethnicity or sexual identity or station in life.

In Jesus, we get the promise of Easter. The promise that, ultimately, the viruses and the catastrophes and the corruption won’t win. That it may look like the powerful are in charge, but in the end, they are dying like the rest of us. I think about the promises in Bible, promises that Jesus made saying we are cared for like the flowers of the fields and the sparrows of the air. The flowers don’t worry about material goods, the sparrows aren’t worried about their next meal. And I see good, beautiful, kind people dying from hunger, dying from poverty and exposure and easily treatable diseases. Was Jesus lying? Or maybe, was the promise not that we would all have our every, human need taken care of and would never suffer? Maybe the promise was that, whatever life dishes out, and it will dish out both good and bad things to both good and bad people without regard, Jesus sees, Jesus cares, Jesus knows our suffering because he suffered himself, and Jesus is with us in spirit. That somehow, when this earthly blip of a life is all over, we will be taken up in his arms, seen and known and deeply loved.

Beauty from Ashes

I didn’t write a blog post last week because my mind is mostly consumed with COVID-19 and I didn’t want to write about it again. And yet, here we are, a week later, and that’s still mostly all I can think about. So I’m going to do a word vomit thing here and see if anything interesting comes out.

I actually can think of other things. The weather has been beautiful and I’ve been outside a lot with my kids, noticing the buds coming out on the trees and the growing strength of the sun’s rays. I’ve noticed my son actively trying to make me laugh more, and interacting and laughing with his sister. I’ve noticed my daughter starting to make up her own stories to tell us, and the pride she gets in her eyes when I listen and interact. I’ve noticed a lot of neighbors I’ve never seen before out walking by themselves or with unfamiliar dogs. I’ve noticed that I’m very caught up on my instagram feed, which has been full of live-streamed concerts and book readings and positive news stories.

Life has gone on in some ways. It’s just that I’m acutely aware of the fact that it isn’t for way too many people. Way too many people are sick, have died, or are entirely consumed with fighting this thing in our world’s hospitals and medical labs. It’s impossible not to feel affected by this, even though I’m still going to work my two days/week. I was brought to tears today to learn that Italy has made the horrific decision to only use ventilators on people under 60 yrs old, since they simply do not have enough. I was in Italy four years ago, and the sweet couple that ran the bodega under our AirBnb that we befriended over morning cappuccinos are over 60. Their elderly father still worked with them, who had to be in his 80s at least. If they get this thing, they are doomed. This is a conundrum I often face from being aware of suffering in the world, whether it’s COVID-19 or poverty or racism and white supremacist society or sexism or homophobia or child abuse or sex trafficking. The world is hell for some people, and I’m just over here living my life.

In this instance, at least there is something very real and concrete I can do to help, which ironically is to do nothing. To stay at home and not interact with anyone outside my immediate family. I’ve been doing pretty well with that surprisingly, for being a raging extrovert. Aside from work, one Target run for bubbles and sidewalk chalk, and one outdoor hiking date with my bestie, I’ve been home. Thankfully, the last 3.5 years of part-time-stay-at-home-momming has prepared me well. I adhere strictly to a nap schedule for the kids, so I’ve been “nap-trapped” for the last three years and unable to leave my home except for certain small windows anyway. I’ve been working on being ok with a slower pace of life, on being ok with feeling like I’m missing out on bigger adventures, on being ok with less social interaction. Working on tapping in to the here and now, being present in the moment, savoring the time at home with my kids.

And there were days that I was often distracted and on my phone before, and that has certainly increased. I do feel a strong pull to check in with social media often, as the only means of connection I have to the outside world. And I’m video chatting and texting friends more than normal to reach out and stay connected. It’s been hard for me not to obsess, to want to see every article and post out there about all this. Which I know borders on unhealthy and should be controlled. I try to leave my phone in others rooms still and really play with my kids, but I think we all get a few passes during this mess.

I was in Australia in 2006, and did some bushwacking in the forests outside of Melbourne, Victoria. One of the forests had recently been through a fire, and our professor told us that there is a certain flower that blooms only after the intense heat of a forest fire (I’ve recently googled it and several Eucalyptus species have specialized buds that are protected under the bark of their trunks. The buds only emerge after the trees have burned). After the utter devastation of a sweeping forest fire, beauty emerges not only despite of but because of the tragedy. Sometimes, suffering unlocks next-level joy.

This is intense, scary, new territory. The world has not faced this before, and there is no “right way” of being or acting currently. There is no normal. I am a fierce optimist, and so I feel strongly that this will be stopped, that there will be a treatment and a vaccine within the year, and (some) our lives will be able to resume. But the death toll and the damage is very real and will be tough to overcome. Hopefully humanity will pull together, set aside some differences (not by any example from our federal leadership in the US, sheesh), and support each other. We don’t know what the outcomes will be yet, but I’m sure there will be some beauty among the ashes.

Do Not Fear

All anyone is talking about is COVID-19. At my work, I’ve had 14 conversations about it every day with every patient who comes in. It’s all over the news, all over social media. 4oz Purell is sold out on Amazon, Costco is out of Clorox wipes. People are FREAKING OUT. Even though most of my patients seem to be Keeping Calm and Carrying On, and I only heard one person who stocked up on toilet paper themselves.

I’m not one to ignore or disbelieve science (although the science in this case is telling us that COVID-19 is pretty easy to prevent and control the spread, is easy to recover from and isn’t all that serious for the majority of people), however, the reaction to this thing has been a textbook case of living in fear. Do we all just love drama? Are we all so bored with our lives that we want to freak out and obsess over things and make them bigger than they really are? Is there too much real, serious, scary drama out there so we would rather distract ourselves with less threatening “drama” instead?

All I know is that living in fear is a crappy way to live, and gets us nowhere. Fear won’t stop the spread of viruses, won’t keep cancer at bay, won’t stop us from getting our hearts broken. Fear does nothing except limit our own lives.

I was talking to a friend whose extended family doesn’t vaccinate their kids, doesn’t put them in public schools (because the devil is there), and doesn’t even go to church because no church in America is doing it right. They are so driven by fear and the false sense of control that they think they exercise over the world, that they have isolated themselves away from the world and from the possibility of the riches gained by friends, community, diversity and knowledge. How incredibly sad.

The devil is everywhere, Evil is everywhere (including within our own selves), viruses are everywhere, corruption is everywhere. And? That is the state of this world folks, at least on our planet. Walking around all anxious, guarded, cynical and closed-off does nothing to change that. But of course, what else is everywhere? Good, beauty, love, joy, peace, friendship, altruism, cute babies and puppies. It’s all about what you look for.

I’ve purposely curated my Instagram feed to be either people in my life that I care about, “good news” accounts that look for positivity in the world, or educational accounts on things like racial injustice, politics or spiritual growth that make me a better or more knowledgeable person through exposure. I never watch the news, as the news in America is notoriously fear-based. I try to live holding the tension of managing risk alongside of living a full life.

Worrying about what may happen is really pointless, especially if (God-forbid), you get killed in a car accident tomorrow. We have no guarantees except for the present moment. Living in the moment to me looks like washing my hands, putting down my phone, and tuning in. Tuning in to my kids, to my husband, to my friends, to my patients. Noticing and enjoying the way the spring clouds are chasing each other around the fresh blue sky. Living in the moment means trying not to agonize over the state of politics in America, since there really is little I can do, save for mailing in my ballot and signing petitions/writing emails to my reps. Living in the moment means turning off my hypothetical thought-machine: to stop planning what I’ll do when the next big check comes in, or the next milestone is hit by my kids, or the next vacation day comes. Not that it is wrong to have plans, but I tend to circle back too much instead of making what plans I can and then moving on.

Personally, what I find so difficult about living in the moment is that it makes me ask, “is this it?” It makes me fully sink into what is happening, which usually feels like the daily grind. I’m not jet-setting, not staying out until 3am meeting exotic new friends, not running a company or a country or a world-changing non-profit. I am changing diapers, making forts, playing make believe, cleaning up the kitchen the 30th time that week, doing the 7th load of laundry, driving to work, doing the work (which after 9+ yrs doesn’t feel all that exciting anymore most of the time), driving home, wash, rinse, repeat.

I once met a few jet-setting, altruistic, world-changing volunteers working for JVI (Jesuit Volunteers International), who were working in poverty-stricken Belize, and I thought, Wow, they’re doing it! They’ve packed up, given up a cozy job or making any money at all, are living in a poor country helping to fix the world, and do you know what they said it felt like to them? The. Daily. Grind.

Our life is what we make it, and when we let ourselves be governed by fear, our life suffers. All the bad stuff, all the good stuff, it’s all out there, everywhere we look. Focus on the good. Manage the bad as it inevitably comes along. Live with curiosity, expect joy and love and happiness, and you just may see it happen. And stop touching your face.

Our Mother, Who Art in Heaven

I don’t believe that God is a woman, any more than I believe that God is a man. I’ve been very deliberate in this blog, and in my speech, over the last year or so, to stop referring to God as a “he” for several reasons.

I know the Bible refers to God as “he” often, and as Father, but the Bible also uses female imagery and pronouns for God, and we usually breeze by that. The Bible was written in a VERY patriarchal culture (one that was not getting the whole picture correct, in my view, and not meant to be exemplified in all those ways). It’s natural that the male, Hebrew and Jewish authors of the Bible used male pronouns for God most of the time. Women were literally seen as less than fully human in their time, so they wouldn’t dare refer to God that way.

However, from the very beginning, we see God describe the creation of humanity as “created in God’s image: male and female.” God is neither male nor female; God is not a human being. Women and men together, each give us an image of God. Aspects of God are nurturing and protective, such as verses in Deuteronomy where God is compared to a mother eagle with her young, and as a mother bear in Hosea. God says in Isaiah, “as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you,” and is compared to a nursing mother and a woman crying out in labor. In Matthew, Jesus says “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

I think we really miss out when we only refer to God as Father and he. Not only do we all have very different examples of fatherhood, some great and some terrible, but each society and culture and time period have fairly distinct ideas of what masculinity embodies. In our current society, the stereotypical “male” is seen as tough, strong, confident, etc etc. Great qualities for God to have, but not complete. Not to mention the less than healthy stereotypical male qualities, like closed off, unemotional, “lone wolf.” Referring to God always as he may inadvertently get us attributing those unhealthy “male” behaviors to God.

When we leave out the feminine side of God, we miss those stereotypical female qualities such as gentleness, care, concern, and nurturing. We miss out on thinking of God as having a warm lap we can crawl into when we need comforting. We miss out on picturing God giving us back rubs and playing with our hair and giving us physical affection. We miss out on God dropping everything God’s doing to take care of us and to listen to our needs/complaints/worries/dreams. What a large part of who God is!

[And not to limit it to stereotypes either. I know plenty of men who are sweet and nurturing and good listeners, and plenty of women who are tough and gritty and driven, and they all equally bear the image of God! ]

I’ve been trying, as awkward as it sounds to my ears, to pray to Mother God sometimes, or switch pronouns to she/her when singing a song in church or reading a verse. And it has been powerful to do so! Thinking of God in a feminine way completely alters my interaction with God. It feels softer, gentler, more tender. And I believe that is how God wants to relate to us, at times. Just like in those verses when God compares Godself to a mother hen, a mother bear (fierce and protective, it’s not all soft and cuddly), a mother eagle and a nursing mother.

God is greater than our limited, human brains will ever be able to comprehend. It’s tempting and easy to put God in a box to feel like we get it. The whole Bible is written by human people who were trying to understand God. And they were doing so in a very distinct, temporary cultural mindset that greatly affected their understanding, just like we are. They got some of it correct, through Divine inspiration and wisdom, and I believe that they got some of it wrong (ummm, hello, never condemned slavery, all that stoning of sinners to death, violence and “God-ordered” genocide etc etc) because of their tainted lens. It can be scary to realize and admit that our current and historical understandings of God can be incomplete, or even flat out wrong at times. But thank goodness that God is still present, still saturated throughout all of creation, and is trying to reach out from behind the veil to reveal Godself to us.

Thoughts from a PT

A majority of my job deals with pain. People in pain, looking to get out of it. Sometimes they’ve only been in a pain for a short while, from an ankle sprain or muscle strain. Sometimes it’s been pain since 1980 or “since I was 12 yrs old.” I have treated patients as young as 8 yrs old and as old as 95, and have noticed some patterns along the way that may serve you well as you try to grow old well.

For one thing, there is a lot of relatively new research on pain and how it works that I think is pretty life-changing. First of all, pain is created by our brains, and does not come from our body itself. The body only sends data up to the brain, in terms of strain, tension, shear force, temperature etc, that is meant to be useful data for the brain to determine if the body is in danger or not. The brain processes the data and decides whether or not to send out a feeling of pain.

Imagine you are in the final game of your sports career, running the last play, and you sprain your ankle with only yards to go to score that touchdown/homerun/etc/whatever. You likely will not even register that your ankle hurts, because the importance of the moment will override the pain signals and your brain will shut the pain down. Or imagine that you are a mother, and your child is about to get hit by a car in the street. You are barefoot, and running over gravel and broken glass to get to your kid in time; you do not feel the pain in your feet until your kid is out of danger. Your brain has literally blocked the pain signal from your consciousness until it deems you are safe.

On the flip side, have you ever had a bruise that you cannot remember getting? You injured your tissues to the point of a nasty black, blue or green bruise, but have no recollection at all of the event? An injury without any pain? Or what about amputees who have “phantom limb pain?” Those folks have pain in their “foot,” when the physical foot is literally gone.

The brain creates pain (or not) depending on a whole lot of factors. The situation you are in, the mood and mental state you are in (depression and anxiety are strongly linked to higher experiences of pain), your history of pain. If you grew up with parents who freaked out every time you got a boo-boo, you are more likely to think pain is the worst thing ever and to catastrophize any experience of pain, and therefore experience more pain. If your parents were more of a “rub some dirt on it, you’re fine” type, you are less likely as an adult to experience chronic pain.

All that to say that pain is normal. It is very natural part of the human condition and it serves a very good and helpful purpose. Pain is only meant to be information to serve as a warning that our body is in danger. When we have experienced chronic pain, or have depression and/or anxiety, or are under chronic stress (which is pretty much the natural state of being for all of us in the 21st century) or are prone to catastrophizing pain, then our warning systems get jacked way up, and things that are not dangerous at all (like bending over to tie your shoes), get processed as dangerous and therefore elicit a pain response from the brain. It’s like a car alarm that’s overly sensitive and goes off if a leaf lands on the hood.

For folks that have had chronic pain, it is possible to turn down those hyped up warning systems. Meditation and relaxation techniques can help. Deep breathing, as simple as that is, works wonders. Working on “graded exposure” to activity – slowly ramping up time spent doing an activity like walking to keep it under the pain-freak-out-zone – helps to turn down the system. Understanding how pain works alone helps to turn down the system, with realizing that every pain does not mean that your body is broken or that your simple normal movements are not making it worse. Being careful not to overdo it, but to find ways to move that are fun (walking outside, dancing, biking etc) will help.

What I’ve noticed with treating patients over the age spectrum and over a wide variety of physical states, is that the older folks who are still living a good life with a high level of function have some things in common. For one, they have a strong social network. Human beings are not meant to be isolated and alone and there is tons of research to back that up. Having a healthy marriage, or strong community of friends, people to volunteer with etc in old age seems to do wonders for people. I had a patient who still went square dancing in his 80s, as a widow, and had tons of friends that looked forward to seeing him every week. That’s huge.

Another big factor I’ve noticed is being realistic. The old folks I see that are in the best place realize that they are not necessarily going to be painfree most of the time when in their 70s, 80s, 90s. Although that 95 yr old patient I had was in no regular pain and still walked with ramrod-straight posture and only a cane for balance assistance (“just in case”). It is certainly possible to be painfree in your 90s. People who have realistic expectations and don’t put “make me 20 again” on their list of PT Goals, seem happier and more active in life. Pain is normal, and our bodies simply aren’t made to last indefinitely. Some parts are going to get injured, or worn out, and may have some pain on a regular basis. No need to freak out about it. Acceptance of a minimal-to-moderate amount of pain seems to help people succeed in aging well.

Lastly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, but the phrase “use it or lose it” is SO SO true when it comes to aging. The longer you can keep moving, keep working on strength, balance, and endurance, the longer you can keep active. It is really pretty simple. Our bodies are so efficient, so if we stop moving a certain way or using a certain muscle, it gets shut down FAST so as not to waste energy. To avoid getting weak and tired, don’t stop moving. Keep doing that thing you love, or keep trying out new activities. Keep exercising in whatever way you enjoy exercise. Keep moving, and you’ll be able to keep moving. Strength is function-specific, so if you want to be able to keep doing push ups into your 90s, keep doing push ups. Want to keep having an easy time getting off the toilet, keep working on squats or sit-to-stands. You get the picture. Use it. Or lose it.

Everyone likes to think that they are special. Especially people who are injured and have been through a lot. “My doctor said I have the worst knee he’s EVER SEEN.” “My surgeon said I have the spine of an 80 yr old (in my 30s).” “You don’t understand, I have degenerative disc disease / arthritis / bone-on-bone / a disc bulge (BIG WHOOP, who doesn’t??)” Unfortunately, doctors and surgeons have often exaggerated the role that imaging plays in people’s actual experience of pain and function for far too long. People see their MRI, hear that they have bulging discs or severe stenosis or arthritis, and they panic or think that they’re screwed. Their back is broken, their knee is beyond hope, their shoulder is destroyed, the rotator cuff torn up beyond repair. That’s simply not the case. You can google the specific numbers, but there are a lot of people walking around with bulging discs, fully torn rotator cuffs, and bone-on-bone arthritis with NO PAIN. Pain is determined by the brain from a wide variety of factors.

So if you get injured, yes, by all means, go see a PT. Acute injuries need to heal properly. You may have muscle imbalances that need addressing or may be too tight/weak/out of alignment and need some tweaking. And if you are in chronic pain, search for a good PT who helps you get moving again in a safe, comfortable, relatively painless way. If you are in chronic pain, try relaxation techniques, meditation, or therapy if you have a lot of anxiety or have depression. But know that hope is not lost. People have been aging with degenerative changes and injuries for all of life, more and more as we live longer. Our bodies are shockingly resilient, and can rebound from even catastrophic injuries. Don’t underestimate the strength of the human body or the power of the mind. Seek out good friends, fun activities, and enjoy your life!

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A lot of the information on pain in here came from the Explain Pain course I took through NOI. Lorimer Moseley is the one doing a lot of amazing research.

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