Category Archives: Bodily Health

Physical wholeness and wellbeing.

A Kidney Donor Delivers a Setback to Live Organ Donation

I am a live kidney donor. That’s a fact I don’t parade around on my sleeve except for times like these when the credibility of live organ donation is on the line. We hear lots of beautiful, affirming stories of living donors giving a kidney or part of another organ and the life-changing, life-saving effects of that gift for their recipients. But all it takes is a widely publicized story of a donation going wrong to stamp a black eye on an evolving but fragile medical procedure– fragile because there are far more needs for organ transplants than available donors.

Debbie Stevens- the donor

This week, we heard the story of a 47-year-old woman named Debbie Stevens who donated a kidney to her boss, 61-year-old Jackie Brucia. Debbie Stevens has now gone public alleging that her boss and kidney recipient, hired her, received the kidney, terribly mistreated her, and fired her. Stevens stated, “I decided to become a kidney donor to my boss, and she took my heart… I feel very betrayed. This has been a very hurtful and horrible experience for me. She just took this gift and put it on the ground and kicked it.” Now, after filing a suit against Ms. Brucia, she’s demanding her kidney to be returned.

Jackie Brucia- the recipient

There are a lot of other extenuating details we know and lot more we don’t know. I’m not going to get into the messy she said/she said soap opera. You can read the story for yourself, but from what I gather of Debbie Stevens’ own story read through my own experience as a donor, I seriously doubt the substance of many of her claims. The circumstances leading up to the actual kidney donation looked legitimate. There didn’t appear to be any kind of set-up or manipulation. I also question the validity and helpfulness of  her post-donation claims.

Now, Debbie Stevens did suffer some post-surgical complications, and that happens. (I suffered some, too that lengthened my recovery time, rendering my case “non-textbook”.) But after that, she alleges that Jackie Brucia began to harangue her for taking too much time off and vying for special treatment as Stevens coped with her post-surgical complications.

Eventually, Stevens was re-located to another office as a demotion. After she made a public stink over her treatment and filed a lawsuit, she was fired.
Stevens, a single mother of two, now claims financial ruin from all the post-surgical medical treatments and lost income. She claims psychological trauma as a result of the donation, and that her life is ruined since no insurance company will pick a kidney donor once her COBRA expires. Meanwhile, Stevens and the press have painted Jackie Brucia as a hot-tempered, manipulative, rich company executive who used and abused a gracious, poor single mother of two kids.

Oh brother… Typing out all that drama just now left me feeling like a daytime soap screenwriter!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Jackie Brucia is no innocent saint and that there is some truth to her treatment of Stevens. And of course, we only know what Stevens has shared and how the press has told the story.
But as a donor, I felt compelled to point out some egregious red flags in Stevens’ story and allegations which people unfamiliar to the process might not see.

First, the transplant recipient’s medical insurance covers all of the donor’s medical costs related to the transplant, before and after surgery. All of my screening tests were 100% covered. The surgery and after-care has been 100% covered. When I was re-hospitalized after surgery, the hospitalization, tests, and follow-up tests and visits were all 100% covered. This usually lasts up to two years post-surgery. This is not Good Samaritan philanthropy on the part of insurance companies. As you can imagine, it’s purely about money. It costs a lot less to fully finance a transplant than years of dialysis treatments. Bottom line, unless Stevens is exaggerating her condition or not properly advocating for herself, she should not be in financial ruin from ensuing medical costs related to being a donor.

Second, insurance companies don’t typically deny coverage to organ donors. Not only that, but as established by the Affordable Care Act, a pre-existing condition is no longer a barrier to coverage. That’s one aspect of the new health care law I firmly agree with.

Third, I question the amount of recovery time and accommodations Stevens claimed she needed. Even with complications, I was back to work within three weeks. Stevens was given four. That’s plenty of time. And if she needed more recovery time or accommodations, she could have easily gotten a prescription from her surgeon. That would have cleared the air, especially with her recipient boss, for crying out loud. Chances are that through the process Brucia would have even known and  interacted with Stevens’ surgeon.

Recipients, on the other hand, do often require more recovery time than donors. That is especially the case today with minimally invasive surgical techniques to remove the donor’s kidney. Surgeons have even perfected a single-incision procedure through the donor’s naval! Amazing stuff… So Stevens’ implication that she was forced back to work while her still recovering, pampered boss reamed her out from the comforts of her home looks to be little more than an emotional ploy.

Lastly, something obviously went wrong while preparing and evaluating these two women for the relational after-affects of the donation.
Back to my story… I’m a pastor, and I donated a kidney to one of my parishioners. Live organ donation is emotional enough, but in a potentially awkward situation like this one, it could have been even more so.

Part of the evaluation process was weighing the effects of being a donor on my parishioner recipient, on our unique relationship, how this might affect the church, and how this would affect our families, especially within the church. As a part of my evaluation to be a donor, a social worker from our kidney donation program asked me some very pointed questions, “What are your motives? Do you expect to gain anything from being a donor? How would you react if there was a falling out between you and your recipient? How would you react if the surgery is not successful?” These were tough questions to wrestle through, and if my answers were any less than genuine, my donor application would have been flatly denied. I also had to work very carefully with our church’s leadership and my denominational supervisor to get their support, to discern the best way to share what was happening with the rest of our church, and to work up a recovery plan.

It’s clear from the Debbie Stevens and Jackie Brucia story that something went wrong with this evaluation and preparation process. Perhaps everyone involved was not as thorough or truthful as they needed to be. Maybe the donation program they worked through fell down on the job.

In any case, donation does significantly change the relationship between donor and recipient. It certainly brought my recipient and me and our families much closer. But we also had to figure out healthy, meaningful ways for us to express “thank you” and “you’re welcome” for an unusual, life-altering gift. That creates some discomfort and stress, and I think that stress contributed to the messiness between Stevens and Brucia. I can imagine Stevens feeling that she was owed gratitude and respect from her boss and Brucia struggling over how to be both a thankful recipient and an unbiased supervisor. No doubt those uneasy dynamics came to play.

Yet no matter the extenuating facts, Debbie Stevens’ public behavior since losing her job has cast live organ donation in a dark shadow. She may very well have a case, but why go so public with it, crying out things that are clearly out of line and false? The public sees this story and could very well walk away thinking, If that’s what can happen after donating a kidney, no thank you! Meanwhile, the list of people waiting on the kidney transplant list still grows.

Being a kidney donor is a huge decision, granted, but it is a truly viable, inexpressibly rewarding thing that any healthy person can do. How often are we given an opportunity to give something of ourselves that saves another person’s life? Yes, I live with one kidney now, but I’m just as healthy now as ever. Actually, the process forced me to lose weight and take better care of myself, so I’m healthier now before. My life expectancy has not diminished. I live everyday unaware that anything is different with my body. Aside from avoiding certain medications and avoiding high impact activities, my lifestyle is no different. My kidney donation took place January of last year. That November I ran a 5K race and beat all my previous times.

My body lives just fine with one kidney. And my recipient’s quality of life and life-expectancy has dramatically improved. Her transformation has been a humbling, stunning thing to see.

I really do pray and hope that everything works out as it should for both Stevens and Brucia. Something went terribly wrong that needs to be corrected. But in no way does a tragedy like this paint an accurate or fair portrait of live organ donation.

From one donor to another, Debbie Stevens owes it to everyone on a transplant list and to all potential donors to publicly uphold the worthiness and viability of live organ donation.

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Becoming a Kidney Donor- One Year Later

Today marks one year from January 26, 2011, the day I donated a kidney to my recipient Ann. I’ve thought for a while of what I would say (if anything!) on this day, and the one sentiment that keeps coming to me is thank God for the gift of life. That is not at all an underhanded self-congratulatory statement– not at all! Stranded together in that word “life” are many integral threads, my left kidney being only one of them. The life I’m celebrating today has every bit to do with the journey we have taken leading up to and proceeding the donation surgery itself.

Dave and Ann Meixner, Chris and Blairlee Owens

In the late Spring of 2010 as I considered being a possible donor for Ann, I didn’t have much of a clue about what would truly lie ahead. We never do. We sign up for things in good faith, and then plod on ahead a day at a time in faith, taking whatever comes to us, come what may, good or bad.

For me, one of the first revelations in the extensive evaluation process was that I desperately needed to lose some weight. I’ve always been one of those lucky people with a slower metabolism that leaves me struggling with my weight. But in order to be a donor, I needed to drop some significant pounds. There was a minimal amount and an ideal maximum. Figuring that the lighter I was, the easier all of this would be on the surgeon and on me, I went for the ideal maximum and dropped about 65 lbs.

But the weight was only part of the picture. Ann’s husband Dave kept telling me, “Well, if for nothing else you’ll be getting yourself one heck of a physical.” He was right. Multiple blood tests, a chest x-ray, a CT scan, an EKG, and a full comprehensive physical later, I had gotten more in touch with the make-up and health of my body than I ever had before.

So, the first strand of God’s gift of life was an even greater appreciation for my health and the imperative to get healthier. This is a gift that keeps on giving, too. Now living with only one kidney, I have every bit of motivation needed to keep my weight and all those other critical levels in check!

Then came the day of surgery itself and the days that followed. Looking back, those were some exciting, beautiful times. Yes, there was a lot pain involved, especially in the first couple of days. And there were those minor details of general anesthesia and major surgery for Ann and me. Thank goodness for pain medication that both alleviated much the pain and a bunch of my memories, too.

But two distinct memories stand out from surgery day and the day following: Waking up I first remember asking about Ann. How was she? Did she do alright? The first thing I remember being told was that she was okay and that her new kidney (my old one!) was already at work producing urine. Wow…

Then on the next day after my catheter was removed, they got me up to do some walking and my first walk was down to Ann’s room. Having had my gut cut open and contents removed just the day before, that was a slow, ginger walk. But there was Ann in her room, reporting that already she was beginning to feel better. Her new kidney was hard at work removing the toxins from her body that had debilitated her for years now, and even after her own major surgery, she could feel the difference. Believe me,  that was a powerfully humbling, even flattening thing to behold.

The second strand of life was Ann’s new life. To date, this is the most difficult part of the experience to fathom and even talk about. Most all off us have an inner compulsion to help other people. Most of us would describe ourselves somewhere in the tension of being people who give of themselves while also consciously aware that we could always do better. I donated a kidney to Ann, a member of my church, because it was an opportunity I had to help. Until then, I had never even considered something like this. I didn’t do it to “make a huge sacrifice” or to be a hero.

Ann needed a kidney and like many recipients, she was having a hard time finding one. I was healthy and compatible enough with Ann to participate. That’s it. Some gifts we give make a small, meaningful difference. Others make a drastic, meaningful difference. Sometimes we’re tasked to walk an old woman across the street. Sometimes, we’re tasked to save a life. Either way, it’s all about being available to meet the need, however great or small. Along those lines, I hate to think that I donated a kidney, but failed to take ten minutes to listen to someone who just really needed to talk. Both are equally important tasks. Both give life.

Then, the day after coming home from this hospital, I had to go straight back in. As my bowels woke up from the sleep of general anesthesia, I developed a serious case of GI bleeding. From all the blood loss, I passed out in the hospital, fell and hit my head pretty hard, leaving me with a concussion. Two units of blood, a CAT scan, an endoscopy and colonoscopy, and “Meckel” scan later, I came home again. I don’t remember how many nights I was in the hospital. This time, I was recovering from major blood loss and a concussion in addition to surgery.

Ann had her share of complications, too. Her surgery site got infected and took a long time to properly heal. At one point she experienced some very mild rejection, both instances having put her back into the hospital, too.
What can I say?? We were challenging patients!

For me, the extended recovery and ensuing symptoms left me weaker and more physically and psychologically vulnerable than I realized. Getting back into the swing of things took much, much longer than I had anticipated. And for all their excellent care, the doctors’ predictions about healing times and returning to work were far too rosy. But I wasn’t a textbook case, as my donation coordinator reminded me.

I was suffering memory loss and emotional imbalances from the concussion. Frustration with myself led to a lot of outward and inner anger. I still feel both incredibly grateful but a tinge guilty for all Blairlee, my kids, and those close to me had to endure. This person they had always known just wasn’t himself and couldn’t come to grips with that. Their patience, forgiveness, and unconditional love was yet another gracious gift in this experience.

Finally, by late Spring of last year, all this frustration and anger amassed into a serious depression. Combine that with all the physiological changes my body endured during the year along with my own inherited propensity for depression, and I found myself in a new season of illness and healing I never would have predicted. Just when I thought that physically I was getting in better shape, my mind and spirit needed healing.

Once again I found myself at the mercy and in the care of my family, close friends, and the medical community. And once again, I found myself humbled by everyone’s graciousness and unconditional love. And what did I do to deserve all this??

The third stand of life was the care, support, and gracious love of those closest to me. All told, I have not been an easy person to live with and work with this year. (Some might argue that’s always the case. It was just particularly difficult in 2011.) As a husband, a father, a pastor, and a friend, I have been used to taking care of other people. I was the support and the caregiver. I’m used to living out my life to serve and give to others.

But this time, I couldn’t do much of that. In fact, others have had to do for me what I couldn’t do myself. I know that there have been folks who have felt let down or even angry that I fell down on the job. They told me so. Yet in the midst of all that, I learned how dispensable we all are. Our lives are a gift to others, yes, but we are not indispensable fountains of salvation. The world can carry on without us or even in spite of us.
As it does, I learned to allow others to care for me, to forgive me, and to love me even when I wasn’t very lovable. No one does that better than my wife Blairlee. Here I was, giving away one of my organs, only to find myself a needy recipient.

That has truly been the most profoundly beautiful, humbling thread of this cord of life I’ve been talking about here.

So, here’s to a journey that began close to to two years ago and continues on today. We are all donors and recipients of life. It’s just a question of graciously making ourselves available to give what we have to those who need it and to gladly, graciously receive the gifts others grant us. All this is God’s gift of life, seen most perfectly in Jesus, incarnated in us whenever we lovingly give and whenever we humbly receive.

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End of the Summer Update: Music, Depression, and New Focus

It’s been a while since I last ventured into the blogosphere, over four months in fact. In the world of blogging, a four month absence is often the equivalent of  a four year absence anywhere else and thus a quick recipe for irrelevancy. (Keeping a blog is much like “feeding the beast” as a friend of mine once put it.) But life happens in seasons, and some seasons nurture more fruitful conditions for blogging than others, at least in my life. It just happened that this past life season, which loosely corresponded with summer, was one that demanded me to unplug from social networking. I needed that. If I hadn’t, you would have eventually demanded it, I’m sure!
As the title suggests, it was a painful but grace-filled summer. Music. A clinical depression. Hopes for new focus.

A Musical Renaissance
Almost two years ago, the band I played with during my college years got together for a reunion show, and that deeply satisfying experience reawakened the “playing bug” in me. I sing and play a variety of instruments, but my love for playing the bass and singing in a band took on a whole new life. Eight months after that, I started playing in a rock trio that has played a handful of times.

But then in the late spring of this year, it occurred to me that I have had an unspoken yet desperate need to do more things outside of church life. Any pastor will tell you that ministry can be all-encompassing and smothering unless there are invigorating activities we can enjoy that have nothing whatsoever to do with church. Given  my lifelong passion for music, that translated into playing in a band that could gig out.

So, I sold some things I had to get a better bass amplifier and then began thinking about my bass. I have had a bass guitar I bought from a guy I knew when I first started seriously playing. It’s the equivalent of a Ford Fiesta in the bass world– nothing fancy or special, but a good, reliable instrument. I bought it for next to nothing and made some modifications that made it even better.

But then a neighbor of mine lent me his Fender Jazz bass. I had always heard of the Fender Jazz and knew of many prominent bass players who have sworn lifelong allegiances to them, but I had never tried one. Well let me tell you, after adjusting my neighbor’s Fender Jazz a little bit and putting it through its paces, I fell hopelessly in love with it. I would have thought Leo Fender himself had personally designed the shape, tone, and feel of that bass exclusively for me. I won’t inundate you with all the frilly details because it would bore 95% of you non-bassists, but let me just say, it was like the experience of meeting someone and realizing you’ve found your soul mate. (Blech! Sorry, only a musician would not gag over that last sentence.)
After months of research and playing several models, I discovered the one– a Geddy Lee Fender Jazz. So I talked it over with Blairlee, sold a few more things and went out to get my treasure! With a great amp and a killer bass guitar, it was time to get out there and do some more playing. Through Craigslist and a musician’s website, I advertised myself and contacted prospective bands. To my surprise, I got bombarded by the number of bands looking for a bassist, especially one who can sing.

Stepping into established bands was an entirely different musical experience for me. I had a hand in conceiving every other band I’ve played in. So, conveniently, there was never anything I had to prove. This time, however, I had to step into existing bands and audition. Fewer words will curdle the blood of a musician more than audition. (You’re too loud is a close second.) Indeed, auditioning was a nerve-racking  prospect, but it was good, hard medicine. Being forced to work extra hard in practice and preparation for an audition notched up my professionalism quite a bit. And it more than paid off. Thankfully, every band I auditioned for offered me a job!

As of now, I’m playing in a trio that plays classic and modern rock and in a second band, a foursome, that plays harder modern rock. Once in a while I get calls to step in and play in other projects, too. I have been blessed to find and play alongside band mates who are solid musicians and decent family guys who love music as much as I do.

That itch to get out and play is getting plentifully scratched…

A Clinical Depression
Most of you probably know that on January 26 of this year God gave me the incredible opportunity to donate my left kidney to a woman from my congregation. It’s almost impossible to put into words how powerful an experience this has been for me. But I had also taken for granted how physically and mentally challenging it was, too. From the time I began the tests and evaluations to become a donor until a week after surgery, I lost about 70 lbs. The weight loss combined with the rigors of major surgery, the loss of an organ, and recovery, put my body through taxing, heavy changes.

All of that physical trauma infused into the demanding life of pastoral ministry that requires nothing less than my absolute best, even when I’m fully healthy, created the perfect storm for a personal melt down.
Well, the perfect storm found me. It took the shape of a clinical depression. I have suffered depression only once before during a time in which my personal circumstances were far worse than now. This depression, however, made that one seem like a skip through Candy Land. I went through some very dark weeks. And I’m not yet at a place where I would have the heart to elaborate on them now.

I am just so thankful to have been continually surrounded by such a patiently loving wife, family, and church family who have been more than able to nurse me through the worst of it. They did not give up on me, even when I had gotten to the point of wanting to give up on myself. Through their encouragement, I took the necessary steps of getting diagnosed and receiving medication which I’m still taking today. About two months ago I started getting some therapy, too.

Working through depression has reminded me again how inept we are at understanding and relating to people who struggle with any kind of mental condition, whether it be dementia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or depression. They are medical conditions that are diagnosed and treated just like any other part of the body. And yet, the rampantly running misunderstandings and ill-formed attitudes people hold about conditions and illnesses of the mind are mind-boggling (no pun intended) given the age of information in which we live and the number of people who struggle with conditions like depression, dementia, and ADHD.

By its very nature depression is isolating enough, let alone the additional barriers of isolation created by fear, shame, and ignorance. But it is what it is. Thankfully, I have had an understanding web of people to support and hold me accountable.

At the same time, I have found depression to be a gift. Far from a being a demon to cast out so that I can “get back to normal”, depression can lead to healing, growth, and clarity through the hurts and difficulties that might have been lingering just below the surface far down enough that I could conveniently ignore them. Depression strips away this veneer. It completely exposes those old open wounds. With its awful, deafening silence in the rawest parts of my soul, depression insists I do the hard work of healing, discernment, growth, and change. That takes time. It also requires firm intention. But I’m getting there, one day at a time with the help of this shadowy gift.

Renewed Focus
As gratifying and agonizing as this summer has been, there are still some budding seeds of hope. I can’t think of too many other things as hopeful as a renewed sense of focus and purpose. Somewhere in the thick of this year’s happenings and in the time leading up to it, I began to lose my focus, my purpose and indeed myself. In order to keep the masses happy and my home at peace, I had fallen headlong into the trap of giving so much away to satisfy the needs and demands of others that my life became enslaved to the tyranny of the phone, the clock, and the constant barrage of “I need you to do _____.”
The phone will always ring. The clock will keep ticking. I’ll always be needed, but now I’m beginning to rediscover a truth I have known but forgotten. That is, God has given me unique gifts, strengths, abilities, and talents, and it is time for me to intentionally operate solely out of these things. That will be my gift to the world around me.

There will always be things I can’t do or don’t do well. There will always be things that despite my best efforts will drive my wife and kids crazy. But I don’t have to be nearly as burdened by all this when I’m living from the fountain of my personal strengths and gifts, realistically aware of my liabilities, yes, but not worrying about that so much. As for growth, why not grow where I’m already strong instead of trying to grow where I know I’m weak only to find myself frustrated time and time again?

Part of the renewed focus means writing, writing, and more writing, discovering and probing in ways that get myself and others to think and grow while laying new paths for more authentic, sincere spirituality through a vital connection with Jesus Christ. The blog will undoubtedly be a part of that and far less neglected than it has been of late.

In the meantime, I want you to know how much I appreciate our exchange of ideas and the ways you enhance my thinking and writing by your comments and conversation. Let’s keep at it together…

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The Donor Who Became a Recipient

If life has a constant most of us could agree to, it’s the Forrest Gump Principle: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” How true. In my case, what began for me as an opportunity to be a live kidney donor quickly revolved into the humbling experience of becoming a recipient, not of an organ per se, but of other life-giving blessings, both spiritual and physical.

My realization of this revolution began with a conversation I had with Dave, my recipient’s husband, while I was still in the hospital recovering from kidney donation surgery. He and I were talking about the nature of serving versus being served. In my pain medication-induced mental state, I can’t recall how we got into that subject or how it resolved. But I do remember reflecting with Dave on my experiences with the story of Jesus from John 13 which tells how the Lord himself washed his disciples’ feet.
On several occasions, I’ve participated in foot-washing experiences on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week or during small group settings. It’s never a problem for me to wash someone else’s feet. Hey, if it means helping or blessing someone else, sure, I can do that. Sign me up anytime! Yet when it comes time to switch positions and place my feet into the hands of someone who will wash them… well… to be honest that’s a wholly different, and frankly, painfully uncomfortable thing to do. My gut reaction is to smile and discreetly wave it off, saying, “Please don’t bother yourself with that. I can manage for myself, thank you very much.”

But I have had to learn that sitting there while someone washes and dries my feet is a necessarily humiliating experience for me, much like it was for Jesus’ disciple Peter. It’s Jesus’ way of teaching this proudly self-sufficient alpha male that I must make room in my life for others to serve and give to me. It’s Jesus pushing me to realize that I am far more needy than I realize, and that for my soul’s sake, I must yield to the servant Christ within my sister or brother who would lovingly kneel to wash my feet.

Little would I know, the opportunity to relearn this figurative experience in real life began to happen the day after I came home from kidney donation surgery. On the afternoon of that next day, I started to get some serious GI rectal bleeding that cost me an immediate return trip to the hospital. (Side note: I won’t bore or gross you out with lots of medical details except to say that the bleeding stopped. After three major tests produced no conclusive results, I ended up back home with instructions to follow-up with my primary care doctor.) Yet those miserable five days back in the hospital shaped into a defining wilderness experience I never want to repeat, but whose lessons I hope to keep closely.

I had lost so much blood that I required two units of blood. Never having needed a blood transfusion before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that my condition was worse and even more life-threatening than I knew. As I laid there in the hospital bed gazing up at each bag of blood that was slowly draining into my body, it occurred to me that this was no manufactured IV fluid or medicine. This was created and then voluntarily taken out of someone else’s body, and now it was flowing into mine. Someone freely donated this blood and at that moment, it was saving my life.

For the next couple of hours I looked up at one unit of blood and then the other, trying to imagine the faces of those anonymous donors. Several nights later I had a strange dream about that very thing. In my dream the first unit was given by a stay-home mother of four who donates regularly to her local Red Cross donation center. Then I dreamed that the second unit was donated by an African-American man who happened to walk into a blood drive hosted by a local church. It doesn’t much matter to me how true the dream was. The dream painted a greater reality of both the diversity and the generosity of people who donate blood. Two people, each giving a pint of blood, saved my life.

If that wasn’t leveling enough, I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I experienced next. While I was in the hospital and every day since, my family and I have been bathed in a steady stream of prayers, cards, and meals. Folks have given expressions of concern and love over the phone, by e-mail, on Facebook, in good-old-fashioned hand-written notes. Occasionally, we’ve gotten warm, short visits from friends and family. We have been carried along by the hands, voices, and hearts of hundreds and hundreds of people. I’m not sure how to put into words how deeply moving all of this has been. (Even that last bit of dribble seems so hopelessly clichĂ©!)

I even had agnostic and atheist friends tell me that they would pray for my recipient Ann and me, since they knew it would mean something to us. Spiritually speaking, it doesn’t get much more selfless than that, especially for people who don’t believe in a deity, much less any form of prayer. If only more of us believers could be so thoughtfully giving…

So, here I sit, pondering all of this, my feet being gently washed by countless people. I struggle to put into some kind of meaningful expression the impact of tables turning, of the donor who quickly became a recipient. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for breathing restorative life into me and for the profound lessons your gifts continually teach me. In you and in the giving of your very selves, I have seen the face of Jesus Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to offer his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Again, I offer my love and thanks to God and for God in you!

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Ruminations over Medications, i.e. Me on Meds for ADHD

Last week I finally broke down and did it. I went to see my doctor to get help. This issue had been bothering me to varying degrees all my life, but now I figured it was time to do something about it. And while I desired my doctor’s remedy, I was afraid of it, too.
During all of my adult life I have always poked fun at myself over my ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I can also look back on my childhood and youth years to see I had it then, but because my grades and achievements never seemed to suffer too terribly for it, my condition suffered a deficit of proper attention. (Bad pun intended!) So, I learned to cope with it by working around it. I also surmised that my inability to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, to leave tasks unfinished, to be ever driven by distraction, or to struggle to keep myself focused for extended periods of time was just an immutable part of my personality. I have always strained for ways to keep centered in a conversation when lots of other sensory distractions are around me. I had learned to tolerate the curse of my insufferably bad short-term memory and disdain for organization.

So, I figured that the whole ADD thing is a quirk to deal with, for better or worse. Sometimes it could be a pain, yes. I also saw it as a benefit to my ministry. It has allowed me to shift gears very quickly (a ministry must!) and to handle sudden changes, even very difficult ones, with agility.
But now that I’m married again, the father of three children, and have numerous, heavy responsibilities as a pastor of a large congregation and a leader in other arenas, the stresses of trying to cope with my condition finally caught up with me. I thank God my ADD didn’t result in losing either my family or my career. However, I did feel like I was losing my grip on my effectiveness and my sanity, bit by bit!

Then one day, it just hit me. I came home after being away for a few days and sat on our family room floor holding Jacob who was being fussy. The TV was on. Blairlee was sitting on the couch talking on the phone. Kathryn was in an adjacent room singing along to music. The dog was barking at something. All of that combined stimuli felt like sharp claws digging into a chalk board. I couldn’t think or focus on anything. Later that evening, Blairlee and I were talking about the usual family stuff– coordinating our schedules, things coming up with Kathryn’s school work, Jacob’s appointments, etc., etc. A few hours later, I couldn’t remember half of the things we had just discussed!

This had been an ongoing pattern that wasn’t getting any better. Finally, I decided that for the first time in my nearly 36 years, it was time to take full ownership of this ADD thing and get some professional help.
So, I called my doctor and asked to be diagnosed and possibly, if necessary… [gulp]… get medication.

The next day, Blairlee, a Maryland state licensed clinical professional counselor, pulled out her DSM-IV, which is a large book that catalogs mental disorders. (I’m sure she was highly anticipating being able to use that book on me one day!) Keeping in mind that neither she nor I am qualified to give psychological assessments, we nevertheless discovered that my behavior and thinking patterns fit almost hand in glove within the diagnosis called ADHD, Inattentive Type. It was as if somebody personally studied my behavioral patterns and created this disorder to describe me.

Several days later, sitting in my doctor’s examination room, I described for her my symptoms, and she heard enough to agree that yes, I’ve got ADHD, Inattentive Type.  Then she prescribed Adderall XR, a drug commonly used to treat ADHD. Ironically, my daughter Kathryn, who has my same condition, took that drug for about a year and it worked wonders on her.
Now here’s the funny part: part of me felt truly relieved to finally have some help with this ADHD, for my sake and for those around me. But another part of me deeply dreaded the prospect of living on a medication like this.

It’s not that I have a problem taking medicines. I mean, I take Tylenol for headaches and other over-the-counter drugs for short-term issues. I take antibiotic prescriptions for the occasional sinus or bronchial infections.

Yet there’s part of me that despises the notion of having to take a medication on a long-term or even lifetime basis in order to function properly. It’s like I’m hinging my mental health on a chemical concoction.
Seven years ago, I had to take antidepressants for the only depression I’ve ever suffered, and while I was glad the medication got me to function again, there was something about having to take those pills that I hated. They drove my blood pressure up requiring a medication for hypertension. If I missed a dose of my antidepressant, my life became hell for those few hours until I was able to take it again. Coming off of them was sheer torture.
So, perhaps my fear is now somewhat based on that experience. It’s irrational, of course. I’ll admit that.

And yes, I know that millions of people live everyday taking necessary medications in order to function or even to survive! They take them, do just fine, and whine a lot less than I do about it. And yes, I feel blessed to have gotten this far having had only one other major experience of taking medication long-term.

Maybe my deep reservations are rooted in anxious fears. What if this medicine doesn’t work? What if I’m expecting it to do more than it’s capable of? What if it creates other side effects? What if I somehow get hooked on it? If it doesn’t work or creates too many other problems, are there other remedies that would work? On and on these anxious questions flow. The night before I began taking the medicine, I didn’t sleep well because I was so nervous about having to start it.

Well, I should know in a month’s time whether or not the Adderall will do the trick and also to see what other kinds of helps are out there to help contain the ADHD I have. So far, I have noticed some definite differences and improvements, and that’s been encouraging.

All in all, this is yet another way that Jesus is teaching me to live life one day at a time, not worrying about things that are outside of my control. And hey, if this remedy will help me be more effective in his service, then all the better!

I’m also grateful for having the means and access to excellent medical care and medicine. At the same time,  I’ve been increasingly mindful of those who don’t and have conditions far worse than mine that beg for treatment. Their plight far outweighs my own rumination over medication.

So, periodically, I’ll keep you updated on how things go and what I learn. In the mean time, follow doctors orders, especially the Great Physician’s. As always, thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings!

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Learning How to Vacation

As I write this, I’m in the first half of a much needed two-week vacation here in sunny Florida. My family and I drive down this way every summer to stay with my mother and step-father who both work for Walt Disney World and live almost right next to the Magic Kingdom. (We can hear the train whistles blowing from the Walt Disney Railroad and fireworks exploding at night.) Of course, with family who work for Disney World, we have the added perks of getting into all the parks for free!

Having been been to Disney World numerous times over the past nine years, I’ve moved beyond a wide-eyed fascination with Disney magic to enjoy some things that first-timers might ordinarily miss, things like people-watching and tuning in to the finer aspects of Disney’s creative and marketing genius. There really is so much to see, take in, and enjoy. But being a people person, I’ve learned to enjoy watching how people behave when roaming around the parks and resorts.

As for the people here,  if you haven’t been to Disney World before, you might think that Disney’s guests all beam with smiles and merriment. At least that’s what you see in pictures and commercials. You do see some of that, yes. But I also see a lot of tension. People come here with great expectations and a desire to “do it all.” So I see people eagerly rushing around and even arguing with one another and with their kids. (My sister, a Disney World call center employee who has spent her last several years dealing with guests, calls Disney “the fight capital of the world.”) Or, I see flat, tired looks on peoples’ faces.  After their stay, many folks return home exhausted, feeling the need for another vacation to recover from the one they just had.

Why is that? I’ve found that there are two sides of a coin to Disney World. On the one side, Disney offers a complete escape from reality. From the moment guests arrive to their resort or a theme park, they enter an alternative reality, an exquisitely orchestrated fantasy world of play. It removes its guests from the outside world into an all-encompassing Disney-style imagination world. Disney weaves together everything guests see, hear, touch, smell, or taste to create this new dimension of happiness.

Caught up in the created euphoria, I see Disney’s guests stretching themselves to the limit in order to be fully immersed in the happiness Disney promises. That’s the flip-side of the coin. Unrealistic expectations slam against the reality that even Disney cannot satisfy the insatiable hunger guests bring with them to lose themselves in Neverland. Walt Disney World, for all of its wonder and fun, isn’t heaven… It doesn’t soothe the longings people bring with them– not by a long shot.

So for my family, we’ve decided to do things a little differently. En lieu of going out every day, we’ve taken plenty of time simply to relax. Instead of the normal running around non-stop from here to there, we’ve taken a much slower, leisurely place. I’ve gotten over the guilt of feeling lazy and non-productive to enjoy just sitting around. I read or work on some fun projects, help my parents around the house, play with the kids, or if I feel like it, hop on the computer to blog about it. I’ve resisted the temptation to worry about work or answer e-mails. It will all be there when I get back. World War III doesn’t appear to be breaking out. So why worry myself about things instead of taking advantage of the precious opportunity I have right now to rest?

I’m re-learning that vacation is a form of Sabbath, not an escape from reality. If I or anyone else needs vacation to escape reality, then it’s probably time to re-evaluate, re-prioritize, or make adjustments to that reality. Sabbath, on the other hand, has a plain purpose: it is God’s gift of rest, re-creation, and reflection. Sabbath offers new life and a deepened perspective to those who take it.

I haven’t come to Florida to escape the world. The inner issues I had when I left are still with me. The conflicts back home will still be there when I get back. But in seeking Sabbath, God has offered me the rest and renewed strength I’ll need to handle all those fires within and without.

So will my family and I be running around in Disney World? You bet! But for me it’s not an escape. I’m using the time to remember what’s most imporant in my life, specifically my relationships with my wife and children, and of course with my God. Can I see God in new ways throught the people I meet and the experiences I have? I pray so. Can my family develop some deeper bonds to sustain us through the stresses of everyday life back home? I pray for that, too. All of this is Sabbath.

And so, I’m going to get off the computer now and enjoy the Sabbath time God has offered me. I hope and pray for each of you that when you have those rare moments of time to enjoy vacation, that it truly becomes a time of Sabbath and not a cheap escape from reality. In reality, there is no such escape!

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