Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Surrender to Win – Step 1

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over [our chronic illness]—our lives had become unmanageable.

As Martha Cleveland wrote, "Step One asks us to admit that our chronic illness or disability causes us pain, and that we cannot control it, move away from it, or manage it" (33). I know from personal experience that focusing on my physical conditions and the limitations it imposes on my life can keep me from growing spiritually. My world begins to look rather small and I begin to feel insignificant because so many activities that others seem to be able to do without much thought cause me to get sicker. My feelings of fear can easily spiral out of control with me ending up on the `pity pot'. Or I experience anger because others don't seem to understand how their use of fragrances affects my health.

Step One does imply that I need to practice acceptance. It doesn`t mean I give up responsibility to do whatever is available for me to do. I still have to take my medicine, supplements, eat healthy, exercise, practice avoidance of chemicals and visit my doctor. It does mean I can give up any self-flagellation for having MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) or simply endure criticism from others, however well-meaning, who believe my disorder is something stemming from some form of mental illness. I admit I'm powerless to change other people, as well. I can inform them of how toxic the various chemicals they choose to use are, but I can't make them stop using them. I`m powerless to change their opinion of me, as well. Trying to change others surely leads to unmanageability.

Acceptance also doesn't mean I have to like having MCS! It means I practice "surrendering to win."  I give up fighting against something I cannot change. Powerlessness doesn't necessarily feel good, but the pursuit of control can hold me in a vicious cycle of denial and grasping, increasing my stress, which inevitably increases my illness. "In our surrender to powerlessness, we find energy for the powerful emotions that can lead us to spiritual health," Martha encourages (37). She also shares some questions to explore Step One, one of which is:

When you look back on your life, how important has control been to you in relation to your chronic illness or disability?

Photograph: "Dszpics1" by Daphne Zaras. Original uploader was Runningonbrains at en.wikipedia - uploaded at en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Thursday, September 25, 2014

12 Steps and Chronic Illness

I`ve been reading Living Well: A Twelve-Step Response to Chronic Illness by Martha Cleveland off and on for quite some time. I need to stop toying around with the concepts and write about them and her interpretation of the 12 Steps. As she points out:
 For those of us who live with chronic illness or disability the challenge is clear. Our bodies are no longer predictable, our trust in our physical self is shaken, and nature seems out of control. But our spirits are still ours and will always be ours. Spiritual fulfillment can be our goal, and our souls can support and guide us on whatever path our bodies take (8).


As I have previously written, MCS has a huge impact on my life and it's easy to fall prey to despair. But I know from experience that the 12 Steps work and I will benefit from making a concerted effort to apply them to my life. I believe all true answers originate from my spiritual center. Yes, I may be limited physically, but not spiritually.
We can choose to increasingly allow our lives to revolve around our physical condition. Or we can choose to commit ourselves to spiritual growth, refusing to let our physical condition limit the boundaries of our soul (14).

 Each week I will attempt to write about my journey down this particular path, one Step at a time. Hopefully, you will find some similarities to your journey and discover the power of the 12 Steps yourself. You may not be suffering with a chronic illness, but all of us suffer some type of wound.


"Our wound is the place where our soul finds entry into us. The calamity that strikes may be our call to spiritual fulfillment," Ernest Lawrence Rossi has written (5). This process of using a calamity to deepen my relationship with God has worked before with other issues. Therefore, there`s no reason to believe it won`t work again.


The refrain of an old Christian hymn started playing in my mind, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way/To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." To me, this message means I'm to step into the will of God and follow (no pun intended!).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wear My Shoes

Today, my youngest granddaughter is having a birthday party.  After much discussion between my granddaughters and me this morning, I decided I wouldn`t be able to go.  I thought I was okay with it, but after they left, I began to feel angry, abandoned, self-pity, isolated, and a host of many other emotions that have plagued me since my chemical sensitivities have worsened.

At first I thought I could go since the birthday girl had gone to great lengths to remove the plug-in air fresheners and the windows have been opened.  But then, my oldest pointed out that someone would probably be doing laundry and they use plenty of scented laundry products in the washer and the dryer.  Plus they couldn`t, or wouldn`t, make sure that no one sprayed hair products, cologne, or other fragrance-ridden products into the air before I came.  On top of all that, they couldn`t be sure that other guests would come fragrance-free.

Of course, it`s the same old story.  It reminded me of a meeting I was at years ago when we were voting on no longer allowing cigarette smoking at the meetings.  One attendee began cussing me out when I said that being around cigarette smoke made my bronchial tubes inflame which meant I would be coughing for the next 24 hours.  Now it`s unusual to be in any meeting where smoking would be allowed.

I wish people were more willing to go fragrance-free.  It`s a good thing that propane and natural gas are scented so that we don`t die from inhaling them, but the rest of the scents fall under the category of totally unnecessary.  If you want to know what it's like to live with MCS, Tilted Mom wrote the following in a blog she posted awhile back:

SO WEAR MY SHOES TODAY (If you aren’t already one of the millions suffering with an environmental illness):

Wear a mask in public and try not to get upset when the pregnant lady runs away from you

Don’t go to the party your invited to because your “friend” won’t tell the revelers to not wear fragrances

Start walking up the street and go back home because your neighbor is doing the laundry

Back away from most people who walk up to you because they are wearing a fragrance.

Carry Benydryl with you because you never know when you throat is going to close off

Allow no one in your house except the very few people who are willing to ditch the toxins…

I hear many say there is a RIGHT to wear fragrances. What they are really saying is there is a right to wear toxins.

What about mine and the human race’s right to survival?

Sound drastic?

If you’re wearing my shoes right now, you know it’s not drastic at all.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Time for Change

I`ve been exploring ways to connect up with people lately.  You see, having MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities) makes this rather difficult, if not downright impossible.  If I go into any group situation, someone is bound to be wearing a heavy dose of perfume, or cologne, or hairspray, etc., etc., etc.  Going to a public restroom can be a real challenge. 

Reaching out on the internet seems to be the only route to go.  The advertisers are winning in convincing people that things don`t smell right unless we buy their chemicals and spray them everywhere or throw them in the dryer or plug them into the wall.  It`s wishful thinking to believe that I will ever reach the audience that corporate dollars can reach, but I must do something.

So I`ve changed the topic of this blog.  I will still be exploring spiritual and religious topics because that`s where my heart is, but I will also be touching on that which causes me pain--MCS--and how it impacts my life and the lives of other "canaries."

Coal mining companies used to use canaries down in their mines to signal when the miners needed to leave and get some fresh air.  The canaries would stop singing when the air became too toxic.  That`s what those of us who already have MCS are--the canaries that have stopped singing to alert the world that the air is getting too toxic and it`s time to change or risk death.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Amelia Jenk Bloomer
Feast of St. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Amelia Jenk Bloomer
Saturday, July 20th

Today in the Episcopal Church we celebrate the lives of some pretty courageous women. All of them stood up for the rights of women,the abolition of slavery, and other injustices at a time when society and the Church regarded them as inferior beings. To read more about their tremendous courage in the face of huge challenges, check out the Padre Mickey Dance Party blog.

Harriet Tubman
Being courageous is not something I put down when I write an inventory of my strengths. Fear and anxiety are much more familiar to me. If I think about courage as requiring boldness, as exhibited by these four women, I don't recognize it in myself. Wordsmyth lists several synonyms for courage—audacity, daring, gallantry, heroism, pluck, prowess, spunk, and heart. 'Heart' resonates with me. One of the definitions for heart includes “energy and courage; spirit.” I suspect I do have some heart.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Tibetan lamas recount an ancient prophesy about the coming of the Kingdom of Shambhala. It will come at a time when the people of the world are in danger of self-annihilation. It's not a place where people can go, but a state of heart and mind in the Shambhala warrior. “The Shambhala warriors know that the dangers that threaten life on Earth do not come from evil deities or extraterrestrial powers. They arise from our own choices and relationships” (Macy). There are two weapons used by the Shambhala warriors—compassion and insight. Compassion is needed because it gives us the fuel to act on behalf of others. But compassion alone causes us to burn out so we also need the insight to see the interdependence of everyone and all that exists.

[Insight] lets us see that the battle is not between good people and bad people, for the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. We realize that we are interconnected, as in a web, and that each act with pure motivation affects the entire web, bringing consequences we cannot measure or even see (Macy).

I would say I'm a pretty compassionate person who's become burned out because I have not cultivated enough insight into my interdependence with all other beings. I try to act from my ego—my separate self. I can work on changing this and cultivate both of the weapons of a Shambhala warrior.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Mess

Daily Lectionary Reflections
Russian Icon of Peter's Denial
Proper 8, Monday

Peter is what Southerners call 'a mess'. It's a term used affectionately for someone who seems to always be doing something that stirs up trouble, but you can't stay mad at them because they're so lovable. I'm not sure where the term came from. However, a mess is something that can be cleaned up—not a total disaster from which no good can come.

In the reading from Luke, Peter denies that he knows Jesus, not one time, but three times. Of course, Jesus predicted Peter would do this sort of thing. He knew Peter's loyalty and curiousity would keep Peter lurking around while Jesus was being crucified, but he also knew Peter's fears—fear of death for being identified as a disciple of Jesus, enemy of the state!

And it was at Peter that Jesus yelled, “Get thee behind me Satan” (Matt. 16:23 KJV). Peter was being nice, saying “Heaven forbid,” (Matt. 16:22 NEB) when Jesus told the disciples that he would be put to death by the elders in Jerusalem. Peter loved Jesus. He didn't want anything bad to happen to Jesus. Imagine Peter's shock as Jesus chastised him for this!

Peter's the one that tried walking on water and failed. At least he tried. The other disciples stayed safely in the boat. Peter's also the one to whom Jesus said, “You are Peter, the Rock; and on this rock I will build my church . . .” (Matt. 16:18 NEB) Funny thing is, Matthew places this encounter only a few verses before Peter blurts out, “Heaven forbid” or “Never, Lord” (NIV). (I like the “Heaven forbid” better. It sounds more Southern!)

After Jesus is crucified, Peter and John get arrested by the Jewish rulers, and Peter proceeds to openly proclaim Jesus as being raised from the dead by God, and “there being no other name under heaven granted to men, by which we may receive salvation” (Acts 3:12 NEB). Somewhere he found the courage to acknowledge that he was a disciple of Jesus after faltering previously.

It's also Peter who opposed Paul about the baptism of Gentiles until he had a vision where God told him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15 NIV). He proceeds to the house of a Gentile, Cornelius, and admits his mistake, saying, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34 NIV). Peter and those who accompanied him were “astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45 NIV).

Despite being 'a mess', God uses Peter. That gives me hope. I stumble often. I run away in fear, denying God's call on my life. I think I'm right about something, only having to apologize later. I can be 'a mess', too, but God cleans me up again.

There's a meditation, written by Gerald May, in the Recovery Devotional Bible, that speaks of this as a good thing:
For every failure in my life, I feel either guilt or shame, and sometimes both. And it is all right.

It is better than all right, for it has been more my failures than my successes that has opened me to love (1292).
And isn't that what it's all about—opening to love.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


I've been listening to an audio book series, written by Margaret Cole, the Father John and Vickie Holden series, that takes place on an Arapaho Indian reservation. Father John is a Jesuit priest who solves murder mysteries. Within the book, Cole sprinkles beliefs of the Arapaho, one of which caught my attention--only in silence can we hear the approach of the Divine.
Photo by Niels E. Pedersen

We live in a noisy world. The Industrial Revolution brought with it machines and machines can be noisy. But nature can be noisy as well—just spend time in Georgia after the tree frogs start their nightly “symphony.” Therefore, it's a distinct possibility that the silence alluded to in many religious traditions is not the absence of noise, but rather a place of stillness.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Hafiz, a 14th century mystic and poet wrote:
Is a cruel ruler
Who is always imposing curfews,
While stillness and quiet,
break open the vintage bottles,
Awake the real Band (Fox 215).

From the Upanishads, fundamental Hindu teachings written between 600-300 BCE, we learn:
He is the inner self of all,
Hidden like a little flame in the heart,
Only by the stilled mind can he be known,
Those who realize him become immortal (Braybrooke 173).

Despite knowing that I need to cultivate stillness, it's a most difficult task. Distractions get my attention. Demons speak my name so much louder. “Noise is a cruel ruler.”

Obviously, God hasn't given up on me, coming to me even in a novel, asking for me to return to the silence found in stillness, to return to working the 11th step--”Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him . . .”.