Our hidden illness

Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge

My  daughter has asthma.

People often express their condolences when the subject comes up but—the truth is—it’s really not a big deal. I grew up with asthma, so I was never intimidated by the diagnosis. Thankfully, my daughter’s asthma is well-controlled with daily medication and has (thus far) never caused her any serious issues. Though it does flare up when she falls ill or exercises more than normal, her asthma most typically manifests in a distinctive chronic cough from October through April.

Predictably, the coughing has recently started up again.  It makes us very unpopular in public spaces.

At our local science museum last week, I couldn’t help but notice other parents discreetly redirecting their children away from my daughter who, although she’s pretty good about coughing into her elbow, inevitably makes quite a scene when she’s hit with a prolonged spell.

I don’t blame other parents for giving us a wide berth. Nobody wants their kids to get sick and, unless you know (as we do) that her cough is distinctly asthmatic, you’d think she had a cold and was putting everybody at risk of exposure. And so I find myself subtly justifying our presence. If I happen to catch a mother’s skeptical eye after yet another coughing fit, I give her an apologetic smile and say, “Sorry, she has asthma.”

Almost without exception, her expression transforms from one of irritation into one of sympathy and regret.

Watching this instantaneous transformation occur before my eyes over and over again makes me wonder: how many times have I presumed that I am witnessing a human failing (one to which I can feel superior) when, in fact, I’m only seeing the symptom of an underlying illness or injury (one which would immediately compel me to compassion)?

I suspect the answer is almost every time.

One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Ian Maclaren, is, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The older I get, the more I realize how true this is. In every stage of life I meet people who are embroiled in terrible battles—battles which transform my bitter judgment into deep sympathy in a heartbeat:

Why is that boy acting so rude on the playground? Because he’s on the autism spectrum and doesn’t recognize social cues.

Why is that new mother giving her baby formula, when we all know “breast is best”? Because she has postpartum depression and breastfeeding makes it worse.

Why does that young woman get drunk and sleep with jerks every weekend? Because she was sexually abused and has no model for healthy intimacy.

Why is that guy addicted to heroin? Because he’s gay and terrified of coming out.

Why did that mom bring her sick child to the Pacific Science Center today? Because her daughter’s cough is due to a chronic, not contagious, sickness.

We are all of us sick: at the very least, in the way that humanity is sick with original sin but also—and usually far worse—in ways that are personal, foundational … and frequently invisible. Our souls may be sin-sick (as the old hymn goes), but they are also abuse-sick, grief-sick, trauma-sick, and illness-sick.

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com
Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

The same wounds and diseases that cry out for compassion lie hidden beneath the very symptoms which make compassion so easy to withhold. And yet Scripture, particularly the New Testament, makes it pretty clear that compassion is non-negotiable if we are to consider ourselves true Christians.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

I pray for the grace to see beyond the coughing spells I encounter, and to be moved to compassion for those dreadful, hidden illnesses about which I know nothing.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Nicole-Steele-Woodridge-with-daughtersNicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s whose contributions to Messy Jesus Business usually focus on the intersection of faith and parenting. She writes from the Seattle, Washington area, where she lives with her husband and two daughters (only one of whom has asthma).

love, peace, Jesus and NATO

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him
and, falling at his feet, paid him homage.
Peter, however, raised him up, saying,
“Get up. I myself am also a human being.”
Then Peter proceeded to speak and said,
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.”   –Acts 10:25-26

Let’s get up and be together; we are all human beings.

We are the people of God.  Really, all people are God’s people and God loves everyone the same.  Not one nation is better than any other. Not one person is better than any other.  We are all called to do what is right and we work to please our God.

What sort of action does it take to be a “nation who fears God and acts uprightly?”

What actions show our reverence for God?  What actions say that we revere how Jesus is living in the dignity of all humanity?

Jesus made it pretty clear how we are are to act:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”.
   –John 15:9-17

Is there a nation that is ready and willing to be a true friend, one who is ready and willing to lay down their lives the other?

I am aware that many soldiers are willing to lay down their lives for their own nations.  But are there people who are willing to lay down their lives for others, for another nation?  Who are being true, loving friends in the national ways of being?

In 10 days the NATO Summit begins in Chicago.  I am excited that I am here for this historic event as people shall try to confront the powers whose acts are in complete contrast to what is acceptable to God.

I am not sure how I will participate in the actions of the Summit. I feel compelled to say with my love- with my living- that I truly believe that no nation should ever behave as if they are better than another.   After all, we are all human beings and we all deserve to be treated that way.   Presently, I am contemplating what  God is calling me to.  I know, however, that I want to be a friend to people in other nations. I want to behave in ways that are truly acceptable to God. I want to say with all that am that I love my neighbors everywhere and the only power that I really fear is God’s infinite power.

Thanks be to God for those who live the Truth with their way of love.  Thanks be to God for those who inspire me to really love my neighbor and be part of a nation who is willing to lay down its life for other nations.  Creative non-violence says “I’ll live simply so you may live” & “I’ll dialogue with you so we may both be free.”  Alleluia, amen, by the witness of great peacemakers, I am learning!   May we all behave non-violently, in ways that are rightly acceptable to the true, holy Power.

Thanks be to God! Amen!

“peace on the sidewalk, Chicago” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

a princess, a pope and Jesus Christ

The world is buzzing with excitement.

I have heard gripes and seen grins about the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William, which will happen tomorrow with much pomp. To be honest, I wish I didn’t have other things going on and could sit down in front of the TV and watch it. I am sure that I’d cry a bit as I watched two beautiful people commit to each other in the presence of God, the world-famous and influential, as billions of people look on.  As you probably know, a lot of people are ecstatic and are gearing up to celebrate with the royal family.  Yet others are critical because it is such an expensive event and the money could be used for better purposes.

Another exciting, yet somewhat controversial, event is happening this weekend.  On Sunday Pope John Paul II will be beautified.  The opinions about his beatification are varied. Personally I am very excited (as I am every time a holy person is honored for her or his wisdom and influence).

I am not unlike other Catholics of my generation; I love JPII. I have been touched by his leadership and teachings.  As I grew into the Catholic faith, many of my questions were answered when I studied the letters from my far-away “Grandpa.”   For example, JPII’s theology of the body writings helped me gain much clarity about sexuality.  I wish I could have met JP II in his lifetime, but am comforted to know that I can pray to him for some advocacy in heaven while I try to do the work that he encouraged: convincing people of their dignity.

I understand the concerns of people who are opposed to JPII’s quick move toward sainthood, too. I know people who have publicly protested his canonization.  They are upset because his personal positions and opinions seemed to impact his leadership (as he discouraged socialism and rejected women’s ordination, for example).  Is he worthy of being named “Blessed” if he practiced discrimination?  On Sunday, though, I will celebrate Pope JPII’s influence in my own life and thank God for the contributions of the holy man to great peacemaking around the globe.

In a discussion about world excitement I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the important, but non-joyful events that have happened recently and probably challenge the faith and hope of many people.  There’s been a sweep of disasters across the nation. Specifically, the news about the tornadoes in Alabama brought tears to my eyes this morning. My heart still aches for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Japan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Haiti, and for inner-city youth.  As we celebrate joyful events we must be attentive to suffering and disturbed by injustice.

During all of these occasions people unite.  In disasters, divided people suddenly have no choice but to survive and rebuild as community.  On both sides of divisive violence, the tears look the same.  During the royal wedding, when everyone is hearing the same music and prayers, politics and opinions probably won’t matter much.   Undoubtedly, on Sunday Catholics- and other Christians of all types shall unite in their prayers and parties.  Our human, global lives bring us together and help us remember that we’re in this together.

It’s Easter time.  Jesus is back and he’s helping us make sense of everything he taught.  He’s re-explaining that it is communion around open, inclusive tables that unite us.  As we break the bread and share it with other – no matter our differences- we become more the same.  We become his body.  In us, Christ lives. Together we celebrate as one body, the Body of Christ. Thanks be to God!