Stress and Security

The Solid RockToday started with a trip to see my dermatologist. I just love her. She always has a smile for me and looks me directly in the eyes, her gaze never moving from mine: “How’s it going today, Julie?” She seriously wants to know. She knows that my alopecia causes me alarm when those spots of baldness start as small dime-sized circles on my scalp and then converge into dollar-sized circles; not the current quarter-sized dollar coins, but the old much larger silver dollar size.

It’s been happening again. The hair falls out and leaves those patches. I ask Steve to check them for me and he does. He tells me there are lots of new hairs coming in! But all I see is scalp. So I went to see Dr. Finnegan today.

She said the same thing. “There are lots of new hairs coming in! They are white so it appears that all you are seeing is scalp. There is one new active patch. What would you like me to do?” Calmly. Professionally. She is concerned for my well-being and I just love her for it. I said, “Please give me the steroid injections!” Never in my growing up years would I have volunteered to get a shot of anything, for anything, but my vanity about my hair says, “Bring it on!”

Before we get to the shots, she asks me about my stress. Do I have any? I never really know how to answer this because I don’t think I feel stress. Every-day life is what I call it.

There is caring for Jana and meeting her needs. (She had a seizure on Sunday morning and fell. I am sure another is coming because they seem to come in pairs. Please say a prayer for her continued safety.) But she and I have walked this journey for 31 years together.

There is our ongoing search at church for a new senior pastor –and boss – for me. I really have stopped worrying about that. It will happen in God’s timing and I am really enjoying Rich, our interim. He and I have arrived at a place of friendship and love. Fourteen months ago I was stressed about this, but not now.

My sisters are stressed about my upcoming travel back to Lebanon and Syria. I wish I could relieve them of that, but I can’t. I did have a wonderful conversation with Rich today about the trip and what is going on there currently. He said he would hate to see me on the news… You had to be there. It was warm, funny and heartfelt.

I am feeling stress about the pace of the addition to the house for Jana. There is nothing I can do about it, however. I don’t know how to erect framing or put up drywall, install windows, run cables, or anything else that would help. I am the accounting side, not the construction side. So I try to be patient and cheer at every advance we make. We’ve got a foundation! We’ve got framed walls and roof (mostly)! Let’s see what happened today!

So I got my injections and left knowing that the hair will grow back. It always has, in its time. And it will probably fall out again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

And now this afternoon those things are making me reflect on our staff bible study, which today was chapter 6 of the book of Revelation. The verses about the four horsemen of the apocalypse: no stress there. War! Famine! Pestilence! Death! The ongoing, historical repetitive results of not learning from what happened before. (Will we ever get this?)

The question we were asked to begin was, “Where do you find your security?” And some answers were “the gun I keep in my home” and “the neighborhood watch” and “my bank account.”

But what came to my mind was what Marilyn tells us when we travel and what Barbara always emphasizes on those trips: The safest place to be is in the will of God. And I have really come to believe that.

All my life I’ve been striving to do the right thing, say the right words in prayer, keep the right attitude, as if that was what my father wanted. All he wants is my obedience: love him with all my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength, and that I love my neighbor as myself. It’s taken me so long to learn that lesson.

And out of that flows just one big “thank you” for the stress, the burden, the weight that is lifted from my back in the process. I sing out in worship on Sundays because I belong to that one and I am so grateful to be called child of God.

And that is the only place I find security. And then I offer a prayer, “Thy will be done,” and hope that I am in the flow of that will that is not my own.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”  Matthew 7:24-27

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, goes the old hymn. And that is where my hope is. That is where my faith is. And that is where my love comes from. And because of that my stress is relieved, indeed, it is lifted from me. And it is the only place where I find security. Not in guns, not in armies, not in my bank account, not in the riches of this world or the promises of people.

“I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” That is a solid rock!

And so my security is walking with my Lord in his way, not mine.

Identity

arabic letter nIt’s the end of another day and time for bed. I just stood in front of the bathroom mirror and brushed my teeth and took my hair out of the small ponytail I have been wearing this past week. I pull it back because it covers the hairless portions of my scalp. I have an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata. Periodically, my immune system tells my hair follicles that they are alien and the hair must go. I end up with these patches on my head that have no hair, and it bothers me. It makes me feel odd and unlike those around me (women more than anyone else) with full heads of beautiful flowing locks.

As a small child I had plenty of hair and wore it long in a braid or a ponytail. My sisters always had their hair short, but mine was allowed to grow out. In pictures from my youth it is always there.

That's Steve and I, sick and asleep at the end of that trip to Germany. You can't see it, but about 60% of my hair is gone.

That’s Steve and I, sick and asleep at the end of that trip to Germany. You can’t see it, but about 60% of my hair is gone.

In 2005, I noticed one day when I was doing my morning routine, pulling it back into a scrunchy…there was a lot of scalp showing and it scared me. I was getting ready to travel with our church choir on a relational journey to Germany and Austria, to share God’s love and good news through music. I couldn’t get to a doctor fast enough before we left, so I took a hat with me to cover my head’s near nakedness. I hated the way I looked and it made me feel less than human. How could a woman be bald? People would stare, wouldn’t they? They would look at my lack of hair and not be able to hear what I had to tell them through music. It was devastating.

On that trip we made a visit to Dachau, the German camp where thousands were put to death because they were Jewish. The first thing they did to the prisoners there upon coming to the camp was to shave all their hair, whether they were women or men. I remember seeing the pictures displayed there and mourning for the way we can dehumanize those who walk this earth with us because they are different from us: different in their ethnicity, in their family of origin, in their faith. I remember looking into the eyes of those in those old photos and seeing only their humanity. We were the same: flesh and bone, man and woman, parent and child, human, made in God’s very image. And he knows the hairs on our heads or the lack thereof.

And I wept not for the loss of my hair or their hair, but for the simple fact that we were all part of the human family: God’s children. And we had found a way to take that away from each other.

Today, that is happening in other parts of the world. There are those who would drive away their neighbors because their expression and belief of God and his word are not the way they see it. They drive them from their homes and all they know and all they have for the sake of some sick, twisted ideology. They are rejected for no good reason, like my body rejecting the hairs on my head as alien. This is not of God. This is part of the brokenness of humanity.

And so today when I look in the mirror I am looking past the bare places on my scalp. My identity is not there. It is with my brothers and sisters sent wandering again into the wilderness. Their homes have been marked with a symbol that someone else sees as derogatory; a mark of humiliation, like the shaving of hair.

They have been called “nasrani,” expressed with the Arabic symbol for the letter n. They have been called Christian. And I will wear that symbol with them. We are family. Our identity is found with our triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. And he knows the hairs on our head.