Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What Comes Around Goes Around

Or, as the author of Ecclesiastes put it, 
That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 NKJV
Nowhere has that been more apparent of late than in the current controversy over vaccinations. 

Here's a little history... 

The theory that immunity to a disease could be achieved by exposing a patient to a weakened or lesser form of the disease isn't a new thought. As early as the 15th century, the Chinese began to practice "variolation"—blowing the dried, powdered scabs of an infected person's smallpox lesions into the nostrils—to prevent the spread of smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases known to man. Other methods, such as rubbing the infected fluid from an active lesion into a cut,were also practiced throughout Asia and Africa. Those who underwent variolation usually had a mild case of smallpox with less scarring and complications.

In 1717, Lady Mary Worley Montagu, an Englishwoman, witnessed the variolation procedure while in Constantinople. Montagu had lost her brother to smallpox, and was herself severely scarred by the disease. She had her 5-year-old son Edward variolated in 1718, and her 4-year-old daughter in 1721, after returning to England. Interest in the procedure grew.

By the time the practice came to America, objections to variolation had begun to arise. Religious objections, for the most part. Still, even the most religious groups couldn't argue with results, and the death rates from smallpox outbreaks were too high to ignore. In 1776 General George Washington ordered mandatory variolation for the entire Continental Army after a smallpox outbreak in Boston.

At the same time, doctors in England were experimenting with ways to improve the procedure. Dairy maids never seemed to contract smallpox, and Edward Jenner suspected their exposure to cowpox had made them immune. As cowpox was a mild disease in comparison, he began vaccinating patients with the cowpox virus, with good results. Widespread vaccination programs soon followed... but not without controversy.

The Vaccination Act of 1867 deemed smallpox vaccination mandatory for all children up to age 14, and included penalties for refusal, up to and including imprisonment. In 1885 in the town of Leicester, more than 80,000 people protested the mandatory vaccinations in an organized march, including an effigy of Jenner and a child's coffin. The Vaccination Act of 1898 repealed the penalties, and included an option for parents to opt-out of the vaccinations for their children if they so chose, for personal or religious reasons. While the protests were primarily about the "mandatory" aspect of the Act, there was a lot of fear that the use of the cowpox virus would cause the recipients of the vaccine to develop bovine-like symptoms... The following cartoon is from the late 1800s.

The cow pock

America, following in Britain's footsteps, had their own debates and protests and Anti-Vaccination Leagues throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, as each new vaccine was introduced, new protests sprang up around it. And in the last 20 years, every new study that comes out generates new furor about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, some pro and some con. 

With the advent of the influenza vaccine (which is admittedly a hit-or-miss proposition in some years) the debate is renewed annually, and everyone's opinions get splattered all over social media again, right or wrong or indifferent. What I find interesting is that none of the arguments are new... even after more than two centuries of debating. The following political cartoon appeared in 1930. 


Knowing the history behind vaccinations (and the controversy they've engendered for several hundred years) certainly gives a bit of perspective. And with all the name-calling, fear-mongering, and inflammatory statements being made (by all sides) a little perspective can go a long way toward soothing ruffled feathers, calming fears, and hopefully, making the world a better and safer place for everyone.

Everyone has a responsibility to carefully consider their position for or against vaccination, and to be prepared to accept the possible consequences of their choices. Vaccination has inherent risks. So does non-vaccination. As is the case with every risky thing we undertake, from taking a bath to eating at McDonald's, do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Can you take a minute to vote?

I know, I know... I'm way behind in posting. But while I'm in-between, could you please take a second and vote for my son and his adorable girlfriend? They're in a "cutest couple" contest in our local paper. You can vote once a day through Feb. 4, and you can log in with Facebook (unless you're on mobile). 

Do a couple of young people a favor and vote! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015


In 2013 I asked God for a "WORD" for the year (thinking having one word would be loads easier than having my usual detailed list of resolutions). He gave me three: #1. Release #2. Accept.  #3. Engage. (I thought I knew how those words would sum up. When it all came down, I realized I had no idea what was coming.) And so, I skipped the whole "one word" idea for 2014 entirely. Yep. I'm a chicken.

Enter 2015.
I have resolutions (goals) and a plan to hope for the best. I don't need a "one word," right? But this word keeps coming up in my prayer and meditation time, and I keep brushing it off. I finally looked it up, and the following definition brought tears to my eyes... I guess this IS my word for the year.
FOCUS: (verb)(of a person or their eyes) adapt to the prevailing level of light and become able to see clearly.
A minister we followed used to say, "walk in the light that you have." There's wisdom there. As long as we are limited by these mortal vessels, we'll never have ALL the light, not even on any one particular subject. There's always more to learn, more to know, because God is infinite. I like to think of God as an algebraic equation: God is the constant, as far as we comprehend His truth; and everything else is a variable. Most of the variables we don't even see, or know, or understand. That leaves a LOT to the unknown, a lot to trust and faith and hope.

In other words, you might think you know everything there is to know, but you really only know what you can see, and what you can see is limited to your perspective, which is, in turn, limited to your particular bag of dirt and its experience. It's pretty darn limited... like trying to forecast the weather from the inside of a dark closet.

I've fretted (which should probably be my middle name) about the possible implications of the word "FOCUS" for 2015, and its definitions, but that's a fruitless waste of time. Better to consider how to apply the word to my life, one day at a time, because that's how life comes. We're not guaranteed how tomorrow will go, despite our prayers and incantations. (Which throws such a ginormous wrench in my name-it-claim-it-you're-blessed-so-you-get-what-you-want-everything-will-be-OK-prosperity-gospel doctrine.) 

And yet, finding the light in every situation might be the secret to physical/spiritual/emotional contentment described by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4: 
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me. 
There was a time when I would have said Paul was saying hope, or faith, or prayer, or some other kind of spiritual striving was the secret to contentment. Today I would say acceptance is what Paul intended. (And now I'm mature enough to say I could STILL be totally wrong!) 

Acceptance is learning to live in the light that we have, and finding our peace and happiness, and yes, contentment, in that place. Even if that light comes through the bars of a cell, or the smudged perspective of depression, or the tear-stained glass of grief, or the shattered view of chronic pain, or the muted view of confusion. 

Wherever you are, light is seeking you. Embrace it. Cling to the light, to the good, for in that light you will find your way to wholeness and fulfillment. Focus on the light, for in the light, whatever light you have, you will see clearly, and be able to go forward. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Famine mentality and why I blame my genes

Our cistern went dry yesterday, very unexpectedly. We're still waiting to find out if we just "lost" 24K gallons of water in a month (we did have some new plumbing put in, so that might explain the missing water), or if there's something wrong with the cistern itself. Boo.

Anyway, my dad, who fills our cistern, kind of flipped out when we called to tell him we were out of agua. It's an ongoing issue... My parents, my dad in particular, suffer from what I like to call "famine mentality," and it appears to be hereditary.
My father monitors our water and electric consumption. He has a ledger to keep track of when he fills the cistern and what the measurements are, and to record the readings for our electric meter every month. When we use more than normal, he makes sure to let us know, with that sort of stern fatherly expression that makes me cringe. (We do PAY our own electric bill, and the cistern is filled from a 100-year-old ditch as part of the water rights that came with the property.)
To be fair, my parents have NO IDEA what it means to live in a household of 10 people. (I'm an only child.) When I try to explain our weekly grocery budget, or WHY we have 8-10 loads of laundry every week, they look...befuddled.
One of my childhood memories involves the time I accidentally left my baseboard heater on in my bedroom one day when I went to school. Not only was my room ROASTING when I got home, I was in deep weeds with my padre for wasting all that money.
I didn't realize how much of an effect that mindset had on my life until I moved out and became responsible for my own household... I had a reminder today, when I got an email from our Internet provider notifying me that we've already used 75% of our monthly download allowance, with three weeks left to go in the billing cycle. I had the same automatic reaction my father had to our empty cistern... Interrogate!!! Interrogate!!!

(Apparently my boys binge-watched multiple seasons of The Walking Dead during Christmas break. Internet mystery solved.)
My daughter and son-in-law (initial victims of my interrogation techniques) were quick to point out the similarity of my reaction to our Internet usage to my papa's reaction to our water consumption. Ouch.
So where does the "never enough" famine mentality come from? I'm blaming my genes. Recent studies have shown that our DNA is affected, even changed, by the lives of our ancestors. I can claim direct lineage (on my father's side) to one of George Washington's quartermaster generals from the Valley Forge period of the Revolutionary War.
Quartermasters were responsible for doling out supplies to the troops. Can you even begin to imagine the stress involved in being a quartermaster for the patriots during Valley Forge? Seriously, I think that's where my famine mentality springs from.

So, while I firmly believe in conservation and the ethics of frugality, I think I need to check my motives. Am I being thrifty in consumption because I want to reduce our environmental footprint and limit our consumption of non-sustainable goods, or am I being thrifty because I'm deeply, DNA-level terrified there won't be enough to go around? One is OK, the other is not, because one is based on fear, and that's never a good motive.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Thinking about the new year: A year for HOPE!

It's no secret that New Year's Eve is my favorite holiday. The blank slate, the new outlook, the tangible opportunity to make a change for the better, to leave the old behind and embrace a new way of living, of thinking, of being. What is better than starting fresh?

But it's only a fresh slate if you are willing to let go of the one you've been scribbling on for the last twelve months. Good, bad, or indifferent, whatever occurred in the last year has to be released, relinquished, renounced, repented. It's time to embrace a "new normal" and get busy with life!

But first, go ahead and take a few minutes to wallow... Write down all the negative, bad, sad, painful, horrible, traumatic things that happened to you (or affected you somehow) during the past year. Acknowledge the things that marked you, the things that dented your armor. By doing so, you give those things their due (this is a kind of mindfulness exercise... yes, I learned that in therapy.) Then, having acknowledged them, release that stuff back into the universe. Don't worry, God is big enough to handle it appropriately. The key is to release it. You don't want to drag all that baggage into 2015 with you... can you imagine the fees???

When that's done, write down all the good, positive, beneficial, answer-to-prayer, blessing, good Karma kind of things that happened to you (or affected you somehow) during the past year. Yes, it's often harder to remember the good things. Don't fret about it, just acknowledge the good things and give them their fair share, too! The amazing thing about gratitude is that it doesn't weigh anything!

Now, it's time for the hard work: HOPING.

Notice I didn't say "planning." Planning (I can't believe I'm admitting this) tends to be an exercise in futility. Sure, you can plan an exercise program, a diet, a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year (I'm doing it again, anyone with me?) scheme, but you can't really PLAN much of anything in advance. I'm not talking events (weddings, graduations, etc.), I'm talking LIFE. Every day is a gift, a blessing, a surprise... and there is no guarantee. We assume we'll have tomorrow, but there's no guarantee. OUCH. (Painful life lessons experienced in 2014.)

So, instead of planning, let's start HOPING in 2015.

Hope, by definition, is the expectation of something good, or a good result. If you are a worrier like me, hope feels a lot like throwing up...  turning everything in you around and making it go the opposite direction. Seriously, I don't know any other way to explain it. Hoping is hard. Hoping is especially hard when you've had a blow to your faith, or a cherished hope has been deferred or destroyed. That's when hope gets a bad rap. But that doesn't mean hope is dead... it just means it needs a new direction, a new purpose. Sometimes what we hope for (particularly when it depends on other people) isn't possible.

So separate out all those "hopes" on your list that are dependent on someone else's choices or behaviors and pare down to the hopes that have to do with you, personally, separate from what anyone else says or does or believes. (I know, as a mother I hate this... I want my hopes and dreams for my children and my loved ones to come to pass just as much as I want my hopes and dreams for myself, but it doesn't work that way.)

Now take a close look at that individual, personal list... hope is what empowers us to push through the difficulties and complete our goal. Hope is the answer to WHY. WHY are you applying yourself to such-and-so endeavor? Faith is the WHAT. Without hope (why), faith (what) dies at the gate. Don't poo-poo the power of faith. Faith is, by definition, your belief in something. We all believe SOMETHING (remember, it's the WHAT). But WHAT is pretty pathetic without WHY (hope). Hope is the generator for faith, it keeps the lights on, so-to-speak. Without hope, we would quit exercising when our first few workouts don't result in dramatic weight loss or muscle growth. Without hope, we would quit school when the expense and the effort seem too great compared to the future reward. Without hope, we would give up stop pursuing our dreams when the payback is less than the output. Without faith, we wouldn't even bother to try.

I can look back at my 2014 "resolutions" or goals, and see where hope was in play and where it was absent. Where hope (the why) was alive, energized, and activated, I accomplished things. Where hope was dim, sketchy, questionable, or applied as a "should" (I should do this or that), accomplishment was minimal or nonexistent. Interesting. I'll take that into account as I make my 2015 goals and resolutions.

And I encourage you, in these days leading up to 2015, to do the same. Look at your "whats" and your "whys." They should be connected. If they aren't, something needs to be adjusted, somewhere!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

27 years later, still frustrated with high school sports

Let me start this off on a positive note: First, I am a proponent of physical activity and exercise. Second, I believe everyone needs a hobby/interest/obsession, and if you choose sports, you are free to do so. It's a free country. Mostly.

Now, for some background info...
During high school I took a required American history/government class in which we had one set of tattered, dog-eared textbooks to share. There weren't enough copies to go around. (Remember, this was pre-Internet... you actually had to have the hard copy of the book if you wanted the information.)

Around the same time, I stumbled across a monthly school board report, and noticed that the board had approved a purchase totaling tens of thousands of dollars for new wrestling mats. This seemed wrong to me when I couldn't study for my required history/government class because it wasn't my turn to take home the textbook, so I wrote an op-ed column for our high school newspaper questioning the prioritization of buying new wrestling mats over buying new textbooks.

Within a few days of publication I received an invitation to visit the superintendent's office, where I was told that I, as a mere student, had no comprehension of the role of the school board and that if I wrote any more inflammatory articles I would face dire consequences (suspension and/or expulsion were hinted at).

Needless to say, that experience left a nasty taste in my mouth about high school sports (and wrestling in particular), so when my youngest son (the first one to attend public high school) decided to wrestle, I cringed. But for his sake (because that's what parents do) I shoved aside my personal dislike and purposed to support him in his endeavor. At his first meet, I had a panic attack. After his second meet (which cost the parents $10 apiece to watch), I cried halfway home and had to take a "chill pill" to stop the shaking and sobbing. His third meet he wasn't scheduled to wrestle... RELIEF.

And then we hit finals week, and he had late practices scheduled. That means practice doesn't start until 6 or 6:30. School gets out at 4. For kids who live 20-30 minutes from school, that means they have to "hang out" somewhere for a couple hours and skip dinner before practice; or drive home and back (remember, this is WINTER in Colorado), and then drive home again at 8:30 or 9 p.m.

Um... no.

Who schedules late practices during finals? Didn't I sit through a painful parent meeting a few weeks ago where the athletic director and the coach explained how important it is for all of the athletes to stay "eligible" during their sports season? How does scheduling late practices during finals week help them remain eligible? Youngest son, who has been "a morning person" since birth, overslept one day this week, something that hasn't happened all year and that only happens when he is seriously overtired.

So the late practices annoyed me. Then manchild came home and said his team has not one, but TWO meets this weekend—all day Friday, all day Saturday (Thursday was the last day of school before Christmas break). Once again, he doesn't have any opponents in his weight class. Oh, and it will cost HIM $20 to sit and watch his teammates.


To top off the insanity, we found out that his weightlifting class (a school P.E. class) has changed its grading system, and that no one in the class will be getting an "A" this semester. Youngest child is, by anyone's definition, "buff." Weightlifting is something he does for entertainment. In school he pushes himself to the point of injury... and HE can't get an "A"? How is THAT helping anyone succeed, whether we're looking at GPAs and college applications or the students' long-term feelings toward exercise and physical activity? It took me 20+ years after my multiple traumatic experiences in P.E. class (dodgeball, anyone?) to retrain my brain to enjoy exercise. I don't want to see the same thing happen to anyone else. And seriously, should weightlifting affect one's GPA anyway?

And so, my rant:

  • Promoting physical education and athletics should not, ever, sabotage academic achievement or advancement. 
  • Promoting physical education and athletics should not, ever, take precedence over basic wisdom, common sense, and protecting the health and well-being of the students participating. 

When sports take priority over academics, we've lost the understanding of what it means to "get an education." Are sports part of getting an education? Certainly. There are valuable lessons to be learned, discipline to be gained, etc., from participating in sports. The same is true with music, art, and drama programs (where did those go, anyway?).

And so, again, for the umpteenth time in the last quarter-century, I find myself struggling with the system's failure to prioritize what is actually important when it comes to educating our children. Some things, sadly, never change.