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As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

D-mail for the week of February 18, 2010
Scripture
: I Kings 17: 7-24 , Genesis 18:1-22 , Hebrews 13:1-2

I JUST LOVE THIS JOB !

In keeping with the theme of love this month, I want to tell you about two experiences I had this week, one that illustrates romantic, “Valentine” love and the second, brotherly love. First , I want to brag about having the world’s greatest hubbie! Over the years he has acquired the reputation for being able to find the perfect card for every occasion and the perfect words in the cards he chooses for me! I don’t know how he does it, but on Valentine’s Day, he did it again. Then he took me to small hotel in downtown Appleton for Valentine’s night. It was a package that included a stroll around downtown to visit 15 businesses participating in Death by Chocolate Day. Each business offered its own unique chocolate dessert to taste. Then, at the end, we had to vote for the best one. Yum!! We were too full for dinner out so we ordered room service later. He is such a romantic guy. Monday morning we spent some time shopping and then made our way to Waupaca. Chuck works in the ER there now and was scheduled to work Monday night. Rather than to take me home and go back to Waupaca for work, he rented me a room at the Apple Tree Lane Bed and Breakfast just outside Waupaca, took me to dinner and then dropped me off there while he went to work. When he got off in the morning, he returned to wake me up and join me for the lavish breakfast at the inn. How about that for a wonderful celebration of romantic love?!

It was the first time I had stayed at the Apple Tree Lane B&B. I wasn’t sure what to expect. We like to stay at B&B’s when we travel because they are so much more personal, the décor is often quite unique, and it’s fun to meet and chat with the other guests, some of whom turn out to be very interesting. At an inn in Savannah, Georgia, I met an English couple. The wife was the art and antique collector for Queen Elizabeth and her husband was the Queen’s carrier pigeon keeper! We had a fascinating conversation. We have, however, stayed at some “clunkers”. One comes to mind that was such a disaster that we couldn’t think of a single positive thing to write in the guest book!

The old farmhouse where we stayed was very moldy and stuffy, our room (including the sloped ceiling) was wallpapered in gigantic, red magnolia blossoms, the bed squeaked, the tub leaked, and we were sure the proprietress was a new age spiritualist by the way she acted and all of the books she had out in the parlor. After the first night, we were going to spend the day bicycling. The woman kindly offered to make us a picnic lunch. “How nice,” we thought. “She really is trying.”

When we were ready to leave, we found her sequestered back in the kitchen stirring over a big, steaming pot. “It will only be a minute,” she said. “I’m boiling the walnuts for your sandwiches.” We assumed she had made chicken salad or something containing walnuts, but no. They were just boiled walnuts between 2 slices of sawdust bread! To that she added stale corn chips, pears, and a pint of milk like you get at school, all plopped into little brown lunch bags. That was fine, except it was already 85 degrees when we left that July morning and by noon, when we opened our brown bags, it was nearly 100 degrees. The milk had curdled, the pears had juiced all over the chips, and I can’t even describe what the heat had done to the walnut sandwiches! Still, it was the thought that counted. So what if she was a little weird? She was trying to be hospitable. We returned to the farmhouse melting in sweat and sunburned, wishing only for a cool shower. Our room, under the eaves, was hot as blazes, with one window. It was painted shut. We quickly showered and left for town to get a good meal somewhere, anywhere, air-conditioned. She had put a fan in our room while we were gone, thank heaven. It turned out to be the noisiest fan I ever heard! I was afraid it would catch fire and we’d burn to death, but it was better than suffocating, so we let it run. The next morning she served something we didn’t recognize for breakfast. We drank the juice and went up to pack. That’s when she came upstairs and began to preach to us about spirits and crystals and spells. We tried to share Christ with her, but to be honest, we didn’t try very hard. All we wanted was to get out of there. You can understand how almost any B&B was Shang-ri-la to us after that.

People who choose to run B&B’s have the gift of hospitality (even if a few could use a bit more training).  Our innkeeper in Waupaca, as I discovered, was one of those gifted people. Not only was she friendly and thoughtful, she went out of her way to care for me like family. She made me feel pampered and cozy, wanting for nothing. The house was very lovely, yet homey. In the morning, she joined us at breakfast, which was delicious, and we discovered through conversation that she was a Christian. She said,

“I left the corporate world three years ago and moved up here to run this bed and breakfast. I think God called me to do it and I just love this job!”

No wonder she is so good at it! She represents a perfect example of brotherly love - opening your home 24/7 to all sorts of people, desiring only to make them comfortable.

But you don’t need to run a bed and breakfast to show loving hospitality. Some have a special gift for it, but all of us are called to show love in this manner. It doesn’t matter how fancy your home is or how outstanding the food is. What people will remember is how warm and comfortable and loved you made them feel. There are many stories of hospitality in the Bible. Abraham entertained three men in his tent, who turned out to be angels sent to tell him his wife would have a son and warn him about Sodom (Genesis 18). The widow at Zarephath (I Kings 17) supplied food and shelter to Elijah during a famine, even when she had nothing. Because she obeyed God, her pantry never ran dry nor empty after that. The woman of Proverbs 31 was praised because she opened her hand to the poor. Mary,Martha, and Lazarus opened their home to Jesus and his disciples whenever they passed through Bethany. Many others gave Jesus food and shelter while he traveled in his earthly ministry. Hebrews 13:1-2 tells us,
“Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Prayer
Lord, thank you for gifting so many of your people with hospitality. Thank you for men like my husband for whom showing love in service and in romance just seems to come naturally. I pray that you bless the beautiful lady who opened her home and heart to me this week. And bless all the men out there who show love in their own unique ways to the women they love day after day. Amen

D-mail for the week of February 11, 2010

Scripture: I John 3:18  “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 

I WISH YOU LOVE


This weekend is Valentine’s Day, the holiday we set aside to celebrate love.  Romance, with its roses and lacey cards and fancy heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, is the type of love that comes  to mind, but there are many other kinds of love to celebrate, too, loves that may be much deeper and last much longer - the love between dear friends, the love for a brother or a sister, the love a parent has for their child and a child for a parent, and above all, the love God has for us and we for Him.  The apostle John was the only one of the disciples that the Bible says Jesus “loved” (Gospel of John chapter 13, 19, 21).  Today we would say that John was Jesus’ best friend when Jesus was on earth.  It’s not surprising then that John wrote a lot about love. In the book of I John he wrote,

“Dear friends, since God loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.(I John 4: 11-12)… “God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him.” (I John 4:16) 

When I was thinking about this Valentine’s Day D-mail, I prayed for a love story to tell you.  Of course, I could tell you the nearly forty year- long story about the deep love between my husband and me, or any number of moving stories of life-long love between close friends, or a story of a mother’s love for her precious child.  You would smile and nod your head.  “Ah yes,” you would say. “That is certainly love at its best. Tell us a Hallmark love story like that.” 

Instead, God brought to mind the love people have for someone they barely know, someone perhaps very unlovely for whom love isn’t easy or sought out, the kind of love Jesus Christ asked us to show him through loving those around us. So here is a story about a love between two strangers who passed each other in time for only a few hours, an encounter that might never have happened without the love of one gentle soul for another which ended up as a memory that lasted a lifetime.

 

THE TAXI DRIVER AND VIOLET CARTER

 

   I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes, I got out and walked up the path, past a row of purple mums, up two steps to a porch that could’ve used a good coat of paint, and knocked on the door.  “Just a minute”, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.

   The small, white house looked as if no one had lived in it for years. Rugs were all rolled up. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no curtains at the windows, no bric a brac on shelves nor counters. It smelled of a combination of furniture polish and a hundred years of frying bacon. In the corner, at the bottom of the staircase, was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

   I smiled and said, “Good afternoon, Ma’am. You ordered a taxi?

  “Yes, I did,” she said.  “Would you take my bag to the car? I have to lock the door.”

   I put her suitcase in the cab, then returned to assist her. She took my arm. As we walked slowly to the curb, she kept thanking me for my kindness.

   “It’s nothing”, I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated”.

   “Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. “What’s your name?”

   “My name’s Earl.”

   “Mine’s Violet, Violet Carter.”

   “Pleased to meet you, Ma’am.”

In the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Earl, could you drive through downtown?”

   “It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.

   “Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.

   “I don’t have any family left,” she continued in a soft voice.    “The doctor says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take, Ms Carter?” I asked.

   For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She

showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been the Harmonia Ballroom, where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow down in front of a particular building or corner where she would sit staring into the shadows, saying nothing. As the sun settled on the horizon, she suddenly said, “Earl, I believe I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

   We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I went around and opened the trunk.  Her small suitcase weighed nothing.  I wondered what she would’ve put in it to come to a hospice.  They had her already seated in a wheelchair.

   “How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

   “Oh, nothing, Ms Carter,” I said.

   “You have to make a living, Earl” she answered.

   “There are other passengers,” I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

   “Thank you, Earl, she said softly. “You gave an old woman a few hours of joy.” she said.

   “My pleasure.”  I squeezed her hand, and they pushed her into the dim evening light.  As I turned to go back to my cab, behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

   I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? On thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around the great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider just an ordinary circumstance. Makes me think of something my mother always used to say, `PEOPLE MAY NOT REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID, OR WHAT YOU SAID ~BUT~THEY WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL..’ 

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for not only teaching us how important love is in our lives, but for modeling it for us when you were on earth.  I don’t know the kind of selflessness it takes to give my life to pay for the trespasses of one other person, let alone for everyone who ever lived, but that is what you did – even when we didn’t care about you.  That is the greatest of all love.  Thank you, Lord Jesus.  I pray that you give me a chance to show the kind of love Earl did for Violet for someone in honor of Valentine’s Day but in your name.  Amen

 

Life may not be the party we hoped for,but while we’re here we might as well dance.

Today I’m daydreaming about going  somewhere warm and tropical.  I bought a new swim suit yesterday for our Caribbean getaway next month.  I decided to go through some of my ocean photos to get in the mood, since the view out my window is gray and snowy.  So you get to go on an armchair trip along with me in this mini-gallery of some of the favorite water pictures I’ve taken around the world.

Next month, Chuck and I will be headed here, to St. Thomas, VI to spend 10 days with my parents and aunt and uncle (they rented a condo for a whole month, the lucky ducks).  I took this photo from the deck of Frenchman’s Reef Hotel on our first visit to St. Thomas in 1985.

II snapped these mini-Viking vessels tied up on the bay across from the Thor Hyerdahl Museum in Oslo, Norway.  I loved their vibrant colors on one of the few sunny days we had during our Norway trip.

 

I took this shot of a village on a Norwegian fjord just as the sun caught it over the mountains just north of Bergen, Norway.

I took this from the ferry going from Vancouver, B.C. to Victoria on a gorgeous May day. The Pacific was smooth and icy cold.

I was terrified when I took this picture - not because of the view but because I was in a heliocopter for the first time on a very rainy, windy day!  This is the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii, which you can only access by heliocopter or boat -both of which we did (the sailboat was even rougher than the heliocopter!). 

 

A beautiful “peephole” vista on the road to Sunset Beach in Kauai.

A pile of driftwood I found on a beach in Kauai, Hawaii 

 

I took this with the shutter wide open one July evening in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  This is a small harbor on Lake Superior in the Apostle Islands. 

 

I took this photo of the famous Cliffs of Moher on the Atlantic coast of Ireland in October on the windiest, most frigid day of our trip. Nobody swims in this water!

I took this photo of the famous Atlantis towers in the Bahamas from a rope bridge over this lagoon, where hammerhead sharks were swimming. 

I took this photo from the balcony of our room at the Atlantis resort.

I took this photo in Charleston, S.C. on Sullivan’s Island as the fleet of Tall Ships sailed out to sea right past us!  I caught the last ship just as the sun settled on the horizon.

 

 OK, so I didn’t take these last two photos, but I thought you’d enjoy seeing me do something “on the edge”!It’s me parasailing in the Turks and Caicos!  I went up yonder with my son, Michael and we had a blast!

Our family are Packer fans - you know, the fans that sit out in sub zero weather, wear crazy headgear, and have undying loyalty no matter how badly our team performs.  Katie’s father (my son, Michael) has taught her important words like “Packer backer”, “Cheesehead”, “touchdown” and “Go Pack Go!”  She wears this leather hat as a helmet and tears around pretending to play.  One day she allowed me to wear the Packer “helmet” while Grandpa snapped our picture.  What fun!

Katie is 2 1/2 yrs and loves to “cook”.  Her mother and father are excellent cooks and she has her own “cooking chair” to stand on at home to help them.  I must admit, we made a perfect pumpkin pie together for Christmas dinner!

Andy Conger at age 4 months.  What a precious baby!!

Laura is pursuing her PhD in archeology, despite her struggle with fibromyalgia.  We support one another!

One of the factors I contend with in my life is fibromyalgia, which I have had for 20 years.  I want to maintain a section of my blog which addresses this disease for those who don’t know about it and for those who have it and need help and advice.  One of the most helpful resources I haver found is the Fibromyalgia Network which has been an advertisement -free resource for people with Fibromyalgia (FM)/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) for 22 years now.  Their journal is excellent for both patients and health care providers.  Here is a comprehensive summary of what fibromyalgia is - taken from the January 2010 issue:

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia produces widespread pain, disturbed sleep, and exhaustion from head to toe.1 Fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons—the soft fibrous tissues of the body. Although the muscles hurt everywhere, they are not the only cause of the pain. Instead, the diffuse, body-wide symptoms are greatly magnified by malfunctions in the way the nervous system processes pain.2,3

Regional muscle pain not related to arthritis or the nervous system also occurs in the majority of people with fibromyalgia.4 Patients describe this as firm knots in the belly of muscles, often causing restricted movement and radiating pain.5 These muscle nodules are myofascial trigger points and some researchers suspect that these painful areas overlap with the tender points used to diagnose fibromyalgia.6

The symptoms of fibromyalgia are unpredictable and most patients are frustrated by their physical limitations and inability to make plans. You may feel as though you have to “push yourself” to get things done.7

Most patients with fibromyalgia say that their muscles feel like they have been pulled or overworked, and sometimes they twitch or cramp.8 Even the skin may feel badly sunburned.9 To help your family and friends relate to your fibromyalgia symptoms, have them think back to the last time they had a bad flu. Every muscle in their body shouted out in pain. In addition, they felt devoid of energy as though someone had unplugged their power supply.

Given that the symptoms may be similar to a viral flu, experts in the field of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome believe that these two illnesses may be one and the same.10 Gulf War syndrome also overlaps with these two conditions.11

Common symptoms:

Pain - Fibromyalgia pain has no boundaries. People describe the pain as deep muscular aching, throbbing, shooting, stabbing, or intense burning. Quite often, the pain and stiffness are worse in the morning, and muscle groups that are used repetitively may hurt more.12 In addition, the severity of regional pains (particularly those in the head, neck, shoulders and lower back) are a strong predictor of a person’s overall pain rating.13 The muscles in these painful areas can feel tight, knotted and rope-like. Pressing on the firm, knotted region hurts and often causes the pain to shoot to other muscles when a myofascial trigger point is present.

Fatigue - This symptom can be one of the most incapacitating for people with fibromyalgia. Patients may feel as though their arms and legs are weighted down by concrete blocks and their bodies may be so drained of energy that every task is an effort.7

Memory and Concentration - Difficulty concentrating and retaining new information may seriously interfere with everyday mental tasks.14 This symptom is referred to as “fibro fog” and may hinder job opportunities. In particular, fibromyalgia patients have serious difficulty retaining new information if they are distracted.15

Sleep Disorders - Patients report trouble falling asleep and more importantly staying asleep, but the unrefreshing quality is what makes the disorder much worse than insomnia. Repeat arousals prevent patients from reaching deep, restorative sleep.16 As a result, the night is spent in “quasi-sleep” and patients wake up feeling as though they have been run over by a Mack truck. An overnight sleep study will likely show repeat arousals with bursts of awake-like brain activity occurring throughout the night, but a specific sleep disorder may not be identified.17

Exercise Difficulties - Moderate intensity exercise activates a powerful pain-relieving system in healthy people, but it makes the pain of fibromyalgia worse.18 This is why initiating an exercise program may make you achy and tired. However, if you do not exercise on a regular basis, the performance of normal daily living activities will start to cause more pain. Rather than give in to the increased pain sensitivity related to exercise, patients are advised to do mild exercise in short intervals (such as five minutes at a time) to keep the muscles fit while not over-taxing them. A study in Sweden revealed that half of the fibromyalgia patients found it impossible or difficult to climb stairs and a majority of patients could not run. Just standing for five minutes was extremely taxing to one-fourth of the patients.19

Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Constipation, diarrhea, frequent abdominal pain and bloating, abdominal gas, and nausea represent symptoms commonly found in roughly 40 to 70 percent of fibromyalgia patients.20

Chronic Headaches - Recurrent migraine or tension headaches are experienced by 50 to 70 percent of fibromyalgia patients. Most headaches are rated as severe, occur at least two times per week, and often have a migraine component.21 Referred pain from myofascial trigger points in the shoulder, neck, and head muscles are suspected to be responsible for most tension-type headache and also play a role in migraines.22

Jaw Pain - Temporomandibular joint dysfunction causes tremendous jaw-related face and head pain and affects one-quarter of fibromyalgia patients. Typically, the problems are related to the muscles and ligaments surrounding the jaw joint and not necessarily the joint itself.23

Other Common Symptoms - Non-cardiac chest pain, acid reflux, irregular heart beat or palpitations, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling sensations, the feeling of swollen extremities, chemical sensitivities, nasal congestion, premenstrual syndrome and painful periods, irritable bladder, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia (vulvar pain), difficulty focusing eyes, dry or burning eyes and mouth, dizziness or feeling faint, profuse sweating, muscle weakness and balance issues can occur.24,25,26 Fibromyalgia patients are often sensitive to odors, loud noises, bright lights, some foods, and often the medications that they are prescribed.27

Aggravating Factors - Changes in weather, cold or drafty environments, hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual and menopausal states), stress, depression, anxiety, and over-exertion can all contribute to fibromyalgia symptom flare-ups.12

Fibromyalgia Quick Facts

  • Affects 3 to 5 percent of the general population28
  • Occurs in people of all ages, even children
  • Men develop fibromyalgia too, although more women are diagnosed with it
  • Symptoms are chronic but may fluctuate throughout the day
  • Roughly one-quarter of people with fibromyalgia are work-disabled12
  • FDA approved the first drug for fibromyalgia in 2007 and more treatments are being developed