Less is More, Loss is Gain

whatsyourstory“Losing my leg was the best thing to ever happen to me.” 

I was going about my usual fast-paced day at the clinic recently and trying to keep up with the schedule. Like many people, the routine gave way to a full face confrontation with reality. It was one of those encounters that makes you slow down, think deeply, and then remember it is not always that you are teaching someone else. Those kind of encounters teach you, if you take the time to listen.

Upon entering the exam room, it was not a scene too uncommon at all. A man was sitting in his wheelchair, but not the usual more advanced age person. This forty-something year old sat there as we talked about his medical conditions. He looked a little tired, but had a smile on his face throughout the discussion and examination. As we talked, he then tossed me this surprising statement: “Losing my leg was the best thing to ever happen to me.”  I sat there for a few seconds as I contemplated what he had just said and was trying to decide what would be the best way to respond to this heart moment.

Many times people who have been through traumatic circumstances find it hard to find anyone who understands their life’s journey. Their plight has been one in which they have been in such a bind they either get bound up or get freed from the chains that tried to lock them up for good. It makes you think of when Peter was in prison (Acts 12) and then his chains fell off and he was released by an angel. The very people who were praying for Peter did not believe that he was released when he showed up at their home. How many times are we the same way when the very thing we have been praying for is right there in front of us? Do we do as these early Christians did and not open the door to someone knocking who wants to share with us that very thing we prayed for earnestly? When we hear that heart moment in front of us, do we leave the door still yet unopened while the knocking continues trying to get us to listen?

When there is an inclination detected that a listening ear is near that might understand, a nugget of truth slips out to test the environment and see if their heart can be safely shared. If that knock on the door results in it being opened, then real truth can be heard that can do both the speaker and listener some good. It also does the person a lot of good who is sharing to feel and know that their condition is not without some benefit to someone else. As all of us are walking, or sometimes running, done the road of lives that may be shorter than we think, it pays to take some time to sit on a bench with a friend and share.

This man shared about his journey of working hard and going about the routines that many of us take for granted when one day tragedy struck.  He was left with one good leg and an amputated one. The loss put him in a wheelchair as prostheses were not tolerated well by him. He shared about how this sudden slow down of his routines had changed his life not in a harmful way, but had resulted in him having a deeper walk with God than he had ever had before. He had a demeanor that reflected what he said with a worn, but settled and peaceful look about him. His time of being thrown in a jail did not last long as he had been set free through the experience and then came to knock on my door that day in the clinic. I’m glad I opened the door.  Many times, less can be more and loss can be gain.

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Who Will Want Your Chair?

ImageAs I sat listening to my pastor’s Sunday morning message, he spoke of an old recliner that he used for many years and had seen its days of burping babies, kids piling up in it, and all of the usual relaxing moments that most people have in their recliner that becomes a reflection and somewhat of a commentary about its main occupant.  Pondering that example, I could not help remembering special chairs in my own life.   My own father’s chair is one that I remember climbing into with Dad and my brothers.  I do not have that chair, but I wish I did.  I have the first recliner I ever bought when I was just starting medical school and I spent untold hours in that chair reading and studying; it is now in my office at work.

Another chair that came to my mind is this old greenish colored La-Z-Boy that sits in my library at home.  The arms have been reupholstered to match the original color as much as possible.  This particular chair was the first recliner that a very special pastor in my life many years ago had given to him by a church he pastored.  He had kept that old chair for many years until the arms had been worn thin and there were holes in the arms from what was undoubtedly many years of time spent with studying, family, and even counseling his flock.  The times witnessed by that chair were innumerable and special.  Since that old chair had gotten into such bad shape, it was about to be discarded because a new chair was about to be bought.  When I saw that old worn out chair, I hated to see something like that not be repaired and then used again.  After getting agreement with the pastor’s wife to let me have it, I took that chair to get it fixed and have had it ever since then.  What was valued and special to this pastor was even more valued and special to me because of who owned it, used it, and even wore it out so much it has a mild tilt to it.

I’ve got a chair that is conforming itself to me over time and gets a lot of use.  As I started thinking about my own chair in my living room, I could not help wondering if anyone would ever think of a chair I used as being something they would want.  Am I making enough of a positive difference in the lives of others that what I might see as just a chair would be cherished and thought of as being inspiring, like I think of that previous pastor’s chair every time I sit in it?  I know this humble man thought no one would want his old chair, but I did.  Do I inspire others enough that there might be a similar thought in someone else’s mind one day?

Another direction in this vein is to think about the chair itself.  The chair which conforms itself to my form, my image if you will, could be thought of as the life of each individual whom God Himself wants to use.  If I allow myself to be used by Him, I am then transformed into His image.  In the process of being used, I’ll get to squeaking as time passes, my arms will get thin and worn out, and I just will not move as quickly as I used to move.  However, just as an old chair that is made well, it will keep fulfilling its initial purpose.  Each chair is made with a specific function in mind just as each human is also.  We all will eventually reflect our owner and whom we choose to be owned by is really only between two choices.

Being an Abram, or a Lot?

Just as Abram and Lot had to decide where they would live and bring up their families, so it goes with all the families who will have to decide where they will raise their children.  In the years ahead, it will become more and more of a contrast between the states of the United States where homosexual “marriage” is legal or not.  Those states in which it is illegal and not accepted provide a more family friendly environment that honors God through recognition of Biblical marriage.  The states where homosexuals can now “marry” have become places in which marriage has lost its meaning in relation to the Bible. 

God will not bless decisions to dwell where there is an allowance for homosexual “marriage” any more than He did the decision of Lot to dwell in Sodom.  When Lot saw the land of Sodom, he saw a land that is described in Genesis as “well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar” (Genesis 13:10).  The description of the land Lot saw could be used to describe California and many other areas of our beautiful country.  Lot looked only at what he thought would provide him and his family with material abundance and did not consider how living in that land would affect his family spiritually.  Abram walked by faith, while Lot walked by sight.  Lot’s choice revealed his heart was already astray and then he willfully allowed his family to be led astray in a land that refused to honor God.  Now that California is full of many who are celebrating men having sexual relations with men, and women having sexual relations with women, maybe they should change the state’s name to Sodofornia.

In the years ahead, I believe that there will be an exodus of God-honoring families who do not want to raise their families in the lands of Sodom of our day.  The states that choose to honor God’s definition of a family will benefit, while those lands of Sodom will become more wicked as places where one’s family will be more easily led astray into behavior that dishonors God.  Through his faith in God, Abram had enough sense to stay away from the land of Sodom and he was blessed.  The leaders of the families of today have some decisions to make and, hopefully, there will be increasing numbers of people who decide that they will walk by faith and not by sight.

How Will You Handle The Coming Suffering?

Every person has at some time questioned why we have suffering and disease.  We all struggle at some point with trying to understand in the inevitable attempt at making sense of what happens to ourselves and others.  It’s an old question that not just physicians ponder when faced with illness, accidents, and death.  One way of trying to gain some meaning in midst of suffering is to consider what our lives be like if we had no suffering at all.  We all long for that.  We all want that.  We work for it. We go to doctors. Insurance policies are in place to try to lessen the damages we face.  Most of us, religious or not, have a concept of what we think of as heaven as a place that is perfect.  As Christians, we think of Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”  In our desire, our longing, for relief from the pain of life, we impatiently want our lives to be like that now.  However, time isn’t spent sometimes in considering what things would be like if we were able to achieve that wish in the present.

What would our lives be like with no suffering?  Since that hasn’t happened to anyone I know, a close comparison would be life experienced by someone for whom all consequences of their actions are allowed to be desirable.  If a child is never allowed to experience any of the results of their decisions and always allowed to do or say whatever they want for fear of them having hurt feelings, there will surely be one spoiled brat.  Therefore, the reasonable among us know that we have to allow for suffering to occur because it is more than just pain; it is molding and shaping us.  How the pain is perceived, in regard to the understanding of the good or evil intentions of the source of it, greatly influences the results of experiencing suffering.  Suffering is guaranteed to occur and it can make us either better, or bitter; the choice is up to us in how we choose to perceive it.

In Romans 5:1-11, we find that Paul wrote that we are to “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  If we are never allowed to suffer, then we cannot learn to persevere through hardship.  The very nature of persevering produces in us a good character that leads to us having hope.  Look at the lives of those who seem to have everything and want for nothing; many times they do not have the one thing that all of us want – peace.  Those who do not have to suffer lack a hope during this life and also for the afterlife. Too often, we read the tragic stories of early demise of those who seemed to have it all together.  It should make us question what kind of people are going to be the result of a society that thinks it is supposed to remove hardship from everyone’s lives.  The great entitlement society is a clue to this.

I am blessed every time I see certain patients who have such illness, hardship, and suffering in their lives, but possess a peace about them which I do not see in those for whom life has been so easy. They tell me about their struggles and problems while I cannot help but wonder how I would handle the same if it were present in my own life.  It would be prideful to conclude how well I would do.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I have such admiration for those patients who also hold on to a hope that is outside of them, but also within them. I have noticed that those people who have the best character also have suffered a lot.  So, instead of us looking at the suffering that comes our way with a desire to push it so far away, should we not also understand that it might be a blessing in disguise to produce something in us far greater in value than anything money can buy?

The Broken SNAP

Much debate is occurring regarding governmental spending in the United States for a wide array of programs.  There are many solutions being proffered for reducing the overspending and everything must be examined in the process.  Every program in place has objectives that can be measured to see if the specific program is meeting those objectives while also assessing for other effects of the program that may not have been initially anticipated.  Each of us certainly does that in our own households. We look at what we are spending on a particular area and decide if the purpose of it is being fulfilled while also deciding how that expense is affecting otherwise the household.  Then we make changes depending upon what we find when we assess it.  It is certainly beyond the scope of this article to examine the entire topic, so we will have to focus a little more on one major area of expense.  A major expense in most households is that of buying food.

One can spend a lot of money buying food or it can be less of an expense depending upon what is bought. I remember when I was in college and later, during medical school, I had to make the money I had last for quite a while.  Therefore, I had to budget out what I knew I would have for food expenses and I would stay under a certain monthly amount which wasn’t much.  If I bought a more expensive food item, I couldn’t afford to get other needed items.  I never went hungry, but I couldn’t buy everything I wanted by any means either.  There was not much meat bought except canned tuna and getting anything that had a brand name on it was a luxury. When it’s your own money, you examine things more carefully and buy what is truly needed.  This is a lesson that our federal government does not seem to know; leaders in all parties know how to spend more to appease whom they want to vote for them.  There isn’t much thought regarding what is actually being accomplished or effectively examining the other effects of their spending of other people’s money.  Just as much as I would be careful and analyze what I am spending along with assessing the nutritional value of what is in my own food budget, the government should be doing the same thing. However, they aren’t doing this in the manner that they should. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP; used to be called food stamps) is out of control.  The SNAP has broken.

The SNAP program, as reported by the USDA, has expanded from serving 26 million people in 2007 to the current level of almost 45 million people with expenses increasing, respectively, from $3.6 billion per month to $6.2 billion per month. Obesity rates are continuing to climb while the public is asked to believe that the amount spent on SNAP is justified.  In the last week of time, I have heard two different personal testimonies of witnessing SNAP payments being approved for a cake maker who got over $800 for a wedding cake for one recipient while another person buys large quantities of meat with SNAP money and then that meat is sold for cash from an ice chest on the street.  The state of Mississippi recently reported that there were possibly $2.7 million in fraudulent benefits paid with 1,705 people disqualified during the last budget year due to these discovered improper payments.  In 2000, about 10% of the Mississippi population was on the program while now it is 23% of the population.  The statistics regarding fraudulent payments in Mississippi also reflect the same problem on a national scale.

While there is plenty of evidence of trafficking of EBT cards along with other fraud, there is other waste occurring in this program that is supposed to be helping the poor who are truly deprived of the ability to buy food.  I can remember when it was shameful to even have to get something free from the government during the days of “commodities” that certainly were not what we think of today when that term is used.  People were given staple foods that were truly needed and not allowed to choose such extravagant food items that people who earned the money can hardly afford.  If one needs a lesson on this, just visit your grocery store around the first week of the month and notice how the buggy loads of expensive meats are being purchased.  While there are attempts to educate people with regard to what they should be eating and this makes sense that efforts should be made to help people understand what they should eat, many already know this information and still choose to eat in unhealthy ways.  There should be some changes made in regard to how the money given to people on EBT cards is allowed to be spent so that healthy choices are encouraged in a more direct manner.  An $800 wedding cake on an EBT card – give me a break!  At the rate of inflation for groceries, it won’t be long before greater numbers forget trying to get a break – give me a SNAP card!  It appears that there is no shame in taking from others anymore and, for many, it’s not improving their health, but worsening it.

Want to Live Longer?

Many times I’ve asked octogenarians if they thought they would live to be that age.  I’ve noted that the great majority actually say that they did not think they would be that age.  Besides the humbleness that most have to be blessed with that many years of life, there are other commonalities, such as having a history of eating from a home garden that has been worked yearly while providing for routine exercise for many years, a strong Christian faith, and a history of a strong, stable marriage.  All of these characteristics are associated with living a longer life and many studies back up these statements.

The Bible is full of advice on living a long life.  One example, of many, is that we are instructed, by the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments, to honor our father and mother if we want to live a long life.  Being able to honor one’s father and mother involves the development of many characteristics of living that provide for living a long life.  Those who will not do that are rebellious and that certainly leads to many behaviors with potential for the shortening of life span.  Even when there has been a negative parental experience, deciding upon forgiveness releases one from bitterness, depression, anxiety, and ill health effects when parents are honored solely because they are father and mother.

I’ve said for several years now that I expected to see evidence soon of a decline in life expectancy in our country and, unfortunately, that has come into being.  An article in the New York Times on September 20, “Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the U.S.”, was based upon a study published in August in Health Affairs.  In reference to the study, John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging, stated, “We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling.”  The steepest decline was seen among white women without a high school diploma and this group had a loss of five years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2008; among white men, it was three years lost. Among blacks and Hispanics of the same educational level, life expectancy rose, but blacks have a lower total life expectancy than whites and Hispanics have the longest life expectancy of the three groups.  There are large gaps in life expectancy between those with a high school diploma and those without one.  In the United Nations rankings among countries, American women were 14th place in 1985 and now are at 41st place.

Speculation abounds as to the various reasons why life expectancy is decreasing for whites.  The authors bring out various valid suggestions such as the fact that obesity rates are increasing,  smoking rates and prescription drug overdosing are high among less educated white women, and the least educated Americans many times lack health insurance.  It must also be considered that the rates of unmarried women having children has increased which usually brings with it a lack of educational achievement and income while many single mothers have to work low-wage jobs and are very stressed with negative health effects. Other factors that the authors have not considered include the rise of Hepatitis C and HIV during the time period of this study.

It was stated in the abstract of the study, “The message for policy makers is clear: implement educational enhancements at young, middle, and older ages for people of all races, to reduce the large gap in health and longevity that persists today.”  I do not agree with this assessment.  We will not see life span be as great as it can be just because education is enhanced and possibly more people get high school diplomas. Educational achievement does contribute to income levels, but higher income levels alone do not guarantee a longer life either.  I think the real issue here is that not having a high school diploma is associated with other factors which together reflect a greater potential for a shorter life span; in other words, the absence of the high school diploma is a sign of greater problems, rather than being the primary problem.  That primary problem is the detrimental lifestyle choices being made which are also being reflected through the alarming statistics of the breakdown of the traditional family. Although it is ultimately up to the individual and the choices that are made, policy makers can positively increase life spans by promotion of the traditional family through incentives for people to get married and stay married combined with halting the subsidizing of bad behavior.  In the present day, the right lifestyle will usually result in one getting a high school diploma, not vice versa.  Just ask those around you who have made it to being eighty years of age and above.  They’ll gladly share with you some wisdom of how they made it to that age range.  The recognition and respect of a higher moral authority than any human is the beginning of wisdom and a life that will be as long as it can be.

Fracking Gag Orders

The reported tremendous potential for producing oil through the fracking procedure could result in many changes in our country and certainly would improve our economy. While there is great potential for positive changes, we all would be well served by following a conservative approach of fully investigating and considering all possibilities because all change isn’t always good. There are at least thirty states which have active natural gas drilling occurring and about 90% of these are using fracking.

It is not doubtful to anyone about the benefits of having greater production of oil in our country and it is certainly easier and more pleasant to focus solely on these benefits. However, there are questions in many people’s minds regarding the safety issues. To be more specific, there are many questions being raised concerning health effects of the chemicals that are being used in the fracking process which can sometimes leak into the water supply. This concern is not just theoretical because there are instances in which this has occurred. Being sure what is being done in our country is of utmost importance since it is certainly crucial to have clean water.

Health problems started arising in Pennsylvania patients who had homes near drilling sites that used fracking. A Pennsylvania plastic surgeon, Amy Pare, MD, was seeing patients who had “bleeding, oozing lesions covering their faces.” Dr. Pare became suspicious and did tests which confirmed that the patients had phenol and hippuric acid in their urine; these two chemicals are rarely found in humans, but would be there if ingestion of hydrocarbons and toluene, respectively, were occurring. The patients reportedly cleared up after they quit drinking their well water. One lady in Pennsylvania, Sherry Vargson, leased her mineral rights and was recently pictured demonstrating how she can light a match causing the water to catch on fire when she turns on her kitchen faucet; methane has leached into her well water. There are many residents of northeastern Pennsylvania who have been forced into relying upon outside water now because their water is nonpotable.

Due to concern about what these physicians were seeing, many requested information regarding what chemicals were being used in the fracking process. What was discovered was much resistance to transparency to the public. Physicians in Pennsylvania and other states have been forced into signing confidentiality agreements promising that they will only use the information for patient treatment. This is effectively a “gag order”. About a dozen state laws are in place due to concerns about chemical exposures to the public from fracking. A nephrologist, Alfonso Rodriquez, MD, is challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection saying that the law is vague and violates the First Amendment rights of physicians.

The energy companies have concerns about their trade secrets of what chemical mixtures they are using being copied by other companies who haven’t invested in finding what works best for fracking. This is a legitimate concern, but it must be weighed against the health of the public. There should be complete transparency by the energy companies regarding what chemicals they are using. If they have concerns about trade secrets, they could certainly reveal all of the possible chemicals that might be used without giving specific details of their exact mixture; this is much like what is done with food products which non-specifically list their ingredients and don’t impair their ability to provide a custom-made product that they can still protect. At least the public could have some idea about what might be a problem rather than leaving everyone in the dark about their health being possibly negatively affected.