Monday, November 24, 2014

Life as a Clergy Wife: My Most Excellent Sunday Adventure

Other than waking up to God strongly suggesting that I go to church with my husband, I'm a little fuzzy on the exact sequence of this morning's events.

Let's just say that between the time we arrived and liturgy began, I somehow ended up singing with the choir. Singing soprano! Singing Rutter's "Look at the World" for the offertory! Wearing an outfit!

Don't I look happy?

I was! And many hours later, I still am, even though I had to leave the outfit at church.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Grace Takes Many Forms: The Sand Art of Gary Shockley

Many moments of grace emerged during the conneXion conference at Central United Methodist Church in Concord, North Carolina, but the perhaps the most extraordinary was due to an unexpected agenda change.

I arrived at the church on Thursday morning to learn that my keynote would not be first on the schedule. Instead, it would be preceded by Gary Shockley's sand art -- an extended moment of grace that provided a sacred context for the day.

Behold this sample of what we were blessed to experience:

Discover more at Gary's website, Sand Artistry.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Stanford #MedX Revelations: E, I, E, I...oh!

Not to brag (lying) but before heading out to #MedX, I did manage to generate lots of comments on the MedX ePatient Scholars Alumni Facebook group by posting pre-conference tips about introverts.

More specifically, I posted this chart of the "Top 10 Myths about Introverts That Simply Aren't True" that appeared on

I probably should have revisited it during my almost-full-week in Palo Alto, because by day two I was wondering if I'd mysteriously and magically shifted my entire intractable personality from introvert to extrovert.

Is that even possible? Much stranger things have happened in my life like when, during my late 30's, the side-part in my hair shifted from right to left. One day my hair was parting easily and neatly on the right side of my head; the next day, painfully not at all. Even my hairdresser didn't know for sure what the hell was going on.

So had I morphed from introvert to extrovert during #MedX? I did spent a lot of time hanging out with people -- wonderful walks, mealtime conversations, poolside hilarity. continuous communication via social media during presentations. Loving all of it, missing the camaraderie not just upon my return home, but at the end of each full day.

During #MedX and since returning, I've stared at pictures of me posted to Twitter and Facebook. Pictures of me laughing; hugging people. I've been studying them like archeological artifacts dug up from another identity.

Have I extrovert?!?

I've been pondering this since my return because it does seem to be true that a combination of the glorious microclimate in Palo Alto and the community that emerges before, during, and after #MedX does foster change at many levels.

A few weeks into making myself (more) nuts about my dearly beloved personality type, I found this chart posted on Twitter:

With ginormous ontological relief, I shouted, "Bingo!"  into the quiet confines of my (back here for now) home office and wondering, already, about attending Stanford MedicineX 2015.

Monday, September 22, 2014

In case of an accident, check my RoadID

What's that on my wrist? Doesn't look like a Fitbit because it isn't. It's a RoadID, something I discovered while surfing the Twitterstream. 

RoadID is basically a medical alert bracelet onto which lots of info can be crammed. It was designed specifically for runners, bikers, and other athletes most likely to get knocked unconscious while on the open road. 

I engage in exactly none of these athletic activities, but do take walks. I've also been known to wander around without much (read: any) identification blah blah. I'm guessing this stupid and unsafe behavior will only get worse as I get older.

So what info is on my RoadID? Phone numbers, blood type, NKA (no known allergies), organ donor, plus in CAPS and all written out: DO NOT RESUSCITATE. I wanted to add, "I'm not freakin' kidding about the DNR," but there wasn't room. 

Nice flexible durable waterproof band; got one in black and another in purple because...wait, I should not have to explain why I just had to get a purple band.

Visit the RoadID site to read about why this family business got started and get one. It'll probably last longer than your Fitbit.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Life as a Clergy Wife: Doing That Priest-y Thing?

I was having a rough Friday exacerbated, no doubt, by having been in five different time zones and multiple airports over the past two weeks. (This kind of schedule does not play well with fibromyalgia, something I do know but often pretend isn't true.)

I'd already had a meltdown that included crying. I'd also had a rapid-fire exchange of direct messages on Twitter with someone who was feeling my pain along with her own. I watched a #SharkCat video (see below). And then I called my husband at work, something I don't make a habit (habit, hahah, get it?) of doing.

During these early years of our marriage we've spent an incalculable amount of time trying to figure out how to identify, establish, and maintain reasonably healthy boundaries relative to work. We tried calling it "vocation." Using the word "vocation" underscored the sacred dimension and obscured the fact that most ministers work like dray horses. Maybe other couples can do it well, but having both of us in active ministry -- full time for him and nearly full time for me -- was trashing our marriage. And our friendship wasn't doing so well, either.

We talked near-constantly about about polity weirdness, rubrics, open Communion, the tyranny of combative church committees, ad orientem altars, crappy church signage, ecumenism gone bad, dysfunctional church websites, and the persistent resistance among some clergy to recognize the value of social media. This went on during the workday and at home after work.

We? Okay, mostly me. Honestly, if bitching about institutionalized religion were a spiritual practice, I'd be viewed as a diligent disciplined practitioner.

So not only did we agree to stop talking about church work, but that I'd rebalance my healthcare-church consulting portfolio. Along the way, I think I decided that I wouldn't call my husband, the priest, at work for anything more substantive than finding out if he was stopping off at the supermarket on his way home.

But I was a mess, so I called him at (church) work.
"You busy doing priest-y things?"
His other phone ringing in the background, but I knew he was absolutely present to and for me. He could tell I was upset. He listened. He said some stuff. He listened some more. I could feel my energy shift and lift.

Later, I realized that I'd called him not at his work, but really at his vocation.

Yes, he was being my husband, but he was indeed doing a priest-y thing. For that I was, and am, graced and grateful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Stanford #MedX Adventure: Worlds of Health and Worlds of Faith...Converging

For those keeping score at home, I ended summer and began autumn by attending the highly acclaimed Stanford Medicine X conference in Palo Alto.

I was there as a 2014 ePatient Delegate (read more about that here) plus as a panelist discussing "Communicating the Experience of Illness in the Digital Age" (read more about that here and see the panel on video here).

On the plane to California, I spent some travel time thinking about the psycho-spiritual dimensions of this adventure. Not for the first time did I feel called to ponder where I "live and move and have [my] being" (Acts 17:28). Worlds of health, wellness, and healthcare? Worlds of faith, spiritual life, and church? When and why do these worlds remain separate? When and how do they come together? 

I decided to devote some time during #MedX talking with physicians and other healthcare colleagues about how they manage the intersection of health and faith. Like nearly all my interests, this one is personal as well as professional, which makes me either an admirably whole person or a raving narcissist.

At some point I'll write more about when and how health and faith came together in my personal life. Short version: During my mid-30s, chronic illness was one of several realities that got (read: forced) me to think about big (and typically spiritual) questions like, "Why this?" "Why me?" "Why now?"

I wanted to have this conversation at #MedX because starting around 2010, I began receiving messages from physicians and healthcare policy wonks asking, "How do you get away with tweeting about your faith?" Interesting and, in some instances, heartwrenching conversations. Conversations about how health and faith and medicine and healing intersect (or can't) for them. All via the back channel.

Why the back channel? I guessed and then have had my suspicions affirmed that talking about faith is too risky, especially for those practicing medicine within corporate healthcare systems. Risky? I've understated that. Try dangerous.

In face-to-face discussions about this, more than one physician has physically recoiled when I've asked "Do you talk about faith with your patients." They blurt out, "No!" Then typically soften that visceral response by adding, "not unless they ask me." They expect those conversations to be handled by whomever is brought in for consultation, usually the hospice team.

More often than not I cannot follow-up with, "How does this affect you? What would your experience of practicing medicine be like if you could talk about spiritual issues?" The atmosphere has become just too charged with anxiety and we're just too busy process all that.

Except while sitting on comfy chairs in a hallway at #MedX.

Dr. Mike Sevilla (@drmikesevilla), who gave me permission to mention him by name said, "Religion has become too politicized. If I raise issues of faith, they hear 'religion' and then make negative associations and assumptions." (For the record, Mike did not recoil when I asked the question, he became contemplative.)

So, how might we change our language during medical encounters to reach the destination another way?
What if patients were asked, "Where do you seek and find comfort?" What if they were asked this long before receiving a devastating diagnosis and sent off for traumatizing treatment?
What if practitioners asked themselves, "How might I find meaning in the practice of medicine today?"
Questions about meaning and comfort are quintessentially spiritual questions. (No surprise that the Twitter handle for the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network is @meaningcomfort.) These are also questions that invite connecting with our common humanness.

Among many glorious things, this year's #MedX was notable for addressing the stigma of talking about depression and other mental health issues, especially for those with chronic illness (see below for resources).

Meanwhile, conversations about faith and health, for me anyway, took place in the hallways and the VIP room; during walks and meals off-campus. What if we brought those conversations to the mainstage?

Mike Sevilla's post about the depression and chronic illness panel on Dr. Mike Sevilla | Family Physician.

For videos of keynotes, panels, and Ignite talks visit the Stanford Medicine X channel on YouTube.

On Pinterest, take a look at Meredith Gould's Inspired Healing board.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stanford Medicine X: About that Spoon Assignment and the Artist-in-Residence

An an academic medical conference focused on "emerging technology at the intersection of health and medicine."

That's right, the Stanford Medicine X conference (#MedX) spotlights a visual artist who not only delivers a mainstage talk and workshop, but also creates artwork onsite in real time. Conference attendees are invited to join in. How cool and brilliant is that?

Granted, there's no shortage of creativity among participants as well as presenters during #MedX. In fact, I found myself having several extensive conversations with healthcare colleagues about their choice of artistic expression. (If I receive permission, I'll name names in another post!) What's admirably unusual is #MedX's institutionalized recognition of storytelling with the visual arts.

Last year, #MedX featured patient rights arts advocate and founder of the Walking Gallery, Regina Holliday (@ReginaHolliday). This year, metalsmith and medical illustrator Rachel B. Stork Stoltz (@medicalartmofo) served as artist-in-residence. Rachel is especially interested in "giving visual voice to invisible illnesses." Enter, the spoon.

Christine Miserandino (@bydls), who lives with lupus, came up with The Spoon Theory while talking with her best friend about what it's like to make choices that healthy people take for granted. She uses spoons to represent a finite amount of energy. (Hot flash for physicists: energy is finite for people with autoimmune diseases.)

References to running out of spoons are immediately recognizable to many of us with chronic illness or disabilities. The "#spoonie" tag is used to identify and locate content and conversation about living with fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other energy-suck conditions. I personally tend to use it when I have a concern that's most likely to be understood by another...spoonie. In my case, misery loves affirmation.

And so, I was pretty darn delighted when the #MedX sent me the Spoon Assignment (see this earlier post for what I brought and why). I figured Rachel would be using the spoons to create a masterwork, but the reality was even better. We were given access to glitter, beads, charms, ribbon, thread, paint, and glue. Fresh air on a balcony. Spoons. I retrieved the one I'd handed in.

One week ago, I recuperated from a very long day of conference hubbub by creating this reminder, which is now hanging next to my desk:

Regina Holliday's post about "The Walking Gallery" on Regina Holliday's Medical Advocacy Blog,
The Walking Gallery of Healthcare Community on Facebook.
Info about Rachel Stork Stoltz and Anatomical Element,
Meredith Gould's post, "Pinterest for Health is a Beautiful Thing...Literally" on the Mayo Social Media Health Network blog.
Meredith Gould's "Inspired Healing" board on Pinterest.
Christine Miseradino's website, and on Facebook.