Sunday, December 5, 2010

What's left in an empty box?

The last few weeks, I have been more discouraged, depressed, and distressed than I can remember feeling in a long, long time. I have metaphorically banged my nose on more closed doors than ever before. This chapter of my life is coming to an end, but I don’t know what’s next, and I don’t know how to fulfill my responsibilities until whatever’s next arrives. I’m lost in the dark, swinging a lantern wildly and not seeing any path before my feet. All I see is . . . nothing.

I feel like God is scouring me out, like you would a cookpot, scrubbing away at stubborn stains until they gradually surrender to the inevitable and drift away down the drain. Preconceptions, expectations, even aspirations, have all disappeared, and every time I think there’s nothing left inside, I realize the loss of something else I only vaguely knew was there in the first place.

But what do you do when the cookpot’s clean? You fill it up again, with something new. Something good. Something useful. You can’t use the pot for its intended purpose until all of the previous gunk is wiped away.

I was reading Second Corinthians today, and the following passage, as well-known to me as it was already, struck me as particularly pertinent:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10, New International Version.

I haven’t reached the point where I can say I’m delighting in these circumstances. Not when I’m having anxiety attacks like the one I had earlier today when I realized I’m going to have to do something that I don’t think I am physically able do. But I have reached the point of saying that I am weak. This thing must be done, and I must do it. But I can’t. So Christ will have to do it through me. And that is a glorious thing.

When Pandora opened the jar Zeus had given her, and released all the evil into the world, and the jar looked empty, there was one thing left. Even though I feel empty, I do have at least one thing left in my soul – hope.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Living With an Invisible Illness, Part 2 (I think)

Quick post today to offer two items for your consideration.

1. Helping loved ones understand what you're feeling - if you haven't utilized The Spoon Theory, I highly recommend it. It's written for lupus, but works for any chronic invisible illness, in my opinion.

2. I was talking to someone last week who said that there is a new theory that fibromyalgia is related to PTSD. So I'm wondering - for those of you out there in ReaderLand who have fibro or another chronic autoimmune disorder, did you suffer a traumatic event?

That's all there's time for today. Hope your week is going well!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy New Year, or Why I Don’t Go Out on Halloween

Today is Samhain, Celtic New Year. Today is the day when the veil between the worlds is thinnest, permitting spirits to cross back over into our world, and permitting unwary souls to wander from this world into Faerie. Tonight, in the Druidic tradition, all the hearth fires would be extinguished, then relit from the bonfire lit by the king and blessed by his Druids.

Or so we think. No one really knows, because the Druids died out long ago, when Christianity came to the Emerald Isle. I’ve seen conflicting sources about what day Samhain actually is – some say All Hallow’s Eve (October 31), some say All Saints’ Day (November 1), some say Dia de los Muertos (November 2). I suspect that the ancient Druidic observance of Samhain had more to do with the cycle of the moon and the seasons than it was tied to an actual calendar day, but that’s just my theory.

On a more intimate note, today is my personal New Year’s Eve. Because I was born on All Saints’ Day, around Samhain and Dia de los Muertos, this time of year is deeply meaningful to me. Today is the day I contemplate the year gone by, and what I want to accomplish in the year ahead. Samhain just gives me an external justification for my intuition that the year is winding down and the new one is just ahead. My heritage is mostly Celtic, which justifies the emotional attachment to Celtic New Year, and I grew up in an area with a large Mexican population, so Dia de los Muertos also has some emotional significance, although I have never observed those traditions.

Regardless, most people seem to accept the idea that this particular night is special. Secular America has de-emphasized the supernatural elements and significance, by focusing on candy and fun costumes and silliness. Those things are fine and dandy as far as they go, but for me it is important to remember that there is more in the universe than our five senses can perceive. And that this night of any night, there is more supernatural activity than usual.

How do I know? I can feel it. I started feeling it last night. It was not quite 11:00 p.m. when I stopped at a red light and looked out over the hills of north Austin. I could see a lot of traffic, and suddenly I could feel a restlessness in the night air. I prayed for God’s protection of the city and its population.

Looking back on my childhood, I realize that I’ve always been able to feel the otherworldly atmosphere on Halloween. It scares me, because all of the spirits I’ve ever felt have been malevolent.

One Halloween when I was in college, I was at campus late and decided that rather than driving home, I’d go to a friend’s house. She worked nights and left a key for me outside her door. I was welcome any time. So I went over there around midnight. The moon was high and almost full, but her yard was peculiarly dark. I was uncomfortable as I walked from the car to the front door, and I could not find the rock where she had hidden the key. I stood there in the yard for a moment, and could feel hate focused on me from all directions. It was oppressive and momentarily paralyzing. Suddenly I couldn’t stand to be there another minute, so I rushed back to my car and went home.

I am not afraid of the Evil One. Neither he nor his servants have power over me, because my soul belongs to the Creator. But I will not expose myself to their hatred and malevolent intent, either. I stay at home on Halloween, safe in the protection of my God’s love and power.

Tonight the veil is thin, my friends. Be careful, be vigilant, and do not let yourselves be led astray. I pray that God will keep you safe from harm, and that the coming year will overflow with blessing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Living with an Invisible Illness, part 1

Many people I know suffer from invisible illnesses. I wrote this today during a bad flare. Nothing practical here, but hopefully in the days to come we can change that.

Fibromyalgia haiku

This flush on my face
So cheerful, seeming healthy
Lies – All is not well

“You look so healthy”
Appearances deceive you
This body - broken

Trigger points scream red
Without external pressure
Pools of pain inside

Large muscles spasm
Small ones clench, no release
No relief exists

Cannot filter noise
Near or far, it all pierces
I’m flying apart

My brain, wrapped in gauze
Thoughts disappear in the gray
What was I saying?

Sleep may be reprieve
Or not – hours pass, but still
Bone-deep exhaustion

Flares may fade away
“Normal” return for a day
But “Health” never will

This is my life now
Hurt, tired, and misunderstood
God is my refuge

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Compassion Fatigue

Hello, friends! Today I’d like to talk about compassion fatigue. This is a term I heard only recently – last week, in fact, when I opened the new issue of the Texas Bar Journal. Compassion fatigue affects those in helping professions (health care, counseling, teaching), caregivers, and is recently gaining awareness as affecting lawyers. This makes intuitive sense to me, as lawyers help people, too. No, really, we do. :-)

Compassion fatigue is a type of burnout, and commonly manifests with some or all of the following symptoms: apathy, anxiety, anger, sleep disturbances, substance or food abuse, depression, chronic lateness, exhaustion, frequent headaches, gastrointestinal complaints, hypertension, hopelessness, hypervigilance, inability to maintain a balance of empathy and objectivity, increased irritability, increased startle response, isolation, low self-esteem, perfectionism, pessimism, and workaholism.* It is the result of long-term exposure to emotionally demanding situations.

My list of followers right now is small enough that I know most of you personally, and I know that you are helpers and caregivers by nature. Some of you have a loved one with a chronic illness, some of you are in high-stress situations at all times. According to the above list of symptoms, I am currently suffering from compassion fatigue, so I know some of you probably are, too. So I want to share with you some tips I’ve found on reducing your risk for compassion fatigue, or beginning to heal if you’ve already fallen prey.

Here is a self test. Click to evaluate yourself and see where you fall on the scale. The same organization, the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, also has a test for you to measure how at-risk you are for stress-related illnesses: The Life Stress Test. You may be surprised at your result – I was.

The resources I’ve found all recommend a self-care plan, a way to make sure that you are not neglecting your own needs while caring for others. Some of the suggestions are:

· Make sure you drink enough water, eat healthy foods, and have an exercise program
· Take a few minutes each day to organize your thoughts and prepare for the day ahead
· Learn to say “no.” (This one is hard for me. How about you?)
· Unplug for a while – no phone, TV, or internet. Interact with family members, friends, or pets without technology.
· Encourage your creative side. Give yourself permission to spend time on a hobby.
· Decide how you want to spend your time, and give yourself permission to do it.
· Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it.

Turns out I had already started on my own wellness program before I realized what the problem was. I’m exercising regularly (!!!), trying to eat more healthy foods, taking up my hobbies again, trying to spend more time with friends and family, and lately have been reading in the evenings instead of watching TV or a movie. Last night I went to sleep at 8:00 p.m. and feel noticeably better today.

How do you manage your stress? Any practical tips to share?

Further reading:

The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
Reserved for resources I find later or you suggest to me

*List obtained from Compassion Fatigue and Attorneys: What is Your Self-Care Plan? by Christie Sprowls, Psy.D. Texas Bar Journal vol. 73, No. 8, September 2010.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.
--- Proverbs 16:28

Gossip: idle talk or rumor, esp. about the personal or private affairs of others

Now, we're not ones to go 'round spreadin' rumors,
Why, really we're just not the gossipy kind,
No, you'll never hear one of us repeating gossip,
So you'd better be sure and listen close the first time!

--- The Gossip Girls, Hee Haw

Gossip. We all like to do it. It's titillating and gives us a heady sense of power to talk about people. It's so easy to fall into gossip with justifications like "you should know this so you know how to pray for this person." Especially in the South, where you can say anything about anyone if you follow it with "bless his (or her) heart."

But gossip is damaging. Someone told me something recently that was about fourth or fifth hand, about me. Something hurtful. I'm trying to ignore it, because (1) it's been through so many people that I don't know if it's even accurate that the supposed source said it, (2) it was said so long ago that the supposed source may have had a change of heart, and (3) the person who told me what was said seems to have a personal agenda that appears to involve driving a wedge between me and the supposed source, under the guise of watching out for my interests.

The Bible is not the only source for condemnation of gossip. A simple Google search turned up several articles on the negative effects of gossip. Here are just a few: The effects of gossip at work, The effects of gossip at school, and how gossip can destroy friendships.

This experience has taught me first-hand about the dangers of gossip, even well-meaning gossip. Now that that little piece of unreliable information is lodged in my brain, it is trying to fester and cause all kinds of problems. I'm praying for the ability to ignore it, quarantine it, and not let it infect my relationship with the supposed source or any of the intermediaries.

This experience has given me the determination to keep a better guard on my own tongue, so that I don't spread gossip or hurtful rumors. You never know what damage it's going to cause.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My #1 Tip for Weight Loss

If you're like me, you struggle with your weight. These days, that word is weighty (pun most definitely intended) with connotations and implications that women didn't have to deal with in prior ages. There's "body image," "eating disorders," and even "political correctness" involved with the size of our bodies. I don't really want to get into all that now (it's a rant for another day). What I want to do is share the number one tip that has helped me shed unwanted pounds:

Find out what foods you're allergic to, and stop eating them.

Yes, it really is that simple on the surface. One of my doctors told me years ago that if I did this one thing, the weight would melt away. And you know what? He was right.

He tested me for all kinds of allergies, which in retrospect was probably not the Best Idea Ever. The one food to which I had the greatest reaction was wheat.

Last fall, I got serious about not eating wheat. No bread, pizza, pasta, desserts, even canned soups. You have to be careful, because wheat's in everything. Guess what? In 8 months, I'd lost 29 pounds. That's a little less than a pound a week, which is generally considered to be safe and healthy weight loss.

So if you are unhappy about the size of your body, go find a reputable allergist near you and get yourself tested for food allergies. Eliminate the one food that you have the worst reaction to, and let me know the result. It may not be easy, especially if you have an allergy addiction, but I promise you that you won't be sorry.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Beauty (Eat, Pray, Love Reaction Post #2)

“Beauty is simply Reality seen with the eyes of love.” – Evelyn Underhill

“Love beauty; it is the shadow of God on the universe.” -- Gabriela Mistral

Over the last couple of years, I have found myself drawn to idea of Beauty. I want to find simple beauty in the world around us. After all, we live in a wondrous world, so complex and finely detailed that despite our best efforts to pollute it, it remains beautiful.

The fact that I ended up as a lawyer has always been a bit bewildering to me. By nature I am an intuitive, artistic sort of person. The one thing I was always best at was music, much more so than science or logic, yet God led me to and through law school, retraining my brain in the process.

In the last 15 years of practicing law, all my illusions about concepts such as “fair play” and “justice” have been eroded away. I never meet my clients at a good point in their lives, especially now that I’ve begun to focus on bankruptcy. My job brings me face to face with pain, guilt, anger, heartache, betrayal, confusion, despair, indignation, and injustice. Every day. Every day I must reach into myself and pull out compassion, sympathy, and wisdom, and by the end of the day I am drained.

So I guess it’s no wonder that the long-suppressed artist in me craves beauty. Beauty is restorative. Nothing fills me with peace and contentment any more than sitting quietly in a beautiful place, preferably outside. Beauty combats unrest, and at least for me, always wins.

In the first section of Eat, Pray, Love, Liz Gilbert ponders why Italy has “produced the greatest artistic, political and scientific minds of the ages, but have still never become a major world power.”* Her conclusion is that Italy’s history is riddled with corruption of power, so that the people trust only what they can perceive with their senses. She says, “[i]n a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted.”

From a strictly human perspective (i.e., without any theological concerns), this makes a certain amount of sense. I would probably rephrase and expand that conclusion as follows: In a world full of the worst parts of human nature, sometimes only beauty reflects goodness.

The quote that I highlighted in my copy of Eat, Pray, Love, though is this one:

To devote yourself to the creation and enjoyment of beauty, then can be a serious business – not always necessarily a means of escaping reality, but sometimes a means of holding on to the real when everything else is flaking away into . . . rhetoric and plot.

Therefore, my desire to find or create beauty is a reaction to the ugliness of human nature. Not to escape from reality, because the reality is that we live on a cursed world, polluted by sin and evil, but to remind myself that what God created, He meant to be good.**

How do you cope with the erosion of confidence and hope caused by the stress of your daily life? How do you deal with the fact that people, as they say, are just no damn good? And where do you find beauty? How do you seek the hidden beauty in your own part of the world? I’d love to know.

* p. 114.

** The underlying assumption of that previous statement, that beauty equals goodness, must be the subject of a different dissertation. We all know that beauty does not equal goodness, that in fact beauty can mask great evil, but for purposes of this discussion, finding beauty reminds me of God’s goodness.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Soul Mates (Eat, Pray, Love Reaction Post #1)

Although I do love not having to consult someone before deciding to spend the weekend with friends, sole ownership of the remote control, and the three warm feline bodies snuggled up against mine during sleepy time, I must admit – I hate being single. All my life, all I ever wanted to be was a wife and mother, and now, with 40 looming large on the horizon, it appears likely that I will be neither.

So it was with amazement a few years ago that I met and promptly fell for Claude.* Claude was everything that I thought I wanted in a man – tall, strong, gentle, a good father, hard worker, animal lover, cowboy. He also came with a trainload of baggage. Serious baggage, the sort of baggage that made friends and family wonder if I had taken leave of my senses when we became involved.

One of the things I loved about Claude was that we never fought. We had disagreements, some of which were pretty serious, but we were always able to speak calmly and work them out. I loved his children, and they loved me. I thought that God had finally sent me my soul-mate, and that we would live together, if not always easily, then at least happily.

But then Claude’s ex-wife finished serving her prison sentence for the negligent homicide of their youngest son (see above reference to Serious Baggage), and suddenly – he wasn’t in love with me any more. He stood in my living room and looked me in the eye while he broke my heart.

What happened? Didn’t we value the same things? Have the same tastes, like the same music, watch the same movies, talk for hours about things both meaningless and meaningful? Wasn’t he my soul mate? What happened to
"happily ever after"???

I’ve long since stopped crying over him, and can’t think of a single circumstance under which I’d ever take him back, but the soul mate question lingered. Then my dear friend Caitlin** told me to read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. There was a particular conversation she told me to pay attention to, and it is from this conversation that the following quote comes:

Your problem is you don’t understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it.†

That paragraph describes what Claude did for me (which no one around me understood at the time). I’m a better version of myself for having loved him.

What a liberating concept! Yes, Claude was my soul mate. No, we were never meant to last forever. Be glad that it happened, not sorry that it ended.

I still struggle with being single. I have to frequently remind myself of 1 Corinthians 7:34 - "An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband."

I have to remind myself that what I want more than anything else is to stand in front of my God and hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." If it means that I die childless and never having been married, then so be it.

And then last night I watched "The Buccaneers," based on Edith Wharton’s novel. At the end, the governess says to her friend, "I have lived without love for forty years. I shall probably manage to live another forty under the same terms."

Romantic love is great for them as has it. For the rest of us, there must be a reason. We may not ever know that reason, but perhaps we will be blessed enough to have a soul mate for a while, to teach us about ourselves.


*Not his real name. I chose it because with the American pronunciation, it sounds like "clod," which is a pretty accurate description in retrospect.

**Not her real name, either. See the intro post.

† Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love, p. 149. Oh, and Richard-from-Austin, if you ever read this blog, I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


The subject of forgiveness has been on my mind a lot lately. Real life drama, along with my own introspective journey into my past and figuring out what I need to forgive in order to stop impeding my own spiritual growth.

It is a sad fact that to be human is to be hurt. Someone will lie to you, cheat you, harm you emotionally or physically, betray you . . . the list goes on. Each time someone wrongs you, you have two choices: Hold on to it, or let it go. Or in other words, resent or forgive.

Forgiveness is necessary for mental, emotional, and physical health. My grandmother is a champion grudge-holder. She can recite every slight or insult, real or imagined, she has ever received in her 90+ years of life. Is it really any wonder, then, that she has had chronic stomach problems for most of her life? Not according to The Mayo Clinic it isn’t. A simple Google search of the word "forgiveness" leads to a multitude of sites discussing the effect that both forgiveness and resentment have on a person’s health.

Forgiveness is a conscious choice. Forgiveness is foreign to human nature. Our instinct is to treasure every wrong, remember every slight, because it feeds our sense of entitlement. "I deserve such-and-such because that person treated me this way." Our natural response is to seek revenge for a wrong done. To forgive requires rising above that base impulse, which must be a conscious decision.

Forgiveness does not mean restoration. By forgiving someone, you release the negative emotions connected with the wrong, but that does not mean you must then restore the person to the same position of trust he had before. A battered spouse must forgive the abuser before emotional healing can begin, but must also leave the abuser before one of them dies. A friend who betrayed you can be forgiven, but that does not mean she gets to continue receiving the confidences you once trusted her with.

For me, as with so many things in my life, the issue of forgiveness is tied up with my faith. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the word forgive" appears 800 times in the King James Version of the Bible. Eight hundred times. Forgiveness is an important topic with God, apparently. Sometimes it’s a command (Luke 17:3-4), sometimes it’s a plea (1 Kings 8:33-34), and sometimes it’s a promise (1 John 1:9). But there’s no doubt that it’s mandatory. If someone hurts me, I must forgive him, as God has forgiven me.

But sometimes it’s hard let go of the hurt, anger, and resentment, and move on. So how do you forgive when you can’t forgive?

I visualize a closet with two shelves. The lower shelf is labeled “Stuff Erin Has to Deal With” and the upper shelf is labeled “Stuff God Has to Deal With.” When I can’t let go of a wrong someone has done me, I visualize taking that hurt, anger, and resentment and putting it in a box. I put a lid on it and put it on the shelf of Stuff God Has to Deal With. Every time I find myself thinking about it, I put it in the box and on God’s shelf. Eventually, I find that I can think about the incident or the person without that anger and resentment, because God has helped me to forgive.

Because I have to repeat this process, I’ve come to the conclusion that forgiveness is not a one-time act for us. You will probably have to forgive the same wrong again and again, and even again. But it’s necessary to do so, because the alternative is to hold that rot in your soul, where it will fester and spread, infecting your entire being. Not forgiving someone doesn’t harm that person. It doesn’t affect that person in any way. It only harms you.

I’ve seen the following quote attributed to various people, and wish I could remember the book where I first saw it, because it’s such a striking simile. I’ll end this entry with it, and hope to see you again next time:

“Harboring resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In Which I Try Not to Sound Too Pompous, Or, Welcome!

Welcome to Practicum of Life. I’m glad you’re here. Pull up a chair; coffee and refreshments are over there on the counter. Help yourself. While you’re getting comfortable, I’ll try to figure out how to start.

There are a couple of options. One, I could give you the brief bio – SWCF, voluptuous, loves cats, ISO Meaning of Life – but you’re not here to read a personal ad.

Or I could start by giving an historical background – the events and thoughts that led me to post this in the first place. Yawn. You don’t care, at least not yet. So why are you here? Why did you click whatever link led you here?

While you’re pondering your answer to that question (which I hope you will leave in the comments), let me explain the title of this baby blog. “Practicum” is defined generally as “[a] school or college course, especially one in a specialized field of study, that is designed to give students supervised practical application of previously studied theory.” ( Another definition is that practicum is “a course involving activities emphasizing the practical application of theory, esp. one in which a student gains on-the-job experience in a field of study.” (

So, a practicum for life. Wouldn’t that be, well, life? I think so. But there’s plenty of practical application of theory involved in life, and I have come to believe that gaining wisdom involves on-the-job experience; that is, living life.

My current philosophy of life is drawn from many sources, but it’s constantly evolving, both as I learn more theory and have more experience. One of the driving forces of my life has been to help other people. So much pain and suffering exists in the world, and sometimes I think pastors, preachers, ministers, teachers, counselors, and others in positions of some authority tend to forget that theory is grand, but we must be able to apply that theory in order to survive the missiles and arrows aimed in our direction as we walk through life.

So that’s what I imagine this blog to be – a place to record how I have learned to apply in a practical manner the theory I’ve been absorbing all my life, in the hope that something in this record will help you on your walk through this world. I fully expect to wander, to cover anything and everything from fashion to faith. I will speak frankly, and apologize in advance for any offense. I intend none, and hope that those of you who disagree with me will do so in a courteous fashion. I invite dialogue, because one of the tenets of my philosophy of life is You Never Know Who Has Wisdom to Impart, So Listen to Everyone You Meet.

But human nature being what it is, I must set forth a few ground rules:

1. No flaming. If you disagree with me or a commenter, play nice. If you refuse to play nice, I reserve the right to ban your access to this blog.

2. If you notice that I have quoted someone incorrectly, please give me the correct information for citation. I certainly have no wish to dishonor the contribution of anyone who’s helped get me to this point in life.

3. Did I mention no flaming? Good.

4. Please feel free to give me courteous feedback. This blog is a work in progress, and it’s the first time I’ve attempted anything like this, so if you have suggestions about how to make things work more smoothly, I welcome those.

5. There’s really no Rule 5 yet, and I hope there won’t have to be. It’s just that I have a thing for odd numbers and can’t leave a list alone unless it ends with an odd number. Yeah, I don’t know, either.

Because this is a public blog, unless I have specific permission (or obligation, if I’m citing a source) to use someone’s actual name, I won’t.

Well, I think that covers the basics. I look forward to seeing you again, when the next entry is published.