(CT scan of bullous emphysema from the American College of Roentgenology's teaching slides)
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
I have had an interesting week and a half or so. My mom, who has very severe emphysema, has been hospitalized with pneumonia. Her CT on a good day looks a lot like the one I posted from a teaching file above. Lungs are supposed to look more or less "spongy" on CT; people with the bullous form of this disease look like they have a few Ziploc bags stuffed in their chest. They exist trying to breathe with only a fraction of the lung power most of us have. My mom has existed for roughly a decade with lungs like this that worsen every time she gets pneumonia, lungs that collapse almost every time anyone puts a needle in her chest to drain off the fluid--even the most skilled physician can't help but pop one of those fragile bullous air spaces. Every time I am shown her CT, the rational, thinking physician in me says to myself, "How in the world is she even alive with lungs like that?"
Well, the answer to that, I think, is a combination of 24/7 high flow oxygen, a bunch of steroids, stubbornness, and a lot of prayer.
But there will be a place where this thin tightrope she walks upon collapses, and that's just a fact--but none of us know where and when that place will be.
It's hard to watch someone with emphysema struggle to breathe, but that's just a reminder to me how hard it must be to BE the person struggling to breathe. It's a double whammy--being unable to breathe makes any of us anxious, but being anxious makes the person with emphysema even more hypoxic and scared--then their oxygen saturation plummets further. It's a terrible cycle of fear and hypoxia.
Yes, she was a long-time smoker. But I become more and more irritated at people who get all haughty and judgmental about her smoking history. I am the first to tell you, nagging your loved ones does not work. I really don't care how anyone personally feels about "what she did to herself," because no one--NO ONE--has done anything so awful they "deserve" to live like this. My suggestion is "Go tell someone in whom it might make a difference," to those people.
But her lungs are a very stark reminder to me that, although I truly believe in a God who is constantly making all things new, her CT is one of the things that will NOT be made new in her lifetime or mine.
Our bodies, are, indeed, finite. Every day we live on this planet as adults, even on the best day, we lose a few brain cells. Every day our biological cellular mechanisms age a little more, and those little "clock genes" in our cells change a ribosome or a protein that brings us all just a fraction of an inch closer to the day we simply shut down, provided nothing else gets us first.
All we can do, when it comes to this life, is to do what we can, today, and trust that God makes all things new.
I had a great Thanksgiving Day springing Mom from the hospital to eat turkey dinner with friends, and she did too, and for me, those are glimpses for how even in a disease that constantly puts death before our eyes, there is life. Things ARE being made new--just not always the specific things we want, and on our time frame.
This is another of those places where I don't get the appeal of "the new atheism." Oddly, the fact those folks don't claim to believe in God don't bother me. Their insistence to belittle religion annoys me, but I sort of shrug and figure, "Well, God knows folks of all religions have belittled atheists for millennia, we probably have it coming to us a bit." I think what bugs me about them is that so many of them seem to lack any frame of reference for hope. If they have an "evangelism," it is that they seem dead set on dragging those with hope into this black hole of hopelessness. I don't have a problem with happy atheists; just unhappy ones--just as I have a problem with unhappy judgmental Christians. The happiest atheists I know have this thing that seems to be a "cosmic hope" for lack of a better term--kind of a Star Trek form of hope--that human accomplishment will continue to bring us to a better place. It's easy for me to live in their world of cosmic hope, because it doesn't exclude my theological world.
I always find it interesting that the most common barb thrown by the "unhappy atheists" is always along the lines of trying to distill Christianity or any religion down to "where you end up when you die," when I would tell you that is the part that is rarely on my mind. I'm far more interested in Christianity teaching me how to live.
I don't know what's in store with Mom's illness; nor does she. What she wants to think about how this all ends for her and beyond, is her business. I'm happy to help with linking her to the spiritual support she needs and standing aside. Too much of the distortion in my family hinged on other people's self-esteem in the family being tied to my accomplishments. People deserve their own self-esteem. Meanwhile, I think I'll choose to live this time over the holidays moment by moment, day by day, in the hope that all things are made new, and glad I am not in charge of the itinerary!