Call to Prayer: Northern California Wildfires

The smoke outside the church office built up to alarming levels over just a couple hours. The winds shifted, bringing darkened skies that blocked all but the sun’s outline like an impending storm.

The Northern California wildfires made their presence known in our neighborhood earlier this week as fine ash blanketed the city. I ran to my car, amazed a few minutes later how my asthma flared so quickly.

As of tonight, the fires have taken forty lives and thousands of structures. It does look like progress is being made in containing these fires, but as with the recent hurricanes, the impacts will reverberate for a long time.

Local Wildfire Impact

The winds picked up on Sunday night a week ago. Like last night, they howl through my neighborhood as if through a wind tunnel. The air cools at night, but it is dry. Fire danger warnings remind me this is fire season. The warnings last until at least tomorrow evening even as winds died down this afternoon.

I live about thirty miles from the nearest fires in Northern California. Even though the fires do not threaten my home, we see their impact of health and activity everyday. My son could not run cross country for a few days.One student I talked to didn’t know if he would return to school after a week off due to smoke and fire.

On Thursday, when the air cleared out some, I took him to a local meet in Sacramento. A coach from Lodi mentioned his friends in the wine country who lost a home, and others who evacuated. Tonight I learned that someone at church knew someone who lost a house in Santa Rosa. Everyone knows someone touched by these fires it seems.

From Pain to Prayer

I woke up Monday morning to news of all the fires in the wine country. Fires in the Sierra Nevada foothills and in Southern California also flared. Lori immediately thought of the Tonner Canyone Fire that nearly swept into our neighborhood in 2010. In California it seems we’re never too far from fire’s impact.

Growing up in the Bay Area and going to univeristy near Sacramento at UC Davis, I have a fondness and love for Northern California. My family decided to move back after eight years in Los Angeles partly to return to what I felt like home. It’s painful to see so many of my neighbors impacted by these fires.

As I prepare for Sunday at church tomorrow, I keep coming back to the need to turn this pain I feel to prayer for those impacted by the wildfires. I also want to send out a call to pray.  I think of those who lost their loved ones, homes, businesses, and sense of security. Some eight thousand fire fighters fight on the front lines of the fires, as do many, many others of responders.

Psalm 46 is a psalm I’m praying for Northern California. May God be the refuge and strength of all those who are fearful, anxious, or experiencing loss.

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Psalm 46:1-3

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

 

 

Great Easter Week—My Skin Not So Much

As I look back on Easter week, starting with Palm Sunday, I’m amazed at how much happened. In the span of two Sundays I spoke five times: twice on Palm Sunday, once on Tuesday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. I led a few meetings, including a leadership gathering with about twenty attending.

The Good Friday service had around 250 in attendance as I worked together with a Mandarin translator for the thirty-minute talk. To top off the week I baptized a college student whom Lori and I worked with over the last couple months.

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Speaking on Good Friday at Davis Chinese Christian Church with Shirley, my Mandarin translator. Around 250 attended our service this year.

Easter week overall turned out great. True, Lori and I struggled through some roller coaster discussions about issues we face. But by the end of the week we felt much better about most of the concerns.

Unfortunately, though, my skin did not do so well. I’ve enjoyed relatively stable skin. I don’t mind it getting a little worse, then a little better, if I don’t feel the lesions getting too inflexible, large, inflamed, or itchy. But by the end of the week they did all the above—along with a few new friends who popped onto my skin to join them.

Stress (EH blog) is no doubt the key culprit. Here are some ongoing stressful aspects of my life I feel are contributing to my skin flaring:

Upcoming Conference: Besides Easter week responsibilities, I prepared to head out to the HealtheVoices conference in Chicago. The first day I’ll meet with members of “I Know Pso” group sponsored by Janssen Pharmaceutical. The organizers invited me to share about my experience at the American Academy of Dermatology after breakfast. And I thought I had a break from speaking!

Flying: Travel itself stresses me. I’m trying to analyze why I feel anxious on airplanes. I fly quite a bit, but each time I feel my shoulders tighten up, my breath become shallow, and my heart beats just a bit faster than usual. I don’t sleep well the night before either. My wife thinks it’s the anticipation of the trip, which I agree with. But it’s possibly the fear of dying on the plane too—however irrational that might be.

Leaving Family: I don’t like leaving my family either. Lydia continues to recover from her bipolar episode in January. Lori needs to do double duty on driving kids to school, cooking, and housework. I wonder if all the little things I do around the house, like checking doors and lights, will get done. I miss my bed and pets when I travel.

Social Anxiety: Even though I work with the public and people all week, I do a get a bit of social anxiety going to these conferences. It’s another world to me—the world of patient advocacy and healthcare. I need to shift gears quickly to engage a different group on a different level.

Lack of Rest: At this point I’d rather take a day or two to rest rather than dive into a five-day trip. To take these trips for patient/psoriasis advocacy, I usually need to take vacation days from work. To minimize disruption to my work, I work on my day off and on the trip. Sometimes I don’t get a day off for a couple weeks. With a heavy workload and travel, I easily start feeling frazzled.

None of the above is great for my skin and health, but I hope it’s a temporary effect. I hope to keep up my exercise routines at the conference, and keep up with good eating and sleeping habits. I won’t miss a Sharks playoff game either! The time difference allows me to watch in the evening after dinners are finished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Hope in a Stormy Time

This week is a busy, busy week for me. Palm Sunday I spoke twice in the morning, and led an intense ninety-minute meeting over lunch with a leadership team of twenty. On Tuesday, my colleague developed a persistent cough. I covered for him to lead the Tuesday evening prayer meeting at church. Somehow the church leaders nominated me to speak on Good Friday. To top it off I’ll speak in one Easter service, and baptize a member of our English congregation at Davis Chinese Christian Church after lunch. Whew.

While it’s a busy week for me, I’ve also looked forward to this week. It’s a special time not just for the church, but also for me.

My psoriasis story connects to my faith in my teenage years. I didn’t grow up with any kind of religion–except the odd mix of occasional ancestor worship and a prayer at a holiday dinner. But my teenage years turned quite tumultuous with conflict in the family, high levels of anxiety and pressure to succeed at school, fear of failure in both social situations and academically, and racial discrimination. I became depressed and borderline suicidal during my high school years.

Psoriasis obviously didn’t help lift my mood. I experienced severe psoriasis without much by way of treatment. I didn’t start taking any systemic medications, like methotrexate, until I attended university. Back then I used tar, topical steroids, and a wooden light box constructed by my dad and me. Phototherapy in a cold garage mid-winter isn’t pleasant. At least it warmed me up some. But it didn’t help suppress the psoriasis as much.

My dad became depressed during the Reagan economic recession, worrying about losing his job. His six-month disability added immense pressure on the family. He didn’t break out of his depression until he started going to church. Family members followed him one by one. I finally relented, the last one in the family, accompanying him one Sunday to a small Chinese non-deonimational church. Turned out the youth didn’t like me much as I engaged in a wrestling match during a pick-up football game after the Bible lesson.

But the emptiness in my heart persisted despite the rude welcome by my peers. I knew I needed to hold on to something that wouldn’t let me down or suddenly change. On an Easter Sunday in the mid-80s I responded to a call to go forward at the end of the church worship service to learn more about Christian faith. My life really changed after that.

I look back at that time over thirty years ago as an anchor for my soul. Times are busy as a minister on a team overseeing a church of almost four hundred. As I write this I have a Word document open with the Easter message in progress, a shower cap on my head while I apply a low strength steroid on my scalp for four hours, and a daughter with bipolar disorder who continues to recover from a nasty episode. With the pressure I feel from work and at home, and the ever-pressing need to keep up psoriasis treatments and advocacy/writing, I need that anchor every day.

It’s also a crazy time in our world. I watched the press conference with the Secretary of State in Russia talking about Syria. San Bernardino, not too far from where I used to live in the Los Angeles area, was hit again with tragedy. North Korea is in the news again. It’s a stormy time.

Easter hope started when I was a teenager in a stormy time. It’s windy outside now. I didn’t see this spring storm coming. My life feels like a ship in the sea–storms coming and going, I bob up and down, but with a strong anchor I hold on to that hope for when the sun will shine again.

Hebrews 6:19-20: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.