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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Undoing Babel around a Table

   The Old Testament tells the story of a group of people who decided to build a ziggurat (tower) to make a name for themselves.  They wanted to reach God in heaven and refused to spread out over the face of the earth as he had commanded.  As a result, God confused their languages.  Communication broke down, and the people abandoned their grand project.  They set out for different areas, and nations arose. The place was called "Babel," from which we have also gained the word "babble," a helpful word for speech that does not communicate meaning.
   Last night the young Iraqi woman who lives with us invited guests for dinner.  A friend she first met while in Iraq was visiting from his new home in the Netherlands, and he was accompanied by his aunt, who had come from Iraq over thirty years ago.
   She did such an amazing job preparing a meal for all of us that if felt like a second Thanksgiving. As we passed the salad, the pork chops and the roasted potatoes, there was an incredible array of communication.  She and her two guests could all speak Armenian and Arabic with one another.  Her friend who lives in the Netherlands could speak Dutch with my husband and me.  All of us were also able to understand English to varying degrees.  During the conversations, even those which not all could understand, there was still a special sense of unity.  Language was not used to exclude anyone because around the table we were all friends.  Once, we paused to talk about a particular Arabic word: saha.  Literally it means "health," but it is used in various ways.  When someone sneezes, you say, "Saha" in the same way we say "Bless you" in English.  It can also be used at the start of a meal, wishing good health and nourishment from the food one is about to eat.  When you add a certain ending, it also becomes a term of endearment.
 After the meal we opened the Bible to read from the book of James.  Maral turned in her own Bible, where she had a column in English and Arabic on each page.  Although we read in English, there was understanding and opportunity to ask questions.  Appropriately, the topic of taming the tongue directed us to communication that blesses rather than curses.
   When we have the Spirit of Jesus among us, we can overcome the barriers that different languages and cultures tend to place between people.  When we seek the One by whom all things hold together, we can begin to experience the "undoing" of Babel.  It can happen at a simple dinner table, where grace and peace are served along with the meal.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Medication Mistakes

   Medication mistakes happen far more often than we would like to think in hospitals.  According to a 2005 report by Statistics Canada:
 Nearly one-fifth (19%) of hospital RNs reported that medication error involving patients in their care had occurred "occasionally" or "frequently" in the past year. [1] 
   However, medication mistakes are also likely to occur in homes.  Over-the-counter products give dosages and warn patients about taking more than the recommended amounts, but labels can be misread.  Even with the best of intentions, medication mistakes can occur.
   It happened to me on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.  My daughter had an allergic reaction to an unknown substance, so I gave her a dose of liquid allergy medication meant for children.  My daughter is thirteen years old, so she was at the high end of the dosage: three teaspoons.  The reaction subsided for a time but returned the next day when we were travelling out of town for a family event.
   In my disorganization, I set the medication on the table but not in my purse where it was supposed to go.  Upon our arrival the rash worsened, but only then did I realize I had left the bottle of medicine behind.
   I was able to find a pharmacy a short walk from where we were.  I grabbed a package from the shelf that was in the form of a liquid because my daughter has an aversion to swallowing pills. However, this time it was not a liquid meant only for children; it was called "elixir" and had dosages for children up to adult.  For a teaspoon I was delighted that I had a plastic spoon in my van.  Still in "maximum dose" mode, I gave my daughter four spoonfuls of the liquid.
   Almost instantly her hives disappeared, but at dinner she was acting extremely tired.  When my husband asked me how much medication I had given her, I said, "Four teaspoons."
   He wondered what the suggested dose was, and I pointed out "2-4 teaspoons."  Then he asked to see the spoon I had used.  Using water from the pitcher at our restaurant table, he showed me that the capacity of this spoon was equivalent to a tablespoon, three times as much as intended.
   I felt sick.  How could I have done this to my child?  I had read the label and yet I had made a major mistake.  My sense of familiarity with an over-the-counter drug had kept me from being careful and wise.
   Thankfully there were no other adverse affects on my daughter, and her hives have not returned at all.
   I have no way of proving this, but I believe that God in his providence is able to hold back the full extent of the consequences of mistakes we make.  Many medication mistakes at home or in hospitals may not even be noticed by God's grace, depending upon the drugs involved.
   That knowledge and belief should not make me careless; however, I have a sense of deep gratitude that my daughter's story did not have a tragic ending.  I have also learned to have a fresh and  healthy respect for medicines, prescriptions and otherwise.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Thanksgiving Menus

   The traditional menu for Canadian Thanksgiving borrows a great deal from the iconic meal shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans in 1621.  The roasted turkey, potatoes, along with the vast array of vegetables including squash and corn, come from this harvest festival in New England about one year after the Mayflower first arrived in the new world.
   Certainly, the idea we associate with Thanksgiving is abundance.  For our large gatherings, we prepare much more food than we can possibly eat at one sitting.  People take second (or third) helpings, putting off their diets for the sake of the festival.
   Even before the Pilgrims and further to the north, there was a service of Thanksgiving in 1578 led by pirate/explorer Martin Frobisher giving gratitude to God for his care and provision after a dangerous voyage in search of the Arctic Northwest Passage. This Thanksgiving, which did not occur in October or November, was focused upon protection rather than harvest.
   I wonder sometimes if we are missing some of the context of these first North American Thanksgivings.  Consider the following:

  1. Records from Martin Frobisher's ships show that each week his crew would receive meat on four days and no meat on the other three.  The other rations on board included flour, oats, dried beans and biscuits.  One would imagine that any Thanksgiving meal accompanying the first Canadian Thanksgiving in 1578 would not have been a lavish affair.
  2. The fact that turkey was served at the first American Thanksgiving was not due to marketing or people saving up for weeks to purchase such an expensive type of poultry. Turkey was part of the menu because wild turkeys were abundant in the place where the Pilgrims and Natives were living.  They could easily hunt them, and the meat was tasty.  In that same spirit (choosing something for my Thanksgiving menu simply because it is abundant), I intend to find a way to elevate kale.  Just today, we harvest four "trees" of it from our vegetable garden. (See photo)
  3. Both of these original Thanksgiving events were not about a nebulous feeling of gratitude one stirred up once a year.  They were part of a daily lifestyle of giving God the credit for any blessings that come our way.  Thanksgiving needs to be directed somewhere: any celebration that is missing the element of acknowledging God's role in our lives will fall short of the true meaning of the holy-day.
  4. The first celebrants of Thanksgiving had experienced difficulties most of us could only imagine.  Frobisher and his crew daily faced hostile weather and were far from home and family, and yet they could celebrate.  The Pilgrims had survived one year in the new world, but many of their number had succumbed to disease and starvation.  We do not celebrate Thanksgiving only if everything in our lives is going well.  We celebrate it even though there are really difficult things in our lives.