Friday, December 30, 2016

Why You Should Donate Platelets

I have given blood regularly for a few years now.  They love my blood because my veins are AWESOME (one phlebotomist described them as "garden hoses") and because I have a high hemoglobin.  Donating blood is awesome and I encourage everyone to do so.  But I am going to advocate that you donate platelets. 

I have the American Red Cross donor app which lets me know where my donated blood goes.  Most recently, my blood donations have gone into storage.  Which is awesome, because it means that there is so much blood out there that it can be stored. 

Platelets are a little different. Platelets are a component of whole blood. They help with clotting and stop bleeding. They are critical for trauma patients and for cancer patients.  Platelets only last five days, and someone needs platelets every 30 seconds.  I witness someone every day at the trauma center who needs platelets in order to survive. That's why I have decided to donate platelets instead of whole blood. 

I had a lot of questions about donating platelets, so I thought I would blog about my experience in order to get more people to donate.

Platelet donations require a special machine, called a blood cell separator, so you have to go to special centers, either at blood banks or at hospitals.  You usually feel better after platelet donation than whole blood donations, because they give you IV fluids to replace the plasma that they have taken out of your arms.  When donating blood, you just get blood taken away and it takes your body approximately 60 days to replace the lost blood.

Before you begin donating, you go through a brief interview process to determine if you are medically eligible to donate.  Also, your hemoglobin is tested with a small finger stick. If both of these things are clear, you are moved to a recliner next to the machine. 

Both of your arms are used during platelet donation.  The needles used during the platelet donation are much smaller than used during blood donation. One needle pumps blood out of your arm and into the machine.  The other needle returns sterile saline, along with red blood cells back to you through the other arm. 

You will receive an anticoagulant (citrate) as well.  Some people have a mild reaction to this, usually a tingling in their mouth or around their lips.  You are preemptively given antacids to counteract the effect of this, as the calcium from the antacid works against the chemical reaction caused by the citrate. You can always have more. 

You will also get kind of chilly during the donation process, as room temperature IV fluids are infused.  The donation center will have lots of warm blankets and heating pads available.  Keeping warm is important not only for comfort, but also because it helps with optimal blood flow in and out of your arms. I brought my own fuzzy blanket and warm socks because I know that hospital blankets are super thin.

The most uncomfortable part of the whole process is that you can't move your arms.  You can watch a movie or take a nap, but you can't really read a book, knit or play on your phone. I downloaded a bunch of podcasts and set them to continuous play.  While its important to be hydrated, don't drink too much because you won't be able to get up and use the bathroom.

It also takes a good amount of time to donate platelets, plan to spend about 3 hours at the donation center.  You can watch the progress of your platelets coming out.  The yellow fluid is plasma and the IV bags behind it are the anticoagulant and the saline.

 The centrifuge that separates the platelets from the blood is located under the counter of the machine.  At the end of the donation process, your platelets will be mixed with the donated plasma.  They will tell you all about this and let you watch as much or as little as you like.

Amy's top ten reasons to donate platelets:

1. They are more critically needed than blood

2. Because of their short shelf-life, they are always kept local

3. You get IV fluids replaced, so you feel great after donation

4. You help patients with cancer, who often can't get treatments if their platelets are too low.

5. You help patients who have experienced a trauma or internal bleeding

6. You get to sit in a comfortable chair for about three hours and watch movies and have nurses bring you juice and snacks

7. You get warm blankets and heating pads

8. Your ONE platelet donation provides the same amount of platelets that could be extracted from FIVE donations of blood

9. The needles are smaller than those used for whole blood

10. You can donate platelets up to 24 times per year, instead of six times per year for whole blood

Monday, December 26, 2016

For All the Saints, a sermon on Luke 6:20-31

A.Kumm-Hanson, 2016 Iceland
Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the God of all the Saints. Amen.

Today we celebrate the festival of All Saints.  This feast day in the church year has historically been the time in which the unnamed Christian martyrs were remembered for their contributions to the faith.  Different Christian traditions have varied criteria for sainthood. In the Roman Catholic church, there are prescribed standards for becoming a saint, including miracles performed and observed by others. In our Lutheran tradition, we celebrate the lives of all of God’s beloved as saints, recognizing that we are all both saint and sinner. On this day, we remember the lives of those who have helped us to grow in faith, touched our lives, and helped us to more clearly see the face of God. 

On All Saints Day, we remember that we are part of a great cloud of witnesses, part of a river of humanity, intricate parts of a greater whole of creation, that testify to the Living God through both our living and our dying. We are saints not because of what we do or what we believe, but rather, because of who created us. At the beginning of liturgy today, when the names of our beloved saints were read aloud, we remembered and gave thanks for their lives.  On that list are many loved ones. Parents, grandparents, children, friends. People who rest in glory after long lives and people who lost their lives far too soon.  On this day of honoring our saints, it is impossible to forget the sting of death. For even as we know that our beloveds reside with God, we feel the pain of their loss here and now.  We might see far off glimpses of a future with God in glory, but we acutely feel the burden of death now. It is a moment of “now and not yet.”  On this day when we remember our saints and the ways that they have blessed our lives, we also feel woe because these loved ones are no longer with us. Love is both joy and pain, because when you love someone, that love is always accompanied by the pain of their potential loss. To be human is to fear death. And to be human is to be deeply in need of healing by a merciful God.

In today’s Gospel text, Jesus has gathered his disciples and a crowd who have come to him for healing. He is going to preach what is called the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel. It has similar words to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, but this sermon is not for an elite few on top of a mountain. It is for anyone who “has ears to listen” as we hear Jesus say to the crowd.  We have all most likely heard a few sermons on these beatitudes.  Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be fed. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. What makes Luke’s account so compelling for me, is that the sermon does not just stop with blessings. It includes woes also. There is something more here for us to dig into.  Who is woeful? Is it us? Is it our neighbors?  Is it The Other?

Woe to you who are rich, because you have received comfort in this life. Woe to you who are full now, for the day is coming when you will have a hunger that cannot be filled by food. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when you are publically acclaimed and well-liked, because that is what your ancestors did to the false prophets.

We don’t get to hear what the disciples or the crowd think about these pronouncements that Jesus makes. But it is likely that they react similarly to us. Our temptation as humans is to place ourselves (and others) into one of these two categories, either blessed or cursed.  And we definitely want to be blessed. This division feels particularly acute with Tuesday’s impending election.  We want to see ourselves as blessed and others as cursed. We want to place ourselves into the sainted positions of righteous and holy and upstanding, and cast others as ignorant or deplorable. We are blessed because of where we have located ourselves, or where society has placed us by virtue of our skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, and others are cursed because they are not in that same place of privilege. Or maybe we are so broken by systems and systemic oppression that we feel cursed. That the world has broken us to the point where we only see woe. That all the blessings belong to someone else.  Sometimes we cannot see ourselves as saints who are blessed, because the world tells us otherwise. Over and over again.  

What does it mean to be a saint?  Must we have miracles attributed to us?  Must we be perfectly pious?  Must we know what it is to follow Jesus? What if we have no idea, just that we are drawn to this Jesus guy, seeking to be healed?  Like those who followed Jesus in this Gospel story, who came to hear the Sermon on the Plain, wishing to be in his presence and hear a word of healing. We don’t know why we are called there, just that we need to hear the word that makes us whole.

What if being blessed as saints means catching a glimpse of God’s world and trusting that we are a part of it? Blessing comes through trust in God and God’s future, in the hope of justice that this world cannot give. The woeful are those who answer “yes” to the question, “Is this all there is?” 

This Gospel points to God’s future for us all. A time and place in which we gather with the saints by the river in God’s presence. And it is a reminder that our hope is that the same old thing will not continue. That we lean into God’s promise and God’s future together.

However it is not enough to passively sit back and look towards the future. Part of our role as saints is to work towards God’s justice and God’s kingdom now. Some years ago, some clergy friends and I decided to call out on social media all the things that provided us hope, provided us with a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.  I have found that this practice of recognition is the only antidote to the brokenness and death of this world. The kingdom of God looks water protectors gathered in a fierce prairie wind to protect the river for future generations. It looks like my good friend Lauren’s friends attending her funeral this week dressed as Comic Con characters to honor her memory and her spirit of joy. It looks like children who invite lonely classmates to sit with them at lunch or on the playground.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are.  We are both fully saint and sinner. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses seen and beloved by God. It is our identity as God’s beloved that has freed us to walk humbly and with justice now, and trust that we will rest with God eternal as we pass from this world to the next with all the saints.

Good News of Great Joy for All People, a sermon on Luke 2:1-20

A sermon on Luke 2:1-20

This past spring the creator of Humans of New York traveled to Turkey to speak with Syrian refugees. To capture the most ordinary moments of life for refugees, in the aftermath of war, in the shadow of terror.  I encourage you to check out these posts, I will post a link on the Calvary Facebook page. He wanted to share the lives of ordinary people just like us, who are faced with extraordinary challenges.  Most moving for me was a series of posts from a young girl named Aya. Aya talked about school and her dog—named George—and what it was like to flee for her life first from Iraq then Syria into Turkey.  This is as close as a glimpse to the lives of refugees that many of us will ever see, and in these moments, we learn extraordinary things about humanity.  We learn that we are more similar than we are different, that refugees are our siblings instead of our adversaries, and that even the Son of God was a refugee.

What if Mary and Joseph’s time in Bethlehem had been captured by Humans of New York? Their story is more similar to one of Syrian refugees than residents of New York City. I imagine a picture of a woman nursing her newborn son, sitting amongst straw and animals.  Saying, “I never really wanted it to happen here. I wish I could have stayed home in Nazareth. But it is census time, and we didn’t have a choice. We were told to go. I guess I hoped the birth would happen at home. But here we are. We are refugees in this place, waiting to be counted for tax purposes for the empire.” 

Joseph is standing in awe, as new parents often are. He says, “He isn’t my child, you know. I had a lot of shame about this in the beginning. Mary came to me one day and said that she was pregnant by the Spirit of God.  I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it, until the angel told me.  Then to think we had to travel all the way over here. Our lives really are not our own.”

Mary, holding the infant Jesus, “Meet Immanuel.  His name means ‘God is with us.’”

Powerful words. Earth shattering words. The most ordinary human things are extraordinary when God shows up.  What does it mean that God was born into this world to refugee parents in a strange land? To a pregnant unwed teenage mother? In a shed with animals?

It means God shows up in some pretty unlikely places.

In Luke’s Gospel account of the birth of Jesus, we hear about some angels making an appearance to shepherds keeping watch over their sheep in the fields at night. It was probably impossible to ignore an incandescent angel in a dark field at night, and we hear that the shepherds were terrified.  The angel says, “Do not be afraid! Because—see—The Greek word for see in this text translates to “Behold!” or “Go see for yourselves!”  (It is an imperative, compelling them to go see what the birth of this baby was all about.)  I am bringing you news of great joy for ALL people. 

It is significant that the angels would deliver this message to shepherds. Shepherds would not have been among the social elite of the day.  They were likely to have been young boys, maybe 10 or 12 years old. They lived in the fields with their sheep, so they probably didn’t smell all that great, and they only had each other for company.  They lived on the outskirts of town or in the wilderness with their sheep and had minimal contact with the “respectable” people.

By appearing to the shepherds, this multitude of angels would have made it clear that this good news is for EVERYONE.  The angels didn’t appear in a shopkeeper’s home or to a priest or even the innkeeper. This is like angels appearing at the Cedar-Riverside interchange to those gathered there flying signs requesting spare change, instead of showing up inside a church.

The angels compel the shepherds to go “Check it out!”  and explained how to find this new infant.  After the angels disappeared, the shepherds turned to one another and said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this crazy new thing that has taken place, which the angels of the Lord told us about. So they practically run into town to see for themselves.

They meet the new parents and the infant Christ. They relay excitedly what had been told them by the angels.  We hear that Mary “treasured” these words in her heart, because they confirmed what she knew already from her own experience with the angel. 

              But this not just good news for several millennia ago. Angels appearing to the least likely audience, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, and compelling them to “Go and See!” is something that echoes through the ages.  God coming into the world as a human child is very good news and something to behold. This is the incarnation, the putting on of flesh, and it did not just happen once. God lives incarnate in every single human being.

What would it look like if we heard the message of the angels tonight for ourselves? 

“Do not be afraid; for go and see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people: to you is born this day in the city of Minneapolis a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

              Christmas is the gift from God, of God’s very self, for all of us. That the world might know God’s love, in us and through us.

This good news compels us to share it!

Go see for yourselves where Jesus is to be seen!

Go reflect Christ’s love and light into all the places of the world that so desperately need it.

This is the good news of the incarnation.