Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rosies of a Different Color

Word Count: 1,443
Review of film: Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers
When done? © 2010
Director: LeAnn Erickson
Length: 56 minutes
Genre: Documentary
Availability: Netflix Instant Play only

This film is about some unsung heroines who helped the Allies to win World War II (WWII). In a way it was the math geeks who won the war.

In 1942 computers were people with math skills. Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Ordnance Corp, needed women with math skills to calculate the trajectories for every ballistic weapon in their arsenal. So the U. S. Army contracted with the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, to provide housing, food and workspace for this Top Secret job.

They initially recruited women who had just graduated from college with mathematical degrees. When that tactic didn't provide enough women they recruited recent high school graduates through their math departments. Adele Goldsteine and Mary Mauchly recruited and trained these gifted women. Interestingly, both of these women were married to U. of Penn professors. Herman Goldsteine and John Mauchly were involved in the creation of ENIAC, the first general purpose computer (which took up a whole room all by itself).

In June 1943, the Army contracted with the Moore School of Engineering to create the Electronic Numerical Integer and Computer (ENIAC). It was originally designed to calculate artillery firing tables for the Army, the job the Top Secret Rosies were doing. Like the female computers, work on ENIAC was Top Secret, with the code name “Project: PX.” It was finally completed and dedicated on February 14, 1946. The first job it did was to help with some of the calculations during the research for the “H” bomb. ENIAC was accepted by the U. S. Army Ordnance Corp in July 1946. In November 1946 it was shut down to be refurbished and transported to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, where it was rebuilt and turned on in July 1947. ENIAC was in continuous operation until October 1955.1

In 1946, six women who had worked as female computers were transferred to work with ENIAC as the first computer programmers. They were:

  • Kathleen McNulty (later Mauchly Antonelli)
  • Betty Jean Jennings (later Jean Bartik)
  • Betty Snyder (later Holberton)
  • Marlyn Westcoff (later Meltzer)
  • Frances Bilas (later Spence)
  • Ruth Lichterman (later Teitelbaum)
“ Although a pivotal role in the rise of computers, [they] were given little credit toward the foundations of the ENIAC.”2

This film highlights what female computers did during WWII, told by a handful of people. Surprisingly some of these women kept their pledge not to tell a soul about what they did during WWII. So much so that even their husbands and immediate family were not told until recently. Could you imagine your mother in her 80s telling you that she computed ballistic trajectories during WWII?

As Rosie the Riveter, who built weapons, received recognition for the part she played in winning the war, the Top Secret Rosies sat at home in silence, not even invited to the celebrations. One of the reasons for failing to recognize them is that their male bosses took all the credit. In their eyes, what these women were doing were just “advanced clerical duties.”

Top Secret Rosies used heavy metal Marchant calculators which were old and noisy. No hand-held scientific calculators make of plastic with small push buttons like we have now. These Marchant math machines required considerable skill and a strong arm. And they were only capable of solving part of the equations for shell trajectories. Since these 300 pound projectiles were shot through the air, they required more complicated variables, so differential equations had to be used. Normally it would take a team of female computers about 40 hours to solve a single differential equation. But the Moore School of Engineering owned a Bush Differential Analyzer (BDA). A creation of MIT in 1925, it was still considered state-of-the-art in 1942. Made mostly of gears it would take 15 minutes to do a single equation. Once all of the equations were solved for a particular weapon, the results were put into a booklet of tables for gunnery personnel to use.

Rosie the Riveter may have made the WWII weapons but the Top Secret Rosies made them accurate.”3

“Mathematics was a crucial weapon in the U. S. arsenal. Women were it's secret practitioners.”

Our Top Secret Rosies were finally revealed in an article called, “Women Computers in World War II,” on the website for the IEEE Global History Network in August 2008.

On a Personal Note

I was initially drawn to this film because both my husband and I have worked with computers. My husband was a graduate student in astrophysics at the University of Pennsylvania and later worked for over 25 years in their IT department. He now works at another educational institution in Philadelphia in their IT department managing back up systems and disaster recovery.

During the Vietnam war, I was in the U. S. Army Nurse Corp. Although I never made it to Nam, I lived in Honolulu, HI, where I was stationed at Tripler Army Medical Center. Three weeks before an honorable discharge at the end of August 1971, I suffered a back injury, which developed into nerve damage, giving me a permanent chronic pain problem; as a result I'm a service-connected disabled veteran. I quit nursing in 1979 when I was recruited to work civil service for the Army.

From 1979 to 1990 I worked civil service and was trained in government procurement, as a contract specialist (I used to buy spare parts for Pershing missiles) and then worked headquarters (HQ) level as a procurement analyst. In the early 1980s several computer systems were being developed to help us create and manage solicitation and contractual instruments.

At HQ we were just becoming computerized and each of us had a PC on his desk. For use at home I personally purchased a Tandy computer from Radio Shack®. I then added a real-time clock and a 10 Mb hard drive. Back at the office, I developed a reputation as the person with all the answers, simply because I was the only one reading the instruction manuals. My boss sent me to Xenix Administrator training where I promptly learned that programming is not my gift. Programming takes a mathematical mind and I'm mathematically-challenged. But give me a program with a menu system and I'll get the job done, because that takes a language sense which I do have (at least according to my Spanish teacher).

I left HQ to work at one of our installations where a new UNIX-based computer system was being deployed called SAACONS. But one of SAACONS' weaknesses was how it dealt with clauses for solicitations and contracts. I developed a stand-alone database on my PC which sorted clauses by five separate parameters. It then created lists of clauses which I manually input into SAACONS. My database got me the 1989 Procurement Analyst of the Year award from my former office. In 1990, just as I was leaving to get married, the Pentagon picked up my database and tasked SAACONS' creator, CACI, Inc., to make it part of SAACONS. My database lives on today in SAACONS-Federal which is deployed at over 300 installations country-wide, including the Veterans Administration.

There is another reason why this film and it's history drew me in. During WWII both of my parents were in the U. S. Navy, which is where they met. My mother had graduated high school, and then secretarial school, before enlisting as a Wave. I'm proud of her wanting to do what she could in the war effort.

My husband, Tom, and I live in a suburb of Philadelphia. I found it interesting to learn some of the history of our adopted home area, especially with my husband's computer connection to the University of Pennsylvania. Our church is a historic landmark in Center City, Philadelphia, which is a beautiful city with a great deal of history. I'm thoroughly enjoying it's range of architectural detail.
In Summary...

I feel Top Secret Rosies is an important film. It is important for us to learn how these women who worked in secret enabled our troops to use their weapons accurately. They are a shining example for women in mathematics and science, especially in computer science. Granted many went back to doing more typically female jobs after the war, but a couple of the women who were ENIAC's first programmers went on to work with it until its plug was pulled. It is about time all of these brave, gifted and talented women got the recognition they deserve.

1   Information from Wikipedia.
2   From Ruth Teitelbaum's web page.
3   The film's producers used this tag line in their advertisements.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Home Alone?

Hi folks! Well, it has been a year now since I've been home-bound by increasing limitations. I live in my recliner and am fed via vein by my computer (just joking). I'm left home alone for 10 hours a day while Tom works and commutes. Praise God he is able to take a few days off when I have to go in for a diagnostic procedure or for another nerve block.

Being home alone has its drawbacks but I'm appreciating the large amount of time it gives me to do several things.
1. I'm learning how very hard prayer is. It is warfare on a level I tend to shy away from. Perseverance is key. My Heavenly Father is One who yearns for me to communicate with Him and loves when I do--what a wonderful gift!
2. Time in God's Word and reading wonderful books. I have Logos 4 and a growing library of puritan works. I work through some of my devotionals there. There is also Olive Tree for PDAs which provides Bibles and other works (many of John Piper's biographies of puritans). I have an iPOD Touch which enables me to continue reading through Olive Tree and other sources of books.
3. Also on my reading plate are books about writing and in particular about the memoir genre. I'm currently taking a course online on how to write memoir and it has helped me to focus on one part of my life that resulted in great changes.
4. In September 2010 my service dog, Cherie, died. We had her for 12 wonderful years. We both still miss her, and I miss her presence during the day. I've now taken to wearing my panic button all the time, to call for help through our security system. With Cherie gone, my aloneness has been made more palpable. But I am reminded in my reading that I'm truly not alone. I have the Holy Spirit, who brings to mind people I need to be praying for, and who knows exactly how I feel when the pain starts getting to me. He is going through it all along side me. I started this new journey with clinical depression. I'm still on medication, but what has made the most improvement has been staying in God's Word, reading godly books, and prayer. I have two prayer partners who I know are praying for me, as I pray for them. I live on the prayers of the saints.
5. I praise God that Tenth church does a webcast of their services and special events. I was even allowed to watch part of the Cora Hogue & Dr. Koop wedding last April. I can watch concerts. Tom and I have been watching the PCRT via It is considerably cheaper than the full attendance price, but we are limited in our selection of seminars to whatever is held in the sanctuary. We do get a better view of the choir and the Westminster Brass which provides wonderful music to uplift the spirit. With the help of this innovation, home-bound people like myself can vicariously participate in what is going on at Tenth church.
6. When I don't feel like reading I've been thoroughly enjoying the instant feature of Netfliks. Tom and I have worked our way through all of Murder She Wrote and most of the Hercule Poirot mysteries and are catching up on the Inspector Lynley, Inspector Lewis and Hamish MacBeth series. We are anglophiles to the core! Tom thoroughly enjoyed The Detonators -- about blowing up buildings and other big things. There are other things I watch but the list is too long.
7. While watching shows and when I'm not up to reading or studying I've been doing a considerable amount of filet crochet. I've been learning new techniques, but there are others that are too challenging for me, so I stay with what I can do well. I'm considering starting a women's group in our home to do crafts and I would be glad to teach anyone who is interested in learning the basics of filet crochet.

So, as my grandmother used to say, that's my story and I'm stuck with it. Well, really blessed with it to be exact.

Love hearing from you. I covet your prayers!

Thursday, December 30, 2010



I used to make resolutions - the usual diet & lose weight, build relationships, read my Bible more, etc. And every year I would start out great but after a week or so, those resolutions would not mean a hill of beans to me.

This year I've already started doing more of those things that mean the most to me: continuing with my current diet in order to better control my diabetes and use of insulin; trying to be more active despite the physical pain I live with daily; writing -- using prompts for journaling, using a devotional as a starting point for more Bible study and participation in my writers' group to write various stories for my memoir. Instead of planning to do these things every day I purposely built into my plan to be able to skip a day here or there, to read my Bible in two years instead of one year, etc. I do try to write something every day since that is so important for me and so far I've been able to do it, with only a couple skips in the past month or two.

I think in order to do those things that are the most important to me, I need to keep in mind why I am doing them. I have to work at my craft of writing at least daily - the "use it or lose it" mentality. With failing health and creeping age I need to get my story down before it's too late. To stick with my diet I use other rewards and not food to celebrate achievements.

It also helps to have dear family and friends to keep me accountable. I have two prayer partners who keep track of my exploits and help me to remember those things that are important to me.

To see some of my writing check out my blog at: .

Monday, November 8, 2010

Elevator Dedication

The Elevator Dedication
at Tenth Presbyterian Church
by Lois A. Denier

God delights when we act in kindness, justice and righteousness. (Jer. 9:24) This elevator clearly shows that those who are weak are seen as indispensable to God and to the members of this church. (1 Cor. 12:22) As a result of the installation of this elevator, word will get out to the disability community of Philadelphia that Tenth Church cares and welcomes them with open arms, just as Jesus touched the sick, infirm and crippled of His day.

I praise God for those who caught the vision of seeing our weaker members as indispensable to this church's life. Starting with those who first saw what people with disabilities are capable of doing, to those who gave their hard-earned money to the “Elevator Fund,” to the leadership of Tenth who had the vision and courage to put the elevator on the front burner, giving it a higher priority, then adding it to the capital campaign and then taking the bold step of including three floors of Delancey in the project. I, and everyone who has trouble with stairs, thank each of you for taking your part in making this elevator possible.

We now are open to leading people in the disability community to Christ. We now can offer them the only true hope they can have in life – loving and knowing Jesus, seeing that He loves and cares for them and then their taking an active part in church life. They now see that we love and care for them in the same way that Jesus did. We can now disciple new believers who are disabled, teaching and helping them grow in grace and in their relationship with Jesus. We can now hire people who have trouble with stairs. And as a direct result of this elevator, all of us can now exercise the gifts, talents and capabilities that God has given us, to glorify Him, and to serve others who come to this church.

One of my favorite movies is Chariots of Fire. And one of my favorite quotes is when Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he is running in the Olympics before returning to the mission field. He tells her that when he runs he can “just feel God's pleasure.” Today when I see this elevator, and all the years of work that has gone into its arrival, I can say that I “ just feel God's pleasure” with the people of Tenth Church. Praise God!

[Speech given on October 17, 2010]

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Health Update

This is for those who are interested in what has been happening with my health as of late.
On March 24th, when I had an endoscopy to find out about my terrible bouts of nausea, they found I had a small gastric ulcer. The prescribed treatment was to get off my high-powered anti-inflammatory medication. The result has been devastating because the majority of my health problems are the result of inflammation. These are: rheumatoid arthritis which affects connective tissue, which is found between joints and surrounding some internal organs; osteoarthritis which affects most joints; fibromyalgia which affects muscles; neuropathy which affects many of my damaged nerves. The final result is that I'm restricted to living in my recliner, making me a shut-in.

My initial reaction was anger at God for allowing all this to happen. The mild depression I had had for months escalated to a clinical depression requiring medication which is helping. Over time my anger at God lessened (although I must admit it has never completely gone away), as I began to see that God allows this for a reason. In His sovereign wisdom He knows that this period away from what I was able to do is really for my good and His glory.

For the past several months I have not felt like doing very much, except to crochet, and not just any crochet but filet crochet. It is an old fashioned type of crocheting with thread rather than yarn. The results are a number of Christmas gifts for family and friends.

As my antidepressant has kicked in I've started to feel like doing more. One of my prayer partners suggested a small writer's group which meets at our home. This pushes me to write which has been a great encouragement. I've also been doing more reading of various books.

Being shut-in has contributed to my depression since I'm not able to make it to worship services at church. Praise God that my church broadcasts it's services via the internet every Sunday, and also enabled me to see some of the Hogue-Koop wedding in April, and the special concerts held there.

In May I had another endoscopy but the ulcer had not healed at all. It was a major disappointment. The GI doctor prescribed something to coat my stomach before each meal and an ulcer diet. Apparently this has worked since my latest endoscopy at the end of August shows considerable healing of the ulcer with just a short way to go. This was encouraging news for me. Praise God!

Starting at the end of May my original and still major chronic pain source became worse. This had been controlled by an annual nerve block, but now I had to call for it 4 months earlier than usual. (I suspect this is because of lack of the anti-inflammatory medication.) I also developed pain on standing and walking which I thought was connected to my original pain source. So I visited my pain doctor and he did my usual steroid epidural in May. It did not work. So another visit to my pain doctor in June resulted in an MRI being ordered, which I did not get until August 11th because of some exasperating mix up at my doctor's office. After the MRI I saw my pain doctor again to see what the next step would be.

First a lesson in how our spine is constructed for those who are not medical people: In all vertebrae (the bones that make up our spine) our spinal cord runs down the middle, protected by the bony processes (called facets) of the vertebrae. Off the spinal cord run nerves that mostly shoot out between each vertebrae. Also between the vertebrae are cushions called discs.
The first vertebrae are cervical; this is where our skull is attached. This is the one exception to the rule since there is very little cushion between each vertebrae, the nerves that come off the spinal cord run through neural foramen or holes in the vertebral bones.
Next are twelve T (thoracic) vertebrae.
Next are 5 L (lumbar) vertebrae.
Last are the S (sacral) vertebrae. These start out as individual vertebrae but by our late teens/early 20s they solidify together into a bony plate.

Some of the results of the MRI are expected:
They found the deviation of the lower spine which I've known about for over 30 years. There is no statistical data to back up blaming my back problems on its presence, which is why it is called a deviation and not a congenital defect.
They noted some “nonspecific edema of the posterior subcutaneous tissues” behind the lower vertebrae. This is probably due to inflammation, which is not a surprise since I've been off the one medication that kept this under control.

Other results of the MRI are more serious:
Starting at T12 and running down to L5 are minimally bulging discs and the facets show degenerative arthritic changes. This pretty much explains why standing and walking are so painful for me.
Most of the problems are between L4 and S1 --
The fat that surrounds the spinal cord has enlarged, compressing the cord and the nerves as they come out on each side. This is called epidural lipomatosis and is a side-effect of the steroids I have to take since my adrenal glands no longer work properly.
The disc bulging at L4-l5 is slightly worse than the rest of them, the facets show some enlargement (due to arthritic changes) resulting in a narrowing where the nerves come out from the spinal cord.

All of these problems explain much of the back and leg pain I've been experiencing. The treatment is now more complicated than what I used to get. It used to be treated easily by a single steroid epidural. But now I have to have two separate types of nerve blocks. The first is a different type of steroid epidural at L4-L5. The next will be three weeks later – a series of facet blocks higher up, probably between T12 down to L5. Praise God they put me out completely for all of these now.

I'd appreciate your prayers for all of this stuff. Pray for the pain doctors, that they will give me the right kind of blocks in the right areas and that they will work. Pray that I will learn to be content with whatever state the Lord puts me into, and that I will do the best I can with whatever capabilities I do have. It has been a long time since I've had this level of pain for this long – it is not easy. Those of you who have experienced chronic pain understand and I appreciate your thoughts and prayers.



Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Handicapped Parking

Those who know me know that one of my biggest complaints concerns people who illegally use handicapped parking, which includes parking in the cross-hatched areas in-between.

Years ago, while living in Carlisle, I had my own personal handicapped parking spot in front of my apartment. I had a big problem with my upstairs neighbor using it for his own convenience. I left him notes nicely asking him not to use a handicapped parking spot illegally but he continued his practice, saying he was just going in and out real quick. To me that's a lame excuse that shows he has no idea how serious his actions are to people, like myself, who live with mobility disabilities. So I decided firmer action was needed. The next time I found his car in the handicapped spot I started to let out the air in his tires. I say “started” because he came out once he saw what I was doing. I explained how serious his infraction was and what it meant to people like myself when he uses lame excuses. To say the least, my action of letting out the air in his tires was not very godly, nor loving. A more appropriate action would be to report him to the local police and have them ticket him for illegal parking, which in Carlisle was a considerable sum. That would have been a more appropriate action.

Today, whenever I spot someone illegally using handicapped parking I leave a note on their windshield, or speak to them if they are available. I also take down the make, model and license plate to report to the police if I see them again.

Yesterday I ran into a kid parking his BMW in the cross-hatched area at the local CVS. I took down the information on his car and was in the process of writing him a note when he came out and got into his car. I tapped on the passenger window which he lowered. I told him he was illegally parked, at which point he tried to close the window on me, but I was leaning on it, knowing that may be his response. He said he was in a hurry and needed to get to class. I explained that that was really no excuse for using a spot that would be needed by someone with a van and a side-panel lift, which they needed to get in and out of their vehicle. I then explained that I had taken the information about his car and I was reporting him to the police. “Yeah, so what,” was his ignorant response, at which point he drove away with the passenger window still open. I can only pray that he has learned not to use handicapped reserved parking again, or else receive another lecture or a ticket

I wish the local police would deputize me so I could put tickets on vehicles illegally parked in handicapped reserved areas. Guess it's just a dream for now.

In His glorious grace,


Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Update on What's Happening

I would like to thank each of you who have been praying for me. Your prayers have been supporting and encouraging to me.

I thought I would fill you all in on what has been happening since I last posted to this blog.

Praise God I am back! as several friends have noted. Since last year's brain injury I have struggled to regain what I had lost. It has been a frustrating and humbling experience. As my physical limitations became worse I also thought, "Well, at least I still have my brain." And I thought I could do whatever I put my mind to, well, within limitation. And then God takes that away from me for a time. I thought He called me to write, but even that was taken away. It has been a long 18 months recuperation, and I praise Him for whatever progress I have made. For the past couple months I have been doing the medical research necessary to write the next Jars of Clay newsletter, this time on the issue of chronic pain. Those memories I thought I had permanently lost have been coming back in bits and pieces. That also includes my knowledge of God's Word and all that I had been learning about the craft of writing.

I praise God for each of you who have prayed for me and encouraged me along this journey. And I covet your continued support as I deal with chronic depression and its after-effects. My health has not been good these past couple months, which contributes to the whole problem, but I am learning to live by faith, not by sight. My depression has kept me from writing yet I know one of the greatest weapons we have against those who would see people with special needs as "less-than" is communication. Pray for me in this next part of my journey.

In His glorious grace! Lois

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jesus Answers Prayer

On February 20th I awoke in intensive care at a local hospital, clueless as to why I was there. I was admitted on February 8th, but I have no memory of anything from the 7th through the 20th. Conversations with my husband and medical personnel, plus notes and cards from family and friends filled me in on an amazing story, as they shared how they had been praying for me. Later, after discharge, I obtained my medical records which told me what the doctors did not tell me. And when I returned to morning worship I learned about the enormous outpouring of prayer from many sources. Many people prayed for me and in many ways Jesus answered their prayers. This is not a story about my hospitalization as much as it is a story about Jesus answering prayer. I am convinced that I would not be here today if it were not for the prayers of the saints on my behalf. (Ephesians 6:18)

By the time I got to the emergency room (ER) on Friday the 8th I was cyanotic and in respiratory failure. I could have died ― but Jesus answers prayer.

In the ER I was in renal failure because of dehydration so the doctors poured fluids into my veins. They were able to bring my kidneys back to life without any residual damage ― because Jesus answers prayer.

In the ER my blood pressure was double what it should have been. Any number of blood vessels could have burst causing permanent brain damage from a stroke but it did not happen ― because Jesus answers prayer.

In the ER my heart was racing and once they brought it under control, they could see that my heart was not beating properly. I had a cardiac arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation which medication brought under control. A few days later I had fluid in my lungs and was in congestive heart failure. By the time I woke up all of the heart problems were taken care of, without any residual damage. Why? Because Jesus answers prayer.

My lung problems were due to asthma and pneumonia. I had to be intubated and placed on a respirator because I was not breathing on my own. Over time they were able to wean me off the respirator and they took the tube out two days before I woke up. With each successive month after discharge my lungs have been getting stronger and stronger. The only residual damage is a small amount of scar tissue on one lung. Why? You guessed it, because Jesus answers prayer.

For the first ten days at the top of the list of problems each physician listed in their progress notes was "change in mental status." I was combative and hallucinating in the ER and for ten days, despite three medications to sedate me, I was easily agitated and restless. At times I would call out for help and moan for hours. A CAT scan of my head showed just a sinus infection, but the EEG indicated a type of atraumatic brain injury called "severe toxic metabolic encephalopathy." Once I woke up the doctors said that I would have a neurological deficit but they were not clear what form this type of brain damage would take. Initially they thought I would have to go to inpatient rehabilitation to learn how to walk, but the hospital's physical therapy department had me walking and doing stairs before I was discharged. Again, Jesus answers prayer.

After they moved me out of ICU into a regular room I had a number of infections including septicemia and even a "fever of unknown origin" (FUO). While they were treating these I discovered some of the brain damage the doctors mentioned. Most of my problems dealt with cognitive functions such as reading, comprehending what was being said to me and my ability to communicate. I tried to write but couldn't put a sentence together. Over time many of these cognitive difficulties improved, but even today, there are holes in my long-term and short-term memory. I still have problems with concentration and focus. And I have difficulty connecting complex concepts. I have been a student of God’s Word for over 40 years and have lost much of it. In the days and weeks after discharge my recovery from the brain damage seemed stalled. Some days are better than others and I still have days in which my brain feels “fuzzy” making comprehension and communication difficult.

I was concerned that I would have to learn to live with these new mental limitations, so I had neuropsychiatric testing in mid-June. I was relieved to learn that I will probably have a full recovery within the usual 12-18 months my type of brain damage takes to heal. I have some games to play to improve my cognitive function, but when my brain goes fuzzy I have been warned not to push to try to get over it. My brain problems are minor compared to all that could have, but did not go wrong. Jesus continues to answer prayer.

Physically I came out of the hospital in better shape than I have been in years. Part of it is because they finally gave me enough thyroid and adrenal medications to make up for the years I have been deficient in these hormones. I know many people have been praying for a full recovery and physically Jesus decided to honor that prayer.

There was one prayer that did not receive an affirmative answer. For one to two years before I went into the hospital I was severely depressed and had been praying for the Lord to take me Home. At any number of times He had the opportunity to do just that while I was in the hospital, but He didn't. So I have to say that His answer to that prayer was probably "no" or more accurately, "not yet." Jesus continues to answer prayer.

How Should I Be Praying?

My experience as the recipient of prayer support has shown me the importance of prayer for people who are gravely ill. (James 5:15) For some I may only pray for God's will to be done. At other times I may be moved by the Holy Spirit to pray for either healing or to ease their journey Home. (Romans 8:26) It is important to earnestly seek God's face, looking for His will in each situation. Despite the appearance of impending death, I may be surprised when Jesus decides that healing is His will. I am learning to go by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7) No matter the answer, Jesus always answers prayer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Way Life Should Have Been?

Sometimes we think we know what God wants for our life, but then events take a turn that is unexpected. At first it does not look like this is what God wanted, but over time we begin to see that God has a better idea, despite the circumstances.

It is the end of August 1971 and I have only three weeks to go until I'm discharged from the U. S. Army Nurse Corp. People are often confused that I’m considered a “Vietnam era veteran,” because I never saw action there. Instead I had it really rough stationed at Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) in Honolulu, Hawaii – during the Vietnam war.

Initially I lived in the BOQ — that's what they call the Bachelor Officer's Quarters. After a few months living in the BOQ, I rented an 11th floor apartment in Waikiki. My off-time was not spent on post or the Officer's Club. Instead I spent every free minute volunteering at my new church in Waikiki. In addition to singing at beach services, I helped set up and run Hale O’Kokua (House of Help in Hawaiian), a hotline and rap center at Fort DeRussy, a military R&R (rest and recuperation) center on the beach in Waikiki.

There I met a tall young man, an Air Force narcotics agent, who also volunteered at Hale O’Kokua. We dated and then he was discharged and went home to Maine a month before I was discharged and went home to New Jersey. The month between our individual leaving would include an accident that would change my life forever.

It's easy to think "what if..." knowing how devastating that simple accident has been to my life. If I had never lifted that box; if I was not disabled by chronic pain; if Bruce loved me just the way I am, including chronic pain and the personality changes it causes; if we married as we planned, and had the nine kids we wanted to complete our own baseball team. If things were not changed as they are now, I would be living in Bangor, Maine, a wife of one of Bangor's finest, and maybe even a widow. If chronic pain did not take control of my life, I would have continued to do nursing, probably working at Eastern Maine Medical Center. I might have gone back to college and gotten my bachelors and masters degrees in nursing using up my GI Bill, and maybe I would be teaching nursing.

Instead, chronic pain took control of my life, and Bruce did not like the new me. I did go back to college; knowing that I would not be able to continue nursing, I got a bachelors degree in biology. I took a civil service test and was recruited by the Army, my service-connected disabled veteran status put me at the top of the recruitment list. I ended up moving from Old Town, Maine (just up the hill from where they made Old Town canoes and across the river from the Penobscot Indian tribe), to Huntsville, Alabama, where Wernher von Braun landed, giving us our missile program after WWII.

Starting in September 1979, I worked for 11 years for the Army, civil service, in procurement. Initially as a contract specialist, buying spare parts for Pershing missiles.

While working in Huntsville, in 1983, I helped to start a parachurch ministry, called HERO (which stands for Handicapped Engaged in Reflecting the Omnipotent), a Christ-centered spiritual support group of people who live with disabilities and chronic illness. Once we incorporated and received IRS non-profit status, we began to authorize other groups starting with one in Cullman, AL. I became National President and wrote a monthly newsletter.

In June 1985, a promotion moved me back north of the Mason-Dixon Line, to Pennsylvania, working headquarter level as a procurement analyst. I worked in Chambersburg but lived 35 miles north in Carlisle, in order to be near my church. While there I tried to start another HERO group, but I was not there long enough to cultivate leaders for it to continue.

In February 1987 I was assaulted by a coworker. It was set up by my boss to get rid of me, probably because I refused to lie for him. In December 1987, I took a downgrade and went to work at Tobyhanna Army Depot in the Poconos. While working here I gained Pentagon recognition for a database that sorted contract clauses for input into a database that was part of the automation of solicitations and contracts. (The many results of the assault are subjects for another story.)

Since 1986, I loved going to an annual Bible conference at a church in center city Philadelphia. There I met another young, well— not so young, man in April 1990. We corresponded between April and the end of June, attended a retreat at Sandy Cove in Maryland, where we talked and talked and talked for a week, getting to know each other. At the end of the week, knowing all of my history, he proposed and I accepted. We were married in December 1990 at his church since mine was meeting in a grange hall in the Poconos; I was 42 years old and Tom was 37. Yeah, I know kind of quick. But after looking for so long, once we found what we wanted we knew we were right for each other.

In 1992, we purchased a house just 30 minutes outside of center city Philadelphia. My husband's church is now my new church. My disabilities became worse and I had to quit working outside the home at the end of 1992. In 1995 I started a disability ministry, this time within my new church. I'm now an advocate for people who live with disability and chronic illness, and their caregivers within my church and, since 2002, I now write about the church and the disabled in a newsletter called Jars of Clay.

Our denomination has been behind the curve compared with other denominations on ministering to people with special needs, and in June 2007, I’ll be part of a startup team to see what we can do.

All of these things would never have happened if I did not become disabled in 1971. Obviously, God had a far better idea.

~lad (Words: 1054)

(c) 2007, Lois A. Denier

Rock of Ages

It started with a year of losses. In August of 1974 a broken engagement, was followed in early 1975 by the loss of my job as a night nurse in charge of an active care psychiatric unit, and with it the loss of my career in nursing. I am a diploma RN; I do not have a degree in nursing. Without the degree, I cannot find the kind of job that is within my new limitations.

Since a back injury in 1971 my life is ruled by pain. Poor treatment by the VA compounds the problem. The doctor who told me to quit working is not into making a legal statement for Social Security Disability (SSD).

In retrospect I know I was clinically depressed. I was anorexic. I had a death wish, but I could not figure out how to do it properly — well, I knew it was not a Christian thing to do — but that did not keep me from pleading with God every night to take my life. Complicating everything is Marilyn, the woman who gave me temporary shelter. Every day she reminds me that I am not healed because I don't have enough faith, as if I need to be reminded.

Part of me feels abandoned by the God who said He loves me but apparently He will not heal me. I need time to think things through, so I decide to drive out to my favorite part of the Maine coastline, but Marilyn wants to make sure that I will be all right, so she is coming with me.

We start our trip just south of Bangor. Taking Route 1, I drive 70 miles to a little known part of the Acadia National Park system, called Schoodic Point. It has been a long time since I have been to the ocean. Each year it has been a magnet beckoning me.

I moved to Maine in the early 1970s, loving each part of it, but I fell in love with the rocky coast. Over time I have learned that the coast can be very crowded during the summer, so I tend to go off-season, in the spring or fall, like today at the end of September.

Route 1 has become an old faithful friend, frequently visited. I know each curve and turn. Today much of what I took for granted is no longer there, and the drive is considerably less interesting. I know when to expect the restaurant with a huge elephant outside for decoration. And I am amused by a round cheese building with a piece taken out for the doorway, complete with a mouse on the roof. I love the tiny town and its country store, post office and gas station all rolled into one, run by a grey-haired old man whose tanned face is wrinkled from years in the sun.

Finally we arrive at the business center of Ellsworth. In 1975 it wasn't very complicated, but today the tourist industry has turned it into a Maine coast Mecca. In 1975 my favorite restaurant has a monstrous plastic replica of a cooked red lobster on the roof, standing on its tail, waving its claws at the tourists. Their menu has lobster, lobster and more lobster, cooked only one way, boiled in sea water. But today it is out of season, and the lobster shack is all boarded up for winter. I’ll have to wait until next summer to indulge in my favorite lobster.

At the edge of town is a crossroad. Straight ahead is a bridge leading to Mount Desert Island, the main part of Acadia National Park along with Bar Harbor and Cadillac Mountain.

Instead, I turn left to continue along Route 1 to the lesser known part of Acadia National Park and my final destination. Past the mobile home sales lot and a stone quarry is the A-frame snack stand, no longer used, its declining condition is my signal that I'm almost to my special haven.

The National Park sign is not easy to see, and there have been times when I've gone right by it, but today Marilyn's eagle eye spots it fast. A few more roads and we are finally at the access road for Schoodic Point. After a picnic area at the entrance, the last piece of road is a one-way, asphalt strip hugging the rocky coastline of the Schoodic Peninsula.

Each mile is a slow meditation. Both of us are quiet, and I feel my heart reaching out for God. Will He meet me there? Where is He? I feel like the Psalmist who cries out in prayer, "Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1 ESV) My heart is grieving and I don't know what to do with all of the pain.

I can tell that we have arrived when we reach a large paved parking lot, ringed with boulders. Seagulls rest almost everywhere, calling for handouts, their ear-piercing “Caw! Caw!” is disturbing. In 1975 there were no signs forbidding the feeding of the seagulls so we had fun feeding them Cheez Doodles ®, until they start drooling orange stained spittle. Marilyn can't quite get the knack of feeding them as they hover in front of her so she throws the long orange treat into the air at the seagull. As it ducks to grab the treat, Marilyn ducks to avoid the large bird's wings. Feeding them is like being in Hitchcock’s film, The Birds. In 1995 when I took my husband to my former refuge, there were a number of signs to not feed the seagulls since it disturbed the local natural ecology. As a biologist I should have known better back in 1975. My error. Also today, there are signs not to take rocks for souvenirs. They must mean the smaller rocks, because the rest are huge, weighing tons. My husband and I laughed picturing a tourist trying to load a rock weighing tons into the rear of his car. The ecology at Schoodic Point is very delicate and disturbing any part of it can have devastating repercussions.

This part of the peninsula has little vegetation because high winds and waves pound the rock shelf naked. Any wise person would know to come wearing multi-layers of clothing, because the weather can change in a minute, turning a warm summer day, to a chilling rain-soaked mess.

Between the parking lot and the open ocean is a huge expanse of rock which is sufficiently flat to allow almost anyone to walk to the water's edge. The colorful shelf of rock varies from a light tan to dark brown, occasionally streaked with black stripes only a few feet wide; they streak down to the water from the parking lot. Set into the rock are two National Park plaques describing the scenery, one explains that the rock formation is composed of granite (the light colored rock) and volcanic lava (the dark stripes). At the water's edge the black rock is more easily worn than the surrounding granite, producing a series of fissures.

Out in the ocean and on the rocks are cormorants in small groups. Some float on top of the waves, and I wait for them to dive for lunch; others sun-dry outstretched wings like lone sunbathers out on the rocks. In summer there would be color-coded buoys marking the spots where lobster traps have been set but right now it’s too dangerous to be out on violent waves of the fall season.

In 1975 Schoodic Point is my retreat from the world. It provides a needed change of scenery, a quiet spot to relax, meditate, and sort out thoughts. For me, it’s where I come to hear what Elijah heard — God's "still small voice." (1 Kings 19:12 KJV)

I sit in my usual spot, a carved out section forming a sheltered lounge chair of rock. After listening to the pounding waves, I’m finally able to relax. I want to get up and move to somewhere else because the cold, hard rock has numbed my bum. But I have the nagging thought that I have something to learn, right here, so I stay put.

I watch the seagulls as they soar on out-stretched wings, catching the air currents, easily avoiding a collision with the rocks. I want to be like a bird, soaring above the circumstances, riding out the storms that surround me.

The tide is coming in and the greenish blue waves beat a regular rhythm on the seaweed covered rocks in the small bay below me. An unusually large rock sits in the middle of the bay and I notice its unusually bare, sea-worn top. Waves strike the rock with thunderous force, yet it seems unchanged.

I once heard a talk about how to survive falling into the ocean around a rocky coast like Schoodic. The key is to find a raised rock and then cling to it. But the ocean water is always freezing cold, even in mid-summer. Numb arms and hands cannot hold onto anything. Survival hinges on locating an above-water crevice to find shelter in. A person can wedge herself into the crevice, a saving grace in the midst the cold, pounding surf, even when she is too weak to hold on with her own strength. When the tide goes down she can then walk into shore to safety.

Hours of watching and praying restore my spirit. God has shown me how to survive current and future storms of life. Marilyn and I drive home, singing "Rock of ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee." Funny how a hymn can suddenly come to life.

© 1976, 2007 Lois A. Denier

Chronic Pain and Depression

I have been struggling with several symptoms that I can only identify as depression. Over time I have noticed that depression is a a shadow that trails along behind me, coming closer whenever I have an exacerbation of pain or illness.

Crying at the drop of a hat becomes a natural response to anything that is sad or emotive.

My relationship with God has suffered. I feel like a failed experiment.

Saw a recent video of Joni speaking about her recent experience of bedrest. As she shares her own struggle to be what she feels God calls her to, she finds that she can only make it through as she throws herself at Jesus' feet, drawing whatever strength she needs from Him. I wish I could be like that. I feel flawed and deficient in my own response to suffering.

I can only cry out -- God be merciful to me a sinner. Hold onto me, Lord, because I have no strength to hold onto You.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Is it Frustration or Pain?

Is it Frustration or Pain?

I've been having difficulty with a low frustration tolerance level lately.

A couple weeks ago I notice my wireless keyboard and mouse was not working properly. At first I thought it was the computer, but I eventually ruled that out. So I thought I would just switch out for a wireless set on my old computer in the office. But this set also behaved like it was asleep half the time and just lazy the rest of the time. So I tried my husband's set from the office — it too was on strike. Finally I resurrected a set of plugged in keyboard and mouse — finally it worked! But I was still angry and mad at the three sets that had not worked as they should. Finally my anger won out and I started tossing them across the room — out, out, dark spot! I finally ordered a new set and everything is fine.

Then last weekend my husband and I wanted to use one of our Christmas gift certificates at Bertuccis. We got there around 1:30 PM and the parking lot was full! I was angry! And my anger got even worse when we found the handicapped parking spot filled with a pile of snow left from someone who plowed the parking lot! They couldn't pile it in a regular spot? Is the snow disabled? I suspect the driver who plowed the snow is suffering from some sort of mental disability called stupidity.

The following day we went to church and found our ancient wooden pew crowded by the pew in front of it. I tried to sit there but my knees got crushed by the pew in front of me. This row is important to me. At the end of 2005 I decided we had to change where we sit in the church because people who are sick would sit behind or next to me and then proceed to cough and spit and share more than their fellowship with me. This pew is one of the few pews that are backed against the wall of the sanctuary. I couldn't sit in the crowded pew, so I had to sit on a folding chair to the side of it. This was not the best solution since my bum will go to sleep half way through the sermon. My right hip prefers to have my right knee bent so I put my foot on the rung located on the back of the folding chair in front of me. This was not the greatest solution to the crowded wooden pew and I was having trouble with people moving the chair without first checking to find my foot on the back rung. As time went by I found myself getting more and more angry. I finally had to go the bathroom for a good old fashioned cry.

My frustration tolerance had hit rock bottom, leaving anger and tears. I thought it was because of people who have no consideration for others, especially for people with disabilities. But is this really what the problem is? Other times I can be gracious, but there are times like this that I just get angry time after time.

In the past I found that my frustration tolerance level would go down because of pain that I had been ignoring. Living with chronic pain, I've learned to ignore it to a degree. It is like a pressure cooker, with that steam valve that lets the extra pressure out. But when it gets to be too much for too long, it's like the time my mother's pressure cooker exploded, leaving stew all over the walls and ceiling in the kitchen. My anger explodes, leaving bodies strewn all around me.

The solution to the problem?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Changing Scenery

I have been disabled since 1971 and have been involved in disability ministry since 1983. My experience with support groups for people with disabilities started with a para-church ministry I helped to co-found. But in more recent years I have been involved in my home church (in Philadelphia, PA) in ministering to people with disabilities, chronic illness and their caregivers.
I was never a fan of statistics (probably because they are numbers and I'm mathematically challenged), until I started researching the statistics on disability and I realized that those numbers represent people. I would like to share with you some of what I found.
In the USA one out of five people live with disability - 20%. In Pennsylvania that goes up to one out of four people - 25%. In Philadelphia 27% live with disability.
Surprisingly, about 40% of those who live with disability are working.

Unfortunately, they make less than their fellow co-workers doing the same kind of work, at the same level and quality - one of the reasons for the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The majority of those who live on subsistence of any sort live at and below the poverty level. Those without health insurance must settle for managed healthcare which makes it impossible to adequately care for their medical needs.
The next group of people is even more surprising. There are 133 million Americans who live with chronic illness - that's almost 50% of the American population. And 60% of them live with invisible chronic illness - just looking at them you cannot tell that their lives are different from their healthy neighbors.
The health care system is changing in several ways:
1. In more recent years, chronic pain has been redefined. Pain used to be just a symptom and if they could not find the source of the pain, the tendency would be to under-treat or not it. Today chronic pain is now being seen as a disease entity on its own. In addition the American Medical Association has defined "pain level" as another critical sign/symptom requiring documentation, just like blood pressure, pulse and respiration.
2. Medical training placed an emphasis on the treatment and healing of various conditions. The object was a return to normal, or the patient died. But what about those who linger on with chronic conditions that are either always there or spring up on a regular basis? More often than not they would be treated from one crisis to the next, with poor management to prevent exacerbations. The medical community is now seeing more people with chronic conditions than they used to. As Baby Boomers age, they will also develop those chronic conditions that go along with aging, but if they are not adequately treated then quality of life suffers.
3. Recently a study found that adults who survived childhood cancer consequently lived with chronic illnesses as a direct result of the treatment they received. Surviving has it's price and the medical community needs to make parents aware of they potential problems after treatment. Unfortunately many women survivors found themselves unable to become pregnant because of cancer treatment that left them sterile.
4. Illnesses that used to result in death are now becoming managed and are now considered to be chronic illnesses. The most public of these is HIV/AIDS. AIDS used to be a death-sentence, but today is managed through medications.
5. In recent years psychiatric care has changed as we find one mental illness after another being due to a neural transmitter deficiency or other chemical imbalance.
In some respects, medicine is as much an art as it is a science. Some things we may never be able to fathom, and we continue to gain a greater appreciation for the fact that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."

~ Lois A. Denier

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Denier Annual Newsletter

Tom & Lois Denier
236 Drexel Avenue, Lansdowne, PA 19050

Christmas 2006

"When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb."
~ Luke 1:41 ESV

Praise God even before he was born, John knew that his cousin was so special that he jumped for joy. Today Jesus continues to bring joy to our hearts for His gracious gifts.

Praise God with us — for the first time in years both of us have not been sick for most of this year. And when we were sick it was short, and we didn't share our germs with each other. We finally figured out the things to do to stay well.

Unfortunately, one of the things we had to do was to change where we sat at church. People who are sick still come to church, sharing more than their fellowship with us. We have to sit with our backs to the wall and with Lois in an aisle seat. Lois also has to stay away from large groups of people, such as at coffee hour.

Unfortunately, past illnesses and her current restrictions on meeting sick people, have isolated Lois from church life and she knows very few of the women in the church. Pray for her getting back in touch with the people at church and especially with the women.

Lois had a scare in the beginning of the year when new neurological deficits suggested that she might have multiple sclerosis (MS), but the blood test came back negative. That does not mean that she will not develop MS later, but for now she is in the clear, praise God.

Praise God, Lois' experience in disability ministry since 1983 will be used as she has been asked to join a disability task force for our denomination. And in January she will be speaking to a group of deacons from other churches about how they can identify people in their congregations who live with disability and chronic illness. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a series of seminars to train people for personal ministry.

This summer we once again attended a Joni & Friends Family Retreat in the Pocono mountains. We got seven inches of rain in the first few days. Tom discovered that his digital camera could take short video clips. He got some great video of waterfalls and rapids on rain-swollen streams.

Last year we had planned to take the train up to Saugus, MA to spend Christmas with Tom's mother and sister. We had to cancel all of those plans because of Lois' illness. Praise God, this year we took the train (a wonderful experience for Lois) and spent Thanksgiving with Tom's family. In addition to seeing their "new" home, we got to see the Saugus Iron Works where Tom's mother volunteers her expertise. We also saw the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Sunday we went into Boston to worship at Park Street Church. Both of us have heard of it for many years. We were surprised to hear people there talk about Tenth as a “sister church” despite denominational differences. In many ways Park Street is very similar to Tenth, especially in preaching and in the range of ministries they have. We were surprised and pleased to hear a guest preacher, Dr. David Wells, a professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, just north of Boston. Afterward we both walked a few blocks looking for something to eat — it was the most walking Lois has done in a while, without repercussions — praise God. Tom later wheeled Lois through Boston Commons where we saw an outdoor Episcopal service for the homeless and watched some people ice skating. A wonderful day of worship, enjoying where we were and some wonderful conversations with people in the church and in the park.

Boston and Philadelphia are very different cities. We were surprised at how very clean the cabs are in Boston. We were pleased to see how clean and well-lit the parking garage under Boston Commons appeared. Boston has one high-rise building next to another with differing architecture. We also got lost several times, with maps not matching what was really there, and many streets unlabeled. The streets are not laid out in a regular grid as they are in Philly — it gave us a whole new appreciation for Tenth's home city.

Tom was off from his deacon duties this year, so next year he will be back on. It was nice having him home more, but he does love serving others.

Tom is still working at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and still running a centralized backup service for hospital and university computers. The number of computers using this service continues to grow, and is now approaching three hundred. The hospital recently added a second CPU to support the backup service. This has greatly reduced the number of 2:00 AM problem calls.

Pray that we will continue to stay well; that Lois will continue to regain the strength and stamina she lost over all those years of illness, including the ability to climb stairs; for Tom's ministry as a deacon and his work with computer backups and disaster recovery at the hospital. We praise God for a wonderful year.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Starting All Over

I had other posts in this blog which were mostly about Jars of Clay, a newsletter I write. But I have decided not to make this blog all about JoC but about me, my world, what it means to live with disability and chronic illness, caring for my husband, recuperating after several years of chronic illness, etc. And about what it means to be a writer and photographer.

Here it is December 2006 and I have spent most of this year not sick. This is a major change for me -- and my husband. I have not had a respiratory infection in a year, although there were two little blips this year:

1. I had shingles all of May. A really fast recuperation probably because of the anti-viral meds they gave me.

2. My rheumatologist thought I might have multiple sclerosis (MS) because of some increased neurological problems in my legs and feet. What I did not know was that because I have an auto-immune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, that I am susceptible to other auto-immune disorders. Another thing I did not know was that MS is now classificed an auto-immune disorder. When she suggested that MS might be the problem, I went crazy. When I was told I had RA it was a relief because it explained all of the pain I was in. But MS was a totally different diagnosis to deal with.

It's late, I've got to go.