Everything Happens For A Reason (Doesn’t It?)

Book Review: Kate Bowler, Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved, Random House, 2018.

Against the backdrop of the American prosperity gospel, about which she wrote a history (Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel,Oxford, 2013), in Everything Happen For A ReasonBowler details how, at 35, thriving in her seminary teaching, married to her high school sweetheart, and the birth of her son, she struggles with a stage IV colon cancer diagnosis.

Televangelists, with whom she had talked, “claimed spiritual guarantees for how to receive divine money. I held hands with people in wheelchairs praying at the altar to be cured,” thinking she was “trying to understand, how millions of North Americans had started asking God for more” (xii). But she also saw something else. “Believers wanted escape from poverty, failing health, and the feeling that their lives were leaky buckets” (xiii). People with “bleak medical diagnoses…broken teen agers or misfiring marriages” sought salvation, rescue, and “a modicum of power over things that ripped their lives apart at the seams” (xiii).

What is a Theodicy?

That movement, she says, is “a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart: Why do some people get healed and some people don’t? Why do some people leap and land on their feet, while others tumble all the way down? Why do some babies die in their cribs and some bitter souls live to see their great-grandchildren. The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution. It guarantees that faith will always make a way” (xiii).

Her research led her to look beyond the false promises of the movements’ leaders into her own heart. Bowler found alluring “the promise that I could curate my life, minimize my losses, and stand on my successes…I had my own prosperity gospel, a flowering weed grown in with all the rest” (xiii-xiv).

Why, God?

Reporting her cancer diagnosis, Bowler describes her plea to God for life with three simple questions: “Why? God, are you here? What does this suffering mean?” At first, she reports, “I could hear Him. I could almost make out an answer. But then it was drowned out by what I’ve now heard a thousand times. “Everything happens for a reason” or “God is writing a better story.”

Bowler’s well-written Preface leads the reader through her equally well-written journey, from the anxiety of her cancer diagnosis through the news that she might have a rare form of cancer with excellent prognosis. But what most galls Bowler is how people treat her. Instead of living with her in the moment of her anguish, she finds “three life lessons people try to teach me that, frankly, sometimes feels worse than the cancer itself.”

Life Lessons?

What three lessons do you believe people want to share with Bowler? What lesson(s) would you want to share with her? Next Friday I will reveal Bowler’s three Life Lessons well-wishers seek to teach her.

 

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Martin Luther: 500 Years of Freedom – Review

Martin_Luther__The_Man_Who_Rediscovered_God_and_Changed_the_World__Eric_Metaxas__9781101980019__Amazon_com__Books

We find it hard to overestimate the impact Martin Luther made on our modern world. If the Enlightenment opened the literary resources of the distant past to inform the present, including Erasmus’s publication of the New Testament in the original Greek, Martin Luther made at least as important a contribution toward our world today. Without him we would still lack our modern values of equality, liberty, and individual responsibility. Eric Metaxas’s Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, (New York: Viking, 2017) celebrates Luther’s life and legacy after 500 years.

 Before Luther

Before Luther, the Roman Catholic Church contained the repository of all truth—scientific as well as religious. Luther’s challenge, hardly the major assault on institutional authority perceived by the Church, simply asked the Pope to show Scriptural support for the prevalent doctrine of indulgences. Indulgences, the sale of certificates of forgiveness for oneself, one’s relatives and for even before the sin was committed, so offended Luther that he felt compelled, in 1517, to post his “95 Theses” on the Wittenburg church door. That act showed no disrespect, but, as was common in that day, simply called for a theological discussion. But the Roman Church had to suppress any challenge to the Pope’s authority, especially from a German Augustinian monk. Indulgences also represented an important source of church revenue.

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas, bestselling author of Bonhoeffer, Amazing Grace (on William Wilberforce), If You Can Keep It (on American Liberty), and other works, details how a simple, godly monk confronted the highest human authority. That triggered an explosion felt around the world, not only of his time but which also extends down to ours, 500 years later.

Metaxas’s book sets the record straight regarding many of the myths surrounding Luther: Was he not born into a peasant family? Was he not so warped by his severe upbringing that he saw God as an overbearing Father, who needed placating by extreme submissiveness? Did he not, on a trip to Rome, observe the evil of such a decadent church that he felt compelled to reshape it into his rigid German image? These and other such popular myths Metaxas lays to rest (p. 3).

Luther’s Conversion

martin_luther_-_Google_Search

The year prior to his death (1545) Luther describes his insight into the Scripture, which so long ago (early 1517) liberated him from his inability to do enough to satisfy a righteous God. “…the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Thus a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me” (p. 96).

Scripture study and theological reflection informed Luther’s lectures and sermons during his years of theological teaching at Wittenburg University: the Psalms, the books of Romans, and Galatians.

Aftermath

After the Reformation began, Luther opposed Thomas Munzer and his radical Anabaptists who practiced another baptism after adult conversion. But why Luther promoted suppression of The Peasant’s Revolt of 1525 mystifies some. Although he had led a movement for freedom from ecclesiastical authority, the consequences of such freedom burst all bounds of reason, but especially of Christian submission to God. The peasants, many still untouched by the message of Christ’s love, became bloodthirsty in their quest for liberation from feudal dependency. After they steamrolled his call for moderation and Christian restraint, Luther called on the German princes, as authorities ordained by God (Romans 13:1) to suppress the rebellion and to restore order.

The Gutenberg printing press, of course, disseminated Luther’s ideas far and wide. That such an important technological innovation should lead to spreading the message of grace and freedom, well used by Luther and by his supporters, we in our day of rapid technological advances can readily understand. Publication of his tracts and papers at times not only outdistanced the Church’s ability to suppress his heresy, but also his own ability to control what resulted.

Flaws

Luther marred his later years by publishing On the Jews and Their Lies, which Metaxas calls “vile and intemperate.” His reversal from an earlier, empathic understanding of Jewish resistance to Christianity mystifies us. It wasn’t Luther’s obscure tract as such which scandalizes us, however, but rather its’ use in Nazi Germany four centuries later. “That the Nazi’s cynical master of propaganda,” says Metaxas, “would find the few vile words Luther had written against Jews and broadcast them to the world, ignoring the 110 volumes of Luther’s other writings, is of course, fathomlessly cynical“ (p. 417). That’s what propagandists do.

Much of Luther’s life cannot be covered in this short review: his marriage to nun Kathie (Katherine von Bora), his grief at the death of eight-month old Elizabeth, his Anfechtung (anxiety), or his relationship with Johannes von Staupitz, his academic and spiritual mentor. I hope I’ve written enough, however, to stir you to also read Metaxas’s Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.

Hindrances to Fellowship with God: Suffering and Sin

Two great obstacles hinder our fellowship with God. In our suffering, we erect a barrier: How could God allow such unfair treatment as I’ve experienced? I responded to this issue through looking at Job in Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). But Martin Luther addresses the second great obstacle to fellowship with God: our sin. Here Luther brings to bear the message of grace from St. Paul: The just shall live by faith.

[Source: Lucas Cranach portrait. www.commons.wickimedia.org]

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When God Doesn’t Fix It – Review

When_God_Doesn_t_Fix_It__Lessons_You_Never_Wanted_to_Learn__Truths_You_Can_t_Live_Without_-_Kindle_edition_by_Laura_Story__Religion___Spirituality_Kindle_eBooks___Amazon_com_We set the date (for my husband’s operation) for late April to give our parents enough notice to be in town for the week. Then we left the surgeon’s office with a handful of paperwork and a pamphlet that promised to answer all our questions. The pamphlet was reassuring and confirmed what the doctor said. Day one they would do the surgery. Martin would spend days two and three in the ICU, day four in a regular bed, and be released on day five. After that he’d spend a few weeks recovering. It was reassuring to think that five days after surgery, our life would begin returning to normal.                    

I felt relieved, almost happy. God is going to fix this” (When God Doesn’t Fix it, 29).

Laura Who?

Few books, however gut-wrenching, make me cry—but this one does. Laura Story, GRAMMY award winner, singer/songwriter, certified GOLD for her 2011 song Blessings records her journey with husband Martin. As a young wife, mother, and worship leader, Story tells us what she learns from Martin’s incapacity from his brain surgery complications (i.e., meningitis), and its treatment: a hole drilled into his skull to relieve pressure on his brain.

The operation was successful, but left Martin unable to care for himself. Fix chronicles the lessons Story learns through this uncharted territory of God’s will for her and family’s life. But she precedes each Lesson (“Truth”) with a Myth that sets our expectations to be shattered. Example: “Myth: God’s primary purpose is to fix broken things; Truth: God’s primary desire is to fix my broken relationship with Him” (41).

Myths We Tell Ourselves

Story’s style, as the introductory example shows, is informal, warm, and engaging. The content is excruciatingly painful, as husband Martin requires a second hole drilled into his skull, loses his short-term memory and requires full-time care. But Story is up to the task of honest reporting on Martin’s progress, however meager, God’s provision for their family’s needs, relating their crises to Scripture, and, finally, drawing crucial lessons (“Truths”) to counter the “Myths” we tell ourselves.

I have a personal affinity with Story as she describes Martin’s plight, in that in my Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours, I describe our son and daughter-in-law’s struggle with chronic fatigue, now recognized as a bona fide medical illness (myalgic encephalomyalitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS). The word “intractable” came to me studying Job. What do we do when, like with Job, life brings us situations not amenable to our best skills and knowledge, when chaos rules, and our only options require time, patience, and waiting on God.

“Myth: Contentment begins with understanding why. Truth: Contentment begins with asking how God might use this for his glory” (146). I’m pleased to award Story’s Fix a five-star rating.

Laura Story, When God Doesn’t Fix It: Lessons You Never Wanted To Learn, Truths You Can’t Live Without, W Publishing, 2015.

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Keeping the Faith in Tragedy

Who_they_were__The_victims_of_the_Montecito_mudslides_-_LA_TimesMany of us misunderstand God. Especially if we are strong believers, we appear to assume that our life should run smoothly, without serious setbacks. When we live for God, when we’re obedient to Scripture, when we follow Jesus, no accident, disaster, or tragedy will mar our upward ascent toward progress, success, and achievement. Psalm 91, for example, seems to provide strong support for this assumption. “If you make the Most High your dwelling,” says v. 9, “then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.” Because we trust in God, we are safe. This is an important theme in Scripture, reflected in Deuteronomy, the historical books and the prophets.

But exceptions crop up; life is not inevitable progress. Job is a case in point. Here is a man who, according to the narrator (1:1) and to the Lord (1:8; 2:3) is righteous. If anything, Job demonstrated scrupulosity beyond the ordinary, in regularly calling for his children to purify themselves and in offering sacrifices for them, in case they sin by cursing God secretly. Job, nevertheless, encountered a quick succession of disasters similar to what some right now experience in California. “It is with heavy hearts we share that our dear friend and partner, Rebecca Riskin, has passed away as a result of the tragic flooding and mudslides in Montecito,” says her luxury real estate company, Riskin Partners, on Facebook. Flooding also claimed the life a founder of a Catholic school and damaged or destroyed homes owned by Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneris.

If we believe in our own inviolability, we likely will find our faith severely challenged when life reverses. Without morbid preoccupation, we nevertheless do well to live with a sense of the fragility of life. We have no guarantees of success, progress, or or life itself. No guarantees against loss, tragedy, and death. Job reminds us of this.

[Sources: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/01/11/california-mudslide-victims-include-founder-catholic-school-first-lady-luxury-real-estate.html  Who They Were: The Victims of Montecito Mudslides, Los Angeles Times Staff 1/12/18 Picture: Family photo, LA Times]

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Please watch for Gordon’s new blog next week

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Hope for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients-2018

Who_Will_Tomorrow_s_Historians_Consider_Today_s_Greatest_Inventors__-_The_AtlanticOn November 24 and December 8, our son Paul and I shared information about a strange illness newly “discovered” by the medical community. Myalgic Encephalomyalitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) been around for a few decades, but even with a couple of local mass epidemics, medical interest has been minimal at best. Two reasons account for this. 1. Medical tests on patients turn up no abnormalities, so doctors tell their patients, “There’s nothing wrong with you physically.” The clear implication is that referral for psychiatry is their next option. 2. Patients with ME/CFS are in no position to complain, agitate, or recruit other activists–they’re at home, too weak to move, some of them, with little or no energy to care for themselves.

Then, Jennifer Brea began a world-wide movement of patients through Skype, documented in her DVD Unrest, which landed on the short list (of 15) for an Oscar in the Documentary category. New interest in clinical research creates hope among sufferers. Here are some more lines of research turned up by Paul that provide hope.

1. Study of T-cell activation

Dr. Mark Davis, Director of the Stanford Institute for Immunology, Transplantation and Infection (ITI), has discovered that CFS patients have a number of antigens which correlate with the disease. An antigen is a chemical produced by our body to combat viruses, bacteria, fungus, and parasites. Because he wants to be 100% certain, he is at present unable to publish his results on the type of antigens. Dr. Davis is using new technologies described in the prestigious journal Nature.

2. Big Data

The Open Medicine Foundation (www.omf.org. https://www.facebook.com/OpenMedicineFoundation/) uses Big Data to provide family members of CFS patients as healthy controls. That way, researchers can control for heredity, environment, and diet, all of which will be similar to ill patients. Michael Snyder,  PhD, Professor and Chair of Genetics and the Director of the Center of Genomics and Personalized Medicine, Stanford, investigates this issue in his lab.

3. The Salt Stressor

Using a nano-needle, researchers tested 21 blood samples. Only CFS patients and no healthy patients appear unable to handle the stress of adding salt to their blood. The nano-needle, a new technology, is identifying something unique to ME/CFS.

4. Shared Data

Dr. Ron Davis (not to be confused with Dr. Mark Davis, see picture), Director of the Stanford Genome Institute, sought to make research results available to the outside world, but ran into a serious roadblock. His data at the Stanford Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Research Center website (http://med.stanford.edu/sgtc) resided within the Stanford Genome Technology Center’s website. Excellent place to assure credibility, but, protective of its data, Stanford insisted on maintaining its firewall. That prevented non-Stanford people from accessing it. Also, Stanford wanted only researchers to have access. But Dr. Davis has worked out an agreement to house their data on an outside server where it should be accessible to researchers soon.

5. Giving Tuesday

Sponsored by the Open Medicine Foundation, patients raised $452,000 on “Giving Tuesday.” The Foundation provided an additional $1.2 million grant for Dr. Ron Davis and his research associates for their Stanford Collaborative Research Center.

These and other developments provide patients suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome hope. For the past 30+ years our son Paul and his wife Juli have clung to the slim possibility of finding ways to improve their health. Now, in 2018, they have reason to hope. Please pray for these developments, that at least some of ME/CFS patient’s hopes will come to fruition in the year ahead.

[Source: Cori Johnson, www.healthrising.org/blog2017/12/21/urgency-ron-davis-chronic-fatigue-research-center/ Picture: The Atlantic. Davis, one of series of greatest innovators https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/11/the-inventors/309534/]

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Special Christmas Offer

“An excellent, thorough resource for those experiencing tragedy using the book of Job in the Bible as a guide. Recommended” – Writers Digest

 
Cascade Awards Writing Contest 2016 Finalist Nonfiction
 
Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours  
Gordon S. Grose
 
SPECIAL OFFER FOR CHRISTMAS: December 15-31, 2017
 
 3 or more copies of Tragedy Transformed @ $10 each (Regular $16.99)
 
Help promote the message of hope from God’s Word to people who need it: The bereaved, victims of disaster, people in tragic circumstances.
 
Pastors- order a supply for your care ministry, small groups, or to have on hand for people in crisis 
Send me a Facebook post on my wall with a private message. A LinkedIn message will also work. I will share my address privately, where you can send your check. When I receive your check, I’ll have your books shipped without charge.
 
 
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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms (CFS) II: Guest Blog

chronic_fatigue_syndrome_pictures_-_Google_SearchOn November 24, I published a blog on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). In it I called attention to Paul Grose, our son, who, along with his wife Juli, has experienced the debilitating effects of CFS (now renamed Myalgic Encephalomyalitis ME/CFS) since 1987.  Juli also lives with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). I have asked Paul to  write this guest blog. 

All ME/CFS patients have their unique stresses and variations of the major symptoms of the disease. When we first became ill, for example, we had a different kind of stress than we have now in that we could appear completely normal for a few hours, and then, like Jennifer Brea (See November 24 blog featuring her TED talk or: https://www.ted.com/talks/jen_brea_what_happens_when_you_have_a_disease_doctors_can_t_diagnose), we would crash for hours and days on end. In fact, we had both been extremely ill during our last semester at college; far more was expected of us than we could do. In each patient’s life, there are unique ramifications of the disease based on the age at which they became ill, the belief and sympathy of relatives, and the resulting social ramifications.  Some never have the chance, for example, to get married, others have spouses and families who don’t believe them, and still others try to take care of children when they are too ill. So, in our case, here are our unique challenges:

  1. Both of us have this disease. Jennifer Brea’s husband, Omar, has to care for her. But he is healthy, and while she has been ill for five years, we have been at this for over 30 years. I try to take care of Juli while sick myself,in bed much of the day.
  2. Juli is severely ill, classified as a “Level 1” (out of 4, the sickest). She is able to sit up briefly only for her meals and for a 45-minute ride in the car (the vestibular stimulation helps her sit up). Otherwise, she is bedridden. I am at level 2.5 out of 4.
  3. Juli has severe MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities) as well. The searingvasculitis(inflammation of her blood vessels) Juli experiences is excruciatingly painful. Many of the patients featured in a recent movie on ME/CFS have mold sensitivity, but they do not have MCS. It is a fairly common co-condition with ME/CFS, however.

Jennifer Brea obviously is well enough to handle normal everyday chemical exposures, and Whitney Davis (a ME/CFS patient, son of Stanford Genome Institute director Dr. Ron Davis) is able to handle baby wipes used to clean his hair and to be around his parents without extra measures related to chemicals. This added condition of Juli’s not only causes many present limitations, but has resulted in years of going without running water and personal company with other people.

  1. Juli’s electromagnetic field (EMF) sensitivities create an even greater layer of pain, tedium and isolation beyond that experienced by even a severe MCS patient. Obviously, she is not able to physically handle and use electronic devices, must carefully ration her exposure to TV/computer screens at a distance, and cannot tolerate radio of any kind. Back in the early 90’s, for example, we were unable to use the electric heat in the winter without leaving the house for a 3-year period. All these factors in Juli’s disease are an enormous strain on Paul, and vice-versa.
  2. In one of Jennifer Brea’s recent interviews, she states that if she stopped any of her current pharmaceuticals, she would not be able to move within just 72 hours. Another patient told her about trying to go off B vitamins in order to save money, and she relapsed for the next few years, and her children had to take care of her. In the same way, Dr. Hulda Clark’s parasite program, the anticlotting medicines, and herbal antibacterials & vitamins are the only supplements that help Juli at all with the postexertional malaise (PEM), enabling her to take care of herself during the night. Otherwise, Paul is forced to stay up with her all night and lose even more sleep. And these are the only things enabling her to treat her severe sleep disorder and to talk.
  3. I am in bed much of the day, also with a significant sleep disorder myself. I must use my limited quota of daily energy to accomplish tedious tasks to keep our lives running. As Dr. Nancy Klimas points out in the recent movieUNREST, (produced by Jennifer Brea): When the cell has no more energy, the only recourse is to completely stop, or the illness will continue to cascade. Many people assume that a given patient’s activity level will remain stationary throughout his/her life. But many patients begin at the higher levels, such as Level 4, and become severely ill due to overexertion, thus dropping to Level 1 or 2. Also, excessive emotional and/or physical stress activates the Cell Danger Response, as Dr. Robert Naviaux says, and causes the patient to crash, sometimes permanently. The only thing that keeps the disease process at bay is good nutrition, good supplementation, keeping the stress to a minimum, and adequate sleep and rest.

Do you know anyone with ME/CFS? How would you respond if they showed symptoms? How would you encourage Paul and Juli?

[Source: Diagnostic decision tree: www.iom.edu/ME/CFS]

 

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Please watch for Gordon’s new blog next Friday

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): Hope For Treatment

Jennifer_Brea_-_Google_SearchFor over 30 years, our family has struggled with our son Paul’s strange illness. His wife Juli has it worse. They lived isolated from friends, church, work, and even family. Misnamed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), this illness has become the butt of jokes: who isn’t “fatigued”?

The Face of CFS

Delivering a TED Talk on her CFS, Jennifer Brea, however, has given a face to the illness. She has also mobilized CFS patients in a world-wide agitation for attention from the medical community. Because CFS immobilizes a person to near-paralysis, patients withdraw from life, unable to publicly agitate for change. But no more. Her full-length documentary video (Unrest, sold by YouTube) will come out in DVD in December. In it, she documents her life as a result of the illness, and how she organizes others world-wide through Skype to agitate for recognition and for change.

It’s All In My Head?

Dr. Ron Davis, Stanford professor of Biochemistry and Genetics, and Director of  the Stanford Genome Technology Center has taken up the cause to find a medical treatment for CFS. The biggest challenge has been that blood testing, even by medical specialists, yields no observable anomalies. As a result, experts usually tell patients, “there is nothing wrong with you,” or “I’m referring you to psychiatry for your depression.” Our children also experienced this humiliation 30 years ago.

In the illness of Whitney, his son, Ron found reason to explore the biological basis of CFS, now renamed Myalgic Encephalomyalitis (ME/CFS). His story is available on Youtube listed in the Sources below. Knowing Whitney isn’t just fatigued, depressed, or a malingerer, yet merely exists close to death, he describes the illness as “a living death.” What we now know, he says, is that ME/CFS results from a problem in the cell: the mitochondrial DNA doesn’t produce energy as it does in normal functioning. As a result, we enter a state similar to “hibernation” in some animals. Perceiving a threat, the organism, down to the cellular level, shuts down to conserve energy.

Although the Centers For Disease Control in Altanta, GA, for years has listed criteria for a diagnosis of CFS, only recently has it scheduled a training workshop for physicians in the illness. The standard medical prescription for treatment includes “light exercise.” Now, however, they recognize that remedy only exacerbates the illness.

A World-Wide Epidemic

So, in medicine and in public awareness, hope dawns for our son, his wife, Jennifer Brea and millions world-wide who experience the debilitating effects of ME/CFS.  The Open Medical Foundation (OMF) now focuses on their End ME/CFS Project, designed to find biomarkers and effective treatments for myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). These findings should also provide insights into related diseases, such as fibromyalgia and Lyme disease. “ME/CFS is a global crisis,” they say. “We communicate with patients in over 90 countries. We proudly share translations of our news and newsletters to inform our global OMF family and share our message of hope internationally.” If you’d like to know more, or get involved, contact the Open Medical Foundation (OMF) at www.omf.ngo.

ME-CFS-Biomarker-Research_jpg_960×720_pixels[Sources: Jennifer Brea picture: www.Ted.com    Jennifer Brea video: https://www.ted.com/talks/jen_brea_what_happens_when_you_have_ a_disease_ doctors_can_t_diagnose                                                                                                                Unrest (the film) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGBXXlQO49g                                  Dr. Ron Davis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZQgJP47kA4                             Diagram: www.omf.ngo]

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