Friday, October 17, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The first is that we shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer the why questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick? We can't answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.I don't know why I have cancer, and I don't much care. It is what it is-a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out. But despite this-because of it-God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don't know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face.
Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease-smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see-but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension-and yet don't. By his love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.
'You Have Been Called'
Picture yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has begun to wear away. A doctor stands at your feet; a loved one holds your hand at the side. 'It's cancer,' the healer announces. The natural reaction is to turn to God and ask him to serve as a cosmic Santa. 'Dear God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler.' But another voice whispers: 'You have been called.' Your quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter-and has dragged into insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our 'normal time.'
There's nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue-for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do. Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. He cried for Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf.
We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us-that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God's love for others. Sickness gets us partway there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy. A minister friend of mine observes that people suffering grave afflictions often acquire the faith of two people, while loved ones accept the burden of two people's worries and fears.
Learning How to Live
Most of us have watched friends as they drifted toward God's arms not with resignation, but with peace and hope. In so doing, they have taught us not how to die, but how to live. They have emulated Christ by transmitting the power and authority of love. I sat by my best friend's bedside a few years ago as a wasting cancer took him away. He kept at his table a worn Bible and a 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. A shattering grief disabled his family, many of his old friends, and at least one priest. Here was a humble and very good guy, someone who apologized when he winced with pain because he thought it made his guest uncomfortable. He retained his equanimity and good humor literally until his last conscious moment. 'I'm going to try to beat [this cancer],' he told me several months before he died. 'But if I don't, I'll see you on the other side.'
His gift was to remind everyone around him that even though God doesn't promise us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity-filled with life and love we cannot comprehend-and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms.Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don't matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?When our faith flags, he throws reminders in our way. Think of the prayer warriors in our midst. They change things, and those of us who have been on the receiving end of their petitions and intercessions know it. It is hard to describe, but there are times when suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit. Somehow you just know: Others have chosen, when talking to the Author of all creation, to lift us up-to speak of us!
This is love of a very special order. But so is the ability to sit back and appreciate the wonder of every created thing. The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the ineluctable touch of God.
What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place-in the hollow of God's hand."
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
I have been reading about this little plant and have discovered that it is very fragile and takes 20 years to bloom. You can read more about it to at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calypso_bulbosa This article is fascinating. I discovered that the Fairy Slipper Orchid requires very specific growing conditions. It requires the symbiosis with fungi in very specific types of soils to thrive in the harse mountain conditions where it lives. All this got me to thinking.
How am I so different from this little plant...other than it is much prettier and causes less trouble. I can only thrive in community with those who care about me and support me. Each adds their wisdom and faith to mine synergistically. They feed me and, with God's help they provide the right conditions for me to thrive. Yesterday, I started chemo therapy. The treatment was 6 hours long, but otherwise uneventful. They gave me 4 medications to control nausea, all of which have worked so far. In fact, I seem to be eating each meal as if it were my last with the result that I now have a comfortable margin of "extra" to carry me through this process. The calls I received from family and friends to encouraging me and wish me well bouyed me. They fed me well.
My path to this community has taken some time to find and to grow into. More than 20 years. I have on occasion, poisoned it. But mostly I have tried to live in harmony and give at least as much as I have received. How very like the Fairy Slipper Orchid I am in this regard. I am totally dependent upon and must be relied upon by my community to thrive...and this takes time, love, trust and faith. Some, who have known me the longest have commented that I am "blossoming" through the dance with cancer. I too feel that this is so and that others can judge it better than I.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Come to think of it something wonderful did happen. My friend celebrated her 70th birthday this afternoon. Her life has not been without challenges, yet she is so upbeat whenever I meet with her.
What else happened today? People in Windsor and other places in the US rebuilding their lives after the tornadoes left them homeless and without jobs. Folks in China are living in tents after losing everything in the earthquakes. In Burma, perhaps millions are without shelter, food, medicine and sanitation.
These tragedies, and the grinding living conditions in other parts of the world inspire the best in some to bring comfort and relief to these folks and others. I read the following recently and it really moved me.
September 2004: At the time of the war in Kosovo, a Serbian Orthodox monk named Sava who was based there was asked 'Whose side is God on in this conflict? to which he replied
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I have heard that our histories are stored in our bodies. I know of counselling techniques based on this premise. I also know people who have benefited from the application of these techniques to help them find old psychic wounds and heal them.
I have been wounded by the surgery to my throat and my neck. This experience has changed me in ways that I am just beginning to understand. Not the least of these is an increased awareness of the condition of the people that I encounter day to day. I find that I have more time to listen to their stories and share mine if they ask. This alone would be worth the process in which I am engaged.
Pastor Mark reminds me that we are meant to be in relationship with each other. I don't do well as an "island" unto myself. How nice to learn that the more I care for someone else, the less self absorbed I become. What a relief!
During the time in which I was unable to speak comfortably and was often alone, I discovered that I enjoyed not talking. My thoughts turned less to the trivial and more to the profound. I found that this journal was very conducive to the organization of these thoughts....pulling order from the normal chaos in my head.
I must now undergo another period of not speaking. I will find it difficult to speak comfortably by the end of June. This will last at least three weeks. During this time I will be able to respond to email and will continue to blog. Though I don't look forward to the discomfort, I am more than curious about the lessons that I will be given. In some ways this experience has had the elements of a sabbatical for me. A "time out" in my life.
I came across a very moving website this evening. It is a literary website for doctors at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. http://www.uic.edu/com/mcme/body/start.htm
The stories on this site engender in me a great appreciation for those who dedicate their lives to our health. You may enjoy it too. Here follows and example:
The iambic lub-dub of the heartbeat, repeated five times, once for each finger of the hand, gives us the prototypic stanza of english verse, iambic pentameter:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day ?
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun
I have been half in love with easeful death
Against the heartbeat play the more subtle meters of the breath, of sleep and waking, of sex, hunger, childbirth, hope and hopelessness. The body is a fugue of interwoven rhythms.
If we translate the beautiful Latin of our clinical vocabulary, we discover cisterns in our head, boats in our wrists, vinegar cups in our hip joints. We hear through wings and shells. A rainbow surrounds our pupils.
Even the Alphabet seems derived from the body. With the Os of Ocular, Olfactory, Oral, and Otic, our senses open on the world.
In medicine, hearts gallop, murmur, burn, rub, skip, attack, fail, arrest. In poetry, hearts ache, break, ease, rend, harden, throb. A living metaphor sings inside our ribcage. Poems move along our synapses, associatively. Thyroid gland, bowtie, butterfly. Freud, one of Medicine's great poets, knew this.
There is an ancient impulse to tell stories, to create rituals for the moments of birth, coming of age, marriage, and death, to find what is binding and universal in the isolating particulars of our experience. In medicine, we are privileged attendants at these moments. Moments that come to us as well.
Before the writer must come the reader, the listener, the observer. We are immersed in the strange poetry of our patients' histories, in the rhythms of their speech; we must fathom the significance of a hesitation, a repetition, an unexpected cadence. We must hear the unspoken, decipher their secret code, their metaphors. The double meaning of semiotics: relating to semantics, relating to symptomatology. And at times we are witnesses as Language itself unravels, fails, and reveals the raw machinery of brain — aphasias, slips of the tongue, schizophrenic neologisms — unmasking hidden connections, utter disconnections, the weird contingencies of meaning, the perils of communication. Our avant garde.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
This morning as I made coffee, I stood and studied each of the dozen or so cards on my window sill. These cards represent the compassion and best wishes of the people who had sent them. Each bore a sentiment that was meaningful to the sender and meant as a special message of encouragement to me in my "dance" with cancer.
These cards and the emails that I receive are a daily reminder to me of the power of love. John the Elder is quoted as:
and God in him"
"Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Each had a very distinct and different meaning.
The Wikipedia provides the definitions of these words at:
I have certainly experienced all of these feelings. Of these, Agape is what the passages above are are describing. I know it when I feel it and I know it when I don't. It is a gift. Agape allows us and compels us to feel and behave with compassion towards others. To behave selflessly, even anonymously. Love takes us out of ourselves.
I have been to the slums of Juarez, Mexico with some of the young folks and others at my church to build homes for the homeless there. This experience drove home for me the power of Love.
Thank you for the Love you have showered me. You have helped.
Monday, May 19, 2008
I learned on Friday that chemo and radiation therapy may not be the recommended protocol for the treatment of my condition. I sure wasn't expecting that news. I was very definitely on a fast train heading into chemo and radiation therapy. Needless to say I would love to believe that these treatments will not be recommended. Whew! Confusing.... I am still learning about these alternative recommendations. Ultimately, it will be up to me to make the decision.
I have been praying for guidance in this decision. I will never know which choice would have been the best because the information available to me is incomplete and longitudinal studies are not abundant. There is disagreement among my physicians, which is decidedly not helpful to me! I don't doubt their expertise, nor their concern and compassion, but consensus would be more comforting.
Pastor Mark tells me that we find God in the in-between spaces where we would least expect to find Him. I am listening carefully and softening my gaze so that I may find his wisdom. I don't know if I will be able to sense the presence of God, but it is very helpful to me to feel the reverence, humility and love that prepare me for His presence.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his names sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and staff--
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil:
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life
and I shall dwell in the house of the lord
my whole life long."
I have taken great comfort from this Psalm since I first heard it. I am sure that my parents must have used it for our evening prayers. What could be more comforting than this promise of the Good Shepherd. We are all beset, from time to time with circumstances that are beyond our control. These are often very frightening. Certainly, this is such a time for me. My future is unknowable and even my doctors are not in total agreement as to the best protocol for my treatment.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Thursday, May 15, 2008
The change had started with a bathrobe, one of the few things she had taken with her to the hospital for her cancer surgery. Every morning, she would put it on, really enjoying how soft it was, its beautiful color, the way it moved around her when she moved. Then she would walk the hall. "One morning as I was putting it on I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude", she told me. She looked at me, slightly embarrassed. 'I know this sounds funny, but I felt so lucky just have it. But the odd part, Rachel, is that it wasn't new," she told me. "I had owned it and worn it now and then for quite a few years. possibly because it was one the five bathrobes in my closet, I had never really seen it before."
When she finished chemotherapy, this woman held a huge garage sale and sold more than half of what she owned. She laughs and says that her friends thought she had gone "chemo-crazy", but doing this had enhanced her life. "I had no idea what was in my closets or what was in my drawers on on my bookshelves. I did not really know half the people whose home numbers were in my phone book either, Rachel. Many of them never even sent me a card. I have fewer things now and know fewer people, but I am not empty. Having and experiencing are very different. Having was never enough."
We sat together for a few minutes, watching the sun making shadows on the office rug. Then she looked up. "Perhaps we only really have as much as we can love," she said.
This story from Dr. Remen's book spoke to me in a very deep place. No coincidence then that Pastor Mark spoke to this same experience in this mornings Men's Bible Study. The experience for me and for the woman in the story is that it is easy to get "stuck" in life. We are sometimes given opportunities to change our lives. Sometimes these opportunities are God given. I don't mean to blame God for my cancer. Cancer is just a part of the human condition. What I do intend is to praise God for removing the scales from my eyes so that I might discover what is most important and to live my life accordingly.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
At that time these little Hot Wheels cars were avidly collected by most six-year-old boys. Kenny dreamed of them and I yearned to buy him more, but I could not think of a way to do this without embarrassing my friends. Kenny's father was an artist and a lay preacher, and his mother was a housewife who brought beauty to everything she touched. They lived very richly indeed but they had little money.
Then one of the major gas companies began a Hot Wheels giveaway: a car with every fill-up. I was delighted. Quickly I persuaded the entire clinic staff to buy this brand of gas for a month, and organized all twenty of us with checklists, so that we not get two fire engines or Porches or Volkswagens. In a month we accumulated all the hot Wheel cars then made, and I gave them to Kenny in a big box. they filled every windowsill in the living room, and then he stopped playing with them. Puzzled, I asked him why he did not like his cars anymore. He looked away and in a quivery voice he said, "I don't know how to love this many cars, Rachel". I was stunned. Ever since, I have been careful to be sure not to have more Hot Wheels than I can love.
to be continued.....
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I don't know yet all the places where the "light" was not reaching me. What I do know is that the outflowing of prayers, love, support, offers of care, inspirational messages and encouraging stories have been the the most surprising aspect of this experience to me. A Tsunami of compassion has flooded over me. It is still not possible for me to dwell on it with dry eyes.
Are there coincidences? Personally, it has become almost impossible for me to believe in the random. Far easier it is for me to believe that which appears random will actually resolve to a pattern and a purpose when viewed from 10 miles high. After my 40 years in the "wilderness", I had felt a pull to return to my Faith.
I had been drawn to a little Lutheran church in Boulder. I was not a Lutheran, but did consider myself a Christian. I attend Christmas service in 2005 and just started showing up every Sunday after that. I joined the Trinity Lutheran Church the following year. I have prospered there under the encouragement and spiritual guideance of Pastor Mark and the other members of my church community. He has helped my understand much of what had been hidden from my view. My times at Trinity are the high points of that week. I am a blessed man.
Karen and I met in cyberspace in November 07. I was encouraged and surprised to learn that she attended church just across the street from me, though she lived about 30 miles away in Lakewood. Her faith is important to me. We share this faith and the comfort that it brings to us. Since she was in Boulder at least two days a week, it was easy to meet and start getting to know each other, my concern about our "geographic" challenges notwithstanding.
Sometime in January, she discovered my cancer and suggested that I see my Doctor. I did and he told me just to watch it and that it was probably not something that I needed to worry about. You won't be surprised to learn that I was very happy with that diagnosis.
Karen, however was not. She insisted, in her most gentle way, that I return and insist on further diagnosis. I did this. A CT Scan was done in March, then a biopsy in early April, more diagnostics in April and surgery on May 2nd. Surgery was on Friday and they sent me home on Saturday. Karen stayed with me and cared for me through the weekend. By Tuesday I felt well enough to be on my own.
Last Friday, the Dr. removed a drainage tube and I began to feel more human and less a medical experiment. What a relief that procedure delivered. By Saturday my energy had returned and I made the happy discovery that I could eat meatloaf if I put enough gravy on it. Thank you Lord for gravy! By this time I had lost 14 lbs. I really would prefer not to find them and, in all likelyhood will lose more weight. Be prepared for a somewhat sleeker me.
I have found great comfort in Scripture and the writings and lectures of Dr. Ramen. It is very moving for me to read the stories of far larger challenges faced by others and the revelations they were given. I can only glimpse mine.
I invite you to share your stories, readings, scripture and poems with me and with all who visit this blog. If you wish, you are most welcome to invite your friends and family to visit and contribute. I will review all comments before they are posted as a moderator.
As for me, they say "life's a dance". Well if that's true, it must have been a Sadie Hawkins Day dance because I don't remember choosing cancer as a dance partner....but you know, it's beginning to teach me.