Tag Archives: faith

Chemo Friday Reflection

 

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Ports make life so much easier!

Receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness (cloaked in the more palatable guise of something that’s going to be treated as a long-term chronic condition but that is 98% guaranteed to kill you at some point) can be a real buzz kill. I can’t say how it goes for other folks, but here’s how it went down for me.

First there’s numbness. It was difficult to wrap my head around the facts. I knew deep down inside the cancer was back; I could feel it quite literally in my metastases-hollowing bones, ascites-distended belly, and painfully swollen ankles. Part of me wanted to burst into tears and echo Scarlett O’Hara’s quotable line from Gone with the Wind: “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” Still another part of me wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and holler “La La La La La La La!” while floating in a dreamy hot pink kayak down that river called denial.

By contrast, the fierce, optimistic part of me kept saying “Suck it up, buttercup! Live your one-precious-poetry-of-Mary-Oliver-infused life like there’s no tomorrow! You’ve got this thing.” And when I ceased talking and thinking long enough, the still, small voice of God whispers from deep in my gut: “Just be. Stop. Stop doing. Cease fretting. Listen. I am with you.”

All the voices. All the feels and emotions. Just b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Just l-i-v-e.

It’s been four weeks since my official diagnosis, just shy of one calendar month. As of today I’ll have had three Taxol treatments, downed 23 quarts of super greens and antioxidant smoothies (love my collards, kale, and spinach!), ingested two bottles of enhanced Transfer Factor, four cups of special herb tea each day, multiple rounds of barley grass tablets, and a nightly bubbly akalyzer beverage. Add to that a delicious mostly raw, whole foods vegan diet (not very practical for church potlucks), and for the most part I feel and look better physically than I have in ages. My morning weight has dropped into the mid-120s, and were it not for the fatigue, I think I could go out and run a 10K with no trouble at all. Even the effects of the chemo have been minimal and manageable.

My biggest challenge in response to the diagnosis? Slowing down. I can no longer keep up the 12- to 14-hour work days I had been used to “managing.” And you know what? That’s a good thing. A healthy thing. A stewardship of life and Sabbath thing. Thank you, cancer, for teaching this hard-headed, over-achieving, duty-bound woman about priorities. We miss so much of life in our furious multi-tasking, our need to accomplish, to please, to do good, to achieve, to matter, etc. etc. etc. One might assume I would have learned a thing or two in my first go-round with breast cancer 14 years ago. Clearly, there’s still some learnin’ to be done: “Fall down seven, get up eight.”

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#Thrive pose for Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day (10/13) 

My strongest medicine? It’s not the Taxol or the vegan diet and supergreens. It’s G-R-A-T-I-T-U-D-E. I am so grateful for the number of people who are walking life’s journey with me. My beloved husband, our children and extended family, friends and colleagues all have rallied to form a hammock of support and care. It’s a beautiful and amazing thing to behold.

Your friendship and solidarity–evidenced through cards, letters, flowers, books, chemo kits, encouraging words, time and presence, and above all your prayers–mean so much. Thank you. You lift my spirits. You help keep me grounded and focused. You point to all that truly matters. Thank you. Gratitude is indeed strong medicine, and your accompaniment and prayers have served me up a big dose of it in beloved community near and far. Thank you.

Now back to working on slowing down. To be continued…

When the other shoe drops…

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You’ve probably heard the expression “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Its origin is in the tight tenement quarters of nineteenth century New York City, when tenants could hear the shoes of their upstairs neighbors hitting the floor above them, and it’s come to express that feeling of waiting for the inevitable to happen. For some cancer survivors “waiting for the other shoe to drop” is that ball of emotional junk you stuff deep down inside of yourself because you know those rogue cells could cut loose again at any moment.

For me, that other big pink brassy platform heel of cancer dropped officially on Friday, September 28, when my beloved and I sat in the office of my new oncologist to receive the official results of a bone biopsy. Yes, I am now living with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer. In one afternoon, the trajectory of our lives took a BIG detour.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not all doom and gloom. I kind of suspected this was happening from my symptoms and all of the subsequent tests–ultrasounds, CT scan, paracentesis, thoracentesis, biopsy, bloodwork. It felt as if my old teacher cancer was back for another round of real-life education. My oncologist is optimistic that my cancer can be treated as a chronic medical condition like diabetes or heart disease. She talks in terms of years rather than going home and getting my affairs in order. Evidently I have options, a rather strange thing to ponder when your body has just gone into full scale rebellion against you.

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The treatment wheels are already in motion. I had my first round of chemo last Friday (Taxol), and I’ll have a port placed this week to make all the required infusions, blood draws, etc. easier. I’ve started a whole foods diet complete with a quart a day of super greens smoothies, some special herb tea, supplements designed to boost my immune system, and I’m continuing my yoga and meditation. We’re also exploring alternative therapies such as using a far infrared spa, reiki, and Ayurvedic treatments.

I’m going in with my eyes wide open: my life (our family’s life) is forever changed. Nothing can be taken for granted now. Every single day is precious. There is no cure for my cancer–at least not now. Strangely, I am at peace with this about 95% of the time. The other five percent I alternate among feelings of anger, profound sadness, terror, and fear. Yet, I trust that God’s got this and is right here with me. I truly believe that whatever happens tomorrow or next year or whenever, it will be okay.

I have the most amazing husband on the face of the planet. We have a strong family network that has already sprung into action to love, support, and pray for us. We have awesome adult children, and wonderful colleagues and friends. And, I am blessed to serve a congregation that is truly a light in our community, a loving and vulnerable expression of Christ’s Body, and a group of folks who love one another (and yours truly) for exactly who God made us all to be. Friends, it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Sure, the return of cancer sucks. There’s really no better way to say it. But it will not define me, confine me, or rob me of my joy. There’s entirely too much life to live, too much of God’s good creation to stand in awe of, and too many wonderful people with whom to be in relationship.

What do you do when cancer drops the other shoe on you? You pick it up, put it on, dye your hair bright pink, and start dancing! I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

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(Note: The shoes are for illustrative purposes only. There is NO way I could even walk in these beasts! They were borrowed from my daughter, Maggie, who also gave me my new pink hairdo.)

 

 

 

 

Seeing Baby Jesus

We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways. –Archbishop Oscar Romero, December 24, 1979

Today Christians around the world celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord. Our Spanish-speaking friends call it “El Dia de Reyes” or “Three Kings Day.” Whatever you call it or however you celebrate it, the intent of the day is to celebrate the “manifestation” or appearance of Christ to all nations.

Many of you will be familiar with the Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Perhaps this beloved song conjures up images of bathrobe clad children parading up church aisles during the traditional retelling of the birth narrative. A few of you may associate it more with Patti’s Smith’s haunting rendition (Thanks, David Lose, for the reminder!) of this mid-nineteenth century hymn by the Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

But the celebration of Epiphany is more than just three Kings, bathrobes, and a hymn. Think of the word itself–epiphany. In the Greek, ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, means a “manifestation or striking realization.” I’m wondering how many 21st century folks experience epiphanies of faith.

Is Jesus simply a little china figurine to be brought out at Christmas and packed securely away after the twelve days are over? Is this “sweet little baby child” much easier for us to palate and manage? After all, if we can put him in a box or on a shelf at will, we aren’t faced with uncomfortable truths and niggling nudges to move out of our comfort zones.

Or, do we even see him at all? The foreign wise folk  saw him, but the religious leaders did not. The shepherds saw him, but Herod could not. Can we see Jesus today? Do we look in the right places? Is he a picture we grew up seeing on the Sunday school wall, or can he be seen as Oscar Romero states “among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat”?

The Herods of our day–the powers and principalities, the culture and media–seem not to see him. I suspect they don’t want us to see him either, because seeing Jesus leads one to do strange things such as leave home and country bearing gifts or leaving the security of jobs and secure lives to follow him in the wilderness of our world. Seeing Jesus–experiencing an epiphany of faith–is a life-changing experience, one that is often unsettling and even fearful. Seeing Jesus leads to a changed world.

The good news is that Jesus is there whether we “see” him or acknowledge him or choose not to do so. The Creator of the cosmos is active and on the loose in the world, working on restoring, fixing and fitting together all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe and inviting us to join the party.

Look for the light. Open yourself to epiphanies of faith. Bring your gifts to serve and honor the One who conquers the dark. You are welcome with the wise, the marginalized, the foolish, and faithful; there’s room for everyone.

Blessings on the journey.

Here’s a lovely version of the hymn “Christ, Be Our Light” by Bernadette Farrell. It’s a wonderful hymn–not only for Epiphany but for every day.

Photo by FeedMyStarvingChildren. Thanks!

Beginning…Again

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. […] And to make an end is to make a beginning.         — T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding”

Happy New Year! How are you spending the first day of the rest of your life? What is your state of mind? To whom have you said, “I love you”? What will you do with this one precious day?

Part of living a life of thanks-living is being mindful of each day and the gifts–great and small–that present themselves to you and that you present to others. The beginning of a new calendar year is traditionally a time for resolutions and hopefulness. How about mindfulness?

What if…instead of resolving to lose weight, make more money, save more money, find the right partner, get a better job, write that best-selling novel, or whatever else you might want to achieve…what if you simply resolved to be mindful of each precious moment? What if you promised to try and be aware of the gift of each day, one day at a time?

Sure, planning is a good thing, but we twenty-first century, multi-tasking, over-booked, under-capitalized humans tend to get so caught up in looking backwards and forwards that we forget to look straight ahead into the moment. Hey, I’m as guilty as anyone else.

Instead of a resolution this year, I’m simply going to try to live each and every day as if it is the only day I have. After all, we never know how much time we do have, so let’s try to make the most of it. So…

  • Let’s put relationships first and stuff last.
  • Let’s take care of the body we’ve been given by eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising.
  • Let’s look at our work as good and valuable and do the best possible job we can at whatever we do. If you don’t feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, work mindfully at following your passions. If you live and work well, the living will follow.
  • Let’s focus on giving and sharing rather than amassing and hoarding, and
  • Let’s cultivate and nurture our sense of the holy, the spiritual, and the good (what I call faith).

As 2012 ends, however the year was for you, let’s embrace the new beginning of 2013 and make it 365 single days of joy and thanks-living. I look forward to the journey!

Want a little inspiration? Check out this You Tube video:

Photo by Sally Mahoney. Thanks!

You Gonna Serve Somebody

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

                                                              — Bob Dylan

So I guess the question posed by a host of folks ranging from Bob Dylan in his classic song to Jesus of Nazareth in scripture is this: just who are you going to serve? I’ve been thinking about this question often this week while pondering, praying over, and writing this week’s sermon (based on Mark’s gospel, 10:35-45).

The sons of Zebedee, James and John, are jockeying for power and position in what they assume will be the earthly rule of their rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, the anointed one; in short, the one who will kick Herod’s behind and send the Romans packing. They have the חֻצְפָּה (or chutzpah, as we know it) ask for seats on either side of the throne.

What they don’t realize is that the reign of God and the Way of Jesus looks nothing like the traditional notions of power and glory. Notice that when Jesus asks them if they can drink from his cup, they respond like eager puppies that don’t take time to sniff for hemlock or sour milk. And even after they answer in the affirmative, Jesus tells them it’s not his call to dole out the prime real estate.

This little exchange ruffles the ego feathers of the other disciples. Clearly they don’t have Paul Harvey to give them “the rest of the story” or the record of scripture to fill them in. What they do have is Jesus, in the flesh, living with them and constantly trying to teach them. If you want to be great, Jesus says, you have to serve.

Not much has changed in 2000 plus years. We humans still have to serve somebody. Even Bob Dylan had that right. The question is who–or what–will you serve? Who–or what–will you put first in life?

If you intend to put Jesus (and thus, God) first, then you must be a servant to all. Funny how that kind of resonates with the great commandment in Luke 10:27 to love God with every fiber of your being and your neighbor as yourself.

Of course, I guess if it was easy to follow the Way of Jesus, everybody would be doing it and church pews would be full, and no one would be hungry or lacking the basics to live. No, it isn’t easy. That’s why people serve fame, fortune, consumer culture, alcohol, drugs, sex, power, and any other number of gods.

It is impossible to serve all and follow Jesus under our own steam and of our own volition. Do-it-yourself faith is simply not an option. The only way we are able to drink from the same cup as Jesus (aka the cup of suffering) is to rely fully and faithfully on Him. By faith through grace alone can we then walk through this world with open eyes, hearts, minds, and hands. Only by grace can we serve all and serve God.

So, who you gonna serve? I continue to echo the answer of Joshua and countless other faithful folk who have said: “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15b).

Photos by JuditK and F3LONY. Thanks!