I’m Back – part 2

On  October 17, 2021, after a long absence from blogging, I posted “I’m Back” a piece about my experience with severe illness.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t back for long. For several months, I have been undergoing chemotherapy for multiple myeloma, an uncurable blood cancer.  Multiple health issues, from infections to general weakness, to lack of appetite and inability to taste whatever I could make myself eat, to unstable blood sugar made life miserable. Build up in fluids required tight velcro stockings on my legs. I fell, hard, five times, once flat on my back on a concrete driveway. My son became a pro in getting me back on my feet after watching the EMTs pick me up using a sheet.  One of the most unusual issues was that I couldn’t read; I knew what the words were but just couldn’t make sense of what they were telling me. The worst symptoms were a debilitating and constant dizziness and times of mental confusion.

To counteract some of these side effects, I had several changes in medication, to no avail.  Finally early in January my cancer doctor took away a pill that was part of a cocktail of medication making up the chemotherapy. He explained that while this would weaken the effect of the chemo, the injection of medication I get would still be effective.  Since the two pages that listed the side effects of this medication included “extreme dizziness” and “confusion,” this pill was my top candidate for causing these problems. I was right. After about three weeks without the pill, the dizziness wafted away, as did the confusion. My son celebrated by claiming, “We’ve got mom back.”

I was happy to be back!  However, there is still a chance that the chemo will have to be stopped.  One number in the test results is getting worse; if that continues, it means the chemo is ineffective and will end.  The doctor said there are “more things we can try” if that happens.  My mind heard, “and more horrible side effects to be endured.”

In my first “I’m Back,” I wrote about how my life was full of gratitude.  It still is, perhaps more than ever!  But recently I read a chapter in the book Following the Call, Living the Sermon on the Mount Together, a compilation of writings on the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount by  dozens of people, gathered by Charles E. Moore and published by Plough Publishing House.  This piece, written by Philip Yancy, quoted a list of the “advantages” to being poor by Monika Hellwig. Here are a few of those advantages: realizing you are in need of redemption; understanding your dependence on God and on one another; being able to distinguish between necessities and luxuries, being able to wait because you have acquired a “dogged patience” born of constant dependence.

I read the entire list of the advantages of poverty several times in the next few days and realized that the same advantages can be found and appreciated by people who are sick. Severe and prolonged illness can result in a grateful acceptance of medication, of treatment, and of a doctor’s words caring words.  It can cultivate an appreciation of the days that are still left.  It can teach us to cherish the friends and family who steadfastly care for and about us. Illness can bring joy in a card or note, in a phone call, a text, or a visit – a  joy that can last for days.  It can foster an ability to “wait and see,” to live the proverbial “one day at a time,” to be calm in the face of bad news.

What I am learning is that a way of life that seems horrible – like living in poverty or experiencing a prolonged illness  –  has its own mercies and  joys.  We can respond with a certain abandonment to whatever life comes our way if we look for the blessings from God in it.

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From My Reading – January, 2022

“If the early church preached and practiced what I preach and practice, would there be a church today?” (Dallas Willard).

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“They [people in AA] also have slogans, which you can either dismiss as hopelessly simplistic or cling on to like driftwood in a stormy sea. One of them is “Let go and let God”—which is so easy to say and for people like me so far from easy to follow. Let go of the dark, which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket, and let in the light. Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you—your children’s lives, the lives of your husband, your wife, your friends—because that is just what you are powerless to do. Remember that the lives of other people are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business because they all have God whether they use the word God or not. Even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought” (Frederick Buechner in Telling Secrets.)

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“Any amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. Any amount of gratitude changes the present” (Ann Voskamp).

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“Christmas means that there are no insignificant or pointless lives. It means that the events and choices of an average day can carry eternal significance. It means that a journey of meaning and purpose – a life of courage and generosity – can begin from whatever desolate place we find ourselves . . . . Even lives that feel relentlessly ordinary or hopeless-ly broken are vessels of divine purpose” (Michael Gerson, The Washington Post).

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“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude” (Brene Brown).

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“I am beginning to now see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the One who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding”(Henri Nouwen).

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“For if we genuinely love Him, we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over it, every most hidden part of it, is realized in joy as Him, and He makes us, utterly real,

and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely and radiant in His light.  We awaken as the Beloved in every last part of our body” (Symeon the New Theologian – 9949-1022).”

 

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From My Reading – December

“I remember watching someone desperately pour out a question to my dad [Richard Foster]: ​What do you do when your pursuing God feels empty and dry? What do you do when you’re lost in pain, mystery, and God seems completely absent?” Very simply he replied, ​The same thing you do when all is going your way. You remain faithful and obedient” (Nathan Foster in the Renovare Weekly Digest, September 17, 2021).

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“In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow a moral principle; one peaceful moment.  (Maxine Hong Kingston).

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“Freudians and Jungians, prophets and poets, philosophers, fortunetellers, and phonies all have their own claims about what dreams mean. Others claim they don’t mean a thing. But there are at least two things they mean that seem incontrovertible.

One of them is that we are in constant touch with a world that is as real to us while we are in it, and has as much to do with who we are, and whose ultimate origin and destiny are as unknown and fascinating, as the world of waking reality. The other one is that our lives are a great deal richer, deeper, more intricately interrelated, more mysterious, and less limited by time and space than we commonly suppose.

People who tend to write off the validity of the religious experience in general and the experience of God in particular on the grounds that in the Real World they can find no evidence” (Frederick Buechner).

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” It’s possible to trace the movement of Christianity from its earliest days until now. In Israel, Jesus and the early “church” offered people an experience; it moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. When it moved to Rome and Constantinople, it became organized religion. Then it spread to Europe, and it became a culture. Finally, it moved to North America and became a business. This isn’t much of an exaggeration, if it’s an exaggeration at all. The original desire or need for a “Jesus” experience was lost, and not even possible for most people. Experience, philosophy, organized religion, culture, business—in each of those permutations and iterations, Christianity was seen as above criticism. It simply was the religion, the philosophy, the culture. (Richard Rohr in Daily Meditation for October 18 2021).

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“In the bigger scheme of things the universe is not asking us to do something, the universe is asking us to be something. And that’s a whole different thing.” (Lucille Clifton)

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From My Reading – November

“Here is the principle: We can only transform people to the degree that we have been transformed. We can only lead others as far as we ourselves have gone. We have no ability to affirm or to communicate to another person that they are good or special until we know it strongly ourselves. Once we get our own “narcissistic fix,” as I call it, then we can stop worrying about being center stage. We then have plenty of time and energy to promote other people’s empowerment and specialness. Only beloved people can pass on belovedness” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, July 4, 2021).

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“In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as well produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. Thus in Jesus’ terms we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking them. In fact liking them may stand in the way of loving them by making us overprotective sentimentalists instead of reasonably honest friends. 

When Jesus talked to the Pharisees, he didn’t say, “There, there. Everything’s going to be all right.” He said, “You brood of vipers! how can you speak good when you are evil!” (Matthew 12:34). And he said that to them because he loved them.  

This does not mean that liking may not be a part of loving, only that it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes liking follows on the heels of loving. It is hard to work for somebody’s well-being very long without coming in the end to rather like him too” (Frederic Buechner, originally published in Wishful Thinking).

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“Maybe it’s not that there are two places beyond the door of death, heaven and hell. Sometimes I wonder if hell is just what heaven feels like for those who haven’t learned in this life what this life is intended to teach. I believe with all my heart that God is not willing for even one person to miss out on the joy and glories of heaven. . . . We are becoming on this side of the door of death the kind of people we will be on the other side” (Brian McClaren quoted by Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations (September, 17, 2001).

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“I want to say to you that most of our brokenness cannot be simply taken away. It’s there. And the deepest pain that you and I suffer is often the pain that stays with us all our lives. It cannot be simply solved, fixed, done away with. . . . What are we then told to do with that pain, with that brokenness, that anguish, that agony that continually rises up in our heart? We are called to embrace it, to befriend it. To not just push it away . . . to walk right over it, to ignore it. No, to embrace it, to befriend it, and say that is my pain and I claim my pain as the way God is willing to show me his love” (Henri Nouwen).

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m Back

Well, finally, I’m back! After months of struggles accompanied by God’s constant blessings, I am perhaps ready to share on this blog what I am learning.

But first, I probably need to share the struggles.  A year ago my husband died after many years of illness and my dedication to his care. Several months later, I experienced the return of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, and began chemotherapy again.  Then within a time span of several weeks, I fell several times in my home and went to live with my son and family in hopes of  being safe while understanding the whys of this new phenomenon. The falls did not stop; they only got more serious. One fall at the door of a dentist office and one at my son’s home injured both my tailbone and my head.  The last fall involved an ambulance and a CT scan – which fortunately revealed no brain damage.  But why the dizziness and the seeming loss of consciousness?  A heart monitor and a telemonitor are now in  place in hopes of determining that.

In the meanwhile, I have  had constant visitors: a nurse, physical therapists,  occupational therapists, and a person who is with me three hours a day to watch over me.  It has finally been determined that I can return home next week – after a careful review of the accessibility of my home and the installation of a grab bar here and there.  I will be returning to an empty garage, since during this whole process I decided I could no longer drive and sold my car. More loss of independence.

So . . . what has this year of loss taught me?

1.  We can survive more than we ever anticipated.  Life goes on and we can adapt. And if we don’t want to adapt, there is always someone who will encourage us  to try.

2. Families are our lifeblood. My son has turned out to be the perfect intermediary between me and every kind of professional that has ever been invented. He is also a chauffeur, a companion during chemo, a  watchful eye when I blunder forth without my walker, and a good listener in between zoom meetings with his college students and preparations for classes.  My daughter-in-law has gone out of her way to find food that I will eat and to think of everything I might need. She does this while preparing lesson plans for the students in her new teaching position and taking care of the rest of her family.  My 16-yearold granddaughter has gracefully given up her bedroom for more than three weeks. And my college-student grandson  has been a perfect caregiver during his fall break.

3. Make good friends and keep them! I have been surrounded by loving and caring friends. They cheer me up and offer their prayers. They give me rides, loan me their  walker, keep me company,  run errands for me,  call me and e-mail and text me,  pick up library books the list goes on and on.

4.  For the last two decades, my favorite spiritual formation practices have been “letting go” (as taught by Ignatius of Loyola) and practicing gratitude (as encouraged by Richard Foster).  These two habits have eased the last year of my life tremendously.  Daily I can find much for which to be thankful.  And letting go of precious people and experiences has been made easier by my being willing to relinquish  as life has gone by.

5.  Keep the promises of God in your heart.  And live the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus preached and lived it.  The remembrance of God’s words and example of Christ’s life make all the difference as we try to navigate the stress and complications that life brings us.

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From My Reading – September

“When we have an understanding of the great themes of Scripture, the whole book from Genesis to Revelation, we see it as communicating a divine pattern to humanity. One basic message is finally communicated to all Spirit-filled people who enter this faith dialogue with the Scriptures. The message of “Good News” is this: You are loved. You are unique. You are free. You are on the way. You are going somewhere. Your life has meaning. That is all grounded in the experience and the knowledge and the reality of the unconditional love of God. This is what we mean by being “saved” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, June 27, 2021).

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“Caring is first a way to our own aging self, where we can find the healing powers for all those who share in the human condition. No guest will ever feel welcome when the host is not at home in his own house. No old man or woman will ever feel free to reveal his or her hidden anxieties or deeper desires when they only trigger off uneasy feelings in those who are trying to listen. It is no secret that many of our suggestions, advice, admonitions, and good words are often offered in order to keep distance rather than allow closeness. When we are primarily concerned with giving old people something to do, offering them entertainment and distractions, we might avoid the painful realization that most people do not want to be distracted but heard, not entertained but sustained” (Henri Nouwen).

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“Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. That, I suppose, is the final mystery as well as the final power of words: that not even across great distances of time and space do they ever lose their capacity for becoming incarnate. And when these words tell of virtue and nobility, when they move us closer to that truth and gentleness of spirit by which we become fully human, the reading of them is sacramental; and a library is as holy a place as any temple is holy because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth” (Frederick Buechner).

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“I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day…without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough” (Tish Harrison Warren).

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Monoclonal Antibodies and Me

Those of us who have paid attention to the COVID19 pandemic may have heard the term monoclonal antibodies.  These fascinating antibodies are created in a lab to trigger the immune system to destroy cells that have a particular specific antigen, or foreign substance or toxin in your blood.  A particular antibody that targets the COVID19 virus has been developed to be given to people  who develop COVID 19 and has saved many lives.

This week I was astonished to learn of the use of another monoclonal antibody, Daratumuab:  to treat my cancer!  In 2014, the appearance of a blood clot in each leg prompted my doctor to send me to a cancer specialist.  His tests revealed that I have multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable blood cancer.  I was treated for about three years and then taken off the medication in hopes that the disease was controlled.  It remained controlled until this spring when the “numbers” start rising dramatically.  It was decided that I would try a new treatment that has proved very promising.

Cancer is a disease caused by changes, also know as mutations, in DNA that change the way cells work in a variety of different ways.  One way to destroy cancer cells is to use antibodies to protect  the body against  these foreign substances.  An antibody is a protein that sticks to a specific type of protein called an antigen.  When an antibody finds an antigen, it triggers the immune system to target and destroy it.

Last week I had my first injection of the monoclonal antibody Daratumumab.  Daratumumab is a targeted antibody therapy that looks for CD38, a cell surface protein found on myeloma cells. When Daratumumab  binds to CD38, it inhibits the grow of CD38 myeloma cells and causes cell death.  And the cancer is gone.  I will have weekly and then bi-weekly injections of this monoclonal antibody until the end of December.  In May, 2022, I will have another blood test to see how successful this treatment has been.

Stay tuned!

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“The Space in which the Noise Arises”

“Silence is helpful, but you don’t need it in order to find stillness. Even when there is noise, you can be aware of the stillness underneath the noise, of the space in which the noise arises. That is the inner space of pure awareness, consciousness itself. . . .”(Eckhart Tolle).

There is a lot of silence in my house.  It has been nearly eleven months since my husband died. He was always ready to listen my comments and stories and frustrations. I would vent and he would smile. When he was very sick, I would look for things to say that would make him smile. I still have the urge to “tell Fred about this.”

So this year there has been silence but not a lot of stillness. Sometimes silence is helpful; sometimes silence just brings a realization of aloneness. But I am beginning during these quiet times to go beneath the silence and settle into “stillness.”  Because there is no one immediately present to hear my complaints or my silly chatter or my furor over the politics of America, I am learning just to sit silently in my recliner and allow stillness, which Tolle calls the “inner space of pure awareness” to float around me. I’m not consciously deliberating or praying or solving a problem; I am just present. The difference between my silence and my stillness is that though my mind is quiet, I am listening.

It was during one of those times of being “still” that I came to a stunning awareness about my life which has changed everything for me.  Fred’s death had provoked a lot of looking back about how different we were and how differently we responded to the traumas in our lives. And now in the stillness, I suddenly became aware of one of the saddest facts of my life:  “If you don’t have a mother, it’s hard to be a mother.” In my case, my mother was there, but not present to me or even aware sometimes that I was there, too.  This awareness provoked opportunities to share my new understandings with my two sons (who are in their fifties and were probably quite baffled when I started these conversations.) This time of stillness brought me relief from pain and a shedding of long-held guilt and a closer relationship with my sons.

Stillness is, I’m learning, different than silence.  And God can be even more present in our stillness. In the stillness we somehow become free to deal with often decades old “noises” that are painful and loud and stubborn –  that God wants to heal.

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