Lots of feels

One of my blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am coping some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from July 6, 2015.

It is 6:30 in the morning on my day off work, and I am here, awake. I have a lot of feelings inside me and I am sitting here with tears in my throat and in my eyes, longing just to be able to write my feelings down and push them off into the world. Like the words from the Anna Nalick song, “2 a.m. and I’m still awake, writing a song. If I get it all down on paper it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to.” But maybe I just really don’t have the courage. One day I swear I am going to write my novel so I can say all the things I cannot say, turn loose all the feelings inside of me.Half of the feelings I feel are vapors in the wind anyway.

As I sat here at my desk, I watched a cloud outside my window. For a moment it was the stunningly clear face of a pitbull terrier. But in seconds it morphed, first into a kitty, and then on to several indistinct stages on its way to becoming the blank cloudbank that it is at this moment. And that happens so often with problems. You have a dagger in the heart, but then it dissolves and is gone, unless you happened to put it into writing or other communication where it becomes immortalized, or kind of. For me, writing and getting things out is cathartic, but the problem is that when you get things outside yourself sometimes they take up residence in others, and become things totally other, and totally beyond your control at all. Things that are minor can come to define you.The other thing about writing is that often it helps me to figure out just exactly what it is that is hurting. Like right now.

The immediate cause of my distress is that my daughter, who is 18 weeks pregnant, was experiencing anxiety this morning at 4-something. I woke up. Presumably she has gone to sleep and I am still awake. This anxiety, this problem, will probably dissolve when the winds shift. But in me it stirs something far deeper. Whether large or small, my child is suffering, and I am powerless to alleviate the suffering. I can, and do, talk my head off in an attempt to fix things, but honestly sometimes I know that just makes it worse. That’s the other dangerous thing about words. For some reason the same words can mean completely different things to other people. She is anxious, so in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety, I employ the analytical mode, trying to explain why the problem is not quite as bad as it feels, and/or how to avoid problems in the future. This works well for me, but my daughter is in emotional mode, and she absorbs those words completely differently, internalizes them as criticism, which they are not intended to be.Emotions. Sometimes you just have to get control of them.

I remember in the second year after Michaela was kidnapped, I just felt angry, and it finally dawned on me that my anger was nothing more than sorrow that I had turned inside out and thrown outside myself because that was easier than feeling the sorrow. That was a big thing. But the same thing happens with the little things. We feel pierced by that dagger, which would probably dissolve in a minute, an hour, a day, unless we let that sorrow become anger and let it out into the world where it will inevitably cause more hurt. I personally have counted the cost and decided it is not worth it. That means I end up with a lot of feelings that get bottled up inside. Perhaps I need to find another means to transform and express them, through something more positive than getting angry. There are a lot of things that never ever get resolved, because I don’t speak of them. In the end I guess I don’t trust that they would get resolved if I did.

This child, the one whose anxiety woke me in the early hours today, was born five years after Michaela was kidnapped. One of my strong memories is from when she was a little baby, and she was crying. I picked her up and held her and said, “It’s okay. Mommy is here. Mommy will take care of you.” I was reassuring her from my heart with every intention of making everything right, of keeping her safe and protected and not letting anything hurt her. But in that moment I was flooded with the knowledge of the truth, that this was a lie. It was a promise I could not make. I had said the same sort of thing to Michaela, but in the end I had not been able to protect her. She suffered the most brutal fear, grief and pain, and there was not a single goddamned frickin thing I was able to do to prevent that, or to save her from it once she was in its clutches. I completely and totally failed her.

And I have completely and totally failed all my children. It hasn’t been as dramatic as it has been with Michaela. The daggers that have pierced them have been the kind that mostly dissolve in time. But they have all suffered grief and sorrow, and there is not anything I can do about it. I have made midnight trips to the grocery store for chocolate, taken them for manicures, sat and listened, hugged and cried. But the only way I could actually have prevented my children from being hurt was if I had taught them not to love. Jobs, money, those things all can cause stress, but only love can pierce the heart, and it can pierce deep and hard and leave shards that don’t ever completely go away. I know, because I have them myself.

My daughter and her husband, they are happy and excited about the baby they are having. But they have feelings inside them that perhaps they don’t even understand. Do they understand the huge vulnerability they are being drawn into? They are both smart kids, and they are both very self-aware, smart, imaginative and creative, so maybe they do. Or maybe it is just a vague sense of unease. I know that as they have thought about their child, they have been drawn to look back on their own childhoods. In doing so, they have encountered the things that hurt them. They think, they hope, that these things will be different for their child, that their son won’t encounter the cruelty of other kids, for example. But somewhere deep inside, as they consider their own hurts, they may be coming to realize that those things are going to hurt even more if they happen to their child than they did when they happened to them. I looked it up this morning, that quote that I just kind of know. I discovered it has a source, author Elizabeth Stone. It is, “Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Well, I guess I am kind of placing my own thing into other people’s minds here. I think it is valid to a point. But really it’s my own point. For me, it is magnified, because it triggers that deep sorrow of not being able to save Michaela from suffering. But the fact is, I can’t save any of my children. I can’t make any of them happy. I can’t protect any of them from hurt. I can just hope that they have the emotional wisdom to live well.

To you, Michaela, I just want to say that am so sorry that I was not able to protect you from harm, that I was not able to save you. Wherever you have been, whatever you have been through, I just hope that you have been able to feel always that love that is beyond life and death, there in your heart, forever.

I believe God exists

One of my blogs is about to be deleted. In the interest of saving it, I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from November 5, 2015. 

I believe in God. Ultimately, this belief is a choice, but I have also had too much experience of God in my life, too many synchronicities, too many times I have had answers given dramatically and at just the right time and place to want to deny it. I believe in God because I feel him when I pray. It is not like talking to an “imaginary friend” as some have characterized prayer. It isn’t a feeling of talking to myself, or the ceiling or the sky. I have felt the presence of God. I know a lot of people who put their faith in humans (humanism), or “science,” who seem to think that if you can’t prove the existence of God, then God doesn’t exist. Well, better minds than mine have put forth ontological, cosmological, teleological, and other logical and moral arguments for God’s existence. There are those who assume an intellectual superiority for their atheism, but I don’t think you can accuse Plato, Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and the many others of being ninnies. Many intellectual giants have argued for the existence of God.

Now I can kind of understand why people don’t believe in God, but I think it’s a point of view that is very limited. God’s existence can’t be proven by science? There is so much that can’t be proven by science, so much that IS that can’t be explained by science. You tell me, when did time begin, and when will it end? When you get to the end of the universe, what is there? To me, these questions are just completely mind boggling. You want to believe in the Big Bang and evolution? Well, that’s fine, but it certainly doesn’t preclude the existence of God, because the question still remains where did all that stuff come from in the first place? All the matter and energy in the universe just popped into existence from NOWHERE? Personally, I don’t need any philosopher’s elaborate argument to see this. The existence of the universe, of life, of anything is something that no scientist can adequately explain. I understand that this does not in any way prove the existence of God. What it does do, though, is knock “science” off its pedestal. In fact, much what is explained by “science” has to be taken on faith. So many things in science are preceded by the term “theory of.” Whenever you see that term, it means that this is an explanation that somebody came up with for how or why things are the way they are based on their interpretation of events, but it cannot be proven. Science is great as science, but as a god it has clay feet.

I would not laugh at anyone who chooses to be an atheist. That is their choice. But it must be recognized as a choice, as a faith in itself, rather than a foregone conclusion, and there is nothing that makes it an intellectually superior choice.

I think that one problem atheists have is mixing up the existence of God with religion. The two are really quite separate, as is proven by the existence of so many religions in the history of man’s existence. You want to argue with religion, I can understand that. That is a subject that is full of mud pits and thorns. I have honestly encountered God in many ways in the course of my life. I feel called to Christianity, but not without a million questions. For some reason, even though I have allowed the questions to drive me away from it, I keep getting called back to it. I am not going to say I have it all figured out. I am not going to say that my doubts and questions have all been stilled. Far from it. But since I was a very young child, living in a completely non-religious household, Christianity has called to me, and it has never stopped, so I have to honor that call. When I find all the answers to all the questions, I will write a book on it, but in the meantime, decades into the journey, I am still seeking to learn everything I can about this faith that calls me. I have said before that perhaps it is impossible for we mere humans to know The Truth, and I will not argue against anyone who takes this position. Honestly, I cannot tell you exactly where I will end up on the spectrum of belief. But I will end up on the spectrum itself. It is, to me, completely logical. It potentially holds answers to the unanswerable questions, and even if it doesn’t, it is certainly no more fantastic than the Questions Which Must Exist. It is no more difficult to believe in a source from which everything came into existence, than it is to believe that everything just appeared from nowhere.

And in the meantime, although I know harm has been done in the name of religion, I personally am not doing harm. Well, perhaps I am. If the harshest tenets of the Christian faith are true, I may be doing harm by not shaking you by the shoulders and warning you about them. But I have a great, huge faith in God. I think God is entirely capable of communicating to you what he wants you to know. I am here to tell you that there was not ever in my entire life anyone who “shared the gospel” with me. Never. God called me all on his own. And although I will admit to having gone through a judgmental phase on my Christian journey, in the end I find in the teachings of Jesus a call to love, and to do so without fear, without counting the cost of that love. Lord knows I have learned the emotional cost of love, in the loss of my daughter, in all the sorrows of my children that pierce my own heart, as well as the material cost in the lifestyle I chose from the beginning, which was to do with less in order to be able to give more to those I love. God always has more to give than we do, whether money or love.

If you want to be intellectually honest about your faith, or lack of it, I think you have to be willing to give up your assumptions. I will agree that I cannot prove the existence of God, and hey, you might be right. One day I might die and drift into nothingness, but if so, I am not going to care. Maybe you should be willing to give up the notion that you can possibly “know” that God does not exist. Just logically, it is impossible to prove a negative. Personally, I think the highest intelligence exists in the humility of knowing the limitations of our knowledge. So open it up. Just be willing to say, “God if you are real, show me.” Who knows? You might be surprised.

Books: Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey

One of my blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from February 19, 2016.

I have been a Christian for many decades now, but all of you probably know that it has not been an easy path for me. I have struggled with my own questions, as well as the questions of people I love. Actually, using the term “I have” is probably incorrect. It’s more like “I do” struggle. I’m not a social Christian, one who goes to church for social reasons, to meet friends or get involved in service programs (although I think both of those are wonderful things!). I go to church to worship God. I go to church because there I hear at least some of what God has to say to me. But church attendance itself has never been what it’s about either, and for that reason I actually read the Bible, pretty much on a daily basis. And I pray. I talk to God and do my best to let God talk to me.

It would be easy to get dressed up and go to church on Sunday, and listen to a charming, charismatic preacher give sermons about love and self esteem, but that is not what my spirit seeks. I want to follow the narrow path, even though it sometimes leads through the brambles, sometimes across oceans, or through storms, and sometimes even just drops off a cliff to unknown places! There are a lot of Christian books out there that can help in negotiating this path. But I have another problem. I wander sometimes. And because of that, I really, really enjoy a good, thoughtful book written by another wanderer who found her way back.

 Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey is such a book, and it has the benefit of being one of the most beautifully written books of its kind, one that makes you stop occasionally just to savor the words, which has phrases that stick with even someone with a really terrible memory, like me. But don’t take my word for it. Let me treat you to a quote that kind of sums up the whole book:

But most of us, at some point, will encounter the second state, which he called “critical distance.” This is the time in our formation when we begin to … well, doubt. We begin to question. We hold our faith up to the light and see only the holes and inconsistencies….

Yet he writes, “Beyond the desert of criticism, we wish to be called again.” I remember crying out to God once while in the midst of what I called my wilderness, what Ricoeur calls the critical distance, because I was longing to “go back.” …. I found it was not enough to live without the magic and the beauty, without the wonder. I couldn’t return to my first naivete and I missed the simplicity of it. I wanted to be called again, to hear the voice of God again, perhaps never more wildly than when it felt like the God I once knew was disappearing like steam on a mirror.

But those who continue to press forward can find what Ricoeur called a second naivete. I didn’t know it, but I was pressing through my wilderness to deliverance, toward that place on the other side of rationality, when we reengage with our faith with new eyes. We take responsibility for what we believe and do. We understand our texts or ideas or practices differently, yes, but also with a sweetness because we are there by choice. As Richard Rohr writes, “the same passion which leads us away from God can also lead us back to God and to our true selves.”

Bessey’s journey is not my journey, but she captures the essence, the heart that I feel beating in my own chest. This is what I have said, why I am a Christian in spite of my questions, because of the spirit, because of the call, because of the heavenly magic of belonging to God.

Jesus. His name felt like every question and every answer. There was a strain of something like unearthly music to His name, and part of me still believes that my desire to be like Jesus was the Spirit’s call — deep calling unto deep, as the psalmist wrote.

My broken heart — cynical, jaded, frustrated, angry, wounded — somehow exhaled at every mention of His name. 

In my wanderings and wonderings I have changed. I judge people’s lives and faith less. Instead I trust God. I trust him to know the hearts of people, which I can’t know. I trust him to be able to call to those hearts. I trust him to speak to people and tell them what he wants them to do. There have been times when people didn’t seem to trust that I had heard from God, because what God was telling me was different from what they judged to be right, but time and life proved that what I’d heard was true, for me, in that time and place. Exactly what Sarah does, exactly what she believes … I have to tell you, I can’t even remember those things. There is plenty of the mind present in this book, but what captured me was its heart.

And then I open my Bible, just like my father did every morning of his life. I know that this very morning, he was also in what he still calls “the Word.” And I am my father’s daughter. I am in the Word, just not quite in the same way anymore. I spend these moments reading Isaiah and I pray. I write and refill my cup, I bow my head over these sacred words that I love all the better for the wrestling to release them from the prison I built for them. 

I begin to read, jotting down verses as the Spirit illuminates them to me…. Sometimes I write the names of my four tinies and then I write down a few words from Scripture that correspond with what I am praying over them….

So here I am, my father’s daughter, as the light breaks through the forest, writing down the names of my children and my husband, my friends and even the world at large — like our brothers and sisters in Iraq or Haiti or Burundi — and beside these scrawled names, I am writing the words of Scripture. Not like promises or talismans, not like magic spells, no. But to give language to what I yearn for, what I believe, and even what I hope. 

If your faith is strong and firm and neatly defined, then perhaps Bessey’s book isn’t for you. But one of my pastors once swept his hand around the church in which we were standing. He said, “Do you see all these people? All those people whose faith you admire most have asked these same questions that you ask.” That was a revelation to me, but it makes sense. If he is right, then this book would be right for every person whose heart longs for faith. You probably won’t walk Bessey’s paths. You may well not reach the same conclusions she did. But I think you will feel the love of the Lord and the moving of the Spirit.

How many stars are there in the rating system here? I don’t know, but I award them all.

Sarah Bessey has a blog, by the way. You can find it at http://sarahbessey.com/. Her description of herself kind of says it all: “Happy, clappy Jesus follower. Recovering know-it-all.” Sounds like someone I know!

My prayer for Understanding

One of my previous blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from March 1, 2016

img_2646This is what I have been praying for lately. Understanding. As I wend my way once again through the verses of the Old Testament, I ask God, how am I to read this? What is this to mean for me? And also, what answers can I give to those who question you, your existence, your goodness, your love?

Two of the most valuable teaching series I have heard in my life were at Faith Fellowship, many years ago. The best one was on Deuteronomy. Pastor Gary Mortara lifted that book right out of history and plopped it down in the middle of our lives. It was no longer just the story of the ancient tribes of Israel preparing to enter the geographical areas God had promised to them as a home. It was the story of each of us, of me, of God preparing me to enter my own Promised Land, the land that God has prepared for me in this world, where the paths lay that will lead me to the highest place he has for me. God’s admonitions to the nation of Israel became his admonitions to me. His commands to the Israelites to kill off all who might lead them astray were commands to me to kill off everything in my own life/heart that might prevent me from sticking to the path and claiming my own Promised Land. This sometimes difficult Old Testament book took on a new life that lit my soul.

Well, I didn’t make it into the Promised Land at that point. I used to read the Old Testament and see all the unfaithfulness of the nation of Israel and say, tsk tsk, how awful they were. I have to laugh at that arrogance now! Now I tend to read it and say, yeah, that’s me. I probably would have done that same thing, or something equally unfaithful. Once I came to that understanding, reading the Old Testament became personal. I am a microcosm of the nation of Israel, and all of God’s dealings with them, all of his words to them, are to me.  Is that the whole purpose of the Old Testament, the fullness of its understanding for me? I don’t know, but I do think it is probably the most important.

Today, a part of my Bible study was in Psalm 119. I highlighted verses as I read it, and when I looked at what I had highlighted, I saw that it was my own prayer:

(124) Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes. (125) I am your servant, give me understanding, that I may known your testimonies. (132) Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. (133) Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (147) I rise before dawn and cry for your help; I hope in your words. (169) Let me come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word! (171) My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. (174) I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. (176) I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”

And then after it, on the same page, I saw a verse I had previously highlighted, which stood out to me as the answer to this prayer, in Psalm 121:7-8 …

“The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forward and forevermore.”

Here is one lesson to carry away from the Old Testament. God’s love is pretty sturdy. You read about the grumbling, whiny, complaining, faithless nation he loved, and yet he still loved them. Individuals who were completely beloved of God were terrible sinners. David committed adultery, and covered that sin with murder. Yet God loved him. I have been a terrible sinner in my life. It took me quite awhile to recognize that, although most people would be able to see it in a second. Yet God apparently loves me quite a bit, based on his relentless pursuit of me! Our hearts are crazy things. I am just beginning to understand that a lot of the problem with these hearts of ours is that they crave something that cannot be found in this world.

I’m on a journey, seeking the high places. I’ll send you postcards on the way. You can pick them up right here.

Books: Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

One of my blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from March 6, 2016.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women is not a book that would ever call to me from the bookstore shelf. It just feels completely irrelevant. I grew up in the late sixties and early seventies, when the feminist movement was at full throttle. It has always been a part of me. But it is not something that I have ever felt to be in con
flict with my faith, and never anything that has been an issue in my life or relationships. I know there are a few iffy scriptures and the arguments back and forth that might revolve around it, but I just never really cared about that particular question. Honestly, this book sounded like something that would be kind of dry and, well, boring.

I picked up Jesus Feminist, however, and I read it because I completely love the author, Sarah Bessey. She did not disappoint me. It was captivating.There is not a writer on earth who stirs my faith, and my desire for faith, more than Sarah Bessey. At first glance this might seem odd, since Bessey is possessed of a wandering, questioning heart. But it’s not so odd, because I possess the same heart, and so I identify with her words … words which also happen to be beautifully, exquisitely written, with ink blended from her tears, her sweat, her blood from the battle for her faith. This book is not a dry treatise on the place of a woman. I will tell you, I cried several times when reading this book, and I am not a cry-er. I cried over for-real things, like the girl who hanged herself because of rejection, like the orphans in Haiti that Bessey visited. I cried over Bessey’s miscarriages. But I cried much more when she wrote of the pain of having questions.

Bessey is the author also of Out of Sorts, a book I reviewed recently. As with that review, I think that there is nothing like Bessey’s own words. I can tell you what she said, but I can never tell you in the way she can. So just a few excerpts, if you don’t mind.

She described briefly the falling from faith that she had described more fully in Out of Sorts. I heard it in a different way this time, though.

I was drawn toward a life of redemptive peacemaking and justice seeking, yet the churches of my context and tradition were in a strange collusion with politics and just-war philosophy as the Iraq war began. I struggled with the cultural rhetoric against immigrants, homosexuals, artists, welfare recipients, the poor, non-Americans, and anyone who looked different or lived differently than the expectation. Cultural mores were passing as biblical mandates…

The more I learned about the life and world and tragedies thumping along beyond our seemingly missing the point building programs and Christian schools and drive-by missionary work, the more I ached and grieved and repented of my own sin and blindness….

The cracks were ricocheting and multiplying across my heart now, and when I turned to the Church for answers, I did not feel my questions were welcome. This may have been my own pride and willful blindness, but there didn’t seem to be room for me as a questioning woman within the system, as a seeker….

Bessey tried to keep her questions stuffed into her mental closet where they wouldn’t cause problems, but she reminded us of the over-stuffed closet in the cartoons, whose contents build up until the closet simply explodes. And this is what happened when Bessey’s closet of questions exploded.

Crash.

I know nothing for sure. Is God even real? What about my Bible? Church? People? Life? Meaning? Loss? Grief? Disillusionment? Soul weariness? Goodness? Evil? Tragedy? Suffering? Justice? Women? Equality? Politics? I know nothing, nothing, nothing.
And it’s not because I didn’t have “answers” — oh no, I had all the photocopied apologetics cheat sheets lined up in a neatly labeled three-ring binder, paragraphs highlighted to respond to the questions of the ages, all in three lines or less….
I have sincere regrets about the way I processed much of the shifting and changing; I’ve had to ask forgiveness from several friends and leaders. But the questions were legitimate, and now, I embarked on a journey through the wilderness of my wonderings with a seen-it-all-before smirk on my face and a profound ache in my soul.
But God set up a banquet in the wild places, streams of water flowed in the desert, and I walked and walked and walked right through the pain of disillusionment and despair, leaning into the wind….

The wilderness transformed me in a way that no ‘spiritual high’ or certainty or mountaintop moment had ever done…. I sought God, and he was faithful to answer me. I came to know him as ‘Abba’ — a Daddy. He set me free from crippling approval addiction…. He bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul, restored the joy of church and community to our lives. I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical. And I found out that he is more than enough, always will be more than enough — yesterday, today, forever….

I know you have questions, and they’re much bigger than the whole curch-women-feminism-equality issues. I know. Me, too. Still. So I’ll carry you in my heart. Stay as long as you’d like; I’m in no rush. Hurry wounds a questioning soul.

My water in the desert arrived in cups fashioned by the hands of those who love the gospel. I found, right under my nose, people who love God and love others; their lives were a smelling-salts wake-up experience of grace. Sometimes they were the same people I lived alongside during those years of wondering and isolation in Texas. My loss is that, in my pride, I didn’t seem them there at the time.

I identify so closely with this, as a bleeding heart liberal who belongs to a conservative Christian church. I want to be sure that the government has programs in place to help those who are not able to help themselves. I’ve heard church leaders say, no that is not the job of the government; it is the job of the church to take care of the poor. But I know full well that all those people are not going to get the assistance they need from the churches. I mean, come now, many of these churches are made up of the same people who are talking about welfare recipients as being lazy bums. There is no room for judgment in the offer of assistance to people. I’ve been around and around with good Christian people about whether they should spare a dime for the beggar on the corner, because he might spend it on drugs or alcohol. And I say, if he does, that is on him, but if he needs help and I don’t offer it, then that is on me. And sometimes the help he needs can’t be met by a sandwich. I want also for my country to offer refuge to those who are fleeing the oppressive violence in Syria, but the conservative Christian response seems to be, “Uh, no. They might be terrorists. And we need to take care of our own people before taking care of people from other countries.”

Really? I mean, really? This is not what Jesus preached.

Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you? And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

Then he will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and you did not clothe me, Sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

Then they will also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then He will answer them saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.

Matthew 25:34-45

Clear, no? Is there any way to argue against it? I don’t think so! And how about this one?

Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. 
Luke 6:37-38

Is it Biblical to believe that we have a responsibility to care for our own first, and that because of that it would be wrong to care for the Syrian refugees? That’s what the disciples thought, when they wanted to send away the 5,000 who had come to hear Jesus teach. They had just a few loaves and fishes, just enough for themselves, not enough to share with that massive crowd. But we believe, don’t we, that Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes and they turned out to be enough to feed the crowds with baskets full left over. Do we believe this, really? Really?

Perhaps I have crossed Bessey’s line, from critical thinking to critical, but I have been absolutely floored to hear these arguments coming from the mouths of some of the nicest, kindest, most God-loving people I know. I believe this happened because of the weird marriage that has occurred between conservative Christianity and political conservatism. But they are not the same, and political conservativism is not consistent with what was practiced in the Bible. In fact, according to acts 4:32, the early church was a socialist community.

Now, I can have fellowship with Christians who have different political viewpoints, and it does not affect my love for them at all. The thing is, I don’t do a very good job of keeping my mouth shut. I post on Facebook. I write this blog, with things like this very blog entry! I And when I blabber away, it doesn’t always feel like it’s okay. And, as Bessey said, this could simply be “my own pride and willful blindness.” Could be my imagination, or my feeling of guilt, or it might simply stem from my need for love and approval and fear that I won’t get it. I will admit that. But it hurts anyway because I kind of feel as though there is a part of my essential self, my essential faith for that matter, that is not quite acceptable, and maybe never will be. I don’t know if there will ever come a time in my life when I will stop asking questions. Just the Bible itself is a complex and difficult book, and I will have questions about it as long as I keep reading it. I have come to the point where I can hold onto my faith over, under and through the questions. I can take the questions to God in prayer. Sometimes I get an answer that is different from the answer someone else interpolated from their reading of the Scripture, but I believe that God can speak to me, and I can hear him. Another Bessey word: “We must obey God, and our obedience to God may be perceived as rebellion and pride by some; others will see it as giving in or not giving enough.” 

But back to Bessey and Jesus Feminist, the happy ending is Bessey’s heartfelt faith. Speaking of women’s ministries, she says:

I kept coming back because the truth is, I wanted what the world could not give me. I wanted Jesus, and I wanted women in my life who loved Jesus, too. Isn’t that is? We are seeking Jesus — we want to smell him on the skin of others, and we want to hear tell of his activity. We are seeking fellow travelers for this journey. We are hungry for true community, a place to tell our stories and listen, to love well, to learn how to have eyes and to see and ears to hear.

She describes herself as a “happy clappy follower of Jesus,” and she is in a fellowship of happy clappy followers of Jesus as well. She still has questions. She tells us that. But she has faith, and that is why I find her so inspiring.

Me? I can see the lights of that city on a hill growing bright, and it makes me want to fling open the doors. The Bridegroom is coming. Can’t you feel that? In the ache and struggle and evil of our imperfect world, no wonder we long for the Kingdom of God’s shalom right down to our marrow. The tears are pricking; my heart is beating; something is happening here: Aslan is on the move. God’s dream is coming true, day by painful push-back-the-darkness day.

Bessey has come full circle and found her place in the the body. It sounds like a good place, a happy place. I so long for that. I want to dig in so deep into God that there is no crawling out again.  I want to worship, and I want to serve. I want to love, and if I have a fault it is that I want to love, love, love, exceedingly and above all. Thanks to Sarah Bessey for pioneering through the wilderness and assuring me that there is a destination, and it can be reached.

What if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers?

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The title of this blog was taken from a Facebook status posted by the associate pastor of our church. He and his wife are currently experiencing a heartbreaking situation, as she is pregnant with a baby who is not expected to survive more than a few hours after birth. What is in their minds and hearts? I can only guess. Thousands of prayers are being offered for them, for their baby. What are they expecting to happen? I don’t know.I can only imagine.

But I understand the sentiment of this statement, what if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers? I understand it because when I was diagnosed with breast cancer there were people who wanted to (and did) pray for a miraculous healing. But I knew in my heart that was not to be. I knew that this was a journey I had to take, for whatever reasons, for whatever purposes. Maybe it is for myself, to learn, to grow, to become the person I am supposed to become. Will cancer weaken me, or will it strengthen me? Who knows, I might end up competing in the Tour de France after it’s over! Or I might just be in my own individual spiritual Tour de France. Maybe it will touch other people’s lives. My children’s, for certain. I have seen this already in a few ways, for better, or for worse which will end up better, if you know what I mean. Maybe there is one stranger out there whose life I can end up touching through this. Who knows?

But this I know, we were not promised a rose garden. Bad things happen, even to good people. Life is hard sometimes. God has works to perform in our lives and in our hearts, and like the works of a surgeon or an oncologist, those works are not always pleasant in the moment. But they are for good, for a purpose beyond what others may see.

We can see it, though, if we are honest. We may not understand it, but we can sense it. We know when God is moving in our lives, because even though we may not like what is happening, even when we might sometimes have sleepless nights, tears, even a panic attack, behind even those things there is a sense of peace.

I am afraid of what I am about to do, it is true. I’m not sure where I am going or where I will end up. But behind it all, there really is that sense of peace. I have had a whole lot of practice in resting in that peace while toiling through the deepest, darkest places in this world, as most of you know. This is just another thing.

 

Breast Cancer Journey: Dear God, what do you want from me?

16196717_10211607204321350_2071707470_oDear God, is there something I am not getting here? Is there something you want me to do that I might not have the energy to do after I start chemo? You wouldn’t, umm, be trying to kill me or something, would you?

No, I don’t believe that. But why would I? I have not taken this thing seriously since before my diagnosis, since my ho hum attitude toward being asked to come back for a second mammo and ultrasound after the first one. The terms, “I have cancer,” and “I have breast cancer” — I can say them, but they don’t really ring true. I can stand in front of the mirror and look at the mastectomy scars, and there is still some disconnect. Is that me? How did I get to here, on the other side of that mastectomy?

Also, I had a PET scan, and no cancer was found in my body after the surgery. Now I figure this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any, or they wouldn’t bother to torture me with chemo and radiation. And my type of cancer is sneaky. It is invasive lobular carcinoma, and while most cancer grows in clumps, this type of cancer grows in rows of cells, eventually turning into sheets of cells instead of a lump. It is insidious because it can be hard to detect. So while a part of me says, they have cut out all the cancer and now we are just cleaning up any stray cells, but that shouldn’t be too hard so I will be fine, another part of my is cautious and concerned.

So far my chemo has been delayed twice, and it is about to be delayed a third time. First I cannot seem to get rid of this surgical drain, and I can’t have chemo until after it is gone due to the possibility of infection. It seems I am out to set some sort of world record in surgical drain retention. As of tomorrow it will be seven weeks. Usually they are in for one to two weeks, occasionally as much as four weeks. The output on the drain needs to be below 30 cc’s a day before they can safely remove it, and mine is still averaging 50, occasionally dipping to a blessed 40. My surgeons keep saying, “Are you doing too much?” Well, I’m doing darn little (which you can tell by looking at my house), but who knows, maybe it is too much.

Meanwhile, the anticipation of chemo has been a pretty dreadful thing. I have been given a whole list of possible side effects, each one of which would lay me out on its own. I have also been given a lot of literature on chemo from various sources, and have found some measures that I can take to try to minimize those side effects, and have begun those. The doctors prescribe a ton of anti-nausea medications, including an IV infusion of one at the time of the chemo itself, so I am hoping not to have to deal with that. The mouth sores, the bone pain, those worry me.

What worries me most is the immunosuppression, trying to avoid getting sicknesses and infections. At least it’s not flu season, I told myself, but just then it seems an end of the season virus decided to make the rounds, and sure enough it hit my family. I was already in chemo mode, and I washed my hands raw, I used hand sanitizer wipes and gels after every contact with every surface, and I avoided getting close to people. It had hit my little grandson first.He is fifteen months old and this is his first real illness. Five days later his mom and dad both came down with it. They all live with me, so at that point I figured I was doing a pretty good job avoiding it. Under normal circumstances, I do have a really good immune system when it comes to upper respiratory infections. But a week later my system surrendered. I got a scratchy throat first, and as much as I tried to deny it, it turned into a cold.

Right now I am trying to baby myself. I am trying to stay in my room, on my bed. In fact, I am writing from there right now. I am trying not to talk, because it irritates my throat, and not to “do too much.”  I have taken antihistamines and expectorants to keep my bodily fluids from getting out of hand, and tylenol to keep the inflamation down. I have requested someone bring me greens to throw in my shakes, and I am taking all my supplements. I am just trying to minimize this darn cold so it won’t turn into a long, drawn out thing, and to get rid of this drain.

We simply have got to get this show on the road. I am hoping the anticipation of chemo is going to be worse than the chemo itself. I am looking forward to the day when I can say, well, we got through that. And in addition, this is really dragging out the time of treatment. As it is my disability payments don’t quite reach the anticipated end of my treatment, and that end keeps getting farther away. I talked to another cancer patient today. We were talking about supplements, and not being able to afford them, and the term she used was “financially crushed.” I thank God our medical insurance is pretty good, but I was unemployed and looking for a job when I was diagnosed, and I won’t be able to actually get a job until it is all over, and the place where the two ends don’t meet could be tough.

If I had to do it all over again, I think I would take money more seriously from my youth. I would try to like science more and English less. I would learn about money and how it works, and put that knowledge to work. Sometimes I watch shows about people with great careers, often instead of families, and I think how much easier their lives are. But that was not who I was, not who I am. Even to this day, my family means more to me than money. In fact, my family is the only reason I even care about whether I have money or not.

But here is what I would do if I had to do it over again. I would be a vegan right from the start and would raise my children that way. I have seen since I started a vegan diet that literally all my blood chemistry has fallen dramatically into line. Asked generally about diet, with no reference to veganism, my oncologist said that there is some evidence that a diet free of animal products helps protect from cancer (although he did admittedly say that during chemo he wanted to me just eat whatever I could). I would not drink sodas, at all. All of the cans are lined with BPA, which is implicated in causing a host of medical problems, including cancer and diabetes. Same goes for diet sodas. I spent so much of my life addicted to diet sodas in BPA lined cans.

I used to think, as I abused my body through junk food, that one day if I reached the point where it was possible that it would cost me my life (I had in mind sudden heart problems rather than an insidious cancer invasion), that in that moment I would regret every single unhealthy, unnecessary morsel or drink I put into my mouth, ever. I would think to myself, why don’t I just stop now, so I don’t have to come to that day? Why, really, why? In my heart of hearts, I think there was a bit of a self destructive impulse in there. But there is one thing I know for certain, and that is that I don’t really know myself all that well.

Anyway, this is where I am right now. In limbo, circling the field, waiting to land. It’s getting to be really old, too. So, God, if there is something I need to get done before I head into chemoland, could you please give me a bit fat hint? I’d appreciate it.

Or maybe there is just some wisdom I can’t see. Maybe my chemo was delayed twice, because God knew that sometime in that third week, I would come down with a cold, which I am not allowed to do while I am having my treatments.

Who knows? But whatever it is, could we please just get a move on? And make it an easy journey, please, God?

As for the rest of my life, it hasn’t been going all that well. Since January 11th, I have had three, count ’em, three surgeries. The first one, the major one that required hospitalization afterwards, was okay. The second one, which was to remove some dead skin, I have actually characterized as fun. I had sedation rather than full anesthesia, no breathing tube, and they woke me up in the operating room right after surgery so my surgeon could talk to me. I woke up in the best mood ever! I wanted to party! More to the point, I wanted to eat. Everything. The surgery was performed in San Francisco, because it was an emergency surgery and that is where my surgeon was working that day. I asked my husband if we could go to Fisherman’s Wharf on the way home. It had been an afternoon surgery, so I had gone for a very long time without eating, and I was hungry. I could taste that crusty sourdough bread that is like no other bread in the world. And crab. My little vegan heart wanted crab.

We didn’t go, and I don’t honestly remember what I did eat that day. But it was as though a switch was flipped that turned on my appetite. Having done so well for so long, I just wanted to eat. I had previously only wanted food when I was hungry, and then it was just something to eat, but suddenly I was thinking about food all the time, and I was eating stuff I didn’t even really want or like in an effort to satisfy this craving … which hasn’t gone away, if you were wondering.

Of course, I also had my appoinment with my chemo doctor right around then, and was told all the dietary restrictions I would have during chemo. I was also told I might not want to eat because food would probably not taste good. Well, that’s okay by me. I think. Perhaps I was making up for my anticipated losses by eating more food than I need right now. Nevertheless, I am struggling to bring this under control, because it is not healthy.

Spiritually also I have been suffering. God is so far away! I told him the other day, if you want me to keep believing, you are going to have to start talking to me. No word yet. In all honestly I haven’t talked to God much either. I read about him, think about him, learn about him, but I haven’t actually been talking to him. This is a big fat heavy duty subject that I’m really too tired to go into. But it’s just another area where I’m struggling.

Not unusual, I don’t suppose, to struggle with some things in these circumstances. I do appreciate your prayers, as always, and your love. That is one thing I have had in abundance in my life, love. So thank you all for that.

Hope to be back soon with progress and good news!

Breast Cancer Journey: Stuff Gets Real

img_1406I had a second surgery this past week. Some of the skin they left after my mastectomy had died and had to be removed. After the surgery was over I posted on Facebook, “I had a great time.” The sad thing is, that was true. It says something about your life when surgery is the highlight of your day. But they numbed me. They sedated me. They all took care of me, including my husband. They made sure I was not in pain and that I did not get lost.

In contrast, that morning I had met with the medical oncologist for the first time. He explained to me that my cancer right now is Stage IIIC. That is the last stage before Stage IV, which is metastatic breast cancer, meaning cancer that has spread to other organs. And they haven’t ruled that out either. The oncologist also commented that I’d had a completely clear mammogram in 2014, and then in October 2015 they find a cancer that turns out to have already advanced to IIIC.  It is lobular cancer, which doctors keep saying is “tricky,” first because it apparently grows in sheets so is hard to find, and also, according to the oncologist, if it returns it returns aggressively. Therefore, we are going to have to use the biggest guns available: a total of 20 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by probably six weeks of radiation, followed by five years of hormone therapy. And the chemo? It’s not some new, gentle chemo that has been developed in recent years. It’s the stuff that causes you to lose your hair, suffer nausea, mouth sores, bone pain. The worst of it, a combination that includes “the red devil,” will be given for the first eight weeks. I think the following 12 weeks are a little easier. I also get steroids. So I think this means I get to be bald and bloated, although ultimately chemo generally results in a dramatic weight loss.

It will probably be four weeks until I start the chemo, because I have to heal properly from my surgeries. I also have to have an echocardiogram to make sure my heart is strong enough for chemo, and the PET scan to make sure there isn’t any other cancer hiding anywhere.

So how am I doing? I am going more than a little stir crazy with the recovery from the surgery. I still have a drain, which prevents me from being able to do so many things, including just rolling around in bed at night and wearing a bra.  I remain relatively calm, however. I’ve done only a little online research. It talks in terms of 5-year and 10-year survival rates, and I got a little choked up over that, because I was able to think about how old my grandson would be in five or ten years, and there was so much more of his life I wanted to see. But I spoke to a friend yesterday whose mother in law had Stage III breast cancer, and she just celebrated 20 years cancer free. And that is what I intend to do. I am not looking forward to the treatments ahead, but I got through the surgery and I will get through this. My faith stumbles along, one day at a time, and I am stumbling with it.

I was reading some old journal entries this morning, and I read the one I wrote right after my repeat mammogram, when I started to suspect something might be wrong. I was reading a YA book at the time, Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu, and I wrote a quote from it in my journal: “I’m not going to try to reduce the weight of your burden, but I’m going to help you grow strong enough to carry it.” Yes, that is what I believe. That is what I feel.

I have that faith for my own journey. But if there is an area where I struggle, it is my ability to provide for my family, both financially and emotionally. Why is it so much more difficult to muster faith for that? Nothing new, though. It has always been this way. And yet always, somehow, we have survived. I have been intending for years to write, have two books swirling in my mind and word processing programs, but I have a paralysis because I am afraid that they will amount to nothing. Silly, I know, because in the process what does the outcome really matter? God has given me grace periods in which to pursue this, and has extended them again and again. I pray that what he has given me will not go to waste. Also written in my journal were these words:

“And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left…. And he will give rain for the seed with wich you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous.” Isaiah 30:20-23

But I noted also the verse right before it: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.” This was one of the words my pastor gave me for the journey. He talked about Peter walking on the water, but later elaborated that Jesus had only stopped to allow that because the disciples had been afraid and had called out to him for help.

So, Lord, here I am. I am calling out to you! I am afraid. Be with me. You don’t have to do it all for me, but help me to do it. Set my feet in the right paths, show me the way, and let me walk in it.

Notes from the wilderness

imageHello world. I have left my nest of pillows and blankets on the couch and I am sitting at the kitchen table. It’s kind of cold here, shivery. But it feels a little more human like. I’m getting tired of recovery from surgery. No, a lot tired of it. It’s kind of depressing actually.

And perhaps this is part of why I am where I am spiritually, which is in the Wilderness. There have been times in my life when I can read the Bible, and say amen, when I can find passages that feel like God is speaking right to me and it sets my heart alight. There have been times when I talked to God, and he seems present, and answers. Now I read the Bible and say, “Eh?” I pray and it isn’t necessarily that I feel God isn’t there, but he is sitting on a hard chair across the room and not answering.

Maybe I feel like he doesn’t like me that much.

It has never been my in my thoughts that if God loves you, bad things don’t happen to you. In fact, quite the opposite has been my thought: that if God loves you, he allows into your life the experiences you need to grow and become the person you came to this life to be, and to contribute to the world the special gifts you have to contribute. That is what I believe.

Emotions are a funny thing, however, and especially so for me. I have had so many emotions that have tried to kill me I have learned to bury them, and I have come to have a hard time dealing with them on a surface level. Even now, how do I feel? Honestly, I know I am scared. I am scared to have a PET scan because so far every place they have looked for cancer, they have found it. I have the American Cancer Association figures in my head. Stage III breast cancer has a 72 percent five-year survival rate. Not bad. But if it shows up anywhere else, it would become Stage IV, and that has a 22 percent five year survival rate. Numbers dancing in my head, although as long as the number is greater than zero I intend to be part of the survivors.

And I’m at a loss as to how this happened, and happened so quickly. It’s not as though I never had mammograms!

But I don’t feel afraid, if that makes sense. There are tears that sometimes leak out but I’m not sure where they come from, or where they are going.

Right now I just think life will be better when I get rid of these drains and bandages, when I can get shower and get dressed and leave the house, when I can do things for myself instead of having to ask for help with stupid little things. As long as I am stuck in the house, I think perhaps the rain and storms we have had have been a little bit comforting, but my heart will feel lighter when the sun shines again, and when leaving my nest on the couch doesn’t cause me to shiver.

Life would also be better if I felt a little less alone spiritually, if God was not sitting silent on that hard chair across the room, if I read the Bible, or anything, and felt it speak to me, although truth to tell reading at all has been kind of difficult since surgery. I stopped taking the percocet during the day because the words were muddling themselves up when I tried to read or write, but there still seems to be a bit of a drag in the mental functions. I am just plain tired.

Time, time, time. That is what it will take here. Time to heal. Time to move on. Time.

Tuesday is Michaela’s birthday. I was looking at my calendar the other day trying to figure out when my next doctor’s appointment is. I saw a dot on the 24th and thought, no, I don’t have an appointment that early in the week. I had to open it up in order to see that it is Michaela’s birthday. How could that have ever slipped my mind?

My heart breaks.

Again.

 

 

Breast Cancer Journey: Perhaps I have not taken this seriously enough.

It is eight 15781015_10211421052747677_7308533655132470120_ndays now since my mastectomy. It was a modified radical mastectomy, unilateral, according to what my doctor told me at my one week checkup yesterday. That means that in addition to the breast they took a bunch of lymph glands. They biopsied one during surgery and found cancer in it, so they took a couple more that looked suspicious, and then she said they took ten others, most of which she didn’t think would be a problem. It turns out that cancer was found in every single one of the lymph glands that was removed. Not to state the obvious, but that is not good.

My mind went back to when I had that second mammogram, how I had though absolutely nothing of it, how routine and unimportant it was. Even through biopsy and diagnosis, I took it only kind of seriously. To me, even a diagnosis of breast cancer was a thing you dealt with and put behind you. My mother did that, a simple lumpectomy, no spread to the lymph glands, radiation for a few weeks, and it was done with. I have heard from so many people, breast cancer survivors. You do it and get on with it.

Now, breast cancer has become something that has run so far ahead of me that I can’t see it, and I know that I am going to have to run to catch up with it. It is not a simple fight anymore. It is going to be an all out battle. But it will be a battle.

Next steps: I meet with a medical oncologist (my doctor is a surgical oncologist), probably have a PET scan to see just how far ahead this beast has run, and schedule radiation and likely chemo.

Can’t do anything until I finish healing from this mastectomy, though, and that is my first goal. So the good news, for anybody who may be facing this procedure in the future, is that it was not nearly as painful as I thought it might be. I’d classify it more as discomfort. There are a couple of reasons for this, perhaps. One is that my doctors injected a local anesthetic that was supposed to last up to 72 hours post op. The other is that I have noticed I have a considerable amount of numbness. Not sure what this is due to. My doctor told me, but I think I wasn’t paying that much attention. I also didn’t pay that much attention when she said whether it would be permanent or temporary, because I am sitting here thinking that it can remain forever as long as it remains past the point where it would hurt if it wasn’t there! I have definitely had discomfort, and took percocet for a few days at the beginning, although within a few days I had switched to motrin except at night. But it was not nearly as bad as I’d anticipated.

The really annoying part is the drains. There are two tubes coming out of my body, each collecting liquids of varying shades of cherry and amber in these bulbs that hang by clips from my clothes. A couple of times a day I have to empty them and measure the liquid. It’s not awful, but it is annoying. There are little bandages that surround the holes where the tubes come out of my body, and they do not want to stay put at all. They are always having to be replaced, and this is annoying for me because the whole idea of tubes coming out of my body is very creepy for a germophobe like me. They were still doing their job too well to take them out yesterday, but hopefully within a few days they will be gone, and I will feel like a brand new person! In fact, healing this mastectomy is feeling like such a necessary step. It’s hard to feel like a fighter when you can’t lift anything that weighs more than five pounds, or bend over without feeling like you might break something, and when you are just so doggone tired.

So onward with this healing, which just takes time. And rest I suppose. Then to the battle.

Thank you for your prayers, and I guess I should take a moment to say that my faith doesn’t and never has rested on such things as absence of hardship or instantaneous healing, or answers to any other prayers. It seems pretty obvious to me that there are purposes to this life that require us to step outside our garden of comfort. All things work together for good, one way or the other. Meanwhile, I have been feeling a level of calm through this that amazes even me. So your prayer support is helping. Honestly, I am feeling very tired, like too tired perhaps to prop up a lot of my own faith. So thanks for holding me up with yours.

Thank you everybody. I love you.