Hair Loss: when to shave?

I am beginning to lose my hair from the chemo, and it is a disconcerting and confusing process. I didn’t have all that much hair to begin with. It has always been both thin and fine, and I cut it short in anticipation of hair loss. So the process is probably a lot quicker for me than it is for others. But it’s still just, well, creepy.

Washing my hair is creepy. The feeling of the little bit of hair is creepy, like a mat on my head or something. And so much of it comes out. It sticks to my hands and clogs the bathtub drain. I don’t do much of anything else with my hair these days. No brushing, try not to touch it. It doesn’t come out in clumps, though. It falls out in wisps, little light wisps. This is fine except that they sometimes like to get into my eyes, or worse, my mouth. The other thing is that is sometimes hurts. I have had a couple of areas on my scalp that just became very sensitive for awhile. I’d been horrified that I might be getting sores or something, but my daughter checked and said no.

I am sorely tempted to shave it all off, just to get it over with. I told myself I would do it when I started getting bald spots. I don’t have big, clumpy spots now, but there are definite areas where the hair seems to be missing. It looks unhealthy. I have thought about putting a hat or scarf over it, but I am afraid the hair will get all over my nice hats and scarves and ruin them.

I really hate the idea of shaving it off. It feels contrived or phony somehow. I have become kind of sensitive to making it obvious when I’m out in public that I have cancer. I spent years having strangers stop me in the store to tell me how sorry they were that my daughter had been kidnapped. I don’t look forward to pitying looks or comments now.

Anyway, feel free to cast your vote if you have one!

Breast Cancer Journey: Don’t be afraid. You can do it.

15823276_1149299361835724_1780175567423913694_nWell it is Wednesday, and time to start preparing for my second chemo infusion. That, to me, means some basic germ eradication in obvious places, washing and changing my bedding, and the dogs’ bedding, which lives on my bed, and doing some grocery shopping before my white blood cell count is up for eradication again.

It turns out none of these precautions were necessary for my first chemo cycle. I amazed my doctor with how well I did. I am not sure if it is because I did so well, or because he expected me to do badly because of the trouble I had getting rid of my drain. When I went in to see him on Day 7, he looked at my blood work and said, “This is from today? You had chemo?” My white blood cell count was 4.9 at that time, normal being 3.5 to 10, and chemo patients getting as low as 0. I was told that I would probably know if my count started getting low, because it makes you very tired, sometimes achey, kind of feeling like you have the flu. That is a very smart design feature, I think, that when you are most vulnerable to illness, you will not feel like doing things that will expose you to it.

Above is a Neulasta On Pro. This is attached to your abdomen or upper arm the day of chemo, and is programmed to inject medication 27 hours later to help boost your white blood cell production. It has flashing lights and beeps and clicks when it injects, and is very entertaining for grandchildren. 🙂

The nausea that everyone dreads when they are told they will have chemo is pretty well controlled these days with medication. You get two anti-nausea meds by IV before they even start the chemo, and there are three additional take at home meds, one for every day in the cycle, one for daily use in the first few days after chemo, and one for as needed. I never did use the third one. My nausea  was mild and seemed to be directly related to food. The thought of eating most things made me nauseous. I kind of lived on toast and cereal for a few days. The vegan options I had made me nauseous to consider, by the way. I have to admit that by the fifth day my little vegan heart was craving chicken. I thought I would die if I didn’t have chicken and rice. So I did.

I also left my self imposed exile. As the days went on, I got to feeling better and better. In the first few days, I was a bit tired and needed to nap frequently, although on Day 4, I babysat my 15-month old grandson all day, and not only did I not get tired, it made me feel terrific. I’d stuck my head out into the world at the grocery store and it appeared that the recent late flu epidemic was subsiding, so on Sunday I actually gathered my courage together and went to church.

I was told by the nurse that administered my chemo that the first treatment is usually not so bad, that it is usually around the third treatment that you start to feel it, just because the assault on your system has worn you down. That’s also when you usually lose your hair. So we will see as we go on, but for the time being, it’s okay.

I am also ten weeks post mastectomy at this point, and honestly, that wasn’t all that bad either. The post-op pain I would classify more as discomfort than actual pain. The drains were an ordeal, and I kept mine for a record amount of time, but they were not painful. They were just annoying. The incisions have healed, although the scars are still pink, but I can look at the surgery site without it bothering me at all. In fact, if I’d had a double mastectomy, I probably could have lived without reconstructive surgery. Since it was unilateral, I will choose to go through that, although it sounds like the worst and most complicated part of the whole treatment.

I wanted to pass this message along for anyone else who might be newly diagnosed with breast cancer and facing any or all of these treatments. I subscribe to a couple of other breast cancer survivor blogs, and one is just full of woe. Absolutely everything she has been through has been intolerably painful, from the mastectomy to the chemo to the expanders in preparation for reconstructive surgery. She even said that the drains were so painful that every movement hurt. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I didn’t read that blog before my own mastectomy experience. It might make a difference that my plastic surgeon is excellent when it comes to pain mitigation. He is David Chang in San Francisco if ever you want any plastic surgery done. When he places an expander, he puts a shot of botulism into the muscle so it won’t spasm and cause pain. When I had my surgery, he administered a three-day local anesthetic. Now I took pain pills after my mastectomy, but you have to understand I do not have a high pain tolerance. In fact I have zero tolerance for discomfort. If I get a teeny tiny pain somewhere, I get out the motrin. So I medicated my post-op discomfort, but I don’t recall ever at any time being laid out by pain.

But here is another odd thing about me. This cancer this is not bothering me. I am not scared. I am not sad. I can’t really tell you why. I do have the most amazing skills in denial of pain, honed over 28 years of living as the parent of a kidnapped child. Perhaps it is nothing more than that. Pain? Block it out. But I don’t think it is. Is it my faith? Mmm, in a very general way that is a huge part of it I think. It’s almost as though I recognized cancer when it came along. “Oh hello. I was expecting you without even being aware of it. You and I have something to do together, don’t we?” It is also true that I am confident of my recovery, at least at this point in time. I have been told that my cancer is “very bad.” It is Stage 3C, the worst you can get before it is deemed uncurable. But at this point, it has all been removed. There were good margins in the surgery, and the PET scan was clear, so any cancer that is lurking in my body is small, cellular. I am confident that the chemo and radiation will eradicate it and I will go on to live another day, to walk down new roads and pass through secret gates I have previously passed by. I also kind of suspect that this cancer might one day kill me, either the breast cancer itself or a secondary cancer as a result of the treatment for the breast cancer. But I don’t expect that will be for awhile yet, and I’m not all that young, so I am not worried about it. I just want to make sure that I do not waste the time I am given.

The other thing is that I honestly don’t think that I am afraid of dying. I think part of that is denial as well. What can’t be cured must be endured, and you might as well do it with a good attitude. That’s how I have lived my life, and it will probably be how I end it as well. Plus I tend to think of death as a great adventure! I have my faith, my beliefs, but even if I am wrong I am not afraid of it. Even if the atheists and humanists turn out to be right and my heart and soul are nothing but biology that cease to exist at death, I won’t know. I won’t care. The only thing that has bothered me is worrying about my family. I don’t want anybody to hurt. I want to make sure everyone has what they need to get through, and to live a happy life. But I have learned that all of that is not really up to me. It’s been part of my life task in recent years to let go of my desire to advise and control circumstances in order to protect my children. I have learned to say, “They will be okay.” And they will be, no matter what. Even if they have some mountains to climb and rivers to swim, they will do it, and they will be okay, and they will be all the stronger for it.

I don’t want to make light of things. I know cancer can be a horrendous disease. I have been reading a book about man with cancer that metastasized, who underwent treatments that were so painful that he could not complete them. His cancer spread to his bones, which as a result broke when he sat on them. And my thought was, if you have to have cancer, breast cancer is much easier. They can just cut the things off. Unless you are planning on having babies, their only function is decorative, and current health law mandates that their decorative function be restored. But even breast cancer and breast cancer treatments can lay people low, I know. I may be one of them yet. I am in week two of twenty weeks of chemo. I should keep quiet until week ten, and then tell you how easy it is or isn’t. But meanwhile, I just wanted to encourage those who are starting out on this journey. Don’t be afraid. You can do it.

Stumbling Scripture Studies: How to have faith

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I am currently in a discipleship program which includes doing daily Bible reading, and then writing about it in a SOAP format: Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. You pick a specific verse out of that day’s readings, write it down, write a little about your observations of this scripture, how it applies to your life, and then a prayer based on this scripture. These are supposed to be short, like a line or two, less than a page total, but of course mine go on and on and on. In fact, I often have trouble sticking to just a single verse, and instead write about the whole chapter or several verses. I often feel that God is speaking to me here, telling me things of value to me. I thought that sometimes I would share them, in case they might be of value to anyone else.

Today’s New Testament reading was John 12. This chapter occurs right after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and takes place in the same location. In John 11, I was struck by the reaction of the Pharisees to this miracle. “What shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” (vv 47-48) I marveled at this reaction. This man resurrects someone who had been dead for four days, and it doesn’t occur to you that he may be more powerful than the Romans? But then I thought, well, they were right in a way. Jesus didn’t overpower the Roman Empire. He died. Jerusalem fell.

Chapter 12 continues to deal with this issue. Jesus was speaking about his coming death, but “The people answered him, ‘We have heard that the Christ remains forever, and how can you say the Son of Man must be lifted up?'” (v 34)

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” Hmmm. This was absolutely true for those first century Christians. These were the people who walked with Jesus, who sat at his feet when he taught, witnessed his miracles, watched him die, saw him after his resurrection. They suffered persecution, floggings, and imprisonment, and every single one of them suffered horrific deaths for his faith. This, of course, is one of the arguments for the truth of Christianity. These were the eyewitnesses. You might stretch the truth to have a good time, but would you endure persecution for it? Would you die for it?

Others, though, “the people,” they still had expectations in their minds of who and what the Christ was to be and do. They tried to put Jesus into that pre-made box and he didn’t fit all that well. They wanted a political savior who woud free them from Roman rule and restore the glory of the kingdom on earth as it had been under David and Solomon. So Jesus posed difficulties. They were the original believers in the prosperity gospel. They were not prepared to accept the suffering Messiah of Isaih 53. They were not prepared to suffer themselves for a kingdom they could not see.

Except that they had seen it. They were right there in the very place where Jesus had raised a man who had been dead for four days! How could they not believe, having seen that kind of evidence? Yet they didn’t. We might think that they are without excuse because of what they had seen, while we get a bit more slack because we didn’t witness this. But God still works. I know that I have felt God’s presence, have heard him speak to me, have seen him at work in the events in my life and the lives of those around me. I can say that those who witnesses Jesus’ miracles are without excuse, but am I not also, if I have once heard his voice? “Did I really hear that?” “Was Lazarus really dead?”

What got to me most, though, was another group of people mentioned in John 12: “Even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (vv 42-43) Now again, they had just witnessed Jesus raising a man who had been dead for four days! They are way without excuse, right? I mean, if I was there, I would have believed. I would have confessed! Right?

I have to admit, in my struggles with faith, this has actually been one of my problems. I love the praise of men. And women. As in, I want to be lovedand respected even. Now this is actually true for people inside the church as much as the people outside. The thing is that most of the people who love me are outside the church, as in far outside. Their attitudes toward Christianity generally range from complete disinterest to complete disdain. Yes, this is my family, and most of the people in my circle within the community. I will admit that when I hear sermons, I frequently imagine them sitting next to me rolling their eyes, or saying, “oh my God,” and not in prayer! I hear their derision ringing in my ears.

And the thing is, I get it. I have thought all of those thoughts. I can’t even say from an intellectual standpoint, “You are wrong.” Apologetics is never going to prove anything to anyone. I know because it has never proven anything to me. You have to have faith to get it. Faith is a gift from God, and when you say “no thank you,” you just are never going to get it. 1 Corinthians says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (v 18) The Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom, and the cross is nothing to them, “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (If you are reading this and you are wondering, you are called. Maybe this is your call. Just say yes and see what happens.)

This is the whole key, I think. In the last couple of weeks I have come to see it as the answer to everything, that last paragraph. It is not an easy answer to accept, and yet it is also the easiest answer of all. Well, one thing for sure is that I have been called. From the age of nine, raised in a completely non-religious family, I was seeking for this God who was calling to my heart. Since I found him, I have tried to get away, and I always get called back. It’s happened so many times now that I have decided to quit trying to escape and to try instead to hang on. It’s a bumpy road sometimes, but I am still here.

One other point, about Jesus’ kingdom not being of this world. That does leave us in a quandry if we require evidence. But are we really most pitiable? I don’t think so. I am a mystic at heart and I love to see the transformative power of God at work in my life, and in the lives of the people around me. Even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. It is beautiful.

Father, thank you for calling me and keeping me. Let me walk the streets of your unseen kingdom in this world. Take my hand and guide me, show me where to go, where to look, as you prepare my heart for what you would have me do. And give me the strength and courage to do it. Thank you, Lord.

Amen.

Apology

I apologize to my blog followers, because this morning I was uploading photos from my phone to WordPress, and they somehow got published as a blog entry and sent to you guys. Not a technical wizard here. Sorry!

Thoughts after first day of chemo

IMG_1542They finally got me into that chair for my first day of chemo today. It wasn’t itself unpleasant. The people who work at Epic Care in Castro Valley are so nice, they of course made it easy. It took a long time, four hours total! I got very tired and could have slept through a lot of it, but my husband and daughter were with me so I pretty much stayed awake. My husband brought me an iced almond latte from Starbucks, which revived me slightly but still left me half in dreamland.

I came home and slept a nice, deep sleep for awhile, and woke up feeling pretty good. No big surprise since the first half of the chemo was devoted to pumping me full of stuff to make me feel good. I got one three-day anti-nausea medicine, one day’s worth of Zofran, another antinausea medicine which I will take in pill form after today, and a good dose of Decadron, a steroid that is supposed to prevent nausea and other side effects of chemo. Both my oncologist and my endocrinologist have told me that decadron is likely to raise my blood sugar, and that even though I have never taken it before, I might have to use insulin while doing chemo. I am sending my blood sugars to my endocrinologist daily so she can keep tabs on it.

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Big scary needles, happily going into IV and not directly into me.

I have been checking my blood sugar since I got home, and while it is higher than normal, it hasn’t become outrageous yet. But I haven’t eaten much either. I don’t really have much of an appetite right now anyway, at least not for healthy foods. The desire factor could cause me to eat all sorts of things that would be all bad, so maybe it’s a good thing I have to keep an eye on my blood sugar.

I am feeling a tiny bit better about the immune suppression factor since the chemo. The chemo tech was telling me it is best not to eat at salad bars, and I said that they told me not to eat salad at all. She said that is really only true when my white blood cell count is down. Now the tricky thing is figuring out when that is true, which is perhaps why there was just a blanket “no” to these things. They don’t make home white blood cell count test strips or anything! I get this checked once a week, and in between times I have no idea what my white blood cells are doing! The tech said that if my white blood cell count was going down I would know because I would start getting really tired. I said, “I think my white blood cell count is going down now.” This was me being funny of course, because I knew it was too early for that to be happening. But it was also me making a point. She said I’d know the difference, so we will wait and see. That would be a pretty clever built-in design mechanism, though, that if you are susceptibe to infection you become too tired to go out and get infected!

I also get spiffy meds to help keep my white blood cell count up. I have a little injection bot of Neulasta plastered to my abdomen right now. Neulasta: as featured in commercials on MSNBC if you are interested! Anyway, they stick it on you, and then after a short while it starts making warning beeps, and then it jabs you with a needle, which inserts a plastic tube in between itself and your lovely self. Then after 27 hours it spends 45 minutes injecting a small about of medication into you through that previously placed tube.

This medication induces your body to make additional white blood cells, which considerably reduces your chance of getting an infection during chemo. Common side effects of Neulasta include bone pain, especially in the lower back and hips, as the bone marrow there is working hard to make the white blood cells and it might gripe about it. Oh, and it can make your spleen explode. I learned that on MSNBC. (Why do they have those commercials for medications! They have to tell you every bad thing that could possibly happen, which leaves no one wanting to use any of these products ever!) But the chemo tech said that she has never heard of that happening to anyone in real life. Just the pain. Take Tylenol, she said. Take Percocet, she said, since I have some left over from my three surgeries, and they will be happy to refill it if needed. Well, we will see. Perhaps I won’t have the side effects, or perhaps they will be bearable.

But the point of this is to alleviate some of my paranoia about immune system deficiency. “Don’t put your fingers in your mouth,” she said. I had no idea how often I actually do that! She eased some of my concern when she made the comment that germs at home are less of a problem because my body already knows how to deal with those, because with four small dogs and one small child, my house is a germ festival I’m sure!

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I don’t think I could ever get used to the idea of going out like this.

I still have some anxiety though. I went out yesterday. I had two doctor’s appointments in two different offices. The receptionist (that I didn’t see thankfully) at one of the offices was coughin and hacking. I seriously thought, she should be wearing a mask. There are medically fragile people who visit doctor’s offices and they don’t need the receptionist making them sick. I got a pedicure, and I went to the grocery store, and in every location there were a number of people coughing and sniffling. It seems to be a second flu season! I came home and said I’m never leaving again! Well, okay, I decided if I have to go to the grocery store I am going early in the morning, when it’s less crowded and when the sick people haven’t been able to drag themselves out of bed yet.

 

One thing I have been missing is church. When my doctor told me to avoid crowded places, I’d asked specifically about church, and he said, “I can’t stop you from living your life, and church is important, but if it was up to me I’d really rather you stayed home.” 😦 😦 😦  Honestly, I have been avoiding it for awhile, first because I was going to have surgery, then because I was recovering from surgery. I actually only got rid of my drains and able to dress presentably last week, and I thought about going last week, and I thought about going this coming week, since my system will be so flush with white blood cell’s from Neulasta, but even a healthy immune system does not keep you from catching a virulent virus. So I am going to stay home until this disease that is making everybody cough has run its course and is out of here. Please someone let me know when flu season is over!

My faith has suffered some without church. I have decided to try to remedy that in part at least with video and audio teachings that are so available on my computer and phone. I have been reading the Bible every single dingle day, but it hasn’t always given me hope. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but early on I started thinking about the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” which meant that when it came down to putting your life on the line, people would choose to believe.

For me, it’s kind of been the opposite. There is so much on the line, I feel like I can’t afford to make a mistake, either one way or the other. With every fiber of my being I so want to be certain that there is some higher purpose in my life, that there is someone holding my hand while I walk down this path and guiding me to a safe place. For this to all be due to random chance, for me to be completely powerless and without someone greater on my side, that is scary. God hasn’t been exactly chatty and reassuring lately, but I just keep plodding on and when I can’t exactly believe, I continue to hope.

So that is it. Day One of chemotherapy. Day One of twenty weeks. The fun is just beginning.

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.