Duchenne Smiles Only, Please

We often hear that suffering is a personal path – walked alone.  If Christian teaching has reached our hearts we understand that we are never alone – Christ is with us.  But during times of suffering that heart felt emotion is sometimes replaced with just the dry bone truth of Christ’s presence.  We know it but we don’t feel it at the heart level.

Tough Report

Today started out with a lack of heartfelt-ness; not because I was in a particular state of suffering but because I was on autopilot.  I was going to another appointment.  The surgeon would be checking on the healing process from the surgery.  Though still in pain I knew the healing was going well; which it was.  I knew we would review the pathology report on the tissue removed during surgery and confirm the earlier biopsy report.  I was wrong.  The pathology showed more cancer than originally thought.  My stage was ‘upgraded’ to 3 from 2.  I immediately came off autopilot and moved to emotional crisis management.  I felt my husband doing the same.  (I have grown to deeply respect cancer caregivers.)  As the report was explained I can’t say that I was “feeling-God” with me.  I was feeling more cancer with me.  My heart did feel something – another little break.

The Chance to Smile

David and I walked out of the clinic’s waiting room.  I wanted to sit in the airy light filled Roswell Park atrium with coffee in hand. I wasn’t ready to leave and return to regular world.  I wanted to be surrounded by my new tribe – people with cancer and those accompanying them or treating them or volunteering for them.   My radar was beeping away for some incoming light.  I could feel the encroachment of darkness wanting to gain a foothold but something else within me was determined to resist.  David and I sat for a while quietly and then talked through what was still positive in spite of a deepening awareness of the seriousness of the disease.  After encouraging phone calls from daughters I wanted to walk about aimlessly but not leave.  David said we could stay as long as I wanted.  I walked towards the balcony and looked down at people walking towards the various cancer clinics.  I imagined angels among them or Christ, himself.  The harpist in the Lobby was playing music that wafted up to the higher levels (hmm, in heaven already?).  I continued with my stroll as David sat and watched. I would occasionally look back at him, meeting his broad smiling face.  I felt uplifted.   As I walked and looked at people I realized I was looking for a chance to smile at someone, anyone and hopefully get a smile back.  With each smile it seemed as if a little more darkness was dispelled.

I wandered around and then purposely struck up a conversation with a middle age woman.  She looked annoyed at something but that didn’t stop me.  I sat down next to her with David watching from afar.  And at the perfect moment I said something really profound, “Hi, I couldn’t help noticing how cute you are in that hat and as I will be going bald soon (awkward) I was wondering if you could tell me where you got your hat?”  She smiled.  I was reassured and we ended up having a delightful conversation about this and that.  I like to think that she felt less annoyed about waiting so long for her chemo treatment.  I felt more determined to get a cute hat.

So, what was it that I wanted to experience before I left the cancer institute?  Was it as simple as I wanted to smile and get a genuine smiles back?  I think so.  These smiles were after all a human connection akin to love.  It came by bits and pieces but at some point I was filled up enough to leave my tribe for regular world.  This shouldn’t surprise me for the scriptures and the church has taught through the ages that God is Love.  Why wouldn’t He be? He has eternally lived in perpetual community within the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever loving and smiling at each other.   As one of his children I get to get in on this and hopefully pass it on.

Is It Really that Basic?

It still seems trite on the surface, though.  We all have been told as children that it takes 450 muscles to frown and only 3 muscles to smile.  (I don’t think this has ever been validated.)  David remembers being told, ‘If you can’t smile I’ll give you one of mine.’  And, ‘Smile, it lets your teeth breathe.’

But PsychCentral posted an article on their blog about this very subject….. Here’s the take-home point:

“The researchers say their findings suggest smiling during brief periods of stress may help reduce the body’s stress response, regardless of whether the person actually feels happy or not.”

And if that’s not enough…

According to Mark Stibich, a consultant at Columbia University, and contributor to a Guide to Longevity at about.com, smiling:

1.  Makes Us Attractive to others .There is an automatic attraction to people who smile.

2. Changes Mood If you try, even when it’s difficult, to smile when you are not feeling good, there is a change it might improve your affect and change the way you are feeling.

3. Contagious Others will want to be with you. You will be helping others feel good.

4. Relieves Stress Stress does express itself right in our faces. When we smile, it can help us look better, less tired, less worn down.

5. Boosts Immune System Smiling can actually stimulate your immune response by helping you relax.

6. Lowers Blood Pressure When you smile, there is evidence that your blood pressure can decrease.

7. Releases Endorphins  and Serotonin Research has reported that smiling releases endorphins, which are natural pain relievers, along with serotonin, which is also associated with feel good properties.

Duchenne smiles are the only type of smile that creates this positive effects. These smiles engage the muscles in the mouth, cheeks, and eyes and are considered to be genuine smiles.  ‘When you smile at someone else and they smile a real smile in return – you are helping to create physiological changes in their bodies that may benefit them, as well as yourself.’  (Karen Kleiman, LCSW postpartumstress.com)

 Finally:

“Peace begins with a smile.”  (Mother Theresa)

“The shortest distance between two people is a smile.” (Unknown)

And most helpfully:

Bible verse translations (New Living Translation) that take the reasonable liberty to change “shine your face on us” to “smile on us”

  • May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. (Numbers 6: 25)
  • May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us. (Psalm 67: 1)
  • Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven. (Psalm 85:11)
  • When the king smiles, there is life; his favor refreshes like a spring rain. (Proverbs 16: 15)
  • O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. (Daniel 9: 17)

My prayer for you and me:

‘May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May you feel His smile on you, and may you smile back.  Amen.’

 

 

 

 

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Young and……..

The divide between the young and old was never more acutely felt than when one of my dear young friends here in Buffalo described a way she and others could support me during chemotherapy (3 weeks from now, maybe).  As a show of love and concern she researched ways to make the transition to baldness an upbeat experience.

Before I go there I first want to confess that I always thought the following true:   The young are vain and the old are wistful.  I can no longer hold to this prejudice, certainly not as it pertains to me.  I am now going to poke fun at this dear friend (I asked her permission first) who was unaware of my vanity (a sweet credit to her).  So, here was the “show Dona support and solidarity idea”…..  At the time that the chemo head is to be shaved by a hair stylist (irony) friends are invited to go to the hair salon (more irony) to be with her during the shaving so as to cheer her up and on.  This is done before the MATTED hair stage sets in.  I don’t want to hurt my young friend’s feelings but there is no way and I mean absolutely no way that this is happening. In fact not only are friends not invited but my husband is not invited.  And to really make my vanity point I am going to ask Jonathan, the wig shop owner/ stylist, to shave my head blindfolded so he doesn’t see my head either.  He is young enough to probably take up this challenge as he has done many shavings and has enough youthful male bravado to think that this will be fun.  His mother, co-owner of the business, will be more reasonable and intervene at this point. She will feel more strongly about litigation than youthful challenges.

Some of you have heard me whine about how young everyone is.  Let’s start with my brainiac superb 32-year old surgeon followed by my superb brainiac radiologist who sports a ponytail, shamelessly framing her teen-like face.  I also have an anesthesiologist who is at least trying to cover up the fact that she is 16 by wearing a little make up and NOT wearing her hair in a ponytail. The old guy on the breast care team is the plastic surgeon who might top out at 35.   I am not done whining yet because I am now going to describe the average age of the church David and I attend in Buffalo….10 or 12 or 25……I don’t really know but they are young, really young.  And just before you judge me for being silly let me affectionately quote another dear young friend who wrote in an email (asked her permission as well), “It is so nice seeing you and David and another ELDERLY couple in church.”   Yikes!!  So, there you have it!  Middle aged people in blog-land should be justifiably sympathetic with my whining now.

Two days after the surgery two of the above mentioned young friends came to visit. I started up once again with the “how young everyone is.”  My patient husband had enough of this tireless drone and accused me of “reverse ageism.”  But to my surprise friend H came to my defense as she casually mentioned, “Really, she’s just proud of all of us.”  Yeah, she gets me because she is exactly right!  I am impressed and proud of this group of young people whether they be my own daughters and their husbands, my friends’ adult children, the young Palestinian Bible Society staff that we have spent time with over the years, the professional medical staff taking care of me, or the church friends who show a strong commitment to their faith by words and actions in the west side of Buffalo. In fact, I have grown weary and annoyed by all the talks and publications that disparage the young generation with terms like; tech savvy arrogance, entitlement issues and commitment phobia.  I am not seeing it. I am seeing something that fills me with hope and respect, something that the apostle Paul must have seen when he told young Timothy in I Timothy 4:12 of the New Testament, ”Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.”

So, this elderly gal is going to follow some young people’s examples.  And, with a nod to my husband, this is my last whine about their youth and my age.

 

 

Just Shoot Me

I wait out the few hours until the surgeon’s skilled scalpel will remove the cancer from my body.  I am also praying that the divine surgeon will be there as well cutting out different sorts of cancers. I hope that recovery will not only be physical but spiritual.

If I could give all my dear friends a gift it would be this: you are told you have cancer and for 3 weeks you live under this verdict. Just before you are subjected to any uncomfortable medical intervention the verdict is lifted. You are told that it is all been a big mistake. Certain groups would be exempt from this gift, like parents in the midst of raising children and friends already under undue distress.  On second thought there is probably not a person reading this blog that does not have distress in their life.  So forget all that. It’s unkind.  But I will use the scenario as a spring board for my real point – three weeks of soul therapy.  This would be a time of deep reflection; the kind of reflection that our busy lives rarely allow or encourage.  Deep reflection is not always a restful meditative process; the type encouraged by the stress management industry.  It can be painful and sorrowful if we don’t back off when the reflection starts getting uncomfortable.  At the root of this process is the issue of our mortality.

Perhaps, you are offended that I think that any of you would be in need of soul therapy.  But I do, not because I think of you as anything but dear and beloved people but because I don’t think you are that different from me and the rest of humanity. The Psalms seem to be in my court on this one.

Psalm 92:12 “So teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.”
Psalm 39:4 “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.”

You have all heard about or even experienced  a time when a big health scare reduced irritations, self-righteousness, annoyances, fretting and hurt feelings to a heap of mash, useful for nothing and certainly not worth the time spent on nursing these peccadillos to the point of straining or severing  a relationship.

This is hardly a new discovery in human behavior but one that only a writer like Flannery O’Connor could capture with its brutal realism.  In a turn of dark humor of which this Southern writer was famous, she describes a mean-spirited racist woman who is being robbed in her home by a gun-wielding thug who knew her hateful ways all too well. As she rapidly and sincerely speaks to him, apologizing for all her big and petty meanness and racist uppity ways, the robber muses, “She would have been a good woman if there had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

― Flannery O’ConnorA Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories

Well, I think everyone would agree that the Psalms have a more gentle way to get at the same point:  facing our mortality can encourage reflection that leads to repentance. Little “r” repentance is the kind I am referencing. The repentance that deals with our besetting sins that usually only we and God know about or so we assume.  The kind of things that we think about or struggle with that we dare not reveal to others  lest they like us a whole lot less than we think they like us which in itself could be a deceptive vanity. Thinking about mortality can sometimes lead some to the big “R” repentance- that profound realization that we have lived our lives like we were not only the captain of our ship but the maker of it as well and in sorrowful regret desperately want Christ to take the helm of the ship that he has always owned in the first place.

 

 

David’s New Girlfriends

 

….And their names were Lydia, Ashley, Chantelle, Dominique…. just to name a few.

There is nothing like visiting a full service wig boutique to get a few laugh-endorphins going, especially if you go with a husband who is completely out of his element but, unfortunately, doesn’t know it.

I admit I  was jumping the gun going to a wig shop before the surgery or an oncology consult or even knowing my exact chemo cocktail; but I’m a trouble shooter and planner par excellence. So, off I rode with my husband, David, who even though has a strong doctrine of “let’s-wait-until-later”was happy to humor me.  At the boutique we were met by Jonathan whose family had owned the business for decades.  Needless to say he had a wealth of tips to give me about what to expect when the chemo started.

Tips like:

  • “Being your head is on the smallish side you might need a filler cap to go under the wig.”  (Hopefully not a reflection of smallish amounts of gray matter.)
  • “When the chemo starts and just before the hair falls out you will need to sleep with satin pillowcases.”  (Oh, that sounds like a sweet touch of pampering I silently coo to myself.)
  • (Wrong).  Jonathan explained, “You will need the satin pillow so your sleeping head is sliding gently when you move around, preventing matting.”  (MATTING?! like a poor mangy dog?!  Just shave my head NOW and get me a wig!)
  • “Oh no,” said Jonathan, “We have to wait until after the first infusion to see how your skin reacts, only then can we figure out which wigs feel comfortable.” (Sigh).

It was about now that I noticed David quietly roaming the shop; slipping in and out of my field of vision.  He was checking out Alicia, Dominique and other Barbie wig heads sporting a variety of styles and colors; but at least he had the courtesy of introducing them to me.  “Hey, Dona, how about this red head?” as David presented Ashley to me.  “No, David, I am not a red head so I am not getting a red wig.”  “Why not,” queried David.  I ignored him to pay more attention to Jonathan who was still explaining the MATTING thingy.  David returned with Dominique, “How about this one, it’s your hair color.”  “No, David, I am not the Pantene shampoo girl swishing around my long silky shiny hair.  I know you are trying to be helpful but it’s getting so annoooooying.”

But like Odysseus trying to resist the call of the Sirens David was drawn to the plethora of decapitated Barbie heads and their luscious locks; so, he kept bringing them to me for acceptance. By this time, I was having none of his offerings, more out of principle than actually genuinely disliking the styles.  Anyway, Jonathan explained that it wasn’t a good idea to try a wig on until I was bald.   Let’s face it, a wig looks different on a full head of hair than it does on a pin head bald one.  So, we thanked Jonathan for his helpful tips but as we moved to the door  I noticed that David still had one of the wigs in his hand.  I didn’t skip a beat, “David, you need to put your girlfriend back on her head which is on the shelf.”  My revenge was sweet as he blushed from the embarrassment of it all.

Post script:  For those of you who know David you know that he was just trying his best to be helpful and for those of you who don’t know him, well, there is hardly a sweeter more supportive husband (and funny) to go through something like this with.

 

 

 

 

Fear of Dying

The atmosphere was tense in the CT scan waiting room.  Nothing seemed particularly different at first blush – several men and women waiting their turn to have a machine tell them something about their tumors.  Like me, many were being accompanied by a family member or friend.  By this time, I had been in the breast cancer waiting room several times.  The atmosphere in the BC waiting room I now see as qualitatively different.  A friend referred to it as, “You and your sisters waiting together.”  None of that filial bonding in the CT scan waiting room.  We were a mixed gender and we were there representing a variety of different malignancies.  No one likes the word “cancer” but I imagined you flinched a bit when you read “malignancies.”  But that is how it felt.  I think that it had more to do with fear than anything else.  I wasn’t seated long before I heard the frustration and anger of one man directed at the two receptionists.  He and his wife had been waiting a long time and he was upset, “this place is incompetent and needs more accountability” was one of his many comments.  His disgust and self-righteousness was difficult to hear.  But later his gait to the CAT scan room told the story of great pain and a life threatening condition.  Another woman was angrily defending her cell phone’s dependability with one of the CT scan techs. “I have my phone with me all the time so there was no way you tried to call me to change the appointment.”  She pleaded, “I need this to happen today so that my oncologist can start my meds again for my liver and pancreas.”  I wanted to cry for her.

Things calmed down for me a bit until the two mega TV screens came on with a feature story on the plight of Syrian refugee children.  The shocking statistics of children who had already died in the Syrian war and the continuing health crisis of children in the refugee camps including an outbreak of polio only served to increase the malignant atmosphere of the waiting room.  By the time I was ushered into the CT scan room I was praying, “Come Lord Jesus, Come.  There is too much pain and fear of dying in this world so just come and set everything right.”

Laying on the CT machine’s gurney, I thought I was doing well emotionally considering my experience in the waiting room.  But I was suddenly betrayed by my limbic system.  Out of nowhere, my heart was racing and my breathing was rapid and shallow.  Where did this come from?  Within a nana-second I knew why.  My body was picking up the physical sensations of fear before a rational thought was registered.  The classic case of the amygdala beating the frontal cortex to the punch.  “Oh no, the test is over so why is the tech taking so long to come back to me?  They must be seeing something that is of concern.  The horse is out of the barn!  Metastasis!”

The fear of dying had just made itself known.  So, I did what a few friends had suggested in fearful situations.  I started quietly quoting relevant bible verses audibly. Verses that I had memorized in my twenties, the time in life to memorize as the young brain seals the deal.  It helped. I can’t say with confidence that the fear of dying will never find its way back to me again or that the way out of it will be to always quote scripture but there is a scripture verse I am taking to the bank of heaven.  It’s a verse that doesn’t depend on me to muster up a no-fear-of-dying feeling in order for it to be operative.  In Romans 8 verses 37-39 of the New Testament the Apostle Paul writes,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

By the way, I found out two days ago and now, four days before my surgery that the CT, bone and MRI scans were clear.  The horse is still in the barn.

Fear of Living

As a mental health clinician I have encountered more people suffering from a fear of Living (FOL) than a fear of dying (FOD). Cancer hospitals I suspect have more FOD but then again I don’t know for sure for this is all new territory for me. However the following is what I know by training and experience that leads to FOL:  relentless Depression and/or anxiety, addictions, grief from losses too hard to bear, intense feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, incompetency, chronic pain, feelings of being trapped in difficult and/or abusive relationships and helplessness brought on by the terrors of traumatic memory. This is not an exhaustive list as mental/emotional anguish is highly subjective and impressed by the unique variables in human nervous systems and by early caregiving or lack thereof. The crowning blow is ultimately believing that there is either no meaning to life or a belief that a meaningful life can no longer exist. Overwhelmed by the distress of fear, abandonment and shame hopelessness creeps in.

In extreme cases FOL leads to suicide – no surprise, there.  According to Mark Kaplan, who has studied suicide at the School of Public Health at Portland State University (Oregon has the highest suicide rate among states in US), “suicide comes from an effort to escape and intolerable view of self.”  The moment I read this description I knew Mark Kaplan had nailed it.

So, where am I going with all this? Well, I am taking the liberty to self-disclose in order to add further qualification to my writing on such a topic.   I have always felt that beyond training what made me a good mental health therapist was my ability to empathize with the suffering of the emotionally ill. I suffered from an anxiety disorder/depression as a young woman in graduate school. Hospitalization was never required but I temporarily dropped out of my program due to an inability to focus and meet the program’s work requirements. Fear of living was a deeply felt experience and I despaired at times. I questioned the purpose of such a hard experience and questioned whether God loved me or was effectual in the area of mental health. I despaired at the thought of what kind of future life I was destined to live. In spite of this mental suffering I made an intentional decision about where and how to invest my time. Instead of retreating to my family home in another state I chose to live in Christian community with a few young women who were actively involved in the local university church. I did  this while working at a major teaching hospital, witnessing first-hand the suffering of children and adults with serious respiratory diseases, some fatal. By God’s grace the distraction of meaningful work would begin to repair the shame of personal failure. As a new convert to Christ my Christian community provided the theological and practical help I needed to make sense of my life, past and present. The help to overcome shame would be the catalyst for my feeling known and loved by God. The meaningful journey of a becoming a counselor would begin.  In 6 months I would return to graduate school and graduate with empathy (better than honors).

In summary, Fear of Living is not only treatable but redemptive. Meaningful distractions within the context of a loving community showed me the heart of God – more tender and just than I had ever imagined.

Next blog:  Fear of Dying

 

 

 

The C-Coupon

It started an hour after we left the cancer institute.  I was just told the news and we were driving back to our Buffalo apartment when we realized that feeling hungry had nothing to do with whether we should stop off at the grocery store.  We had nothing to eat at the apartment or at least nothing that was appetizing which at that moment included everything in the known universe.  My first blog entry was about that stop over at the grocery store and how my trust in Christ at that moment needed to feel palatable, thus the balled fist.  But by the end of grocery shopping I was feeling some hope and even some peace.  David and I were going our separate ways in different carts and found ourselves buying more than we normally would and products that didn’t quite fit our usual budget minded selves or personalities. And then it hit me….. We were using our “C-coupons,” imaginary, yes, since no one gave us any discounts or gifts, but none the less valid to David and me.  By the time we met at the checkout line we were justifying each other’s unusual purchases with, “I’m using my Cancer coupon,” for this one and for that one.  We had a giggle (David won’t approve of the “giggle” word for himself but, this is my blog) and moved on.   Since then every time either of us don’t feel mature in a newly purchased item we simply announce, “I’m using my C-coupon.”

Humor is situational

Now, some of you may not think humor is appropriate or normal is such circumstances. Some of you may even be offended because your hard experiences in life never disposed you to levity.   If this posting offends you and you tell me, I will more than likely regret that I ever wrote it and remove it.  I don’t want to hurt or offend anyone. I mean it!  Suffering is a highly personal thing and comes in degrees of devastations of which humor could even seem dark and cruel.  But I am going to go with it for now in my situation and share my thoughts about humor. I may change my mind later.

Importance of endorphins

We all have probably heard that laughing produces endorphins which is good, right?  Pain management protocols call for humor.   Endorphins lower stress but also reduce the experience of pain.

Years ago I had a client I was treating for eating disorders and by the time she was discharged to a healthier life, she told me that she never laughed so much with a therapist (she had had several) .  She didn’t say whether it was good or bad and I didn’t ask.  She was simply stating a fact.  I wondered if that was a good thing. Since then I have decided that it was, for her anyway.  I had and have no intention of making therapy a comedy routine with me as the star performer (I can dream about it, though) but I do like to laugh and I know that it can be helpful. Now, in a few minutes my husband is going to read this and come to me and say, “Liar, liar pants on fire.”  ,Why have there been times over the years, months and days that I have tried to bring levity to a situation and you have bit my head off?”  The answer is straight forward and I would have thought intuitive…  “You are my husband and are supposed to be acutely aware of my varying mood states at all times and make the needed adjustments!  Could anything be simpler, dear husband of 35 years?”

So, for now I am going to post a Monty Python Sketch that I just found and laughed through and believe I got a few needed endorphins.  I hope you do too.  The sketch shows how the younger generation don’t appreciate how tough the older generation had it.

Wishing you and endorphin-enriched day,

Dona

Chaplain Polly

Directly after the MRI a few nights ago David and I went to J and M’s, a couple who are blessed with the kind of home that can host a large number of people. Once every month or two a panel of speakers in a forum format meet in their home to discuss ways that ministries to the poor, marginalized and refugees of Buffalo can be improved. We decided to attend.

A medical doctor who is the founder of such a ministry was on the panel that  night to discuss the suffering we encounter when we work among the poor and refugees……or so I thought.  The story he told was the story of Polly who was a dear personal friend of his and his family.  In fact, Polly and her family lived in community with them (same house on the poor west side of Buffalo) and worked together at the ministry’s medical clinic where Polly was chaplain.

Now, here is where it got tense.  Polly’s story was basically that she came down with breast cancer in 2004 with a stage so low it might as well been called stage 0.  She died several years later.  The host came to me afterwards and apologized saying that she did not know that the speaker was going to share that particular story.  No apology was necessary as there is no way that any of us can or should be protected from uncomfortable stories. But the irony of the circumstance was not missed on me or on David.  He held my hand through the whole telling of the story.

After the shock of, “I can’t believe I am hearing this; this is not what I thought I was coming to hear especially after coming from a medical procedure to see where else cancer might be,”   I finally settled back and listened; really listened to an amazing story of a woman’s faith who continued to reach out to others until she was physically unable.  She continued to work at the clinic as a chaplain; listening, praying and counseling people all the while knowing she was dying as she was told there was nothing more that could be done for her.  Dr. G explained how their families functioned as hospice care providers around the clock during her last few weeks.  She was unresponsive the last week but turned her head once towards Dr. G and smiled as he tried singing to her one night to keep awake and as an attempt to bless her in a way that was out of his comfort zone.  He thought possibly it was a sympathy smile since his less than perfect singing was well known.  At her very last breath she surprisingly lifted both her arms in a posture of worship and died.

Dr. G went on to say that if you have ever witnessed a death, of which he has witnessed many, you know the moment that life is gone, really gone – there is no mistaking it for what it is. But mysteriously something else happens in that moment as there is a realization in the midst of the despair of our finiteness that “a something has ended for a something else to begin.”  The story of our lives is far from over.

So, in conclusion and in perspective: everyone’s story does not have to be mine, and probably won’t be. Who knows anything for sure.  But, if it is, then this is the way I want to go out.  Whatever the circumstances of my dying or the timing, whether in my 60s, 70s 80s 90s or 100s, “Oh God, let me be a Polly.”

Chipmunk Cheeks

My friend, Gail, sent me an entry from a blog she reads. It hit the mark because I’m a natural and enthusiastic worrier.  However, I recently realized that the upside of my personality is that I’m a good and enthusiastic trouble shooter……until stress hits then my default is worry.  “What If”  have been two of my most thought through words since a child.  In fact, as a confession I will now admit that the first real child’s book with a message that I bought for my own children was, “Sometimes God, I Wonder ‘What IF.'”  This book was one of many on a series of psalms for children.  Really?  This had to be the first one out of all the psalms that i would choose?

I am a visual person so I found this adorable guy to help me remember an important truth about worry.  I hope it helps you and me.   I am not quoting all of this person’s blog entry  but if you are interested the URL to article is listed below so that you can read it in its entirety and do it justice.

chipmunk-cheeks-peanuts-g-427474(Originally written in 2009)

God gives us grace for today, grace for what’s right in front of us. Today is Monday. And today God has given us the supply of grace we need for navigating Monday, But today, Monday, God hasn’t given us the grace to handle Tuesday or our imaginations of Tuesday.

Stop for a second. Where has your imagination been all day? What have you been imagining about tomorrow, next week, and next year? Those imaginations have made you heavy because God doesn’t give you grace for your imagination. He doesn’t work that way. He works this way:

Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day (Exodus 16:4).

God’s grace is like manna. God gives us “a day’s portion every day.” This is why Jesus taught us to pray for our “daily” bread, not “next week’s” bread.

We need to quit being chipmunks. We don’t need to try and stuff our cheeks with today’s manna, anxiously storing up fuel for the nasty winter we imagine around the corner. God doesn’t give us grace for our imaginations, he doesn’t give us grace for our chipmunk approach to life. (Emphasis mine.)

But, hear the good news: today God has given you today’s portion of grace. You can quit wasting Monday with all your imagining and cheek stuffing. If you’ve trusted Christ, you have a Sovereign Father who sits on a big throne in heaven, exercising detailed oversight over both your Monday and your Tuesday so that you can devote your full attention to what he has called you to do today. As I have grown older, however, I have come to realize two things. First, God has not promised to give us the grace to face all of the desperate situations that we might imagine finding ourselves in. He has promised to sustain us only in the ones that he actually brings us into. He therefore doesn’t promise that we will imagine how we could go through the fire for his sake, but he does promise that if he leads us through the fire, he will give us sufficient grace at that time. Like Manna, grace is not something that can be stored up for later use; each day receives its own supply.

Blog: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc

URL to article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2009/12/21/grace-sufficient-for-today/

Prisoner ‘Irene’ and Support for Haven House

David, told me that while he was waiting for me to finish up with the oncology radiologist at the breast cancer clinic a woman came in wearing an orange prison uniform, arm-shackles and two prison guards at her side. It made me angry. Read further on to know why.

There are a group of amazing women who are trying to launch a home for women leaving prison who have nowhere to go and are willing to be part of a ministry of restoration.  This transitional home, Haven House, was the vision of a woman who worked as a volunteer in the prisons for decades.  Her main goal was to tell women who wanted to come to her Bible studies that God loved them. Ellen Campbell, now 92 years old, had to leave Juneau before seeing her dream for this home established but she mentored younger women who are seeing to it that this vision comes to fruition.

So, what does this have to do with my being angry hearing about the inmate coming to the hospital for breast cancer treatment in shackles and an orange jump suit?  Well, it is a reminder that there are those organizations who want to help incarcerated women deal with fear and shame and then there are other institutions that don’t seem to give a flip. I will call this woman, Irene (a lovely name), because she deserves to be given a personal name rather than just ‘inmate.’  So, I try to imagine how Irene was feeling.  Probably a little scared like I was, not knowing what to expect.  But, unlike me, she probably felt self-conscious, judged, alone, conspicuous, and ashamed.  I also had a loving husband standing by me, not two prison guards making sure my arms stayed shackled to a waist belt.  Shackles? Really?  Might she try to make a run for the mammogram room and push someone aside who was before her in line or run out of the hospital into single digit Buffalo NY temperatures carrying her cancer with her?  Someone said that maybe she was violent. Maybe but I doubt it.  Cancer has a way of disarming you.  Irene will probably finish her incarceration and leave jail and whether cured of her cancer or not my prayer is that she will want to enter a supportive environment with other women who will give her encouragement, hope and the time to deal with a truck load of shame that more than likely began well before she came to the hospital shackled with cancer and cuffs. I hope there will be a Haven House for her.