We saw the sunrise (in Mosul) and we said, ‘Oh God you are good!’

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

― C.S. Lewis

This post will not be a cancer-related one unless cancer is used here metaphorically as we take time to consider the malignancy of some suffering in this world.

Have you ever heard a story that left you in awe or perhaps confused as to how to make sense of it?  You knew that what you were hearing was swelling with profound meaning but because you had never experienced anything close to such a thing you felt inadequate to try to give words of meaning to what you heard; as if you might risk exposing a small-mindedness or an arrogant superfluous-ness.

I am about to share a story with you but it will be the last thing I will write for fear that I will be tempted to comment or explain. Some stories are stand alone and they work their meaning for each individual in unique emotional or spiritual ways. And that meaning can be transformative in some way. Offering a commentary can perhaps rob the story of its mystery of inspiration for a particular individual in a particular way.

I have been a subscriber to two different websites that track and follow the persecution of Christians in areas of government repression or radical Islamic insurgency.  Release International (a UK-based organization) and World Monitor Watch (a ministry of Open Doors) inform of persecution of individuals or whole communities. Their information is based on sources that are close to the situation and are supported by a few secular media organizations.  These stories of persecution have become so numerous, common place and seemingly intractable that unless you are looking for them they are not reaching your typical news source.

Recent news coverage of the fall of Mosul, Iraq to radical Islamist insurgency forces has made all the major news sources. What may or may not be explained in the telling of the takeover of the city by ISIS (the Islamist insurgents ) is the terror that 3000 Christians are experiencing as they desperately try to escape a possible death, abduction, or worse as they become a target of hostilities. We are aware that this is happening in Syria as thousands upon thousands of refugees flee to Jordan, Lebanon or any place that they can get to. And yes, these terrorized refugees are Muslim as well as Christian. Civil war is no respecter of religion, age or defenselessness. However, in both countries (Syria and now Iraq) thousand year old enclaves of Christians are being targeted for extinction, extortion or forced conversion.  Entire communities, towns and cities of Christians who have lived peacefully for centuries as minorities in Syria and now in Iraq, have fled.

Typically the web sites I go to for updates don’t share personal human interest stories. They typically tell the facts and ask for prayer or some form of advocacy.  I pay special attention, however, when a personal story is reported.  The following is part of the full story of the Christian flight from Mosul as reported in World Monitor Watch and it left me so humbled and in awe of God’s work in the hearts of Christians in the midst of great adversity.

“A family with four small children, three to nine-years-old, living in the most dangerous area of Mosul – similar to the Green Zone in Baghdad – said after ISIS reached Mosul on June 6 they planned to leave early Tuesday morning around 7 am. But on Monday evening – while they ate dinner – two homes next to them were hit with RPGs and set on fire.

“We left the food and ran,” the wife said. “We didn’t even stop for our shoes, we fled in our sandals! We just made sure to take our I.D.s and important papers. The children were very scared.”

An older woman spoke of the long trip leaving Mosul:  “We saw many people crying, and very angry. But we were singing praise songs in our car. We saw the sunrise, and we were saying, ‘O God, You are good.  Thank you for this peace we have, we didn’t sleep all night, and still until now, but we are not angry. When we are rich in God, it is very special in these kinds of hard times.”

At one place where they were stopped waiting to pass, she saw some young men who were very angry. She went over and said to them, “Do you believe in God?” When they said yes, she asked, “Can I pray for you?” So they said ‘yes, please pray for us’. So she prayed with them there. “And I’m still praying for them now,” she added.

The church leader joined in: “Pray that we can return quickly to Mosul, because the future is unknown for us all. What kind of jobs we can get here is limited, and of course students missed their final exams, which are now postponed. How can we live, find work for an income? The church is helping us temporarily with living expenses, but we can’t stay here forever.  If we cannot return, we will apply for residency here in Ankawa. We believe God will care for us, as Jesus said He does for the birds of the air!”

“God is good, all the time!” he added, with a big smile, gesturing to the children tumbling over each other and playing in the tiny hallway. “We pray things will get better, so we can go back to Mosul.”

Upon leaving, the church leader gave a final plea: “Pray for peace in Iraq.  We have had enough of wars. Nowhere is safe here.”

Lord we join our fellow believers as we pray for peace for everyone and the end of terror.  (Psalm 10:17-18)  Amen

(Sorry dear readers, I did just leave a commentary.  I couldn’t help it.)

 

 

 

 

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The upside (I mean it!) of being bald

 

In this post I want to  speak to the pluses and minuses of being bald. I’m serious….not tongue-in-cheek, or just funny or sarcastic. I have come to see some real advantages about being bald.

The positives:

1. You feel squeaky clean after a quick shower.

2. Your head dries within seconds – no blow drying, no nothing – just you and your natural born head.

3. You never have a bad hair day.

4. If you ever get head lice it will be easy to get rid of.

5. You get to reinvent yourself with the many wigs that you have conned from the American Cancer Society.  (Not really a con; it is just a matter of going to all the different ACS sites and asking for your one free wig.  They don’t care that you got one at another location.  Thank you, ACS.)

6. Friends give you gifts.  Some are beautiful scarves that you can wrap your head in different styles: African, Gypsy, Egyptian.   Again you’re reinventing yourself.

Aside:

You know how our mothers always told us to make sure we had clean underwear on in case we were in an accident and had to be taken to the hospital?   Well I’ve got another one for you ladies:  always make sure you have on 24-hour stay lipstick and earrings..

True story: In an earlier post I mentioned that I passed out at the oncology clinic due to fever and infection; an episode that required the hospital’s  rapid response team to be summoned.  Once they were reassured  I was no longer in crisis  they started talking to me.  Let me rephrase that. They started talking about me.  At that point I was slowing regaining consciousness.  I could hear and understand but I just could not summon the strength to open my eyes.. I heard one responder say, “Look at her she still has her lipstick on!”  At that moment I knew something critical had to be said whether my eyes were open or not. So I said, “By the time I have my eyes open I expect all of you that are surrounding me to have your lipstick on.”  (I desrved that.)  They laughed and said that Ralph only wore his at night.  (Ralph had to have been a medical student.) See ladies, clean underwear won’t generate admiration or laughs.  Wearing clean underwear is just doing your duty.  Wearing 24-hour lipstick is above and beyond.

Positives of baldness continued……

6. When you want your husband to feel sorrier for you than you deserve you can  walk around the house bald or with an unflattering scalp cap; looking very pitiful without your lipstick or earrings. It might get you a back rub or yet another glass of lemonade. But don’t overdo  this, it will backfire. One time after being particularly demanding my husband looked at me in my scalp cap and said, “You look and act like you are in the mujahedeen!”

7. When you finally decide to spruce it up a bit you get more than your share of compliments from your husband. He really means it because he’s really relieved!

The downside:

Did you notice that I didn’t mention a single negative? There is one big one:

You cannot ride in a convertible.  If you ride in a convertible you wig will invariably fly off once the car attains a speed of 45 miles an hour. It is likely your friends will be videotaping you when this happens. The video will be uploaded and go viral within minutes. This is subject to YouTube embarrassment and notoriety worldwide. I know this to be true because I know of it happening to at least one other woman.

So I’ll close with a link to the  Church Lady’s Wig Flies Off. I have watched this YouTube a dozen times.  I love this woman and I love her family and you’ll see why.  Listen carefully for some few  keywords. She explains what a “Treacher” is.  Listen for the word, “road kill”.  Watch the  the expression on her daughter’s (the driver’s) face.  Listen to the teasing of the other daughters that are on and off-camera.   And finally listen for the expression that I could have said, “at least you wearing your lip stick!”

 

 

Please weigh in on this topic of plusses of baldness in the comment section. No negatives please.

Some illustrations from my own creative hand to amuse and educate: remember you are reinventing yourself.

Lipstick, earrings, wig and looking twelve
Lipstick, earrings, wig and looking twelve

 

 

Egyptian scarf with lipstick and cool earrings
Egyptian scarf with lipstick and cool earrings
No lipstick, no nothing but grumpiness
No lipstick, no nothing but grumpiness
Short curly wig. Too much lipstick but cool earrings.
Short curly wig. Too much lipstick but cool earrings.
Gypsy scarf with lipstick and earrings but looking 10-years old.
Gypsy scarf with lipstick and earrings but looking 10-years old.
African turban, lipstick, earrings
African turban, lipstick, earrings

The Rumble of Panic beneath Everything

Anxiety (1894) by Edvard Munch
Anxiety (1894) by Edvard Munch

The counselor in me has always had a vulnerable side when the professional hat is not worn.

I’ve been an interested and emphatic listener of others’ stories since my twenties when the Jesus story first made its impact (coincidentally or consequentially, I’m not sure).  But I’ve not always been able to be a dispassionate empathetic listener. This vulnerability presents itself when I move from empathy to over-identification. The self-centered and self-protective side of my psyche hijacks the genuinely compassionate side and the fearfulness of “this sounds too close to home and could happen to me or a loved one” takes over and I am sorry I ever listened to that person’s story. I don’t know why but this does not happen when I am “clinical Dona” which is a good thing or I would have been admitted to a psych ward after my first year of practice.

I just spent three days in the hospital after getting an acute infection driven bya low white blood cell count due to chemotherapy.  I spent 24 hours in the ICU and two and a half days on a regular floor. In both situations I was in better health than the patients around me and because of this I had conversations with worried and distressed family members that I would meet in the hall or waiting room. I heard stories of protracted and acute suffering and misery in a very short period of time. The empathetic listener had not turned off while I was hospitalized.text for rumble_rev

But there were times during my hospital stay that I wanted it to turn off; like when the descriptions of misery were too raw and graphic. At that point cancer would interrupt the counselor – butt her out with one quick unexpected slam – reminding her that there could be much more misery in store down the road of cancer treatment.  So, after a while compassionate listening would give way to cowardly recoiling and shutdown. I would walk back to my room with more Dona-sadness than with Jack-sadness or Terri-sadness.  Not pretty or admirable.  Thankfully this overly anxious display of self-pity did not last long and did not keep me from praying for these folks and their distressed families.

My guess is that most of you readers are not going to be too hard on me.  In most of us there is that nagging feeling and suppressed thought that suffering and loss are not that far from any of us regardless of the many precautions we take to stay them off. They blindside even the most cautious and genetically hearty of us.

In the introduction of his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Timothy Keller quotes Ernest Becker:

 “I think that taking life seriously means something like this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation…… of the rumble of panic underneath everything.  Otherwise it is false.”

So how are we to live with peace, purpose, joy, love, and hope in light of this rumble of panic?  How are we to recognize a caring, loving God who is for us when at any time the shoe can drop or has already dropped?  I am a novice in this world of suffering but let me offer a couple of thoughts.

David my husband says that in times of crisis we are what we have been trained to be. My experience in watching others who have walked various kinds and degrees of suffering, ranging from tragic losses to debilitating and sometimes fatal illnesses, is that getting through it required leaning on spiritual resources previously learned or acquired.  I am not going to be so presumptuous as to imply that only those who rely on spiritual resources weather their tragedies well.  I have read or heard  inspiring stories of people who have weathered great hardship without apparently leaning on God.

But my experience in working in the US and the Middle East as well as meeting people from all over the world is that when push comes to shove it is spiritual resources that provide comfort and strength in times of critical helplessness; not perfectly or always heroically, but nonetheless “a leaning on” that brings comfort.  I heard similar disclosures last week in the hospital’s halls and waiting rooms.

So, what are these spiritual resources that I hear about from the sufferer?

  • Praying
  • Complaining to a God who is both there and not too thin skinned to take it.
  • Drawing on scripture for comfort
  •  Developing a Biblical awareness of the myriad of sufferings addressed in the biblical text with its various antidotes.
  • Receiving the practical and sacrificial helps and prayers of the church and friends that show the compassionate face of Christ, and finally,
  • Acknowledging that something supernatural is at work; ideally, a healing but certainly a feeling of the Holy Spirit’s presence. THEY ARE NOT ALONE.

I, too, have been relying on the above resources; not perfectly or even consistently . In a previous post called, Chipmunk Cheeks, I mentioned the futility of expecting God to give me the grace for my grim or fearful imaginings. He has not promised to do that. He has promised to be with me in the present and give grace for that present. If I lay hold of that truth once again I will be able to be fully present with those who tell me their woeful stories of pain and grief.  Only then can I be numbered as one of the spiritual resources on which they can rely. “Oh God let it be true about me.”