Tag Archives: peace

God-cancer-hope

Why words matter

The last thing you say to someone might be the last thing you say to him. These words came to me as a memory from the day my friend Jim had a seizure which left him unconscious. That day ended with a diagnosis of a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer.

In the midst of being told that Jim may never regain consciousness, I wondered, “What was the last thing I said to him?”

Fortunately, I had spoken to him shortly before the seizure and my words were positive.

I know, though, that I don’t end every conversation, every interaction on a positive note. Sometimes I speak out of frustration or anger. Other times, I am distracted or tired or…God-cancer-hopeThat question, though, from the day Jim had a seizure has stayed with me and is a reminder to try to end every conversation on a positive note. That is particularly significant because I work at a cancer support center.

One of the women who came to the center for a couple of years had not been around for a while. Phone calls and messages went unanswered. We knew she had stopped treatment and began to wonder if she was still alive.

Sometimes families don’t notify us for weeks or even months, so we often live in a kind of limbo. But, we learned of this woman’s death within a few days after she had died.

Remembering this particular woman, I wondered what had been my last words to her. I hope they were something that let her know that I was glad to see her and that I cared about her. I hope she felt accepted, consoled and even uplifted.

She had been very realistic about the path she had chosen. She knew that without treatment, the cancer would end her life. But, I don’t think she knew that the last time she came to our center would be the last time. I did not know that the last words I said to her were the last words I would ever say to her.

Some days, I am overwhelmed by the sadness of my work. People learning they have cancer, enduring treatment, anxious for results from scans, some of them dying—it can be so sad.

Other days, though, I am overjoyed by the good news of my work. People learning that the cancer is in remission or that they are cancer-free, optimistic that life holds promise, hopeful for a future they once feared would never come.

Balancing these emotions, this ups and downs of cancer and its many ripple effects, can be difficult for me. God invites me to hold both the joys and sorrows.

I am reminded of St. Paul’s words: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

Strengthen me, Lord.

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reconciliation-vulnerability-resistance

Finding peace

My recent vacation in Ireland included a day trip to the Peace Wall in Belfast. It was a sobering experience that brought up many memories and emotions.

The Peace Wall runs between two neighborhoods and has gates across the streets. The gates were all closed and locked the Sunday we visited.reconciliation-vulnerability-resistancereconciliation-vulnerability-resistanceWe walked along Falls Road, looking at murals that commemorate the troubles in Northern Ireland—and also murals that depict troubles in other countries—oppression around the world.reconciliation-vulnerability-resistanceShortly before I left for Ireland we had marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Detroit riot. I was fifteen at the time of the riot, and I have vivid memories of that week in July 1967.

Some people are now calling the riot a rebellion or uprising, and while I understand their reasoning, I feel resistant to change. After the riot, my parents moved us out of Detroit, and riot captures my experience and the aftermath of upheaval in my life.

 

I had watched the documentary, 12th and Clairmount, that places the riot in a broader historical context, which was helpful for me. It also stirred up memories and emotions.

Standing there in Belfast, remembering the riot, I felt a mix of emotions—wanting to honor my experience and my memories, wanting to respect the experience and memories of others—and also wanting to find a way to move forward.reconciliation-vulnerability-resistanceThree years after the Detroit riot, I moved to Norfolk, VA, and I was unprepared for the reception I received.

More than once, white southerners told me to “Go home,” once my accent revealed that I was not from there, that I was a Yankee.

White southerners talked about “the war,” and it took me a while to remember that they were as likely to be talking about the Civil War as the Vietnam War. My protestations that my ancestors did not even come to the U.S. until the early twentieth century made no difference. I was a Yankee; therefore, I was somehow responsible for the Civil War.

Gobsmacked is the word I remember using to describe the experience. Over and over again, I encountered a hatred aimed at me because of where I had lived.

How could people hold onto something that happened more than a hundred years earlier? How could keeping Civil War hatred alive be helpful?

The wall in Belfast brought back that “we will not forget…” sentiment.

And that brought up my own I will not forget attitude. I can see that my resistance to look at the events and aftermath of July 1967 is similar to the white southerners who held on to anger about the civil war. I, too, nurse my grudge.

Looking at the Peace Wall and murals, I felt invited to let go of my anger and resentment, to be more compassionate toward the white southerners who had despised me and the Detroiters who changed my life. I felt invited to move past my resistance and onto the path toward reconciliation and peace.reconciliation-vulnerability-resistance

 

Jesus-heart-love

Jesus, I give you my heart

We had a visiting priest for Christmas Eve Mass, a charismatic, high-energy young man who was ordained three years ago.

His homily focused on the love of Jesus, and he shared his own story to illustrate the transformative nature of Jesus’ love. He had been raised a Catholic but lost his faith, moved away from the Church, and bought into the cultural promise that things would fulfill him. At some point, he realized that was an empty promise; he was disillusioned. Then he encountered Jesus and everything changed. He came back to the Church and eventually made his way to the seminary…and the rest is history.

He is clearly on fire for Jesus, and it was sweet to see his passion for Jesus. He so wanted to share it with us that he even gave us homework assignments. The first was to give our hearts to Jesus every morning, and he had us repeat after him, “Jesus, I give you my heart.”

As I listened to his homily, I reflected on my own relationship with Jesus. I remember those days of my early passion for Jesus. I remember how Jesus filled me with hope and gratitude, and how loving Jesus made sense to me.

Jesus’ message of forgiveness was exactly what I needed to hear when I was in my twenties and feeling lost. I had felt empty until I met Jesus. Then, like this priest, I could not stop talking about Jesus and how wonderful His love was.Jesus-heart-loveThe next morning, I began my prayer as the priest had suggested. I prayed, Jesus, I give you my heart.

To me, giving my heart to Jesus also means taking on the heart of Jesus, and I really do want my heart to be like the heart of Jesus—loving, accepting, forgiving. My prayer was sincere.

As I contemplated the love of Jesus, I thought of the people of Jesus’ time. I imagine that most people were expecting a Messiah who would free them from their occupiers.

How disappointed they must have been when Jesus told them to turn the other cheek, to actually love their enemies.

Imagine waiting for a Messiah who would give them security and prosperity and hearing Jesus’ message about vulnerability and riches in heaven.

Imagine wanting a Messiah who would make them feel strong and in control and hearing Jesus’ message about being weak and trusting that God was in control.

Where people were concerned with overthrowing their enemies, Jesus was more concerned with building up their spiritual lives, and his plan was based on love, not war.

Two thousand years later, little seems to have changed; many people still clamor for security through aggression.

Giving our hearts to Jesus means we have to let go of the illusion of power and control so that the love of Jesus can lead us to true peace and freedom.

Jesus, I give you my heart, I am praying every morning. Make it more like your heart, I add.Jesus-heart-love

 

“Today is my birthday”

“Today is my birthday,” I repeated cheerfully. It was like I was six or four rather than sixty-four.

Throughout that day, though, my sixtieth birthday kept coming to mind.

That was the birthday I spent at the New Jersey Shore, watching the sun rise over the ocean, waiting for dolphins to swim by and taking stock of my life. I was caring for my friend Jim, who had brain cancer. We had come to the Shore a few days earlier, the day after we learned Jim had a blood clot in his left lung.

This was three months after Jim’s cancer diagnosis. He had already spent six weeks in the hospital—surgery, recovery, rehabilitation, another surgery….When finally released, his mantra was “No more hospitalizations.”

Then one day, he started having trouble breathing. A trip to the ER confirmed a blood clot. Jim refused to be hospitalized, and so a nurse taught me how to give him injections of blood thinners. We had plans to leave for Ocean City the next day and Jim would not change our plans.

His oncologist was adamant that Jim be hospitalized, even warning that Jim would die without hospitalization.  “Then he will die at the Shore,” I said with more bravado than I felt.

Jim had always loved spending time at the Jersey Shore. The peace and quiet suited him. He was okay to die there.

So I called the funeral director and relayed the oncologist’s warning. He gave me his cell number and told me to call if needed.

And off we went.

The drive to the Jersey Shore had always seemed smooth, but Jim’s blood clot revealed every bump in the road, every uneven seam between lanes. His face was set in a grimace the entire hour and twenty minutes; shallow gasps of air accompanied quiet moans. I was terrified that he would not survive the drive.

Things got worse after we arrived. Jim could barely walk and each step up the steep flight of stairs caused excruciating pain. He collapsed when we got inside and hurt too much to move.

But the next morning, Jim got up and dressed without help. He had no pain and was breathing easily. Either the blood thinners were working or it was a miracle.

“Now I know that you will never take me back to the hospital,” he said.

“I won’t,” I assured him.

“Now I can live,” he stated with conviction.

All that day, he observed how the Shore was better than the hospital: “You don’t see the sun rise over the ocean in the hospital….you don’t see dolphins in the hospital…You don’t get wine with dinner in the hospital.”

We stayed at the Shore for several more days, and each day Jim grew stronger.

When the dolphins swam by on my birthday, Jim said, “There are sixty dolphins singing happy birthday to you.” It was so sweet, and now it is a happy memory.

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Questions of a second grader

I grew up during the cold war days of the 1950’s and was part of the multitude of school children who were taught to fear an invasion by our archenemy, the Soviets.

We watched newsreels of the Soviet army preparing to take over America—tanks rumbling down Soviet streets and rows of soldiers marching in lockstep. I could picture their tanks creeping down our streets (an image that became a reality during the 1967 Detroit riots, only they were our tanks and not the Soviet’s).

We also saw newsreels of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the mushroom cloud rising up to the sky, leaving total devastation below.

Regularly, we were marched down to our school basement, a designated bomb shelter, where we would be safe if and when the Soviets attacked.

As we prepared for war with the Soviets, I wondered if our counterparts in the Soviet Union were also watching the newsreels of our bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and being told we were the enemy. I wondered if they, too, were being marched down to the cellars of their schools.

One day, I asked my second grade teacher where my mother and little brother would go if we were attacked by the Soviets. “They will come here,” she said with certainty. Unsatisfactory answer. I knew it would take my mother at least fifteen minutes to walk to our school, and by my calculation, the bombs would have hit the ground by then.

“Why can’t they just go down to our basement?” I asked. Unsatisfactory question, which my teacher clearly did not appreciate. She was the authority and I was to accept her answer as final, whether it made sense to me or not.

How could the school basement be any safer than my home basement? I wondered. Did we only need a fallout shelter sign?

At that early age, I realized that there was more than one way to view a situation and a variety of ways to spin facts.

I made a decision: I neither wanted to live in perpetual fear nor did I want to climb out of the school basement after an atomic bomb had fallen—destroying my home and killing the rest of my family. What was the point in that? Why be kept alive and safe when everything else would be gone?

“I’d rather live under the Soviets,” I told my teacher.

“You don’t know what you are saying,” she replied sharply, as if I had uttered a blasphemy. “They have no food, not even bread.” The thought clearly terrified her.

I didn’t care; I would rather be hungry and have my family than live in constant fear of a Soviet attack. At some place deep within, I already knew that fear was not the answer.

I don’t remember when I first heard the scripture that fear is useless; what is needed is trust (Luke 8:50), but I know I heard it as a confirmation of what I already believed.