Tag Archives: peace

“…where there is sadness, joy.”

Before my cousin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer ten years ago, I did not think much about cancer. Since her diagnosis, though, I have thought about it a lot. In the five years following her death, five other important people in my life died from cancer. How could I not think about it? Cancer invaded my life.

When my cousin was diagnosed, I wondered what I would do if it was me. Would I react as my cousin had?

After reflecting on that question for a while, I realized I could not possibly know what I would do. There is just no way to predict how one will react to a cancer diagnosis because so many factors come into play at the time of diagnosis.

Having worked at a cancer support center for the past four years, I understand that truth even more deeply.

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While praying this morning for someone who is newly diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer, I realized I no longer think about what I might do if it was me. Instead, I try just to be present, to listen and to accept the decisions the person who has cancer is making.

This particular person was on my mind as I prayed St. Francis’ prayer his morning, and the words that jumped out at me were, “where there is sadness, joy.”

How can I speak joy into the sadness of this person’s life? I hear the anxiety in his wife’s voice and think of the pain he is experiencing; I feel their sadness.

And yet, as I talk with this couple, I notice little sparks of light at the edges of the darkness. A joke about how he is the cook in their relationship so being in the hospital is rescuing them from her cooking. Or how lucky they are to live near a national cancer institute so he can be assured of the most up-to-date treatment. Gratitude and joy creep in, even in the darkest moments

St Ignatius prayed, “Take, Lord, receive, all my liberty…give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.”

It is a prayer of surrender, of letting go.

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A cancer diagnosis can be one of those moments in life when leaning into God may be the only thing we can do. Even if we put our bodies at the mercy of medical professionals, our spirits belong to God.

Both St. Francis and St. Ignatius—and others who have come to this place of understanding their complete dependence on God—know that God is truly all we need. Letting go of our desire for control and our illusions that we actually have control is the path to peace.

Cancer comes out of the blue. It can be life-changing and even life-destroying. Like all challenges in life, though, it can be the gift that leads us to true peace, freedom and even joy.

No matter the darkness that might invade my life, I hope I react with trust and hope.

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God-spirituality-prayer

My prayer

I start my mornings with an hour of quiet time—journaling, reading scripture, praying and writing. My missalette includes a Prayer for each day, written by saints or taken from a variety of Sacramentaries.

The diversity of sources intrigues me, and many are new to me. This month, I have been introduced to the Gelasian Sacramentary and Saint Makarios of Alexandria.

These prayers often spark a prayer of my own.

Recently, I have begun to ponder how I pray and what words I would use if I were writing my prayers down instead of just saying them.

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Knowing I spend time in prayer each day, people often ask me to pray for them and those they love. My friend Ted believed I have hot line to God because the things he asked me to pray for turned out the way he wanted. I was nine for nine when he asked me to pray for his friend Adele.

Instead of getting better, though, as Ted had wanted, Adele died. When Ted called me to tell me Adele had died, he said, “Your prayers didn’t work.”

Ted had never asked me about the specifics of my prayer, so I took this occasion to tell him that I had not prayed for Adele to get better. I had prayed that God give Adele the grace and strength to face her difficulties, that her faith remain strong and that God grant her peace.

“Why didn’t you ask God to cure her?” he wanted to know.

“That is not how my relationship with God works,” I answered.

When my friend Jim got brain cancer, many people prayed that he would be cured, and they were certain God was going to comply with their wishes. It would have been miraculous because there is no known cure for the type of cancer Jim had.

“What will those people do on the day you die?” I asked Jim.

My prayer for Jim was that he get right with God, that he have the strength to face what was happening to him and that he be at peace. It was my prayer for him whether he was to live or die.

I share Ted’s confidence that I have God’s ear, but my concern is more focused on acceptance.

If I were to write a prayer, it would go something like this:

God, give me the strength to endure whatever hardship comes my way with grace and peace. Help me to let go of my own expectations and accept the truth of what is. Give me the wisdom to remember that my vision is limited; help me to trust that you see the big picture. Help me to be grateful for all that has been and to say “yes” to what is yet to be.

This is my prayer for myself and also how I pray for those on my Prayer List. Not miraculous cures—although I thank God when they happen—but hope for wisdom, courage, strength and peace.

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What really matters

My mother used a wringer washer until the mid-1990’s and always hung her clothes on the line in the yard. We had a dryer, but why use it when the sun and wind would do the job for free? She prepared a full breakfast for us every morning and a meat-and-potatoes dinner every night. My parents grew up during the Great Depression and were frugal; we lived within our means, and our means were meager.

We lived simply, reusing and recycling long before it was fashionable.

I have continued some of my mother’s traditions. I still hang my laundry on the line in my yard, eat a full breakfast every morning and cook dinner more often than I eat out. By most people’s standards, I am quite frugal—wearing clothes until they wear out, baking from scratch and keeping cars until they die.

My father taught me that we all “put our pants on one leg at a time.” He respected people who had earned his respect. In his eyes, no one person was better than anyone else, and he kowtowed to no one. From him, I learned to view all people as equals.

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In my mid-twenties, I spent my lunch hour swimming in a hotel pool across the street from my office. One day, another swimmer approached me. He and his friends were staying at the hotel for a few days, and he asked if I could recommend a restaurant. I explained that I was new to town so I could not help them. He asked where I was from. “Detroit,” I said.

“Hey, Bob,” he called to one of his friends. “She is from Detroit, too.” Bob came over and we chatted about Detroit for a bit.

The next day’s newspaper featured a picture of Bob and his friends—he was Bob Seger, and I had no clue. I wondered if he was offended that I did not know who he was (since he was obviously famous) or if he found it refreshing that someone who was the age of his fan base was oblivious.

Twenty years later, a friend suggested I get a television so I could tune into pop culture. He warned that the trajectory I was on would soon preclude me from social conversations. I relayed the pool incident to illustrate that I was never into pop culture, nor was I much interested in conversations about celebrities.

Trends have passed me by, and I am ok with that. I don’t know one fashion designer from another, and I don’t care.

What matters to me is more basic than celebrities, trends or labels.

I care about how ordinary people are living their lives—people who are facing challenges and difficulties—and where they are connecting with others for support. I am more interested in where people are finding God in their lives—those moments of transcendence, of peace and deep joy—and how they share their blessings.

In the end, I believe those around us are a much wiser investment of our time and energy.

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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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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

 

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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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