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The Women Who Weep

The food had just arrived at our table when we got the call from the hospital. We had spent the day at my grandpa’s bedside and had found a place to eat that was only three blocks away, but by the time my folks and I made it back to his room, he was gone. All that was left was for mom and me to kneel on either side of his bed and take his hands in ours, to bend over him one last time and to weep. It was raw and beautiful and desperate – an outpouring of love and grief. It was a sacred moment in one of those thin places where heaven seems close. And in that moment, I remembered the women who wept for Jesus on the day that He died.

My freshman year of high school, our church put on a large Easter pageant over the weekend of Passover. My mom was cast to play Salome – one of the women who wept for Jesus at the foot of the cross. Through each of the three performances, she and the actress playing Mary cried real tears as the familiar scenes unfolded: Jesus stumbling under the weight of his cross, the nails driven into his body, his final words and death. The scene ended as his disciples laid him across his mother’s lap in a recreation of Michelangelo’s sculpture The Pieta.

In the famous sculpture, Mary’s face is still and sorrowful as she gazes at her son’s broken, lifeless body. She meets this moment – the one she has been dreading for 34 years – with a serenity that I cannot imagine. Instead, I picture Mary’s face ravaged with grief and horror. Her hands tracing the outline of her son’s face like she did when he was a baby, trying to memorize each feature while she can. The calluses on his fingers bring memories of him as a little boy, learning how to work in the carpenter shop. Her friends gather round and weep with her.

I imagine them following Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb. The tears that must have fallen as they cared for Jesus’ body, working quickly as the Sabbath was approaching. The love they felt as they cleaned his wounds and dressed him and wrapped him carefully in clean cloths, positioning him on the narrow shelf as if he were asleep. It is almost impossible to leave him there. I can hear the sobs as they walk away.

Jesus encountered women who wept throughout his ministry: the widow of Nain grieving her only son, the Canaanite woman desperate for her daughter’s healing, Martha’s angry sobs after her brother died, and woman who washed his feet with tears of gratitude and anointed them with perfume. It may have been the love they felt in his presence that allowed them to let down their guard. Perhaps it was the vulnerability that comes with daring to hope. Women were drawn to him in their most desperate moments, and he met their tears with acceptance and love, and often, a miracle.

So it is especially beautiful that when He rises from the grave, Jesus’ first impulse will be to find the women who are weeping. There they are at the now-empty tomb, crushed with grief, reeling with horror, crying so hard they cannot even see clearly. And there He Is, with his words of love and gentle smile. Yes, on Sunday morning, there will be tears of joy and hope for the future.

But Friday is for mourning and for the love that remains, even after death. The tears are a sacrifice poured out for him. The weeping women are doing holy work. It is all that is needed on Friday.

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cancer rootwords

Fall

October is here again. That time of year when reminders of breast cancer are everywhere. The month – and my morning – started out with the realization that I am experiencing significant hair loss from the aromatase inhibitors I am taking. My hair is one of the features that I have always felt fairly confident about. No longer.

When I made the connection this morning between my meds and my hair falling out, I was crushed. Cancer has already stolen so much of what made me feel feminine and sometimes beautiful. This change to my hair was unexpected and makes me feel self conscious. I have seven more years on this medication, and it is saving my life. With that in mind, it is hard to face the ways it is aging me in the process.

Nevertheless, the tears came on the way to work this morning. The cancer is over, except I will be dealing with it for the rest of my life in different ways, big and small. Sometimes I am just so tired. As I wept, these words filled the car:

“Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet

For You have never failed me yet

Your promise still stands
Great is your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You’ve never failed me yet

I’ve seen you move, come move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again”

Rootwords. I calm and wipe away the tears.

(Elevation Worship, Do It Again)

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cancer

A Poem for April – PTSD

In many ways the 5 surgeries I had during treatment seem sooo long ago, but my body remembers. Since April is national poetry month, I thought I would share this poem I wrote a few weeks ago when my mom broke her arm and needed surgery. I was caught off guard by my reaction as I helped her prep in the surgery center and sent her off on the stretcher:

PTSD

it was the fuzzy socks
with the grippy soles
sticking out from her hospital gown
under the heated blankets
that took me back

along with the beeping
beeping
beeping
monitors
and the nervous chattiness

my expertise
about anesthesia
and avoiding nausea
and how to dress
for an immobile arm
comes to me again
so
easily

and I recall
that brisk look of business
under the surgeon’s cap
means
time to go

with intentionally breezy
goodbyes and
see-you-soons
given like a promise
under our control

quick kisses,
doors close
between
us

and this time it’s me
weeping softly in the waiting room
for now

and for then

Categories
cancer

Save the Ta-tas

It’s October, and the world’s turned pink. It was October when I got the mammogram that turned into a diagnosis. So it is both validating and jarring to see the pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness messages popping up everywhere from car dealerships to breakfast cereal to my Facebook feed.

I have mixed feelings about the pink ribbons. I got a lot of pink gifts from family and friends during treatment, and they are special to me. When I look at them, I feel the love. On the other hand, the pink ribbon thing is also a sales gimmick, and the vast majority of that money is not going directly towards breast cancer research or a cure. So when I am confronted with a tube of chapstick with a pink ribbon on it as I’m standing in line to pay for my gas, it sometimes feels gross.

But it’s the Save the Tatas awareness campaign that really turns me off. I get it. It’s fun and clever and cutesy. But I will tell you this: when I got that diagnosis and I imagined my children growing up and my parents getting old without me, when I thought about all of the things in this world that I still wanted to see and do – my ta-tas were the last thing on my mind. I wanted them off, I wanted my ovaries out, I wanted my hormones s.h.u.t. d.o.w.n. I looked the surgeon straight in the eye and said, “Do whatever you have to do, I have children to raise.”

So this campaign that reduces women to their ta-tas, smacks of objectification. Women have a hell of a lot more to offer this world than their ta-tas. Mine are gone, and I have had three years since to spend time with my family and friends, to do important work, to laugh and cry and pray and live. It’s too late to save my ta-tas, but every day I carry the fear that breast cancer could come back to take my life.

So please, don’t waste your energy fighting to Save the Ta-tas or, even worse, to Save Second Base. In the United States, a woman dies of breast cancer every 13 minutes. Until breast cancer is curable or treatable for everyone, forget the ta-tas. Save the people.

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Uncategorized

Summer and Smoke

The smoke is thick over Spokane today, shrouding all the familiar hills and trees and leaving a bittter taste in my mouth. We are surrounded by fire. The wind will bring smoke our way, whether it is coming from the north, south, east, or west. One child has been taking medicine morning and night for three days to calm her irritated lungs and to quiet her cough.

I want to complain that we are losing these last days of summer. The September days that should be blue skies and sunshine and temperatures cool enough for evening walks through the neighborhood. It doesn’t seem right to complain, though, when the fires aren’t threatening my home. So I try to bite my tongue as much as I can, and the title of that Tennessee Williams play keeps coming to mind, Summer and Smoke.

We are waiting out these gray days, solemn and hushed, as wild fires race through the Columbia Gorge and Glacier National Park and so many treasured spots across the Pacific Northwest. Praying for a fresh breeze, praying for rain. Meanwhile, family and friends in Houston are cleaning up after too much rain from one hurricane, and family and friends in Florida are bracing themselves for too much wind from another one. Still, I am struck by how beautiful these disasters are from a distance. The fires raging wild across the hilltops through the night, reflected bright in the river. The view of the hurricane from space, swirling thickly around that deep, powerful center. This old world – so lovely, so fragile, so off balance.

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rootwords

Birthday Gift

The number four has always been special to me – my lucky number, maybe. So this birthday – 44 – has felt like a good one. Mostly. And then, there is Relentless Anxiety that lives in my head and scares me with questions about how many more birthdays I might get and what awful things could happen over the course of this next year.

So, it was rather beautiful to wake up from a bad dream on the morning of my birthday. I don’t remember what the dream was about, only that I was terrified and things seemed hopeless, when in the middle of that desperate place, I heard a small voice inside my head repeating over and over again, “I trust you, God. I trust you, God. I trust you, God.” And, inside my dream, I joined that voice, quietly in my thoughts. Then I was chanting it out loud to myself with more and more conviction, until I was focused only on those words and that voice – and suddenly I was flooded with complete peace. And I woke up, taking those rootwords – and that peaceful feeling of surrender and trust –  into this birthday, into this year: I trust you, God. I trust you, God. I trust you, God.

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Why I Marched

The night the Russia story broke (yet again) on January 11, I ordered an official Women’s March sweatshirt and asked a friend to march with me. It was a little act of resistance. I had watched as the march came together on a national Facebook group in the wake of the election, and kept watching over the following days and weeks as the regional march was organized here in Spokane. I was interested, but wasn’t sure I would really attend.

I have never done anything remotely like this. I am not a member of any political party, and have rarely voted a straight ticket. It’s true that over the past 20 years, I have come to identify more with the Democratic party than with the Republican party. This election, however, was about much more than party affiliation for me. And the reasons I marched on inauguration weekend were personal. Yes, this march was a response to the election. But it wasn’t about whining, being a sore loser, or promoting anarchy – and I certainly didn’t get paid. A week after the march, a friend sent me a private message asking me to help her understand what the march was really about and why I chose to participate. I appreciated her sincere question so much, and I have been thinking about it ever since. While I can’t speak for everyone, here are some of the reasons I felt it was important to make a public statement after this election:

  • I marched in support of victims of sexual assault. Predatory behavior is not okay, no matter who does it. I want my daughter to know that. And my son.
  • I marched in support of a safe work environment for every woman – one where her body is never a topic of conversation, let alone harassment or bullying.
  • I marched in support of friends and family who are in minority groups – the ones who feel targeted and afraid.
  • I marched in support of the women I taught at the community college in eastern Oregon. My students with Mexican heritage who taught me about doing hard work at jobs most Americans wouldn’t take, while attending school and parenting classes so that their children could have better lives
  • I marched in support of the students I taught in a Women’s Program here in Spokane. The teenage mothers trying to finish their high school diplomas, and the newly single older women, trying to brush up their skills and get back into the work force. This program was dissolved after massive cuts to education.
  • I marched in support of the women in my church who have been called to ministry by the Holy Spirit, only to be told that they won’t be equally recognized by the denomination because of their gender.
  • I marched in support of women who need affordable, high quality health insurance. I spent five years with only catastrophic coverage in my twenties. By the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had full coverage insurance which gave me access to the kind of health care that caught my cancer early and allowed me to get the best treatment. It was still financially devastating. No one should have to face that diagnosis without comprehensive health insurance.
  • I marched in support of women with pre-existing conditions, like a history of breast cancer. The ones who are fighting to stay healthy because they have things they need to do, people they need to care for, a life they need to live.
  • I marched in support of lowering the abortion rate by providing women with easily accessible birth control and by making sure that there are social structures in place to support them after they have children.
  • I marched in support of those same children who will need food, good education, safe housing, and healthcare – whether or not their parents are able (or willing) to support them. I believe that pro-life means we continue to advocate and care for those babies after they are born, as well as before.
  • I marched in support of other Christians who refuse to have their politics defined for them based on one or two hot-button issues. The ones who have been bravely speaking up and the ones who feel they have to stay silent.
  • I marched in support of my friends and former students in Ukraine – the ones who immigrated to the US and other places, and the ones who are now living in a country partly occupied by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
  • I marched because I have seen what life is like under a corrupt government that is not accountable to anyone. One where bribes are necessary to get basic paperwork filed. Where the postal service is not secure. Where the only news comes from channels that are told what they can report. Where you have to be careful about conversations held in the privacy of your own home because someone may be listening.
  • I marched in support of the values that I teach my kids: to be kind, to tell the truth, to be respectful even when you disagree, to stand up for each other, and to speak up when you see something wrong.

I wore a pink hat to the march, but it didn’t have ears. I marched for my own reasons, in my own way. As did millions in cities across the world. Here in Spokane there were women and men of all ages and backgrounds: church groups, feminists, families with kids, students and retirees. There was a friendly, easy-going solidarity in this huge crowd of strangers who smiled and waited patiently outside, missing the speeches because there were too many to fit into the convention center. We sang, we cheered, we marched. We realized that we were not alone – even in this conservative pocket of Washington. It was a response; it was a beginning. It was a buoyant, hopeful thing, and I’m glad I was part of it.

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Inauguration

When I started this blog this summer, my mind spun with ideas to post and stories to tell. It was time to rebuild the ashes of my life after my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I was looking forward to processing this transition through writing, which has often worked so well for me. I felt like a clean slate had been handed to me, and I was ready to fill it with things made new. I thought my life had been stripped down to the foundations, everything shaken, and it was time to build it back up.

Except, I was wrong. About that same time, the national election entered its final, nasty stretch and the leaders of my denomination took action in an unprecedented, authoritarian way. Unexpectedly, I found myself in a strange no-man’s land:

  • fundamentally opposed to the candidate from one political party because of my personal faith, and yet not fully accepted by the other party because of my personal faith
  • unsure whether there is still a place for me in the denomination in which I grew up and uncertain whether I can keep my faith and stay in this church.

The events of the past few months have rocked the foundations of my identity and left me feeling rootless in a way cancer did not.

My country has felt unfamiliar, my faith has felt unfamiliar. And while I wanted to write about it this fall, I didn’t feel like I should because who starts a personal blog and jumps immediately into the most controversial issues after two posts?

I wanted to get my feet under me first with some less explosive topics. I brainstormed and started several posts, but I have found it impossible to write about anything else when my mind has been preoccupied with the massive shifts happening in our nation, in my denomination, and in myself.

When I started this blog, I decided to use my own name because I felt it was important for me at this point in my life to begin fully occupying my own space without apologies. Well, here I am, and these issues and conversations are fundamental to me.  At the same time, I have had to do a lot of thinking about how I want to address them – to allow myself to have strong opinions without apology, but also to express them with respect and thoughtfulness. That sounds really hard. But I think it’s worth a try, and this is a good day to start.

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Chock Full of Grace

I have never been as eager for a year to end as I am for 2016 to be over. On the list of life stressors, we have hit several big ones. It has felt like I’ve spent most of the year in survival mode, and I am finishing it exhausted and depleted.

When I look back, I realize that a lot of the challenges have been good ones – two surgeries that completed my treatment plan and reconstruction, buying a house and moving into it, and beginning a new job. I wonder how I would have experienced 2016 had I made a habit of noticing and keeping a record of the many, many good things that happened. This year was chock full of grace, and too often I wasn’t paying attention.

As I was clearing out old files on my computer this morning, I rediscovered two random gratitude lists from several years ago. Reading those phrases unleashed the same small bursts of joy I felt when I first wrote them down. I spent most of 2012 counting “gifts” in journals and online, inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book and blog. The further I got into the practice of being thankful for even the smallest things, the more I could feel it changing the way that I experienced life and the world. Each time I paused to write something down, I was able to savor that moment of joy. My heart was often filled with appreciation toward the Giver of every good and perfect gift – and I was more aware of His presence.

I let myself fall out of the gratitude habit once I reached my goal of 1000 gifts. I have tried to pick it up again here and there – especially in desperate moments – but it was the regular practice that was so sustaining. We were designed to live grateful. I am longing to live in that space again – watching for flashes of grace every day and saving them in the pages of 2017.

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rootwords

Rootwords

So here it is. My own tiny piece of the internet. A place to practice this life, through writing. So here I am. Finally working up the nerve to put together a post, more than a year after buying the domain. It’s a tad terrifying to see my name displayed so boldly across the address bar at the top of my screen. I thought about choosing a different name for my blog, one that I could hide behind a little more easily. But this is my spot. This is me. Showing up. Just to practice.

Because I think it is the practicing that’s important. Words are powerful for me. Words have anchored me through hard times. Kept me rooted and strong, or at least, strong enough. A gratitude practice that saved the spirit of a struggling stay-at-home mom. The word “fierce” that carried me through my battle with breast cancer. And just this summer, the phrase “take up your bed” to remind me that the battle is over and it’s time to leave the sickness and fear behind, to walk forward toward new things. So that’s what I’m doing here. It’s a practice. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s just time to start.