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take courage

Courage-Rock-825x510I received my fifth chemo yesterday, sleeping through most of the six hour infusion while listening to “All Things Bright and Beautiful” as wonderfully read by Christopher Timothy. I say “listening” but I was mostly drifting in and out of the story and I still have most of those six hours to revisit over the next few days. Once I returned home I thought I would take a little nap before supper. It turned out that I was done for the night, awaking at 3:30 a.m. to take out my contacts and put on my pjs.

I was finally awake for prayers with the community at 6:15 and found the gospel for today particularly appropriate. It is the familiar “Jesus walks on the water and calms the seas” (Mark 6:45-52)  I needed to hear Jesus say, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” But the entire passage brought a helpful reflection in light of the way I had slept through my treatment day.

Jesus had just fed the five thousand but he sent the disciples off in the boat and headed to the hills alone to pray. They were obviously still on his mind and in his heart during his time of communion with the Father, because he noticed they were having a rough time making progress against the winds. Why then, having left his time of prayer to go to them, does Jesus seem to be walking on by? It is only when their cries of terror  reach him (not a direct request for help!) that he speaks to them. And the seas apparently don’t settle down until he is in the boat.

These are the points that connect with my experience of the past twenty-four hours. First: Jesus knows the rough times ahead of us. He is close at hand, watching us try to make our way under our own power. Second: Sometimes we lack the ability to even help with the rowing. We depend on the strength and energy of those near us to carry us over the rough waters. That would be me, sleeping while everyone else was concerned with details of supper and whether I needed anything. But Jesus can even relate to this as he also was famously asleep in the boat while the storm raged. Third: Jesus doesn’t even need an invitation to get into the boat. Our fears are enough to draw him. John says in today’s first reading, “Perfect love casts out fear.” In the gospel, it seems to me, we see how fear draws in Perfect Love.

The gospel ends with the disciples being astounded but sadly unable to understand because their hearts were hardened. On this traditional day of Epiphany, may we know the breakthrough of Love in our lives and take the courage we are offered.Epiphany image

peace

interfaith peace

Amid so much that is broken in our world as 2015 comes to a close, I wonder if I dare to pray “Let there be peace on earth…let it begin with me.” My own body is certainly showing the signs of wear and tear, chemo postponed a week so that my white blood cells and platelets can recuperate for another cycle of treatment. “Let peace begin with me” takes on a particular meaning if I think of cancer as the enemy within and the drugs as weapons of mass destruction. But that has not been a helpful metaphor for me, either the first time through cancer treatment or now.

Peace for my body, mind and spirit means allowing the Creator to bring into One whatever has separated into pieces. I believe that the Divine Energy maintains all of creation in a vision of wholeness, even when we can only see brokenness. Seen in this way, I trust that peace beginning with me means a transformation in which I can actively participate. God is the director, the author, the artist, the restorer. The desire for peace, within and without, is God’s way of moving us towards wholeness.

Each of us, then, is able to participate in bringing Peace on Earth by our willingness to allow God’s vision. In other very familiar words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In our interior world and in all the circles within which we move, we can allow God’s vision of peace to be realized.

Tonight, may we each spend a few moments asking that “peace begin with me”. United in this prayer, believing that God is its origin and impulse, 2016 will bring us closer to realizing peace on earth!

(And for those who would like to work for “extra credit”, I suggest this link to Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Peace, entitled “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace”:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20151208_messaggio-xlix-giornata-mondiale-pace-2016.html )

 

the untangler

yarn

I have a beautiful tale to tell about my fourth chemotherapy today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. I was glad that my blood counts were good enough to keep the scheduled appointment and I arrived a few minutes early. But to be honest, I was feeling a troubling resistance to this session. Already yesterday I was sensing the metallic taste in my mouth and a general dread of the effects that come after the chemo. I was struggling to find the gratitude and openness that allow the medicines to do what they are intended to do, i.e. to restore me to health.

The first “glitch” came when the nurse told me that a urinalysis should have been done with my labs yesterday because of one of the medications that can affect the kidneys. I had questioned the lab tech because she didn’t request a urine specimen but she said, “It wasn’t ordered.” Okay, I thought, maybe they are satisfied with the blood test for kidney function. So this morning the nurse apologized and said that they couldn’t start the chemo  until I went downstairs to the lab for the urinalysis. I explained that I had asked about that yesterday…”I know,” she said, “It just wasn’t ordered.” So I trundled myself and my belongings down the stairs, managed to provide a sparse specimen of urine, and returned to the infusion center waiting area to wait for the results.

Meanwhile, another patient arrived who I recognized from my last visit for iv rehydration fluids after my last treatment. She had been getting her first treatment and did not have a “port” so the nurses were trying to get a peripheral iv line- with much difficulty. We had a long discussion about the benefits of having a port which makes access so much more convenient and comfortable. She expressed many doubts and worries but eventually agreed to the appointment for port placement. I offered a lot of reassurance, showing her my little veteran port-o-cath (placed in March 2008), saying that it is my little golden door that allows me to receive the gifts of healing. Today this woman would be using her port for the first time – and she was worried. “Will it hurt?” was her greatest concern. Not as much as all those sticks to get an iv!  Just then my nurse called me to get started.

I settled into my chair and was ready when she came with the supplies to access my port and start the first pre-medication. Margie is new to the infusion center but has experience with inpatient pediatric oncology so I felt confident in her skill. The little poke of the needle into the port button on my chest felt right- but as she tried to withdraw blood and flush with saline she got a worried look on her face. “There’s too much resistance,” she said. She tried to reposition the needle, replaced it once with a new needle, called another nurse for an opinion, and finally said she would have to call my doctor.

I felt myself panicking. What will they do? What if I can’t get chemo today? What if they can’t get another iv? As I waited I watched my friend of the brand new port-o-cath get her first access without a glitch. Her chemo got started and she worked crosswords on her smartphone like a pro. Good for her! I thought. Then I returned to my own predicament.

I remembered the general feeling of resistance that I had to this round of chemo. I also recalled that today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and how many times I had told friends that I expected special graces with the chemo. So I asked Mary to please help me be receptive to this experience of healing, to not have any blockage emotionally, spiritually or physically. Specifically, I asked her to take care of my port-o-cath!

The doctor told Margie to start a peripheral iv to give today’s treatment and to schedule me for a procedure to see if there was some kind of a “kink” in my port-o-cath. More anxiety! Margie seemed nervous as she surveyed the veins of my right arm and I didn’t like where she was looking. So I pointed out my personal favorite in the right wrist area, known as “the intern’s friend”. Margie took my advice and got it on the first quick stick. She connected the tubing and started to infuse the first pre-medication. I asked if she was going to put some heparin (blood thinner) flush in the blocked port. She went to get the supplies for the heparin flush. Lo and behold! She got an immediate blood return and had no resistance when she pushed the heparin! “It’s working!” she said.

I knew what had happened and how. Recently I came to know about  a painting of Mary that is a particular favorite of Pope Francis. Known as “Mary, Undoer of Knots” by Johann Georg Schmidtner, the painting in Augsberg, Germany shows Mary untangling the knots in a long strand of rope or yarn. Angels hold the balls of tangled, knotted yarn. My spiritual director had acquainted me with this image of Mary back in August as I waited for surgery. This morning when I faced a serious resistance to the work of healing, my heart instinctively turned to Mary, the great untangler of knots. Whatever “kink” or blockage was keeping me from receiving the chemotherapy most effectively was now removed. And I believe it wasn’t just the physical knot that was undone.

Margie gave a couple of extra flushes for good measure and then she hooked me up to the infusion machine and hung the next bag of fluids, capping off my wrist iv in case it might be needed later. It wasn’t. The port worked fine and I fell into a deep sleep for the next few hours. But not before I went online to find this prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots:

Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life.
You know very well how desperate I am, my pain and how I am bound by these knots.
Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life.
No one, not even the evil one Himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone.
Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot…I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all, You are my hope.
O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution and with Christ the freedom from my chains.
Hear my plea.
Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge!

Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me

http://www.theholyrosary.org/maryundoerknots

Mary_Untier_of_Knots_Rosary--element268

Mary, Undoer of Knots

So in this week of two great feasts of Mary, the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, I share another view of our Blessed Mother. Being an avid knitter myself, I can totally appreciate Mary’s patient and nimble fingers working out the kinks and tangles of my life. Today I am especially grateful for her handiwork. I can highly recommend this skillful untangler for the knots in your own life.

fullness

thank you

The turkey is in the oven and all the side dishes are prepared. In about an hour the final flurry of activity will begin- and then the feast. But now there is time for a pause and a scrap of scripture comes to mind:

For from God’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace…” Jn 1:16

It is the fullness and grace that capture my imagination. The past week, post-chemo, has been an experience of emptiness. I have felt drained dry of energy, of the capacity to “do”much of anything. A cold that co-incided with the recent treatment sapped what little strength I had in reserve and kept me in bed until today.

This morning as we gathered for a communion service of gratitude, I realized the infusion of vital energy that has been drip, drip, dripping into me during the past week. God’s fullness in the care of those with whom I live, in the cards, emails, text messages and calls from those at a distance, has been grace upon grace in my life. I cannot imagine doing this alone. Thankfully, gratefully, I do not have to bear that burden.

At our Thanksgiving table today, may we take a few moments to own the emptiness with which we come. Perhaps in the grumbling of our bellies we can remember those who will hunger long after we have been satisfied. We can pray to stay conscious of our need for the Creator’s fullness, the grace upon grace, to keep drip, drip, dripping into our lives. And to give thanks, always.

 

countdown to chemo

 

I just got the call that my blood counts are good for chemo tomorrow. The last few days I’ve spent wondering (and worrying) about whether I would get the green light. Over the weekend I wasn’t feeling as good as usual and last night I started with a cough. Everyone at home, except Romina and me, has had colds during the past two weeks so this did not come as a surprise. Even with a cold I am happy to be staying on track because the post-chemo symptoms should be gone by Thanksgiving. I would hate to have the good smells and tastes of the holiday be wasted on me. This was part of my anxiety.

We are also in the midst of a November windstorm. It is blowing down leaves and pecans for Thanksgiving pie. It is also uprooting tumbleweeds and propelling them across fields and highways. All of this tells me to “let go”.

What am I letting go of today? I hope I can let go of premonitions about how this round of chemo will be. Anxiety does not help the cause. I am also letting go of whatever I didn’t get done these past two weeks of feeling better. I have done what I could and it is enough. Finally, I am letting go of making this more complicated than it needs to be. I will try to simplify, to accept what comes, to use the various helps I have on hand and to be grateful for the many, many helpers near and far who support me with their love and prayers.

Tonight we will enjoy supper at a favorite Mexican restaurant. We are celebrating all of us being home together after many comings and goings. But we will come home for dessert because we have a freezer full of Graeters ice cream which is the best ending for a spicy supper.

My final countdown for chemo will be morning prayer. It is a time of quiet when together as a community we come into God’s presence. Those peaceful moments steady my heart, no matter how the wind blows, and prepare me to receive what comes to heal me by God’s grace.

falling leaves1

out of the mist

all saints scRound two chemo is now at work in me. I was surprised to get the green light (my Monday blood counts were adequate) to report to the infusion center last Tuesday morning. I remember that the last time around the nurses said that nobody looked forward to chemo like I did.  It’s because I want to keep on schedule, especially with the holidays approaching, and to finish as soon as possible.  I felt confident, even strong, as I walked into the infusion center with my bag of snacks, reading materials, fully-charged smartphone and my few carefully chosen devotional items. The nurse welcomed me and invited me to choose my chair.

There were already six others receiving their infusions and a movie was in progress on the large flat screen tv. I barely settled into my recliner in the corner when my nurse came to access the port-o-cath. “We have almost all women today so it’s ‘chick-flicks'” Luci explained. That was good news to me since the line up during my previous treatment included the violent thriller, “Man in Flames”, not exactly conducive to tranquility and healing! She reviewed the plan for the day, pre-medications and actual chemo drugs, and I realized that I would be there until late afternoon. After expertly accessing my port Luci hung the first pre-medication and offered me a pillow and blanket. Soon I would be drifting off to dreamland except that the movie was a Julia Roberts film I hadn’t seen!

Aside from the non-stop movies, this infusion center has a very quiet feel. The nurses anticipate the termination of each medication and are always ready with the next so there are very few alarms sounding. Most of us doze through the day, waking to make our regular trips to the bathroom down the hall, i.v. poles in tow, noting how the recliners have filled and emptied. In this temporary location there are no extra chairs for visitors or companions and there is little conversation. Yet I feel a kind of communion that reminds me of the connection that develops on a silent retreat. We are all on a pilgrimage of healing, each with our own special intention.

It helps me to consider that I leave the infusion center carrying others’ intentions along with my own. It also helps if I can recall the healing gift I have received through the little port in my chest. As the next days unfold it is not always easy to remember those two things: the intentions of others and profound gratitude for treatment. The days-after-chemo, despite all the best efforts (and drugs), are just plain miserable. Body aches, fatigue, nausea, the metallic taste…are something just to be endured. Sleep is the best remedy but I also have a comforting awareness that every now and then someone is peeking in to see if I need anything.whitney morning

Between sleeping and nothing tasting right I have a hard time keeping up with my fluids. When I saw the oncologist on Friday I was feeling pretty puny. She didn’t have to ask twice if I was willing to get some intravenous hydration. Like a wilted plant, the fluids perked me up and I asked Whitney to stop for a cheeseburger and fries on the way home. But then it was back to bed.

Friday night from my bedroom I could hear all the preparations for Saturday’s Halloween party at Santo Niño. http://www.proyectosantonino.org It was a rainy, misty morning and by 8:15 everyone headed to Mexico with costumes, candy, apples for bobbing, face-paints and other games. I felt guilty-for a few minutes-at not being able to help with what I knew would be a crazy day. But then I realized that I had other work to do, that other work was being done in me. This is what God asks of me right now. This is what I will accept.

I managed to get up and around by the afternoon and to make a pot of chili, looking forward to the Notre Dame football game at suppertime. I was not disappointed: the chili tasted almost “right” and the Fighting Irish came through. It felt like the post-chemo fog was beginning to lift.

This morning, the Feast of All Saints, I had my own communion service in our little chapel while the others went to mass at the parish. I remembered to bring the intentions of all my co-journeyers from the infusion center. I felt a deep communion with all who are supporting me in prayer during this time of healing. I felt the near presence of that “great cloud of witnesses” who have been through the trials of life and who even now are keeping vigil with me. All of this brings an overwhelming gratitude for the gifts of community, of medicine, of faith.

Tonight our homemade pizza tasted so good and there is Graeter’s ice cream in the freezer (thanks Bev and Rick Schieltz!) for the seventh inning stretch of the World Series game. The discomforts will continue to lessen and I know that I am coming out of the mist.  Each day will bring more energy until the next chemo-countdown.

P.S. I am also sharing my reflections on this experience in a column for Global Sisters Report. The first was posted last Thursday as I was descending “into the mist”. Here is the link: Inter-Mission: Life between cancer remissions

 

 

falling leaves

I knew that my hair would fall out sometime just before my second chemotherapy treatment. For the past week I’ve felt some scalp tenderness and then I began to see the extra hair in my brush. Right on schedule. So last night after supper and evening prayer Peggy and Carol went to work with the scissors, trimming what was left short so that when it falls out it won’t be so annoying. hair

I sat outside today, a beautiful autumn afternoon with a gentle breeze. As I ran my hand over my scalp I saw all the silver hair that fluttered to the ground and thought, “Look at that! My own falling leaves! Is this what trees go through each autumn?” Just like the trees that let go each fall, I can trust in the new growth that will come next spring.

It’s not easy but when I can see it as part of a necessary process then it makes sense. It is a sign that I am entering into a time of change, of renewal, of healing. What else, besides my hair, am I invited or required to let go?

I think of the caterpillar going into its cocoon. They say that it totally dissolves inside but that in the primordial “goo” there exist some imaginal discs that hold the possibility of the butterfly. This image works for me. Of necessity I have to let go of some of the things I am accustomed to do- in ministry, around the house, travel- during this time of treatment. If I can surrender those things, perhaps there is some essential work of be-ing that requires my attention and energy.

I’m glad to have the seasons of fall and winter to accompany me through this treatment time. Letting go, entering into some darker and shorter days, hibernating while the work of healing runs its course. This is way the Creator is unfolding for me.metamorphosis