I have limited computer skills, so I have this video much too large. However, I hope you will enjoy my less than perfect reading of my book. The folks at palliative care suggested I leave a legacy – thus the writing and publishing of the book. May all who listen be blessed.
In my living room, I have a large canvas of African dancers. I call the painting, “Joy.” This painting in my living room encourages me every single day. It reminds me to ponder all my blessings, and the one true God who gives those blessings. I can so easily get sidetracked by my daily concerns, my cancer, my oxygen tubing and its limitations, and so many other little details of my life. Then, there hangs that painting, preaching a sermon of encouragement to my anxious heart. I find myself letting go of my cares as I soak in the colors and movement.
Raise your voices; make a beautiful noise to the Eternal, all the earth. Serve the Eternal gladly; enter into His presence singing songs of joy! Know this: the Eternal One Himself is the True God. He is the One who made us; we have not made ourselves; we are His people, like sheep grazing in His fields. Go through His gates, giving thanks; walk through His courts, giving praise. Offer Him your gratitude and praise His holy name. Because the Eternal is good, His loyal love and mercy will never end, and His truth will last throughout all generations. Psalm 100, The Voice version.
How did the painting come about? Well, when I was in Cameroon helping women to share their stories using art, as the stories were being told and each woman received prayer, the Cameroonian women would break out in joyful singing and dancing. It was an amazing experience to be a part of, and my soul still “sings” when I think of those days of joy. I came home and painted this painting!
So, when I feel down about fighting stage four cancer, when I ache all over and struggle to feed myself, huffing and puffing from the effort, I remember the joy of those women through my painting. I reach out for that joy. And, I offer God praise for His goodness and mercy in my life. It might be just a moment in my day. However, there it is – a bit of redemption right at that moment, and God is glorified.
Cancer Update: I am four weeks past my last IV chemo today. I stopped in order to gain some strength for my move back to Seattle in early May. I want to be able to get on a plane without being in a heap in my bed! So, my oncologist has put me on two pills to continue to fight stage four breast cancer. One pill kills fast growing cells, including red blood cells. (Yikes!) The other pill is an estrogen reducer; my type of cancer enjoys eating estrogen – something I seem to have in abundance. Both are less harsh than IV chemo. I continue on a low level of oxygen for my breathing. So, I am staying close to my oxygen machine and making new art. I get about 90 feet with all my chording – it keeps me close to home.
During this transition week, I have been collaging the story of Jesus’ encounter with the widow of Nain – a true story you can read in Luke 7:11-17. What struck me about this story is the generous, loving heart of Jesus. As He approaches the funeral procession for the only son of a widow, Jesus is heart-broken for the widow and her plight. He has no problem being emotional about the widow’s grim situation.
No one asked anything of Jesus. His heart was gripped with compassion for the widow.
He stops the procession, and Jesus tells the widow not to cry. He then touches the coffin where the dead son lies. Jesus says, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
The dead man sat up and began to talk. The Bible does not say what he was talking about, but I’m sure he was surprised to be in a coffin! I collaged the man sitting up and then being reunited with his mother. The Bible says, ” Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Now she would have a son to take care of her in her old age, something very important in that culture. Widows had very meager lives without care from family in Nain.
I’ve added clocks to a couple of pages of my book because I want to talk about time. It seemed like it was too late for this son to be healed. He was dead, for heaven’s sake! However, at just the right time, Jesus comes and raises this man from the dead. Time doesn’t seem to have a hold on Jesus; He seems to operate outside of time. He has power over time and Jesus shows He has power over death within time! (This is something I hold very dear to my heart.)
When I showed this whole book to my grandson, Calvin, age 5, he said, “Just like when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter.” Yes! Calvin acted like it was normal, natural behavior for Jesus to raise this son from the dead – that He has power over death. The faith of a child is a marvelous thing!
I’m thinking of adding some confetti or banners to the gold chords I have on the last page to make it look more like a celebration. Jesus turned the widow’s mourning into dancing! He does that in the mundane of our lives, too, but His bigger gift to us is: He has died on the cross, been raised from the dead so we don’t have to be separated from God for all eternity. In a real way, we can be raised from the death and darknesses of our hearts right now, today. Jesus is heart-broken for each of us, and He conquered death for each of us if we would believe in Him. I put my faith in Jesus once again, today!
“Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” Luke 7:11-17
Surprisingly, when my pastor, Hilario, his wife, Lois, and my second daughter, Katie, sat with me today to map out a memorial service, after my departure, I felt a weight had been lifted. Yes, I cried my way through some of it – I hate leaving loved ones. Truly, I love my people and wish never to say goodbye. However, before I knew it, I was laughing at the idea of joy and celebration(with Indian and Italian food and festive international flags) being the over-arching feelings during the service. Additionally, I sat with profound gratitude that these three dear ones would take the time from full and rich lives to do the hard work of helping me prepare my own memorial service.
It was actually fun reviewing Scripture I wanted my two older grandsons to read. I could just picture them, taking a break from Legos, snacks, and their Seahawks shirts, only to don their khaki pants and nice shirts to honor their Gigi. They are both about to be baptized, so I know the Words they read will mean something important to their hearts. Those who gather that day will hear that “I have been crucified with Christ; it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…and, there is no longer any condemnation for Marcia because she is safely in Jesus – right into eternity.” Marcia has Jesus as her Rock and her redeemer for this life and the next. My young grandchildren will lead my people into these truths.
My friend, Judy, calls my departure, “Going Off Planet.” My friend, Gretchen, has reminded me, more than once, that when we get to Heaven, we will see that life on earth has been living in the low-rent district in contrast to the speech-defying beauty, goodness and glory we will be a part of in an Eternity with Jesus. By me remembering these sort-of jokes, coupled with my cancer, I am helped to press on in making my final plans.
I think we long to not die, on planet earth because, aside from the unknowingness of it all and the lack of control we possess over dying, I think there is a part of us, deep in our souls, that remembers the Big Story and how life was in our first Garden, our Home. There really was a beginning point in time when there was no death. Somehow, we know. There was just beauty, fearlessness, a vibrant garden, a totally transparent, loving couple, a tree filled with life, and rich community with God. However, the enemy of our souls snuck into our perfect Home and snarled, lied (God’s holding out on you), robbed and darn near destroyed us and everything around us. I think, we have this deep, unfulfilled longing for that Home. An angst. I’m just saying it’s there.
So, I got to do some planning today – important planning. As I was encouraging Pastor Hilario to really preach the Gospel during the service, my heart was gripped, my tears flowing, because my passion since nineteen years of age has been: there is a God, He faithfully loves you and me, He proved it by coming to earth as God with skin on – Jesus. He lived a perfect life. He died in our places for our evil thoughts, words, deeds. We can be forgiven for all our just plain darknesses of hearts and for believing that first lie that God was holding out on us. How? If we turn from trying to find Home apart from God and run to Him. I want Pastor Hilario to be sure to let everyone know; we are given Jesus’ righteousness when we run to Him, when we reach past our doubts and faint remembering of Eden. When we run and reach out to Jesus, and HIS palpable love, in faith, then Eden, Home is won back in our hearts. It’s a gift – a gift of being eternally Home with God.
And that is where I will be when the celebration of my life happens.
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G.K. Chesterton
I’ve been working on listening – being quick to listen and slow to speak. I figure, I have time and it’s a loving thing to listen well. I’m not rushing anywhere. I can do this. I’ll be a more loving, listening person.
True confessions: I can easily finish other people’s sentences, wrap up what they want to say, or just put words in their mouths they never intended to say. OUCH! I interrupt right when my friend has a good sentence going. However, on this cancer journey, I have had a lot of alone, quiet time. When someone comes to care for me, I am excited!! First, I might interrupt their speaking a lot. I’m so excited that I become a monster, poor listener.
Then, out of respect for them, and because I really am working on being a good, loving listener, I find I am holding back from speaking, holding back my excitement tiger, just so I can listen and not dominate the conversation. However, when you’ve been in a dark hole (see above collage of said dark hole), you have lots to say! (It’s been bad, dark, hard, lonely, sad, etc) How do I not talk over other people? How do I not interrupt? How do I not dominate the conversation? How do I become a good listener?
Let me just start out by saying, having all my alone time has caused me to be OK with quiet spaces in conversation. It’s OK if there are pauses and no one is talking. No one IS talking in my apartment! That is a good start for listening. It gives listening some breathing room. Listening has all kinds of breathing room in my cancer fight, when it is quiet in my apartment for hours on end!
Then, when someone does come to visit me, after the initial celebration, 1. it’s OK if there are quiet spaces in a conversation. Let the speaker determine the pace. In fact, I think being OK with quiet spaces is good prep for going into any conversation. People may actually be taking time to form ideas or opinions. My grandson, Calvin, has helped me here. He often talks really, really, really slowly, almost like stuttering, often repeating what he has just said, I think, to stretch out our time together. If I try to speed him along, he starts with, “No, no, no,” very fast, and then begins ALL over again. I’ve learned it is faster and better if I leave him a lot of quiet space to fill with his stories, at his pace. People have to talk at their pace, and our listening has to slow down or speed up accordingly.
In fact, spending time with Calvin, and each grandson, really, has helped me with the second thing we should do in order to be a good listener; 2. put down the phone or other device, and actually LOOK at the person you are speaking with. I know, I know, it’s hard not to check email or a text 24/7 when talking with a 5, 9 or 11 year old, but chalk it up to good practice for conversations when some one tells you, point blank, they hate talking with people who are always on their phones. This practice will save you lots of red-faced moments later on with big, mature adults. Little people can be much more forgiving.
My friend, Judy, who just came to visit for my seventh chemo, says 80% of what is being said is non-verbal. She does peacemaker mediation, so I pay attention when she talks about communication. This fact means, I can’t glaze over my eyes while looking at the person I am listening to, and think of what snack I am going to get after this conversation has wrapped up. I actually need to 3. pay attention to non-verbal body language, tone of voice, fidgeting of hands, etc. What is the person saying with their hunched over shoulders or clenched fists? Have you shared an awkward moment when someone is quietly tearing up in front of you, and you freeze? Now, because of Judy, I move into the person’s space, and give them a hug and verbal encouragement to continue sharing. 4. I empathize because of their non-verbal clues. (Or verbal clues.) I remember, they may just not have words for 80% of what they are sharing.
When you empathize, my number 4 for good listening, you are deciding to put yourself right where the other person is emotionally or intellectually. You don’t offer a solution; you just have a moment of where they are, and you honor their place of suffering or excitement or retelling of an event. You sit right with them, in that space, and you let them define and describe the space. You don’t share your story; you stay out of judgement. You show them they are not alone. You empathize.
After a time of real listening, and when there is a genuine pause, 5. ask clarifying questions to help you better understand the story being told. This shows you are truly listening, and you care enough to go deeper if the person you are listening to wants to go there. My friends, Blythe and Paula, are really good at asking questions to go deeper. They don’t walk away from a conversation without some really thoughtful questions being asked. “Why did your doctor say that, Marcia?” “What were the side effects?” “How did that make you feel?” This questioning is a way of giving the speaker feedback, and it assures them you are really listening. It shows you’re not just waiting to say something about your own story or experience. It keeps you engaged in being a good listener. Next conversation you have, make yourself ask 3 Blythe and Paula-like clarifying questions. It’s a loving way of listening.
I only have one final thought on being a good, loving listener. It’s something I do when I hear women share their stories with any of the art I do to engage story. 6. I thank the speaker for the honor of hearing them. When we look at listening as an honor and not a bother, chore or interruption, listening is elevated to a high place. Which it should be. My friends, Tricia, Alice and Vickie are always so honoring in how they finish conversations. They thank the speaker for sharing, and often will pray with the speaker as a further way of honoring. The speaker has taken a risk, become vulnerable or transparent on some level. They are sharing themselves, and we should thank them for that, and perhaps, bring some things to the Lord’s care in prayer.
Let’s try to be better listeners! Listening is loving. I am determined to be quick to listen well and slower to speak. And, honestly, my underlying motivation is: I know God is the most loving, perfect listener, to me. (In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3) He is my loving example, and I want to be like Him.
Loving In Listening
1. It’s OK if there are quiet spaces in a conversation. Let the speaker determine the pace.
2. Put down the phone or other device, and actually LOOK at the person you are speaking with.
3. Pay attention to non-verbal body language, tone of voice, fidgeting of hands, etc.
4. Empathize because of their non-verbal clues. (Or verbal clues.)
5. Ask clarifying questions to help you better understand the story being told.
6. Thank the speaker for the honor of hearing them. We can pray for them.
Her pace, Her face, her body, You Empathize, You Ask clarifying questions, You Thank and Pray.
Today, I have spent a good chunk of my handful of waking moments, crying and feeling sorry for myself. I am weary of this road. It seems to go with the cancer journey – at least for me. I am so awful tired of chemo and it’s side effects….really DIRECT effects. I hobble with my numb feet, dragging my overwhelmingly tired body to the fridge for the start of breakfast at the ungodly hour of 10:45 a.m. Gone is the energy I had to travel the globe, listening to women share their hearts in Thailand, India, Cambodia, Cameroon and so many other fascinating countries. Gone are the nimble fingers ready to create art or play with my grandchildren.
Now, I fumble with my glass of lemon water; my neuropathy-filled fingers can’t handle the weight. I crawl back to bed, exhausted and no longer hungry after making the lukewarm oatmeal. Why did I even bother getting up to fight for a little oatmeal? I rarely eat it anyway. I recover in bed with a rest. I catch my breath and work up the energy to try the next thing. A bath.
I fight for a bath. I haul my limp, uncooperative body up the stairs to the bathtub. While running the hot, steamy water, I pour in a detox powder a friend gave me. (If only it would remove all traces of chemo and its effects.) I moan and groan as I lower my bone-tired body into the comforting, hot water. I cry. I cry because I can’t be the mom and grandma I want to be. I cry because people have asked me to serve women in faraway places, and I won’t be going. I cry because I hurt all over and my heart hurts in places I didn’t even know were there.
A new friend, Blythe, texts me as I return downstairs to try to dress. “Try” is the operative word. She’s “praying for me, calling out for mercy on my behalf” and she’s meditating on Scripture for me because she knows I don’t have the strength for it. She gives me Matthew 11:4, 28 Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side….”Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest….learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Blythe is grace and kindness in my hard, hard morning, reaching toward me, being with me. I just cry.
This new friend showed up in the middle of my hard, hard, stupid crying day. She is believing and trusting the heart of Jesus even when all I can do is cry. I texted her that I would fight to see grace. I’ve seen the love of Jesus melt the hardest of hearts and change the darkest situations.
My daughter, Katie, and another friend, Hannah, both kindly respond rapidly to texts for help with food and bath salts. Grace quietly moves into my day, like cats’ feet, and I feel loved and cared for in my crying, bad day. It takes loving community, and I vow to be the person who reaches out to broken, crying people when I am well enough. I take another nap.
I make another meal; it takes way more energy than I have, so I rest on Katie’s sofa. There, I see a little set of books written by my grandson. I have time and energy to read them, and so I do. When I get to the third book, my tears flow again, but in a strange way, they are happy tears. My very first grandson shows me I have meant something to his story, and I am thankful. It’s a quiet moment of actual, pure joy. Joy snuck in.
I’m not going to go all preachy on you and say all is well, because I am still having a crying hard day. But, somehow, with grace-filled family and friends, and my grandson, my day was redeemed in some mysterious and important ways. They have the courage to believe that God is good and for me, even on the darkest days. And, they had the courage to “show up” for me and show me what they believe.
“Joy is the heart’s harmonious response to the Lord’s song of love.” ~ A. W. Tozer.
Last Friday, I completed my third chemo infusion, with three of my four daughters, lovingly, generously at my side. I was so excited that I was not getting a shot that potentially protects my bones, because the side effect of that shot is extreme bone pain. Kind of crazy side effect, but that’s what happens. My girls and I went home from the treatment; we were hopeful that the pain this week would not be as bad as last time.
By Monday, however, my pain overwhelmed me. All I could do was to lie as still as possible and breathe. Sometimes, the pain was so intense, I would forget to breathe. The pain was defining my moments, that were stringing into hours. My knees were and are particularly painful. I describe it like this: if you have ever fallen on your knees, on cement or pavement, and hit really hard, that’s how it feels. Bang, you hit the cement, bang, you hit the cement, bang, you hit the cement, hour after hour. No let up.
Oxycodine becomes my new best friend, and we hold hands and wander into a kind of dizzy sleep. The knee pain is constant, but my brain is in a fog, so I have moments of being tricked into thinking the pain is less. I am being still, so I wonder to myself what I can do. Then, I laugh at myself, because that’s just silly. I’m down for the count, flat as a pancake. “I can’t do anything,” I say to myself. (Why am I such a doer? I mean really; take a break!) “Well, I could pray,” I say to myself after a few minutes of painful breathing. The pain has stripped away the desire to do anything else, and so, I begin praying. I weakly pray for every family members I can remember(think chemo brain); then I go onto praying for friends. I think of Eileen, Laurie, Trisha, Sue, Tom, Lupe, Konnie, Betty, Karen,Kara’s kids and so many more. I bring marriages, children, parents to Him. It’s just God and me, in the pain, having a conversation. I’m not moving one inch, I’m being still, my knees are banging on the cement, and I am entrusting my people to the God who knows me and loves me. The pain doesn’t rob me of my faith.
If I can trust God in this kind of constant pain, in this dark valley of the shadow of death, with the people I love, then I know something miraculous is happening. Once in a while, I ask God to take this cancer from me, however, my over-arching thought is not self-pity. Instead, it is, “Let me bring my dear ones to the God of the universe that loves them.” It’s quiet, but truly, it’s a let’s all scream and shout kind of victory of my faith.