I’ve been on a nearly year-long journey of fighting cancer for a second go round. Stage four breast cancer. I’m in what they call palliative care, but that’s not hospice just yet. My oncologist is firm that they are very different. One can be fighting cancer in palliative care for years, even. (Many days I think I can’t handle the fatigue or nausea one more day, and I want a loving hospice team to scoop me up and kindly carry me into Heaven.) That’s the way to go! People call me brave and courageous; I whimper in my bed and marvel that others see me as strong. Yes, I get up most days, push through the fatigue after a lengthily time praying, singing to myself, and listening to an encouraging talk or Psalms.
But this post is about storyropes. And bridges to release trauma. I want to share via video because I’ve slowly read, limped through some excellent training, taken a bit of yoga, tried relaxing, breathing techniques, and still I see the making of a storyrope is a key and profound way to engage, explore and release our stories. So, I am determined to make a storyrope demo video as soon as I have the strength, with the hope that the teaching can be translated into several languages as I teach. A friend from Hong Kong is coming mid-september, she has taught storyropes there, and I hope she can help make the video.
I’ve learned a few things this summer:
- We all tend to carry shame and hide it.
- Many have had shameful things done to them.
- Many have done shameful things they fear ever exposing.
- Our bodies and brains store our shame, our trauma, our losses and abuses.
- The shame, trauma, etc, can be released through: art, music, drama, movement, poetry, yoga. Secondary “talk therapy” may be helpful once bridges have been built with the creative arts. Example: A formerly trafficked woman may see a tree in misty shadows and begin to cry. The art tapped into her deep sorrow at walking the streets, and now, she began putting words to what she was feeling upon seeing the misty tree that looked like she felt.
- The storyrope making is a kinesthetic activity. Movement is good for releasing trauma. and it is coupled with “telling” our stories through colors of fabric and ribbons that represent parts of our stories.
- Once words are found for the strips of fabric and ribbon, shame begins to be released from our minds, emotions, bodies and souls.
- I like to care for someone who shares their story with the storyrope by asking if they would like prayer – to speak truth and life into dark and evil, shameful situations. Quiet listening and grieving with the person sharing their storyrope in best.
- Reading some Psalms may be helpful in soothing wounded places. African friends would often sing in community after each woman shared their story.
- If participants want, in prayer, they may release their trauma to a just God who loves them. I’m respectful of all participants; we are each in different places in our spiritual journey. We never want to add trauma by pushing people to share something they are not ready to share this time. They may share with a counselor, women’s leader, pastor, rabbi, priest or a family member with whom they really feel safe.
The video below was made last year, and it just tells a bit of how to get started with making storyropes. I hope to expand this video into a teaching video in the days ahead, Lord willing. Thanks for joining me on this journey, and thanks for your many prayers. Our God hears! We just have to relax into His sovereign love, that is shown by Jesus.
Three months after moving from Colorado Springs back to my home in Seattle, I awake and think of the blog posts I wrote during by dark battle during IV chemo. Part of me wants to stay far from even thinking about those hard days, but part of me knows I need to remember and release trauma associated with those days. The ways I’ve been releasing the trauma so far – walking an hour each day, trying yoga and adding stretching to my daily regimen of self care, talking with God about the hard, darkness of IV chemo and utter fatigue, and now….painting a painting to respond to cancer.
Showing that cancer is hard and scary, is one thing I want to show in this painting. I also want to bring grace and beauty out of this suffering and into the piece. I am combining mehndi art forms and realism. I’m also remembering beautiful places where I have been, where lovely people live. There are hints of Nicaragua, Peru, Italy, India, Cambodia, and even Africa.
I have a PET scan and CT scan on August first. My body will be scrutinized for cancer cells hiding here and there. I am praying there are fewer cells wandering around, and I am hopeful my immune system has become stronger. I’ll continue painting and telling my story, and God’s story in the midst of it, as long as I can.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, Psalm 107:2
I awake from yet another nap, hazy-eyed and curious if my body is feeling any better. Sometimes my body feels so separate from “me” that I have to check on it as if it is its own entity. It won’t co-operate and doesn’t feel integrated with the “me” that is my soul.
I lie still and check my breathing, my headache or lack thereof, and I check to see how my a-fib is doing. I’m still here, so I think. I think about how I used to do so much. I think about how I used to think my significance and my hope for leaving even a small legacy of some sort was all in the doing. Doing a lot. Doing a lot all the time. Helping women. Traveling around the world, etc. Well, I need a deeper, more certain reason for my hope, my place where I feel loved and where I place my significance. As a follower of Jesus, I explore this in new ways. Since coming to Him, I’ve known, truly, He loves me with mercy and grace, but I need to believe it better, deeper.
These days, I’m “being.” I recently took a little downturn, went back on my oxygen, and began napping all the time. The fevers came along for the ride. And although I am writing this while propped up, I’d say I’m more being than doing. I could stop typing at any moment and lie back down again and totally just be. I ate a bowl of soup today for lunch, and I had to take a two hour nap after that effort.
I wanted to write because I’ve been thinking about my worth in just being. Hour after hour, lying in bed, I am being, not doing. As an American doer, that’s a hard pill to swallow. In the same way, I think in an American way; I have to do something to earn God’s love and care. However, the Bible makes me think counterintuitively, counter Americanly, and states that God loved me way before I loved Him, and His love is all a free gift or grace…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, …Ephesians 2:4-9 There it is – not my own DOING. Sigh. Lean into it. Rest in it.
I’ll try to continue writing in the days ahead….I do have a new idea for a storying art project based on hope and being with our God. That would be “doing” which I am currently not doing. (Smile.) Tomorrow, I have a meeting with my new doctor in Seattle. I am looking forward to what she might suggest.
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
A little over a week ago, a wonderful photographer friend who photographed Virginia’s wedding, came and photographed my family. Jen Lints is the best photographer I know! She does amazing things with light or the lack of light! She made this cancer patient look happy and well loved.
I was feeling better than I feel today, so I could fully participate. We all braved a chilly Colorado late afternoon in spring, and acted like our teeth were not chattering!! Jen photographed both outside and inside. When we were inside, she had the grandboyz draw with me – something we do ALL the time! Outside was fun, with Katie and Eric and the boyz and my Virginia and Jered. These photos are just sneak peaks at a few before they all come my way. What an amazing grace and gift to me!
You can find Jen Lints Photography Here. Just click on her name! Then, get amazing photos and be very blessed!
Life was crazy busy on Long Island, NY, right next to the Big Apple – the City that never sleeps. I lived there nearly twenty years, often living life too fast, too full. In those days, I had a busy husband along with four lovely, fun-loving, beautiful, busy daughters. We lived and worked at a private, busy boarding school. I worked part time jobs AND raised my daughters. I set my art-making aside, something I regret, but I put one hundred percent into caring for my husband, my girls, and my home.
During that season of my life, busyness could often be confused with significance, especially for this growing follower of Jesus still learning how much I was accepted and loved by God apart from my efforts. I read through my Bible fast, over and over. (Now I meditate on one or two verses per day, slowly.) I drove fast, I ran fast, as fast as I could to train for a half-marathan. I ate fast, I talked and listened fast. Life was fast.
Sigh. Breathe. All the busyness and fast pace living would ebb away as I piled my four daughters in one of our old cars and headed to the beach – hopefully by mid-morning. Each summer day. We lived minutes away. Running away from busyness to live on the beach was our dream. We packed sandwiches that wilted, snacks that gave out too soon, and beverages that had to be replenished at the beach water cooler. As we pulled into the Bookhaven Bathing Association, simply known as the BBA, my tense shoulders would fall slack, and sudden joy would permeate by soul. We had made it to the beach once again, and we would be OK. My daughters would spill out of the car laughing with brightly colored shovels and pails, ready for deep exploration in shallow pools.
We set up beach chairs and blankets, being careful to keep sand off, knowing full well the blankets would be full of sand by day’s end. The girls would scream and run into the water on hot days. I entered more slowly. On cooler days, the girls kept on their sweatshirts until the heat reached our swath of the beach. I’d set up my low chair right near the waters edge to dangle my feet in the playful tide. Friends would call out to each other; the kids would spot mysterious sea creatures and shout happily to each other to come look. I always found a fellow mom there.
One big highlight of the day was for Vinnie, the ice cream man, to arrive ringing in with his cheery music. The girls would beg me to stay long enough for Vinnie to come. I usually gave in. (I was happy to get my cold, cardboard-like nutty cone!) The girls would get snow cones or bombs or popsicles if we only had dimes that day. What joyful memories I have of their bright red or purple tongues and lips from their late afternoon beach treats. Their hair might be blowing wildly as they licked their delicious, sticky, sandy treats.
As the girls got older, they enjoyed inner tubing on the inlet waterway across the street from the BBA. A spit of water would begin there and then lazily curve around the Gamecock Cottage and onto the edge of the Long Island Sound. The trick was to stay close to shore when your inner tube went around the Gamecock Cottage. This was high adventure, and a sort of rite of passage if you did the inner tube around the cottage trip. We have one or two harrowing stories of that not quite happening, and the girls needing rescuing by a passing boat! Legends were made on those days.
The girls grew up, and life changed. One day, when I had started painting again, I walked down to the shore’s edge of the Gamecock Cottage. It had just finished raining; the tide was dead low. With the sun coming out, I thought there might be a reflection in the water. I slipped and slid through the grasses and mossy sand. I was not disappointed. There was, indeed, the reflection the sun had made possible. I had slowed down my busy life, enough to catch the first glimpse of a brand new reflection on the water’s surface. No one was around. It was quiet. It was sacred. I sketched a little, I photographed the moment, and headed home as the now, full sun, beat down on me. I finished the painting on my kitchen table.
Today, I received an email that my 16×20 museum quality gicleé prints of the Gamecock Cottage are being shipped from my printer in Seattle. (Of course I’ll give each daughter one.) It was probably 20 years ago that I painted this, but my dreamy beach memories are as fresh as if they were yesterday. I am so thankful for these memories with my girls, and for all the sacred “slow” times we had at the BBA along the Long Island shore. Well, except for those near drifted out to sea memories!!!
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.
One song I hope to have at my memorial service: Give Me Jesus, by Fernando Ortega.
“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.
Here is a great video on listening in this way.
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.