JJWORDSANDMUSIC

about life, love and ...

IGOTTHECANCER    September, 2011

I looked up and couldn’t even begin to count the dots on the ceiling tiles.  They were in such random order, swirling all over. 

 

And, there was a sense of fog, of unclarity in walking into the United Breast Center – “Uniboob Center” – nice nickname, don’t you agree?  The receptionist was calm and serene.  The front desk was well polished and clean.  Other clients wore their lovely earrings and sedate faces.  I was ushered into a changing room to put on the poofy white robe – cush, cush.  Then I was escorted down a hallway for a mammogram; another hallway for an ultrasound and, in between procedures, a waiting room that played classical music.  I recall hearing bits and pieces of Wagner opera.  Wagner opera?  Dramatic, soaring, sophisticated music….didn’t quite seem to fit for me and the junk in my breast. 

 

Finally, I was ushered in to the room to await the biopsy – that’s when I noticed the dots on the ceiling that didn’t line up the way I wanted them to line up…Oh, is that how this is going to go?  Not a clear path to follow?  Certainly not a path I would choose?  Not so sure about this.

 

The next day never ended.  “You’ll get a call between 2-4 telling you the results of the biopsy.”  I made it through the morning and part of the afternoon.  When I realized it was 2:15, my heart froze just a bit.  Up to that point, cancer didn’t mean anything to me.  Sure, other people had cancer.  Not me, though.  An icicle seemed to be sliding down the back of my neck – a sense of reality, I suppose.  The phone didn’t ring and didn’t ring.  I finally took a break outside and waited.  I have a new phone and sometimes I forget that the sound can be turned down very easily.  That happened that day.  When I realized to I needed to check the sound level, I noticed there was a voicemail.  Gulp.

 

I called Linda at the Uniboob Center.  “This is Jean Johnson, returning your call.”  Long wait.

 

“Oh, yes, Jean.  Unfortunately….”  I know I heard other words, and I think I knew way down deep inside that I did have cancer, but actually hearing it sprout from the phone closed me down. 

 

“Thank you.”  I said.  Thank you?

 

I went to tell my supervisor and felt like cotton candy inside.  The outside was strong and me while the inside tried to grab onto “cancer” – what does that mean?  The tears started and my soul shook.

 

My supervisor was what you would expect a CPE supervisor to be – THERE.  I told her I needed to leave – to go home to my family and get some “normal”.  She agreed and quickly arranged for someone to cover for my chaplaincy hours.  Her hug pulled me back together a little bit and it was an effort to make it to my car, wondering who was looking at me, seeing CANCER?  I had called my daughter on the way out to the car to tell her that for sure I had cancer and cried with her.

 

I wailed and wailed on the way home.  Sadness and anger and fear came from the guts of my guts and roared out of my mouth.  It was the most “animal” I have ever been.  I screamed, I cried, I yelled.  My throat hurt.  I gave myself permission to let go with all the passionate emotion that was stirring inside of me.  I wailed nearly the entire way home – about a half hour.

 

My husband came home shortly after I arrived.  He walked in the door and I said, arms outstretched, “I have cancer!” He suspected it.  He does things like that.  He hugged me and said he would do anything I needed; anything.  He does things like that, too.

 

My daughter came over shortly after that.  I told her on the phone I wanted to have some “normal” – wine and pizza and family seemed normal to me.  In she walked with two bottles of wine and a request for pepperoni pizza from Savoy’s.  We went into the living room and started talking.

 

That’s when her eyes welled up with tears and she admitted, “Mom, I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I think you butt dialed me on the way home.  I heard your wailing and crying.”

 

I was mortified…it had been so raw and real for me that I didn’t think anyone else could or would want to share it. 

 

She hugged me and said, “I’m glad I could share that with you…you’re not in this alone.  I cried along with you.  I wailed along with you.  We will get through this.”

 

More tears.  More talking – and thankfully, pizza and more wine.  It felt normal.  Thank God.


I wrote a blanket email….

 

Hello, all!

 

I hope you’ll pardon this blanket email, but I have some information to share with you.

 

It’s official.  I have been diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer, stage 1.  I found a lump a couple of weeks ago, had a diagnostic mammogram last Monday along with an ultrasound and biopsy.  I found out on Tuesday, September 13, that I do indeed have cancer.  Today, I had an appointment with a surgeon and we scheduled a follow-up MRI for this Friday, with surgery (lumpectomy) expected in mid-October….still waiting to firm up that date.  Following surgery, I will have six weeks of daily radiation.

 

The doctor feels confident this was caught early and will be handled aggressively and well.  I have confidence in him – Dr. Hope.  He and I talked a lot about chaplaincy, music therapy, faith and having cancer.  He seems like just the kind of guy I need for this process!  The staff at United Breast Center in St. Paul (I like to call it “Uniboob Center”) have been terrific, as well.

 

Another good thing – the spiritual health staff here at Fairview Ridges are supporting me BIG TIME!  They will work around my schedule to make things work for “me” and have already offered many prayers, hugs and support.

 

And, then, since I get to do radiation, Dr. Hope said it would be feasible to do it here at Fairview Ridges Hospital (where I’m working).  Could it be MORE convenient?

 

And, some of you have seen Team HOT DOG on Facebook that my daughter, Karin, instigated.  Several of us have gone to Target and tried on the HOT DOG costume, taken a picture of ourselves and then put it on Facebook.  Karin calls it dealing with the “ickies” – I can now say that those “ickies” are the cancer I’m dealing with.  We talked about having a TEAM HOT DOG at next year’s Race for the Cure at the Mall of America, and, of course, we’ll all wear HOT DOG costumes.  HOT DOGS FOR HEALING – Karin’s phrase!

 

Through this all, I’ve been mostly calm and confident.  I do have to say that I did wail on my way home last Tuesday evening when I got the official “word”….and, wouldn’t you know it, but I accidentally “butt dialed” Karin, so she got to hear some of that wailing from me!  She’s shared in the yuck of this stuff already!

 

I cherish your prayers, good thoughts and support.  I believe this is a “bump in the road” – or “lump in the breast”, I guess – and I see it as “little C” cancer.  I’m going to beat this….with the love of my family, friends and God!

 

 

October 7 – bum, bum, bum!  (Ominous sounds abound….)  Karin and her friend, Sharon, (my “other” daughter) accompanied me to the Uniboob Center and then we whisked off to United Hospital for THE surgery.  I gave them my “Mother’s Diary” to write in – a Susan Boyton calendar I bought to make me happy.  I mean, really, is there anything funnier than an elephant playing a trombone or chickens at a movie theater?  I love her sense of humor….that helps, too.

 

They sent me off from the waiting room to surgery and Karin claims I said, “God bless us all, every one!”  And, then as I was wheeled down the hall, “Good night, Tiny Tim!”  Good drugs can do good things, I guess.

 

A split second later, (at least, that’s what if felt like) I was in the recovery room.  I didn’t feel particularly sore or weary and I woke up quite quickly, I think.  Karin and Sharon came to see me and in short order, I was on my way home.  Weird.  That’s all there is? 

 

Dr. Hope gave me vicodin – another reason to love him.  I recall sitting in the green recliner in the living room, kind of floating all around, feeling incredibly well.  It makes sense why those drugs get so much on the black market.   I also recall getting to my room to sleep for the night – it was 7:00, for pete’s sake!  I couldn’t lie on my right side (which I normally do) because that’s where the surgery happened.  Bummer.  I did manage to get comfortable – but not without Lambie, Cadance’s Pillow Pet she let me borrow for my recovery period.   Tim was wonderful in letting me sleep or just sit or just stare ahead or just be.  Saturday floated into Sunday which floated into Monday and then started skidding into Tuesday…recovery was quick….only 3 Vicodin all together, then Tylenol and then nothing.

 

Looking at the incisions was not fun, though.  There’s one across the top of my breast and one in my armpit – to check for cancer in the sentinel lymph node.  There was surgical tape holding the incisions together and my skin was dappled with black and blue from the surgery.  It all started to turn that strange sort of yellow a couple of days later and it was just plain ugly.  And, I could feel where the tumor had been.  It’s like a pie crust had been opened up and some of the delicious berries had been removed, and then the pie crust was put on top again….a little dent, just oh, this far apart…but real.

 

Taking three days off of work seemed reasonable.  I rested, slept, rested and slept some more.  I felt safe, encased in my recovery castle, believing my body was doing the miracle of healing itself. 

 

Back to work – things seemed normal.  I jumped right in with visits, meetings, group sessions, referrals, on call.  Growing and learning about chaplaincy nurtured my healing soul. 

 

Another Tuesday evening – another chance to have pizza and wine because we felt the worst was behind us.

 

Yet, it was not behind us.  There was more NOT normal.  Dr. Hope called during dinner to say I needed yet another surgery – all the margins weren’t “clear”.  There were tiny cells around where the tumor had been and they needed to be clean as a whistle before radiation could begin.   Pizza and wine no longer seemed like “normal” things to me….they were more of “uh-oh” things.  I will not be wanting pizza and wine for quite some time, thank you.

 

So, a week later - back to United – Same Day Surgery Center.  This time, it was crowded and dingy and linoleum-based.  I felt stuffed into a tube of sickness.  Various depths of cancer shown on people’s faces.  What did I look like? 

 

There was humor, though.  I was being readied for my procedure when the announcement comes over the loudspeaker:  “Dr. Hope is here.”  Both Karin and I raised our hands in the air and intoned, “Ahhhhhhhh!”  Kind of like announcing God, I thought.

 

That procedure took less time, less effort and much less pain.  So much less, in fact, that I was able to go to the Ordway the following afternoon for the spectacular “Sound of Music SingAlong” – along with 15 other friends in my entourage.  I went as the Bowing Lady, complete with Princess Leia earbuns and brown Walmart dress from Cher.  I joined the costume party across the stage, bowing the entire time, bowing when I was introduced, bowing when the audience “voted” for the best costume, bowing when I won the award for best costume – “Letters to Liesl”, bowing all the way back to my seat.  Talk about therapeutic – and sound-of-musical!

 

Another phone call from Dr. Hope a week later.  I was afraid to answer the phone.

 

“All is well,” he said.  Considering pizza and wine had become symbols of bad news, I chose to have a Hershey bar in celebration.

 

In the midst of all of this, a greater heartache came along.  My beloved shih-tzu, Foobie, was vomiting blood and unable to walk one morning.  I picked him up, took him to the rocking chair and sang to him.  He looked at me with his velvet browneyes, so I told him it was okay to go even though we both knew it wasn’t.  Part of my heart left me that day and went along into the ground with Foobie.  I needed to be at a day long seminar for CPE, so it fell on Tim to take Foobie to the vet for this “goodbye journey”.  The seminar was about grief – different aspects of it, how people respond or don’t, what kind of tools we could offer.  The whole time, I sat there, stone-faced, wishing I could ask for the grief support and resources.   My beloved dog person was leaving me! 

I called Tim on the way back to the hospital from the seminar, and we both cried.  I’ve never heard Tim cry like that – he was as brokenhearted as I was and we comforted each other with our tears. 

 

To add to the anguish, I discovered later that evening that I had cried so hard that I shorted out my cell phone.  I had a plastic cover for the phone and somewhere my tears get in between the plastic and the phone and seeped into the mechanisms that keep the phone going – when they’re NOT wet.  Funny, isn’t it?  Grief can have so many outcomes – some, least expected. 

 

In mid-October, it was time to meet the oncologist - Dr. Philip Dien, founder of Minnesota Oncology Burnsville office. 


I walked into the office and registered at the front desk.  I glanced to the right and saw several people in the vinyl green chairs – some with knit caps on, some with no caps on, others with no hair on, most looking tired and defeated.  Nurses scurried between patients, tending to their needs and chemicals.  I think I smelled cancer.

 

Forty five minutes after arrival, I met Dr. Dien.  We talked a little and then he asked me to change into a gown and he would be back.  Ten minutes after that, he came back for a few more words and then told me to get changed back into my clothes and we’d talk again.  Ten MORE minutes after that (I realize I’m not the ideal, compliant patient!), he came in and told me, based on all the information he had, that I should have chemo.  I sat in the chair, grabbing my purse straps a little tighter, feeling my stomach clench into a marble ball.  I imagined myself one of the people in the green chairs – with wispy hair, old tired eyes and crazy sad face.  I was defeated.

 

I brought up the idea of the Oncotype test that Dr. Hope mentioned.  Dr. Dien said he knew about that test and that if I wanted more information, he would be glad to order it, but based on ‘what he knows’ and ‘what my results show in terms of size of tumor’, he would be surprised if the test would reveal anything differently. 

 

There was something driving me inside to ask about the test.  There was a living “do this” inside of me.  Normally, (there’s that word again!), I would have conceded to what the doctor said – “he’s the expert, you know”, but I stood up in my heart and said I really wanted it.   So, I said I really wanted the test and he ordered it for me. Good for me!

 

I started wearing “chemo” like a millstone around my neck.  I attended a “chemo info” class – with one other patient – and we were shown a video of what it’s like to go through chemo, what’s it’s like to have sores in your mouth and down your throat that the “magic mouthwash” they give you can’t touch.  We were given booklets of food “good to eat” and “bad to eat” during chemo. 

We were handed a two-sided sheet of paper with places to buy wigs – or hats – or nothing on you head, if you chose.   That was, by far, the hardest for me. 

I just couldn’t imagine sitting in the green throne (seems like a sort of “green monster” to me) while chemo cocktails drained into my veins.  I couldn’t imagine being comforted by a blanket or quilt or even a prayer shawl while my body was inundated with 35-letter-word-long combinations. 

I didn’t want to be in the shower and reach up to wash my hair and grab a handful what was falling out and no longer needed washing. 

It didn’t fit for me.  It just didn’t fit.  Most of the time, I can fit in; I can make myself comfortable in situations.  This one, I couldn’t.  Day went by day and the calendar moved closer and closer to the beginning of chemo.

A phone call came from the company administering the Oncotype test.  Did I understand that the test cost over $4,000?  Did I understand that with my insurance, I would be responsible for 30% of the bill – or $1700? 

“I have insurance, too”, I explained, and they seemed to relax some – didn’t want to overburden me, I think.  And, because Tim and I did NOT make a certain amount of money last year, the whole test would be underwritten by a grant, so not to worry!  I still didn’t know for sure about it.  I even got to speak with a young man in the lab, telling him maybe I didn’t need the test.  Maybe it was too much medical information and it wouldn’t make a difference, anyway.  He said something about 51% of people who do have the test find out they don’t need chemo even if their oncologist says they do because it’s such a thorough test.  He said so much money is saved by not having to have chemo – just let us complete the test, please, he said.  Okay.  It’s all right since I don’t really have to pay for it AND Dr. Hope recommended it.  Did you know I really love that guy?

If I could draw a picture of cancer, it would be a sad little dragon, I think.  Even though it’s sad and it’s little, it’s still got a roar and fire that grabs way too many people in its talons.  I say sad, too, because of how sad I felt.  I had a cement heart, but kept smiling.  I know I didn’t express myself as much as I could have because I just wanted to hide under my blanket and cry.  People reached out to me – thank you, but no thank you, I thought.

Tim and Karin and Joel knew intuitively somehow, I think.  We would talk about it, sort of.  We could laugh about it pretty well.  I knew I held them all away from me if the thought of advance directive came up – and I am the one learning how to encourage people to have such a thing for such a situation as this!   But, laying in my bed one night, I just let go and sobbed.  I was so sad!  It wasn’t even anger.  It was sadness about how much life was going to have to change. 

I’d met with Suzanne, a spiritual healer, who recommended I “love” this cancer, “love” the journey it takes me on, “love” the path to see how it changes me.  I got that.  I get that.  I even believe I do love this cancer – it’s the chemo I bare my teeth at and growl.  Yeah, I bared my teeth and then I grabbed my pillow and cried into it so no one else could hear me. 

Yet, I marched on.  Have to carry on!  Can’t let this get me down as my little heart was scared beyond itself.  Work, work, smile, smile…deny, deny?  Yes.  Some.

The phone rang at dinner again.  I looked at Tim and Karin (she tends to be there when the bad news comes). 

“Hello?” 

“Jean.  This is Dr. Dien.”

I froze. 

“I wanted to tell you I got the results of the oncotype test today.”

Gulp.

“It’s quite surprising.  According to this test, you have LESS THAN a 5% chance of the cancer recurring.  That low of a number hardly ever happens.  That being said, I would no longer recommend chemo for you.  I’m very happy to be able to say that.”

Tears fell out the sides of my eyes.  Both Tim and Karin thought it was some more bad news, so they came along side me.

“Oh, thank you, Dr!” I more than loudly spoke into the phone.  “No chemo!  You have made my day.”  He said a few more things I don’t recall because my brain sang, “No chemo!  No chemo!  No chemo!” 

I thanked him again and hung up the phone.  We hugged like three redwoods – close, strong, reaching up to the hope of heaven, thanking God for this – FINALLY! – good news!

I did a little dance, twirling around the living room, feeling free of the straitjacket of fear and chemo.  I felt as though I could do anything.  Radiation was just a blip on the radar.  I wasn’t going to lose my hair!!!!

Going to bed that night was so different from the night I sobbed myself to sleep.  I cuddled up in the sheets, felt that flannel hug from God and slept like a well-loved baby.   Such peace I’d not known in months.

I now have a divot in my breast and a ‘flattop aerola’, as Dr. Hope put it.  He had to remove a part of nipple that because the cancer was there. 

I’m back at work – I don’t need chemo – I can handle radiation for its 4 minute duration.  I’ve already done 2 treatments – only 31 to go!


 

 ************************************************************************

A LETTER TO THE MASSES

Hello, all!

 I hope you’ll pardon this blanket email, but I have some information to share with you.

 It’s official.  I have been diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer, stage 1.  I found a lump a couple of weeks ago, had a diagnostic mammogram last Monday along with an ultrasound and biopsy.  I found out on Tuesday, September 13, that I do indeed have cancer.  Today, I had an appointment with a surgeon and we scheduled a follow-up MRI for this Friday, with surgery (lumpectomy) expected in mid-October….still waiting to firm up that date.  Following surgery, I will have six weeks of daily radiation.

 The doctor feels confident this was caught early and will be handled aggressively and well.  I have confidence in him – Dr. Hope.  He and I talked a lot about chaplaincy, music therapy, faith and having cancer.  He seems like just the kind of guy I need for this process!  The staff at United Breast Center in St. Paul (I like to call it “Uniboob Center”) have been terrific, as well.

 Another good thing – the spiritual health staff here at Fairview Ridges are supporting me BIG TIME!  They will work around my schedule to make things work for “me” and have already offered many prayers, hugs and support.

 And, then, since I get to do radiation, Dr. Hope said it would be feasible to do it here at Fairview Ridges Hospital (where I’m working).  Could it be MORE convenient?

 And, some of you have seen Team HOT DOG on Facebook that my daughter, Karin, instigated.  Several of us have gone to Target and tried on the HOT DOG costume, taken a picture of ourselves and then put it on Facebook.  Karin calls it dealing with the “ickies” – I can now say that those “ickies” are the cancer I’m dealing with.  We talked about having a TEAM HOT DOG at next year’s Race for the Cure at the Mall of America, and, of course, we’ll all wear HOT DOG costumes.  HOT DOGS FOR HEALING – Karin’s phrase!

 Through this all, I’ve been mostly calm and confident.  I do have to say that I did wail on my way home last Tuesday evening when I got the official “word”….and, wouldn’t you know it, but I accidentally “butt dialed” Karin, so she got to hear some of that wailing from me!  She’s shared in the yuck of this stuff already!

 I cherish your prayers, good thoughts and support.  I believe this is a “bump in the road” – or “lump in the breast”, I guess – and I see it as “little C” cancer.  I’m going to beat this….with the love of my family, friends and God...

LENTEN FEAST

I read a daily commentary called “God  Wants You to Know”...Today, this is what it said.

 On this day, God Wants You to Know .... that you are to let grace flow freely from your heart.  Think back over the last few days, - how many times have you felt appreciation towards another? How many times have you thought about another: 'what a lovely smile', or 'she is so nice', or  'such a kind man', or any of a myriad of other appreciative thoughts. Did you express them? Did you come up to her and say: 'you are so nice'? And why not? Why did you stop divine grace from flowing freely from your heart? Do you want to change the world to the better? This is it, this is how you start.

  

Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Today I am grateful for ashes - for the messy, oily, flaky black/white/gray decoration on each person.  How oddly normal it seemed to see people with smudgy crosses on their foreheads eat a soup lunch following Ash Wednesday worship.  Each person’s the blessed  forehead reminded each of us of being “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever”.

 Some people absentmindedly rubbed their foreheads, making the smudge more messy.  Others seems to have a beacon leading their way.    But, everyone was beautifully similar in their marking - their symbol of belonging.  Conversation, crackers and chocolate cake -  all blessed by the ash crosses. 

 It seems odd to express gratefulness for the fires that produced those ashes. The pastor spoke of a woman who lost her husband and son in a cabin fire and she found comfort and strength among the ashes.  By remembering the love of her husband and son, she found handling their loss somehow more bearable.  Do we recall God’s love by remembering He lost His own son?

 “To dust you shall return” is the off-setting benediction accompanying the ashes.  To help remind us of our fleeting lives, I suppose, this act gets to the root of who we are - dust, ashes, blown away in a moment.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust - our bodies briefly touch the earthly dance floor, then we fly away home. 

 Today, I am grateful to be ashes and dust.  I am grateful to claim my Christforeverness.  For though I’m here one day and gone the next, I am with and in Christ. 

 

 March 10, 2011

I opened the back door to let the dogs out this morning and heard the sounds. 

 “Birds!” I shouted the word with an enthusiasm that quite surprised me.  Such a small, everyday event had an immediate, positive impact on my spirit.  Hooray!

 The music was frozen for so long - under the snow, behind the wind, notes covered with ice.   Much snow still slept on the ground as Narnia’s White Witch lingered.  As in every year, though, it was now time to dethrone the witch and ask the birds to announce her departure and the beginning of a new season. 

 The song began to pour out from beneath the branches - the musicians invisible.  Little chirrups to the right.  A cascading song falls from the top of the pine tree.  Conversation between bird families echoed.  Even the cawing crow in the distance brought a smile.   Such little creatures - feathers, hollow bones, spindly legs.  How clever of God to give them the job of announcing new, reborn life through their tunes.  Today, I'm grateful for birds.

 

 

 

March 11, 2011

Tonight, my granddaughter and I spent a lot of time at the Maplewood Mall, riding the carousel. 

I must say the energy of a six year old could probably provide power for the entire city of Las Vegas, especially when they bounce their way from the car through the bookstore down the escalator across the main floor and up to the ticketbooth.  It was like trying to harness a tornado - a happy one, mind you - but a tornado, nonetheless.

 We handed our tickets and ran to the opposite side of the carousel to get in the teacups, settled in and waited for the three beeps to signal the beginning of the ride.  We both grabbed ahold of the spinner in the middle of the cup and starting pulling on it to make the cup go around fast, then fast, then fastest. 

 The joy, the abandon, the out-of-her-stomach-heart-and-soul giggles made me laugh right out loud with her.  I found myself letting go of life’s worries a little, too - spinning and having to catch my breath from how quickly we were revolutioning. 

 Looking out beyond the teacup, I watched the people in the mall as they flew by - okay, I was the one flying by, but it gave me a new outlook.  How quickly we run through our lives - how quickly we spin around and see the world as upside down, convoluted, disrupted....maybe it’s really US who are spinning out of control?

And the craziness of watching the stores go by, not being able to focus on anything as we went around and around made me think of how little control we really have in it all.  Maybe we’re all on a carousel, sometimes flying, sometimes bouncing up and down on a horse, sometimes just sitting on a bench on the top floor of the merry-go-round, not in control, but being a part of the ride for the moment.

 That’s what I want - the abandon of giving myself to the carousel to see life through different eyes, through different spheres.

 The ride finished.  Her little face beamed.  “Let’s do it again!”  Of course!

Today I’m grateful for carousel thinking.

 


March 12, 2011

Freshly laundered flannel sheets - sigh.  I pull back the covers and crawl in.  The fragrance of the laundry detergent curls around me.  The softness of the flannel swaddles around me.  Sinking into the pillow, I close my eyes and relax into the mattress. 

 Nighttime can be sanctuary time for me.  God’s close as my next breath, the blankets keep me safe and warm, and the darkness feels like another blanket.  No monsters here, just peace and sleep and flannel. 

 

 

 

March 13, 2011

Two rocking recliners.  Two people sharing the Sunday paper as the TV plays endless movies, shows, discoveries.  Two dogs lay nearby - one old fluffy one; one younger eager one.  It’s quiet.  It’s calm. It’s Sunday afternoon.  So much at home.

 

 

 

March 14, 2011

I am grateful for my heart today.

 On and off again heart palpitations necessitated a nuclear MRI and stress test.  The palpitations themselves are disconcerting because it seems my heart wants to pound right out of my chest.  Nothing hurts.  I don’t sweat.  I don’t have any of the “typical” symptoms of heart attacks.  Nonetheless, I’m more aware of my heart now.

 The preliminary results indicate a possible “jutting out” in the left ventricle of my heart - the big term is “noncompaction cardiomyopathy”.  Whew.  Not sure if checking symptoms on line is a good idea, I did it anyway and found that this condition is genetic, can be mild or severe, and not much else is known about it.  Sounds important, though, right?

And I have a new love affair with my heart.  Yes, there are times I’m worried, anxious, even mildly panicked.  Why, you ask?  Because my dramatic self goes to the end of all - my death, not being able to say goodbye, etc. 

 I think mostly it’s that I realize I AM finite.  I can feel empathy for people in serious places - cancer, heart disease, floods, earthquakes....all that, but they’re far away from me.  They’re not in my body.  Finding this new information involves me - my skin, bones, organs and soul.  I see in a new way that the body I touch, feel and live in will indeed cease someday...not in a philosophical, abstract sort of way.  I will stop breathing.  My heart will stop.  It’s sobering. 

 It’s real - this exploration of potential failing in my body.  But, it’s a part of me so I’ll watch and wait and be grateful…I hope.

 


March 15, 2011

White, black, white, black, white, white, black, white, black, white, black, white, white.  REPEAT.  Monotonous in explanation, rigid in order.  Even the shapes themselves are stiff and uniform – straight, long pieces of wood placed in a base encasing all pieces in the same order over and over.  Boring.

Hardly. 

Much therapy has been done at those wooden pieces, black and white in contrast.  Many tears have been shed, laughter has been shared and endless new stories emerge.

Part of what identifies me, the piano has been a friend, a sister, a lover, a consoler, a teacher, a playmate, and pain in the butt.  It has also been inspiration, a profession, a creative workstation, a sanctuary, and a constant.

Mine stands behind me now containing years of songs, piano lessons, vocal singing, composing, inspired music, anger and pain pounded onto its keys.  It stands there with arms open wide encouraging involvement, welcoming exploration, being available. 

It has been my friend from the day I was born when my dad bought it to the day my mom started giving me piano lessons when I was in second grade.  It was my study partner when I moved on to another teacher. 

In the meantime, it was the saloon girlfriend of Uncle Dan for “Up a Lazy River” and concert forum for four hand one piano duets with my mom.  Even Down Syndome friend, Evie, played and sang, banging on the keys as she sang in her guttural voice, beaming from ear to ear – “hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!”

It’s been moved, jostled, watered on, dried out, had its guts removed, lost varnish and some ivory keys.  It doesn’t hold much of tune anymore because of my neglect and yet it gives of itself whenever someone sits down to play.

Debussy to Metallica, John Denver to Khachaturian, Edvard Grieg to original songs, my piano has held the treasures inside all these years. 

My ever present friend, my ever musical partner – we’ve been in this 58 years together.  You are my first and closest.  I love you, old 88.

 

APRIL 16

So I haven't written much lately...but that doesn't mean I've not had much gratefulness to feast on this Lenten season.  Even today with the 4500th snowfall of this season, I can see the white beauty wrapping itself around tree branches.  Each branch and leaf stands out in its own distinctiveness - each branch holding the snow in its own curve.lick to add text, images, and other content

NIGHT SYMPHONY - Summer, 2010

Just when does the symphony begin?

I was up at 5am today – the dogs needed to go out.  As I waited for them to finish, I heard birds.  Night was beginning to lighten just a bit, the air was still. 

A chirp to the left, and mourning dove wail from the right.  Little by little, bird instruments added to the mix and I was an audience of one for the invisible symphony. 

I couldn’t see any birds moving around – yet seemed to feel a whole robin family in the pine tree branches, singing in four part harmony. 

Hushed.  Mysterious.  Magical.  In the waking-up time of the world, I witnessed the call to light.  It came out of the darkness, the pine amphitheater, refusing to show any faces or feathers…the music, naked in its beauty, quietly dazzling. 

I felt like I was intruding on a miracle.  Yet, I could not look away or not listen.  I received a gift from the dark as it grew into the morning.

 

I AM MY OWN VELVETEEN RABBIT - January 7, 2010

Some friends will spend the night next week to attend the memorial service of another friend. Tim said the house will have to be clean from top to bottom, side to side and backwards - and he means it. So much for rest, I grumbled in my head.

You see, I'm not much for deep down cleaning. It takes time. I sweat. I get impatient and often quite crabby. I don't do it well enough because I simply don't take time to do it well. Then, I get mad at myself for not being more patient and go back to it, usually distracting myself with more important things like checking how many stamps we have or arranging the books on my bookshelf - again.

There's the guest room to clean, my closet to re-organize, the kitchen floor to wax, the grout in the bathroom to scrub, the yard to mow, the patio to be swept, etc.  I'd rather have people visit and enjoy my company then worry about whether or not they noticed the color-coordinated towels and soaps in the bathroom. But, that probably is an excuse so I don't have to clean so deeply.

Part of me thinks someone else will do it.  One of the familiar phrases while growing up was, "Leave it for Grandma.  She'll do it when she gets home." Inevitably, the dirty pots and pans would soak in the sink until Grandma scrubbed them within an inch of their lives when she returned from her janitor duties.  That has stuck with me - "wait until someone else comes to do the dirty work".  And, usually, someone else does it.

So, I've let "Grandma do the dishes", and I've not expressed my opinions because I don't want anyone to get mad - at me or the situation.  

It's time for me to become a part of that inevitable "clean up" and take responsibility for it myself.

Even being able to say I'm crabby about having to clean is a big step for me in actually acknowledging conflict or dis-ease.

So, what does that have to do with Sabbath? Or rest?  I'm starting to express my opinions and am at ease with that.  I'm acknowledging a part of myself.  By glossing over discomfort or conflict, I've been avoiding a part of my whole self, and by looking at it all and touching the hard stuff, I'm growing to be a more dimensional person - one who can begin to hold open arms to life's dirt and glory. 

One who can say with equally strong emotion - "I LOVE having people over to visit, but I sure HATE having to clean!" and be honest with both emotions. That has been part of my defense mechanism in life - my way of dealing with life to avoid conflict, hard feelings, discomfort...and keep people happy, happy, happy.  The rest I'm finding in exploring this is that I can become more real, more aware, more myself.

Remember "The Velveteen Rabbit" by Margery Williams Bianco?

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side. 

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to  you.  "It doesn't happen all at once, You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are REAL you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Not to say there haven't been hurts and pains in my life - there have.  But, mostly, I've wanted to keep the petticoats all crisp, the bow tied just-so under my chin, and the dress unwrinkled. 

 Why?  Because I don't want people to be mad.  I'm finding peace and rest in becoming more real myself - allowing myself to say I'm angry or hurt or sad. I’m allowing myself to disagree with someone and if they get angry, it's okay.  I’m allowing myself to say I've felt cheated or hurt and accepting that hard feelings do happen.

 Yes, my hair shows signs of being loved off, my joints are loose and I certainly feel shabby.

 But, in the most beautiful, blessed way - I'm real.

"MOON" JOHNSON

I'm thinking of changing my name to "Moon" Johnson.

 I heard a sermon about God's love - that it's a fact, it's true. Nothing we can do or cannot do changes God's love. It simply is. We have a hard time understanding that because we're used to living an "if/then" life. "If" we behave, "then" God will love us. "If" we try to care about others,  "then"God will love us.

 The great thing is...We don't have to wonder if God loves us. We don't have to earn God's love. We don't have to DO anything. We simply need to BE.

 God's love eternally shining - shining all the time over everything....that's how the pastor explained it.We may think we are the ones shining God's love when we're actually moons, reflecting God's love.We're little mirrors, flashing God's love all around us. We're the mirrors bending God's rays all around.

 I thought about that.And I realized I had many, many times tried to outlove, outdo, out pray, outserve people so I could convince God I was good enough to be a Christian.

 I thought about the working and worrying I'd done - do people think I pray hard enough? Do they think I'm pious enough? Do they feel loved enough? I strove to be calm, patient, compassionate - to show people just how well I could be like God.

 See those words - working, worrying, striving? No wonder I get burned out and depleted. I cannot be the Son. There already is One of those. I cannot even be the "sun" - the source, the energy. But, I can be a "moon" - a being standing by, shining God's light and love. And I don't have to earn anything.

 I don't have to complete a course in Godliness. I don't have to DO anything. God's love is and always will be here for me and for you and for every person.

 There's nothing for me to prove. There's all for me to love....

 So here I am—shined on by God - a moon, reflecting the glory that is God.  

added September 27, 2010 - PRELUDE TO SABBATH SUMMER

 

The clouds are  becoming grayer.  One wispy cloud floats south shifting shapes as it moves.  The leaves wilt, covering their heads with their hands to ward off what seems imminent.  The birch tree leaves await.  Funny how nature seems to be in tune with itself.  We can predict weather using the latest innovations and technology, yet it rains when it rains for as long as it rains and we cannot do anything about it. 

Is that how life can be?  We plan and research and write and analyze and hold seminars and debate, but life still goes on as life goes on.  I believe there is reality in being in tune with life.  So, I'm going to write something every day - observation, thought, feelings, about being present; about being in tune.  And, I'm going to focus on sabbath.
   

Sab·bath
Pronunciation: sab-th   
Etymology: Middle English sabat "the seventh day of the week for rest and worship,"
from early French sabat and Old English sabat (both, same meaning),
both from Latin sabbatum "Sabbath," from Greek sabbaton (same meaning),
from Hebrew shabbth, literally, "rest"


Thinking of resting doesn't come easily.  It will be hard.  We're used to work, work, work, make, make, make.  And, if we don't, it's guilt, guilt, guilt.  Not for me this summer - this Sabbath Summer.  Purposely, I'm going to rest.  I am going to listen. I am going to be.  Be still and listen.  I want to stop the screaming "have to do it now" and be aware.  Quite certain I'll whine and complain as I adjust to rest, I will continue. 

I'm anticipating a change - a change toward quietness and peace.  I'm anticipating struggling, asking why I feel foreign to peace.  Mostly, I anticipate finding rest.  And still.  and quiet.  And myself.  Amen. 

Amen
Pronunciation: ()ä-men, ()-; ä- when sung  
-- used to express agreement or approval

Added 08/01/10   - SID AND HOLY TOUCH

 

I brought the reverie harp into his room and sat down, strummed the strings and watched his face. 

 Sid’s left side is paralyzed from a stroke.  He has both a feeding tube and breathing tube.  His body is stiff from being bedridden so long.  Sid cannot speak, although his eyes, if you look long enough and hard enough, tell many stories.

 I talked quietly as I strummed, plucking notes here and there.  I tried “Amazing Grace”, stumbling from one note to another, trying to find the melody.  Letting go of that, I moved to simply playing, plucking, stroking the strings, watching Sid’s face.

 He seemed to want to play it because he reached out with his right arm – just a little.  I put the harp under his arm and he plucked a few strings.  Then, he seemed to be done, so I took the harp back, sat down and began playing again.

 “Do you like all kinds of music, Sid?” I asked.  He looked at me, eyebrows twitching.  I continued playing.  “I know you have some Michael W. Smith CDS here, and Handel’s Messiah.  I’m thinking you love music,” I surmised.  Sid continued to look at me.

 “Would you like to feel the harp?” I asked.  I gently laid the harp on Sid’s chest and slowly slid my fingers along the strings.  “Do you feel the music going through the harp into yourself?” I asked. 

 Sid’s milky blue eyes watched, seeming to flicker with a new understanding.  I continued playing the harp laid on Sid’s chest for a while, watching his face. 

 He’d reach up and try to touch his head.  I asked if he wanted me to lower the bed.  That didn’t seem right.  He reached up again, seeking my understanding. He was teaching me to listen with my eyes, I think…

 I reached up and touched his head, stroked his hair over and over.  Sid’s thin gray hair covers the left side of his skull – his forehead is high and wide.  I stroked his hair from the top of his head to the top of his ear over and over.  Sid seemed to lean into that. 

 There was no major change in environment or atmosphere.  It was a simple touch of my hand on him.  I talked slowly, gently, murmuring calm words, singing a little.  Sid slowly closed his eyes and seemed to soften just a bit. 

 I then stroked his cheek and he leaned into that even more.  It reminded me of times when I would stroke my children’s faces when they were crying or upset.  Eventually, the tears would subside, their stress would lessen, they would relax into me. 

 Sid fell asleep as I continued stroking his cheek, relaxing into my touch. 

 Such little effort on my part.  A touch, some comfort, then sleep.   

 I don’t know if you realize the wisdom you shared with me today, Sid – that touch can be so deep and holy. 

DAY ONE-Sabbath Summer

 

So, it begins. What will this day be like, I wonder?  What will the future be?  Oh, "The Sound of Music" can be woven into so many situations!  

Take a moment.  Look.  The various trees rich in green, stand proud, yielding to the unseen wind.  The forty- foot high pine tree with ancient limbs moves easily with the breeze.  I wonder what trees would look like if they got up and walked around.  One tree looks like an old duchess the way her branches spread out in a lovely, leafy ballgown.  The birch behind her whispers in her ear.  Slowly, he moves closer and they twirl around.  We're so used to just walking right by, not thinking about what could be - accepting the fact that trees are stuck in the ground.  All the while, they know the waltzes they do in the deep night.

Listen.  The cardinal's liquid song floats in the air.  I can appreciate the various sounds, notes, trills and phrasing.  Some are joyous, other more cautious, others just plain raucous.  A chaos of sound?  Not really.  Even if one bird sings in polka time, another sings a lullaby and it all fits.  Other sounds - an airplane overhead.  Who's going where?  Here and there a dog barks.  You'd think the concept of each sound not combining with other sounds would make a horrific clatter.  Yet somehow it all comes together in the wonderful ball of noise we know as life. 

I read Eckhart Tolle's book, "A Whole New Earth". I’m learning how to be "in the moment" by trying not to identify a specific sound or feeling or sight, but just letting it happen.  If a dog barks, I want to don't think, "Oh, a dog is barking".  I want to let the sound roll over me and become a part of the experience.  This moment, so full of identifiable sounds, sights and smells becomes more three-dimensional.  Without defining each aspect, the moment becomes a part of life itself.  Experience it.  Don't analyze.  Allow peace and rest - allow Sabbath.   

Just, what is Sabbath?  I first read about Sabbath in a little blue Bible.  There were pretty little pictures of Jesus in the temple and taking quiet time...time to listen for God.  My second-grade heart believed everyone took time for Sabbath because a little Bible taught them so.  As I grew older, though, Sabbath became more legalistic.  We learned if we didn't rest, we weren't being faithful to God's commandments.  If we didn't honor the day and make it holy, we sinned.  But, Sundays grew so long.  No shopping?  It was agony to watch another bowling tournament on TV or read more comic books on the front porch - I wanted to DO something!  And, then I found out that even walking more than a few feet was wrong for Old Testament Jews.  How in the world did people handle it?  

Life was all about do, do, do.  Ingrained into that was the implied idea that "being" was lazy, wrong and unproductive.  So, though I understood the idea of taking time to rest, to relax, to be still, when I did just that, I felt lazy, criticized and useless.  It took a long time and I am only now slowly beginning to see that "rest" is not just doing nothing.  It's being something.  It's being aware, attentive. 

By being aware and not letting laundry or baking or vacuuming occupy my time, I've been able to think about dancing trees and balls of noise and rest in a differently quiet way.  I believe Psalm 46:10 - "Be still and know that I am God" - will come to have intimate meaning for me this summer.

TOM

She met me at the door and sighed, "He's gone.  He died about 3 minutes ago."  We cried, hugged,  and held on. 

We walked into the bedroom where he lay.  "Oh, Linda, are you sure he's really gone?  He looks so alive," I said.  His mouth was open, face turned toward the window, as if he were simply sleeping.


She sat on the bed next to Tom.  "He's really gone.  He had those rattles in his throat.  His breaths came slower and slower and all of a sudden, it was done."  She laid her hand upon his face and kissed him.  Tom was covered by a soft teal blanket, his gray blond hair combed back like always, his eyelashes closed deeply on his cheeks.   What a strong profile he had...his nose,  his cheekbones, the shape of his head all suggested strength. 

I sat in a chair alongside the bed, Linda lay next to him and Ruth, their daughter, sat at the end of the bed.  We talked long and cried freely about his death, his life, his love.  We all were strangely comfortable looking at Tom, watching the outward case of the inside spirit now free.  And, it was that - a case, a container that looked just like Tom, but his spirit, that part of him that was really Tom, was gone. 

Peace hung in the air like a gently perfumed cloud.  It seemed as if you could wave your hand in the air and move it around.    

Little by little, the daily duties began to creep in.  Phone calls needed to be made.  The grandchildren needed tending.  Coffee was poured.  Bathroom breaks were taken. We talked about making plans for the funeral.  Yes, he was being cremated - that's what he wanted.  Yes, the kids all knew where the important papers were.  Tom and his eldest son, Pat, had made sure everything was up to date. Ruth said, "Dad pointed to each of us - 1/3, 1/3, 1/3!".  They all knew they would each be getting one-third of the inheritance.  "Always like him to take care of the math and financials," she said.  Tom had been a math teacher for many years. 


We talked about when the service would be, what would be involved, should we call Wilma now so she could ready her funeral lunch crew?  The doorbell rang and people started arriving with hugs and tears and words of comfort.  Some brought coffeecake, others brought frozen meals for the days ahead, others just came.


All the while, Tom's body lay peacefully in the bedroom next door.  Toby, the cat, went in to investigate and sat in the window seat, alternately looking outside for birds and inside for Tom's attention.

 
People reminisced.  The grandkids played Monopoly and chess.  Linda wanted a particular song at the service - "Oh, How He Loves You and Me" - in a "jazzy" style.  We went out to the living room, she showed me the book, I sat down to play and she started singing, "Oh, how He loves you and me!"  I wondered how she could sing so freely with her husband lying dead in the room down the hall.  And it struck me how it felt so right and natural it was. 

When it was time to leave, I went to the bedroom and sat by the bed one more time.  I lifted the blanket and noticed Linda had folded Tom's arms, one arm
across the other so Tom looked like he was hugging himself.  I touched his face and felt its coolness.  His skin color had changed to a kind of waxy, pale yellow and it seemed as if his whole body had shrunk just a little.  


More laughter from the living room, more doorbell ringing, more phone calls.  More normalcy. 

Someone said once that God's Spirit is present at every birth.   Some have claimed to see the God glimmers - the sparkles of eternity - as a baby opens its mouth to take in that first holy breath.   

What happens,then, when we die?  Do we open our mouth to allow God to take back that same lifebreath?


It was then I remembered Tom's mouth had been open when we walked in just after he had died.  His mouth remained open even now.  

I considered it - lifebreath returning to God?  Sparkles of eternity? 

It was then I noticed a couple of sparkles slip out and rise upward.

HEART OF STONE - May 10, 2010

Like a picture drawn or painted, I saw it in my mind's eye.  Dark gray stone with chunks cut away, fashioning a roughly shaped heart.  My heart.  Inside, my spirit sank.

I knew there was a hardness inside me. For years, church music had fulfilled, overwhelmed and energized me.  But, it was all becoming ho-hum.  Same old, same old.   This heart picture confirmed it deeper for me.  Sure, you can do all the church things you want to do, and you can do them with a heart of stone - just look at yourself.

That picture grew clearer and clearer over the years.  Eventually, I left the small church where I'd seen my stone heart, believing there were other areas of faith to explore.  I explored other areas of faith - a church loosely connected Baptist-ly.  A time of no church at all -  Then, connection with a Lutheran congregation- again.  I say "again" because I'd grown up Lutheran - all the traditions, the rituals, the liturgy.  I'd forgotten the comfort of knowing Advent and Lent.  The idea of remembering what colors to put on the altar for the various church seasons.  There was a homeyness in that, a remembrance of earlier life in that familiarity. 

Yet, something nagged at me.  Something about sameness, about things "being in the way"- about being perfectly dotted-i's and crossed-t's.

A faith retreat - surprise after surprise, talk after talk, servant hearted people giving comfort and love we'd most likely not known before.  Overwhelmed by the generosity, I was humbled.  When it seemed no more could come along, the doors exploded open and people came from all directions...singing the silly Spanish song we'd learned during the weekend.  I was transfixed...why would people spend their time to come and sing for us?  And, then another song - the second verse...

I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.

Tears streamed down my cheeks as those words seeped into my heart.  My stone heart was being broken - broken by my relentless Love, my Jesus.  It took weeks after that to see my heart slowly showing cracks in the stone, becoming lighter gray. 

I continued to worship and work in that church, growing and feeling more aware of God's voice in me.  I moved to a different church and then on to another one - all the while growing, in confidence, in skill, in safety.  If I were honest with myself, I was also growing in discontent in the church context.  Little by little, I felt like I was compromising myself - about my call from God.  I had my eyes opened to the heart of stone; heard God talk about breaking that heart; experienced deep longing for God that was unexplainable in its depth. Yet, I played the game; I was the "good church musician".

I railed (inwardly) against the traditions.  I rejoiced in expressions of new singing.  I cried out for people to simply sit together and talk about Jesus.  Was I too black and white about my faith?  Did I think everyone needed to see Jesus just like I did?  Was I crazy for wanting NOTHING - no rituals or essays or meetings or committees - to come between God and these beloved people?  

And then I read "The Barbarian Way" by Erwin Raphael McManus.  Quoting: "Exodus 36:26-28 says: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.  I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put in Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees."    People living in the "barbarian" way, he writes, are passionate about the very things that are on the heart of God.  Their motivation is not external, but instrinsic.  They are moved from the inside out. - page
92.

I read that paragraph and realized it's me - honestly, I'm more barbaric than most would guess.  I'm quiet spirited; people have asked where I get my "quiet rejoicing".  Yes, there's that - and more and more, I'm finding a  passion that's needing to become loud.  I'm finding a restlessness in being 'status quo' or civilized, as McManus puts it.  I want to throw off the wet blankets of tradition and shout to the world, "God loves you!  God loves us!  That is the GOOD news."

I'm at risk of becoming civilized myself if I stay where I am much longer...I can feel it.  I'll become mesmerized and comforted and soothed and placated into "it's okay".  It's NOT okay for me.  I say with my mewling little voice that will become louder because I believe it that  it is NOT okay for me.  If I am perceived as crazy, so be it!  I choose to turn my heart completely open  - spare nothing, God! - take me through suffering and pain if you wish to; show me to let go of the suburban safety that's so easy to hang to on to and cling lovingly, desiringly, totally to you. 

Take me, Lord - wherever you want.
BEING BORN - April 24, 2010

I've been in this warm, comforting, liquid world as long as I've had realization, wrapped in warmth and float and God glimmers, little sparkly wisps of eternal.  I love watching the sparkles float around me. 

Muffled sounds.  What are they?  Some noises get loud, some are soft, others scarily intense.  Oh, there are sounds that have become familiar.  One is a constant whoosh in, whoosh out.  Another goes tha-dunk, tha-dunk.  Gurgles flow by.  I move a little to make the gurgles go away, but it doesn't help much.  One of my favorite sounds is Mom.  At least, I think the sound's name is Mom because I hear people saying, "Oh, look at the little mom!"

I sleep, then awaken, move a little (it gets more and more crowded), then sleep again.  My nose itches, so I scratch it.  Then sleep again. 

Ouch!  Something pushes all around me...full body pushing.  Is someone wrapping the blanket tighter around me?  It feels nice to be so bundled, but, wait - no, this is beginning to hurt.  Hey Mom!  What are you doing?

These hugs are quickly becoming more like big thick rubber muscle bands squeezing me... pushing me somewhere.  Where am I going?  The pressure increases, then contracts, increases, contracts and keeps on with the same rhythm for a long time.  I'm not the same curled up ball I was just a bit ago - something is making me stretch out. 

Stretched out more, I'm moving somewhere.  The pressure starts on the top of my head and moves all down my body.  Sliding towards something else as the muscles tighten more and more.  My head's leading the way to wherever we're going - kind of surfing through this dark, not sure where it ends. 

Outside sounds are getting more distinct.  The more I'm sliding through this tunnel, the more noises I hear.  Voices and words are more clear, too.  Don't hear Mom, though.

"Head is crowning."  No idea what that means. 

"Okay, here it comes!"  What's coming?  I want to see whatever it is.  What's coming? 

"Good, good, good!"  What's good?  Rush, rush. 

The top of my head feels less pressure - like a barrier has been broken or a door been opened.  Little by little, the pressure eases on my head and then, suddenly, the pressure is gone!

Intense lights everywhere!  I squish my eyes shut from the bright and try to turn away, but am still wrapped in something.  One more big pressure push and suddenly I'm completely in the light!   It's so cold!  Mom, help!

White figures move quickly around me.  A blanket covers me.  There's metal and glass and tile and sheets and drapings all around me.  I'm scared!  Fingers search all over me.  Some liquid gets stuck in my eyes.  I don't like this!

I manage to open my eyes a little and then, notice little glistenings all around me...little sparkles of God - the same glimmers that had been all around me.  I try to wave to them because I know them - hey!  Over here.  Remember me? 

I watch and become transfixed as the sparkles gather into a ball, a cloud, and plunge down to me.  "Welcome!  Come on in!" my heart cries, remembering how comforted I felt with the glimmers all around me in the liquid dark.    I open my mouth, the sparkles flood into me, and I breathe. 

Now what happens? 

GEESE AND ME - April 4, 2010

How do geese know when to fly to the sun?
Who tells them the seasons?
How do we, humans, know when it is time to move on?
As with the migrant birds, so surely with us there is a voice within,
If only we would listen to it,
that tells us so certainly when to go forth into the unknown. from "The Authentic Career" by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

How, certainly?  Our human minds go on and on in endless circles and squares and three dimensional octagons, trying to figure out the who, what, why, when and where of our lives.  We look at the "simple" goose flying overhead and think we are so superior to those creatures.
 
Ah, but are we?  As we struggle, they fly.  As we ponder, they move on to the next destination.  As we contemplate and get headaches, they breathe in the fresh upper air and sail along on the invisible sky roads.

CHERUB CHOIR - March 7, 2010

I hesitated in the doorway, more than a bit wary of the Cherub Choir director.  When she laughed, her entire face participated, her piercing blue eyes crinkled, her nose wrinkled, her mouth arched like a slice of watermelon and she hooted like an owl, grinning a welcome to each of the new members as we shyly entered the room and awaited direction.

We sat in little green chairs, girls with high voices in the front row; girls with lower voices in the second row and the boys close to the director to be handy for her direction and/or correction.  Being in Cherub Choir made me feel grown up and ready for more.  I took piano lessons from my mom and became comfortable with time signatures, treble clef signs and tempos held in place by tapping toes.  The little black dots crawling over the staff were already friends – middle C and D and E were my buddies. I was learning to sing to make the same sounds with my vocal cords as I did with my fingers on the piano – a whole new facet of music for me.

I loved the sound of old church pianos.  They creaked and groaned and were always a bit out of tune.  Like big, comfortable, noisy musical aunties, they taught us about God while accompanying us in “come into my heart, Lord Jesus”.   The director sat in front of one of those great old auntie pianos, handed out freshly mimeographed (oh, the purple smell!) music, talked

about the song and asked us to sing.   My grown-up teeth were still pushing ot baby teeth,  so “Thav-ior” or “Je-thuh” were the pronunciations of the day. We practiced long and well, being alternately shushed and encouraged along.

Finally, it was Christmas Eve - our choir debut!  The cold winter wind blew families bundled up like woolen snowmen equipped with scarves and mittens in from the outside.    Once relieved of my winter armor,  I  twirled around so my red satin dress with white net bottom would spin out like an upside down tea cup.  A wild mess of brown, pin-curl dented hair topped me superbly.   The choir members donned white triangles of cotton cloth draped over our shoulders that fell 6 inches below our waists. Huge red satin bows hung from the front.  We looked like little Christmas gifts ready to be opened.  

We were guided to the front of the church after being firmly instructed NOT to wave to anyone – we had a job to do.  Amen.  We turned to face the congregation and begin our song.

Nobody warns you about the faces.  So many!  Some frownily peered at us, others beamed through their pancake make-up masks, and others simply stared.  We looked intently at our director and, with our little brows furrowed, we began to sing, “O sanctissima, O piessima”, our tinny, tiny voices rising upward.

Well done, the director nodded, as we were shepherded back to our pew. 

One more song and Christmas Eve worship was over.  The congregation watched as the curtains fronting the altar parted to reveal the outdoor Christmas garden.  Snow softly illuminated by the lights in the garden shined like silver.  The trees, wearing thick snow coats, stood tall and proud.  I half expected to see Mary and Joseph walk out from behind one of those pines to set down the manger for the Baby.  Inside, the overhead lights dimmed, the organist played the familiar introduction and we joined in singing with a wistful reverence, "Silent night.  Holy night... Sleep in heavenly peace."  

I had been part of the choir that sang to Baby Jesus that night.  I certainly would sleep with heavenly peace.

 

 

 

FOOBIE - March 25, 2010

Foobie is quite the man.   He's got this look, "I'm cool.  I'm hip." without the swagger that you might expect with the "I'm cool, I'm hip" stuff. 

I think he would be a baritone in choir.  Or maybe second tenor.  He's got a totally fall-in-love-with face, complete with button nose and big brown eyes.  Trust turned brown when it colored his eyes.

There is an innocence, a naivete in him.  Pick him up, and he puts one paw on the right side of your neck, the other paw on the left and then he snuggles in for a hug.  He just hugs and hugs.  He's a person in a dog suit, I swear. 

He's got a firm, steady bark.  Pretty sure he's quite deaf, although a whistle will bring him to attention, so it's not completely gone.  When he barks, it's like he's announcing the 6:00 news. "I've got something to say and you will listen."

Then there are the yips and piercing barks.  "I'm going outside now and you had better open the door."  He'll sit in the kitchen, tail wagging like a windshield wiper on the floor, waiting for someone to come.  "Yap!  Yap!" 

Today I sat on the swing while Foobie explored the back yard  - he turns to see me to make sure I've not left as he takes his stroll.  Then he turns again and yet again.  I swing and watch him.  He usually goes to the right around the big pine tree, then back
toward
the used to be garden.  Today, he spent a lot of time in the Russian Olive tree area.  I imagined he was looking for a good place to lay down and die.  He is 15 years old, after all.

He trots around the yard - and I mean, that - trots.  His tail follows him like a plume on a band member's hat, bouncing in time to his trottingness. 

Then he sniffs the pine tree in the back - lifts his leg to mark his territory for today.  I think it's on his calendar to do that every day. 

1.  Mark territory.
2.  Tinkle on specified tree.
3.  Walk along the roadway on the sidewalk, one leg slightly higher than the other.
4.  Sniff the mailbox post.
5.  Tinkle on the mailbox post.
6.  Sneeze.
7.  Sneeze again.

He makes a production of the sneeze.  He lifts his head toward the sky, takes a breath, holds it, then sneezes and tosses his head back and forth.  He sometimes repeats that two or three times depending on the effect he's going for. 

Then there's the raspy, hawking, honking sound.  His sides expand and contract like bellows and he wheezes loon-like.  It doesn't appear to hurt him, and it comes on unexpectedly most times. 

Woofity Poofity.  Foobie Dog.  Raminus.  Foobiedogawogpog.  Where do those names come from?  Woofinary.  Foobilicius.  The names come from my heart - and my heart is totally head-over-heels, eyes bugging out, crazy about this little dogperson. 

Wendy Francisco wrote a song about "God-Dog".  She speaks of God's love being like a dog's - and if you look at it just so, God spelled backwards is "dog".  Foobie has been that constant God love for me - always excited to see me, sitting alongside without saying a word, loving me whether I'm happy or sad or belligerent or glad.  Always.

"I've looked at love from both sides now.  It's everywhere.  Amen.  Bow-wow."  Sigh.

CHRIST IN ME - January 13, 2010

The dog woke me up at 2:00 am - typical for him.  After a brief romp out into the snow, he was back in, plopped cozily on my bed.  I snuggled in under the down comforter, the flannel sheets and the bedspread - ahh, bliss! 

Yet, it wasn't time to sleep.  A little poem ran through my head.  "Christ be in me.  Christ be beside me.  Christ above me.  Christ below me."  No particular reason for that poem, but I just let it roll around. 

It was then the picture began taking shape.  An almost transparent envelope seemed to surround my entire body.  It was not hard or stiff; most certainly, not manila.  It was breathable, nearly.  It fit over my head, down my shoulders, down to beneath my feet.

Then the idea came - "Come into my heart, Lord Jesus".  I remember praying and singing that prayer thousands of times, beginning in Sunday School.  "Come in today.  Come in to stay.  Come into my heart, Lord Jesus."  I knew Jesus was in my heart.  What was this all about?

Then, slowly, and with little drama or emotion, I began to realize that Christ was allowing me to see that INDEED He had come into my heart...and into my mind, and eyes, and ears, and elbows and pancreas and even my knees. 

Bible verses flowed through my head -
"You are a new creation.  The old is gone.  Behold, the new has come." 
"In Him we live and move and have our being." 
"I pray that you may be filled through all your being with Christ."
My favorite - "may you know the height and depth and length and width of the love of Christ".
Little snippets kept coming, rolling around in my head, all the while I lay there.

It feels odd to say it was the Body of Christ coming into mine, but that's what it was.  His heart was my heart.  His mind was my mind.  His face was my face. 

I recall thinking this should be like a "Ten Commandments" movie, complete with music and thousands of extras.  There should be huge pillars and dramatic exhortations and certainly a cherubim or two. 

Yet, so like God in revelation, it was unlike any thing we think it should be.  It was sacredly normal.  It was a reminder, a signpost that all was well.  Kind of like a mom sitting alongside my bed, stroking the top of my head, saying goodnight. 

I also knew it was life changing in how I saw me.  I knew I wanted to take better care of the body I had been given - not in a legalistic, obligatory way, but in a caring, loving manner - in a "this isn't just about me - it's about my Jesus" kind of way. 

I knew I wanted to see more clearly with Jesus' eyes. I wanted to reach out with Jesus' hands and hug or hold or touch those who need hands-on love.  I wanted to hear with Jesus' ears just what is under so much of what we say in anger or fear or joy or disappointment. 

That meant for even myself!  I usually look in the mirror in the morning and mumble, "Oh, take care of yourself!"  Or, "wow, are you old!" 

This morning, I began to say that, stopped and clamped my mouth shut.  I looked at myself - really looked and then realized I don't want to say that to myself anymore.  I am in Christ - a holy, beloved part of the Body of Christ.  What treasure lay within!

The world hasn't stopped turning.  Newspapers aren't printing 10 inch headlines about this.  In fact, I have washed my face, brushed my teeth, ate breakfast, did a load of laundry and have had a pretty normal day. 

Yet, the sunset seems a little more precious today.  The dog, laying under the table by the window, grabs a little tighter to the heart he already owns.  Just breathing takes on its own newness because I see it all differently.

I have prayed to understand what that really means - what "Christ in me" really means.   I think I have a glimpse and can't wait to see what else there is to see - and live.

Thanks be to God.

LAKE SUPERIOR

 .... (cover story for "WORDS AND MUSIC")
Sometimes, I need trustworthy. I sense a pull to northern Minnesota, to Lake Superior, to the North Shore. Once there, I can’t get close enough to the water.

So I walk across a suspended bridge, pull myself up on the taut rope and begin to explore my island friend. The dependability of the pierced blue sky, the sure wind, the predictable waves steady me.

I sit on the edge of the rock, dangle my feet, and look at the water below. Huge rocks are visible in the coldly clear water. I wonder how long those rocks have been covered with the water blanket. What makes the gold colored one fit so well next to the ragged old gray one? Little waves bite at the edge of the rock ledge—and I consider the years those waves have been biting and the millimeters of rock that have been worn away. Steady, steady, same, same– yet, in each moment, creating something new.

I then move to the other edge of the island and sit down so my toes touch the cold ice of Lake Superior. Looking out into the water, I notice a swell growing some distance out. I watch as it approaches the shore. It rises in size, changes from aqua to mermaid green, gathers speed and then crashes onto the shore like an exclamation point. The second and third and fourth and fifth swells gather behind, ready for their turn. I find myself breathing in tandem with the next wave's arrival. It’s an unconscious slowing down of all I know. All that matters is the clocking of the next wave. Mesmerizing, certainly. Hopeful, of course. For, if one wave comes and crashes with another one following, doesn’t that mean breath waves will continue in our lives, too? Breath comes after breath and then another and we go on without thinking about the mechanics. Swelling and rising and racing and crashing on the shore, we breathe.

And the water breathes. The swell that begins out in the deeper water is like the lake taking a breath. Fill up, fill up, gain momentum. As the wave speeds up then abandons its strength through the froth of the wave, built-up air releases from icy blue lake lungs and the wave roars into the air.

  I find trust in the endless rhythm and I relax.

SOUNDS

Grinding mowers, chirps, wind, barks, tweets, yells, laughs, shouts to, sirens....sounds pounding all around.  Underneath it all is the calm of life, the sustenance of support.  Even though a tree trunk may not shout, its strength demands our loyalty.  The flittering leaves, quiet in their noise, shelter other leaves, standing at attention in protection.  The cohesiveness of the incongruent colors of blue and green pull energy for all of us from the air we breathe, the sky we see, the grass carpet upon which we walk, run or lie.  I long to always be in awe.   Click to add text, images, and other content

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