Moments In The Story

Taking time to appreciate the journey….


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What Mom Taught Me About Cancer

I had a knot in my stomach as I walked into the hospital, and looked around for the room where my mom was having her chemotherapy treatments. I was planning to sit with her for the last two hours, just a portion of the time she had to sit there being injected with drugs that would hopefully ensure that no more cancer would spread through her body.

I remember the day in 2009 when my dad called me to tell me that they had discovered my mom had breast cancer…again. I remember the music playing in the background as my son was watching his Baby Einstein video. Even today, when I hear that music I develop a slight lump in my throat. I have to admit – the news that she was facing breast cancer for a second time was devastating and scary. She was only 32 when she received her first diagnosis of breast cancer, and endured several surgeries to ensure it was gone. Her mother (my grandmother) died of breast cancer when my mom was 24 and pregnant with my younger brother; I was almost 2. Her father (my grandfather) died of brain cancer when I was 16.

Haven’t we already had enough cancer in this family? And why would my mom have it again 28 years later? I was angry and scared. I was only 8 years old when my mom had her first bout with cancer. That is a very terrifying word for a child. And it was scary to watch the adults around me fall apart at the news…. my dad, my grandfather, and my parents’ friends. But back then, it truly was alarming as breast cancer was not as easily detected or treated, like it is today.

The day I went to sit with my mom for one of her last chemo treatments, I came in feeling sad, but I left feeling proud of my mom. I had already been proud of her for being so positive and encouraging to us. I had been proud of her for memorizing Psalm 91, and quoting it when she felt uneasy. But I was most proud of her for an act of love that is embedded in my memory. After her treatment was completed for that day, she, my dad, and I started walking down a hallway leading to the parking garage. There was a lady standing in the hallway, quietly crying as she faced the wall. She wore a red wig. I remembered seeing her earlier as she talked with a nurse and filled out paperwork. She had been disappointed when the nurse told her how long she needed to be there that day. “How am I supposed to handle my job too? I have to get back to work today”. And so a bit later we saw her out in the hall crying. As we walked past her, my dad and I both looked at my mom. “Maybe you should talk to her”, my dad said. So my mom did. From a distance my dad and I waited, but saw them talking, and my mom hugged her and told her, “it gets easier”.

My mother literally stepped out of her own pain and difficult circumstances to encourage someone else. And because she chose to do that, I believe the woman found a much-needed glimpse of hope that day.

If my mom had not displayed such trust in God, and had not reached out to so many people during her own trial, I think I would have remained scared during the whole ordeal. She endured surgery, radiation, and chemo….and she somehow found the strength to laugh, love, and encourage other people. And so she gave me the gift of hope in the face of the unknown.

I think it’s safe to say that how we handle a difficult journey and the attitude we choose while going through it will have an impact on how those around us will handle it. I pray I can be that same example to my boys when we face future heartbreaks, which are just inevitable in life.

Thank you mom! I love you.

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Mom –  just after finding about her cancer recurrence, and then a few months after her treatment (cancer-free!)

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From One Ragamuffin to Another

The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning…… I’ve read it twice, each time taking a ridiculous amount of time. The words filling each page are so well crafted and piercing. They are the words of a man that had a connection with God that I can only imagine, but long for.  I guess that’s why I have to take the time to patiently study his writing in order to really grasp it. But perhaps reading the Ragamuffin Gospel  took me so long because I underlined almost every sentence.

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After hearing about Brennan Manning’s death, I pulled out my worn out Ragamuffin Gospel book just to reflect once again on how much the truths in his book have spoken to me. I came to the page shown above and studied it for a while. I thought back to when this book meant so much to me. I can remember where I was while reading it, and what was going through my mind during that season of life. It’s one of my treasured books that I would never give away to Goodwill…and I’ve kept it in a certain spot so I would remember to read it a third time. Perhaps that time is now, because as much as I would like to say I understand authentic grace, the reality is I still struggle. I have trouble accepting it and I have trouble giving it. As I went over my underlined passages again, I realized that most of them are about learning to embrace His grace and love…a familiar feeling today.

Brennan said we should start here: “Jesus’ tenderness is not in any way determined by how we pray or what we are or do. In order to free us for compassion toward others, Jesus calls us to accept His compassion in our own lives, to become gentle, caring, compassionate, and forgiving toward ourselves in our failure and need.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

It starts with our acceptance, but it must also be given away. That’s the gift of grace.

“Gentleness toward ourselves constitutes the core of our gentleness with others. When the compassion of Christ is interiorized and appropriated to self, the breakthrough into a compassionate stance toward others occurs. In a Catch-22 situation, the way of gentleness brings healing to ourselves and gentleness toward ourselves brings healing to others.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

Recently I was humbled and brought to tears as I thought of a difficult forgiveness journey. I thought of the words I have heard so many times when people discuss forgiveness: “We need to forgive for us so that we do not carry a burden and become bitter”. What about forgiving for them? What if our efforts were spent offering the same gifts we ourselves have received in an effort for someone else to see God…and see themselves as loved and accepted by Him. What if it was about them and not us?

“The gentleness of Jesus with sinners flowed from His ability to read their hearts. Behind people’s grumpiest poses and most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their arrogance and airs, behind their silence, sneers, and causes, Jesus saw little children who hadn’t been loved enough and who had ceased growing because someone had ceased believing in them”.  (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

May I believe in them.

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Living Vicariously Through Others

We have all been there. Hearing the voice of someone you love breaking up over the phone and turning into a sob. Listening to a friend hesitate, but then slowly pour her heart out about what her home life is really like. Finding out that there is yet another person you know dealing with a life-altering health issue.

The struggles of others take different shapes – some are close friends and it feels comfortable to speak words of encouragement. Other times it is an acquaintance and we struggle to find the words when we cross paths with them.

And sometimes it really strikes home. Recently I’ve had conversations with three different people who are journeying on a similar path I have walked in the past. Though circumstances are different, I have been amazed at how it has taken me back to that place in my own life.

It’s interesting how we handle past pain. Some move on in a healthy way, choosing to grow from the experience. For various reasons, others have trouble moving on – which is understandable.  It’s tempting to say stupid things to try to help the person understand that they will get through to the other side of it. In viewing their situation through our own angle we can minimize their perspective, or we can project our baggage on to them in an effort to relate.

It’s interesting to look at the contrast of sympathy vs. empathy in response to someone else’s struggle. The definition of sympathy is: the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.  The definition of empathy is: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. I don’t think anyone would say that sympathy is bad. But the challenge of empathy is probably not something we can effortlessly achieve. I’m struck by the idea of vicariously experiencing someone’s feelings, thoughts and attitude. To me that would mean visually placing myself in their day-to-day life activities….. beyond sitting across the table from them at Starbucks….beyond dropping off a meal. But before I can even know what they need, I have to embrace empathy. Empathy is required if I’m going to try to understand a road I have never traveled. But I must go there…sympathy and commiseration will only do for so long. I must allow their pain to light my fire of compassion….so that I move beyond words, to meaningful action.

My quest and desire for genuine empathy is rocking my world. I would go to the moon and back for someone whose pain I have shared. But what about the grief of those I cannot relate to? It’s too easy to stand back. How would my world change…how would my relationships change if I could grasp this?

Rather than being blind to pain that I don’t understand, I choose to seek the path of empathy. It won’t always be comfortable, but perhaps it will provide an unexpected shoulder to rest on…. for a soul who desperately needs it.

Hebrews 13:1-3 (The Message)

“Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it! Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.”