Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mary's Choice

First there's confusion: "Hey, where's my car?"

Then there's unease. "I left it right here. I know I did."

Then there's panic. "Yes, I'm positive I did. Help! Call Security! Someone has stolen my car!"

And finally, humiliation. "We'll help you find it, Mam. Most cars are not stolen."

"Young man, do I look like an idiot? I know where I parked my car. I parked it here close to the front of the store where I usually go in."

"Yes, Mam, and you're sure you entered through Nordstrom's?"

"Of course I didn't enter through Nordstrom's. I entered through Macy's as I always do."

"Yes, Mam. Um, Mam? You're in the Nordstrom's lot. Macy's is around the corner."

Deafening silence, three wide-eyed blinks and then, "Please assure me, young man, that I didn't tell you my name."

If only I had listened to my friend who has learned the secret to not getting lost in parking lots: pay attention. "Notice your surroundings," she said. "Look for easily remembered landmarks."

Landmarks, markers, monuments - things that help us mark where we are so we can safely navigate to where we want to go. But I rush, too full of the mandatory to pay attention to the important. Too full of the should to be deepened by the could. I don't pay attention and I get lost.

This is the gift to me from metastatic cancer. I am learning to prefer Mary's choice.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord's feet, listening to what he taught.
But Martha was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me."
But the Lord said to her, "My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it - and I won't take it away from her." Luke 10:38-42, New Living Translation

There are all kinds of lostness. Sara Groves sings winsomely of losing our baby teeth, our common sense, our innocence. Sometimes, she says, we lose our appetite, our guiding sense of wrong and right, and, on occasion, a will to fight. But her ideas are balanced with another which becomes her song title, for no matter what we lose, "We Cannot Lose God's Love." It is not just a clever song sweetly sung. Scripture is interwoven with powerful no-compromise promises* purposed to guide and to anchor the soul. I may feel lost this hour, but God knows exactly where I am. He also knows who I am and what I am and yet there is not one thing I can do to cause Him to love me more or love me less.

I quake when my prognosis sounds scary and my courage fails, I am despondent when my hair falls out and I feel embarrassed, I weep over the profoundly painful things in my life and the lives of my family and close friends. But when the quaking and the desponding and the weeping stop I find myself just where I need to be, right there with Mary, prostrate before my Ground of Being, needy and listening and receiving all I require. And for that moment that I allow it, there is no confusion, there is no unease, there is no panic and there is never humiliation. I see my Landmark and know that I'm not lost. At least, not for that moment that I allow.

*Two of my favorite Biblical promises:
"Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me, 
Isaiah 49:16
"...for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" Hebrews 13:5  

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Complex Good

Evil is never good even if good
may come from it...

Evil is always evil...

God exploits evil for His
redemptive purpose
and thereby produces

A complex good... 

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Adapted by Lynne Farrow*, Ventura, CA for her art journal exploring this theme.

Wednesday. Someone has been harshing my mellow. The enemy is at the gate and I blush at what continues to make me weep. It's my fingernails. Chemo nails, I call them. I have wigs to cover my hairless and now slightly fuzzy head but there is no covering for this indignity of creepy fingernails that have lifted off their nail bed. Fear begins to spiral me down into an old despair which I have learned can take me further than I am willing to go. Trust has flown the coop, taken a hike, left me in the dust and I can't seem to will it back. I want to rejoice that I am in remission. Instead the MP3 player in my head is set on repeat and I hear my oncologist's words, "The expectation is that the cancer will return... The expectation is that the cancer will return... The expectation is..." The battle is getting long. The skirmishes keep repeating and I'm losing ground in baby steps. I hate this disease and today I'm terrified of it's cure. 

Thursday. The librarian notices my nails. "Ohhh," she says. "That looks familiar." I try to shove my hands into non-existent pockets. "I want to tell you," she felt compelled to share, "I wouldn't trade my cancer experience for the world." "Really," I say, hoping my smile doesn't look like the grimace that it is. "Oh, yes," says friend librarian. "I have learned so much through it." She rejoices that she is cured and, truly, I am happy for her. But as I drive away it feels like a psalm of ashes. With Stage 4 we don't usually get cure; the blessed ones get chemical vacations. Pity party alert! Couldn't I learn what I need by just breaking a leg? I groan and look at my nails again. "Oh God, if I have to go back on those chemicals..."

Friday.  "A complex good..." I long to revisit such a trust - to forever pen "no fear" across this page of my journey, never visiting it again. But, like biblical manna, there is only enough trust for one day and my insufficiency may have more to do with a faulty perspective than a feeling. I remember the recent difficulty I had in taking a photograph of the ocean. Focusing on the distant water, I blurred the foliage. Focusing on the foliage, I blurred the cresting wave. I had to decide where to focus the shot. So too with my heart. Will I focus or trust or believe all that I fear and can see or will I focus or trust or believe God who knows the end from the beginning, who sees what lives in the dark, and who has promised he will work all things, good or ill, to the benefit of any and all his children? Acceptance of evil in the expectation of a greater good has long life in scripture: Jesus Christ in Gethsemane (Matthew 26), Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 45:7) and Paul in arduous journeys or prison (Romans 8:28. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Focusing on fear, I become wholly fearful. Focusing on trust I may still feel fear, but it does not prevent trust-filled behaviors.

Sunday.  There is great power in reflective  remembering. Pastor teaches on Romans 5:1-5 reminding us of the purpose of repeated affliction in building character and strength. He retells the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (Daniel 3) who are bound and thrown into a furnace of fire. How, I wonder, did I miss this point before? They came out of that furnace with nothing burned away except the ropes that bound them when they were first thrown in. God puts us through the furnace of affliction not to harm but to set us free of the things that bind and control and imprison bringing good out of evil. As I reflect again today on Jesus Christ, I am surprised and humbled by the number of my own memories of escape and rescue and peace in the face of past evils. Fear, finally, is on the run...or at least on a fairly fast jog.

Most likely this will not be the last time fear scores a near win off me in our game of darts. But I trust it is going to find it harder to hit that bulls eye that it keeps trying to paint on my back side. The Bible says that when I was most vulnerable, when I did not love God, Jesus Christ gave his life for me. (Romans 5:8) As my pastor has said, if he loves us that much when we didn't love him, does it make any sense that he will not see each of us through to the end of whatever he brings into our lives when we are "one of his kids?" I have power to overcome because he gives me grace to do it. And the grace to do it is going to come from remembering and from practice. As in over and over and over again. 

It is a complex good. My mellow is unharshing.  
*The above photograph is the first page of an art journal which was created by Lynne Farrow to record her daughter's fight with cancer which included a double mastectomy and a partial hysterectomy. Anyone interested in exploring how to create their own art journal to document a significant life issue is invited to email Lynne at