Stories that have nothing to do with cancer

Cancer metastasis tempts me to see all of life and relationships pivoting around the cancer diagnosis. If I’m not careful cancer becomes the only lens from which life is observed. It’s clearly understandable. Cancer demands attention. But as it turns out there is so much to life that cuts into the self-absorbed cancer life.

Story telling

I love stories; especially the real-life ones.
I love telling stories and not just stories about me and mine.
I love other people’s stories and draw awe, inspiration, humor, human pathos, delight and enjoyment from them as if they were mine.
I just don’t enjoy stories; I absolutely need them to keep me grounded and connected to people and to God.
Heroism, desperate need met by extraordinary compassion, grit and human feats of endurance, discovery, invention, sacrifice, visions, dreams, revelations and miracles are stories that I will tell if I have been privileged to know of them. I tell many, many, many stories.

A story of dear friends
india to usaAudra and Jeremy are adopting a Down syndrome 19-month-old – nicknamed Hank – who is in an orphanage in India. They have never adopted or fostered. Audra has never been in a foreign country other than Canada (that doesn’t count), but she could not be more fearless, committed and excited. Passionate love has taken hold of her. Before she was dissuaded by the adoption agency Audra was determined to foster Hank in India for 3 to 4 months until the last court hearing and all documents were in place for her to bring him home. Audra and Jeremy were undaunted by obstacles; even the challenges of leaving her other three children in the care of Jeremy, the Dad. This couple was propelled by extraordinary and extravagant love. They only knew love’s longing to take Hank out of the orphanage, care for him, and ultimately bring him home to be part of his new family and church community; each which await his arrival with joy and anticipation.

The Bad Math of Jesus

God as shepherd and us as his flock is a common motif in the Bible for describing God’s love and devotion for us.

This parable is one of my favorites for describing the extravagant love of God towards his children.

Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them Jesus_the_Shepherd004wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

So, what is the big idea in this story? The extravagant love of Christ can look foolish, indulgent, and possibly even irresponsible at times.

Phillip Yancey has called this the ‘atrocious math’ of Jesus.

The shepherd leaves the 99 on a hill, not in a sheep pen or in the care of another shepherd. No! He leaves them on a hill, vulnerable and unprotected so that he can seek after the one sheep that has wandered away.

Does the shepherd not care about the 99 because his favorite sheep, Fluffy, is the one who wandered off? Of course not. There are no favorite sheep in this story. There’s no Fluffy or Nemo or Benji because this is not a story about animals. No one sheep is the hero in this story. The only hero is the shepherd who wants his sheep, all his sheep, home with him. And he will put himself and the other obedient 99 at risk in order to go after one foolish and wayward sheep to bring her home. The extravagant, sacrificial love of God is the big story here.

Audra and Jeremy’s love for a disabled child is today’s big story for me. But this love is extravagant and some including myself had wondered whether it is too extravagant. Extravagant, sacrificial love motivated by Jesus’s spirit and example is only thing that can explain it. And Audra and Jeremy would agree. They see it as a calling given by God of which they are delighted to follow for the rest of their lives.

Be inspired but more importantly respond to the calling of God to bring you home. And when you do don’t forget to be grateful and thank Him that his heart is bigger than his numerical calculations.

Name Your Tumor

Being known by name is significant and a comfort in the midst of difficulty.

Naming tumors is a real thing. And I don’t mean naming the specific type of cancer. No, these are pet names. Arnold, Terminator 1, Terminator 2, and disliked politicians are common tags assigned by cancer patients. Most people report that naming their tumor is an empowering exercise allowing them to wrestle back a little control from a bully.

Unfortunately for me, I would need a baby naming book in order to find names for all the little tumors that are floating around. Fortunately, I’m not attracted to the name-your-tumor game but I’m not judging those who are. Whatever helps cancer patients not feel so helpless is probably a good thing.

But I’m intrigued by the need to name a thing or person.  Assigning names, being referred to by names, labeling objects by names, Hello_my_name_is_sticker.svgand finding meaning in names fosters connection and intimacy to each other, our environment, and, apparently, our diseases. The importance of naming is found in both Testaments. Being named, having a name carries spiritual significance. God revealed his name to Moses.  Jesus was named Immanuel, ‘God with us.”  Both Peter and Paul were renamed by Jesus.

When I was first married, I complained to my husband that I wanted to hear my name spoken by him more often. Hearing my name by my beloved made me feel special to him and more connected. It capped off the special relationship we shared. No doubt he was initially perplexed by this marital complaint but happy to accommodate.

The following verses in the gospel of John at Christ’s resurrection are exceedingly meaningful and tender to me (emphasis mine):

John 20:15-16
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means ‘Teacher’).

Imagine her relief, her love, her comfort to hear her name spoken by the Lord at such a time.  It’s an image that carries me through this harrowing medical ordeal. Imagining the Lord of the universe saying,

Dona, I’m here with you.”
Dona, I’ve got this, don’t be afraid.”
Dona, you will be with me forever.”

I don’t feel a need to name a tumor or tumors to feel more empowered or in control. He knows and calls me by my name. That is enough. That is everything.

From FOMO to JOMO

What cancer has taught me about the joy of missing out (JOMO)

dog restingAs it turns out an antidote for the subject of my most recent post, FOMO (fearing of missing out), is JOMO (joy of missing out). JOMO is basically saying “no” to the push to stay busy and connected with whatever presents itself in order to say more ‘yeses’ to activities that are more in-line with our values and interests. Many are jumping on the JOMO wagon. Productivity gurus are incorporating JOMO in their training. Stressed out working moms have self-help books to achieve JOMO. CEOs are trying to find balance and enjoyment within the pressures of fierce business competition. It’s all part of a new cultural phenomenon – searching for peace and joy within a world of relentless busy-ness, competition, and high expectations.

At first blush the acronym, JOMO, seemed forced and naive to me; but then I realized that it was exactly what David, my husband, and I were attempting to do since my diagnosis of stage-4 cancer. Doubling down on the present and embracing joy is integral to the 3-part strategy my husband and I developed to cope and grow.

1. Pursue the best possible treatments for the best possible outcomes.
2. Double down on the present. Experience joy where we can find it.
3. Think deeply about eternity.

I highly recommend you read his post, For Whom the Bell Does Not Toll: Stage 4 cancer patients have another definition for victory.

And there is evidence that we are doing just that. Laughter has always been coveted in our relationship but there is now more of it as we appreciate grandson antics and their hilarious comments. There is more laughter as we look for the amusing in ourselves and others; reminding ourselves to not take ourselves too seriously. There is more laughter as we retell shared funny experiences. There is joy as we actively pursue our passion to see marginalized people treated with God-given dignity and value. There is joy as we worship in church. There is joy as we enjoy the natural beauty around our creek cabin. There is joy of family and friends. There is so much joy and delight in our lives that we’ve been blessed with. We are grateful. But ….

• This is easier to do if I’m not in pain
• This is easier to do when I have had some distance from a disappointing oncology appointment.
• This is easier to do because it is my story and not a loved one’s.

In other words, there is within the JOMO movement a limitation. There is an exclusion clause, unspoken but nonetheless imbedded in its good intentions. Stopping to smell the roses sometimes leads to being stung. Being stung too many times can lead to anaphylaxis. Smelling a rose must give way to getting help to breathe. There are life experiences that leave us limping along, breathless from the sheer pain and exhaustion of life’s journey. Sometimes I feel like that. JOMO becomes elusive at best and downright annoying at worst. And so I cry. (See: More on finding comfort from God.)

It’s here that the 3rd part of our strategy takes dominance over the “doubling down on the present.“ Thinking frequently and intentionally about eternal life with the God who loves me is fundamental to any nod of acceptance and significance that I give to JOMO.
“So Heavenly-minded that a person is no earthly good” is not born out in the course of my life nor for countless others. It’s quite the opposite: becoming more heavenly-minded has prompted the Jesus-committed to do what can be done to effect positive change in this world while at the same realizing that Christ will ultimately set all things right. And some have made great sacrifices to that end.

But what about the fear of missing out on all the beauty and companionship of this world?

flowering dogwoods texasMany years ago, my two young daughters and I were riding our bikes together in our neighborhood. The balmy gentle breeze of a Virginia springtime with its blooming azaleas and dogwoods, greening weeping willows, and scented pine and magnolia underscored the laughter of my girls. I was filled with an inexpressible Joy. I remember silently thanking God while at the same time bemoaning that it wasn’t going to be ours for long. A transfer to another location in the country was imminent.

I longed for permanence in beauty and perfection. It was then that I realized for the first time that the aroma of magnolias and the music of a child’s laughter were only clues and hints of glory – not yet fulfilled nor meant to be. He has placed “eternity in our hearts”. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) The permanent, perfect, and pure in love and beauty would my inheritance. I think I can wait. Lord, help me wait.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

16246859 - golden retriever looking over a fenceI had not heard of  the FOMO acronym until recently. When I researched the mental health issues stemming from the “fear of missing out,” I started taking seriously its painful and stressful features. Chronically ill folks like me are obvious candidates for this anxiety but hardly the only ones. Social media has perpetuated this condition, and many suffer from symptoms of depression and anxiety as the fear gives way to loneliness and feelings of exclusion.

I’m flying SOLO
A cancer diagnosis puts the breaks on life as one knows it. Initially the diagnosis brings with it a flurry of tests, appointments for treatment, explanations and protocols. There is much to do and consider. The medical environment becomes life’s new stage. Missing out on life submits to a higher calling of just trying to preserve life. But like most chronic diagnoses that have a grim prognosis eventually a routine is established. Treatments become the lay of the land, limitations are realized and conversations with friends and family become less centered on health issues. Life goes on. Everyone else’s life seems to go on. Stage 4 cancer folks as well as all those who struggle with serious chronic conditions are painfully aware of FOMO moments brought on by fatigue, breakthrough pain, hours and hours spent at the medical clinics, and medication side effects. But what is not so obvious is FOMO’s cousin – SOLO – my acronym for the Sadness of Lost Opportunities. There is much more I would like to do in this life: opportunities to help and advocate for the poor and distressed while joining with others who feel called to do the same; opportunities to continue to enjoy those whom I love; opportunities to share the truly good news of Jesus.

FOMO or SOLO rears its ugly head most often when I’m in the company of future planners which turns out to be everybody I know. Benign comments like, “next year I want a real tree not a fake one for Christmas“ (hmm… I wonder if I will be around next year) or a grandson saying, “I can’t wait to get a license when I’m 16.” (hmm… I can miss that one!) Living in the present with its conscious savoring of life’s beauty and meaningful relationships is suddenly tested. My relational bent becomes threatened. Sad thoughts break in and momentarily rob me of the joy of living in the moment.

Preparing for Death by Enjoying Life?
It’s been said that you prepare for death by enjoying the life you have. How does that work exactly when:

• Huddled, starving and freezing on the side of a mountain with other refugees in war-torn Syria?
• Having lost a young child?
• Feeling the fatigue and pain that are the signposts for a disease that will take your earthly life?

Yes, I am to live with gratitude. I list the things I’m grateful for nearly every day. No, I must not be bitter; constantly tasting the acrid bile of ‘being cheated.’ Yes, I must double down on the present. I am still useful, and I can serve others. But, enjoying this present life is not the way to prepare for death. I don’t even think it is doable. And it is not Biblical. (I Corinthians 15:32, 2 Corinthians 1:5, 4:12-18, James 4:13-14, Romans 8:22-25)

How do we prepare for death? Jesus provides the answer.

‘Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”‘ (John 11:25-26).

This life is not all there is. I’ve been made for heaven. Death will be a longed-for homecoming. Christ and the company of others who worship God will welcome me.

As I write this, I’m aware of how strange it sounds for the uninitiated and unconvinced but nonetheless it’s been trusted by millions through the ages and is currently finding its place in the hearts of many throughout the world. It’s because of this that I am brought back from FOMO. It’s because of this faith in the life to come that I don’t need to fly SOLO and can enjoy this present life’s moments.

So, I pray this prayer, a paraphrase of Paul’s encouragement to the Christians in Colossi:

“Since, then, I have been raised with you Lord Jesus, help me set my affections on things above, where you are Jesus…… Set my mind on things above, not on earthly things. And Lord Jesus, encourage me with the promise that when you, who is my entire life, appear, then I will also appear with you in glory. Amen”
(Col 3:1-2, 4)

‘Death Cafes’ and Me

Death Cafes” are springing up in cities throughout the world to address the subject of death and how-to live with death’s inevitably.

Apparently, the movement was started to give people a “safe place” to talk about death without being accused of morbidity. Billed as a philosophical inquiry on mortality, people looking for a grief support group will be disappointed. “Eat cake, drink tea and discuss death”, is the benign motto. The decor includes mugs, teacups and posters with creepy skulls, skeletons, and ravens painted on them. I admit that I’m put off by the skull mugs in the Death Cafes. death mug

But these venues and discussion groups deserve more than half a point. The vast majority of Americans live in the mythical state of immortality. ‘Mythical immortality’ (my term) is the belief that other people die, I don’t. (See, ‘I Like the New Metastatic Me’) When we do think about death it is in the context of avoiding it. Anne Patchett writes:

“The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it is exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality……Despite our best intentions, it (death) is still, for the most part, random. And it is absolutely coming.” 1


Death cafes, though they deal with an inevitability ignored by most, do not capture rightly the travesty of death or the Christian hope of triumph over it.


The point of Death Cafes is to make death less fearful in an age of anxiety. I get it.  But the death mug approach to the subject does not capture the travesty of death. I say travesty because the Bible makes it clear that death is an enemy that is finally destroyed with the coming of the new heavens and earth at the culmination of time. And that is where the Christian hope comes in. The story is not over with our deaths. There is the hope that Christ ushers us into his glorious presence where every tear is wiped away and grand reunions are still to come. So maybe what I could benefit from would be a café whose moniker is “death does not have the last word”. A safe place where my faith tradition is shared with others so that I hear stories about people who have died well within the confidence of being on the threshold of an eternal reality. Granted my death café sounds a bit exclusive as it would possibly not be very attractive to secularists or folks from other faith traditions; but at the end of the day, with facing my own mortality I want to hear a café filled with conversations about hope, faith, courage, love and forgiveness. I want to hear and talk about Jesus. I want to live life in the moment with increasing gratitude. Hearing stories about people who lived well up to the moment of their deaths is my cup of tea and I will happily eat some cake while doing so.

 

  1.  Ann Patchett, “Scared Senseless,” The New York Times Magazine, October 20, 2002.

Intimate News

I made an unusual request of my oncology team. I told them that when I returned the following week to hear the results of the radiologist report and the status of cancer progression, I wanted them to tell David first. I would be in the waiting room to hear from him. He Patient to doctorwould sit with me and go over the results.  We might pray together, then we would go the clinic room together to have the results further explained by the team and have our questions answered.

Weird, cowardly, childish, weak, faithless, avoidant, dramatic, insensitive to my husband by putting him in this position? All those descriptors passed through my mind as the day approached. On the actual day, I decided to forget the elaborate scheme and face up to the news without preamble. But my husband gave me a word picture that took away the shame.

“Dona, you are going to have to eat the whole sandwich (the radiologist’s report) at some point but how you want it presented – open-faced, garnished, toasted – is completely up to you. You’re the one going through this. Do it the way that makes it most tolerable.”

And my team completely understood, or at least acted like they did.  As my lead doctor said,

“Dona is the one with cancer, not me.  We do it her way.”

Intimacy

So, what was going on, aside from fear? It is intimacy and trust – intimate knowledge coming through my most trusted person. I wanted news from the person whose life would be most affected by this personal and significant information and from the person who knows me better and loves me more than any other.

An example from a long-ago happy event:
Who was the first person I told when i discovered I was pregnant? Life changing information that only made sense to share with the person most invested in our lives together. And whose lives would change dramatically as a result? Mine and his.
Again, intimate personal information shared within the most intimate of relationships. It’s really (in my mind) not so different from news about a disease notorious for causing pain, disability and death. I wanted to hear it from my husband no matter what it was.
But fortunately, intimacy doesn’t stop there.

Intimacy with God

David’s intimate relationship with God was ultimately what I was counting on in anticipation of hearing news related to my survival. If the scan and test results were disappointing, then I trusted David to tell me the facts along with the crucial caveats and realistic encouragements that would calm my fears and reorient me once again to the hope I profess in Jesus in all and every circumstance of life. I imagined praying together in those moments – intimacy with God would always and forever be at the heart of my life’s purpose and hope, even in life’s major disappointments.

The obvious

What if there was no husband or one that was willing to participate in my plan? Or what if there wasn’t a substitute like a trusted pastor or friend who could lead me to “the shepherd of my soul”?  Would I have fallen apart? Fallen into a pit of despair of which I couldn’t climb out?

I don’t imagine so. And here’s why:  Betsy Ten Boom who died at Ravensbrück for her participation in hiding Dutch Jews during WW2 said,

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

I cling to that with gratitude.

Thankful Postscript
My test results were encouraging: “Skeletal cancer stable, metastatic liver disease showed marked improvement.”

Of course, this begs the question, would I write this same post if the news was not good? I hope so, I pray so. Again,

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”


 





 

 

Safe Havens

A group of Africans, fleeing persecution, showed me how I am safe in Christ, even amidst affliction.

safe haven pictureGun shots were heard in the distance and some of our guests became anxious.

Buffalo, New York is one of the safe havens for asylum seekers from all over the world fleeing political, religious and gang persecution.

Several weeks ago, 6 asylum seekers from different countries in Africa were our guests at our creek cabin in the Western New York countryside for a cookout, fishing, soccer, tennis (a first for them) and walking in the creek. They were visibly delighted for a beautiful country experience. But that changed when target shooting was heard in the distance. Some became immediately disturbed.

One asked, “Who has just been killed?” Another, “Are we safe here? In our countries when we hear gun fire someone has been killed. We came to this country to be safe – are we safe?!!”

These people had experienced unimaginable trauma and had to abruptly leave families, jobs and homes when their lives were under direct threat. So, I took a few minutes to reassure them that they were indeed safe and to explain that target shooting is a popular local hobby.

We resumed our festivities with other guests and the laughter and eating resumed. By the end of the evening each one wanted to give a speech of gratitude. Two African pastors asked the other Africans to surround me. Not knowing what to expect I was deeply touched by their eloquent and prayers on my behalf. I was overwhelmed by their love and their faith in Christ as they kept petitioning God to heal and bless “Mama!” Less the obvious is overlooked, these people had experienced every reason to be bitter and faithless but their steadfastness in the goodness of God was inspiring.

There are many geographic safe havens in this world (but not nearly enough) and I thank God that I live in Buffalo, NY; the city of “good neighbors.” Desperate people from all over the world have found a safe haven through the dedicated work of some city workers and non-profits.

There are also emotional safe havens.

I hope our asylum-seeking friends have found that as well through the kindness and help of many.
There are also spiritual safe havens. So, I trust that those fleeing religious and political persecution are experiencing freedom to worship and believe as they please.

About me:

Oddly enough there are times when I feel safe and secure within the reality of stage 4 breast cancer. It can be at church during the worship singing time when the collective praises to God fill me with joy. It can be times of family and grandchildren as well as friend gatherings where the good will and levity reminds me that I am loved.

It can be in bed at night when my husband reads the psalms to me and prays for me. Or it can be when my friends, Africans and others, surround me to pray. During those times, I just don’t feel safe, I know I am safe. Christ, my SAFE HAVEN, is reminding me that I am not alone or abandoned or without purpose even within affliction. My African brothers and sisters are exemplary testaments to that truth.

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” Psalm 16:1

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed.” Psalm 10:17-18a

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You.” Psalm 9:9-10

Scans: It’s that time again :(

Medical scans make known the presence of disease. That can be terrifying. But there is another kind of knowledge.

ct scanIt’s that time again. I have metastatic breast cancer and so every 3-5 months I have nuclear imaging (bone scan) and a CT scan (vital organs) to determine whether the cancer has progressed. I had the dreaded scans a few days ago and now I await my appointment with the oncology team to review the results.

The whole ordeal feels like entering enemy territory without defenses. My peace is rattled as I sense a power and authority to direct the course of my life. But this is ridiculous. Scans have no power and authority. They are not an enemy. Scans are, essentially, objective knowledge; knowledge of the presence of disease. Scans are a kind of friend but a friend I don’t like or trust to make me feel good. I want friends to tell me what I want to hear. Scans tell it like it is. There is no sugar coating the truth of my physical innards. They may or may not reveal a need for surgery, chemicals and/or radiation to eradicate the sometimes-silent killers – the terrorist cells of the inner space. They can reveal news of intractable corruption and devastation that medical science is powerless to stop. Who wants friends like these? I don’t but yes, I do, but not really. Yes, really, I do. (Terrifying ambivalence!) What to do with such a truth-telling no-holds-barred friend? How am I to get a good night’s sleep the day before such a “friend” encounter? How do I calm down a nervous system that has been designed to be alert to threat? How do I calm the raging mind storm as the machines move up and down the body exposing and objectifying me as they take pictures of bones and organs?

Spiritual application:
In the New Testament the word of God is described as a type of scan – a scan of the heart and soul. And it’s that scan that I truly need to pay attention to. God’s in charge and I am his charge.

“For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing {and} sifting {and} analyzing {and} judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.”
Hebrews 4:12

There are two types of scans that I have agreed to submit to. They both have authority over me. They both have knowledge of me. But as Lord Byron wrote long ago, “The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.”
According to Nicky Gumble of Holy Trinity Brompton in London there are different types of knowledge, and they are not all equally valuable. In French, there are two different words for ‘to know’. One (savoir) means to know a fact, the other (connaître) means to know a person. It is never enough simply to have knowledge of facts. To love a person, one must ‘know’ the person. Love resides in the ‘Who’ not the ‘What.’

Medical technology scans have authority in diagnosis that exceed my own, my doctors, my loved ones – anyone. They have a knowledge that transcends blood tests and feeling states. Scans are designed to guide a path of medical intervention. They don’t cause the problem; they expose the problems so that wise decisions can be analyzed and recommended.

But scans offer no hint to a meaningful existence beyond the body. Medical scans do not reveal corruption of the soul and a cure for it. Scans give no promise of redemption nor power for resurrection. Scans offer no love. And they certainly can’t inspire awesome wonder and respect. Christ fulfills all that and more.

So, this Thursday the door of the consultation room will open, my team will walk in, and my senses will be as alert as a gazelle listening for the approach of a lion. I will be comforted and loved by the faithful husband next to me, and by a medical team who truly care for me. And in that room the Holy Spirit (the Counselor, Comforter and Friend) will be present whether I sense His presence or not. I am known! I am loved! I will be ultimately loved and comforted no matter what

“Going from Life to More Life”

A sensitive but probing comment from a dinner companion caused me to consider anew the privilege and blessing in knowing your days are numbered.

i love dinner with friendsDinner with friends a few evenings ago led to a conversation not usually found on a list of social dinner topics. My last blog post generated comments and questions about living in appreciation of life’s moments without assumptions of endless tomorrows. As we discussed this post my host struggled to express a sentiment that he worried would offend for its insensitivity. Finally, it came out. To paraphrase,

“You, Dona, know your mortality on a visceral level, affording opportunity for deep reflection and insight into life, death, God, and eternity. Now, any of us here could die before you, but we would have missed an opportunity to think through these questions. Here comes the part which might offend – because of your awareness of the eminence of your death you are more blessed than us.”

My dear friend had made an insightful and totally sensitive comment. He would have never said this to a young adult or parent with young children. There is the fact that at 68 I have lived long enough to see children grow up and to have experienced a lot of life. I am old. Not-ready-to-die-old but living longer than the majority of the world.

So, I considered anew the significance of being able to live thoughtfully and gratefully. There is a strange privilege and blessing in knowing your days are numbered. You ponder more.

My latest pondering

For too long I have thought of eternal life as what happened after death and having nothing in common with life as I know it. A deeper examination of what Jesus says reveals a “nowness” to this eternal life.

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
– 1 John 5:11

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
– John 5:24

So,

  • How do I live more fully into this eternal life promised by Jesus?
  • How can I already see myself in this ‘already-eternal-life’ so that the end will be, as my friend called, “going from life to more life”?

One of the ways I cultivate this “now-ness” was described in my last post. I nurture curiosity in as many things as I can realizing that this joy of learning and discovery are mere intimations of more to come. Second, when I laugh with and love those around me I resist the joy-snatcher demons that want to remind me that I won’t have this for long. Rather, I remember Jesus’ words, “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” I now assume that this joy I experience is a glimpse of a completed joy to come. And finally, I think about Jesus who said that He was and is the light, the way and the resurrection; a spring of water that quenches all thirst for unfulfilled longings. He’s the real deal, the conduit to life eternal. He’s a joy to know and to know better.

(Caveat:  I’m not superhuman. I have my down moments as you might suspect but many days I live in the life of more life to come.)

A conversation with my grandsons somehow led to the telling of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I took some liberties with the story and highlighted parts that I knew would intrigue them, like the tension and animosity between Jews and Samaritans at that time. I emphasized how Jesus would have no part of that nonsense. By the end of the story, the 9-year-old spontaneously commented, “that Jesus is a great guy.” Bulls eye hit! Hallelujah! Nothing more needed to be said, just letting that thought sit with him and with me. Jesus, a great guy, a great God who offers the eternal life now with all its evolutions, dimensions, progressive developments and for tastes of the new heavens and new earth to come.

The Universe, God and cancer

VISTA’s look at the Helix NebulaThe heavens declare the glory of God……

Psalm 19:1a

Werner Heisenberg, a pioneer of quantum theory, is most famous for his uncertainty principle. He once succinctly underscored the experience of many scientists who have tried to fit faith, scientific observation, and reason together. He said:

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

My Late Arrival to the Natural Sciences

I have had intense curiosity about human nature most of my adult life. As a mental health clinician for many years, it only stands to reason that I should want to understand the psyche. But my husband is perplexed by my very, very late-developed, almost childlike, curiosity for the natural world.

First it was biology:

• how and why have dogs evolved to love us, or
• what purpose a may fly has that never eats, only mates and dies within 24 hours.

Then it was classical (Newtonian) physics and mechanics:

• how a bridge is suspended, or
• how hydraulic oil can multiply force.

Since diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer my obsession with the cosmos has taken center stage. I binge watch any science of the universe series I come across. I read just enough to make me an expert. I think about astrophysics. I talk in small numbers: 1 x 10-34 (the time between true creation and the Big Bang), and large numbers: the diameter of the universe (45,600,000,000 light-years – maybe – since it depends in part on where the observer is located. Call me, I’ll explain it to you.)

I have discovered, as the late Emily Levine said of herself,

“I have the ability to perfectly understand all science……. except, of course, the actual science, which is math.”

Hyperbole? Of course. I know little but there is no denying my mind soars when I think about string theory, dark matter and energy, space-time continuum. My curiosity about the cosmos, however elementary and void of a grand scientific intellect, is nonetheless, real joy.

But Why Now?

“But, why now?”, asks my husband as he sits mostly still through my retelling of each episode of “One Strange Rock.”

I would think the answer is obvious: facing my mortality brings the big life questions into deeper reflection and investigation. Is there a creator? Is God really there for me in a life to come? “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied,” writes Paul in a letter to Corinthian Christians.

I have lived most of my Christian life focusing on being his follower in the here and now. I have seen the evidence of God’s existence in the forgiveness I have received and experienced through the Christ who sacrificed himself for me. I have been the recipient of love and continue to be the recipient of love from others. I have felt the prayers and gracious kindness of so many that gratefulness has been more acutely experienced than ever before. I have seen and heard of lives transformed throughout the world by the Gospel, mine included.

It’s all there but I’m anticipating venturing into unknown territory. Thankfully Christ came, died and rose from the dead, and in doing so leads us out of death into a new kind of life. But the reality of living this Christian life is that I live it in community; dying is facing God alone. That can be a terrifying thought. If it isn’t, it should be. So, by looking at creation, particularly infinite creation (cosmos), I’m looking at the character, in part, of the Creator. And I am comforted by what I’m seeing.

Watching the Trailer

But my husband was still not completely convinced. “Dona, most people, maybe even all people, in your situation do not spend their time trying to understand Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. (See footnote below.) That is certain.”

David asked me to write about my obsession, believing the “Clarity of Ink” would bring more insight. And, he was right. I discovered my new interest in science is not just for reassurance (God are you out there?) but also for anticipation.

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Yes, God loves us beyond our comprehension but the one who loves us is also holy beyond our comprehension, powerful beyond our comprehension, infinitely mysterious and awesome beyond our comprehension. These thoughts are terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. Entertaining my curiosity about God and the cosmos is building up the exhilaration of meeting the creator of the cosmos. My recent efforts to understand what I can about the Big Bang, quantum theory, and space-time is akin to a desire to watch the trailer for a highly anticipated movie; a taste of the wine from the vintage bottle.

The Creator is pleased with our curiosity. The abundant life that Christ said is ours as we believe in him is in process. What is joyous here should be exponentially more satisfying and thrilling in heaven.

I am learning and seeking answers that the cosmologist heavy weights are discovering. And my longing to know more and to be capable of knowing more will be increasingly fulfilled as I someday delight in a glorious awe-inspiring eternal discovery field trip.

I don’t suspect that in heaven I will spontaneously know all things. I hope not. I’m counting on joining the throngs who are forever learning more and more of the infinite mysteries and wonders of the Trinitarian God. Meanwhile, I will indulge my curiosity as far as it will take me in the here and now; trusting that it’s only the paltry beginning of something unimaginably beautiful and wonderful to come.


Footnote: In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, also known as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, known as complementary variables, such as position x and momentum p, can be known simultaneously. (Easy-peasey!)