Tag Archives: Faith

Having Good Cancer

I studied the painting on the wall of the cold exam room. A jazz musician playing a shiny saxophone. I’d seen it before, but never gave it much attention. Today, though, I needed my thoughts to be focused on something other than my reason for being there.

My mind flashed back to a day nine years ago. I sat in the same room, paying no attention to the artwork. Probably planning the rest of my afternoon. Not knowing what would come next.

That day, when the doctor entered the room with a serious face, I didn’t notice. When she sat across from me, I thought nothing of it. Not until she spoke the word “cancer” did I have the faintest idea there was anything wrong.

“But this is the good kind of cancer,” she said in response to my shocked expression. I had no concept of good or bad at that moment. All I heard was “cancer.”

She said a few things I don’t remember. The words “surgeon” and “pathology” were the only ones that stuck. Her assistant would call me with more details. I figured I would ask questions then.

I just wanted to leave.

In the stillness of my car I cried. “Good cancer,” she said. I’ll focus on that. She didn’t have a sense of urgency getting me to the surgeon. That was another good sign. I’ve heard stories of people being sent straight to the hospital. I was going to wait for a phone call. I tried to convince myself that it really was “good.”

I don’t remember how long I sat there. My husband was out of town, so I picked up the phone and called one of my nurse friends. She repeated what the doctor said, that it was the good kind of cancer, and that I was going to be OK. But isn’t that what anyone would say to a sobbing friend?

My mind raced through so many different scenarios. What would happen to my four-year old son if I died before he grew up? He didn’t yet know what cancer was, so he wouldn’t understand what was happening. But at ten and thirteen, my other boys would. I would have to hold myself together, even though what I wanted to do was to curl up in a ball and cry.

“Please, God, let this be a mistake,” was the first stage of processing the news. But my conscience intervened. “Lisha, people get cancer diagnoses every day. Why should you be spared?”

“Then please, God, don’t let it be bad. No chemo, no disfiguring scars on my face.” My conscience again piped in. “Lisha, people have to go through chemo every day. Why should you be different? As for scars, vanity has no place here. This is about your life.”

I hung my head a little lower.

“Then God, just please don’t let me die. I want to grow old. I want to grow old with my husband, watching our sons grow up, playing with the grandchildren I dream about.”

Waiting.

Waiting.

I decided at that moment that I would not ask God for terms. I would pray to grow old. An old woman with scars to tell her tale.

My mind returned to the present as I heard footsteps approaching. I had time for one quick prayer before the doctor entered the room to deliver the results of yet another biopsy.

No terms this time. No conditions. Just please, God, let me grow old.

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Have you been diagnosed with a “Good Cancer?” I’d like to hear from you. 

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I’m in the company of some fabulous writers and bloggers over at Yeah Write this week. Click on over see for yourself!

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Rediscovering Beauty

A few days ago, I slowed down.

While this might not sound like much of a news flash to you, it was a big deal to me. Because I rarely do it.

Our days are full. We wake early and start hustling to get out of the house on time for school and work. While the kids are in school, I run errands, go grocery shopping, do housework, work on our rental properties, visit nursing homes. Afternoon carpool usually comes before my list is checked off, leaving the undone tasks for the next day. After school it’s homework, dinner, often more homework. (If you’ve been around for a while, you know my son is dyslexic, so he needs more assistance than most kids his age. So I’m not done til he’s done.)

Baskets of laundry often line the walls upstairs, and piles of mail await attention. I have a hard time overlooking all the undone work and relaxing, so when I’m home I’m usually in motion.

I tell myself that it’s this phase of my life. That I will be able to slow down one day. One of my boys is in college, another heading off in the fall. That’ll leave just one kid at home. And before I know it, he’ll be grown, too, and I’ll have all the time I need to finish my to-do list. But for now, I’m just too damn busy.

Busy

Too damn busy to notice what’s going on around me. Too engaged in action. Too full of distracting detail. Too preoccupied to notice the beauty around me.

In a slower time, I was very good at “everyday beauty.” I’d linger at the corner to take in the field of clover or pause to admire the clouds. I took pride in my garden and home. I helped neighbors. I sent hand-written birthday cards, baked cupcakes, did good deeds.  I made it my mission to see beauty in every day, and to share it with others.

But I’ve become so busy I’ve forgotten to pause and see it.

I’ve reduced myself to a “get it done” life.

And it has taken a toll on me.

So last Sunday, I was forced to slow down. My son had a choir concert, which is a very big deal to him. We kept our church clothes on (which made it feel like an even bigger deal) and went across town to hear him sing.

After we arrived, I fumbled with the program to make sure my son’s name was spelled right and resisted the urge to pull out my phone and check Facebook while we waited for the performance to begin. I just sat. Still and quiet.

I looked around at the church and admired the architecture. I stared out the window at the clouds. I looked at my nearly-grown son sitting next to me and marveled at how handsome he has become. Things slowed down.

The children took the stage and started singing. And the words that flowed were the very words I needed to hear at that exact moment.

“Let me know beauty in my mind, in my sight, let it brighten my daytime, let it comfort my night. Let my mind know the beauty that the world has to give, O let me know beauty for as long as I live…”                                                             — Allan E. Naplan

I needed to be reminded of this. I needed to be reminded that beauty and joy and happiness are out there for the taking. But they don’t come to you if you aren’t open to receive them. Whizzing by in a hurry leaves them sitting there, waiting for the next taker. 

So I’m going to slow down, recognize the beauty around me, and let it become part of me. I’m going to look out of the window more. Admire the architecture more. Listen more intently. Take it all in.

Because beauty is out there. It’s up to me to slow down and discover it.

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

Do you find yourself too busy to see the beauty around you? If not, tell me your secrets, please.

And do you check the program to see if your kid’s name is spelled right?

 

The Two Women

The young woman on the inside is strong and vibrant. Self-sufficient and capable. Beautiful and lively.

The woman on the outside, with her greying hair and thin skin, is tiny and frail. She breathes with the help of oxygen and spends her days confined to bed or chair.

Most of the time, they co-exist peacefully, each unaware of the other’s presence.

The discord comes when the two meet. When the woman on the inside tries to stand, but finds she’s unable. Tries to answer questions about herself, but gets even the basic facts wrong. Tries to place food in her mouth, but instead finds it in her lap.

Frustration sets in, because the woman inside knows she is able. But her physical body is no longer in synch with her mind, and the two do not cooperate with one another.

“How are you today?” asks the nurse. “Fine,” she replies, unaware that oxygen is flowing through a tube beneath her nose.

“Do you have any pain?” asks the doctor. “No,” she answers, not remembering that she can no longer stand after breaking her hip.

It’s hard for us to know how to feel. Because of the woman on the inside, anxiety levels are lower. But it frustrates the woman on the outside, because she doesn’t understand. And the two can swap places without any warning. So you never know which one you’re with at any given moment.

The rhythm of her breathing is comforting. It is a reminder of her physical presence. But everything else creates unease. Each new report from the doctor, each change in her physical status brings more questions. But since she is unable to contribute to her own care, others must make decisions for her.

Others must also bathe her and feed her. The lively young woman lies helpless in a bed. Long gone are her dignity and privacy.

Occasionally, the woman on the outside perks up. She watches television, or replies with one of her signature quips. Those moments are rare gifts. And every week there are fewer of them.

At some point, she will need peace. And we will be left with memories of both women. I hope the memories of the woman on the outside fade quickly, leaving us to reminisce with joy about the woman on the inside.

The woman on the inside, with her handsome, young man.

And know they love you.

Letting Go. Artist: Sue Kafka-Ellis http://www.art-base.org

A self-proclaimed dispenser of wisdom, I recently shared a parenting thought with Louise over at I Choose Happy Now.  She wrote a post about sending her first-born off to Pre-K, and the tug on her heart as he reached this milestone.

I shared with her one of my favorite little pearls of parenting wisdom:  Roots and Wings.

The full quote, from Southern journalist and author Hodding Carter states “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.” 

The roots part is what we usually think of as parenting.  Teaching them right from wrong, good manners, faith.   Giving them roots brings us closer to our kids, because it’s a time when we’re instilling in them values we want them to have, molding them into the people we want them to become.

The wings part is much harder.

There are the small steps.  Sending him off to Pre-K, wondering if he’ll be able to open his Ziploc bag at snack time.  The first day of second grade, wondering who she’ll eat lunch with.  Or the rite of independence The Caboose experienced last night: wandering the stadium with his friends at a football game while we sat vigil over the popcorn.

Then there are the big leaps.  Going on her first date.  Getting his driver’s license.  Going away to college.

My friend Stacy was the first to chant the “Roots and Wings” mantra to me back when The Trailblazer was in high school.  With her first-born a year older than mine, she shared with me her anxiety as her daughter left for college.  Assuring her that her baby girl was ready for the real world made me realize that I had to accept the same.  (I mean, if you can’t take your own advice, you’ve got no business dispensing it, right?)

One of the hardest lessons of parenting is realizing that our REAL job is to prepare them for their time without us.  Whether that time is 9 to 2 at preschool, four years at college, or the independent adult life they will someday live without us.  We’ve got to teach them well, and then let them go.

It’s all about Roots and Wings.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztVaqZajq-I

Leaving the Storm Behind

With the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, I’ve made a decision.  This will be the last year I mark this anniversary.  I’m willing to tell the story one last time, as a final catharsis to anyone who still wants to hear it.  Then I’m going to declare it in the past.

The first responder marking says: 1 Dead in Attic. Photo credit: Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

The first responder marking says: 1 Dead in Attic. Photo credit: Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

Katrina is still in our daily vocabulary.  We use her as a reference in time.  We refer to her as an experience that reshaped our lives and our communities.  We blame her for our losses.  We thank her for our renewal.

Putting it in the past is going to be a hard thing to do, for every day I drive past vacant lots where families once lived, and empty houses with broken windows and spray-painted first-responder code still on the front.  But I also drive past gleaming new schools, manicured parks, and thriving communities.  Those who haven’t moved forward with rebuilding have obviously made their decision.

This memorial is across the street from the Convention Center. The inscription to the right reads: Honoring the people and remembering the events that occurred August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Photo credit: community.devexpress.com

I’m going to be part of the “new” New Orleans.

I’m going to reflect one last time on this event that changed my life.  I’m going to recall a few details, commit the lessons to my memory, and thank those you saved me when I most needed saving.

One last time.

Happy Birthday, Little Man

He wore that jersey for three days straight. Since he hasn't gone through puberty yet he can get away with that.

I thought my life was perfect.  Two terrific sons, a wonderful husband, a new house with a spare bedroom.  I didn’t think it could get any better.  Then you came along, and the relatively calm life we had with two kids gave way to the new hustle of three.

Your brothers were easy.  You were hard. There were times when I resented the amount of effort it took to get through the day.  But that was because I hadn’t yet learned what God wanted me to figure out.  That you were the child who would complete me.  That you were the one I still needed.

For you are the person who made me realize the greatest truth in life:  that we are all EXACTLY what God wants us to be.  There have been people along the way who didn’t get you, who thought you needed to change, to fit in a little better, to be more like the others.  I must confess that I even thought that a few times.  But watching your conviction to be yourself made me realize this great truth.

Thank you.

Now that you’re getting older, I see the greatness that is in you.  You will do amazing things one day, because you think so big.  I’m not yet sure what that thing will be, but I have no doubt the creativity inside you will one day change the world.  You’ve already changed mine.

This year will bring big changes.  You’ll be leaving boyhood behind soon, entering adolescence.  Manhood isn’t far behind.  But I know it will suit you.  In fact, I think some of the constraints of childhood hold you back and that once you’re free to open up that amazing mind of yours you’ll reach heights even I can’t imagine.  Yes, adulthood is going to suit you well.

So Happy Birthday, Little Man.  Keep rocking the world!

Random Acts

I remember the first time I saw the slogan.  I was living in Texas at the time, and was in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding.  We were at the local hangout, and it was plastered on the wall behind the bar:

PRACTICE RANDOM KINDNESS AND SENSELESS ACTS OF BEAUTY.

I was amazed by its simplicity.  I was inspired by its power.  I committed it to memory.

{ Source: OptimisticMinds }

Now, this was the 1980s.  There was no internet to fuel such a concept.  It was a grassroots movement, forced to travel by bumper sticker and magazine article.  By word of mouth.  By deed.  It was slow going.  If it was going to catch on, I was going to have to do my part.

I went back to work the next week and remember being excited by the concept, and sharing it with co-workers.  A few thought it as silly.  A few thought it weird.  A few thought it was as wonderful as I did.

And so began my journey.

Over the years I’ve paid people’s tolls, bought the coffee of the driver behind me in the Starbucks window, bought groceries of the young couple with the baby in the stroller.  I’ve given blankets to a homeless man, and picked up hitchhikers (I don’t do that anymore).  I remember sitting on the side of the road on Christmas Eve with an old lady who had car trouble. (Before cell phones.  You had to get someone to drive to the next exit to make a phone call for you.)  I sprinkled flower seeds in the empty field and watched them bloom.  I cleaned the statue outside my church.  I carried candy around at Christmas and left it in the tube at the bank drive-up with a note.

But mostly I just tried to Be Nice.  To as many people as possible.  A genuine smile, a cheerful hello, a simple “How are you today?”— while making eye contact and waiting for a reply.  Learning to be friendly, learning to listen, learning to care.

Talking about it seems a little strange to me.  One of the points of a Random Act of Kindness has always been that it should be anonymous.  (Touting them here is only for the purpose of explaining the concept.)  When the recipient of one of my Acts tried to thank me, I always asked for the same thing: for them to pay it forward.  To be kind, or generous, or helpful to another.  I had this pyramid scheme in my head that one day, people would go about their business, constantly being nice to one another.  My version of Utopia.

Twenty five years later, I’m trying to keep up the momentum.

Which brings me to 2011.  A few days ago I came across a website called JustBeeGenerous.com.  The concept was familiar: being anonymously generous.  But this added the ability to push the movement forward using a card, explaining the act of generosity, and urging the recipient to pass it on.  I was so excited!

As things now travel at the speed of Google, it took only a short time for the web site to pop up o a friend’s Facebook page and for me to learn that its creator is someone I know, the niece of a dear childhood friend of mine!  I ordered my FREE cards and exchanged emails with her, and am watching the mailbox for my JustBeeGenerous gear.

Her version of the concept added the missing piece – the message of the act, and the request to keep it going.  I’m so proud of this little girl I used to know, for making such a substantial difference to our world.

So, according to one calendar, Monday is Random Acts of Kindness Day.  (According to another calendar it was yesterday.)  Whichever day you choose to recognize, I challenge each of you to join the movement.  Practice Kindness.  Make the world a more beautiful place.

You never know whose life you may change.  Might even be your own.