LIVING WITH GRACE
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 May 2013 11:30 Written by Administrator Monday, 15 August 2011 09:30
by Susie Wiet
June 16, 2009. I returned from work and Stella was doubled over in pain. 6 a.m., June 17th – in the ER at Primary Children's – a semi-truck hit me with the news: "neuroblastoma ... oncology will be here, soon." This was not real. This was not Stella – she had no signs, no symptoms! This was not our life! This was my disbelief. "How am I going to tell Jeff?" incessantly tripped my thoughts.
Already, our family lost beloved Uncle Johnny on Christmas Eve to a slow, torturous death – deeply and spiritually touching each of our lives before his departure. And, my dearest friend, "Auntie Annette" to our girls, godmother to Stella, and a support to Uncle Johnny, was living with us since February, while fighting for her life against cancer diagnosed New Year's Day. Why was this all happening?
"Stay calm. Stay calm," I continuously repeated to myself. "Don't show Stella your fear ... you have to protect her from your grief ... you have to be her solace." This is what consumed my thoughts, while waiting alone, Stella crying to go home and isolated in the ER where I was now on the "other side of the bed." My silent scream: "Hold on to me, God, hold on to me. I cannot hold onto myself. Be my footsteps in the sand. Help me to have strength. Help me to accept whatever I need to accept. Help me to pray, accept my fear, my grief, my weaknesses, because that is all I have to offer You." I couldn't pray swiftly or intensely enough to relieve the aching, devastating pain.
Looking toward Heaven but limited by the room's ceiling height, my mind whispered: "Uncle Johnny, I wish I had one of your owls, so I know we'll be all right." Later, in walked the transporter gifting a stuffed-animal owl to Stella. In that moment (and other moments later) came a profound calm. God's embracing Love, so beautiful, so serene, words unavailable and unrecognizable to describe the gift of Grace. Wow. This is what Uncle Johnny was conveying of his spiritual journey, especially during those last months.
Through the ensuing 18 months of Stella's relentless and painful treatments (chemo, massive surgery, two stem cell auto-transplants, localized radiation, novel anti-bodies, and on and on), the Spirit called me to pray for acceptance and perseverance. At times, not knowing if Stella was going to make it through the day, I found myself begging God to comfort her and strengthen our family for another day. Again and again, Grace would swallow me whole.
In the quiet times, the Spirit surrounding Stella was palpable. It was as if one could almost hear, almost feel the endless prayers coming our way, and uplifting our little Stella. God graced Stella, graced us, with countless angels (family, friends, religious orders, prayer groups, strangers from across the world) who reinforced God's presence around us, protecting us as if in a bullet-proof bubble in the middle of jungle warfare.
We're now out of the combat-zone, but are acutely aware that Stella and "Auntie Annette," as each of us, belong to God. How blessed we are to learn from and share portions of our lives together, no matter how long or short. Continually I pray for faith and Grace to lead every step of my journey. To this day, in the loud and quiet times, Stella's acceptance, perseverance and love of God embodies God's gift of Grace to our family.
Готовлю "By June Jelm
Via a personal dream at age 5, this message was emblazoned on my psyche: in the basement bunker of the family home, I was trapped with a raging stallion and with all exits barred; I faced a struggle without either a burning bush or great light to guide, but yet with a bare light-bulb hanging from the basement ceiling. Not fully conscious of these prophetic meanings, I somehow understood that my journey had begun. And across the decades, the brilliant light bulb continues to present itself in adapted forms within various dream contexts, assuring me that, regardless of the seeming brutality of the moment, sustaining the journey remains a non-negotiable contract.
The great religions of history agree that each of us faces an individual journey, which by all measures, is beyond our own egoism. Western Christianity understands this journey to be lifelong and self-created. Our Eastern Christian traditions add that the aim of this personal journey is to distance and protect the inner Self from inherent primitive darkness. Islam perceives this inescapable journey to proceed as unique experience within God’s cosmic reality, and demands both self-analysis and personal re-adaptation. Buddhism implores us, whatever the time or place, to just get on with the personal journey of enlightenment. Secular psychology is in agreement with all: life-journey both presupposes and demands a personal commitment toward wholeness and Self-actualization, without which we are left childlike, unfit and disabled.
Making some form of committed journey seems unavoidable. Even the Faustian compromise or negative choice, which intends to evade the higher life-journey, carries with it a non-negotiable commitment. In his Hero of a Thousand Faces, cultural anthropologist Joseph Campbell reminds us of this historical truth, that humanity cannot escape either voluntary or forced journeys. Current humanitarian situations in Japan, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Mexico and the United States remind us daily how this conundrum is made clear.
At the time of my early dream, I was also galvanized by the stories of the biblical Joseph: his family’s deadly dis-functions, his possible death in the well, the child slave trade and many other adulthood betrayals. Stories of “baby Moses on the water,” his escape from mass infanticide, survival in the desert alone and flight from military pursuit, were realities filled with both terror and hope. Of course, their personal struggles demanded keeping the mind and eyes on higher plains. This meant everything to these mentors and somehow articulated a fabric-design of deliverance for myself.
As a struggling young adult, St. Paul’s soulful contrition, his intelligent universalism and love of liberty, at last allowed me joyful laughter. Understanding Christ as a copy of God who bent to know human suffering (Job) made great sense; but beyond this understanding, Christ stood difficult. I can only continue to appreciate the certainty of human limitations and the necessity to stand in awe of The Greater Reality in which Christ plays a central role. Across these times, a piece of secular literature Kipling’s IF, a dissertation on finding the will to go on, when too much or all is lost, has provided a modern template for contemporary realities of loss, suffering and positive struggle.
As with Paul, the itineraries of the journeys have carried me both high and low. First, there are many losses: safe parenting, safe and permanent married relationship, house-flood, house-fire, illnesses, sacrificed dreams and a treasured home. Yet, I have been gracefully swept to fortunate and unimaginable heights: personal, academic and career experiences in the U.S., the Pacific, Eastern and Western Europe and Northern Africa, unexpected places where a muse in human form always appeared to point the way.
Engaging the multiple losses, unending sufferings and unresolved struggles of others on my journey; seeing and knowing the prices that others chose to pay to preserve and distance the Self from darkness, forces me only to cover my mouth (Job). On these journeys, we do indeed pay with sacrificial blood. But at the same time, payment constitutes a Great Fulfillment: that is, seeing the reality of the many who sustain themselves on day-to-day faith. Seeing a universal distribution of the Children of Great Light around the planet, affirms the existential reality of the Great Network that is the Kingdom; and at the same time verifies the existential dark power that works its own reality of abject evil, one that competes to rule what was once Paradise.
Now, to back up a bit. At about the same time, Bishop Scott Hayashi started short morning services before our diocesan staff meetings. Advent had just started. Advent has always been a nice pre-Christmas time for me with a little bit of a theological tug and pull over how much Christmas stuff to put out during Advent—and how much to wait for the actual Christmas season. The Advent morning service readings started the same way as they always started. How could those people of Biblical times keep missing the obvious signs that the Christmas miracle was just around the corner. Why couldn't they open their hearts and minds to the obvious possibility of the baby Jesus miracle, rather than just expecting the usual false prophet sighting. Wow, I realized I am no different than them. Why can't I open my mind and heart to be open to what is possible, not just what I am resigned to expect!
It is pretty easy to expect the worst with canine bladder cancer. However, Bob the dog didn't occupy his time reinforcing the worst by reading medical internet sites or talking to others who are quick to doubt. He wouldn't give up as he struggled to eat what were now smaller and smaller pieces of toast and a deli slice of meat now and then. His shrinking frame of skin and bones kept leaping at the door when I would come home. He ran down stairs and up mountains and played in the snow—yet his BUN number was going the wrong way The vet started pumping IVs into him as we agreed only painless treatments should be given. Bob kept his head high living in the possibility of recovery rather than in the expectation of being in his last few days. He never stopped running and leaping about. The vet was so moved, that he came in on Sunday to give him one more IV bag to flush out his kidneys in hopes that the number could drop below the fatal range. Kidneys don't mend on their own, but they sometimes can respond with a little more efficiency after lots of fluids. There is no way to heal a kidney in a 16-year old piece of skin stretched around bones. With me expecting the death of Bob, what could I learn? I cancelled vacation. I expected the purpose was to prepare for Bob's departure.
On Monday, the second week of Advent, it was time for Bob to get his checkup with the vet. I heard the vet scream from the back room. He burst through the door to announce Bob's kidneys were at a 35 BUN number. That was a miracle. It is darn near puppy normal. Bob came home. I spent hours trying to explain how this could happen. Why couldn't I just accept it? Bob ate bowl after bowl of food. It was a gift in the present moment. It was the gift of learning that YES, be open to possibilities!
We spend all our lives seemingly preparing for the day we die and seldom for the miracle of the days we live. If we live to be 75 years old, we have 27,395 days of life. Bob is teaching me to spend more time accepting them, than trying to prepare for the one day that results in death. For example, we spend far more time preparing out of the fear of being hit by lightning than we do preparing ourselves for the possibility of those life saving miracles that ALL of us have experienced. The National Weather Service reports only 460 Americans out of our 300 million people will be injured in a lightning storm this year, yet ALL of us will have a miracle where we wake up form almost nodding off while driving, where we will just be a step away from something that could have killed us, or have a medical miracle that no one can explain. We will spend hours trying to explain away those miracles rather than face accepting them. We simply have a hard time accepting the possibility of miracles. We don't have a hard time accepting doom- we expect it! We are no different than those people of Biblical times in our readings of the season. HOWEVER, miracles will happen, and they will come in the most unexpected places—in the eyes of an old dog, or even in a manger.
I know the Prophets were frustrated over trying time and time again to get people to look for the possibilities to witness God's presence in our daily lives. I hope Bob doesn't give up on me either. I AM learning! Thanks Bob, for an incredible gift of the season!
Postscript: Postscript: Bob did die - his cancer was elevated in places they didn’t diagnose, but he remained a miracle through the Christmas season and past his expected lifespan. I think it is still a wonderful story, and Easter is an appropriate time to tell it. Bob will never be replaced in what he brought to me and taught me.
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