There are new words now in our language and we have all learned them, regardless of whether or not we even speak English. They arrived suddenly one day and like company that stays too long or is purely obnoxious, they are still with us even after several months. For some the arrival has brought fear, anxiety, chaos and even death. We are all facing a strange, unknown threat and most of us are doing our best to “follow the rules” as to not become ill or even worse, to make someone else ill and perhaps be the reason for their demise. No matter who you are or where in the world you live, you are probably experiencing at the least some sort of stress. I’ve spoken to many people who seem to have some sort of new physical ailment or one from the past that has reappeared. It is not uncommon. Besides many of us find ourselfes wondering whether or not that sore throat or queasy tummy or ingrown toenail might be a sign that the enemy has found a weak spot in our defense. It’s simply an extremely daunting, challenging time and we, as American are at our best in times like these but I don’t know if any of us understood how long this time might last.
The Easter Holiday brought the following message to my inbox:
Haven’t seen you lately so here’s an update. I have been working out 2-3 times a day, lost 25 pounds, almost all muscle now. Took up learning Mandarin and have become quite proficient. Have finally got to finish War and Peace as well as all of the works of Tolstoy, Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut which I have always wanted to get to. I’ve taken up the guitar and have Smoke on the Water down pat. Have tried to write a few songs, sent them to a music house and they tell me some guy I never heard of, Post Malone, wants to record them. I have also become a concert pianist and expert at ice sculpture. It’s been very boring but we all do the best we can. Happy Easter, stay safe and may the force be with you.
I so appreciated the humor and I am sure anyone reading this has also found some relief in the humor that has come along. I, on the other hand had to reply that the skills my husband and I have honed have been a little more mundane. He has taken charge of the cleaning, including the vacuuming. I am his “new” supervisor.
About forty years ago, we had a friend who won the “sexiest man alive” contest in upstate New York. It was I recall, a lunchtime event and several men were called up on a makeshift stage and questioned about why they should win the title. As you can imagine, there were many creative and somewhat risqué answers but our friend won with not only his good looks (which he had) but with the simple statement that he loved to cook and he did the cleaning. He was unanimously given the title. I’ve tried to convince my hubby of fifty-two years that there is nothing sexier than a man who likes to cook and clean. It just took a pandemic to push him into the role I always thought should be his.
Again, humor has come in many many forms and for the most part, I have let it feed and nurture me. We had one email that said a couple had decided to not have children and they were going to tell them after dinner. But, the winner for me so far has been:
It was LOL for at least two days and it still brings a smile to my face when I think about it. I don’t know who this lady is but I would love to meet her and I would love to have her as a friend.
Also don’t miss John Krasinski’s YouTube segments called Some Good News. It’s the kind of news I wish were published by our mass medial. It’s kind, funny and uplifting.
In one of my favorite books, Spiritual Insights for Daily Living by Elizabeth Fenske, the March 25th reading tells of an old Arab folk tale where Pestilence once met a caravan in the desert on the road to Baghdad. “Why must you hasten to Baghdad?” Asked the caravan chief. “To take 5,000 lives,” was Pestilence’s answer. Later, they met again and the caravan chief said, “You deceived me, Pestilence, instead of 5,000 life’s you took 50,000.” “Nay,” replied Pestilence, “5,000 and not one more-it was fear who killed the rest.”
I know, we all feel like we are living in a Twilight Zone episode. I know I do. I keep thinking any day now, I will wake up from this dream, this bazaar state of the world. Fear! Anxiety! Stress! Grief! Loss! Most of us are facing all of these emotions. Most of us are fairly familiar with them but not on such a continual constant level. Being who I am, I look for ways to see the silver lining in all the events of my life; sometimes to the annoyance of those around me. In my first book Creating Positive Affirmations, Living an Intentional Life, I write that, “We cannot control the wind but we can decide how to set the sail. The wind may blow you all over the world and take you to places you do or do not choose but it is your attitude during the journey and when you arrive that will determine every aspect of the adventure and you can determine that mindset by carefully choosing your self-talk.”
I am not proposing that you ignore any of your emotions. As Rumi says, “Welcome and entertain them all. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” Then, take steps to move through those negative feelings. Most of us know what is required to lift ourselves out of the pit but sometimes we need a reminder and many times we need a friend.
Here are some of the tools that help me. I share them with a hope they may also lift you to a “better place.”
The list can be endless. You know what you love. You know what nourishes your soul and feeds your heart. Have hope. Have faith. If it’s simply too windy for you at any point, lower the sail and take shelter in a safe place and wait. The time will come again when we can all raise our sails and embrace the adventure of this life.
Affirmation: Sacred time is an integral part of my spiritual well-being.
In February of this year a group of four women gathered to talk about holding a woman’s monthly morning retreat at our church, St. Michael the Archangel. The process actually began after Christmas during my stay in the North Carolina mountains. For me, it is a very spiritual place and during my week there, God spoke to me. Actually, I think it may have been Mother Mary but whoever wanted my attention, they got it. Oh, not at first. “No No No,” I answered but after the third morning of no, I gave up and said, “OK, if you want this to happen, send help.” Here’s the story.
I awoke the first morning and as I journaled, I got the inspiration to create a woman’s monthly morning retreat. ”NO! I do not have time. I don’t want to spread myself so thin.” There!! The second morning, the message arrived even before I sat for my quiet time. “NO! I cannot commit to a monthly engagement. I like to travel. I couldn’t possibly be available.” The third morning, I woke up with the same message. Again, I refused. “No! I couldn’t do this on my own. I would need help.” That was all the spirit needed, that tiny, “maybe.” I imagined the person I would like to help with such a project and within an hour, I received an email from that lady, even though we did not communicate regularly. The rest is history. I contacted her and she immediately answered, “Yes.” I think she has a more willing spirit than I. We asked a few other women and two more agreed to help. Then I contacted the church. It seemed like a good idea since we wanted to use their space. They agreed. We put a few notices in the bulletin and on February 15th, eighteen women showed up. It ran for two hours and the feedback was very positive. We scheduled four more sessions. The next one for March 21st.
As all of you know, the world has stopped turning. We will not be gathering for a morning retreat or for lunch or to play. We are all doing our best to follow the recent National guidelines for stopping the spread of the corona virus and yet, it seems even more important, more relevant to bring our intentions together and to invite the Holy to bless our lives, our country and the world. With that in mind, I am presenting a @Home Retreat. As of this writing, there are about two dozen of us who will take an hour and a half to pray and to listen to the Divine. I’m sharing the format in case anyone who reads this is interested in joining us. If you know me personally, you are welcome to email me for more information, otherwise all you need to know is below.
The agenda is below but I want to emphasize that it is only a model and it is not written in stone. Please feel free to adjust it to your needs and perhaps the guidance of your guardian angel.
It is very important to recognize that you cannot do this “wrong.” If you finish early or late, that’s just fine. If you decide to read something you prefer over the suggestions, that’s fine. This is a time of NO JUDGEMENT. It cannot be viewed as, “right or wrong,” “good or bad,” or “successful or unsuccessful.” It is simply time you have carved out for yourself to develop a closer relationship with Our Lord, with the Divine. It will be different for each person and that’s just fine.
There is a great power in silence.
Triangle Women’s Monthly Morning Retreat
Home Program: Saturday 3/21/2020 9:30-11:00am
*Prepare your space: Find an area where hopefully you will not be disturbed for your quiet time. Perhaps you want a blanket for yourself (or a teddy bear?).
*Gather your supplies: Timer (preferably not a phone, try to make your space – media free), note paper and/or journal, pen.
*Create an “altar”: Put a few meaningful items out, include a candle.
*Opening Song – Your Choice, sing one or listen to one.
Lyrics for Amazing Grace:
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home
*Opening Prayers – The Sign of the Cross/Our Father/Hail Mary/Glory Be or your choice.
*Intention: This is a reflective, healing time and we ask that it be filled with the love of the Holy Spirit, the care of Mother Mary and the guidance of all our guardian angels. We are here to learn from one another and to support each other on our journey towards a closer, more intimate relationship with Our Lord.
*Write out a prayer request or a few and add them to your “altar.”
*Reflection – Think of one thing you’ve added or deleted from your life for Lent.
*Scripture Reading – Lectio Divinia – Slowly read the following daily scripture three times. Read the passage slowly and carefully.
Gospel for this day, March 21st: LK 18:9-14
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
*Journaling Time – What did you hear God sharing with you? What do you want to share with God? (10-15 minutes)
*Centering Prayer – 10 to 20 (recommended) minutes of silent time (you decide.)
*Centering Prayer – Guidelines
*Closing Prayer –
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
*Sharing a Word Exercise – choose a word from your reading or your quiet time (your sacred word?) and share it here. Feel free to share any other thoughts or insights you have gained from this sacred time.
Affirmation: I find the can in cancer.
In 2007 Nancy Emerson, Susan Moonan, and Terri wrote, Finding the Can in Cancer. They were a group of women who were influential in the early stages of what was then called, The Duke Cancer Patient Support Program. Nancy Emerson was a woman with a mission. Her mission was not to let cancer become her identity. It was a part of her life’s quilt but not the primary thread. She and her co-authors shared a vision of hope and presented a message of living life to the fullest, not sitting back and waiting to die. They already knew what Jimmy Buffet sings about when he croons, “I want to die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”
Recently cancer has been even more present in my life than usual. My hubby was diagnosed with an aggressive-rare form of neck cancer (two words no one wants to hear when cancer is being described.) My dear traveling buddy also is presently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and my young, sweet neighbor is being treated for stage four lung cancer. Along with them my friend, Dr. Carmen Wagner is also being treated for lung cancer.
Carmen, is a brilliant business woman who has been involved with the health industry for most of her career. She has decided to use her organizational skills to create a cancer support group here in Cary, North Carolina. She too wants to focus on living life to the fullest and gathering and sharing information that will help people be the healthiest they can possible be. Her goal is to look at the whole person. One cannot heal the body without addressing the issues of the mind and the spirit. There’s a quote from the Mayo Clinic that says, “Three fourth of our patients are passing on the sickness of their minds and souls to their bodies.” How is that for a wake-up call?
How many of us have the power to control our minds to overcome disease? Even the holiest of holy die. Life has a way of bringing us to our knees and maybe that’s one of the most important “tools” we can sharpen; our ability to connect to the Divine, our ability and desire to find The Holy and to fully understand that we are, “spiritual beings having a human experience.” Perhaps, our greatest tool is to grow our faith in a power greater than ourselves, greater than anything we can even imagine. A power that can create a galaxy and a flower, a human and a microcosm.
After the initial diagnosis of cancer, what I found to be the second scariest event was the day I was released from treatment. I know I am not alone. I know too in many ways I was one of the lucky ones, to be released at all. However, a few years back, Duke changed the name of the DCPSP to the Duke Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic. They finally recognized the need for cancer patients to receive care that addressed all the issues they had gone through during their treatment and perhaps with which they would continue to deal. For example, people who had undergone the type of chemotherapy I had undergone, needed an Echocardiogram every five years. I had been out of treatment (yes, luckily) for over 15 years and had never had an Echo! There’s a thread of cancer that is always with you even after you’ve been told you are “cancer free.” Ask any cancer survivor what come first to their minds when they have a headache, a backache or a shoulder pain? These concerns and fears need to addressed and alleviated. Education and support are essential to continued healing and that’s exactly what Carmen is focusing on, as is the Survivorship Clinic at Duke.
The basic health care rules apply whether or not you’re in or out of cancer. Exercise, eat healthy, get a good night’s sleep and stay connected to friends and family. These are proven ways of maintaining optimal health. The way you approach them really depends on the individual. People go crazy trying to figure out the best approach to their diet. In today’s world there are so many options and every one of them is touted as the “best” diet.” You’ve seen them. You’ve read about them. I don’t have to list them. The only way to know if they’re for you is to try one for a time and see how you feel and how your body responds. It’s not an easy path. What is good for one, really is not good for all. But is there any one thing that’s good to help cure the sickness of our minds and souls?
It’s Lent, 2020 as I write this missive. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time to focus on prayer, fasting and alms giving according to the tradition of my Catholic faith. It’s forty days to broaden our perspectives, to learn more about ourselves, to grow closer to our God and perhaps change our relationship to ourselves, the world and Our Lord. It’s really all up to us and our intentions and that, I believe is the cure. Oh, you may not heal yourself of every ailment you have and yes, you will still die. Let’s face it, no one gets out of this life alive. We do, however, get to choose how we live. We get to choose how we perceive what we are experiencing. It’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us, this gift of freedom of will and thought. Dr. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen writes that sometimes in our pursuit of becoming whole, we still may not be cured but be assured, we will be healed.
What choices can one make to assure they will be healed? There are many just like a diet but two of the most important one can learn are to forgive and to love. Don’t hold onto that hot coal of resentment expecting it to harm anyone other than yourself. Do whatever it takes to heal your heart of hurt, anger and bitterness. Write about it, paint about it, meditate on it, pray. Don’t give up until you are whole once more, until that wound in your heart and soul has scared over. It’s hard work but it’s so worth it and don’t expect it to happen like a one and done. It may appear over and over. You may need to make a conscious decision maybe many times before you find peace. Forgiveness and love, the two cornerstones of a healthy, full, enriched life. Truly, if your life is full of peace and love what else could you possibly want or need to live it to the fullest?
Dr. Wagner, The Duke Survivorship Clinic, and the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat that I have been leading for the last fifteen years all focus on finding the positive outlook in life. We recognize the pain and challenge and then we choose to look for the, “can in cancer.” It’s there. It may take the help of others seen and unseen to discover it, but even in the most difficult of times, one can find a way to see the blessings. They are there in the faces of our loved ones, in the calls and cards from our friends and neighbors, in the prayers than encircle our whole being; mind, body and spirit. May your cancer journey help you to see the “can”, the blessings and may they lift you up to a place of gratitude and possibility.