Unlocking

This last year or so I have focused inward, and my outward focus is mostly limited to those with whom I live. I feel like I am about to emerge from that time, but I’m not completely ready yet. This time has been a gift, and it has also been odd. Covid-time came at a great time to me personally. It gave me a great excuse to withdraw and focus inward.  Last fall I discovered the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.

This winter I listened to the book twice, and read it once.  The book interested me because of the Soul Leaders Retreat I attended a few years ago that focused on each one of the seasons.  I knew I was in the season of winter, and I knew I had found the right book when I read May’s definition of wintering.  She writes, “Wintering is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider.”  It describes well the transition period I have been in for the last 20 months.  Further she asserts, “Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs.  Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but it’s crucible.” 

While one of my goals has been healing and grieving, another primary goal is figuring out what is next for me. I soon realized that the answer was not going to come quickly. The work I have been doing is necessary for the answer to come. As May claims, “Transformation is the business of winter.” She says that “you’ll find wisdom in your winter, and once it’s over, it’s your responsibility to pass it on.” I hope to do just that. My winter is not quite over, but I do think the light is lengthening and spring is coming.

I recently read Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha Beck.  In her map of the change cycle, I am very much in Square One: Death and Rebirth.  I was able to complete the book’s exercises up until and including that part. And then I just had to take notes and return it to the library. However, thinking through the exercises like: If I were sure I’d succeed, I would… or If I could be certain it was the right choice, I would… did give me some insights.

I celebrated Easter with Joy, and I believe in Resurrection and new life.  However, I am also comfortable with the fact that my transformation is still in process. I am still cocooned, no longer a caterpillar, but not ready to break out with my new butterfly wings. Stay tuned. 

Annie Jr.

This weekend my older daughter performed in her middle school production of Annie Jr. She played an orphan, and she loved her role. My husband and I went to opening night, though by then she had already performed the play for each grade at school. We could not have been more proud.

Her facial expressions were perfect, and in the finale, I could even pick out her voice. All of her hard work paid off. The entire production was impressive. I was grateful that my mom and Marty’s mom were able to come, and her aunt and uncle that live here, as well as many friends. I told her after opening night that I felt a little like the Grinch at the end of the movie…I felt like my heart grew two sizes, as it swelled with pride.

When I was in 6th grade, I too was an orphan in my town’s high school production of Annie. I love that our preteen selves got to have this experience. It brought back a lot of happy memories for me, and of course we have been singing Annie songs since she fell in love with the 2014 movie verson with Jamie Foxx. It was fun to share my memories with her, and compare choreography.

She is already counting down until her birthday, and so I know exactly how many days until she is a teenager. Time is fleeting. My grandma used to always tell me time went by faster as you age, and now I know she was right.

I often tell my therapist that when I grow up, I want to be like my kind, curious, centered, brave, independent daughter. I hope these next few years as she grows and matures, she is able to hold on to the joy of her younger self. I pray that we can maintain our positive interactions, and that she will trust me with her thoughts and feelings. Though I know I can’t protect her from the challenges that lie ahead, I hope she always knows that Marty and I are her biggest fans.

Lent

In the Christian Church, Lent is a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. Sometimes people give something up, fasting from a specific food or activity to help them focus on God. Others take something on, like a spiritual practice, to bring them closer to God. It is often used as a time for people to prepare for being baptized and/or becoming members of a church.

The timing of Lent varies from year to year. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Lent begins 40 days prior, always on a Wednesday known as Ash Wednesday. Many people celebrate Carnival, Mardi Gras, and Shrove Tuesday in the days and weeks leading up to Lent. A time of excess and celebration is in stark contrast to the penitential period of Lent. In many churches, Christians receive the sign of the cross made out of ash on their foreheads. They wear it to remind them that “from dust we have come, and to dust we shall return.”

Ash Wednesday is my favorite day on the liturgical calendar. I love the symbolism of it. I love how my thumb and fingers get totally black from drawing crosses on foreheads. I love wearing the cross on my forehead. Each cross ends up looking as unique as the one who wears it.

Every Lent, I think my life is going to be changed. More often than not, my life has not changed much, but for those years I allowed myself to be transformed by the power of God, my life changed dramatically:

1997- as I answered the call to ministry

2001 -as I re-answered it when I decided to enter seminary

2003- as I sought the healing I needed to deal with my parent’s divorce

2005-as I realized that somehow in the midst of dealing with a new job and my mom’s cancer, I had become a minister.

2009 – pregnant with my first child and wondering if I would make it until Easter Sunday without giving birth (I did)

2016- Undergoing chemotherapy treatments

2020 – Realizing I was burned out and needed to step away (spoiler alert: the pandemic hit, and I unlearned the lesson as we all learned how to do online church)

I remain hopeful each year during Lent that I will allow Jesus to transform me into who God has called me to be rather than clinging to my own desires to stay comfortable. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect”  (Romans 12:2).  May Lent 2022 be a time of transformation.

Normalizing Callbacks on Mammograms

My first mammogram was an abnormal experience at 37. It was diagnostic, but instead of having a cyst aspirated, I learned I had cancer. Since I finished treatments, mammograms have been a yearly task to prove that I am still well.

This year was a little different. I went in with my usual good attitude, and I even took a selfie in the waiting room. Each year I use my mammogram to remind others to schedule theirs. During the pandemic especially, many women did not have their annual screening.

It ended up that I had my cardiologist appointment the same afternoon. As I was waiting to be seen, myChart notified me of a new result. Of course I checked it immediately, and waded through all the medical jargon. What I did understand was “need additional imaging evaluation.” [expletive]

For the next twenty minutes while I waited for my cardiologist, I googled every bit of information I could find, and read all I could. My anxiety level began rising. Instead of thinking positive, I was immediately thinking about the last time, and how it would compare to this time. How would I tell my husband? My children? My family and friends? Then I would switch to positive thinking, briefly, and try to convince myself that it was nothing. Callback are normal, and most of them are nothing.

I told my husband and one friend. I could not be fully present that night with my family, as my mind kept playing out possible scenarios. I did not sleep well, and in the wee hours of the morning, I saw the official letter from the radiologist, instructing me to call the next day to schedule an appointment. As soon as everyone was at school, I made the call. It was a Friday, and the next available appointment was Tuesday. I knew the weekend was going to be hard.

Of course I had told several people about having the mammogram. When they asked me about it, I did not want to lie. I tried to be evasive with one friend, but she would not accept that. I did not want to talk about it. Every time I did, it seemed more real.

By Saturday, I was a mess. I could not stop myself from thinking of all the implications if I had cancer. I reached out to my clergy covenant group, and a couple other friends and asked for their prayers. Specifically, I asked them to pray for my mental health as I waited. Patience is not one of my virtues, and my overthinking brain was getting the best of me.

I tried to distract myself and stay busy. When Tuesday finally arrived, I appreciated the support from my friends and kept my phone with me after changing into the gown. After the mammogram, I had to wait for the ultrasound. I decided to write what I was feeling. Here is what I wrote:

Mammo done. Ouch. More painful than usual. She showed me the spot. And she told me not to let my mind go to dark places. I said too late. Sitting here scrolling to distract myself.  Wondering About other woman waiting. 

What does it mean to be well? Or sick?

Sat I let myself go to the dark places. Sun and Mon better. Trying to be distracted. I imagine my future with cancer. It isn’t bad. I am strong enough.  

After reading J’s post-funeral post about missing her husband, I know I’d rather have cancer than lose M. Or have a child sick. Or have him be sick.

I usually tell my fam everything. It feels weird to censor myself. And I didn’t want to tell.

Next was the ultrasound. This time I got to see my Thursday mammo compared to the one that just happened. I could not tell anything, of course. The ultrasound technician finished, and said she was going to return with the radiologist. I moved to my back and looked at the ceiling. There was a mobile, and distracted myself by thinking about how much the girls loved their butterfly mobile when they were babies. The tech returned, alone.

“It looks better,” she said, but I didn’t know what that meant. She explained that the new images provided a clearer view, and that all was well. My next step was an annual mammogram next year.

“That’s good news,” I said, trying to digest it and making sure I understood her correctly. She led me back to the changing room, and I was fighting back tears of relief. I did not want to cry in the changing room. I did not want the other women waiting to hear, and I just wanted to get to the safety of my car. By the time I arrived there, I could not cry anymore. So I began the texting. “All is well.”

Then I felt ashamed. Guilty for asking people to pray for me, for making them worry about me needlessly. I felt bad for sounding an alarm, when nothing was wrong.

However, it was a challenging experience. Many women have had to worry about callbacks and go through the agonizing waiting and wondering. Like me, many women keep it to themselves. Some do not tell anyone and carry the burden alone.

I share my experience for two reasons. First, a call back from a mammogram is normal, and it is usually nothing. However, that does not take away the fear. I want to normalize talking about it. It is ok to worry. You do not have to worry alone. It is ok to share, whether it turns out to be something or not, the fact that you have to endure waiting is hard. Please know that you can always reach out to me. I can hold your truth confidentially. I will walk with you, pray for you, and be a support. What is routine to our medical providers often does not feel routine to the patient. Be gentle with yourself. I’m here for you. And don’t forget to schedule your mammogram and other preventative health screenings.

Suicide Prevention

Someone that I cared about a lot recently died by suicide. He was 16. I could go on and on about how great he was. His smile was contagious, and every time I think of him, I smile.

More importantly, I want you to know this resource: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

(en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Please put this number in your phone. Put it in your kids’ phones and all those you love. In some areas, you can just dial 988. That will be available everywhere across the U.S. later this year.

For those in Minnesota, call **CRISIS (274747) from anywhere in the State of Minnesota to reach the local County crisis team.

In Hennepin County, we have these local options as well:

Adults 18 and over

Call 612-596-1223.

Children 17 and under

Call 612-348-2233.

Again, if you’re local, please put these numbers in your phone and your kids’ phones and give it to all your loved ones too.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared a national emergency in child and adolescent health. The effects of the pandemic are far-reaching. We have been in this new isolated way of life for 22 months. This is the third school year affected by Covid-19. It is ok to be admit that things are hard right now. We wish for normal, and I don’t think any of us thought it would last this long. We need to be gentle with each other, because we all are facing tough times.

Losing a young person is never easy. When someone dies by suicide, we ask what could I have done to help? We can never know what is in someone’s head. We do not know the pain that someone may be experiencing. Often the person feels like the most loving thing s/he can do is leave. A suicidal person may feel like a burden, or that s/he makes everything harder/worse/complicated for family and friends. In the dark moment, choosing to exit may feel like the only choice. I have only gone to that very dark place one time, and I am thankful that it was brief, that I chose to just go to sleep, hoping the next day would be better. It does get better!

The opposite of hope is despair. In seminary, I took a whole class on hope and despair. One of my favorite books is Miriam Greenspan’s Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair. In it she writes:

“Despite its bad reputation and the sense of shame associated with it, despair is a legitimate and eminently human emotion. More than grief and fear, it has a moral and social dimension that calls us to pay attention to and make meaning out of human suffering.”

Hope and despair, faith and doubt, pain and healing are all parts of our spiritual journey. We all may have “dark nights of the soul,” as St. John of the Cross named it. It is human to have a whole range of emotions, some that are uncomfortable. The only antidote is each other. We need one another to love and be loved, to care for one another, and to walk together in the sunshine and the rain. Despair wants us to isolate. When we need each other most, we often shut others out. We think we have to face our pain alone, but that is not true. Stay connected. We were literally made for each other, to see each through.

This youth I lost was someone I had confirmed. I had watched him wrestle with what he believed and what he did not as we talked in class and as he wrote his faith statement. My senior pastor and I had placed our hands on him and prayed. In fact, when my senior pastor and I had lunch a few weeks prior to the student’s death, we talked about him. Though we had both left that congregation, we still talked about this kid. He was that important to us. He was that important to many.

Sadly, we do not always tell someone how important they are. We assume they know. If only he could have heard what everyone said about him at his service! If only we told one another what we truly feel now instead of waiting until after death.

I do not believe that death by suicide is an automatic sentence to hell. To that person, the pain means the hell is here on earth. I believe that God was with my student before, during, and after his death. Even if his pain did not allow him to recognize God, I believe God was there. Because of our free will, we are able to choose not to live, even though that grieves God. I know in my heart that God embraced my student.

Spiritual Practices

Luther Seminary’s online magazine, faith+lead, is doing a series on spiritual practices this month. I wrote about how I adapted my spiritual practices while enduring cancer treatments. You can read it here.

Even without health challenges, trying a new spiritual practice can be fun and helpful. What helps you connect with God? What practices might you want to try this year?

Ornaments

Every year Grandmother bought me an ornament. As a child, the purpose was that when I moved out and had my own tree, I would have enough ornaments. And I did.

In high school, she began buying me the Mary’s Angel series keepsake ornaments from Hallmark. Eventually, she gave me money, and I purchased the ornament myself to add to my collection. The tradition continued for the rest of my family. An ornament each year for the girls, and one for Marty too. Even though I have been the one picking them out for the last several years, I do not know what I want to do about this year.

I bought each girl an ornament, but I wrapped it up from Marty and me. Actually, I bought them two, both from us, but one was with Grandmother’s tradition in mind. I bought my niece an ornament, but so far not yet for my nephew. Should I take on this tradition? Do we leave it as something that Grandmother did? Do I buy myself the Mary’s Angel for this year?

I went to the Hallmark website to see what this year’s ornament looked like. I even put it in the cart. And then the tears came. Part of me wants that tradition to end. If it doesn’t come from Grandmother, then I don’t want it anymore. Part of me wants it to continue, as if she is still gifting them to me. I’m conflicted.

Grief complicates holidays. It is interesting what things activate grief. Is it a picture? A smell? A recipe? An ornament? A song? We do not know what may or may not bother us. What brings a smile, and what causes the tears to flow?

As you celebrate this year, may you be surrounded by warm memories, the kind that make you smile, and maybe a few that make you cry. Remember that you are loved, and accept the hope, peace, joy, and love God offers.

Six

image credit @unicrntchr

I don’t remember his name. His countenance is fuzzy. Yet I can still hear very clearly the sound of his stool wheeling across the floor. I had just asked, “so calcifications mean no cancer?”  I was on a table having a needle biopsy on my right breast, waiting to make sure the sample was enough. He had come to my left side, so he could look me in the eye as he answered. I don’t remember his long explanation. I only remember that he said I would get a call tomorrow confirming that is cancer. I smiled, I guess to show him I was fine. That smile haunts me. It was a mask to hide my fear and anger.

My first mammogram was at 37, because I had found a lump. My gynecologist felt it, and she said it was likely a fluid-filled cyst that needed aspirated. Even knowing that would be happening, I went alone. My colleague told me I should not go alone and offered to go with me. At the time, I thought it was silly for someone else to be there.

It’s funny how memory works. I remember so clearly the changing room, the waiting area, and that there was someone who looked even younger than me. I don’t remember what my technician looked like, and very little about that first mammogram. I could see the pictures, and even though my technician was very professional, I could sense something was wrong. When she led me to a different waiting room, alone, my suspicion only grew. My phone was in the locker, and I regretted that decision. I prayed for strength to deal with whatever was coming next. I can’t remember learning that I was going to have a biopsy, or much about it. From the time the doctor spoke, until I was in the lobby calling my husband, is lost in the depths of my brain, or discarded. I misunderstood him, and I thought he was on another call and could not talk. It is probably just as well that I did not tell him over the phone.

I remember the drive home so clearly. There was a lot of traffic. My mind was reeling, and I did not feel like I was really in my body. I held the steering wheel tightly, to ground myself and pay attention to traffic. For some reason, one particular intersection is cemented in my memory, watching cars merge and inching forward. I thought how it was just a normal Thursday to all these other drivers, but nothing about that day was normal for me.

When I got home, I had to pretend all was fine. Our babysitter was concerned about me, and I just told her I was a little sore. That was true. I certainly was not ready to tell my news.

I don’t actually remember telling my husband.  Was it when he got home? After we put the girls to bed? He doesn’t remember either. You would think such a life-changing moment would be memorable.

The next day I was in the parking lot at the Mall of America, taking my girls to a birthday party at the aquarium, when I got the call. It was a nurse, giving me next steps, and it was Friday in the late afternoon. I had already anxiously called, worried that I wasn’t going to find out, and they assured me someone would call. My girls were in their carseats, annoyed that we were not going inside. I called my husband and said, “It is.”  Then we went to the party, and I remember it so clearly. I wanted to tell my friend, but I also didn’t want to ruin her son’s party. 

I don’t remember telling my parents, or other family. I know I made the calls from my bed, and there were lots of tears. We didn’t tell the girls for weeks. No reason to worry them until we had a plan and could explain it better. We also could not tell them until we were ready to tell the congregation. Thankfully, I was not present for that announcement.   

All of October with all the pink ribbons is always hard for me. I remember October 2015 and the agony of knowing I had a lump and learning of others being diagnosed.  I want to wear a pink ribbon, to remind people to do self-exams, regular mammograms, and support those who are enduring treatments. But I have always hated pink, and Pinktober annoys me.

This year I am extra angry. Not only did breast cancer change my life, but it devastated my dear friend’s family. Her mom bravely endured three bouts of breast cancer before it finally took her this spring.

Another cancer-versary when I feel like I *should* be grateful to be alive (I am!), but I am just angry. Six years have blurred many of my memories, and some are so vivid. Grief is not linear, and it is fine for me to be in the anger stage while everyone acts like wearing pink and buying pink products will stop breast cancer.

Whether you are male or female, do self-exams.

WRITETOBER CHALLENGE, PART 2

This challenge was really good for me. I used to love writing fiction, but I had not made time for it in many years. I remember why I like it, and I enjoyed the variety of stories the prompts helped me create. Using my imagination felt good. Some friends suggested creating a Shutterfly book. Another said to pick one or two and turn them into a (longer) story or novel. I’m not sure yet, but I am grateful for these stories.

16 – Rose
“Will you accept this rose?” Andy asks her, knowing her obsession with the Bachelor franchise. She smiles, and kisses him as she takes the rose.
“Ouch!” The thorn digging in her thumb interrupts. It reflects the pit in her stomach. Andy is a good time, but he’s not The One.
16- Garden
Bending over, she carefully pulls the pod off the plant. The green of the pod is lighter than the stem or leaf, and she runs her finger along t the seam, feeling the peas inside. She tosses it in the bucket.  Soon she will daydream, transporting herself out of the garden.

17-Flock
The small flock of geese gracefully arch as they turn to land on the pond. They swim together, forming another “V” formation.  Gliding across,  they barely make any ripples.  When they reach the shaded shore, the leader speaks. “We will stay here tonight.   We’re behind. Be ready at first light.”


18-Shadow
The setting sun produced long shadows. It made it easier for him to stay hidden.  The side door of the house he was watching opened. There was Mr. Klein, kissing his mistress goodbye.  Snapping quickly, the private investigator captured the moment. His boredom hiding in the woods had been worth it.

19 -Tendril
Louise stares at her reflection. Perfect tendrils frame her pale face,  her green-eyed sparkle, and her rosy lips pout. Disgust grows as her eyes follow her silhouette.   The dress is gorgeous.  Too bad her body is not.  She should not have eaten yesterday or today.  One more purge?

20– Antique
“Grandma said not to touch it! It’s an antique.”
Billy ignores Lily, as usual, and lifts the small bowl.  Everything blurs, turning cold, as he shrinks and falls through a black hole in the bowl.
“Billy! Let go!” Lily’s heart pounds as she too lifts the bowl.


21- Engulf
Fear engulfs me and I freeze. The snake flicks its tongue. Does it sense me? I can’t tell what kind it is. Grandpa will be mad if I kill a snake that isn’t poisonous. 
“Snakes eat rats,  Lulu,  not people. You just leave them alone.”  I turn and run away.


22 Friend & 23- Willow
“Meet under the willow at 4!” Cara calls over her shoulder to her best friend.  Running the whole way, Cara is out of breath when she bursts into the kitchen. Her parents are sitting at the table, and her mom is crying. “wh-what’s wrong?”she stammers.
“Come sit down, dear.”


24 – Dissolve
“It’s  Snickers.  She got run over,” dad shares quietly. Cara dissolves into a puddle, her entire body shaking with her sobs. Mom moves to hold her, but Cara shakes her off and runs back outside. She doesn’t stop until she hides herself under the willow. It’s safe to cry here.


25- Fury
The office walls are this.  She hears her boss lying again.  His voice is louder when he is uncomfortable, which he must be now as he tries to explain away his latest mistake to his supervisor.  The fury rises until she can taste it.  Time to get out of here.    


26 – Bury
Lisa pulls into her garage, but stays in the car.  She swallows her feelings, burying them deep in her gut.  Her family deserves better than the aftermath of work emotions.    She opens the vanity mirror, and realizes she needs to erase the evidence of her tears.  She forces a smile. 


27 – Forgotten
The leaves swirl up into a spiral as they are blown across the sidewalk.Katie runs after them giggling.  Her toddler squeals of delight contrast her mother’s mood.  There must have been an emergency; he wouldn’t have forgotten again,  she had told Katie.  Forcing a smile,  she takes Katie’s hand.

28 -Instrument
“Don’t forget your violin! You have your lesson today,” Mom reminds Jack. He returns to his room to get his Instrument,  wishing he had practiced at least once.  Mr. Snyder will lecture him again. Jack likes playing,  but practicing never sounds fun. If only his parents would let him quit.

29 – Storm
Betsy storms out of the room and slams her bedroom door. She jumps into her bed and screams into her pillow.  They are so unfair!  Why do they always say no? Betsy sobs, holding her stuffed elephant.  Mom enters quietly,  and wraps Betsy in her arms. “I’m sorry you’re upset.”


30- Begin
“You may begin,” the Proctor says.  Sam rips open the booklet and reads the first question.  His stomach tightens as he thinks. His brain feels cloudy, and sweat beads on his upper lip. He takes a deep breath, and fills in the bubble. These next two hours will be rough.


31 – Hallows
They enter the Gothic building and walk the hallowed halls.
“I can’t believe we’re here! I have goosebumps!” Jenna exclaims.
“I know. Someone pinch me,” Rachel agrees.
As they walk along the exterior,  they marvel at whose tombs they encounter.  When they find hers, they hold hands, eyes closed.

Avisha Rasminda

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