Thursday, May 21, 2009

Major milestone--and summer update.

I’m actually, truly, honest-to-God graduating from seminary tomorrow. Holy cow. By the grace of God, the love of some incredible people, and my own steel will, I've done it.

It hasn’t sunk in yet. It mostly feels weird, to be done. After everything that’s happened in this time... I don’t have a reason to be here anymore. I’m just, like that, done. And ready (truly) for the world.

My field ed professor, with whom I’d also done a reading course, e-mailed me Tuesday night. I’d been trying both to be responsible about my work, and give her space: her mother had been ill, and died on Sunday. We all knew it was coming. My oral work could wait. (She said I'd done enough, and that we could have these conversations over the rest of our lives anyway.)

My teacher and I are also good friends. We’re both driven by ministry to the marginalized. We get what makes each other tick. For her own reasons, she understands the post-cancer, post-nuclear life. She has walked solidly with me.

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real (CA central coast) visited our last field ed class, last Wednesday. I asked her about what's going on outside church buildings in ECR. She talked about a “church in the fields” idea that she wants to get going in Salinas. It’s similar to what I’ve been involved with in the Tenderloin, but with the migrant workers. My follow-up question: “Do you take interns?” (Her answer: “Yes, but you’d be working for free.”)

My teacher picked up on that interest. She wrote to me, you seemed really excited about +Mary's idea. What would you say to staying at my mom's house in Monterey this summer, taking care of the cats, and taking Spanish classes?

Um. Dear God. Yes. I knew I’d say yes before I even thoroughly read it. I made myself wait until the next morning to answer.

She's going through hell right now—and she’s thinking about me.

I've had times when I worked for something—I really wanted to go back and do my field ed in NOLA this year, for instance—and couldn't make it happen (even with the bishop of Louisiana’s invitation, God bless him). I did nothing to deserve this, would never have thought to ask for it, and didn't see it coming. It makes sense for both of us, when I think of it—but I would not have thought of it. This is grace.

People have been throwing grace at me by the handfuls for a year, because I’ve needed it. This is not accommodation. This is gift.

Ironically, my parish in SF says, now that I've been where cancer took me, and came back resurrected, I'm emotionally ready to do discernment work with them. They want to work with me, after I get past the transitions of health, job, housing. I'll have my diocese’s three-year residency requirement in August. And I’ll be two hours south, all summer. This feels very much like an open door, and I don’t know what it means. I’m trusting the Spirit for whatever's next.

The practical part of me says, stay in contact with the community you already love and are rooted in, and that knows and loves you. Wisdom says, go with God.

I’m going to do both, until the way becomes clear enough to blind me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

On the anniversary of my cancer surgery…

I finally, officially finished the 2007-08 school year.

The last thing I had to do was watch my Magic Hands video, which I made last week, with my advisor/Magic Hands professor, her current TA, and the three friends I’d grouped up with to film ourselves. It was actually quite fun, and very helpful.

I said to her afterward, “Do you know where I was, a year ago right now?”

The wheels turned, and she got it.

“Yes. And I know where you’re going to be next Friday, too.”

I know why she’s proud of me. And I know why she’s happy for me, for graduating. We all know the road I’ve been on. I’m proud of myself, for the person I’ve become.

I had to thank her, for one more thing. When we talked at the class retreat, she told me about trying to communicate “the meaning of meaning” to her students. I don’t think I can articulate it any better than that. But she said to me, “If I could put you into words, I would.”

So I’ve put together a “Words on Meaning” piece for her. It’s everything I’ve written that relates to the cancer journey, over the past thirteen months. And in doing that, I’ve had to do a lot of re-reading.

What saved my neck, and saved my soul, was one choice: to stay open. When I was apparently well, I got into a really toxic habit. When I felt inadequate (almost constantly, in seminary), I got scared, and shut down. I wouldn’t talk about what was wrong, even when I knew that people could help me—and would want to, if I’d let them.

For two and a half years, she told me to tell her what was up. I wouldn’t. Then I got cancer, and I had to.

She never had to tell me again, after that. She made herself available. She kept her door open. I don’t know how many times I dropped by, in those four weeks last spring. Her response was always the same: How are you feeling? How are you doing? Where is God in this? What do you need from me, and from us? I knew she’d give me what she could, at any moment: a conversation (in the midst of end-of-semester busyness); a quick hug. She never had to tell me that; she just did it. I never had to tell her I knew; I just kept coming by. (I did mention it, at the retreat. She said to me, “I’m glad you knew.”)

She was always open, always loving, always safe. I understood, that she always would have been. As would everyone else I’d been hiding from. They still would have demanded progress out of me. But it would have come from a place of clear-sighted relationship.

I’m graduating in one week. I’m very, very ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I’ve been here long enough. I know that I’m ready to be done. For institutional reasons, I’m glad to be getting out when I am. And I know that I have learned from these people, and this experience, what they have to teach me.

I’m also scared, to be let loose in the big wide world, with the debt I’ll carry and the economic needs I’ll have. I’m going directly to my best friend’s house, to finish chemo, recover, and look for work and housing back in the Bay Area. She’s fabulous—and generous. I’ll be as physically and emotionally safe, as anyone facing these transitions can be. And I don’t really know who I am under that kind of stress, anymore. I’m hoping I can be as calm as I’ve been, and that I won’t let job-hunting throw me into a depression. But I truly don’t know how I’ll be affected. I don’t know if I’ll be fragile and volatile when I have the energy to be—or whether fourteen months of taking the next thing as it came, will have given me true strength.

My friend and I have come up with really reasonable, and doable, expectations for me this summer. While I’m still in treatment, brushing the cats and weeding the garden. Cooking dinner sometimes. Baking bread. As I’m physically able, I’ll look for real jobs. While I’m doing that, volunteer two or three days a week doing something I want to do. Go to the Ranch when I can.

It’s going to be a healing time, if I let it. I’m worried, not only about being in her space too long, but about the healthcare ticking time-bomb in my head. I’m covered through 8/31. Sometime in late July or early August, I’ll get a letter from Kaiser telling me how much COBRA will be. I don’t feel right, asking for as much help as I know I’m going to need.

I do know this: The choice that saved me when I got cancer, will keep me (and those around me) sane now. Stay open. Stay honest, stay forthcoming. Don’t default to defensiveness. Don’t jump immediately to guilt and shame. Say what I need, and what I can give. Listen when others state their own needs to me.

Know that I have learned to be whole. And like riding a bike, my body won’t forget.

If I can stay in the space that I instinctively knew would heal me last spring, I’ll be okay. Pray with me, that I remember what my body, community, and God have taught me. And that I remember to breathe.

One year ago today

Story here. And here.

Monday, May 11, 2009


One more med pick-up
Two blood draws
Seven weeks between me and freedom. :-)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A friend just gave me a book

…and a conversation.

The book is Becoming Bread, by Gunilla Norris. It’s poetry. She inherited it from her grandmother, and gave it to me because of my sermon last week. The sermon came from a place of needing to honor my body, how it has carried me through this year of illness, what it continues to teach me, what it loves, and what it can do. I barely mentioned my own sickness; I taught people how to bake bread. The incarnationality of that—getting everyone into their bodies—touched a lot of people.

The conversation was about who we become, when we are no longer sick. It began with more of my own wondering, what is genuine, and who will I be? Her own medical journey was not cancer—not an illness, per se—but it was about fifteen years ago, was very uncomfortable for her, and took her body five years to work through. So she knows something about where I’ve been, and where I am. And she knows what her own body gave her, back.

She gave me this: “I don’t think you lose your gains. But you do lose your losses.”

Wise friends, I have.

Fabulous feedback

Yesterday began and ended in closures. First, my field ed colleague group met for the last time. We’ve met weekly, all year. We are very close, and we’ve all come to rely on both the honesty and safety we give each other.

We took turns sharing gratitude for each of the others, and praying for us all. Much was reflected back to me, about truth-telling and courage. One looked across the table at me, was quiet for a minute, and said, “You are so incarnational.”

She followed that with a story about watching me preach, last week, and the way I taught people how to bake bread.

I’m only recently realizing, how much my body has taught me—and how much I’ve been able to learn. This is one more confirmation of what I can do now, that I had absolutely no reference for when I was well. I’ve never thought of myself as a teacher, ever. I’ve thought that I wasn’t called to it, couldn’t do it, had no idea of how to do it. She sat across the table from me, looked into my eyes, and told me that I can, and could, and did.

I wonder how I will remember? Not just about teaching, but being. I’ll start getting my health back at the end of June. I want to be the person that my illness has taught me to be. And when my limits fall away again, I don’t know what I’ll be aware of. Except for pure, boundless joy.

Last night, four of us got together and made our videos for what we call “Magic Hands.” (The proper name of the class is Liturgical Leadership. You learn how to preside at the Eucharist.) We’re going to watch them and have them critiqued, next week. Mine was a year late; I grouped up with this year’s class to finish it. I put together a healing Eucharist, because that’s what I really want to do on the street.

I don’t care how often you practice in your street clothes, using your bed for the altar. When you put that stole and chasuble on, you feel the weight of those vestments. Standing at the real altar, raising my hands for the first time, I wasn’t playing anymore. I was so tired I could barely see straight—and I also knew, I was grounded with my feet in the earth, and my energy was where I needed to be. I still had to look at my cheat sheet—but my body knew more than I thought it did. And things that I could never keep straight as a lay assistant—no matter how many times I’ve done it—finally made sense to me. I knew where I was, and what I needed next. It flowed.

I really, really want to do this for real. And I’m years from being allowed to.

Lizette will ask me what she asks everyone: “Did you pray?” The only answer I’ll have for her is, “Are you kidding? The weight of these clothes, and the gravity of these words, make you pray. I couldn’t possibly have done this with only a part of me.”

I did an anointing before the Eucharistic rite. My friend said afterward that she’d felt it, and needed it. And the one on the camera sort of stared at me for awhile, and said,

“Your illness has made you a healer.”

Thank you. That is what I want.

I had to be truly ill, to truly heal. And I had to heal, before I could heal others. I wonder what I will carry with me, into wellness?

I ask myself often, how much the groundedness that people see in me is genuine, and how much is simply being too tired to work up any anxiety. I think it’s both. And I won’t really know, until my body is well again.

But I’m thinking that I may be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Perspective on panic

I was talking with my best friend, on the phone last night. She’s going to be supporting me this summer, until I get on my feet. I told her I’m worried about looking for jobs. I’m a great starter, but my follow-through needs work.

The following exchange ensued:

A: “When it has something to do with your calling, you follow through like a bulldog.”

Me: “So I’m not called to clean out your freezer, then?” (Which I did, two or three years ago—and have been promising to repeat, since.)

A: “Not unless there’s a homeless person sleeping in there.”

I cracked up, and felt a whole lot better.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Happy Birthday, Pete.

Other people are better at the tribute thing. Go here to listen to a music stream.

Wow, he's 90 and still singing. Wonder where I'll be, then?