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Friday, May 03, 2013

You Are Different.

Not a poem, not quite an essay. This is more of a thought-sketch.

You are different.

In all of human history you are unique, and you have not been here before. You are not perfect, but you are interesting and full of potential..

But the treasure that is you is not yours to keep. Give your you-ness to God. I know, right? Craziness. But watch what happens. He gives you Himself, and you are a better you. And what He gives,  give THAT back. And He gives Himself and You give back a new, even better you. It's an adventure, wild and dangerous, this giving of yourself, of the you-ness that you know. You look down the road and you cannot see what you will be next.

Every now and then look back. You will see amazing stuff there, too. You will see that you have given up canned spam and received the finest steak.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Life Changes

It occurs to me that many life changes have happened here, and I have not taken the time to record it.

God remains my rock and my family remains stable (well, you know...with me around, stable might be a relative term). Anyhow, not much else is the same.

After two years as principal our Christian school closed for lack of students/funds. I figure I bought the school maybe a year it wouldn't otherwise have had, but still it was very, very sad for a very large number of families, including mine.

So I enrolled the kids in public school and went home with no aspirations other than to pray for my kids and for the country and teach guitar lessons maybe.

After two grueling years as principal I really enjoyed dropping the girls off and going home. The house was clean every single day! Mom was fighting cancer (a battle she since has won) and had to be taken to radiation every day. And I could take pictures of the most beautiful fall in memory. And I took up painting.

The second glorious week a fellow church goer stopped me to chat. She is on the board of the area Youth for Christ chapter. They have not had an Executive Director in about 5 years and it has put a strain on the organization. She asked if I wanted to be an Executive Director. I politely told her I'd pray about it, because that's what Christians say, and started working on how to tell the board no thank you.

Then I started to pray about it, and also started feeling pretty selfish about my response. So--

Now I'm praying for my kids and praying for the country, and I drop them off at Jr. High every day and then I go to work at Youth for Christ. I'm behind the scenes mostly, but I help out the ministry directors sometimes. One site needs new facilities. They have this thing called "Fifth Quarter" where you go there after the football game and eat pizza and drink non-alcohol beverages and learn more about God. Sometimes it's so crowded I joke you could pass out and stay standing up all evening.

It's really, really good times, and I can't believe God gave me an opportunity to do something like this and I almost said "no." God is good like that.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

vitals

My heart beats loud and fast. I have been looking at my paperwork all night, going over each little detail in my mind, trying to remember all the important details. My stomach does flip flops, and I cannot silence the thoughts racing through my head. My concerns are many. I recall my comfort zone, I haven't seen it for months.

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Vitals are the basics, they start to give us a picture of how the patient is doing. They were the first thing that we had to show we knew, and they are the first thing that we do with our patients. Temperature, pulse, respirations, and blood pressure. They require close proximity and a degree of intimacy with our patient. We have to work fast when we walk through the door to make introductions, and to get to know this other person.

Temperature is easy, there are thermometers now that can take the temp in 3 secs from the ear. The other three require you to touch and really listen to the patient.

To calm my own heart, to silence my own fears takes effort. I pray that I can focus on my patient. I need to concentrate on what he needs, not on me. Yeah, I'm tired, I should have had the second coffee. I'm overwhelmed with the responsibility. I'm missing my kids and husband like I could never succinctly describe. I have no idea how much studying and homework I need to do in a few hours and I don't want to know.

"Ok, go in and get your vitals and we can start our day."

I feel that to do this to the best of my ability, I have to completely focus on the patient. I see the big blue or brown watery eyes looking at me as soon as I walk in the door. They tell me much more than the "hello, how is your hospital stay?" weakly asks. As I reach for the pulse I don't know if I'm counting their heart beats or mine. I listen to the blood pressure. This is the life flowing through his body. I can hear how it is, if its high and stressed or low and weak.

Can you tell me how you would rate your pain on a scale of 0-10? I can tell its going to be high. I can't do anything about it, I'm just the student. I have to go find the primary nurse and see if we can do anything.
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No one asks me to rate my anxiety on a scale of 0-10. It would probably be high, too. Anxiety of how today is going, how my family is doing without me, and what I need to do on the weekend to make up the days that I wasn't there. My anxiety about what's next. And the anxiety of touching another patient. God let my anxiety be stilled. Please bring it down to a 4/10 I think that would be manageable.
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As the morning progresses, we have our rapport built, we make inquiries, and requests. Does this hurt? Can you cross your arms so we can roll you to the other side? How long have you been in school? Where did you grow up? Do you have many visitors?

Usually there is a story shared about football or baking bread, carving pumpkins, or silence when there isn't any talking. Then the small braid in the hair, the soft feet, silent tears or a tattoo on the arm tells a story without words. A glimpse of the humanity of this person. I think about how You might love them, the laughter and tears that have been shared. Each person is so unique.
----
My anxiety is lower, maybe about a 5/10. I don't think about my worries, I am caught up in the patient. Doing the tasks that they aren't able. Asking the primary nurse if we can do this or that. Encourage them to walk the halls to see what's going on. I glance at the clock. The time has flown, just like I wanted it to last night. But I am sad, each second brings me closer to saying goodbye. I won't see this patient again. I will not know the resolution of this hospitalization.

It makes me sad. Other students have said that they have run into a patient months later and they have recognized each other and thanked the student for caring. The patient that I had so much anxiety about touching and listening to their heart has touched mine. I thought that I was doing this to help other people. I didn't realize that nursing would help me.

l'chaim, godseeker!

Monday, October 26, 2009

In the Shadow of History

I wrote this up a few weeks ago. A friend suggested it might make a nice coffee table picture book. I might look into doing that for my family.

* * *

I grew up on the former property of the "World Famous Tate Springs Resort." Whatever. Some interesting old buildings and some ruins, but mostly for me the property was about tunneling through kudzu vines, picking blackberries and winter sledding.

In high school we researched the property. After that we were so proud of ourselves and our brush with history--you'd have thought we'd created something historical ourselves. But, hey...when a kid starts to respect history, that's progress.

In the 1800's there was this belief in the medical community that mineral spring water had fantastic curative properties. Sick people were always being packed off to them. An entire industry sprang up around exploiting the water that flowed out of underground rock, bearing trace minerals.

There in east Tennessee one of these mineral springs flowed out of rock into this pretty hilly country, and someone bought it and built around it. This particular resort, "Tate Springs," would have had a five star rating by modern standards. At the unheard-of price of twenty-five dollars a day (three meals and amenities included), you could enjoy the nasty-tasting spring water and the healthy could play tennis and golf (eighteen holes, trimmed by a flock of sheep in the Scottish tradition), enjoy the riding stables and grand ballroom. The rich and famous came there and lent their impressive names to the roster. Ford--Rockefeller--Studebaker--among the other famous families to enjoy the pampered setting.

The Great Depression and declining interest in mineral water killed off the profits, and some time in the 1930's the spring, hotel and outbuildings were all sold to a group of people wanting to house a Christian home for kids. So that's where we all came in.

For years the kids were housed, schooled, slept and fed in the grand hotel. Here it is in the 40's.

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The grand ballroom, I believe, was turned into a chapel room, where church services were held. My dad worked there through the fifties. Then sometime in the late fifties the grand hotel burned to the ground. It was never rebuilt.

Cottages were built to house the kids, as well as a small school building and eventually a chapel....and that's where my childhood intercepted the history of the place. Most of the outbuildings still stood when I was a kid, many of them still in use.

For instance, we lived in a small cottage behind the hotel--whether it was designed for a family of workers or as a rentable cottage, I don't know. Ironically, it was listed as the "Sadler house."

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Sadly, it's crumbling today.


A large Victorian gazebo stood over the original spring. It's still standing, and seems to be in good repair.

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I recently visited the campus and took some pictures. I walked around the springhouse--I dared not climb it, because although it looked good, I didn't really know how recently the stairs and upstairs floor had been looked after. To be honest, I was remembering my mom's voice rattling off instructions: "Now, don't go climbing that springhouse. Those stairs'll give way and kill ya."

Sadly, some trees have grown to block the best view.

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I stood on a crumbling walkway, irritated by the trees growing up to ruin my view. Then I swung the camera around to capture the rest of the walkway.

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Once you get over the hill the walkway becomes impassable--at least it did in my day. But at the other end of the walk is what's left of the grand hotel.

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That would be the east end of the basement--gutted out and threatened by encroaching kudzu vines. Another angle of this end shows more kudzu moving in, like a silent, slow-moving herd of elephants.

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Hard to imagine the rich and famous enjoying the amenities of the old, fine hotel establishment.

Funny, this hill seemed longer and steeper when we were hauling sleds up and cruising down on the rare snow days.

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We got maybe a snow day or two every year. We relished them. Adequate snow clothing would be a luxury down there, though, a whole snow set to be worn twice and outgrown. So we just dressed as warmly as we could and went inside to moan and groan by the coal stove (I'm not kidding about that!) as our frozen appendages thawed out. Then we'd be out again to make the best of the snow while we had it. But take another look at that photo.

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See the vine-covered chimney? That, again, is the old hotel. While there was a day when the pampered rich owned the world and took their vacations in front of my sledding hill, this was our time. We "owned" the hill, never giving a thought to the chimney and ruins in whose shadow we played.

In my time, "Miss Dewey" respected the history and regularly cleaned out the spring. She'd scrub the rocks, drain out the dirty water and the little rocky hole would fill back up with fresh, clean water. Looks like nobody does that now. The "spring" part of the springhouse has been boarded over.

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Miss Dewey lived in an old, tiny cottage on "Rowdy Row." Back in the day, that's where they put all the drunk, miscreants and general ne'er-do-wells, to keep them from disturbing the Victorian ladies. When I did the history and found out about Rowdy Row, it struck me as deliciously ironic, Miss Dewey living on Rowdy Row, in a cottage built for trouble-makers.

Miss Dewey subscribed to a Christian belief system that said you could reach a state of "sinless perfection," following an act of grace called sanctification. "You might make a 'mistake,'" I remember her saying. But it wasn't a sin. She also believed that each act of sin caused the rest of us--the non-sinlessly perfect--to lose our salvation. I lived in a constant state of fear for my eternal soul. I'd be going along, having my relationship with God, and I'd flub up on something. An unkind word, a bit of gossip--and one glare from Miss Dewey would send me into a tailspin. I was on my way to hell again, and so it went. I'd get back on track, then get knocked off into the depths of fear.

Miss Dewey did not like children. But for all her faults, she cared for the spring and kept the history alive.

If you're driving down the highway there, you'll see two structures in rural Tennessee that seem wholly out of place. One, of course, is that big, beautiful Victorian springhouse. The other is a Tudor-styled building, also part of the old resort.

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This was the bath house, built in front of the swimming pool, which has since been paved over. When I was a kid the bath house was used as a storage facility. Now it's been internally renovated to house the children's home offices. Yes, the children's home still owns the property, and houses a number of children. The school building I used is still in use. I wasn't able to take pictures on the "modern" side of campus. While the resident kids are waivered for photographing, day students are not. School was just letting out and day students were getting on the bus to go home, so the nice lady in the bath house office asked me not to take their pictures. Oh, well.

One more flash back. Mr. Tomlinson, who built the resort, built himself a "big house."

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I occasionally have a nightmare about that house. I'm not sure why.

When we were walking the half mile to and from school my sister and I used to take a shortcut that took us behind the Tomlinson house. It's been used to house childrens' home workers through the years, so it's been kept up. It's a great house. It has a wonderful giant room on the top floor. A giant, empty, sunny attic, I guess, with wood floors that would make it a fantastic dance studio. All in all, it's a beautiful house, really, but for some reason, the nightmares.

This, really, is my memory. And that's where I grew up--in the shadow of a beautiful, mostly gone, era.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mammoth Cave

This is the story of my trip to Mammoth Cave this summer. I jotted down thoughts soon after the trip, but did not officially write a blog. It's time to catch up.

* * *


It really was a whirlwind trip, one day down, a day at the caves and a day to drive back. We met Roger's parents, who drove up from South Carolina. A step back in time for Roger, who used to vacation there with his family when he was a boy.

Mammoth Cave, I found out, is the longest cave system in the world, stretching and curling back on itself, layer upon layer, five layers deep. Three hundred sixty-seven miles of tunnel and cavern have been discovered so far, and more is being explored all the time.

There are a number of tours you can take of Mammoth Cave, ranging from the easiest stroll to the most challenging crawl through tunnels and shafts. We took a moderate three hour tour, the “Snowball Tour,” named for the “Snowball Room,” the deepest spot of our day. More about that later.

The six of us got our tickets and strolled out to where the tour was supposed to start. We sat and waited while forty or fifty others gathered, milling around. A slight older woman in a park ranger's uniform stood up on a bench and informed us she would be our guide. I thought this tour must be easier than I thought. She began asking people where they were from. North Carolina. Germany. Kentucky. She kept saying, “I've been there.” Then she explained that most of the year she's a concert pianist. She's located nearby in Bowling Green, fell in love with the Cave years ago and, although she's 73, she guides tours to keep herself busy during the summer. I immediately liked her.

We boarded an old, rickety bus and rode to the start of our tour, a blasted entrance. From there we descended almost 200 steps to a starting point deep in the cave. I was a little disappointed at first. There were none of the spectacular formations you associate with these deep caves—the stalactites and stalagmites, the sparkling frozen mineral falls. A solid sandstone cap keeps the cave free of the water a cave needs to form those wonders.

Just limestone rocks here. Rocks and rooms and an elliptical tunnel connecting everything. They called it “Cleaveland Avenue,” and the guide bragged about this and that as we went along. Eventually we did come to some gypsum formations. Gypsum is a crystal that forms along the walls and ceiling. It forms throughout the world's caves in lots of different shapes. In Mammoth we saw gypsum growing off the walls and curling back on itself like hag's claws.


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From about 4,000 years ago until the time of Christ humans came into the cave and collected the gypsum. Nobody knows what they did with it, but in the shallower parts of the cave there's none left. Then about 2,000 years ago evidence of humans completely disappears from Mammoth. Until it was re-discovered around 1800 or so.

So our tour reached its lowest spot at the “Snowball Room,” named for the odd shape of the gypsum on the ceiling there.

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A cafe has been set up in the Snowball Room, and traditionally people take a lunch there. After grabbing a snack I took my camera around and captured some historical graffiti.

I wonder what was in Hoofland's Tonic.
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To Nick the Guide. 1857.

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“Nick” was a tour guide. He started life as a slave, hired out by an owner for this job. He eventually bought his freedom and by the time this graffiti was scrawled he was a free man, paid for his services as a guide.

Too soon it was time to head back. I had underestimated our tour guide. She stayed ahead of the pack and kept a steady pace the whole way, cool and crisp as others panted and sweated. This was one of two tours she leads every day. Six hours a day underground. I wondered how anyone could endure that.

I was surprised at how different the tour was on the way back. We stopped from time to time to check out this and that, formations and tunnels that maybe weren't quite as visible on the way down. Or maybe we were too intent on getting down to our grotto food, and wouldn't have been so keen to stop for every little thing.

On one stop the guide asked for absolute silence. Unexpectedly, she stomped the hard sandstone floor, and something like an echo was heard. There was a cavern beneath us. It was an amazing sound, a deep, groaning note. Eerie. Then she asked us to all hum the note, and led us in it. We hummed, steadily, until she directed us to stop. We did. We stopped, and the cave kept humming, that deep, groaning note. Not an echo of us, but a harmonic resonance, uniquely belonging to the cave. Like the sound you get when you blow into the second octave of a pennywhistle. Each whistle, to my ears, sounds like what it's made of. An aluminum sounds like metal. Copper sounds like a different metal. PVC always sounds like plastic to me. The cave sounded like—well, it sounded like a cave. The cave's voice.

When she asked for questions on that stop, I could have asked about a dozen, but I just asked if that was the only note the cave did. She said yes, we could hum any note we wanted to, but the cave would answer with that note, which incidentally, she said, was a “C.”

I wish I could take a Bb penny whistle back down with me. I could play “Wayfaring Stranger,” and listen to the cave play the last note, a C, when I finished. I wish I could, but I have no desire to awaken the bats. You know what I mean?

We walked further. From time to time people spontaneously hummed a “C,” hoping to hear the cave's voice, but it's really best at those spots where tunnels branch away into answering caverns. Still, I found myself humming the C, too, just hoping.

After a bit we stopped as she did the obligatory “lights out” you get on any good cave tour. They doused the lights and our eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. It takes a minute, you know. Then we were absolutely quiet and listened to the cave. No hum at this point, but with our visuals gone there was a heightened awareness of a light-hearted splashing of water coming down from a hole drilled years ago for some long-forgotten pipe. It splashed. We listened. Then a click and a hiss, and the light from a single government-issue Bic lighter leaped out and defeated the darkness. To our hungry eyes, a feast. In that moment I realized light is immensely stronger than darkness. A cavern of darkness overcome by a single smallish, flickering flame. No army needed. Just the one.

Then the electric lights went back on, we walked to the end, and the dreaded climb up the 200 steps. Fascinating as it all was, and even though we were leaving behind a comfortable, cool 52 degrees to return to a steamy hot day, the sunlight was a relief to us, the surface dwellers, most at home under the sun. We climbed back into the rickety bus to return to the tour center. My family and I strolled down to the original cave entrance, the beginning of some of the other tours. It was such a nice feeling—that cool geothermal air pouring out to relieve us on a hot day.

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There is, of course, a souvenir shop. The kids bought some things, but I didn't. I'll remember the day for something you can't buy there. I find myself haunted by the voice of the cave.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beneath the cleansing flood

The following is a dream that I had in May shortly after a friend had passed on. It left quite an impression on me in the weeks afterwards. I've taken quite a while to write it up and its lost some of its vividness... but its still worth sharing
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The brightly colored fabric of the kites twisted in the wind. The sounds of them rippling and popping in the sunshine mixed with the sprays of the ocean waves. Our laughter and joy was strewn across the beach. Feet pushing down into the warm gritty sand.

I look at all the people around me. It was much like church - all happy, many people that I knew well, some that I didn't. There were faces that I expected and that I didn't, but none that I can recall now. They were all fixed upwards towards the sky - full of the bright red, blue, yellow and green kites luminescent with the rays of the midday sun. Each fascinated by their own and they ways that they overlapped with others. Some of us were running down the beach trying to launch, others had theirs out on long strings, watching the looping and soaring captive shape.

I felt warm and loved. I wanted for nothing. But yet I felt a tugging toward the surf. Someone, not missing, but not there. So I ran and dove into the ocean.

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

As I swum far far out into the sea and below the turmoil of the surf, I didn't know where I was heading, but the pull of something was leading me out beyond. I swam through the opening of a reef, the outside brightly colored by sea anemones, star fish and other creatures. However, through the opening was all white and pearlescent, glowing and there was singing.

Holy, Holy, Holy....

In this place there were many many oysters, all of them open and calling. I recognized the pearls that were floating on there tongues. I could pick out personalities and could recognize characteristics, but I could tell they were fading. Some of them were more familiar than others, like friends recently passed. Others were older memories. Some even I had no recollection of but could pick out inherited traits.

I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day
I'll sing up there
The song of victory.

They were all pleasant. The kind of emotion that is hard to describe when you are used to classifying emotions as happy or sad.... This emotion was more likely completely filled with knowing, no wants or needs, no sadness or malice. Perfect. But not like in a happy I'm smiling ear to ear sort of way. No like a Mona Lisa smile.

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow'r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;

I knew I wanted to be a part of this. I wanted to be a pearl suspended effervescence of the sea. Continuously washed in love. Could I blend in? No not with my bright eyes, pink cheeks, dark hair and human features. How do you become of these?

One of the pearls saw me. It was E. a friend that had recently passed at the time of this dream. She was a new pearl and while she fit in here, not all of her earthly essence had passed. A few other pearls around where other friends that if I concentrated, I could recognize...

"how are you?"

"i found you... i want to stay here... its nice here"

"why?"

"i don't want to be on the land anymore. its crowded, everyone is chasing after the same gust of wind. sometimes our kites get tangled, it's just not worth the hassle. besides, look how wonderful it is here"

"no, its only right that you are chasing after the wind. they need you there. you have to go back. we love you here and are paying attention to what is going on. things are might be difficult, and they will get worse."

"if they are going to get worse, why should i bother?"

"because it was what was meant to happen, its chasing after the wind, but there is a purpose. you have to look within yourself instead of to other people. God is within you. if you feel like the gust is being stifled, you need to push yourselves. go farther, work harder. it will make sense in the end."

"i don't know?"

"this is your lot, this is what you are to do: go back, return to the land, and chase after the wind, do the best you can and go as far as you can - you will be glad you did. it will be worth it, God will bless you. now go, go back before it's too late, chase the wind. Go! Chase the wind!"

He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him

I swam back to the shore, the colors slowly growing brighter and more vivid. I felt renewed, like I had the energy that I didn't have before. My children were around me. I picked up my kite. "follow me, we are going to do this!" I let out just enough string to start to catch the wind. And I turned and ran from the shore to the cliffs above the sea. I broke away from the crowds wishing that they were neither here nor there. Turning my face towards the sunlight, I ran, letting out the kite's string little by little. My family and friends were noting where I was going and slowly following, but I was in the lead. This is what has to be.

Dear God - sometimes I feel like I'm simply chasing after the wind. I feel like I'm working hard for things that will be gone tomorrow. I don't know if the sacrifices that I make are worth it. I sometimes feel like I'm alone away from the crowds and I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. Please remind me that I'm following you. Remind us all that these are the things that we need to do during this life. Once it is over we will not get the opportunity to chase the wind again. If chasing the wind is what we are meant to do, let us do it with determination and vigor. Love, A.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Enmity

This afternoon I watched a heart-wrenching bio on Farrah Fawcett. Her struggle with cancer has been unimaginably tough, and the story was left unresolved. She's very sick. But she's alive. There's a thread of human triumph, a beautiful frail woman railing against a battle we've all seen. It's hard to reach my age (which isn't that old) without watching a friend or two fight that battle. Cancer is just way too common.

My friend is Pat. Two bouts with cancer while raising her teenage daughter alone. A scrappy lady, but the second cancer was pretty invasive and she chose not to fight it. Her daughter was nearing graduation and she thought she could hang on for her, at least through that milestone. So she just went on with her life. She worked as long as she could, then she went home. Then hospice came to her house.

There came a time when hospice wasn't enough. She needed personal assistance, people to help her out with everyday things. My church took on the job, taking turns coming to sit with her, helping to fix meals, general house work, that sort of thing. It got hard, though. The best of intentions get interrupted by peoples' own personal lives, and it grew harder and harder to put together a schedule of people to come through the week. You could see it was wearing on her, not knowing how she was going to get the help she needed. Her daughter, of course, was a big help, but she was still overwhelmed and needed the relief.

At the time our state had a program that would provide a personal assistant if your medical situation required that level of care. Not a medical person, just a general helper. Pat qualified for one. Really, it was what we were doing as a church, only for pay.

Since I was on the list of people who were coming over, she asked me if I wanted to do that job. It seemed a little weird, taking pay for something I wanted to do anyway, but you could see she really needed the peace of mind of just knowing somebody would be coming in because it was their job—she needed to be able to quit asking from week to week. She needed to be able to just count on somebody.

I was teaching ballet at the time and my summer schedule was pretty light, so I went to work for the state. I figured her peace of mind was probably more important right then than whatever eternal reward I was deluded enough to think I deserved—so I took the money and provided the peace of mind.

I discovered Pat had the same kind of humor I had. Her daughter had it too. We laughed a lot that summer. She and I became even better friends, and I got to know her daughter on a new level. It really was a heartwarming experience, those first few weeks. Her daughter and I fixed meals. I showed this teen the few tricks I knew about cooking, and she showed me some things I'd never heard of.

I'll never forget one day Pat decided she wanted soup. I knew she liked her soup from a can, the condensed kind, only she liked it with only half the water the instructions call for. So I started the soup to heating, went into the living room where she lived now in her hospital bed, and she asked if I would go ahead and butter the crackers. Butter the crackers!? I looked quizzically around at Pat and her daughter, and they soon realized I'd never heard of buttered soda crackers. They got a good laugh at my expense, which was okay because I like to laugh at myself anyhow. Her daughter went with me to the kitchen to show me what buttered crackers were. Together we chuckled and buttered enough soda crackers to satisfy both of them for the meal. I got to try some. They're not too bad, actually.

The time came when she was too weak to eat. The doctor had promised that adequate pain management would be the only treatment she would receive, as per her own wishes, but she would certainly get that. So she eventually just got too tired from the medicine to eat much. And the doctor said the food wasn't helping her body much anyway, any more.

One day we were eating lunch, and I remember watching her slowly raise her cracker to her mouth. So slowly. She got about three-fourths of the way there, stopped, and dropped her hand. Tried again. Halfway there. Stopped. Dropped her hand. Started again. Gave up. I went over and sat on her bed.

“Pat, do you want to eat?” She nodded slowly. I fed her. It may not have been doing her much good, but she wanted the food and she was fighting for it, and I thought she ought to have it as long as she wanted it and could swallow it. We went on like that for a while. Pat was so sick.

I had planned a trip east to visit a friend in upstate New York, and the time drew near. I wanted to postpone. I wanted to be there as long as she needed help, and really, inside, I wanted to be there for all the life she had. They assured me, though, that she would be fine, that her daughter had learned all she needed to know to take over for awhile, and I should go ahead and go.

The timetable the doctor gave seemed to indicate I had enough time to go for a few days, get back and say goodbye, so I took the chance. I packed my car and drove east. I drove all day and all night and into the next day. A friend was traveling with me, and she took a turn driving, but I was at the wheel when day broke and we got to the New York state line.

That's pretty country, just below the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. My emotions were way too close to the surface, and I remember as I drove into the rolling hills it was like there was healing in them, and I drank in their gentle beauty. I arrived at my friend's house, a good friend who also has the gift to heal, and the days were gentle and sweet. We talked and cooked and hiked and shopped. There came a time when it seemed enough healing had been done, and the hills were just hills again. And then the call came that Pat had passed on. So I got in my car and drove back, arriving with hours to spare. I'd promised to dance a victory dance at her funeral, and I did.

* * *


Personally, I think cancer is a horrendous thing. It's an enemy invasion of nature, not a natural process. It's a result of the fall of man, when nature went horribly awry and became vulnerable to such insidious killers. I resent it when people say it was God's plan. I believe He uses it to make His plans happen, but the fall of creation, which followed the fall of man, is what paved the way for it. And personally, I'd like to see it gone. And also personally, I'm glad we've got chemo and radiation, but I pray for the day when there's a better cure and people remember those treatments the same way they remember leeches and blood-letting.


* * *

Remember the fall of man? It's something little kids hear about in Sunday school. I remember it as a faraway, dreamy myth-like story. Something about the devil in the garden, the woman got deceived and deceived the man. God cursed men. God cursed women. God cursed the devil.

It happened at the dawn of human history, a stark tragedy, a man and woman who listened to a lie, made a horrid choice and changed everything. Thrust into exile, they lost everything they'd ever known and were forced to eek out a life in a fight with a newly fallen, weed-infested earth.

I remember memorizing the curse on Satan. We had to learn it because it was the first mention of Jesus.

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

In the middle of this tragedy, this horrible thing, a promise. Someday, somehow, somebody down the line is going to make it right. The snake will get his. He might put a bruise on the hero, but he'll get a crushed head out of it.

And all the while I'd never really noticed the whole curse, the first part, which pertains to women in general.

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman....” I finally did notice a few years ago, that this whole phrase comes before, and is separate from, the phrase about Jesus. It's a whole separate thing about the serpent and the woman herself. And I thought, first of all, about how women, almost universally, seem to hate snakes. Yup. No doubt. Most people aren't crazy about 'em. Indiana Jones hates 'em. Lotta men do. But even though you'll occasionally come across the rare woman who will tolerate or even like them, for the most part, women just hate snakes.

Then I eventually read a little bit deeper. “....enmity between thee and the woman...” And I suppose you've probably noticed that, through history, women have generally gotten some disgraceful treatment. I think it comes down to that enmity thing. Satan has it in for women in particular. Yeah, I know he has it in for everybody, but there's that verse that says he's going to be a particular enemy of the woman, and in history, I'd say that one's played out pretty much down the line, just like God said it would. And He DID say it. Anytime I've ever said anything about this phrase in the Bible, I've just gotten strange looks, but, I mean, it's a whole thing separate from the Jesus prophecy, and it's about SOMETHING, and it's there for a REASON.

So somehow today I was thinking about that whole curse on nature, curse on the man, curse on the woman, and curse on Satan. Bad day, that one was, with all the curses. It's got to rank up there as one of the worst days in the history of the world. And something else occurred to me, for the first time. Enmity goes both ways.

I think there's something about the way you call a prayer meeting and the women of the church turn up like a small army, ready to do business. You go into any church on any given Wednesday night and you'll probably see ranks of blue-haired ladies, dotted with a sprinkling of men. They're there, and they're ready to pray. And I think that's got to be a scary thing if you're Satan and your time is short.

There's this button I've seen going around on Facebook. You might have seen it. It's a little saying that goes like this: Be the kind of woman that when you wake up in the morning and put your feet on the floor, the devil says, “Oh, crap!”

Women as a gender have been beaten down, told we're nothing, medicated, lulled to sleep by a menial-task only policy, been glass ceilinged, been lied to, been cheated, been cheated on....I could break into a country song right here, but I won't. But even with all that, there's a dirty little secret that Satan doesn't want us to know: we're scary. We tend to be warriors and we tend to give birth to warriors. We're scary. Because enmity goes two ways.

Walter Wink said that history belongs to the people who pray for it. Anybody gets to pray, male or female. Just maybe the women tend to jump on the assignment faster, realizing that here's power that nobody can take from you.

* * *

So I find myself praying again about cancer today. I pray that a better cure for cancer will be found. I pray for that day when the chemo and the radiation will go the way of blood-letting and leeches, making way for new and healthier cures. I pray for people like Farrah who fight and are not willing to die, and for people like my friend Pat who weary of the battle and go gently into that good day. I pray for the day when creation is returned to the way it was supposed to be, an order of things that's almost lost to our race memory, but it was there, nonetheless.

I pray for my family and my church, for my friends, for my kids' school, for our nation and our leaders, and I pray like it matters, because it does, and because I can, and because when I do, I'm scary.