Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Giving dignity to those who suffer

Prompted by a student of mine, I have been thinking about struggle. I have often wondered about the fact that struggle seems to typlify some lives more than others. To try to make sense of struggle, some people universalize it: "We all struggle and suffer." Who can argue with a statement like that? It's true that we do. However, I often become bothered by such a naive statement of reduction. I believe I can quantify and qualify struggle better since I am a parent of a child who has struggled with autism/schizophrenia/adhd, and the combination thereof which has impacted his daily life. However, I don't wish to reduce the suffering of others, yet I see two big differences to consider when normalizing some kinds of struggles.

1) Some struggles involve a chronic painful nature. They are not episodes or stages, no matter the intensity of these. This struggle has been there from the beginning or for a long time, both in the past, the present, and the future.

2) Some struggles have an all-encompassing nature. This kind of struggle involves multiple outcomes such as the inability to have relationships; to hold a job; to go to college; to be safe in a school environment; the inability to get out of a bed;  out of a chair;  to speak to others; to have a stability of health whether physical, mental, or emotional and etcetera. Life itself can be threatened by these struggles which includes many chronic and encompassing barbs.

I'm sure there are more, but these are what I can think of right now.

In thinking about my student who struggles with mental issues, I can see that his fight is fiercer than the normal adolescent, who is also suffering from various things. His fight is both chronic and encompassing for him. To compare many others' struggles with his is like comparing a cancer to a cold. If others did that his mother would say, "They have no idea," and she is right. She knows about the mental institution, the run after the suicidal son in the night, the continous psychiatric visits, the chronic worry, despair, need for full reliance upon help, the courage it requires.

I like the example of Christ who recognized each person's dignity in their struggle. He knew the great fighters during his day:  the woman who touched his robe; the leper banned from community; the mental anguish of the demon-possessed man. He gave them dignity when they were normalized or blamed or shunned. Great sufferers of the Bible are depicted also as heroic in their fight for light. I think that we can learn much from these examples. We don't have to laud or give an award to those who have greater struggles, but we can give them dignity and respect without trying to take that away from them by reducing their struggle through inadequate comparisons.

My friend who recently lost her husband to brain cancer and her home to a fire wrote this morning about her necessity in resting in Christ's arms through her suffering. She also referenced a hope-filled and dignity-providing verse to those who suffer; a verse which gives purpose and hope and comfort to those who go through certain intense fires. She underlined the meaningful part to her. I'm glad this verse shows the understanding vision and care for those who struggle, both normally and greatly. May we believe in it. Amen.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5  3 all praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What if I'm the one who is hiding?

"For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life -- pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures -- and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not 'How am I to find God?' but 'How am I to let myself be found by him?" The question is not 'How am I to know God?' but 'How am I to let myself be loved by God?' God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home. In all three parables which Jesus tells in response to the question of why he eats with sinners, he puts the emphasis on God's initiative. God is the shepherd who goes looking for his lost sheep. God is the woman who lights a lamp, sweeps out the house, and searches everywhere for her lost coin until she has found it. God is the father who watches and waits for his children, runs out to meet them, embraces them, pleads with them, begs and urges them to come home . . . .

I am beginning now to see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the one who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding. When I look through God's eyes at my lost self and discover God's joy at my coming home, then my life may become less anguished and more trusting" (106-107). Henri Nouwen The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A trail runs through it

We have a trail which runs through our town which connects to a trail which runs through our state. And, although we have no mountains, no ocean, no recreational waterside to speak of, this trail does a body and spirit good. Makes one stay around.

I dropped my son off at indoor soccer yesterday evening and pulled into a nearby trail parking lot. Secured the van, keys, shoestrings, calf muscles by stretching, and began the jog. Invariably, the desire to stop in the first mile hit me. Legs felt heavy; all my weight of the world required a rest. The choice to walk or stop flitted in my mind, landing on a big branch to sing a poignant song. But, the one miler must scare it away, knowing that the two miler will obtain a comfortable pace. The end-runner, the one who makes it to the final finishing place, will be grateful for that one-miler who made a decision to keep going, to keep going, to work the kinks out of the body and mind in order to keep going and succeed.

Finishing the race is biblical. God tells us to finish the race we have started: endurance, perseverance, obedience to the call to begin are valued traits to develop.

I like running because it tests my resolve like that; it's a parallel activity.  I like our trail because of the trees, the rustles in the side brush, the faces of those I pass who are working spiritual and physical matters out. At times there are unexpected surprises -- like a bluebird landing nearby bright in a gray day; like a friend one passes; like a bench which offers a place for prayers or curses; like a sudden hail storm; like memories of talks, walks, runs, perseverance, process.

I don't know where I would be today if there wasn't a trail which runs through our town.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Safe place

I haven't blogged for a while. Life happens; the route becomes circuitous, dangerous. One of my friends had a serious car accident, and I haven't felt like doing the journey with full energy myself while she lies in the hospital bed, suffering. Today, I'll go visit her mother and help her wait out a surgery.

School life has been going well. The students and I share deep thoughts and deep laughs. I'm truly blessed by them, and I know some of them might say the same back. :)

I have been reading snippets from books. Right now, in the process of handing over a book to a struggling former student's mother, I am reading Larry Crabb's The Safest Place on Earth. I want to capture some thought provoking quotes before the book leaves, maybe never to be seen. May it go with seeds full of potential growth.

Memorable quotes about confusion and disappointment (and hope!):

"Confusion isn't always a bad thing. If we're not confused about anything it's likely we're grasping the truth about nothing important" (4).

"Disappointment, too, is inevitable. More than that, it is good. Following Christ must take us through seasons of disappointment because Christianity remakes our dreams before it fulfills them. The process is excruciating. It can include divorce, bankruptcy, accidents, murder, near apostasy -- anything" (5).

"Disappointment, severe enough to be called death, is unavoidable in a true spiritual journey" (5).

"The upside of confusion is openness. Confused people listen better, not always, but more often than people whose minds are made up. Those folks listen only in order to critique, to see if someone else is on the right track, namely theirs. Confused people are more likely to combine kindness with whatever convictions emerge our of their confusion. And, because of their eagerness for meaningful dialogue with honest people, the convictions they develop tend to speak to the realities of life as it really is lived" (5).

"Disappointment has an upside as well. It inspires hope by making hope necessary" (6).

"Soul-crushing struggle supplies the energy that nudges us along in the process of shifting from token hope, the kind that generates pleasant feelings, to the real thing that anchors us through life's storms" (6).

That's all for now. I need to make a homemade card with enthralling pictures of Tom Hardy and Jesus on it for my friend. See below:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Anxiety can ram into a person mid-waking up, early in the morning. Earlier, then, I prayed with desperation for my son whose anxiety became known to me. I prayed that there is a God who cares, even though I believe. I prayed for supernatural interference of which I'm at times uncertain. I prayed to release the griphold of fear which can make me suffer all day. God and emotional decisions delivered peace, though, and I'm trying not to pick up the strings again of a diving kite in a driving wind.

There's much to do instead:

transition meeting for son at school to arrange

graduate application

classes to plan tomorrow

a blog entry to write for my friend :)

mother's support group dinner this evening

a special needs school plan to write

baking for tomorrow

always e-mails to answer.

But an artist friend came over this morning, and we had a lovely talk at my table. Anxiety can be so dispelled when you have another good place to look and interesting things to think about.

Yet inside, where calm can also be, I'm pleading, "Help!" "Support!" "Lifeboat!" "Please!" And, I'm listening, remembering promises, needing proof, sailing upwards for answers.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Tree of Life

Yes, like my fellow blogger who sent me a comment yesterday, I too watched The Tree of Life yesterday by coincidence. Above are pictures from the movie. In the first one, Sean Penn, as the older brother whose younger brother died, is remembering life as a child. His memories are impressionistic which is true to how the natural mind works. If I think of my childhood, I see bursts of images held together in small packages, tied together by a ribbon of the mind which groups, recalls, and forgets. Impressions, perceptions, interpretations are also in the swirl making the memory not at all as it was. Repackaged, represented. Meaning floats to the surface like cream in milk.

In the second picture, family tension, the tension of leaving childhood to take on greater responsibility, fulfill greater expectations is portrayed. Often, we begin to despise one of our parents then, especially if, like in the movie, they are demanding. The Sean Penn character (the older brother) remembers clearly the confusion and sadness of this time. Images of his dead younger brother are outlining these remembrances.

Then, in the final shot, after death, the family is reunited on the eternal beach, waiting for one another, or the Savior, to carry them across the tide. They are joyful, yet resolute to the environment, yet so happy to be reunited. Life has moved on to another stage, and they are together immemorially.

The movie was deeply sad to me because, although life is interconnected -- the tree branches out for us all -- grace is there -- the trials of the human were shown. The calling out for proof of His care was sounded; the confusion, the loss, the layer  below the happy --  all lurked. Even the ending was forlorn due to the beach and people walking alone or waiting for their loved ones. After the family reunites, I wondered, "What's next? Do they wander now? What fulfillment do they finally receive for their souls?"

However, the movie is open to interpretation and impressions, and those are mine. I went to bed knowing that I can't think about the film too much; can't let the movie root in me because of the not enough quality to it. I would become depressed. When I think of eternity, I think of the last stage Narnia and a more biblically described place -- where all is warm, goodness inundates, and divine relationship is established. No more floating, wandering, walking as a small person by the side of a gigantic, cold ocean. Love will flourish. Love will dispel. Loved ones will be reunited in the context of light and Love who will embrace and hold forever.

Hands out, for now, loving others and seeking the eternal culmination of that hope and desire. The end does await. I can dare to believe the old texts as I walk in my brief here and now, alongside the ocean, under the tree, beside an old house where once lived those I laughed with and loved.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Trust and gratitude

"Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God and healed by his love through the concrete and daily practice of trust and gratitude" (Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son 84).

Beautiful words a relative I know might scoff at. Yet I think she works on finding positive currents in her life, although healing through and through isn't something she believes in. She's too scarred. Life just hasn't been that easy. She's too angry about circumstances; He really doesn't even seem there much of the time. Some words about God are simply surface beautiful. Like a maple tree emblazoned and then bare.

I validate that way of thinking. But, I would hate to stop there. For example, I have a habit of staring at recipes in my recipe books, wondering if the recipes are possible, visualizing myself purchasing ingredients, imagining that first taste. But, invariably, I decide that the recipe isn't worth much effort; that my boys wouldn't like it; that I can't coordinate the shopping with the making with the time.  My book becomes shelved once again.

However, every so often, I have a breakthrough! The book comes off the shelf, I open it, and I follow the guidance and instruction in order to come up with a dish. Many times, not always, it is tasty and my cooking experience has expanded for good.

I often wonder why, with God, we want to shelf him. Even if we're not desirous of active seeking, or if we become suspicious of beautiful pictures or words, or if there's some ingredient we don't like which the spiritual life calls for, to me, we simply lack courage. There is a necessary courage to trust that what we find will be good, regardless of what others think or experience. There is a courage to practice gratitude in the face of mountains.

May we be brave today. And be open to God's desire for us. If we have a small amount of belief, let us be courageous enough to follow that to the promised feast of healing and life for today.


Friday, January 13, 2012


In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,"a memorable short story from the excellent writer Ambrose Bierce, Peyton Farquhar must stand on a plank with a noose around his neck. When orders are given, the soldier on the other end of the plank will step aside and Mr. Farquhar, the Southern loyalist, will hang for his crime of planning to set this bridge on fire to stop Federal advance.

We read this story in class today. I must admit to a great love for literature and for teaching it, and I love the students and our interactions. So, right now, I feel like a woman on a plank. If I become accepted to the graduate counseling program which I applied to yesterday, I could hang and find myself away from the teaching of wonderful students and literature. However, if I don't apply and pursue a future professional teaching career, I feel on a plank of weariness, low pay, and assault (especially in the public school where behaviors are such a problem).

I need God-guidance. I need to make the right decision. Good night, Mr. Farquhar. May the best person awaken to the right kind of reality.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Yesterday, I felt funny about my earlier posting about going to my music lesson. I sometimes get into an ecstatic type of trance about something which simply feels transcendent or like heaven. And, my language goes up, and ridicule is possible, and I myself become a sceptical onlooker to my own communicated experience. When Wordsworth reread his fanciful "Tintern Abbey," he perhaps wanted to chuck it into the fire because of its elevated emotion.

However, as I returned to a book by Barbara Brown Taylor called An Altar in the World, I simply share her belief that we find God, not simply inside a church, a limited square, but everywhere. Many have that belief; stories of it are written all in the Bible. But, often we forget the holiness in moments, in special places, in ordinary paths, wherever we travel. God simple is -- he Inundates -- he Overwhelms -- he Overflows, and we move within as if swimming in an incredible deep.

I just want to sense and see and respond, removing blinders from my eyes which designate, partition, divide. If I believe that God can be only seen and experienced with certain people, in a certain place, or with certain structures in place, than I am lost; my oxygen line cut. I would be swimming, focused on the last exhaled breath which intakes water.  I want to see through my goggles wherever I am and see his Beauty all around, the wondrous variety of fish, the sights which pass my way (even the dangerous ones to avoid). Lord of All, help us not to limit our vision of your grand (and invasive) Inundation.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lost in therapy

In the popular television series Lost, survivors of a plane crash find themselves upon a strange and dangerous island. Beasts of unknown proportion whip through cane and foilage to attack suddenly. A group of wild humans called the Others desire to war and capture the survivors for unknown purposes. Enemies of spirit, soul, and flesh seem to want to put an end to those who accidentally abide upon the beaches in meager shelters constructed from wreckage. Vulnerability defined.

Lovingly, I recalled this show tonight, as I walked toward DL's home nestled by a large cedar tree. I trailed my son whose guitar strap always trailed him in the dirt. Inside, two fiddles swung up and down, desiring "Soldier's Joy" reunion, desiring the pronouncement of war victory, war return, dancing cues, partner held, peace reigning upon the soldier's return home. An old tune of weighty- turned-jubilant times.

My shoulders started to relax.

I pushed my way inside the oval-framed door. Heard my fiddle friend's familiar laugh. Heard the Teacher encourage. Heard my son speak.

I could stop. Stop. Stop. It was truly enough.

Yet more was offered, and I brought an empty basket. And a mandolin. And a son. And one of my dearest oldest girlfriends was learning the fiddle in the lesson before us. She decided to stay, and we all sat in a circle. Cats around our feet. A dimmed light. A peacefulness and a brimming happiness overtook us.

Our son said to close our eyes while playing "Cripple Creek." And, we did, laughing at first, then removed by sound and seal, removed from everything but fingers and notes, and then opening to  restoration in one completed moment.

Our Teacher, DL, promotes such goodness. My son is healed while there, highly encouraged, happy. The finest therapy money can purchase. I am also healed. My friend once said that she is too.

When I think of the survivors on Lost, I remember that they too had such moments within a few discovered safe places, with people whom they could share such beneficent exchange. Darkness surrounding yet light splaying.

Grace, grow; spread; illuminate to rescue all.

Cody at Dierik's house one day.

D's cat.

Frankenstein funk

Frankie. Why did you do it? Why do you have such insatiable desires for revenge upon your Maker? Yes, he abandoned you. Yes, you repulsed him. But, why kill innocent victims as a means to a vile end?

I am teaching Frankenstein once more which explains my dream of him right before waking. My "Frankie" was a woman (yet recognized as Frankenstein) who took young schoolboys and drowned them in a bathtub. Even my own son's turn came up, and I followed her spluttering, "Stop!" but was unable to prevent her from holding him under.

Later, I had the painful thought, "Why didn't I stop her? Why didn't I immediately go to the authorities? Why did none of the eyewitnesses do so?" And, no soothing answers were found. So, I've awakened in a bit of a sad funk, wondering what my dream was about. Knowing, though.

Yesterday the issue of school came up. A mother of a son with dyslexia and I spoke of our fantasy schools which would accept and work with our sons. Then, later at my school's basketball game, various people asked about my son's public school experience. Politeness dictates that you don't spew forth your own anxieties; you respond as favorably as possible. But, on the way home, your son tells you how much he hates school. I trust his reasons. A child must learn to march on, though. Real life means this, right?

School placement has always been a Frankenstein for us.

Thus, I need God this morning to help me not sink into the despair and helplessness of the dream. Therefore, I'll end with a picture to counter the monster, and I'll trust in Christ's goodness to walk alongside us in the sometimes foggy and fearful world. Amen.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Blessed aggression

I'm sure there's a Bible verse which applies to doing the opposite of what's shown above. But, I can look at the violence depicted with warmth and gratitude. Thank you, Aggressive Competitor Spirit, who overtook my son last night during an indoor soccer match.

In our family, soccer has a story of its own, beginning with adorable little soccer outfits which had to be discarded. Autism and adhd made a team sport virtually impossible. From the sidelines, we were in pain. On the field, our son was in lalaland or anti-team land or coach-yelling-his-name-a-thousand-times-land or other players looking at him with repulsion and anger land. When he came off the field, he was broken in a thousand pieces; one more piece of ground where he was asked to leave and not be a part of. I can see his contorted face now, remember our contorted hearts, and the persisent thought, "One more thing to give up."

Then there was a period of martial arts, independent work.

However, as my son matured (and with the love of his dad for sports), he sought activity, running, kicking, throwing => adopted the ball fascination boys have. It's one of the dreams his father desired.

Soccer returned for a trial at the private Christian school where I teach and where my son attended for awhile. The first week was a disaster as my son told the coach not to tell him what to do; when the boys tried to help him along by yell-instructing him, my son spoke back; when he got in the van afterwards, we listened, calmed, encouraged incessantly. Some practices were psychologically disastrous; some were alright. We held our breath.

Yet he continued on. The boys accepted him. He had an incredible spurt of speed, and he improved quickly. He was complimented upon his success on the field. I'll never forget a certain smile: rare pride of self; a flash of wholesome happiness. We had all been in a desert for so long in many areas besides sports.

Thus to help him with his skills, I signed him up for a privace recreation center's indoor soccer league. I was afraid, prayerful => how would the boys treat him? Would the coach be a yeller? Would this backfire? Would he get hurt? I called and spoke with the coach for reassurance. Alright, who needs her St. John's Wort now in horse-pill size?

Last year in this league, my son was timid, just as I was fearful. The playing was good, though. The boys were kind like at school. My son was 50/50 on his perceptual playing. We van-counseled in the van, yes, but we enjoyed, and he endured again.

Last night was his first game this year in the same league. The timid boy is gone. He can sprint like lightening, and he can push and shove against the indoor wall. His father and I had smiles on our faces to see such boldness. We all celebrated in the car on the way home as Cody, with wholesome happiness, related how he did it, and to whom, and how it felt so good.

Amen for paths which signify more than one knows.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Warrior, the movie, and the Prodigal Son, the parable

When reading Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son this morning, I realized that a recent movie, Warrior, somewhat paralleled the parable. The two brothers, however, get to slug and kick and maim and injure each other in the martial arts cage, a modern vicious sport. The brothers carry with them the baggage of resentment, past offenses, father injustice, family division, death, hurt, pain, dysfunction. How good it feels to them to slam one another, pounding out the filth they see in each other's eyes and lives.

In the Bible, the younger son returns after a squalid life. However, in Warrior, the younger son, played by Tom Hardy on the left, returns after leaving his alcoholic father with his mother who later dies of cancer. The older son, portrayed by Joel Edgerton, has stayed with his father, mainly because of a girlfriend and perhaps because of a desire to be the father's favorite. Clues tell us that the younger son, a fighting champion who the father coached, had been the perceived favorite. When the younger son runs away with his mother, he doesn't communicate out of resentment back to his two family members.

Yet in the movie he returns:  broken, hardened, in pain. He doesn't ask directly for his father's forgiveness; rather, he torments his father some at the same time he holds the door open a little for a relationship. The older brother / son leads a quieter domesticated life, but he too has rejected his father for the pain caused. As fate would have it, he must fight to retain his home loan, and the two brothers meet accidentally (and have a tense, unresolved confrontation) as they walk outside of the arena where they will later fight for the championship.

Okay, the parable connection becomes muddled. Yet Nouwen talks about how the tension between the two brothers in the biblical parallel revolves around a father-figure and choices made. Same here. The father figure in the movie, played by the great Nick Nolte, is pitiable in his dysfunction, not like the biblical father who represents God. Yet we capture him trying to also find redemption in his life through sobriety and belief. The younger son who wants his dad to coach him again to win the martial arts championship, sees a Bible laying on the table and scoffs at it. The brothers, throughout the movie, circle the father, inside wanting clearance, love, function, normalcy, although the father is still fighting to receive these gifts himself.

So, in the ring, the brothers find themselves (of course, this is Hollywood!), and they are deeply at odds with one another, although they long for brotherhood. They return, and apart from the father, they get to work their differences out. The last scene in the movie is one of the best; the focus on the finished faces of both brothers is monumental. You'll have to see the movie to appreciate it.

In the biblical story, we don't know how the brothers end. And, in Warrior, it is implied rather than directly pronounced too, yet with more of a possibility given than the parable. We do know that the father implores the responsible older son to forgive and to love and to welcome. Yet the older son doesn't concede openly in the parable.

It's as if he needs a cage to enter into where he and his brother can duke it all out.


Saturday, January 07, 2012

Holy language

Within one's mouth words can brim from the heart, soul, being, and almost feel like you are overflowing or choking with their goodness, or their ire, or their full descriptors which Signify.

When reading from The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, I sense that overfullness which these words promote, particularly when they praise, when they pronounce, when they praise pronouncedly in promotion of the God our Lord, his magnificent son Jesus Christ, and the friendly fierce protector, the Holy Spirit.

And, thus, I share the book's cover and one of its first prayers to convey what I mean without undue explanation.

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest well,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty
thy glory in my valley.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Stick and Pumps

I apologize for my literary geekiness in my last post; I realize that it's not kind to all readers.

Yet I am the English teacher lady at the board with a stick-it-to-them pole and wearing high-heeled pumps  . . . I must speak the part.

Speaking of career, earlier today I was a graduate study social worker and a professional counselor, while signed up for a graduate education course. This evening, I am now a possible counselor and the same, smiling English teacher (with high heeled pumps and stick-it-to-them-stick). I have been swirling in the possibilities of a career move, researching, calling, caffeinating, but for now, the counselor track seems like a possibility as still does the teaching track.

Work. Ambition. Macbeth.

Work. Ambition. Hillary Clinton.

Work. Ambition. Mother Mabel Carter.

Work. Ambition. Rebecca Skloot, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf.

And, then there's Clara Barton, and Mother Theresa, and women who are the fabric of our society. Money isn't an issue. Their role, conviction, courage in everyday, faith are exemplary.

Illuminate my path, Counselor.

Portrayal of Faith in The Life of Henrietta Lacks

I stayed up late to finish the nonfiction book The Life of Henrietta Lacks regarding the woman whose cells became immortal, living, dividing, spreading, and contributing monumentally to world-wide scientific research. Of course, there's a backstory which the author Rebecca Skloot adeptly investigated of the woman herself, her family, discrimination (always a good agenda item in today's modern lit), patient rights, and ethical medical practices.

When Skloot interviews the family of Henrietta, she finds them impoverished and angry that the cells have been used without their knowledge for many years and used to create a multi-million dollar industry without any windfall for them. The outrage indicated too is that Henrietta's family struggle with medical issues and can't even afford to see a doctor or pay medical bills. The family is African American, descendants from the slave trade, from the old colonial tobacco farms. They are struggling.

Within the Lacks' family are contrasts of those who stay out of legal trouble and those who are deep in it, but as Skloot enters their world, she describes encounters/brushes with their Christian faith (except for one brother who converted to Muslim, which didn't help his anger or his conflict with the law).

At times, Skloot seems to mix superstition with the family's religious beliefs quite heavily. And, their beliefs seem in much conflict with the ideas of science. She shows how the family's educational ignorance caused them to supplant their lack of knowledge in science with concepts from their categorized belief system which they can understand. For example, the family connects thoughts about how God is using Henrietta's cells to a) destroy (in some cases); b) pay retribution (in other cases); c) save the world from cancer; d) be angelic forms, etc. Such spiritual language is not used in the lab, and the family clearly grapples for meaning through their world-view, however wrought with scientific blunders.

Yet near the end of the book, Skloot, who never went to church or read the Bible, had a spiritual encounter when, in her presence, two family members had an intimate prayer meeting. The elder cousin, called a "disciple" for his close Christian faith walk, invites Skloot into faith and places a Bible in her hands as a gift. She senses an authenticity unbeknownst to her from the entire encounter.

Later in the book, many of the family members, including the much focused upon and interviewed daughter Deborah, accepts a spiritual premise which makes sense to them:  God used Henrietta's cells for the good of human society, to heal sickness, to be like guardian angels blending into scientific purview. Deborah is able to let go of much strife, heaviness. Some of her brothers find peace with this also, even though the fact remains of the exploitation of this patient and her cells and the money made from them.

At first, I was distrustful with Skloot's presentation of religion. I think she focused a bit too much on the family's scientific ignorance which they applied to spiritual associations which often reeked of strange superstitions. However, on the other hand, I can almost hear this type of connection with people I have known or know. Yet the book, the artistic rendering, in general, can play up something for effect which I thought she did at times. I usually resent that type of manipulation. I was glad, at the end, that Skloot herself entered into the belief world, even for just a little bit, in order to understand the meaning which could be given to such a mysterious, scientific actuality of such disproportionate cell division and the good they provide to fighting sickness in the world.

Thursday, January 05, 2012


I don't think I can ever get over the transient nature of life on earth. That truly "Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever" (NIV Ecc. 1:4). I find the perpetual waves of people crashing upon the shore astonishing; I find my being in a particular wave astonishing; I'm forever trying to observe it and access meaning. Dwelling upon this human transience too long is certain to lead to a sense of absurdity and hopelessness (however steadied by the eternal belief).

Today, while taking my son to school, I saw a black man dancing alongside the sidewalk as he listened to his beats with earphones. Dancing is symbolically seen as a happy, romantic thing. But, it can also be one of sorrow. His eyes were glazed; his contention was unnameable; did he stagger? I can't presuppose his dance was happy. Yet, there he was snapping in my perspective, in my secure minivan, in my safe world, across the plain of human existence, the stage, the wave. Tomorrow, he will be gone, and I will no longer be driving as his observer, my morning purpose.

Yesterday, my aunt sent out her normal e-mail which provides an attached copy of an old newspaper from my hometown. She scours these in her geneology studies. This particular one is dated January 28th, 1943, and we are in the throes of war. The main headline reads:  "Roosevelt, Churchill Met In Casablanca To Map Strategy." Throughout the paper are names, names, names, names. One man becomes an army chaplain; one local woman is the real heroin of the book/movie They Were Expendable. One man sold a sow to another. One baby was born to this woman. One of my relatives had his obituary listed. One family visited another family. One local soldier was blown up and in critical condition in Kansas City. One couple is urging more locals to sign up for government work to support the troops. One woman made three pies for a fundraiser.

They were expendable; they thrashed; made an early or late exit; and lived, breathed, danced, cried, sat and looked, wondered and wrote.

It's a bit dizzing, really. When I live my life, I think of the significance of now and the despair of now. Like my grandmother and mother before me, I will keep my head up and be grateful.

Yet life is astonishing. So many dead. So few alive.

March, dance, make pies, pray, hope, and believe like crazy for the good high mountainous path toward heaven. Choose it.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Embrace and the Onlooker

I have a friend who likes to party. She and her husband like to skinnydip as a tradition in each new foreign place to which they travel. She just got a bike tattoo on her arm this past summer. She has been known to participate in "wear little or nothing" bike rides, or midnight jaunts during special occasions. One of her life's philosophies is to live without regrets and to live freely. Yet, she is a good mother and seems to have a sturdy relationship with her husband whom she does most of the above with. Even though she is atheistic in faith, her child was the one God lined up for my son to be first-good friends with. Two socially awkward lonely homeschool kids who were obsessed with Pokemon. Her son and her household opened their hearts to Cody's differences back then. Thank you, Jesus, still for that answer of friendship and acceptance.

I always tell my friend that she lives my wild side, which I can't or don't want to live. When I read more in Nouwen's book (The Return of the Prodigal Son) this morning, I thought of my lively friend. Nouwen says:  "It is strang to say this, but, deep in my heart, I have known the feeling of envy toward the wayward son. It is the emotion that arises when I see my friends having a good time doing all sorts of things that I condemn. I called their behavior reprehensible or even immoral, but at the same time I often wondered why I didn't have the nerve to do some of it or all of it myself" (70).

He then talks about how the "good" and "responsible" son who stayed at home is the one, in the end, who becomes lost when he envies and becomes resentful of his brother, who returns, confesses, and is celebrated. The older son represents those who become frozen in their anger and self-righteousness, the moralists who don't love the person as much as the code of behavior.

Being wayward has its consequences on me, for sure, and typically for others. I know my friend struggles with depression during some of her days. I know I have some regrets. I know that bursts of experience can't often last, although they seem monumental in themselves; yet unless they are good for self and others, harmless so to speak, they often last longer in regret than they ever did in reality (thankfully in some cases). I bet the prodigal son looked backwards with remorse; he still carried the memories of his experience; yet acceptance and forgiveness became sweeter with it.

The older son never had the monumental sweetness of return, and when he beheld it, he did not approve. Can we blame him for his ignorance in the face of remaining good? Probably not, but as Nouwen says "anger and envy" becomes a bondage (70). For him, he is frozen in the opposite of free-flowing love.

And, so an indictment again of those, and ourselves, who don't accept and love, who are tied to codes rather than the openness of the arms of the Father. Envy, pride, and rights are such powerful impediments. May we release these to the wind and embrace. Amen.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

To be strumming or to not to be strumming

Career path => elusive, disappearing. I'm rarely completely happy on the one I'm on; however, perhaps I was born to strum music in a coconut grove. For this, I can't be blamed.

Yet something inside me, the Kiersey temperament test designated Idealist-Champion, desires a meaningful work role -- one which makes a difference. One which calls for sacrifice . . . . Sacrifice can be problemmatic to other good things, though, like family, or music strumming time, or a sense of safety and security.

I could become a worker where one puts in her time, makes environmental, surface relationships, learns to ingratiate and integrate, and reaps the paycheck at the end.  Yet would the work matter to someone else besides the beneficiary of my paycheck? Would I feel content?

Right now, I teach English at a private Christian school. It's wonderful in its way. The students are pleasing, attentive, appreciative, and I  promote writing and thinking. My colleagues are generous and loving. Yet . . . the job consists of full-time hours on a part-time schedule. My nights and weekends are busy fulfilling my needs for, and the job's needs for, satisfaction and excellence. It becomes tiring. Yet I do have flexible hours too and only work on MWF. How perfect is this role which was given during the time I needed it? Fairly perfect.

However, my exclusive and pristine school doesn't accept or make accomodations for special needs kids. My son could go there and take a few classes, however, if he dipped below a C, there would be no help for him. And, had I not been teaching there in the first place, he wouldn't have been accepted. I dislike this fact intensely and feel like Jesus operates differently. It's a big thorn to me, and I disagree. I am writing for change, but will "core policy" be adapted? I have a sinking feeling.

I also feel a push to seek a career which involves higher education. How can I better myself? How can I fulfill who I was created to be in a work role? Although my work life has been delayed in lieu of family commitment multiple times over (with worthwhile outcomes), time is opening up a larger door for me to walk through. It could be time to pack the bag and do it.

Therefore, today I investigate and think and make some calls. Tomorrow, we shall see.

The new year rolls on . . .

Monday, January 02, 2012

Chia to you too

Going green. Leaves sticking all out of my shopping cart. Round fruit of multiple variety. I'm acting the part of an Ozark hippi, an Ozark goodfarmer grower, a liberal in my collegetown. When I arrive home, I wonder what will be the effects of the nutrient rush: less wrinkles, immediate radiance, erased colesterol, flatulence, angry boys, rotten vegetables forgotten in the lower tray. Yet, there they are -- my year's hopes to eat well, live longer, look good, and repair irreparable junk food damage.

Half an hour later, my son drinks the concocted, grocery-result smoothie with discretely pureed spinach -- and he asks for another glass! He's the most wonderful teenager in the world! I know you must have such a miraculous recipe, and here it is:

A handful of spinach leaves
About 1/2 cup of fruit juice
About 3/4 cup of frozen blueberries
One banana
A tablespoon of Chia seeds (which I didn't know existed until yesterday)
3/4 cup of fozen strawberries

Delightful, discrete. Aren't I the famer market's connoisseur; the smug natural foods shopper; the conscientious mother; the woman aging into her 70's and 80's on the shimmering hem of Omega 3?

Well. Next week I return to the busy schedule which makes vegetables rot in the lower tray. I will try to overcome with spinach leaves and blueberry visions still dancing in my head, arteries, brain connections => at least, at least, until the end of the month.

Best wishes on your healthy endeavors.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


January 1st.

A day of raising my hands to God in bed asking him to provide for my son. Ask big and often.

A day of conversing with my husband all the way to his mother's farm, sharing our year's goals. I informed him of one or two of my goals for him.

A day of throwing a soft ball from grandparent to grandchild to mother to grandfather to father. In the living room, from the chairs. Giggles. Children once again.

A day of wantonly eating pie. Whipped cream on top. Flaunting in the face of tomorrow's annual sugar fast.

A day of letting my son drive halfway home on a fast road with a gravelly shoulder => my unrelenting tense shoulders.

A day of scouring sugar and gluten free recipes on the internet. Really?

A day of marinating a roast with garlic and accompanying herbal companions. Grateful.

A day of making two green smoothies -- throwing in some parsley, lettuce, banana, blueberries. The first, acceptable to the teenager; the second, not so much. Understandable.

A day of looking forward to health, happiness, family, and God in the new year. Let 2012 begin, amen.