Saturday, March 29, 2008
It took two web posts to get these pictures loaded! Anyway, weekends without active chemotherapy are pretty good -- we said this weekend, "We can do this!" Though life is not exactly what we would have ordered if it was a buffet, it is still a wonderful feast.
You can see by the pictures that things are coming together in the cottage. Kurt and I did some work this week on the furnace return air and the electrical job was completed after a consult with our master electrician, Sue Worthington!
So, Kurt said, "It's time to call the building inspector for a final inspection!" (When we started this project almost two years ago, I thought I would never hear those words." The cottage is bright, cheery and colorful. Sabine always lights up when she visits.
Furniture was delivered on Saturday and suddenly the place came to life. A proper celebration for a spring day.
And with the snow melting and mud appearing, I thought of a poem I had written almost 50 years ago. (I guess that's what you do when you approach various landmarks in your life -- like turning 70!)
like little skipping girls
down slushy mud streets
wearing starched green dresses
with little white bows
freshness in their laughter
brightness in their talk
instant-broken out of weathered
they talk and smile
and even giggle
like little skipping girls
down slushy mud streets
Sabine and I were joking yesterday about my overall lack of energy since this ordeal began. Sometimes I think Sabine has more energy than I do. Sabine suggested that maybe I was getting a little depressed -- not because of her illness, but because I lost my old truck last fall!
So, to celebrate my 70th and her 55th this week, we decided to get a "previously-owned" truck (2001 Chevy Silverado; 4x4? of course!).
And there I am and yes, I DO feel a lot better because every man needs a good truck (and I already have a good wife!) [See the rest of the cottage pictures below...]
As we sit here we are thinking about all the wonderful people that made this cottage come together (at least a year earlier than we had anticipated). Again, thanks so much!
Hey, things are looking good and we are hoping and praying for some good numbers this Wednesday when we go in for our consultation.
Sabine has a nice routine she has developed. When we walk our woods and get to the end of one of our two ridges, Sabine sings the ancient Doxology because she thought she would never be able to walk our trails again and she is so thankful. ("Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise God all creatures here below; praise God among ye heavenly hosts; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!")
Here is a shot of our sun room which faces to the south taking in the bright morning sun. Andy and Kathy Marks brought some wicker furniture that they had in their basement (I guess you won't be able to find it at St Peter's rummage sale later on this year!) It matches the cottage motif so well. When our friend and interior decorator, Sue Wenger, saw it she thought it was a "go!" We are really happy with the colors she chose -- and now on to window coverings!
Thursday, March 27, 2008
You can see that spring is coming to New Journey Farm. While there are some snow drifts still remaining, most of our 5 and 6 foot drifts have been reduced to just snow piles.
It has been nice to take a couple of weeks off from chemotherapy. And we look forward to some good reports next week from Dr Sheehan.
Thanks to all of you who have sent beautiful cards and gifts to Sabine -- this has kept her spirits high and helped the grieving process we both are experiencing from having to leave our dear friends at St Peter's.
We attended Holy Week and Easter services at a parish in Mazomanie, St John's Lutheran Church, and were warmly enfolded by this vibrant parish and their young pastor, Rob Nelson. I know that making the shift from "pulpit to pew" will be a big one for me and one that I will have to slowly live into after all those years of parish leadership. (I will resist my vision of the old pastor/priest emeritus sitting in the back pew grumbling and dozing from time to time, ugh! We are talking about what kind of role we can and should play exercising that which we believe that has been so important to both of us over the years.)
Monday, March 24, 2008
Sabine and I enjoyed having Easter weekend visitors -- granddaughter Taylor and daughter, Sumi, and her husband, Scott from New Jersey.
As you can see, there is a great resemblance between grandmother and granddaughter -- one has a pink hat and the other pink ears!
Taylor is mesmerized by grandpa's telling the Easter story (or was the fact I was making interesting noises; maybe it's the familar ears.
Here is Scott, Sumi and the birthday girl. With Easter falling so early this year, Taylor will never have another Easter Sunday birthday -- the next March 23rd Easter occurs well over a hundred years from now.
Taylor takes her first donkey ride under the watchful eyes of her great-grandmother.
Tomorrow Sabine goes to the lab for her end-of-chemo-cycle blood tests. Then we meet for consultation with Dr Sheehan a week from Wednesday. We are looking for some good test results showing this cancer is coming under control.
Please keep us all in prayer. It's helping!
And as we enter this Easter season, HOPE and PROMISE are our companions.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
i will never forget
i sit in darkness
for the light i know
to be the Christ
i know this darkness
will be overcome
hope and easter are twin sisters
wandering i remember
from stunning bonnet sundays
to rain and even snow
when i was grateful for my
multi-buttoned acolyte’s cassock
and warmed my hands in paschal light
i browse the astronomical table
keeping my thoughts and feelings
in the empty tomb
looking for the morning light
the table lists the easter dates
1953 i remember that warm day
a new poplin jacket
my mother’s ford convertible
standing on hartford street
knowing not what lies ahead
only one other easter before that
1942 an unremembered age 4
yet i remember my grandmother
telling me of coming easter birthdays
there it is at 77 and also 88 she said
and God-willing, 99
a strange thing these easter tables
to find the sunday after march 21
the full moon on or after the
(it cannot be earlier than march 23
nor later than the 25th of the following month)
those full moons go on and on
and in between
we live and die, put on new jackets
and touch each other’s lives
often casting good friday shadows
but other times we are the Christ-light
that is sure to follow
the full and hopeful moon
the spring equinox.
On this Easter Sunday we celebrate the first birthday of our youngest grandchild, Taylor, who comes visiting us with her parents, Sumi and Scott, from their home in New Jersey.
Taylor, may you always be Christ to others; the Christ in whom you were recently baptized and who, on this day, again brings light to a world in darkness.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
by a white shroud
waiting wandering restless tracks
who can imagine
what is to come?
the seasonal explosion
under snowy cover
a patch of lady slippers
as restless as the tracks above
held by frozen blackness
ready to burst forth
a fragrant offering
as wondrous as
Christ from the tomb
Friday, March 21, 2008
Yesterday we finished up our third round of chemotherapy (our second round of the Velcade + dexamethasone). We get a week off, some intensive blood work at the lab, and then we see our oncologist the following week on Wednesday. Sabine is looking forward to a reduced medical schedule for these two weeks and, we hope, a higher energy level.
Sabine and I and Charlotte went to Maundy Thursdays services at St John's Lutheran Church in Mazomanie. It was a little strange to be sitting in the pew during Holy Week (I think the last time that happened was about 17 years ago!).
While many people are groaning about the weather, I have to admit that I am looking forward to getting out on snowshoes tomorrow morning (it must be the Minnesota boy in me because I have to confess I have loved all this snow this winter!).
Stay tuned and if you need something to do, think about sending a check to Sabine made out to the American Cancer Society for this summer's "Relay for Life." And think about visiting, or God-willing, walking with Sabine at Wisconsin Heights High School (on Hwy. 14 between Mazomanie and Black Earth) in on Friday night, June 27th (see the last blog entry for more info).
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
your face shines
glistening with tears
but it's not sadness
it's the place
and the peace which
passes all understanding
i sit and listen
the depth of your compassion
and yes concern for others
a feather slowly falls
and rests on your pillow
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Of course I was immediately worried as we are deep into our second round of chemotherapy and I get a little excited when she seems troubled or hurt. "Are you okay?" I asked. She said she was.
Then she went on to explain to me about what she was feeling during the night and what had brought her to tears. She said it was the situation she experiences sometimes when people look at her and she see sadness and sympathy in their eyes. And this makes her sad.
But it's not that she feels sad for herself, but for those who are feeling sad for her. She thinks that if people feel sad it should be for themselves and not for her. What cancer has given her is a "razor's edge awareness" with regards to the importance of life and relationships.
In short, this has led to her heightened sense of spiritual awareness and given her this kind of deep perception and empathy.
She wants others to be able to feel the awareness she now has of life's preciousness. She senses that those who are sad for her don't really "get it!" And if they did really get it, they would place more importance on TODAY, this moment, and less on the trivial pursuits which engage most of us.
I know this may sound like a "cancer is a blessing" lecture, but it isn't intended to be so. The fact is that there still is a tremendous amount of fear and sadness regarding the future of our life together -- but if we let the fear and sadness become the center of our life, that, too, will be a distraction from the great spiritual truths we both are being shown; that will become our own "trivial pursuit."
We also talked about some reading I have been doing concerning the Buddhist practice of Tonglen; which is, as I understand it, a breathing/meditative practice in which a person breathes in the despair, pain, even disease of others, and breathes out that person's healing as a gift. I can also see Tonglen as a form of guided imagery a good part of the Judeo-Christian theology of the "suffering servant" in Isaiah as well as Jesus' sacrifice on the cross to save the world.
I remarked to her the I sensed she was doing this, taking on the pain of others in this deep feeling of compassion.
Now this all may sound a little heavy and it's difficult to explain (perhaps I should write a poem?), but the journey that is presented to us we know is a journey that simply will not end with death. So, we find ourselves in Holy Week, experiencing the deep intimacy of our relationship (a "last" supper?), the shadow of the Good Friday cross, and our own promised Easter resurrection.
In a strange way, life has become more vibrant and luminous -- it has become even better than it was. And it was pretty good to start with!
Our friend from Portage, John Wroten, spend over six months in a coma in which he had a significant spiritual experience and he become, literally, a new man. Last week, John shared with us his "six-word life story" which says it all:
Felt God's touch, life changed forever.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Now for some weekend musings.
For those of you who can remember, it was probably just as scary for you as it was for us. Kind of like dating – you find some good ones, but some of the other encounters are best forgotten.
The following are two narratives. One from this morning and one from three weeks ago. If we hadn’t been persistent and schooled in the matters of “churching,” we probably would have never have tried again. I think that happens to a lot of "seekers."
Church Shopping -- Round One (February 24, 2008)
Let share with you our experiences in starting to scope out a place for worship. Our first encounter was with one of our local congregations. They had advertised "praise worship" and we decided to go.
So after to gospel reading, a preacher got up and narrated the whole gospel which we had just heard fom the point of view of the centurion at the foot of the cross. But the point? Or as one homiletic professor I knew once advised, "Always ask yourself after hearing a sermon -- "So what?"
Now I realize there is danger here just like there was when I retired from the police almost 15 years ago. And the danger is this: Well, that's not how I would do it!" But I think there are some standards for Christian liturgy (at least I hope there are!) and that I should be able to look at this and say, "Well. I might not have done it that way, but what they are doing is certainly passable!" On the other hand, there are some things that just don't work.
Let me say that I love praise liturgies as well as the contemplative ones if they meet a standard of engagement with the Other -- that they cause us to reflect and examine our lives, give thanks to God, and see more clearly the path that Jesus has trod for us to tread...
I will end this with our closing experience. We got up to leave, the preacher stayed up front, only one man put out his hand and said, "Welcome!" -- nothing else.
What was I expecting? At least an exchange of names. And maybe, "What are you seeking, especially you who seems so sick... " "Are you seeking the healing Savior? He is here. May we pray for you?"
We walked out through the narthex and into the parking lot unencumbered by human interaction.
Church Shopping – Round Two (March 16, 2008)
After our experience a few weeks ago, it’s amazing I didn’t give up (oh yes, that reminds me, I can’t – I’m a pastor!). So this morning Sabine and I set out for another church in our area.
I mean we had to. It’s Palm Sunday and why not jump back into church with the crazy-perplexing nature of that complicated liturgy?
You may remember my reflections from a few weeks ago at another local parish. It was a cold morning then, ice on the parking lot and we should have known what was to come… The parking lot turned out to be warmer than the congregation.
So with some trepidation, off we went -- the devil may be persistent but why not fight back?
My gosh! Someone greeted us as soon as we came in.
We enjoyed the “blended” worship service (overhead screen and traditional liturgy). But it’s all about the people isn’t it? You can have a dynamite worship service and it no one talks to the guests it really doesn’t matter, does it?
There was Holy Communion (thankfully) and lots of personal introductions and invites to coffee hour.
A lady with cancer and currently in chemotherapy came over and talked to Sabine (she knew). Later the pastor came over and remembered meeting us last year during the Black Earth-Mazomanie 5 mile run. They asked to put Sabine on their prayer list and gave her a warm hand-knitted prayer shawl to take home.
What a difference! Looks like there is still some hope for the church. Jesus reigned at this little church this Palm Sunday. “Hossana in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” A lot of his followers today came in his name – and, miraculously, he was there with all of us!
Saturday, March 15, 2008
And this morning while getting ready for our walk in the woods, we heard our the call of our first Sandhill Cranes. That did it for me – this IS spring.
You can see from the picture that Sabine has shed her snowshoes in favor of poles and hiking boots. Now Mocha has a firm footing to chase the many critters in these woods.
We really enjoy these non-medical “off-days.” So this morning after our walk we went over to the cottage, I put up a shelf, put the outdoor furniture on the deck and we had coffee and a treat together.
Afterwards, we meandered over to Spring Green and had lunch at the General Store there (Sabine even picked out some new earrings – probably to match her new socks!
Then we drove over to Dodgeville and checked out some used trucks and went to the Farm and Fleet store.
Life is good – especially when the day is “normal!” (But as I am reminded by Sabine, “normal” is only a setting on your clothes dryer!).
While listening to National Public Radio this morning we heard a story about Ernest Hemmingway being challenged whether he could write a short story in ten words. He replied that he could do it in six. His story:
For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.
Wow! This seemed to prompt another storyline as to whether a person could write his or her life story in six words. It seems that Smith Magazine had done something like this in the past year. You can read more about this at:
Here’s some life story excerpts from the NPR website:
After Harvard, had baby with crackhead. - Robin Templeton
70 years, few tears, hairy ears. - Bill Querengesser
Nobody cared, then they did. Why? - Chuck Klosterman
She said she was negative. Damn. - Ryan McRae
Born in the desert, still thirsty. - Georgene Nunn
Extremely responsible, secretly longed for spontaneity. - Sabra Jennings
Almost a victim of my family - Chuck Sangster
Write about sex, learn about love. - Martha Garvey
[From Not Quite What I Was Planning, Smith magazine, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith, Harper Perennial, 2008].
One of the favorites I heard on the radio is this one:
Ran away with circus. Never returned.
How about a theological bent? Not a good Christian, but trying.
Sabine has been thinking about her story. I am sure we all are looking forward to hearing it...
In the meantime, let me submit this spontaneous story of mine:
A poet wished. All came true.
What would your six-word life story be? (Submissions accepted here!)
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Last Saturday we had to say goodbye to the wonderful folks at St Peter's -- "goodbye" as a priestly couple, but "carry-on" as friends! While the accompanying picture looks like everyone is having a great time this was an interlude between many tears. I know when I got home last Saturday afternoon I summed up the vestry meeting to Sabine: "Well, it went like this: laugh, cry, cry, laugh, cry, laugh, cry, cry, laugh..."
Niece Teak from Missouri and her wonderful tribe of Nelson's -- Seger and Malea -- visited Charlotte for a few days this week and we got a chance to spend some time with them (see the "masked marvels" photo.The last photo is a "coming attractions" photo.
Daughter Sumi, husband Scott and our granddaughter, Taylor is coming next week to celebrate Taylor's FIRST birthday with us. Sabine is excited as we all are. Thanks to modern technology, though we live a thousand miles away, we saw Taylor's first daycare experience, a "50s" party (with Taylor's specially designed "poodle dress), and her first crawling effort and then her first steps!
As Sabine and I went through the Clinics section of the University Hospital this morning we were overwhelmed by the massiveness of this enterprise whose goal is healing and the prolonging (with quality) of human life. It is a city in itself.
At the same time, many of you know that I have spent a good share of my life working to improve systems, increase customer satisfaction, and improve the quality of services.
So, when I look at this operation, I cannot help but ask, "Yes, and how can this be improved?"
Now I don't know a lot about medicine, but I have come to learn quite a lot about people.
And when I enter the Comprehensive Cancer Center, I am rather ignorant about improving medical outcomes (e.g. best known methods of containing or controlling cancer cells) but as a former cop and pastor, I do have a sense of what people need beside the science.
I am not saying that the science (cancer fighting) is not important but rather that there is another dimension to this scientific fight that goes beyond the laboratory. And that is the emotional/psychological/spiritual dimension. Now I don't know if the system is embarrassed about these dimension (after all, there are few double-blind studies regarding the efficacy of prayer, counselling, guided imagery, or many of the alternative therapies to Western medicine -- such as acupuncture).
But what I have sensed is that there appears to be a reluctance to intervene in what EVERYONE must be experiencing in that waiting room (such as waiting for their diagnosis, going to chemotherapy, struggling with bad news or the need for surgery or more chemotherapy).
I think I mentioned it before but the overwhelming aura of that waiting room is a mixture of fear, high anxiety, depression, fatigue and emotional overload. So, as a "scientific" physician, how is that addressed?Everyone wants to talk about teamwork and multi-disciplinary collaboration but I am suspicious as to how often the "teams" discuss treatment therapies, the need for emotional support and the possibility of alternate modes of treatment.
So, as we journey this "system," I am taking notes, I am watching and after some "data collection" I think I will be able to comment on our experience (which I don't think is much different from anyones experience in the cancer treatment system. We will see.
In the meantime, thank you, thank you and thank you for your continuing prayers, support, gifts and cleansing flood of well wishes! Signing off: Be good, take care of one another, and give thanks!
Monday, March 10, 2008
It was a restless weekend for both of us. This morning we begin our second round of chemotherapy (Velcade+dexamethasone), dialysis and the usual appointments. Sabine has found some help in using "guided imagery;" not only the relaxation and stress-reduction elements of it, but also its healing capacity as a form of centering prayer.
As I process all of this ahead of us, I am comforted by many of the wisdom teachings of Buddhism. (Many of you know I have a number of close friends who practice the dharma.) And what I have found helpful is the concepts: mindfulness, illusion, detachment, and suffering. None of these ancient wisdom teachings were, of course, unknown to Jesus and the apostles.
So this journey with Sabine has to be one of the strangest spiritual experiences I have ever had.
It goes something like this: Within this most terrible and frightening time in my whole life I have this experience of God. Not like the God I used to know... a God that I thought required some structured "something" in my spiritual life of pursuing, seeking and getting to know that God, but rather a deeper, more knowable, and everlasting God.
I now have this experience of being covered, surrounded, even engulfed or immersed by that God. I sense God's presence daily, hourly, even this minute. It is the "lovingkindness," "steadfast love" of the Bible -- I believe the Hebrew word is "hesed." And it is eternal and everlasting!
So I go about my day with this strengthening -- this deeper knowing -- some even call "hesed" the "generous, gracious masculine side of God." Now I don't know if this is somehow a gender-related feeling or not, but what I do know (like the blind man whom Jesus gave sight to in John 9: in the gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Lent) is that this has happened.
And like the blind man in the story told the authorities: "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." I can with confidence also say, "One thing I do know, that though I often felt distant from God or not worthy, now I don't!"
So within this terrible event in our lives, God did not distance God's self from us, nor did we run away. It was sort of a stare-down with God for me and God won my heart again by an even deeper revelation of God's self.
Keep us within your thoughts and prayers -- we both feel bouyed up by them!
May each one of you, too, be blessed on your journey -- it may not take you to where you have planned, but a journey it still is and it can be a journey filled with God!
Friday, March 7, 2008
With Sabine's immune system compromised by this disease and always the possibility of the disease flaring up someplace else in her body, I had to deeply pray and think about how I was going to focus as her caregiver.
So with a very sad heart (and there were many tears about this decision) we will have to take leave of my pastoral and priestly duties. While we may change our roles as "priest and parishioner" we will always be loving friends together!
My decision was effective today (March 8th) as I met with Andy and members of the vestry at Kathy and Andy's home near North Lake this morning.
We know you all will understand -- but that doesn't lessen the pain of this decision. We have spent over three years wonderful years with you -- and you have been a wonderful parish in which to serve and lead.
Many of you have followed our weblog over the months and know of my love of poetry and how I have been able to express myself through poetry when prose seemed to be difficult and cumbersome. So please permit me to share with you what I am feeling about all this through the following poem I wrote to Sabine:
i feel the pull
that choice we men must make
the choice between
love and career
work and life with our beloved
to be a stay at home dad
to say no to a transfer
to turn down the promotion
we both laughed
when i said i wanted to be
chief of the world
if not perhaps then
but within my joking
lies a bit of truth
such things tear and form we men
(and not surprising
some women today as well)
and now later in my years
the old pull comes again
i know it so well that we are old friends
at three score and ten
the pull between
family and career still raises its
do i spend the rest of my life
caring for you?
or caring for others?
it’s still a choice
i feel the pull
but it doesn’t win
it’s not strong enough
to pull me
away from you
this old dog has learned
a trick or two
Thursday, March 6, 2008
After dialysis yesterday we met with Dr Sheehan at the Cancer Clinic. We received some very good news. Sabine's echo-cardiogram was clear as were her liver tests -- no sign of those nasty myeloma cells causing problems there like they did to her kidneys.
And then another good set of news -- the first round of the Velacade + dexamethasone chemotherapy was very successful and reduced the number of the "light chains" by 80%!
We now go into our second round of the Velcade/dexamethasone starting next Monday after dialysis and we continue two weekly infusions (Monday and Thursday) for another two week cycle followed by blood tests, a week off, and then most likely into our third cycle. We could be doing this up to eight two week cycles.
In the meantime, we are working with nutrition and some mind-body folks about relaxation, stress-reduction and "healing imaging." All this, along with prayer, acceptance and an openness to the work of God's Spirit will be our task during the coming months.
Dr Sheehan remarked that given Sabine's overall good health up until the kidney failure, we should have some good years ahead -- music to my ears!
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
So, here's what has, is, and will be going on at the cottage:
John Viner from the Aikido club and energy consultant came on Saturday and we checked the cottage out for air-leaks and drafts. The machine he has literally creates a vacuum within the house and then John runs around with an infra-red meter and looks for the leaks! (I think we passed!).
Yesterday, the St Peter's All-Inclusive and Ever-Vigilant Energy team arrived bright and early and pumped 1800 cubic feet of insulation into the attic of the cottage -- it went pretty smooth!
You see in the picture Jr. Warden and Chief Inspector of the Waukesha County Sheriff's Dept. doing what he does best -- stuffing things into a system of hot air (just kidding, Steve!).
Peter is looking out the window to get Steve to hurry up even though he is sorely limping from a recent basketball injury.
And in the dusty attic, you can barely see Dave Claude in the far reaches as he holds the spray nozzle (I think Peter is giving orders!).
Tomorrow the folks from Don's Appliance in Dodgeville are coming to set up the stove, washer and dryer, refrigerator, and dishwasher. After that, it will just be a few odds and ends and then, with Kurt's okay, I will call for a final inspection from the Village. Whew! Needless to say, we couldn't have done it without all of you pitching in as you did. Thanks again!
This afternoon I will send out another blog for the day after our meeting at the Cancer Clinic.
Until then keep us in prayer,
David and Sabine
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Our first week without chemotherapy has been real "r&r" -- rest and relaxation. Tomorrow we have the echo cardiogram and then a consult with our oncologist, Dr Sheehan, on Wednesday.
Not letting my mind wander too far into next week and the weeks beyond, I wrote this poem...
like a quenched blade
quiet after days into weeks
forging folding pounding
forging folding pounding
those years we were
together yet apart
but never too far away
we are now
the samurai's blade
forged by trial
who meet the edge
and the grace
of the cut