Daring to Dream; Taking a Leap

“Daring to dream what is deepest in our collective longings is
what makes us most human and fully alive.”
- Wendy Wright, The Vigil

I’ve been offline a great deal because I’ve gone back to school – enrolled in an academy that meets once a month for 11 months. It came about suddenly, and is proving to be filled with blessings. I’ll share the story with you, in the hope that it will bless you, too.

Paris door What happened is this: a door closed at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013. The video project about family-centered care on which I have been working for the past couple of years ground to a furious halt, incomplete, and it took a valued personal and professional relationship with it. 

I had to assess where I was, what was possible, and do my best to discern where wisdom was pointing. But before that, I had to recover from the shock and pain of the way the end of the project had transpired. It is not an exaggeration to say that this was the most difficult thing I’ve encountered since Katie died.

I had no idea whether it was wise to try to have the video finished or not. I did not have the emotional wherewithal nor the financial freedom to do it. It was difficult to discern whether this meant that the video was not “supposed” to be finished (a sign from the universe to stop the work I have felt led to do), or whether this was simply a problem that needed to be resolved. 

How was I to interpret the situation:  press on with diligence, or walk away and let it go? Which was the grace-directed path? Did I really have anything that important to say – important enough to suffer and sacrifice even more for it? I honestly did not know.Rose Window Chandelier

I consulted people in the field of video, marketing and the law. I prayed. I cried. I stressed. I talked it over with trusted advisers. And one day, I received a kind message from a stranger – a doctor who is the acquaintance of a friend of mine. 

At my friend’s suggestion, I had written to this doctor (a few months before any of “the troubles” began,) and, receiving no reply, had forgotten all about it. His message therefore came as a complete surprise – and a welcome one. This doctor is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer. His business/ministry involves helping to motivate people and transform their lives. He has worked on the front lines, aiding the public after numerous natural disasters. His name is Dan Diamond, and he invited me to call him.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Diamond’s website: “Our mission is to resuscitate and equip people to thrive when times are tough. We believe in empowering and inspiring people to make a difference and discover significance. Only in giving life away does one actually find it.” I was excited to hear what he had to say.

In the course of our conversation, Dr. Diamond told me about a group to which he belongs, called the National Speakers Association. He suggested that I contact the local chapter. This one phone call would lead to encouragement, sharing of resources, support, kindness, generosity, understanding and an invitation to join the group, which was just about to launch a brand-new academy. Jan McLaughlin of Your Communication Connection is the Dean of the academy, and she offered an insightful, listening ear and a warm welcome.

NSA was described to me in this way: We are not a group that believes there is a pie with only so many pieces to go around; we are a group that says, “We’ve made a pie; come and have some!”

But to go back to school when I felt confused, beaten and stymied? Why would I do that? What could the National Speakers Association possibly have to do with me – and what would I have to contribute? I’m not a “national speaker” – not a “national” anything.

The following anecdote arrived in my INBOX around this time:

“There’s a famous story about the lion who came upon a flock of sheep and to his amazement found a lion among the sheep. It was a lion who had been brought up by the sheep ever since he was a cub. It would bleat like a sheep and run around like a sheep. The lion went straight for him, and when the sheep-lion stood in front of the real one, he trembled in every limb. And the lion said to him, ‘What are you doing among these sheep?’ And the sheep-lion said, ‘I am a sheep.” And the lion said, ‘Oh no, you’re not. You’re coming with me.’ So he took the sheep-lion to a pool and said, ‘Look!’ And when the sheep-lion looked at his reflection in the water, he let out a mighty roar, and in that moment he was transformed. He was never the same again.”  – Anthony de Mello, Awareness

Because of the demise of the video project (and the way it happened), I had begun to doubt myself, my ability to be of service to others, and my path. In soul-searching with a spiritual director, I did my best to be honest about my mistakes and shortcomings, but also to be honest about the role of others – and to see the larger context. And then, this quote appeared:

“Without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray for God’s grace with a perfect confidence relying upon the infinite merits of our Lord. God never fails offering us His grace at each action, as I have distinctly perceived it myself… unless my thoughts had wandered from a sense of God’s Presence, or unless I had forgot to ask His assistance.”
- Br. Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Rose Window candles

and then, this one popped into my INBOX:

“Do you allow Jesus to be the Lord and healer in your personal life, family, and community? Approach him with expectant faith. God’s healing power restores us not only to health but to active service and care of others. There is no trouble he does not want to help us with and there is no bondage he can’t set us free from. Do you take your troubles to him with expectant faith that he will help you?  ‘Lord Jesus Christ, you have all power to heal and to deliver from harm. There is no trouble nor bondage you cannot overcome. Set me free to serve you joyfully and to love and serve others generously. May nothing hinder me from giving myself wholly to you and to your service. ‘ “   -DailyScripture.net

and significantly, this one arrived:

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” - David Lloyd George

Tofino (48)

and finally, this: And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.” – Phil. 1: 6

I copied and pasted these quotes into a Word document, and referred to them for encouragement. They fed me, by grace. After consulting an informal “clearness committee” of friends and family, I decided to take a leap of faith, applied to the class, and went back to school.

DMG skydive 4

photo courtesy of David M. Gerstenberger

The dean, the instructors, the curriculum and other students have already blessed me greatly. They are helping me to take my somewhat fuzzy vision of what I would like to do and put it through a rigorous process of questioning and refining. It requires a lot of homework, but it feels energizing, right and good.

I still don’t know what will happen with the video, nor is it clear what I am being called to do next, but I am working to improve my skills, willing to share and serve, and listening for insight. 

This experience is not simply about me, my story and my work, but touches upon the question of what is meant to be for the greater good (which includes me and you, as parts of a whole). It is a process, more than a product – it is not static. We don’t have to be “perfect” now; we do need to wake up, give thanks for what we have, offer ourselves wholeheartedly to what is in front of us, and listen for the next step.
Rainbow 002

“I am sure God wants us to be whole and healthy in every way possible, 

but love neither depends upon these things nor ends with them. 

In fact, blessings sometimes come through brokenness  

that could never come in any other way.”

- Gerald May, The Awakened Heart

“…You Shall Be a Miracle…By the Grace of God”

“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people!  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks!  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle.  But you shall be a miracle.  Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come in you by the grace of God…”

- Phillip Brooks (1835-1893), Twenty Sermons

Image from The Roman Catholic Church of St. Vincent de Paul in Albany, New York

Beautiful & Terrible

DMG skydive 3

My friend Robin C. has a new name for her blog: Beautiful and Terrible. You may know Robin from her Metanoia or Gannet Girl blogs. She is a gifted writer, a pastor, wife and mother. Two of her children are here; one is in heaven.

The title of her blog comes from this quote:

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” ~ Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith

This intersection of beautiful and terrible is where I find myself right now.

“Don’t be afraid” is not always as easy as those three words sound.

Looking at the photos of David standing on the pontoon of that helicopter in Switzerland, looking down thousands of feet – knowing that he had a parachute and was strapped to a professional skydiver, but that accidents can happen – brought back the fear of 2006-7, when Katie was in the hospital, being treated for cancer. Post-traumatic stress reared its head; I felt the vertigo.

I found the photos of his helicopter ride – and the jump – both beautiful and terrible. The natural splendor of the region, the snow, the blue sky at dusk, the raw emotions of anticipation, fear, exhilaration and joy on my son’s face – these are beautiful. The fact that he could have died, that a mishap might have occurred, that the risk was unnecessary, that I felt once again the fear that my child could die, – this is terrible.

I am glad that David is not living in the shadow of fear. I am grateful for his zest and passion for life; glad, for his sake, that he had this experience. For my own sake, I wish that he would never take such a risk again.

We found out about his skydiving after the fact, and he apologized in case it had caused me grief. I told him, My fear is not your responsibility. But I tell you, it is sometimes hard to bear. I have a case of  the “after-nerves,” though I still can’t seem to stop looking at the photographs.

With the beauties of the Christmas-Hannukah-New Year season upon us, I feel the energy behind the preparations. I read the Advent scriptures, and I try to muster some anticipation. But I am falling back this year, back into 2006, when we were living in Ronald McDonald House with a very sick, frail and miserable Katie.

I can feel the fear, the anxiety, the discomfort, the homesickness, the longing for our family traditions. I remember making decorations for our room: a wreath and two artificial trees for the children. I remember the kindness of the carolers who arrived to sing for us, the cookies and cider, the Christmas-night feast laid out by generous volunteers, who could have been at home with their own families, but chose instead to share in our “not-at-home” Christmas festivities.

There are parallels which can be drawn between that time in our lives, and the journey of Mary and Joseph to the little stable behind the inn where Jesus was born. We were lovingly provided for: lodging, food, medical care, kindness, friendship, prayer. I could make a beautiful story out of these elements, drawing out the parallels, and perhaps, someday, I will.

Today, however, I am missing my daughter, wishing that she were here to share in decorating our home, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, dressing up, hosting and guesting with us. Today, I feel the emotions of longing, homesickness, grief for what was and will never be again.

I tell myself, Do not ruin the holiday with sadness. Do not waste it with ingratitude. Do not dwell on what you do not – and cannot – have. Think of others, less fortunate than you. Do something for them.  But the pain in the pit of my stomach, the sense of being ill at ease, remains.

It has been six years since we spent Christmas at Ronald McDonald House, yet my emotions are as raw and painful as if it was last year.

Christmas 2006 RMDcH4

Advent may be just what I need…if I will only open to it, rather than clinging to my sadness. “Be not afraid,” he said…and he said it often.

Heavenly Father, help me to open my broken, traumatised heart to Your love, to Your son’s coming again. Come, Lord Jesus.

Study Abroad

DMG Ireland

David in Ireland.DMG RayBans

David in London.

This post is about our son, David. I have his permission to write it.

(Many of the photos are borrowed from facebook, some without permission.)

Gregg and I always dreamed that our children would go to college. My parents and grandmother collaborated to make this easy for us. It is a family value; education is highly regarded, and there is family folklore to back it up, going back to my great-grandparents’ generation. For example:

My mother’s paternal grandmother graduated from U.C. Berkeley in the class of 1898.

My mother’s paternal grandfather generously paid the tuition for a friend of her father’s at Yale University. All he asked in return was that the young man do the same for someone else…and he did.

My mother’s maternal grandfather was offered the gift of a college education, and turned it down. He regretted this decision for the rest of his life, and this story entered family lore. He always carried a pocket-sized volume of a portion of Shakespeare’s writings with him; his library survives him. His daughter (my grandmother Emilie) went on to receive a master’s degree and a scholarship to study for a year in France…in the 1920s.

So a college education is a big deal in my family, and David and Katie’s college education was assured by their loving relatives, a fact for which Gregg and I are deeply thankful. We dreamed (early on) of a period of study abroad for each of them.  I spent a quarter in England, and Gregg took a “grand tour” after his graduation. It is a family value of ours for broadening horizons, growing in culture, understanding and flexibility.

When David chose Gonzaga University, we knew that his study abroad options were good. We did not know that he would choose to study in Florence, but were happy when he did so. He left in September and has less than 3 weeks remaining in this program.  It has been a joy to hear about it from him each week when we talk though “face time.”

He is taking Italian language classes daily, as well as business classes. He has traveled to London, Ireland, Scotland, the Ligurian Coast, Venice, Switzerland, Austria, Prague, Spain and Germany. He is maintaining good grades, and making wonderful friendships.

David has seen “Skyfall” at midnight in England during its premiere weekend, and heard classical music performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. He has visited the National Gallery as well as pubs, distilleries and breweries. He has been to hear his first opera (Turandot) and taken his first ride in a helicopter – and he has jumped out of that helicopter, with a professional skydiving guide, next to the Eiger, in Switzerland. (This was a shock to us. We are thankful that he survived, and the photographs are stunning.)

DMG Skydive 1

David in the helicopter on the way up. The sun is setting behind the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

DMG skydive 4

Jumping out of a perfectly good helicopter around 13,000 feet.

DMG skydive 7

Safely on the ground in Grindelwald.

Gregg, David and I had been to this gorgeous area in the summer of 2009. We went hiking in the hills and took the train around the valleys and over the mountain passes. It is a magical place.

We never dreamed that our son would jump out of a helicopter and free fall, then drift down using a parachute, over those same beautiful hills in winter a few years later.

David is living abundantly after the catastrophe of the death of his sister and best friend. He is balancing culture, education and fun in ways that are astounding to us. Gregg and I could not be more grateful or proud of this young man who is our only surviving child – our son, our first born, our joy.

Thanks be to God for our children, here and healthy, as well as those in heaven. Thanks be to God for the survival and flourishing growth of those who are with us. Amen.

Going to Hell

I recently participated in a Bible study class written by Beth Moore, called “Believing God.” I had read the book over the summer, and wanted to enter a weekday study with other seekers. Sunday church is not something that Gregg wants to attend, so I thought it would be a good idea for me to go during the week for worship, prayer and study with my sisters in Christ.
The class was offered by a local church, and open to the public.

This church is about as far to the right as any church I’ve entered, and I am way to the left of their theology (as stated on their website). However, I felt that, if we are all sisters in the faith, we could come together in the love of God and His Word, and find fellowship there.

It is simply amazing to me that there are so many, vastly different belief systems and doctrines under the one umbrella called Christianity. It was an eye-opening experience to take this class in this environment; we heard the same message week by week, yet we interpreted it completely differently. Though some of the ladies were very kind, it was clear to me that I did not fit into their mould, and never would.

I eventually found that the class was depressing me. Not Beth Moore’s teaching, which I loved, but the host church’s interpretation and presentation of the Biblical themes. Please do not misunderstand: I am thankful that I was welcome to join this class, and I am thankful to the church and its members for providing it. I just did not feel comfortable with their view of God, man, creation and our mission and purpose for existing.

This is not to suggest that I am “right” and they are “wrong.” These are my sisters in Christ, and they are living their belief system with integrity – an admirable thing. I just didn’t see the JOY, FREEDOM – and most importantly, the unconditional LOVE – of God in it. The further into the class we went, the more I missed those essential elements, and the darker it seemed.

I’ve been wondering about the concept of hell lately, probably because of the time I spent in this church, listening to their views.

Those of us who feel we’ve already seen hell, or lived there, seem to have no need to create or believe in another, later-destination version of it. Those who have experienced hell seem to want to bring heaven to earth as much as possible, with love, kindness, ministry, compassion, forgiveness, healing and tenderness. Those who speak and express the most concern about hell (as a place one might go after death) make me wonder if they really live in daily fear of it – and wonder if they’ve ever truly suffered here in this life, or are simply braced against it.

In my opinion, if you’ve already been there, hell is no longer an intellectual construct, a doctrine or a place to be sent after death, but a reality of this broken world that cries out for redeeming, here and now. It is illness, decay, depression, death, the suffering of mankind…what could be more hellish than those?

I wonder if we aren’t actually called – each one of us – to “go to hell” here in this life, and to come out of it with a heart transformed. That seems to be one way of looking at the Paschal pattern. To be frank, it’s one of the only ways that I can make sense of the past six years of my life.

I love God deeply, but experience has made me a bit wary of what He allows, as the price is so very high – it’s everything! (Yes, I am mid-life, flawed, and still not totally surrendered to Him.) Yet what other option and relationship do we have? “Lord, to whom shall we go?” He is the One – the Way, the Truth, the Life, the great source of Love – our Creator.

I truly desire to serve Him and participate in His work of love in this world; it’s the only life worth living anymore. I prefer to see it as bringing a bit of His kingdom – heaven – into the present time and place, rather than fearing a possible hell in the future.

What do you think about heaven and hell? Are they here and now, in the hereafter, neither, or both?

Pomona College Magazine

Last summer, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Sally James (a Seattle writer) for the alumni magazine of Pomona College.  I spent my freshman and sophomore years as a Sagehen, and there are days when I seriously regret transferring to another college. When we took David to Pomona for a visit, I looked at it from a completely different perspective – and wished I had stayed on to major in English or journalism.

After “Because of Katie” was published, I contacted the magazine’s editor, Mark Kendall, to let him know that I had written a book. The magazine has a page devoted to alumni publications, and I hoped my book would be included there. Mark went beyond that, to ask me not only about the book, but also about our journey with Katie, and what I have been doing since that time. He kindly decided to tell the story in an article in the alumni section, rather than in a paragraph on the “book*marks” page.  The result arrived in my mailbox yesterday. You can read it here:

http://magazine.pomona.edu/2012/fall/sewing-comfort/

(Photo by Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun)

I’m deeply grateful to Pomona College Magazine and Sally James for telling the story of Katie’s Comforters Guild with kindness, sensitivity and respect. I hope that it will be a blessing to my fellow alumni.

Thank You for Listening Generously

“When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.” – Rachel Naomi Remen

I rarely write postings for all of my blogs at the same time, but today, I am doing just that. If you visit any of my blogs (www.karengberger.blogspot.com , www.katiescomfortersguild.blogspot.com , www.katiegerstenbergerendowment.blogspot.com  and www.abundantlivingaftercatastrophe.wordpress.com ) this is what you will find.

It’s been a deeply moving season here. The end of summer brings with it memories of Katie’s passing (August 16th), my parents’ anniversary (this year they marked 60 years of marriage on August 17th), the start of the school year (David is a junior in college, studying in Italy for a semester; Katie should be a senior in high school, looking at college choices and enjoying her last year at home with friends – but she is not). It also marks the anniversary of the start of her illness, her diagnosis, and the 10 months which were a kind of living hell, leading to her passing. The 10th of October, the day we entered the hospital “for tests” and didn’t come out for months; October 13th, the day we found out that it was cancer (though not what type) and Katie’s first round of chemotherapy began.

Gregg let me know during this time that he is not comfortable hearing the news, in detail, of all of my involvement in the world of cancer. He can take only so much of it. My work does not give him solace the way it does me; it simply reminds him of what took our daughter away. When I asked him if the advances in research, cures and awareness make him feel better, he replied, “No.” None of it will bring Katie back, so it’s not a comfort to him. Even though it comforts me, I need to filter some of what I ask him to participate in. Fair enough.

Shortly after my book reading event at Eagle Harbor Books in September, Gregg and I attended the Ben Towne Foundation’s annual BENefit. We were “table captains,” which really means that we gathered interested family and friends and all sat together for dinner. The Foundation makes it so easy to “host” a table that I wouldn’t feel right calling it “hosting.” That was the second cancer-related event in a month’s time, but Gregg loves the Townes and wants to support the Foundation.

At the BENefit, Dr. Michael Jensen announced that his work on relapsed leukemia has been given approval by the FDA to move into clinical trials. That means that children here in Seattle who have no other hope than a miracle have a chance at that miracle; they can enter a clinical trial using their own re-engineered T-cells to fight their own cancer. It will begin sometime in the next few weeks.

This announcement brought our table to tears. We were sitting with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, as well as with two other couples who are friends – both of whom have watched their own daughters die from brain cancer. Three sets of bereaved parents heard the news together. It was a dramatic moment, and one that has truly changed my life.

I finally feel relief.

I feel relief, for the first time since Katie died.

Since Katie died, I have felt like the parent of a murdered child. I have felt that the murderer is “at large,” and beyond the capacity of “law-enforcement” to catch. It hurts. I feel it’s my duty as her mother to catch her killer and bring him to justice. I didn’t realize that so much of my work and energy has been directed to catching this killer – but it has.

After the BENefit, several family members and friends joined me for a tour of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research. At the end of the tour, I took Dr. Jensen aside and thanked him. I told him that for the first time since Katie’s passing, I feel as if I can relax. I know that the killer is now identified. We may not have him on death row yet, but his whereabouts are known, and he is in the crosshairs of the law. They are going to catch him, and stop him from killing other children (and adults). This is Dr. Jensen’s mission, and it is now beginning to be available to patients (not just lab mice).

On the tour, my dad asked Dr. Jensen two important questions (and I think I heard the answers correctly):

1)   How much does it cost annually to do what you are doing?

Answer: $1.5 million

2)   How much do you need annually to be able to conduct experiments on the cancers you want to cure next?

Answer: $15 million.

Friends, what is being spent on the next election makes this sum look positively PALTRY. This research has the potential to cure children AND adults. If you know anyone who can contribute to it, please invite them to contact me or the Ben Towne Center. I will be happy to effect an introduction.

What I want most to share with you is the fact that I feel a new freedom now. The baton is in Dr. Jensen’s hands (and those of his colleagues, some of whom were part of Katie’s care team). I will continue to do my best to raise awareness and financial support, but I can finally let go of this part of my work, because it is being done by the professionals. And some of the thanks for that goes to Carin and Jeff Towne, and the memory of their precious son, Ben.

I wasn’t aware that I was holding my breath for this to happen, but I have been…and I can rest now. Thank God that prayers are being answered! The timing was not sufficient to save Katie’s life, but I believe that the cure will be part of her legacy.

Thank you for reading my blogs, for commenting, for supporting our family through this time. Though we will never be “over it,” your listening, caring and praying has been part of our healing process. That process continues – and finding a cure for cancer is surely a part of it.

Music

Detail of Glass Sculpture by Dale Chihuly, Benaroya Hall, Seattle

Music is surely a divine gift. The sounds of harmony, the variety of instruments, the styles and individuality of each composer, musician, origin and era are part of the richness and abundance of this gift. Nations have different indigenous sounds and styles; cultural stories and legends can be woven into and expressed by a nation’s music. We can learn a great deal about the heart and history of a people by listening to its music through the ages.

My brother attended a conservatory of music for three of his four years of college, so I have an appreciation of classical music and musicians; though I am still fairly ignorant about it, I enjoy music, and love to attend live performances. I spent many hours of my youth keeping Jim company as he practiced scales on the piano, or played classical guitar pieces over and over again as part of his study, so it is fun to re-visit that world.

Last night, Gregg and I had the privilege of attending the Seattle Symphony’s concert, conducted by a friend of our friend Linda. Linda travels all over the world singing operas, so she knows musicians and conductors everywhere. She let us know that her friend was here in Seattle, and helped to arrange tickets for us (if you follow the link above, you can listen to excerpts of each piece by clicking on the small speaker icon next to its name).

We were given fabulous seats – the closest we’ve ever been to the stage – and could see and enjoy the music visually, as well as listening to it. We could see the expressions on the faces of the musicians, see the eye contact between them and study the various instruments. I had no idea, for example, that cellos could look so individual – there were at times six or eight cellists on stage, and not one of those beautiful instruments looked alike. The form of the instrument was similar – they resemble a woman’s body – but the color and finish of the wood was unique. Red, blonde, brown – so many shades and grains of wood – made me wonder about the history of each instrument. How did that musician end up with that cello? Was the tone of the sound just right for his ear? How old was it the instrument? Who made it, and where?

There was a cello solo in the Tchaikovsky piece which was pure joy to hear. The cellist was filled with passion for his music – his face reflected such intense pleasure that at times, it was hard to look away to watch his fingering and bow – and his technical expertise was stunning. Being so close to the stage enabled us to really appreciate the effort he was making and the joy he was taking in it.

The conductor was simply riveting. I have watched a number of conductors, and usually don’t pay a lot of attention to them, but because this was a friend of a friend, I was studying this one. Mr. Sondergard is very handsome, and he is a delight to watch, because he is filled with the music he is conducting. He uses his entire body to signal what he wants from the orchestra, and beyond that, as I watched his face and gestures, I felt that I could see respect, anticipation, excitement, teamwork, and embodiment of the pieces we were hearing. He seemed to feel the music in his veins, to throb with it, and the joy he radiated was contagious.

The orchestra performed three pieces, and received a standing ovation for two of them. Both times, Mr. Sondergard shared the limelight, pointing out and asking for sections of the orchestra to rise and receive its acclaim. I have never seen that kind of selflessness, to that extent, on stage. It created a feeling of community within the auditorium.

As an added treat, Gregg and I went to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the city, Cafe Campagne. As we were eating, I told Gregg that times like this are a miracle to me: the fact that we have delicious food to eat, time to enjoy it and each other’s company, and the privilege of listening to beautiful music – it is pure gift.

I told him that it seems to me, after six years of intense emotional and physical suffering, that the absence of pain now is nearly the equivalent of pleasure. 

We took our time, savored each part of the meal, watched people come and go through the Pike Place Market neighborhood, and saw the afterglow of sunset behind the famous market sign as we strolled to Benaroya Hall. The hall has two of these magnificent sculptures by Dale Chihuly in the lobby – a feast for the eyes:

Glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, staircase in lobby of Benaroya Hall

I find music to be an inspiration and a joy, an art form which can speak for us, to us and about us – in nearly every place and time throughout history. Music – a timeless gift of expression of the human and divine spirit – is part of abundant living.

Abundance, Not Perfection

The past week has been filled with joy, good news and answered prayer.

That’s a reason to stop and give thanks – to just STOP, right there, and give thanks to Love for these blessings.

My book reading at Eagle Harbor Book Company resulted in raised awareness and support for childhood cancer research. I have specific, personal evidence of that, and it is a rich blessing to me to know that the message which I feel called to share is being heard.

And – HEY! I must say – they sold out of “Because of Katie,” and had to order more. It out-sold J.K. Rowling’s new book – can I hear a “woot-woot!” just for that fact?

Karen and Dr. Michael Jensen discussing childhood cancer research at Eagle Harbor Book Co. (photo credit: http://www.eagleharborbooks.com)

After that, I spent days writing and working on other projects. On Friday, it was time for the third annual Ben Towne Foundation BENefit. Gregg and I have been fortunate to have attended this event every year, and to have seen this dream grow BIG. We love Carin, Jeff and Ryan Towne, and wish we had known Ben. We met the Townes because Ben was treated in the same place by the same staff who treated Katie, at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Fortunately, one of those people thought we should meet – and we did. The resulting friendship is indeed a gift from our children.

Gregg dislikes re-entering the world of pediatric cancer, and this is the only benefit which I can persuade him to attend nowadays. He goes gladly because he wholeheartedly supports what the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research is doing, as well as the family and the Foundation that brought that center into being. I can’t think of ANYone who could persuade Gregg to be in a video other than the Townes.

benefit 2011 Feature Video from ben towne foundation on Vimeo.

It would be difficult to describe the relief – the weeping, grateful relief – which I felt on Friday evening when I heard  Dr. Jensen announce from the stage that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has just approved clinical trials for the new T-cell therapy he has designed. That application, submitted by the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, is what I have been dreaming of for at least five years: therapy which does no harm, only good – and rapidly. Therapy which can help adults, as well as children. Therapy which can be applied to a variety of different cancers, without causing secondary cancer. It is therapy that I wish had been available in time to save my own daughter’s life, and the lives of our friends’ children.

In the midst of these blessings is the knowledge that none of it changes the outcome for us…Katie is dead, as is Ben, Hannah, Jenny, Henry, Jessica and Hayden, and so many others…they are not with their parents, where we feel they belong. They should be here, growing up, being loved and nurtured by their families. But they are not. They are somewhere else. In my belief, they are in the next phase of life, going forward, yet awaiting our arrival and reunion. I believe we will see one another again. I believe that Katie’s life work is large, full, and that she did it with beauty, dignity, courage and completeness, as far as her part goes. I only wish it had been a longer life, without the suffering brought on by cancer.

I will never feel that it was worth what has happened since – no matter how much good, no matter the progress and the lives yet to be saved – I will never feel that my daughter’s life should have ended at 12 and a half years. That will never, ever be “okay” with me. If someone wants to tell me that God had a plan and that Katie’s death was part of it, so that I would become more faithful, less selfish, an advocate for cancer research, or do any number of “good works,” I will want to punch that person on the nose. Period. So please, do not try to tell me that it was a “good” thing that this happened. It wasn’t, and it never will be.

Having written that, it is fascinating that in the class I’m taking right now – RIGHT NOW – the focus is on prayers that are not answered the way we wish they were. The lesson I’m studying (Beth Moore’s “Believing God”) is dealing with specific prayers for healing that are answered with recovery, and those that are answered without it – even prayers that are followed by death, rather than healing. I’m so glad that someone is willing to face the facts and discuss them! The worst thing is to brush off questions which don’t presently have answers. Wrestle if you wish, but do not deny or ignore!

Life can be filled with goodness, yet still be imperfect, and that is what my life is like. I have to work continually to accept what has been denied, and to embrace, with love and gratitude, what has been given.

A cure for cancer is closer – hope is rising – progress is in the works. My daughter, who should be applying to colleges this fall, does not live here on earth with her family; I can’t see her until I die. These are facts of my life. It is a life is filled with abundant blessings – and it contains horrific wounds. It is not perfect – it is human. And it is a gift.