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.
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“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

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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.

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.

“Fountain of Sorrow, Fountain of Light”

August was an intense month – a mixed bag,  for me. It is not a month (as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II once said, referring to her Annus Horribilis) “on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” Don’t you love the way she put that?

We did have a good deal of pleasure in August. As I look through the photos, I reflect with gratitude that we enjoyed a beautiful vacation, hosted a party to celebrate an important family milestone, hosted friends from out of town, took time to savor the beauty of nature (particularly at the beach) and started some exciting projects. Yet there was, running underneath all of the fun, a “fountain of sorrow.” It made me think of Jackson Browne’s song of the same name.

“I’m just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you
In my lessons at love’s pain and heartache school
Where if you feel too free and you need something to remind you
There’s this loneliness springing up from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

“Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight…

“You’ve had to hide sometimes but now you’re all right…

“You’ve had to struggle, you’ve had to fight
To keep understanding and compassion in sight…” – Jackson Browne, Fountain of Sorrow

Gregg & I struggled “to keep understanding and compassion in sight” last month, with the anniversary of Katie’s passing and all of the emotions that come with it. We had some difficult – make that painful – conversations.

Those conversations and their aftermath left me thinking about Jackson Browne’s words describing a pool of sorrow, or an aquifer, running underneath the surface of our lives. This is how it seems, sometimes, since Katie’s passing; it certainly didn’t apply to us before that. We can go along just fine for quite a while (“now you’re all right”), and then, suddenly, “there’s this loneliness springing up from your life, like a fountain from a pool” – and it threatens to drown us, temporarily.

That is why the practice of gratitude is so vital to my survival now. Practicing gratitude helps me to reflect on my blessings, to become aware of them, to connect with God (the source of all goodness), and this lifts my heart. You could say that gratitude is a “fountain of light.” I have to practice it – it is not automatic; it is a pleasant discipline, but a discipline, nonetheless. The more I practice, the more natural (and easier) it becomes.

One of the tools that has helped me in my practice of gratitude is a website called www.gratefulness.org. I signed up for a daily devotional from them, and oh, how it helps! They have even created an application (which is free) for iPhone and Android to encourage the practice. If you would like to receive their devotional, or download the free app, please follow the links above.

May you be richly blessed, and may you be aware of it!