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.

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!