So I’m reading this book on being thankful.  I was led down this path two ways.  One is that the magnificent Tim Keller mentions being thankful as part of the way you respond to adversity in an effective, Christ-like way. Ever since I read that in his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, it has stuck with me. Thanking God even when things are not going well. Being thankful in the midst of scary and painful circumstances. How can this be what He expects of us?

Then, Lisa Slayton, my trusty mentor, gave me a very interesting book – it is called One Thousand Gifts.
The author is an interesting person. She writes with peculiar cadence and word choices. She is a farmer, or maybe more accurately a farmer’s wife and mother of six kiddos, and writes like she has at least a PhD. Maybe she does. But her simple life and complex thoughts are unexpectedly divine.  I’ve seen a clip of her speaking, and she dresses and talks like an NYC poet. Such an interesting woman!  Ann Voskamp.
Early in life, she and her family experience the most horrific of tragedies. Her young sister was very accidentally killed by an oncoming delivery truck driver. They all saw it happen. Devastating. Tragic. Gruesome.
When you go through something like that, you pretty much either shut down, cross your arms and turn away from God. Or you run toward him desperately, knowing that He is the only possible thing that could ever make you in anyway OK again.
She initially chose the former, quietly, humbly.  Confused, desperately disappointed.  She continued church going but closed off part of herself.  She settled into a longtime depression of sorts.  She didn’t become an atheist or anything – she just stopped trusting God and stopped being engaged with Him.
The book talks about how she came across this idea of Eucharisteo, the table of Thanksgiving.  As long as there is grace, thanks is possible, and so joy is possible.  She met someone who was thankful IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES (and he’d been through some doozies.)
She knows how Jesus thanks God before he asks him to do stuff. She notes that thanksgiving always precedes the miracle.
She thinks hard on this Eucharisteo.    She considers how even our saving by Christ must include gratitude.  How else could we accept the gift of salvation but with gratitude? Gratitude is the evidence and manifestation of our acceptance of his extended grace.
So she begins the list. A list of things she is thankful for. Little things, big things. God’s grace and the beauty of morning sunlight.  Her husband’s embrace.  Her children’s bare feet.  Apparently there is a workbook that goes along with this book. I don’t have it. But I got the idea that I should probably start making a list, too. The title of the book is One Thousand Gifts. So I guess that is what we’re shooting for, here. So far, I’m up to about 200. I forget things that should be obvious. I think I’ve written down some already, and realize I haven’t. I’ve written some things twice, I think. But here is the list I have so far. Many of you reading this will find your names on it. And if you don’t, it’s probably because my brain is addled from chemo and pain medication.  it’s far from complete, so your name may well be popping up soon.
I’m only about a third of the way through the book. And I have not magically transformed into a naturally thankful person. But I do find myself taking note of blessings that I took for granted before. Little things that people do or that spring up before me, source unknown.  I’m more aware, and more willing to give thanks even if I am not feeling especially thankful. Sometimes, the very act of thanking prompts those feelings of gratitude. There is some special magic in that. I don’t have it all figured it out. But I think I’m on the right track.

Holy suffering, Batman!

So, the past week? 
That sucked.  Really. 
First, we had Monday, the day of infusion.  I tend to feel great when I go to the clinic
because it’s been a while since they filled me with poison.  So I show up optimistic, energized, ready to
go.  The infusion was fine. 
For those not familiar with how the process works, I’ll give
you a quick run down.  I have a medi-port
device, named Portia, that is installed in my chest.  It is accessed by a big scary needle and
fluids can be administered through it and blood can be taken from
it.  It’s pretty nifty and saves you from
ruining your arm veins.  Upon arrival, I
am weighed, and vitals are taken.  I am
weighed each time because the volume of chemo you are given is based on your
weight.  Blood is taken and a couple of
quick tests are done while I am administered pre-meds – steroids, hydrating
fluids and anti-nausea medication.  This
takes about an hour.  Then I am hooked up
to Oxaliplatin and Vectabix, two chemo drugs that are given over several
hours.  At the end of that, I am given a
bolus (injection) of 5-FU (yes, it’s really called that) and then hooked up to
the Wonder Woman Power Pack (aka Fanny) that I wear home.  This contains more 5-FU which is pumped into me for 48 hours.        
During this time, at the cancer center, I visited with nurses I know, showed off
my latest Wonder Woman accessories, read, rested, watched funny YouTube videos.  I even did a conference call with my staff
via FaceTime.  Ah, technology.  After, Kevin and I had lunch at Panera, stopped at Old Navy to
buy some new “visiting jammies”  (it’s
important to have decent lounge-wear when people stop by often as people do
when one is ill.)  I went home, took it
easy, did a little catching up on work and felt mostly ok. 
Wobbly, but ok.  Wobbly is the
name I give to the feeling that sets in once chemo has been administered but
hasn’t yet unleashed its fury.   You feel like something is off, your brain isn’t
sharp, you feel slightly queasy and a little tired.  The next day and a half, I was mostly getting used
to lugging that fanny pack around. 
Tired, uncomfortable.  Then the
heartburn of an angry dragon set in.  This was a
new sensation – burning from my belly, literally up to my ears.  I looked it up and that’s a thing – burning all
the way up into your Eustachian tubes. 
Wednesday I got unhooked from the Power Pack and was
administered more anti-nausea meds and a prescription for heavy duty heartburn
medication.  The heartburn
persisted.  I dragged myself into work on Thursday to attend our Day of Hope picnic.  Familiar faces and an event celebrating God
on the North Shore lifted my spirits even though I felt pretty low,
physically.  I felt like I was literally dragging myself around,
wondering if people could tell how I was only about 50% sure I wouldn’t vomit
right there in front of the crowd.  A
homeless man spoke to me as I passed by and said “Ma’am, you look like a
princess.”  I looked around to see if he was really talking to me, and when I confirmed that, I smiled and said to him very genuinely “Sir,
you have just made my day.” 
I came home and made dinner and the efforts of the day just wore me down.  Just as we sat down together, I got so sick I couldn’t eat it.  What a shame!  I had three bites of a delicious meal and my body just shut down.  This was very discouraging.  I went to bed and barely saw my family that day.  Emotionally, this was the hardest day.  Your little girl just wants to tell you about her day and you have no choice but to be alone in a dark room and just get through it.  Your exhausted husband has worked all day and now has to handle every aspect of the evening – clean up the kitchen, bath, math practice, lunches for the next day.  This is when sadness and “it’s not fair!” threatens to take hold of me.    
Friday, I’d agreed to attend an important meeting.  I truly relied on God to get me there,
through the meeting and home.  I was glad
I went, and so grateful to get home, put my non-visiting jammies on and just
settle into a weekend of rest. 
Unfortunately, Saturday, the heartburn upped its game.  My insides felt on fire.  Nothing touched it – believe me, I’ve tried
everything from prescription meds to kimchi (which is delicious, btw!) so save
your well intentioned “Have you tried ginger tea?” for someone who has
heartburn because they ate too much Vincent’s pizza.  This is the chemically induced destruction of
the upper portion of the digestive system. 
My doc is on the case, so we’ll hopefully figure it out, but mint leaves
and popcicles aren’t going to tame this dragon, my friends. 
Sunday, let’s just say I spent more time in the bathroom
than I did for my past two colonoscopy preps combined.  Man, I don’t know what hell was unleashed on
my tummy, but you could audibly hear it churning from across the room.  Because I’m stubborn and crazy, we decided to
go to the Science Center anyway.  I can
tell you where every bathroom on every floor is.  My apologies to anyone who was there Sunday.  We came home and I laid in agony while
watching The Devil Wears Prada.  I want
to be Meryl Streep in 30 years.  Or be
neighbors with her.  We would visit over
chai tea and talk about the most wonderful things, I just know it. 
The weekend was really miserable.  Many times I lifted my eyes heavenward and
said “A little help, here?”  No specific
answer came – just the truth that only what is needed is what comes and that
which is not needed stays away.  This is
needed.  Don’t know why.  But I don’t need to know.  To say we need to know is to say we know
better than our creator, and that just doesn’t make sense to me.  He knows. 
He has set me upon this path and is deeply aware of every
experience.  He uses all for my good.  So be it, and may I be grateful

Today, Monday.  I am a
new woman.  The storm has quieted.  The fire in my belly has reduced to a
smolder.  I am so thankful to be mostly
restored.  And I am grateful to be able
to say I leaned in to the Lord in search of wisdom and comfort, not away in
despondent bitterness.  As John Newton
says, (something to the effect of) if we’re going to the throne of grace where sits the King of Kings, the
Father of all creation,  in search of
comfort and relief and we aren’t getting it, we certainly aren’t going to get
it from staying away.                  

The best book I've read in a long time

I know I’ve mentioned this book before.  But here is a full review.

Tim Keller, in this hefty, somewhat scholarly book, thick with Scripture references, personal stories and C.S. Lewis-level logical arguments, discusses how our culture tells us that adversity, suffering and struggle are bad – they are something to get past so we can get on with real life. Suffering, such as dealing with cancer (or job loss, infidelity, serious injury, loss of a loved one) is a life disruption, a snag, an interruption from our regularly scheduled programming. But, as Dr. Keller poses, what about the biblical view?  It says this is IMPORTANT.  It’s allowed by God, by design.  It’s not retaliation for that time you missed church or lied about being stuck in traffic or even that time you stole, cheated or deeply betrayed a close friend.  The justice for all of the dumb stuff you do was satisfied, paid in full on the cross.  So, while it’s possible that your suffering may be a direct consequence of sin, ignore the temptation of yourself and others to ponder whether you “deserve” the suffering or not.  It’s irrelevant.  Additionally, depending on how you approach it, this suffering you’re experiencing can be used by you and God to galvanize your faith, to deepen your intimacy with God, to strengthen your relationships and bless you with greater wisdom, compassion and patience. 

Put another way, whatever suffering you’re going through, it’s not an accident, it’s not punishment and it’s not to be squandered.

Here is an excerpt that really challenged and encouraged me:

“If you believe in Jesus and you rest in Him, then suffering will relate to your character like fire relates to gold. Do you want to know who you are—your strengths and weaknesses? Do you want to be a compassionate person who skillfully helps people who are hurting? Do you want to have such a profound trust in God that you are fortified against the disappointments of life? Do you want simply to be wise about how life goes?

Those are four crucial things to have—but none of them are readily achievable without suffering. There is no way to know who you really are until you are tested. There is no way to really empathize and sympathize with other suffering people unless you have suffered yourself. There is no way to really learn how to trust in God until you are drowning.”

One of the most challenging aspects of this book is how Dr. Keller boldly confronts the reader with this question:  Are you in this (the Christian faith) to truly serve God, or are you in it to see how you can get God to serve you?  Oof.  That’s a rough question. Our response to suffering gives us the answer.  If we kick and scream and whine and cry and demand to be released from the suffering, we’re not approaching it with a trusting attitude toward God.  We’re basically saying “Well, I was ok with this until physical pain came up on me.”  Or “Hey, I was willing to go along until you let that man break my heart.”  If we really believe that this God loves us enough to send his son to the cross to save us from all of our terrible decisions, moral failures and selfish choices, then how can we not trust Him to be with us in the midst of of the suffering?

This book is for people who are experiencing serious suffering, or people who want to be prepared for when it comes their way.  Dr. Keller has published a gift here – a guide to having a Biblical, Christ-centered response when your world comes crashing down.  If you want to take your faith-journey to the next level, read it.


I had chemo today.  So I’m suffering.  My body feels weird. Tired.  Achy.  Queasy.  Uncomfortable.  The cold bothers me in weird ways.  My hands and feet feel stung, or electrified and then go numb. My eyes sting. Sneezing is horrifically painful.  

I walked for ten minutes for the health benefits that movement can provide.  It was hard.  Icky and sweaty and not fun.  
I feel bored at the prospect of being confined to my home until the toxins dissipate or the weather warms.  I feel a little isolated at the moment.  I want soft, warm things around me.  I want to sleep for four days.  I want quiet.  But I want company.  Friends.  I want macaroni and cheese and good bread even though they aren’t really in my self-imposed whole food, semi vegan, semi paleo diet.  I wish I could drink something besides the thousand varieties of tea I have.  I miss sugar.  I miss ice cold drinks.  I feel like crying but tears physically hurt my eyes.  
So, that’s the real deal of how this point in the cycle feels.  I want to experience my suffering in a particular way.  I want it to be characterized by three things:
1. Authenticity.  I want to be honest.  I want to share the truth of my heart.  I want to live out loud and let you see.  We can benefit from each other when we are authentic about our fears, anger, frustrations, limitations, failures and need for one another.  A falsely positive person is a fraud and of use to no one.  I want to be as transparent as I can, especially about the rough stuff.  
2.  Hope.  Yes, I suffer and experience fear.  But.  I have significant hope.  Hope that I will grow old.  Hope that this will become a significant chapter in a long, dynamic, adventurous life.  Hope that others will glean important truths from my experience.  Hope, because God’s ultimately got me.  I am loved.  I matter.  I bask in the glory of hope.  No matter what, I have hope.
3. Wisdom.  I intend to become wiser…deeply wiser…through this.  I don’t want to miss a single lesson.  I’m paying attention to how I operate, how I think, how I love, and how I can grow.  I’m watching for how God moves and how He answers prayers and when He seems silent.  
So, in the name of authenticity,  I’m suffering.  And it sucks.  In the name of Hope, it will be better in 5 or 6 days, thankfully.  In the name of wisdom, I trust God with my suffering.  He is down here in the midst of it with me.  What a blessing.  

Suffering is necessary

Tim Keller, in his excellent book “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering” says that suffering is necessary.  That it’s an important way to grow.  That people who escape suffering are typically lacking in terms of resiliency, of knowing their strengths and weaknesses, of understanding the human experience with a depth of wisdom.  

Interestingly, the same devastating or traumatic experience can destroy one person, yet strengthen another.  We have to approach it in an effective way, specific to our particular variety of suffering (whether it be illness, physical pain, facing possible death, experiencing the loss of a loved one, suddenly imposed physical limitations, lack of basic needs, even a nasty break-up) to glean growth rather than bitterness.  Our hearts will be broken now and again in ways mostly small, but sometimes big.  My big one is cancer.  Some days that feels a little like this:

Maybe your “big thing” is totally different.  And maybe it’s from the past.  Or it hasn’t come yet.   Not trying to scare you.  But my hope is each of us can do a little “prep work” to help us be armed against suffering totally destroying us.
This is by no means an exhaustive list for how to deal with suffering…if you want that, start with Keller’s book.  However…
Some ways to prepare ourselves to be pointed in the direction of growth and away from the direction of bitterness:
Let’s expect that we will suffer.  Ok?  Something upsetting is going to happen at some point.  So let’s not fear or be overwhelmed by it but let’s notice that chances are, something devastating will occur in our lifetime.  That’s life.  Life is full of joy and fun and boredom and annoyance and tragedy.  It just is.  
Let’s deal with our illogical notions that if we are well behaved, we will escape suffering – it’s not Biblical, and it’s just not true if you look around.  You know perfectly nice people that have suffered.  
Let’s wrestle with the difficult reality that encountering suffering does not mean God does not love us.  Because, umm, like Jesus totally suffered and he’s God’s favorite.  
Let’s believe that suffering can produce many things: perseverance, character and hope, to name a few.  But also glory.  Straight up glory.  When all seemed lost, as Christ died on the cross…they must have thought “game over.”  A skinny naked teacher hung there dying.  A crude and tragic sight.  What fools they must have felt like, following him around for those years.  But little did they know what was happening. Little did they know the spell was being broken.  That Death was being defeated.  That God’s love was pouring out.  
Maybe God’s love is pouring out in the midst of your suffering and mine.  God can be quite subtle in His ways.  Look for the evidence.  I bet it’s there.