Human beings comprise bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits. What’s going on with us psychologically has an effect on our bodies, as those tied up in knots in stress can affirm. Spiritual turmoil can put our emotions in a spin. And physical illness can cause depression. We’re a bundle of entwined happenings. All this to say that anxiety has many causes—physiological, emotional, mental, and spiritual—and therefore can be tackled from all these angles. We can also say that no problem is purely a spiritual one (or a physical one, or . . .). Our multi-faceted nature is a wonder: complex and beautiful.

Isn’t it wonderful that the Apostle Paul knew this, so when he addressed worry and anxiety in Philippians 4:4-9, his Spirit-driven encouragement was right on target.

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I love the promises of God’s presence and power in our lives, especially when we are in situations that muddle our minds and rob us of peace. God’s indescribable inner peace is able to “stand guard” over our hearts (our center of meaning and identity) and minds (our thoughts). If we follow Paul’s example in dealing with worry, we are assured of God’s peace. So how do we get there?

First of all, Paul’s alternative to worry is prayer that is conducted in a spirit of gratitude. “By prayer…with thanksgiving, tell God what you need.” Sometimes we fret over things without ever really articulating what it is we desire to happen, so of course we fail to make our petition.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but it is so compelling and apropos, hear it again. Martin Luther struggled with worry and depression throughout his life. This is well documented in his writings. He was having a particularly bad week, and granted, there were several threats on the horizon that he obsessed over. The story goes that his wife Katherine came to breakfast wearing all black, appearing in deep mourning. Martin inquired about who had died, and Katherine stated flatly, “God has died.” Alarmed at her tone, Martin protested that God indeed was not dead, to which she retorted, “Well, Martin, the way you’ve been moping around in helplessness and worry all week, I thought God surely had left us!”

So Paul’s first word of advice is, “Okay, stop spinning in your head about this, and ask God for what you need. Spit it out!” In a way, this prayer begins with a confession: “Lord, I am sorry I didn’t come to you first with my worry.” The Apostle makes no promises about specific answers to prayer, but Paul does claim that asking with thanksgiving is met with God’s peace standing guard over our hearts and minds.

Second, choose new thoughts you want to dwell on. As a diversion from the worries, pick subjects that are good and true and pure. I believe that each of us gets to choose what we think about. Self-awareness helps us recognize what we are thinking and how we are thinking. We can actually turn to ourselves and say, “Self?! What’s that you’re thinking? How are you feeling about that? Is it worth all the lather you are working up?” We have the capacity, given to us by our Creator and empowered by his Spirit, to discern if our thoughts are spinning in circles or if the cogitation is constructive. Paul says, go search in your mind (or in nature or in a good book . . .) for those things that are worthy of praise, excellent, and commendable, and dwell on them! In this way a negative (worry) is displaced by a positive (commendable thing). When I get in a worrisome mood, I turn on favorite music really loud and dance to it. Or I take a turn in my garden or walk the labyrinth a short distance from my home.

Third, by praying and by diverting our attention, we can cultivate the ability to banish thoughts we don’t want to dwell on. It takes a little practice, and diversion really helps here, but just because a thought enters one’s mind doesn’t mean it has to set up shop. We can usher it out the back door as fast as it came in the front. This, by the way, is what is required in dealing with temptation. A thought flits by, all sparkly and attractive, but we can take “custody of the eyes” (or in this case, the mind), as the Benedictines used to say, and move on to something more wholesome.

The Apostle Paul attaches spiritual focus to mental health! He proclaims and I can affirm from my own experience that focused, thankful petition gets me out of my worrisome spin, diversion helps me find something better to occupy my mind, and moving on in the Spirit frees me for service.

I’m not sure if I will be able to post tomorrow . . . it all depends on finding a Wi-Fi signal at a time I can actually send off a blog entry. Stay tuned!

The original impetus for writing on anxiety came in the form of an invitation from the Lung Cancer Alliance folks, to share on the topic for a webinar in December 2017. In preparation, I am keeping a personal anxiety journal, just for the heck of it, so that I have plenty of current illustrations!

Okay, I admit I am feeling a little anxious these days. I am looking forward to my April 26 CT scan, a routine image every six months to check for signs of a cancer reoccurrence. One is said to have “scanxiety” in anticipation of one’s periodic scans. Mine is a very specific and temporary concern, and then when the scan comes back “all clear,” I go back to a state of relative serenity— until the next one. One of my coping mechanisms is to keep busy and find wholesome distractions to divert my thoughts from dwelling on something (a scan) that is going to happen, no matter what. Later this week my distraction is to see three plays at the Ashland (Oregon) Shakespeare Festival. I’m hoping Henry IV (Part I) and Julius Caesar will do the trick!

Seriously, though, my little bit of anxiety is nothing compared to the build up of community-wide, even national anxiety. It depends on where you live, how much exposure to world news you get, and life circumstances or age encroaching upon you.

I started noticing this more corporate anxiety right after 9/11. A mother of young children, a parishioner of mine, freaked out about the horrific event and feared for the safety of her toddlers. She watched replays of the event night and day. Her anxiety reached irrational levels, leading to her refusal to let her children stay in the church nursery during worship and Sunday school.

More recently, I observe that drivers on the road are more tightly wound than ever before. Admittedly, I live in an area known for its legendary, impossible traffic. There is no longer a rush “hour”; the morning commute starts at 5:30 and continues until 9:30; the afternoon commute in the opposite direction starts as early as 3:30 and goes until 7 o’clock. It’s a jungle out there. The condition has not engendered virtue among drivers though. Rather, as people get more frustrated, they take more chances. They become rude and self-entitled. They go after motorcyclists who have some special traffic privileges in the state of California. They speed when the slightest bit of black pavement opens in front of them, or they honk their horns. [It is possible that these behaviors are not signs of anxiety but of anger. . . I concede the point. But their bad manners cause me anxiety, I can tell you that!]

Nowadays, I think a blanket of generalized anxiety has enveloped Americans with fears of terrorism, the possible loss of health care insurance coverage, a President and Congress moving in uncharted directions, and hearing a political or religious point of view one deems threatening. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis have I been aware of such angst. The fact that every act of violence, every unusual (even rare) occurrence, is broadcast not only during the News Hour but also across social media 24/7 does not help a person keep perspective. This week, for two hours on Facebook, it was possible to watch in horror as a crazed individual kills another in cold blood and posts the video in real time.

What is a person to do? How would knowing the Risen Christ make a difference when we feel like we are taking a bath in anxious waters? Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). The NIV translates this passage, “In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus overcame the world—and the devil and death also—by his own death and resurrection. God is bigger than all of creation and any problem, and we are invited to believe that God is at work through both creation and difficulty. His work does not necessarily prevent pain and suffering for me in the short term, but God is gaining the victory over all the enemies that make humans suffer. The fact that God, the Lord of History, is working things out over time is the source of our hope:

20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  —1 Corinthians15:20-26

He will prevail, and therefore so shall we.

Tomorrow I will draw from the Apostle Paul, who experienced plenty of pain and hardship in the course of his ministry, and yet seemed remarkably free of anxiety and worry. He is going to give us some ideas about how we can handle anxiety in the day-to-day matters that bother us.

Thanks for the little breather there, around Easter. It was a busy weekend, including leading worship for a group of about 35 staff and patients at John Muir Hospital. It matters not if the congregation is 35 or 3500, a lot of energy goes into a service! So for all my friends resting after the Day of Resurrection, may Jesus refill your hearts and souls with his love and strength.

Picking up on the theme of anxiety from last week, the question is whether Jesus’ resurrection from the dead should make a difference in our tension/worry level. We can get an idea of its impact on the disciples by looking at the gospel accounts (especially John 20-21) and watch their reactions to the Lord’s reappearance.

In John’s account, the disciples are huddled in the Upper Room again, “afraid of the Jews” because of their friendship with the One who had been crucified. This group of eleven (minus the betrayer Judas, who earlier had hanged himself in remorse) was processing the events of the week, wondering if the crucifying spirit would extend to them by association. They were worried, plain and simple. Though Jesus had prepared them for something like this, it was beyond their imagination that a person who had suffered so could actually have risen and left the grave! And yet, Mary Magdalene herself had seen the Risen Lord that morning and told the disciples. It is important to note that Jesus had sent the message through Mary that he was Risen; she had faithfully passed it along to the disciples, and despite the notification, that evening they are still huddled in a worried wad, wondering what to do next.

But then Jesus appeared to them (all except Thomas the Twin who must have been out shopping or something), confirming the event and bringing much joy to the Upper Room. As time passes, we see the disciples begin to circulate again, getting back to work and otherwise reestablishing their routines. The gospel writers, knowing what is coming, hold us in suspense a bit, because we know eventually that the Resurrection and the preaching of the Resurrection (after Pentecost) would completely turn their worlds upside down. For now Jesus’ followers are waiting for instructions, which Jesus does give. The Spirit eventually will come upon them and empower them for dangerous, invigorating work proclaiming the gospel. [I will come back to this theme as we approach Pentecost.]

This series of events—resurrection, meeting Jesus face to face, waiting for “something,” commissioning for service, and empowering—all take place within a span of a few weeks. The resurrection is a fact, but there are still circumstances of concern to the disciples throughout this period, that is, until Pentecost. After the Spirit comes upon them in power and endows them with spiritual gifts, we see very little, if any, evidence of worry or anxiety. In fact, these Galileans become bold risk-takers with new preaching gifts putting them before huge crowds of curious neighbors, Jews and Gentiles alike.

It seems to me that this progression of events might help us understand worry and its relationship to Resurrection. You and I may have legitimate reasons to be cautious or “worried”: that is, some specific expectation that carries a threat to our wellbeing. Jesus said, “Do not worry” about all the basics of life, even some of the extraordinary circumstances of the moment, because God is merciful and will take care of us. [It has always fascinated me that Jesus did not psychologize about worry; he just said, “Don’t go there” (Matthew 6:25-33).] Maybe the Lord was so blunt in his teaching about worry, because he knew that if a person practices worry it becomes a habit that leads to a more generalized state of anxiety, which is a lot harder to control!

But getting back to the resurrection. This amazing miracle of Easter is of great import, but it does not succeed in and of itself in alleviating our anxiety! There are Christians around the world, most recently our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt whose churches were attacked on Palm Sunday, who know that suffering is still a hazard of following Christ. The resurrection did not put a halt to the persecution of Christians. Life goes on, and believers know that life is not easier because of the faith and sometimes think life is actually harder.

What the resurrection does, though, is help us work through our Greatest Fear, the fount from which all our other worries and anxieties flow: our aversion to death. When Jesus rose from the grave, he conquered the Great Enemy, death, and declared that New Life was found only in him because of that accomplishment. As our faith grows, we learn that death is not the worst thing to happen to us. We come to understand that it is the necessary doorway through which we must pass in order to enter the eternal rest promised to us in Christ.

But most people I talk to say, “I can accept the fact that I will die; but I just don’t want to go through the dying required to get there.” Precisely! This “secondary” fear is very strong in us, and Jesus agony and suffering prior to his death do not help us manage that worry very well. Or do they? If it is any consolation (and it has been to many saints through the ages), the fact that Jesus suffered so acutely before his death means that he has borne our grief, carried our sorrows, and by his scourging we were healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Does this claim have any direct relationship to our anxiety and worry? More on that tomorrow.

We have arrived at the day of Jesus’ death, about which he prophesied, for which he prepared his disciples, and to which he marched willingly. Time has not permitted an elaboration on the trial before Pilate, Peter’s denial, or the mocking and scourging designed to humiliate and traumatize our Savior. In summary, we can say that by the time Jesus walked from trial to execution, carrying his own cross, he was already exhausted physically and mentally.

It is important to recognize the potential for spiritual danger when we are completely and utterly spent. Exhaustion can weaken our guard against temptation, scramble our judgment, and even make us (literally) stumble and fall. The only other time we see Jesus at very low ebb like this was when he spent forty days in the desert, immediately following his baptism (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). Satan took advantage of the situation to harass Jesus and attempted to divert him from his mission.

On this Holy Week night-without-food-or-sleep, we can only imagine the weakness Jesus felt. Add physical pain and/or emotional torture, and we can catch a glimpse of Jesus’ state as his crucifixion approached. All signs read, “Danger! Danger!”

When I get tired, I tend to get snappy, irritable, and selfish. My body and mind say, “You’re done, babe. You have nothing left to give. Go to bed.” If you were to overhear my words at this low point, you would be very disappointed in me.

How much worse was the exhaustion, the pain, and the spiritual strain on Jesus the night he was betrayed into the hands of Roman soldiers, Jewish elders, and a mocking crowd. Yet, what came out of his mouth as he was hanging on the cross? What we call “the seven last words of Christ”:

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)

“Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

“Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother” (John 19:26)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

“I am thirsty” (John 19:28).

“It is finished [accomplished]” (John 19:30).

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

The gospel accounts give the impression that Jesus was largely silent in the three hours he hung on the cross. But the few words he did say reveal his soul, his intent, his mission, and his trust. What was his message?

Forgiveness: Jesus spends no energy whatsoever on anger or resentment. He asks the Father to forgive the people who were perpetrating an inherently unjust and undeserved punishment. He does not allow his spirit to be encumbered by bitterness. Take that, Devil!

Salvation: The very purpose of Jesus death was to atone for the sins of the world. In his weakened state, however, he does not overlook the salvation of one criminal hanging right next to him. Atonement is accomplished at Jesus’ expense, for our benefit. The thief who believes him and asks for consideration receives it freely and selflessly. No one is beyond redeeming! Take that, Devil!

Relationship: Jesus takes care of family business and gets his affairs in order. He possesses nothing of material value, but cherishes his mother. In a culture where widows were extremely vulnerable, he asks the apostle John to take her under his wing. Again, not thinking of himself or his own losses, but only of others. Take that, Devil!

Abandonment: Up to this point, the one reality Jesus could count on in life was the presence and guidance of his heavenly Father. On the cross, even that consolation is removed. I acknowledge great mystery about this moment. The God-Man Jesus feels his Father’s abandonment, distressing him greatly. But even in this dark despair, Jesus continues to speak to God who is silent. Take that, Devil!

Distress. The acknowledgment of thirst is so human and so basic. Physically, he is parched. But as Mother Teresa affirmed throughout her ministry to the destitute and dying of Calcutta, the human condition is one of thirst: yearning for living water, needing love, crying out for justice. Jesus at this moment is right alongside us experiencing neediness. He bears it. He is not satisfied, but he continues to trust God. Take that, Devil!

Victory. Like a marathoner crossing the finish line, Jesus recognizes that his dying is accomplishing the will of God and fulfilling his mission on earth. Nothing can be added now; he has done what he came to do. No guilt. No regrets. Only peace. Take that, Devil!

Trust. Jesus has survived scourging. Jesus has withstood mocking. Jesus has endured God’s abandonment to death. Jesus has finished his work. And now, Jesus gives up his spirit into the care of his Father. What trust! What resolve! What faith! Take that, Devil!

O Lord, that I may in the circumstances of my death be able to walk through the Shadow into your marvelous Light: trusting you, thinking of others, forgiving as needed. You have walked this path before me; now by your Spirit help me to live and die in confidence and serenity. Amen.

 

As we move through Holy Week, I am contemplating Jesus’ mental state, on the lookout for anxiety. If I had been in Jesus’ shoes that week, anxiety is what I would have been feeling. But that is only projection from a very human point of view! Letting the Scripture speak for itself, we find a window into the soul of the God-Man Jesus in accounts of his visit to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Up to this point, Jesus was handling his emotions well. He has spent the evening with his closest disciples, instructing them, explaining the meaning of upcoming events, and reassuring them of the Spirit’s presence. His death is less than a day away. The narrators hint at poignancy and even sadness, especially in reference to imminent betrayal, but we see no fear at the dinner table.

In the Garden, though, we see a different reaction worth noting.

I am comparing the versions proffered by Matthew 26:36-46 and Mark 14:32-42, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Luke, for all the heart-warming humanity in his gospel, includes very little emotional content in the Garden of Gethsemane scene. (All we have is the textually disputed Luke 22:43f that elaborates on Jesus’ anguish in the garden.)

Matthew 26:37 states:
He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved (erxato lupeisthai) and agitated (ademonein).

Mark 14 uses a different verb:
Jesus began to be distressed (erxato ekthambeisthai) and agitated (ademonein).

Lupeo (to grieve) points to deep sadness and emotional pain. Agitation (ademoneo) suggests a physiological disturbance caused by a flush of adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormone of stress. Physical pain is often accompanied by agitation, which adds to the suffering. So according to Matthew, Jesus was in deep emotional pain, overwhelmed by sadness and apparently unsettled and disturbed in his spirit.

Mark also uses the word ademoneo (agitated), but instead of referring to grief, he uses ekthambeo (be distressed). This word means, “greatly astounded,” with either positive or negative reactions. The positive use of this term would be “to be amazed,” but in this case, the meaning is “to be alarmed.”

What caught my attention is that this word “astounded/alarmed” suggests that Jesus was surprised by something ugly or dangerous. For some time we know he had been aware of the purpose of this journey and its outcome (his death). But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was taken aback by a vision of what was to come. Louw & Nida suggest that this word meaning may even extend to fear.

What could possibly surprise Jesus to the point of alarm? The desolation of his own death! Death itself was not new to him; he had wept at Lazarus’ tomb before he shouted for Lazarus to come out. But here in Gethsemane, Jesus is confronted and astounded by the pain of dying and the darkness of his own death.

This reaction is different from the poise he demonstrated in the prior week. So different in fact that I wonder if the first Garden encounter—the one that caused alarm and agitation—was not with his heavenly Father but with the devil. The devil authors fear, disturbance, and destruction. If it can immobilize us by intimidation or threat, it will. God, on the other hand, is the author of peace. He provides courage and instills in us a sense of purpose and resolve. And he gives us the power to proceed on the path he has chosen for us.

By all accounts, Jesus is taken aback by the devil’s threat at first, seems to regroup, and then addresses his Father with “Please, if possible, remove this cup; nevertheless, do your will, not mine.” This is the honest, steady, intimate plea of Son to Father, born out of complete trust in God’s plan.

Jesus, even if he were momentarily afraid as the text suggests, was not sinning by recoiling from the horror of what would happen. But he does not run from this particular peril, because it is his mission to walk into trouble and die for a pre-ordained purpose. He willingly submits to his Father and carries out his assignment knowing full well now what it will entail, in all its gory devil-drawn detail.

As we continue on our Christian walk, there are times and circumstances when we become alarmed, even afraid. Alarm in the midst of a genuine threat to our wellbeing is a gift from God to help us get out of the way, run, remove our hand from the fire, or otherwise escape and survive. When there is danger, the alarm is raised so that we can act appropriately and quickly. There is no sin in recognizing danger. There is no fault in being outraged by death. Please be assured that even Jesus felt these things!

When I think about the moments in which I received bad news in the last ten years or so, I did experience alarm that allowed me to give my full attention to next steps. Yes, I tended to get agitated by the unknowns, unsettled by the ambiguities, befuddled by options before me. But my faith in God’s providence never wavered, because this state of alarm morphed into vigilant trust in the Savior. Focusing, as Jesus did, on walking in God’s Way throughout these ordeals was made possible by God’s Spirit within me. I believe it is that same strength and power that enabled Jesus to walk toward his death, from Gethsemane to Golgotha, resolving to do God’s will without complaint or cowardice.

Anxiety lurks at the edges of my mental and spiritual life. I come by it honestly, that is, I grew up in an anxious home. It is part of my Christian testimony: Jesus’ gracious invasion into my awareness and his Spirit’s residence in my soul for 47 (!) years definitely changed my course by moderating anxiety’s influence. For this I am deeply grateful.

So when cancer attempted to take over my body in 2013-14, and in the three years of cancer-freedom since then, the question of anxiety was forefront in my mind. I blogged about it at the time, and made the conscious choice not to let it get the better of me. What has surprised me, though, is the potential for worry and anxiety three years out! I’m calling it “survivor anxiety,” and it rears its ugly head as I prepare for the periodic CT scans (“scanxiety”) or await lab results or hear about a lung cancer patient who didn’t make it. This is real life not only for me but also for countless lung patients. In what ways does God’s Word address this besetting condition of my soul?

We can do no better than to look to the life of our Savior Jesus Christ for clues, and Holy Week is as good a time as any to make this examination.

Sunday morning at church, the children processed down the aisles waiving their palm branches and encouraging the rest of us to sing our “Hosannas” with gusto. Thus began the reenactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a few days before “the passion.” One day he is publicly welcomed, feted, and praised. Five days later he is tried, convicted, and crucified. A heartbreaking downfall.

And yet, none of these events was outside of Jesus’ foreknowledge. The gospels indicate that Jesus was aware of and was following a timetable—arranged by his heavenly Father—that took him to Jerusalem. He had previously visited the great city as a private citizen, but this entry was a public one and the launch of an amazing package of symbols, statements, and, ultimately, sacrifice that were the climax of his ministry life.

His heavenly Father had revealed the plan: “You have five days to live.”

As an aside, I ministered to a woman in my city for several months, after her doctor informed her that her cancer treatment was not working and she had three weeks to live. One of her first “orders of business” was to ask for a minister to consult with her, after a 25-year absence from church fellowship. I had the privilege of walking alongside her, helping her process her tenuous relationship with God. Then we parted for a time presumably to allow her privacy with her family and to make final arrangements. The plan was that her daughter would call me when death occurred, and I would do the memorial service. I didn’t hear from the family for months and thought perhaps they had dropped the ball. So I called the family home, and the woman herself answered! She was still alive, though much weaker, and still understanding that death was right around the corner. Her only anxiety revolved around the question of why she hadn’t died yet.

Luke records in his gospel that at a critical juncture Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-53). He took the bridle off his public ministry, went boldly to Jerusalem, said the prophetic things, and did the provocative miracles that would bring the issue of his identity to a head.

My question is this: was Jesus worried about what was going to happen to him? Reading the gospel account from Luke 9 forward, one gets no inkling that Jesus was anything but resolved about his mission. In fact, later in Luke 12, we find Jesus giving his famous sermon about worry! “Do not worry about your life . . .”!

What about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem? Was anxiety among the feelings he carried while riding on that donkey? As he paraded up the hillside toward the temple, and the crowd shouted “Hosanna,” he knew death was only five days away, but we see no signs of anxiety. I suppose he could have been tense, on alert, hyper-vigilant, watching the political signs around him, but he certainly showed no signs of fear or foreboding; in fact, he chose this display and incorporated well-placed symbols into the celebration. Riding a donkey spoke volumes: “I may be the son of David, but I am unlike any king you have ever seen.”

As his week progresses, we perhaps see some developments in Jesus’ mental state. For now, it would be good to pause and ask ourselves the question, How would I handle the knowledge that I had five days to live? What did Jesus have that enabled him to proceed through his last days in confidence and resolve? Could I have that same serenity as I move through my own life toward its inevitable end?

Today’s entry is one more context-setting blog, and then I think tomorrow I can start in on some Holy Week reflections. One of the more interesting ministry directions I have taken in the last year and a half is to involve myself helping people who suffer from lung disease (sometimes cancer, but more likely asthma, COPD, or emphysema). When I was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2013, I was introduced to a new community of “my people,” those for whom breathing is an appreciated gift and intentional effort.

Part of my recovery in 2014 required me to undergo the Pulmonary Rehab program at John Muir Medical Center (Concord Campus). Participating in that seven-week discipline—which included class instruction and discussion as well as medically supervised gym workouts—opened my eyes to a needy population. I was soon asked to teach one of the units, specifically on “activities of daily living.” So now, once a month, I go in and entertain them with demonstrations, recommendations, website links, and other instructional input to help them function independently at home. Great fun, for sure, and keeps me in touch with a vulnerable group of people.

The second contribution I am making to lung health is through the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) in Washington, D.C. This fine group of people is supporting all kinds of efforts, with the hope of reducing the incidence of lung cancer, catching it earlier, finding new treatments, and supporting patients and their families with useful resources. The organization has a legislative branch that raises awareness among Members of Congress, drafts bills, and promotes funding for research of the disease and its cure. I made a trip to D.C. last month in order to meet with legislative aides for the two California Senators, Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris (see me here with Senator Feinstein, whom I met out in the hallway), my Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, and Senator Marco Rubio (R–Florida) in hopes of convincing him to co-sponsor a bipartisan research study bill with Senator Feinstein.

One of my LCA assignments, to be fulfilled next December, is to contribute to a webinar on the topic “Survivor Anxiety.” I had shared with one of the staffers that after three years, I still suffer from scanxiety (getting anxious right before or after a periodic follow-up CT scan) and certain events can trigger an anxious reaction in me. So between now and December, I am keeping an “anxiety journal” and pondering—in a good, non-anxious way, I hope—how to address what turns out to be a common experience of cancer sufferers.

I share all this by way of introduction to this week’s reflections on the events of Jesus’ last few days of life prior to his resurrection. I am going to look at some biblical texts through the lens of anxiety. Particularly this week I shall try to imagine how Jesus managed himself through the horrific unfolding of events leading to his excruciating death on the cross. I anticipate that we will learn something together about worry and obsession over the things that might happen to us, but the goal is to discover the resources we have in Christ that will enable to walk our own journeys with poise and confidence.

A Prolonged Celebration

April 8, 2017

Now don’t fall over in a dead faint as I write my first blog post in about a year and a half. No precipitating event has compelled me to write. Sitting down today with the purpose of writing something was completely spur of the moment. It’s just time to start engaging again, bringing the Word to life. I’ll be honest: I have no idea who my readers are now, but I hope you will give me some feedback (by means of “Comments”) so that I get a sense of you and what you find of value here.

The quick updates in previously used categories:

Health continues to be stellar, enhanced to a large degree by losing 38 pounds in the last year (yes, I started on Ash Wednesday 2016!). I’ve maintained above average skeletal-muscle mass, and now see normal health numbers across the board, though high blood pressure remains my inherited and therefore stubborn vulnerability. The one long-term effect of annihilating The Beast is with me: asthma (particularly bad this winter in the damp cold). A visit to a cardiologist informed me that long-term effects of radiation applied to the upper left chest can lead to stiffening of the blood vessels in that area. He therefore has recommended an aggressive treatment of my borderline-high cholesterol. So add Lipitor to my daily meds ::sigh::

My voice is back to 100%, after discontinuing the cortico-steroid inhaler I was taking daily for asthma control. The inhaler mist was depositing a residue directly on my larynx, gradually paralyzing it. After five days off the inhaler (in October 2015), my voice was back to full capacity and control! Praise God for this; and my asthma has not been any worse as a result.

For reasons that will be more obvious in a minute, book writing came to a screeching halt last year, but my work desk is now cleared of all clutter and the manuscript is front and center, getting some attention two or three times a week. My 12 to 15 hours of chaplaincy work each week at the hospital are amazing on so many levels, most especially experiencing the opportunity to be a light to people who register their religious preference as “None.” Many of my ministry stories now come from the encounters with patients and their families, though HIPAA rules (federal privacy laws) require me to mask or obscure details so you could never know about whom I am writing.

I remain in the category “No Evidence of Disease” (NED), that is, cancer-free more than 3-1/2 years after the diagnosis of Stage III Lung Cancer. My surgeon says I became cancer-free on March 3, 2014, the day of the surgery to take out my upper left lung lobe and many lymph nodes. My oncologist says my cancer-free anniversary is April 28, the last day of chemotherapy. So what’s a girl to do? Celebrate life more enthusiastically than usual for almost two months, from March 3 to April 28! I am right in the middle of this prolonged celebration.

On March 14, 2015 (the Pi Day of the Century, 3.14.15), our “little Miss Elly” was born to our older daughter and her husband, both attorneys now residing in Tacoma, WA. Our first grandchild is of course smart and brilliant and healthy, and that is probably all you are going to hear from me about her in this public forum. But we love going up there to the Pacific Northwest to help celebrate her birthday just as the cherry blossoms are popping, celebrating with pie of course!

In 2016, we added another date that happens to fall within this celebratory period. On April 12, 2016, my husband Andy was felled in a motorcycle accident, when a car went through a red light and they collided in the intersection. He was taken to the trauma center at Highland Hospital in Oakland, just two miles from the accident, and over the next eight days was stabilized with internal injuries, operated on for a broken pelvis and shredded knee tendon, and rejoiced over that things weren’t a lot worse than they were. He transferred to “my” hospital (close to home) for two weeks of acute rehab, then came home for another five weeks of non-weight-bearing discipline. All in all, he was off work for four months, and the whole experience was a huge test of our faith, good-humor, and marriage vows (the “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health” part). But I am happy to tell you that one year later (next week), Andy is back to 100%, working at Abbott Diabetes Care, walking without a limp, and doing the things he loves—all except motorcycle riding, since his brand-new BMW motorcycle was totaled. After long and careful thought, Andy replaced it with an Audi plug-in hybrid car, and we are both very happy with that choice!

Andy’s accident was a terribly destabilizing and disorienting experience, but a year later I can say that I have my sea legs back with a renewed sense of call to my hospital work and to writing. There is so much to tell you, but I will continue on Monday. In the meantime, take a moment to celebrate the life God has given you!

It has been three months since I told you I would not be writing “until the end of June.” Here it is, mid-September, and a couple of you have expressed curiosity, concern, or relief that I have been silent all this time! Though I don’t particularly feel the need to explain myself, the fact that concerns about my health tend to crop up moves me to do so.

Health update: I remain convincingly cancer-free and grateful everyday to God for the gift of life. I still get checked out with a CT scan every three months—though that has gone to six months as of now—and every little thing is double-checked. This time it was two 1-centimeter nodules that showed up on my thyroid. After having the joyful experience of needles stuck into the front of my neck in search of biopsy samples, the report came back benign. Not my favorite procedure, but a good outcome!

Voice update: My vocal troubles, though managed well on the June choir tour, have returned and continue to be a mystery. Despite everything we have tried to solve it, I still have days when I can hardly talk, much less sing. The condition comes and goes, but the unpredictability of it drives me nuts. Now I am thinking it could be allergy related. Prayers needed, as I have two speaking gigs coming up, weekend retreats in October . . .

Breathing update: My lung function under normal everyday conditions is at 100%. The smoke due to our California fires and “Spare the Air” days are more frequently a problem—for the “sensitive population”—so I avoid prolonged exertion outdoors on those days.

Half Dome update. It was on my list once again this year to train for an ascent of Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park. As part of my preparation, I did a short, experimental backpack trip in July, at 8600 feet, six miles into the wilderness and six miles out. This was the first time I had carried a 30-pound pack in about three years! I lugged a 4-lb. oxygen tank and saved it for the big hill. It worked wonders, completely eliminating the misery factor. But for other reasons probably related to—ahem—age, I came to the conclusion that Half Dome is now an unrealistic goal. There’s this one killer section, about a mile “straight up” before you even get to the cables, that was my biggest concern. Confirmed a few weeks later by the report of my husband and daughter who did the trip without me . . . “Mom, you never would have made it.”

Ministry update. I’ve had my few months of play—trips to visit granddaughter Elly, a study tour of Turkey and Greece, and a choir tour to Germany and France. In July, it was time—according to God’s call—to get back to work. I was invited to take a part-time position at John Muir Hospital as associate chaplain, which I started the beginning of July. Three half-days a week is just about right for me and meets a genuine need in our community. It’s been quite awhile since I felt so thoroughly on the front lines of ministry to a very needy population. I’m here to tell you, the hospital gown is an amazing leveler.

Writing update. I have been working steadily on a book about my lung cancer experience called Slaying the Beast: A Spiritual Journal through Lung Cancer. Darling Daughter A is reviewing a too-long manuscript and a writer-friend is suggesting edits to reduce its length by 20%. I also gave it to my radiation oncologist for a medical review. She loved it and said doctors should read it in order to appreciate the patient’s experience. I am hoping the manuscript and a book proposal will be ready by early November. As I bore down on this project, I had only so many precious hours in a day for the kind of creative concentration it required. Blogging insists on the same energy intensity, and I found I couldn’t do both at the same time. Hence, my silence here. Now that the book work is more mechanical, perhaps I can reestablish a blogging discipline. Thing is, I sleep straight through the night now, missing those 3 to 5 a.m. writing periods I enjoyed when I was sick!

Meanwhile, life goes on. We’ve had some pretty amazing news stories in the last few months, many worthy of comment and examination under the light of Scripture. Tragedies abound worldwide, and natural disaster continues to befall people everywhere. The Syrian migration is enlarging, and Greece’s economic precipice is overshadowed by China’s cloud of air pollution and business slowdown. The 2016 presidential campaign has started way too early, and my hope for a centrist, collegial, and creative new leader is perhaps only a pipedream. The Pope is coming to America for a visit; I can’t wait to hear his message, though I am not sure America is ready to heed it.

Trekking on, bringing the Word to life, whether I write about it or not.

Hello faithful readers,

I am taking a blogging break for the month of June to accommodate the intense concentration required to prepare and sing several choral concerts this month. It’s a spiritual discipline of another sort.

I am in the middle of final rehearsals this week, in anticipation of two “bon voyage” performances this weekend in Seattle. After a week’s break, I head to Frankfurt with the Northwest Firelight Chorale, to visit and perform in the Rhein Valley and Cologne in Germany and points west in Alsace and Burgundy France.

Crazy, I know. My 62-year-old brain is in overdrive memorizing eighteen pieces, most in English, but one in French and another in Alsatian, which is going to be the death of me. On the other hand, there is so much for which to be thankful:

• a voice that is finally cooperating and stable enough to sing for hours

 • a fine and fun choir and a conductor willing to overlook my creative breathing 🙂

• beautiful music focusing on the theme “On the Journey Home” through American sacred songs, hymns, and spirituals. A lot of these texts are heaven-centered, and since I have been contemplating Life after Life after Death lately, it has been a blessing to sing about it also.

Keep me and the choir in your prayers, for travel mercies, good health, and appreciative audiences throughout the tour.

In the meantime, treasure Jesus Christ in your heart and bring the Word to life. And if you get a chance, sing about the hope you have in the Savior!