Thursday, August 26, 2010

Doing The LegWork

Linda believed until the very end that she would be cured.

When breast cancer first arrived, my friend returned to the mainstream religion of her childhood. By the time both breasts had been removed and her hair had grown back, Linda’s Christianity had grown more conservative. With the third and final recurrence, a metastasis to the brain, Linda was certain that if she surrendered to God in all things and believed wholeheartedly, a cure would follow. She knew enough to label such an outcome a miracle, but claimed never to doubt that she would be able to parent her three young children into adulthood.

Others subscribe to the “make your own reality” perspective. While their belief system differs from Linda’s, they share a certainty that one’s intent and actions will turn around seemingly bleak situations.

Most of us would agree that the human mind, heart, and spirit are amazingly vigorous, endowed with resources not fully realized. Most of us, too, believe in unseen sources of assistance, though our words and conceptual frameworks vary greatly.

However, we humans seem partial to the illusion that we are in charge of this wild and wooly thing called life. How can we tell when we’re using lofty terms and valid theories to simply maintain a sense of control? We can’t. Our small wills are crafty things and regularly don guises~~egos in spirit’s clothing, so to speak.

When we believe, for example, that we will achieve our desired outcome if we pray faithfully or think only wholesome, life~enhancing thoughts, we make this world much simpler than it is and ourselves more powerful. We ratchet down our fear of the unknown to be sure, but at the cost of opening the door to self~blame. An intractable illness or a string of difficult experiences becomes our fault. We not only feel bad, but have managed now to feel bad about feeling bad. Counterproductive, at best, when we’re already reeling.

This approach also ignores the fact that our destinies are not independent, but entwined with others. We are not lone passengers on separate ships sailing partitioned seas. We are part of an integrated whole and are moved by many currents. In Linda’s case, these included a problematic medical system, a particularly virulent form of cancer, and an environment replete with toxins. Hers was not the only will involved.

Importantly, though, the cure she sought was not the only one out there either. Though Linda didn’t get the particular healing she wanted, I trust that when she died~~nearly 7 years ago now~~her unique and twisting path of surrender had mended her in ways I cannot conceive.

A clergy friend of mine suggested that folks often place God in the role of cosmic vending machine. You know, we pull the knob for the Snickers bar and become miffed when a bag of Doritos drops off the peg instead. As we age, our spiritual philosophies need to mature beyond such notions. Of course a positive and prayerful attitude affects reality and has far~reaching effects on health and happiness. But we can’t always choose the outcome. Our job is to do our part~~“the leg work” as Alyson, another old friend of mine, used to say~~and greet what comes with grace.

It’s also wise to trust that the cure coming our way might be just the one we need, even if we aren’t fond of its packaging. We can then commit to making it so. Now there’s a job that’ll keep us busy!

May you each have a productive time greeting with grace your own cures, no matter their packaging.

Loanne Marie


Anonymous said...

...As God withdraws, stepping back from human beings so that they have room to step forward. ... God only knows. And we are not God.

When God is Silent Barbara Brown Taylor

Loanne Marie said...

Wow! This reads like a Zen koan! This is a quote from BBT's book, right?

As I read it now, out of context of the passage itself, it seems like it speaks to the interplay of our individual wills~~the "leg work" that's ours to do~~and the unknowns~~the mysteries about God and life and things as they are. While I doubt that an omnipresent God ever 'withdraws', it certainly feels that way at times.

I would love to hear more about what this quote means to you. Thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

Each "step away from death" leaves me breathless and more convinced that "we leave when we are finished" what? after that bolt of lightning and crossing over and back several times with my surgeries? Interesting journey kiddo! There are other events with breathless twists - watching the end pass me by. Thanks for "another one"! Love ya!

Loanne Marie said...

Wow! Another comment that leaves me 'breathless', aware of just how amazing this journey is, of how we'd be wise to do what seems ours to do and let ourselves be moved by it all. Thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful web site that I had no idea existed. Thanks so much, friend, for forwarding to me, and thanks, Loanne for the writing. I'll stay tuned.

Loanne Marie said...

Welcome to the blog~~so glad to have you! And thanks to your friend for sending this essay your way.

If you want an email notification when I post a new essay (2x monthly), just let me know by writing to me at and I'd be happy to add you to the list.

Be well!

monica wood said...

We leave when we are finished? No, I don't think so. But for for most of us, death is so engulfing and unwanted and inevitable that we each, in our own way, must make a cohesive story around it. To me, this yearning for story is one of the most profoundly endearing qualities of the human animal. Your post today is beautiful, Loanne, so expansive and forgiving.

I will never be finished; but someday my mortal body, alas, will be finished with me. I hope I can meet that moment with grace, but I suspect I'll be kicking and screaming instead. The one time in my life in which I thought I was facing death, the color drained out of the world. Literally. For about two hours, I saw everything around me in sepia. So strange. The phenomenon, I realized later, was simple grief: I was mourning the life I had not yet lost. And I don't mean MY life; I mean The great gift of being alive.

Loanne Marie said...

Ah, a post true to the writer you are, Monnie! The thing I find so spectacular about our "yearning for story" ' is the choice it offers us. Since I know I cannot conceive the intricate workings of life and death, I am freed to create my own story, one that nourishes me to become who I already am inside. Some of us create stories that tell us that we leave when we're finished; some tell stories of how we'll never finish but will need to leave anyway, kicking and screaming perhaps. Different stories arising from the same basic reality.

I'm fascinated most by how these story lines carry us forward~~how they move into our deepest~most places to swirl around, touching all our tender parts before traveling out into the world in our every word and gesture. It's the effects of these story lines that captivate me.

So when I put together the idea that we can choose our narratives with the recognition of just how powerful they can be, I'm inspired to keep tweaking my own story lines so I can show up in the world in the way I most wish to.

Your comment also reminds me to spend more of my time celebrating the life I have not yet lost, the very here and nowness of sitting at this desk, typing on this laptop, with a cooling breeze tinkling the wind chimes as it blows through the west window. Ahhhhh.....A gift, indeed!

Thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

What also is touching about your friend is the faithfulness to raising her children. I wonder if she had times when she wanted to surrender to the progression of this disease and I wonder if part of her pleading with God was to selflessly strive to live for her family. Though she is gone, it is likely that her children have the memory of her love in her fight to be with them. This seems a gift and a comfort to them that was God's blessing and perhaps what she so feverntly prayed for.

Loanne Marie said...

Yes, Linda had a deep love for her children and was an amazing mother. I know, as do you, that leaving before they were grown was inconceivable to her, and that this motivated her strong will to survive, despite the odds. I know her children felt enveloped by her love. All three had several years with her, long enough to have learned~~down to their toes~~that they were loved and to trust that they still are.

Thanks, Lori, for highlighting this important facet of Linda's story.

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Leia Marie