What I’ve Learned from Blogging Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer

Post 47: What I’ve Learned from Blogging Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer

 

June 12, 2014

 

This is my last post to this blog. First, as to my health status: my condition, myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative syndrome, is chronic. I will continue to need chemotherapy regularly (see Post 42 for my prognosis and the choices I face).

My purpose in my blog was to share some of the poems in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer and who I am as an individual and writer and publisher of the poems in this collection. I believe I have done that.

 

I also wanted to express my love as a sojourner for the Montana mountains, valleys and streams where I live my life in gratitude and fullness. I hope I have done that.

 

I am putting this blog together as a book titled Blogging Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. I am planning to blog my other book of poems, Poems Before and After Yoga, Rice Universe Publishing, 2014. I will continue to post to my blog In the Way of Dogs at WordPress.com.

 

Earlier durng my life in ministry I wrote a piece called “Waiting for God on a Gurney.” Watching and waiting by their nature are so passive, and we tend to see passivity as an inferior state of being. We tend to value the active person more than we do the passive. When we’re given no choice but to wait in a room or in line, we’re no longer free, in control of our own destiny. We’re like an object, a nonentity, a cipher at someone else’s beck and call.  

I learned something important about watching and waiting on the day I was rear-ended in Denver. I was in my last year in seminary and serving as a local pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in northwest Denver. Faith was one of three churches yoked together into a parish, and I had driven to one of the other churches–Berkeley United Methodist Church–to drop something off. It was supposed to be a quick trip. We were busy back at our church with all-church clean up day.  

On my way back to Faith, at Sheridan Boulevard and 38th Avenue, I pulled up behind a car for a stoplight. I sat watching and waiting patiently at the wheel, when suddenly a car rammed into me from behind. The other driver and I got out of our cars and looked at the damage. It was mostly to her car. We called for a policeman, who didn’t arrive right away. We watched, as traffic did its best to move around us. Finally, our impatience got the best of us and we drove our cars into the Convenient Store parking lot on the corner.   To make this part of the story short, the policeman finally came, ticketed the woman who had run into me, and I was finally free to drive back to Faith Church.  

When I got back to Faith Church, the members wanted to know where I had been. “What took you so long?” my wife Joan asked. She was a little annoyed with me. I told what had happened–being rear ended, having to watch as annoyed drivers zoomed around us, watching and waiting for the policeman. I said I was okay, but all thought I was behaving oddly. When they looked at me more closely, they all became worried. I must have jolted my neck. “Whiplash” was the word thrown at me. I was probably in mild shock.  

No, I said, I was fine. But everybody–especially Joan–urged me to go to the hospital emergency room. I said I didn’t feel right about abandoning all-church clean up day. Everybody said Go to the hospital and get checked out. They were perfectly capable of finishing all-church clean up day by themselves. So Joan drove me to the Lutheran Medical Center in nearby Wheatridge, where I quickly filled out my paperwork. I thought I would be seen next and would soon be heading back to the church.  

Wrong! It was fast becoming a busy afternoon in the ER. I wasn’t bleeding, so every time another ambulance arrived, I was triaged to the back of the line. So there I sat with Joan in the now crowded waiting room, watching and waiting into the late afternoon. Finally a nurse came for me and had me lie on a gurney–one of those carts–and I thought, ahhh! now the doctor will see me and soon I will be home.  

Wrong again! The nurse rolled me into a nearby hallway, where I had to watch and wait for an X-ray technician to come and take me to X-ray. I lay there, staring up at the ceiling, watching and waiting for I don’t know what. Other gurneys were wheeled by, bumping into mine and rolling me into the wall. Sorry! the nurse or orderly would say. Sorry!  

I thought, This is what it means to be a patient, Christ on a cross. Soon they will be poking a needle into me. I thought of the patients I had been visiting in nursing homes and in the hospital and I suddenly understood something about their situation. I felt like a thing, a piece of meat lying on a cart. I wanted to get up and walk out. There’s nothing wrong with me, I said to myself. I don’t have to put up with this (when the doctor x-rayed and examined me, he simply sent me home for some rest). But I did not get up and walk out. I watched and waited with my thoughts, or as Henri Nouwen might say, I watched and waited with God on my gurney.  

What I’ve learned in my current situation is that my experience of waiting for God on a gurney is not exactly the same as waiting for God in a cancer infusion room. There are similarities, and there are insights I gained on that Lutheran Medical Center gurney that still hold. But there is now a startling definiteness to my wait, for there is something wrong with me. Intellectually, I know that some day, later rather than sooner, I will die, as we all must. But now “Time’s winged chariot” is no longer a simple metaphor that I can admire then push out of my mind. I hear it everyday as I live my life with as much zest and gratitude as I am capable of, and I thank God for my wife, children and grandchildren and for each new day the swallows, sparrows and robins nest in our birdhouses and trees.

Blue City on a Hill

Blue City on a Hill

 

The following is the 46th and last poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. https://www.createspace.com/4598960

 

It was from my mother that I first learned about hospitality, about being hospitable.

She was a wonderful cook, preparing huge amounts of Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese and American foods. My daughter Beth remembers sitting at Grandma Uda’s kitchen table in Hawaii and being so impressed. She doesn’t remember what Grandma was cooking, but it was a whole lot.

The real joy of the table was Hawaiian food: poi, kalua pig, lomilomi salmon, poki, laulau, seaweed, haupia. She was always inviting visitors to “Hele mai ai,” which means “Go eat” in Hawaiian. Especially on New Year’s Day, she invited everybody, it seemed–family, friends and neighbors, my father’s work crew, and church members. “Go eat. There’s plenty,” she’d say, and there was plenty. The church members were Mormons, because Mom and Dad were Mormons and I was raised Mormon.

Whenever the Mormon missionaries stopped by, my mother would feed them. She would set before them the kinds of foods we ate, a mixture of Japanese and Hawaiian foods: sushi, lomi salmon, poi. She would watch the missionaries carefully, especially as they tried poi, which some, upon putting the gray stuff in their mouths, liken to library paste. If the missionaries piggled their food, and ate little, she would say, “Ah, manini.”

Manini is the Hawaiian name for a striped fish that lives in the reefs. As a boy I spent hours trying to catch them, with a bamboo pole and thin line and a small hook. I’d bait the hook with shrimp, and watch in frustration as the manini, with its very small mouth, would very carefully nibble the bait off the hook. I could never catch a manini, but I kept trying. Finally, my mother said to me, “You’re wasting your time. It has a small mouth, so you have to dive in the water and spear it. That fish is a miser. It will never bite your hook.”

To be called a manini, one who eats cautiously, hesitantly, with a small mouth, my mother explained, was to be known as a miser. She believed that a miser was someone who could not give because he was unable to take, or receive, whether the offered was food, or love, or forgiveness. In order to truly give, or love, you had to be hospitable or receptive to what was different from you, to what was strange, to what might be the very help you need. You had to risk yourself.

It was bad to be called a manini. It meant you were so tight with your soul that in order to accept your offer of a relationship, I had to change my ways to yours, offer to you not myself but a mirror image of you.

Henri Nouwen helped me to see mother’s lesson in hospitality more clearly. “The paradox of hospitality,” he says, “is that it wants to create an emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where the stranger can enter and discover themselves as created free, free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host,” Nouwen says, “but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”

In order to truly give, or love, my Mother believed, the missionaries who stopped at our home had to be able to take or eat the foods she prepared for them. She knew that the missionaries would be able to take or receive only if they had prepared a place in their hearts for those different from themselves. They had to create a place in their hearts for her, my mother, to have the freedom to serve her own foods, sing her own songs, dance her own dances, and pray her own prayers. She was the stranger in the hearts of these missionaries, looking for a safe and free place to be transformed into a follower of Christ.

That’s the marvelous thing about Christian hospitality. In order to be a Christian, I don’t have to give up my own cultural heritage and become like the person converting me. If you are Japanese, and I am an American, and you convert me to Christianity, I don’t have to become Japanese in order to be reborn in Christ. If you are an American, and I am Hawaiian, and you convert me to Christianity, I don’t have to give up my Hawaiian ways to be reborn in Christ.

When I ponder Christian hospitality as exemplified by Jesus with his whole life, I remember my mother, who passed away on May 16, 2004, in Provo, Utah. I am grateful to her for one of my greatest learnings as a pastor. Serving in small urban and rural churches in Colorado where the culture was not what I was used to, I had to acknowledge that, as pastor, I was in the position of the Mormon missionaries my mother watched so carefully.

Am I a manini? I would ask myself. Am I recoiling from what is strange and different. Am I piggling my food again? Or am I eating what is set before me?

These were questions I asked myself regularly. Am I creating that free space in my heart where the stranger may speak her own language, sing her own songs, dance her own dances, and thus grow in God’s love?

 

 

Blue City on a Hill

 

         For Henri Nouwen

 

Oh, Blue City, Blue City on a hill, I’ve loved you

as only a sojourner can, ready to give you everything,

myself to be exploited, my wife and children to serve.

How I wanted to bring my mother’s hospitality to you,

an island heart she opened in my youth, a smile broad

as the ocean. How I longed to teach you to welcome

strangers with flowers, to melt the wax of your smugness,

so all could sing and dance their own tunes, in celebration

of their blessed origins. Oh, Blue City, Blue City,

how I’ve loved you and your hometown boys and girls,

as only an outsider

Pearl of Tears

Pearl of Tears

 

The following is the 45th poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. https://www.createspace.com/4598960

 

This is one of the ways my creative process works. It is through revision that I discover the shape of what I am writing. I try not to be afraid of what I am disclosing, however dark. It is through darkness we come to the light. It is in darkness that we discover the healing silence of God.

 

Pearl of Tears

 

I am like an oyster

tearing a pearl

on a half shell.

 

First, an irritant

to which I return

again and again

to apply a balm,

an exudation

from my fevered heart.

 

Each return

drips another layer,

growing the sphere

of my poem,

story, or sermon.

 

Drip by drip…

takes years

for all the heart’s disclosures

and the tears

to wash the World’s soul,

as rain does,

from my ear and eye

and deposit

the perfect shape

of a new language

in my open palm.

Spring in Montana

Spring in Montana

 

The following is the 44th poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. https://www.createspace.com/4598960

 

Upon arriving to teach at the University of Montana in 1970, I embarked on two new projects: learning to fly fish and, though I was a fiction writer, trying my hand at poetry.

 

We rented a house next door to a widower who worked in plumbing and heating. When I told him over the fence that I wanted to learn to fly fish, he said, “Oh, don’t do that. I’ll teach you to bait fish, then you can learn to fly fish.” He showed me how to make a screen for catching salmon fly and other nymphs living among the gravel and rocks at the bottom of the stream. These nymphs were what I baited my fly rod with to fish the Clark Fork River and Rock Creek outside of Missoula for trout and whitefish. “After you learn what the fish are eating below the surface, you can begin to use flies, wet and dry,” my mentor said. I became a crazy fisherman, out on the rivers and streams in all weather.

 

I began to write and publish poetry after settling in to teach at the University of Montana. It was a boon to me, keeping me sane, because I was finding that family life was not conducive to the kind of concentrated time I needed to write fiction. Anyway, that’s what I told myself. A poem was small enough, I said, that I could hold it in my head and work on it between classes as I walked across the Oval in springtime and on trips to the grocery store and other daily errands. It was in poetry I began to find my being in the common things of life.

 

Spring in Montana

 

When winter in Montana explodes into spring

When the oval laughs with bare-legged girls

and frisbees over the green color the air

When the juices in my loins begin to stir

and into sunlight my voracious hunger climbs

I roar out our name–I am, I Am What I Am–!

 

Company

 

Company

 

The following is the 43rd poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. https://www.createspace.com/4598960

 

This and the next three poems will close my effort to blog Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. Placed after the “diagnosis of cancer” poems, they are meant to provide a coda to the earlier poems.

 

“Company” has a rhythm that a discovered and liked.

 

Company

 

When alone in later life I find myself with things

that thirst and die of heat in shade, I carry water

in my palms and at my pouring fingers lapping

the happy tongues this old soul soothes and receives

refreshment for itself. Every touch surprises.

 

Kamalani

Kamalani

 

The following is the 42nd poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. https://www.createspace.com/4598960

 

I was supposed to be the stronger one, who would live the longest. We did not plan for the possibility that “the one you don’t see coming” might creep up on me and I would be diagnosed with a blood disorder, with a problematic prognosis.

 

Of course, “the one you don’t see coming” crept up on Kamalani, our bichon, and the vet pronounced him blind and diabetic, needing insulin shots twice a day. Some dogs live for years with diabetes, without sight, and, in my condition, I take that to heart. How long can my treatment on dacogen keep me alive at a quality of life that is acceptable, still a part of things, still writing and publishing poetry and other books? There’s no cure for my condition except for a stem cell transplant. I’ve sent my blood samples in to the transplantation center in St. Louis, so the search for a possible match can be found. I’m told that at my age, 75, transplantation is a double-edged sword: it can cure me, or it can kill me. Recovery takes a whole year. Would that year be better spent enjoying the quality of life that I now have? Meanwhile, I am completing this post. Yesterday I mowed the lawn, taking long rests after cutting several swathes, but I got it done and the yard looks beautiful.

 

While we were in St. Louis, Joan had her second openheart surgery to replace her leaky pig value with a cow valve. After her first open heart surgery in Palm Springs, she was told that she would probably not outlast her pig valve. But such is the speed at which modern medicine is progressing that she could have a replacement valve that the surgeon says will leave her feeling “a thousand times better.”

 

Kamalani

 

My friend of thirteen years is now diabetic

and blind, requiring two shots of insulin a day.

Without insulin, he drinks water voraciously

and can’t control his bladder. He stumbles

into table legs and chairs, following the wall

to find the doggie door. It breaks my heart

when the door is locked to keep the other dog in

and my friend has an accident.

 

He can’t sleep in our bed anymore, so he snuggles nearby

into his doggie cave, still a part of the pack, and yet not.

He knows I miss his warm body under the covers, warming

my feet. When his companion barks at a dog in the road,

my friend wants out, so brave and game, stumbling

off the deck steps, barking and rushing blindly forward

till he bangs into the chain link fence. With all his deficits,

he wants to be part of things. I love this dog so much

it hurts, but in my wasted state I can’t manage him

and finally ask my wife to have him put down. I promised

I’d never leave you, yet I have. I vowed I’d be there at

your dying, yet I was not. O Come to me, Kamalani.

O come.

 

In the Dark Days of Wasting

In the Dark Days of Wasting

 

The following is the 41st poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. https://www.createspace.com/4598960

 

I wake in the middle of night and try to get out of bed. There’s been a vigil in my hospital room: my wife Joan and my daughter Beth and her husband Frank have taken turns watching over me. I hear a voice: “No, don’t do that.” It’s my youngest son, Take, who has been sleeping beside me on a cot. He says the doctor wants me to stay put, and if I want to get up I need to call the nurse. She’s the one who cleaned me up and catheterized me. I am way beyond modesty and shame when the tube enters my penis and the urine bag hangs beside my bed. Later, I’m told that they almost lost me. But I had no awareness that I was dying, and I wonder if you die when you are completely out of it, completely unaware of what is happening, are you really dead. Does one really experience death, the closing of the door, the fading of the light? Or, is it as some say, you enter a tunnel at the end of which there is a fantastic light, even the presence of God?

 

In the dark days of wasting, all is not dark. There are also moments of joy, as when my son-in-law Roger and the young floor nurse washed my hair and gave me a sponge bath. I was a baby in their arms. Roger was so meticulous in his scrubbing and drying and he and the nurse made the common task of washing a wasting body a party for three. I’ve never had a bath like that before, except when I was an infant in my mother’s arms. When I asked the nurse what she enjoyed or looked forward to in nursing, she said, “Moments like this. Every once in a while, they happen.”

 

In the Dark Days of Wasting

 

Hard to believe two years ago, even six months ago

I was building decks, hauling rock for landscaping,

and planting buffalo juniper and lilac bushes

for the years to come. Now like a baby I stand

in the puddle, thinking “Oh damn,” after messing my pants.

I’m a prisoner of my own body, asking: “Will I ever

drive a car again? Eat a steak? Will I write a poem again,

or will this sickness leave me so changed I won’t recognize

myself? Will my deep beliefs hold, like “We are here to

give it all away, our best ideas and our selves.” Will I

continue to do this, give myself away, as I believe

I’ve done? Will I love my life, and find God

in my memories? I cinch my trousers like an old man.

My skin too baggy for my bones.

Cancer

Cancer

 

The following is the 40th poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. https://www.createspace.com/4598960

 

On July 1, 2013, my wife found me feverish and chilled in the sun on our deck couch. She had me climb into our car, and she drove me to Urgent Care at the hospital. Urgent Care sent me to the emergency room, for a cat scan and other tests. I was then hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with a blood disorder called myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative syndrome.

 

In early September, with our son-in-law’s help Joan and I flew to St. Louis, where were we lived with our eldest daughter and her husband and I entered the Siteman Cancer Treatment Center for a second opinion. The diagnosis was confirmed but the doctors found that what was initially thought to be pneumonia was a serious infection called empyema. Tubes were inserted into my swollen spleen and my pleural space to drain the pus. Then the infection was treated for several months with an antibiotic administered through an infusion pump. The empyema complicated the treatment of my blood disorder. For months, all through my various treatments my eldest daughter, a certified dietetic technician, was an uncomplaining soldier driving me to and from appointments at the Barnes Jewish Hospital in which the Siteman Cancer Treatment Center was housed and making sure I maintained my nutrition.

 

Cancer

 

It happens to the best and worst of us.

Not in my darkest dreams did I foresee

calling myself: emaciated, gaunt, shriveled,

wizened and wasted. I’ve lost thirty pounds

and at a weight my daughter calls healthy,

where I should have been all along. I don’t feel

reassured or healthy, but push my walker

along the gravel and watch sparrows among

fall leaves, hunkering their small bodies down,

yet alive, for the incoming weather. One more

block to go before the flakes appear, before I

see God again, then another, and another,

for my long journey home.

 

Simple Tools

Simple Tools

 

The following is the 39th poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer. https://www.createspace.com/4598960

 

The drainage ditch ran north and south along the front of our house, then headed west along the south side of our property. The ditch in front of our house was already lined with large rocks, and I had just finished hauling enough rock to line the ditch at the corner of our property. As I considered the ditch on the south side of our property, I saw that it would take me another month to haul rock from the open space where the community well and sewage system were located. I decided to ask a sand and gravel company to send a truck to shoot rock to cover the ditch on the south side of the property.

 

Thinking back on my decision to call a sand and gravel company to help me cover the south side of our property with rock, I wondered whether “the one you don’t see coming” had just come upon me. No. “The one you don’t see coming” had come upon me earlier, in early June when I had volunteered to participate in Vacation Bible School at Clancy UMC, the church I had pastored on an interim basis for three years. I enjoyed the children so much, yet I remembered that I was not able to jump around to the VBS music the way I used to.

 

Simple Tools

 

Downsized and third time retired,

I watch a truck’s conveyor-belted arm

levered and wheeled remotely to spit

inch-and-a-half rock between cotoneaster

and lilac shrubs and on the sides of the ditch

beside our new place.

 

The truck driver controls the arm. I sweep

stray stones off the pavement and miss

working alone, using lever and wheel to haul

yards of topsoil to level the ground for sod,

a ton of river rock a barrowful at a time

to cover the bank where columnar spruce grew–

to move heaven and earth with my own back

and simple tools.

The One You Don’t See Coming: A Divagation, Including Blood Cell Count, Water, Polycythemia Vera

The One You Don’t See Coming: A Divagation,

Including Blood Cell Count, Water, Polycythemia Vera

 

“The one you don’t see coming” is the title of a West African tale I’ve come to love. Collected by Harold Courlander, the story is about young hunters who, to prove their prowess, set out to kill Sleep or “the one you don’t see coming” as the Old Ones call this mysterious animal that no one has seen. One of the young hunters waits in a tree beside the river. His plan is to ambush Sleep when it comes for a drink. The night is long and the hunter grows tired of clinging to a tree branch and waiting. Though he can’t see it, he suddenly believes that the mysterious animal Sleep has got a hold of him and is scrambling his mind. He cries out for help as he falls into the river. His fellow hunters pull him out of the water. They conclude that the Old Ones are right: It’s foolish to try to kill Sleep. No one can see Sleep. It sneaks up on you and scrambles the mind to forgetfulness. In the morning you don’t remember much, but there you are.

 

In earlier posts I’ve used the term “the one you don’t see coming” to refer to the unexpected in life’s journey. The unexpected can be a blessing, as when a good Samaritan shows up, patches up your wounds, and transports you to a safe haven where you can rest and heal. The unexpected can be an illness that has a poor prognosis with which you’ve got to live, in the time remaining, with gratitude and love. I’ve been using “the one you don’t see coming” particularly in this latter sense.

 

Blood Cell Count, Water, Polycythemia Vera

 

I wrote this piece about six years ago. My final diagnosis at this time was polycythemia, without the vera. This completes “The One You Don’t See Coming: A Divagation.”

 

Blood Cell Count

One Saturday in early March of this year, around 6:30 p.m. or so, I had a good draft of my sermon in my hand, I had eaten dinner (such as it is when Joan isn’t here and I cook my own food), and I was happily sitting in front of the TV, when the phone rang. It was our primary care physician and my first thought was: “Isn’t it rather late on a Saturday evening for him to call?”

My second thought was that the call was for Joan, who was still in Virginia visiting my daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons. The call, it turned out, was not for Joan, but for me. After my recent physical examination, the doctor had called and, because I was out of the house, talked to Joan about my blood test results. All was fine, except my blood cell counts. They were slightly off, and the doctor wanted me to be retested. He told Joan that I might have a lowgrade infection of some kind.

Earlier that week, I had gone in to have my blood drawn. Later in the week, especially as Friday passed, I began to think, I guess no call from the doctor’s office must mean that everything is hunky dory. The last thing I expected was a calI on Saturday night.

The doctor said my white blood cell count remained slightly low and my red blood cell count slightly high. He wanted to refer me to an oncologist, a cancer specialist, to help him sort things out. I asked him what might be my problem. He said he wanted to be sure that I didn’t have leukemia. He said that his nurse would set up an appointment with the oncologist and call me on Monday.

It’s always shocking to hear such news out of the blue, when you pretty much feel fine, except for an annoying gastric reflux problem which the doctor has been treating. I asked a few more questions, but ran up against my own ignorance of what leukemia was. The doctor said to call him if I or Joan had questions. I told him that Joan was still in Virginia. I said, “I guess I’ll wait till she comes back home before I tell her about this. I don’t want to spoil her visit with my daughter, son-in-law and grandsons.” I didn’t want her climbing into the next plane to come home. The doctor allowed that was a good thought.

I went immediately to our Merck Manual and the article on leukemia. The first words I read were these: “Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells,” initalics. There it was, that dreaded word, cancer. I read on, about the four major types of leukemia, two acute with rapid progression, and two chronic with slow progression. I read through the symptoms, diagnosis, and prognosis and treatment of each, and when I was done I concluded that it was the better part of wisdom not to self-diagnose but to wait to hear what the oncologist had to say.

But I did begin to consider the what ifs. My father lived to be 92, and my mother to 83. What if my time was shorter than either. I began to consider my priorities. What was most important to me? My life with Joan? My life with my children and grandchildren? My life in our church community and in the larger church? My life in the body of Christ and in God?

What about the course my life has taken? Have I not given enough? Must I give more? Do I drop everything and go in another direction? Have I not been living right? Is God trying to say something to me? What does it mean to have cancer?

Water

It is so tempting to think in this way. This terrible thing is happening to me because God is punishing me for what I have done wrong. This wonderful thing is happening to me because God is rewarding me for what I have done right. The devil wants to lure us into this way of thinking: to measure sin for sin, good deed for good deed, so we can work our way out of hell and into heaven.

But that’s not what Jesus tells us to do. Jesus says, “No, I tell you; unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.” The need to repent doesn’t depend on whether good things or bad things are happening to us. The need to repent depends on our thirst as spiritual beings “in a dry and weary land where there is no water,” on our awareness of ourselves as sinners, as creatures who have made other things than God the guiding motive in our lives.

The call to repentance has nothing to do with rewards and punishments. That’s the way of the world, the way of the tempter. The call to repentance has to do with our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As it says in the song, “Come to the Water”:

 

You said you’d come and share all my sorrows.

You said you’d be there for all my tomorrows.

I came close to sending you away.

But just like you promised, you came in to stay.

I just had to pray.

And Jesus said, “Come to the water, stand by my side.

I know you are thirsty, you won’t be denied.

I felt every teardrop when in darkness you cried.

And I long to remind you that for those tears I died.”

 

God loves us as a parent and wants us to return from our wanderings to him, so he may take joy in us. He wants to have a renewed relationship with us. It is in God’s nature to shower blessings on us, even the gift of his Only Son, whether we are good or bad, so this reconciliation will happen. He places the goodness of creation at our disposal, so we are watered and may give thanks and return to him.

polycythemia vera

Of course, when Joan got back to town, she went to every appointment with the oncologist with me. After more blood tests, a cat scan, and a bone marrow biopsy, the doctor ruled out leukemia. That was a good thing, and Joan and I were happy. All my internal organs, especially my pancreas, was fine. My red blood cell count was still a little high and my white blood cell count was low. My diagnosis, I was told, might be polycythemia vera, ” … a [rare] disorder of blood cell precursors, resulting inan excess of red blood cells.” The doctor would see me again in three months. If my red blood cell count went up in three months, the treatment would be to give blood at the blood bank periodically, to get the red blood cell count down.

Three months was last Tuesday. The doctor found my red blood cell count to be normal (hurray!), though my white blood cell count was lower. I have had no infections. I’ve had a busy June, with VBS in Clancy and at Blackfeet United Methodist Parish. I’m on my two month Summer leave right now, and I have been completing a honey-do list, building a fort for two of my grandchildren, and Joan and I are starting a small publishing company, Rice Universe Publishing. Our first book will be a collection of Joan’s weekly columns which appear every Saturday inthe Helena Independent Record.

As we live through periods of uncertainty and questions, this is what I know and believe: I will not live forever, except in God through Jesus Christ. In the body of Christ, no matter how we worship for example, we are one in God. And no matter what ishappening in our lives, it is always a right and proper thing to repent, to turn to God, to come to the water and to stand beside Jesus Christ. It is the water of our baptism that God sustains and nourishes us in the valleys life and in our life with him beyond.