(Editor’s note: In January, Holy Communion members Kendra Propst and Judy Horning Amsler organized the congregation’s first women’s retreat in years. It was enormous success with more than 85 participants. And it inspired this from Connie Cruthirds, longtime member and mother of a teenager finishing nearly three years of treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.)
It’s been 31 months since Adam was diagnosed with cancer and we became a St. Jude family. We are all so grateful, but also weary and ready for Adam’s chemotherapy to end in five weeks. The next step is a big one as we pray for Adam to remain in remission for 71/2 more years. Then he will be considered cured from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Life moves so fast that I often take next steps without stopping to process and heal from the earlier ones.
Thankfully, a dear friend helped me get signed up for Holy Communion’s Women’s Retreat, “Finding Meaning in the Journey” on January 21. It was a beautiful spring-like day at Lichterman Nature Center as almost 90 women came together with Katherine Bush and Shari Ray to consider “the lessons taught by experiences of pain and joy.” We reflected on the words of poets and writers and things we shared in small and large groups as we pondered what life has taught us. The experience was a gentle but powerful way to look at these guaranteed parts of life and become more willing to look at things I try to skip. One person at our table said that pain and sorrow will find us. We realized that cultivating joy is something we can intentionally do.
There were opportunities for journaling about “The Meaning of Life” with prompts based on the writings of Victor Frankl, C. S. Lewis, Annie Dillard and others. As we count down the days to Adam’s “No Mo Chemo” celebrations, I’m welcoming the chance to live my version of what Adam says so often, “Cancer came to teach me.” He has the willingness to learn and teaches me to do the same.
In that beautiful room as the geese honked on the lake outside, we heard the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye. I cried. It said what I could not say. During our journaling time, I wrote the poem below in response. Because of that day in fellowship with women, I slowed down enough to let my pain teach me.
If I told you what I’ve learned about pain, we’d have to find a language that lives beyond an alphabet and words called out to me in Spelling Bees.
They’d need to be small like the single seed of a dandelion blown yesterday that landed just today in a lavender field far, far away.
They’d need to be smaller than a single piece of the brown sunflower center so all of me could sit upon it and get perspective of how small I really am.
Our words will never be hammock enough to wrap around what I have seen or rock me back to sleep like my Nana could.
Pain woke my life up.
To see it on the face of a child,
The panic of an innocent creature,
The feeling of what else I might bury
Could only be held by love.
Words fail to catch what must be dropped,
But pain will not rest until I still my pace.
Until I watch for where my heart beat skips,
My breath gets caught,
And my feet want to run like hell.
Pain loves me that kinda way.
Way out there beyond knowing, because it just is part of all of this.