Six Breasts

Follow up,                                                                      “Hello, how have you been?”                            And she sits on exam table in the blue gown,  To not expose what the surgeon splayed in ‘13. One. Two. I touch them tenderly and say,  “Feels normal to me,” But what is normal, About silicone in your chest,                         About cancer in your breasts?                               I close the door. And next.

Three. Four. She was a victim too.           Younger, just stage IA. How blessed.               And next.

Five. Six. She is 90, father a WWI vet, Something else will kill her yet.                        For now I tell her, “Normal breasts.”             “Get dressed.” I close her door.                   Return to my desk.

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White Ash Trees

You don’t think in the spring,                       When all bursts green,                                      That after a time, scorched, pelted, used,   Those leaves will collapse into dust,             Each. One by one,                                                And you don’t think, how it happens,           Until you can see that small, white house, Across the field of blue joint grass,            Behind the white ash trees, now naked,         The house is as plain as day too, naked.

 

My four car tires roll out the gravel,               Past the white house. And my two good feet, Don’t think, as they walk past rows,        Patients in infusion chairs, small hoses in their arms, pumped in, like insecticides,           Against the cancers, Each, one by one,         Until you lose them all,                                       You don’t even think how it happens,            Like the white ash trees in a Georgia fall.   Gone.

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Cancer Poem

CHEMO COUNTED

The sadness on your face when I say,

“No chemo today, Mr. V, counts too low,”

And who’s counting anyway?

So many numbers:

.5mg/kg of gemcitibine, ANC less than 2K,

4 mg ODT ondesteron q 8 PRN, 4 refills

28 days cycle, follow up in 2 days, CBC, 5mcg/kg Zarxio if ANC less than 2k

 

And all the radiation physics, measured

So measured.

When will the counting stop?

Teach us to number our days

Teach us to number our chemo days,

Teach us to count the uncountable ways

We live beyond the numbers,

Teach us to live as we die.

You be the Judge (Maybe not).

Hi, I’m Caroline and I’m such an expert at judging. But like any expert, the more I think I know, the more I realize that I know nothing. That’s sort of the definition of an expert: one who knows how much they don’t know. I’m on a judgement journey with Jesus. Basically, I’m really good at something I wish I were really bad at so I’m trying to unravel layers of this skill I have and get to the root of it so I can tame it for good.
Jesus taught this amazing sermon on a hill and it changed the world. I’m one of the people that it changed. I’m really, really dense when it comes to obvious things so my judgement journey keeps taking me back to this sermon that’s three chapters long in Matthew. I have to read it constantly and it’s constantly showing me that I don’t know really know much. It’s kind of awful because normally if you review and review and know something, you get more comfortable, but this sermon makes me uncomfortable with me each time (but more comfortable with my Dad in heaven because he’s so kind). So, that pattern happened again this weekend with a part of Jesus’ sermon on a hill that is found in Matthew 7.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
What a familiar passage for us. Why do I have to re-read it so much then?
Because I still don’t get it. 
What if I read the do’s and don’t’as God saying, “Caroline, I love you so much, I’m going to show you what to do.”
So what I got this time-around was about measuring. I work in cancer now and I love how smart the infusion nurses and pharmacists are as they measure out chemo drugs for these patients. I just tell them, “Give them treatment,” and these smart people figure out how much based on weight and height and kidney function and then the chemo kills the cancer. Measuring can be life or death.
God cares about accuracy in measuring. We all should too. In Leviticus 19:35 he blanket-statement states, “”‘Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity.”
The truth about real measuring is that it’s standardized.
When Jesus says, “the measure you use, it will be measured you” he’s asking us, “Are you going to use my objective standard or your own standard?”
What happens when we make up our own law for ourselves? For me, the Caroline-law Caroline cannot even keep herself because it’s TOO HARD. I make up these impossible to-do lists. I can’t even keep my own measure! So then what happens when I put that law onto someone else, (and they don’t even know all the ins-and-outs of my law?), I get frustrated, angry, disappointed, and even hateful.
Why does Jesus want you to let go of judging others? Because implicit in your judging of others is a self-made impossible standard you’re heaping on you yourself and Jesus wants us to trust his standard, his measure, his law. Stop making up your own rules! Your rules don’t even make sense for you! Let alone the person you’re putting them on! Let your rules and measures go. Not judging others isn’t about the others, it’s about you. Judging others is too heavy a burden to bear because judging others is crushing you.
In the words of Eugene Peterson,
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Recent Poems

Three poems I’ve written this spring.

…………………………………………………………………..

LOUD CRIES

Surely the rocks cried out in Galilee,

Reverberating echoes of Christ,

Mornings, early and dark, prayers freed

Up to heaven from the Son of Man,

Waters of the sea carrying cries,

Did the dawn waken, startling fisherman?

“What sound,what racket comes from shore?”

Early, untimely, “What goes there?”

Retorting, “It’s that odd son of Joseph,

That man of Nazareth, it’s his voice.”

Desperate, tearful, loud and reverent.

Without his prayers, none could enter,

This covenant of joy with tears.

Pray. You pray like this then, loudly,

Could you offer better than our Savior?

…………………………………………………………………..

NOT DEAD YET

Fileted, splayed, frayed, decayed, maimed,
But not dead yet,
My heart, my will, my ways,
Split, cut, crimped, bent, warped,
But not dead yet,
My will, my wants,
Failing, fading, bleeding, barely breathing,
But not dead yet,
My flesh, my big head,
When will come the day,
not yet the resurrection, first,
The death day but not yet
Getting closer, bleeding out, waiting.
……………………………………………………………………
THE HURRICANE
You, that giant wave that took the small white child by surprise at on shore,
Knocked over, unlike the Atlantic to be so strong,
But behind that big wave was a big hurricane,
Brewing and gaining brawn further south, and no one saw it coming, those waves knew though.
And I was just there, salt in my eyes, and sand in my suit, running back on the beach to mom,
“Where’s my towel? My eyes hurt.”
My eyes hurt, not knowing the Eye was the only safe place once the storm would land,
But you can’t find the Eye, it moves, so you get knocked over, blown over, keeled over, lost.
The sandbanks drift and are dragged down
To somewhere else, as we all are when You came through, just a big wave at first,
But then everything You did meant pain and change but You were only You,
When we can’t find Your Eye.
And we didn’t know what to do
But leave.

Kintsugi: You are the Gold

Kintsugi

Have you heard of kintsugi?

Makoto Fujimura, a 21st century artist who speaks to the integration of our faith into how we visualize our world, introduced this art form to me. He writes about kintsugi (literally: golden joinery) which began in Japan in the 1400s. The artists mends broken pottery, and reforms the piece with all broken pieces rejoined with golden, platinum, or silver plated lacquer. Kintsugi takes what should be cast off, and recasts it into something precious. The art is popular first because it is visually appealing, but also because the metaphor speaks to what we must believe about ourselves. Has God crushed you into a thousand pieces? He has me through failure, traumas, secondary sufferings, constantly moving states, break-ups, disappointments. I’ve been crushed, often not “accidentaly” but I feel like if I’m that Japanese bowl, a human has been taking a small hammer and pummeling my life. But what are the golden glue that will put the pummeled pile back? To mix the metaphor, I house the DNA of a thousand godly influences, the golden threads of my life’s broken bowl are the reconstruction the Master molder is making. It’s becoming so beautiful with the threads.

 

What are we really? Are we the sum of what nature has made us to be with our combination of DNAs and childhoods, are we the people our environments created us to be? Why I am able to perform at the level I can? Why am I able to go seemingly nonstop sometimes? Why do I create the ideas I do? What made me this way?

 

The more I thought about kintsugi, the more I realized my life is a billion molecules of gold wrapped around the broken pieces of my life. The gold and precious metal lines all over my life are the saints. Why am I this way and not that way?

It was you.

I don’t know when it started. Probably before I can remember, maybe that time I was a fearful six-year-old in pre-op about to get tympanostomy tubes and my mom reassured me she would be there when I woke up. She was and she helped me through a summer of not being able to swim in the pool without earplugs and this very noticeable rubbery headband that made a “weirdo” at the pool with the other kids. Or the time in 4th grade I got hit in the face with a pop-fly softball in the middle of a game and my dad hugged out my heaving-cries. It was that moment that my Sunday School teacher Mrs. Snipes complimented me on memorizing scripture when that whole week I felt so inadequate as a 6th grade student, unclear of what puberty would mean for my destiny.

  • It was my friend Emily my senior year in high school who was a friend, inviting me to do things with others.
  • It was Scottie May, professor at Wheaton College who let me come to her office hours and validated that peace in romance was something I could expect from God.
  • It was the Henri Nouwen book
  • It was Cindy at Wheaton College Public Safety Office who graciously put out the fire of me getting in huge trouble for a scrape I caused on a Wheaton-owned van I drove for a tutoring ministry when I flagrantly ignored a policy.
  • It was my friends Katie and Glen who showed me that pro-life activism is sad and desperate but you combat the injustice with quiet prayer.
  • It was PA Nate who let me shadow him week-after-week so I could one day be a big-girl PA.
  • It was that guy on the airplane from Tampa who told me I was smart and should be the next Surgeon General.
  • It was Loran Cunningham, founder of YWAM at Wheaton Chapel reminding me that God is winning.
  • It was the kindness of the Chick-fil-A owner who gave me a job when my summer plans went awry.
  • It was a care package from Debra when I was in the dark hole of PA school studying, with the Bible verse prescriptions from Dr. Kathy
  • It was pastor Mark saying, “unhypocritical love” for the 100th time from the pulpit.
  • It was my PA school program director threatening to kick me out of graduate school when I invited a pro-life speaker and the local church that prayed me through the trauma of watching your dreams be threatened.
  • It was all the listening from all the friends and all the coffee.
  • It was all my aunts and all the birthdays.
  • It was smiling Sean on the sidewalk of the Roanoke Planned Parenthood.
  • It was Elisabeth Eliot and the books that got into my gut.
  • It was Barb at my church who was a constant friend and me and made me feel like I wasn’t invisible as a single woman at a church of all families.
  • It was Mary Jane opening her front door and seeing me cry before I could even say anything after that guy rejecting me.
  • It was mom listening, and listening, and listening with every little crisis.
  • It was Nora and Renee and Melissa and all the PA school crap.
  • It was big hugs from dad no matter how big the dent was in the car that I’d caused.
  • It was Pastor Doug letting me share during Sanctity of Life Sunday.
  • It was another church event at Lucinda’s house.
  • It was Gina who never gave up on a long distance friendship and then became my neighbor.
  • It was Paul Miller’s book “Praying Life” that taught me to ask like a little kid.
  • It was Debbie with Abortion Pill Reversal bailing me out week after week when I didn’t get my paperwork in on time.
  • It was Denise who showed me the way to lead was to pray and that’s how you raise money for a pregnancy center.
  • It was Grace who told me to read Bob Goff.
  • It was Sheryl who taught me to be ever honest about relationships
  • It was Faith and Wesleigh bringing me donuts on a Saturday when that guy didn’t work out.
  • It was Betsy that believes I am a princess because she’s a princess and has a crown to prove it.
  • It was Sarah who reminded me cancer always sucks.
  • It was John and Gail who literally answered my prayer to have “Georgia parents”
  • It was Amy Carmichael’s “If” booklet.
  • It was a thousand text messages, day after day after day after day.
  • It was that timely gift from you, and you, and you.
  • And those hurtful words from you that I learned to turn away from and forgive.
  • It was all that money that was lost there and there and there.

 

It was all the Jesus in all the golden people I’ve known.

 

Kinstugi may just sound like gratitude, but gratitude doesn’t break us. Life itself breaks us. Only others can rebuild us. Gratitude doesn’t rebuild. I look like the person I do because I’m the “Golden DNA” of each of you. I emulate your words, your wisdom, your habits because you took the time to see me, and put your own gold onto my life. I’ve forgotten so much you’ve done for me. I’m sorry. It has made me what I am and I thank you for putting me back together. You’re making me beautiful.

 

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Lent: Try it!

Want to try to Lent? Ash Wednesday is March 6th this year.

I rarely, rarely pressure anyone I know and love into observing Lent, especially people who aren’t really exposed to the unity in diversity of the body.
My Lent buddies are usually my sister Hannah and my friend Sarah Jones who happen to worship in Anglican churches. What made me start observing Lent was honestly Wheaton college and being palpably shown the origins of so many amazing Christian traditions.  Friends came back from Ash Wednesday services and I wondered, “You’re not Catholic? But you have the Ash on your forehead today…”  I’d never seen that. What did it mean? And I saw how great it was to be on a campus with people acting out their faith, some with true motives, some with false as it tends to go.
Fasting does expose our weaknesses, giving up a desire shows us our true heart.
In Fall 2009, I transferred to UF and my roommate Sara who grew up with a Jewish mom, had this happy fascination and excitement, not about Christmas, like your average “Christian,” but about Easter. And it was because it was so different than Judaism, and one of her relatives was Greek Orthodox and in her mostly Jewish tradition, would get to celebrate Easter with her non-Jewish family. And so she loved Easter and would always say it was her favorite. It wasn’t mine. I was never ready. It just came and went. Another Sunday. Maybe some Honeybaked Ham and a new dress or some photos after church in a dress. What’s the big deal? And I realized it was incredibly topsy-turvy because I grew up being ready for Christmas but never ready for Easter.
Maybe for thousands of years the church had a better idea than just showing up for another Sunday, after Palm Sunday. Jesus did fast in the wilderness for 40 days. When can the church learn to fast? How can we emulate Christ?
Then there was the 40 days for life. This woman named Abby Johnson had been a director of a Planned Parenthood but these people in Texas had organized a prayer vigil and prayed for her. They’d sent her flowers. They’d spoken to her. And one day she quit. And she told the people of this “40 days for life” that it was them that changed her heart. And they started at Lent. The 40 days in the Spring was over this Lent thing. They prayed for that Planned Parenthood, in the flesh, every day, during Lent. So in Spring 2010, my friend Katie Cardinale who was the president of our student chapter decided that the college students could organize this 40 days thing. Over Lent. And I signed up for Monday afternoons to stand on the sidewalk and pray. It was so hard to prioritize a 4 hour chunk of time in the middle of college and a few of those weeks I know I didn’t show up etc. But we did it. Those 40 days and I don’t know to this day what eternal impact it had but that Easter meant something.
It was a Resurrection. It was real. Jesus came to raise the dead things. 
Easters are hard. It’s always rainy, I’ve had a few lonely ones, it’s always a different week and it wants to sneak up on us, but it doesn’t have to. It can point us to his return. It can train us to be vigilant, watchful, ready. And the global church at the same exact time each year is doing this as well. It’s such unity in wanting to worship together. God calls us all individually to change, to fast, to humble ourselves, but how great when individually we are changing in community?
Lent is something that each year I look forward to and look back to. Why was 2017 the year I finally woke up to love? Why was it the year I finally never ever thought ending my life would be a viable option? I take it back to Lent where each day was intentionally meditating on Romans 12 and the mandates to one-another. “Don’t just pretend to love people, Caroline, really love them.” As I walked through those mandates, “Seek to show hospitality.” God would let me do just that! I would get to live out my faith according to the Word that Lent. It was uncanny. His Word came alive! And Holy Week was a pause. I took Wednesday off and spent it with art experts at the RZIM Colloquy. I spent Easter with my family in South Carolina, not my church family, but it really was an expectant day and that spirit of expecting and changing and loving and openness continued! Lent trained me to take aside a chunk of time and work on something. After that in May, I walked through the Beatitudes with Brielle because I was in a weight loss competition and it was a type of Fast.
When you fast, as Lent taught me, you focus. Each day of the week we would go through them, I’d text her them. Mondays were the first two, and for 4 weeks we spent time just there. I need prescriptions and routines and I love how Lent has created that in me. It became “normal” to do a 30 day challenge, or 40, or think about Fridays each Friday as a Friday to meditate on the death of Jesus, etc. Lent made fasting “normal.” The forgotten presumption that Jesus gave us, “When you fast…” is rhythmically annually if you observe Lent. You cannot forget how to fast if you let Lent into you life.
If you’re thinking, “Oh, no, Caroline, not one more thing!” I am telling you, it’s one less thing.
I’m free in Christ. I don’t use this freedom as a cover up for evil. And I don’t want you to either. Don’t be burdened by the yoke of slavery. But choose the Isaiah 58 true fasting. Ask God if Lent would be wrong for you? Is this your year to make Easter a bigger deal than Christmas? Is it time to corporately fast and pray and change and be challenged?
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Lent Resources:
1. Daily Lent Devotionals: http://ccca.biola.edu/lent/
2. Tim Keller Lenten Devotionals: https://www.redeemer.com/learn/resources_by_topic/lenten_devotionals
3. Lent Project: https://lentproject.wordpress.com/about-us/