Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Where I'm From..." by George Ella Lyon

I designed WORD SOUP for groups of about 12 people; the first time I presented it for Field's End, we had six or seven participants. This year, we had 18 people at our first session - the beautiful West Reading Room at the Poulsbo library was filled with writers!

The energy around the table was positive and friendly; participants were ready to get right to work (which is really play). It is a joy to see people writing freely, and to have so many of them willing to share what they had written, reading it aloud to the group. We write to prompts, so we are sharing our first-draft work. It takes courage to share your work in a new group, especially writing which you haven't had time to polish, and I see plenty of courage - and talent - in this group.

What makes WORD SOUP especially fun is the fact that I do not allow ANY criticism of this first-draft work; we share only what we remember about the writing which has been read aloud, and what we enjoyed in it. These practices make for a safe, encouraging environment, which allows imagination to flow freely.

Last evening,  I read aloud a poem which was given to me by the out-going leader of Field's End, Barbara Clarke (author of "Getting to Home"). Here it is:

"Where I’m From…" by George Ella Lyon
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
From Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
And the pass-it-ons,
From Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee,
from the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments—
snapped before I budded—
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Isn't that a beautiful way to express one's roots?

I offered the poem as a writing prompt for the group. Since I write to the same prompts while the students write, below is my own rough version of "Where I'm From..." I've been tinkering with it, because I am not accustomed to writing poetry; it would be a good idea to consult my poet friends to hear their thoughts.
Where I'm From... by Karen Boren Gerstenberger
I'm from saltwater and sand
Barnacles and Indian beads
I'm from starry nights and wave-song
Salty air and sea-breeze,
Bonfires and make-believe.

I'm from grass stains and cedar cones
Pine pitch and blackberries
Old Man Ghost and Sardines
Beach seines and rope swings.

I'm from the Gold Rush and Great Depression,
Pioneer Square and Capital Hill,
Enatai and Medina,
California and Washington
Kent Valley farm and Olympic Hotel.

I'm from Bavaria and Alsace-Lorraine,
Bronze plaques and fortunes scattered,
Ivy League and West Coast 
Ancient faith and new covenant.

But really, I'm from
Saltwater, lapping the shores of sacred Indian ground.
I'm grateful to my colleagues at Field's End, the program staff at Kitsap Regional Library, WORD SOUP groups, and my family for making this work possible. It is a joy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

WORD SOUP, Strolls, the SFDWG, and BIG News

I have so much to tell you that I awoke early this morning, excited to write about it.

I took a weekend trip to Victoria, B.C. with my beloved "Sh*tty First Draft Writing Group." We had a blast, staying in a Victorian duplex belonging to a friend of Reba's. We talked and listened, laughed and cried, ate, drank, enjoyed live music and walked for many miles. We didn't do as much writing as I had anticipated, but what we did was perfect. It is therapeutic to go away with friends and just BE.
Robin and Reba at the Blue Fox Cafe
Teri, Reba and Stefanie at the Irish Times Pub
Robin and me at the Irish Times
Dessert at The Snug, the pub at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel
The five of us at the Snug
I'm leading my WORD SOUP workshop this month for Field's End, every Tuesday night at the Kitsap Regional Library branch in Poulsbo. We have had two sessions, so we are at the halfway point, and it is magical to see the talent, generosity and enthusiasm of the participants. We are nearly bursting at the seams, and it is gratifying to see so many people excited about the craft of writing, all ages encouraging each other and surprising themselves in what they produce. I enjoy leading the group, and writing with them. More about that later...

The spring Stroll for Well-Being at the Bloedel Reserve is also at the halfway mark. On Monday, I facilitated two sessions (morning and afternoon), and was blessed by the group members' sharing of what the strolls have given them. Their experiences certainly prove that the program increases one's well-being.

I love the Reserve, the house and the program so much that at times, it is a little bit difficult to believe that I get to work in such a beautiful environment, and am paid to do it.

The summer session of the Strolls will begin on June 23rd, with the creator and founder of the program, Ruth McCaffrey, here from Florida to kick it off (and me as her co-facilitator). There is still space available in the summer session, and it's free! You'll receive a beautiful journal containing all of the information you need so that you may enjoy the beneficial effects of this program. It is comprised of 12 themed strolls, taken at your own pace, on your own time, during 12 weeks of summer. Contact to reserve your place!

The BIG news here is that David is about to begin a new job! He will be moving to Montana (one of his dreams) to work at the Yellowstone Club. Though we love having him with us, we are thrilled for this next phase of his life's adventure, and can hardly wait to visit, once he is settled.

For these gifts (and so much more), I give thanks to God!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Hannah's Hopeful Hearts" Photo Album

In case you weren't able to join us at Hannah's Hopeful Hearts 2015, here are some photos by Ronda Broatch, shared by Reba Ferguson on Facebook.
Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Katie and Hannah's photos with glassybabies. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
 Butterflies: the symbol of resurrection. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
The food & flowers were simply outstanding. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Dr. Jim Olson. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Introducing Dr. Mike Jensen. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Dr. Jensen. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Dr. Olson and Dr. Jensen discussing their work, moderated by Fred. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Hannah's Hopeful Hearts. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
Fred facilitating the paddle raise. Photo credit: Ronda Broatch
There is still time to give, and you can  ask your employer to match your gift (Boeing did this for us, and doubled our impact)! Thanks, Boeing!
All you need to do is direct your gift to:
Megen Strand
Crush Kids’ Cancer Guild 
Tax ID# 27319304 Seattle Children's Hospital Guild Association
M/S S-200, PO Box 5371, Seattle, WA 98145
Crush Kids’ Cancer Guild 
Tax ID# 273193047
 If you have any questions, please call Megen at 206-987-4823.

And here is the Hunt-Ferguson family who made it all possible, especially the valiant-hearted, light-bringing woman in the center, Reba - mother of Hannah, who inspired all of this!
I love you, Reba!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Life Lessons from a Man I've Never Met

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave. - Dakota proverb
Last spring, I was allowed to participate in two classes because of the generosity of faculty members of the University of Washington School of Medicine. The two classes are "The Healer's Art" (a medical school elective designed by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.), and a "Values Clarification" exercise - part of the 4th-year curriculum in the Chronic Care Clerkship for students about to embark upon their residency program. The Values Clarification class was created by a man named Stuart Farber, M.D., who recently passed away from leukemia.

Dr. Farber is revered and loved by his colleagues and students, family and friends. He founded, and was director of, the Palliative Care service at the University of Washington Medical Center. He was a pioneer in the field, helping to develop a palliative care training center at the University of Washington.

In a terrible coincidence, his wife Annalu was also diagnosed with the same kind of leukemia (AML) four months after Dr. Farber's diagnosis, so they each walked in the role of patient and caregiver, supported by their family and community. This journey served to deepen and further inform his sensitivity in what he already believed and taught to his students. In each update on their health, Dr. Farber and his wife shared their love of poetry by posting a poem chosen to express their feelings of the moment. I learned a great deal about the Farbers (whom I have never met) from those poems, and a great deal about the ways in which art can bring release and healing to patients and caregivers.

The Values Clarification exercise was administered by a wonderful professor named Tom McNalley, M.D., director of the Chronic Care Clerkship (whose specialty is Rehabilitation Medicine), and his gifted colleague, Carol Kummet, LICSW, MTS, a social worker with the Palliative Care Service. Both facilitators exuded seriousness tinged with gentle humor, compassion and empathy. Experiencing the Values Clarification with young medical students was a deeply moving gift to me, and one that I will never forget. It is an important part of Dr. Farber's legacy.

Another vital part of Dr. Farber's legacy is an article which was published posthumously, which I cannot recommend highly enough for EVERYone to read. It was published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Vol. 49, No. 4 on April 4, 2015, and made available by Dr. Farber's widow here:
under the heading, Humanities: Art, Language, and Spirituality in Health Care. Isn't that a powerful heading? The article is called Living Every Minute. I have read it twice, and am simply in awe of its grace and power. Whether you are a patient, family member of a patient, a clinician, an artist or a spiritual seeker, this article will be a gift to you.

Many deep truths of living, of the value of quality of life over quantity, and the supreme importance for clinicians and caregivers to seek, find and understand what is most important to their patients is beautifully illustrated in Dr. Farber's words and his life. Much is expressed poetically, with far more accuracy and nuance than the most scientific language could ever describe or quantify.

You can read more about Dr. Farber's life and legacy HERE.

Friday, April 17, 2015


I learned some new things today. I learned that I am not as fit as I thought I was.
I walk between three and six miles daily. I hiked up to five miles a day while at Rancho La Puerta in February, and was able to keep up on those hikes with my friend Shelby (who is an extreme distance runner), so I thought I could hike 3 miles round-trip. I learned today that I am not aerobically fit - not very.

David has been working weekends, so weekdays are his weekends, and he was kind enough to invite me to accompany him to Mt. Ellinor, where he has been wanting to hike. There is a six-mile trip and a three-mile trip. Six sounded like more of a challenge, but the second half is considered extremely steep, so to play it safe (for me), we started at the upper trailhead. Thank goodness we did!

The elevation gain was about 2,400 feet in 1.5 miles; oh my goodness. David is quite fit; I was panting and sweating from the beginning, as the trail headed steeply uphill and never stopped. Long rocky steps, slushy snow, mud, switchbacks and scree alternated with each other. The trail was beautifully maintained, and we had a gloriously mild, "bluebird" spring day in which to enjoy the natural world of the Olympic Peninsula. But I was not nearly fit enough for this trip, and it showed immediately.

The summit views were spectacular. We saw two white mountain goats on a snowfield below the summit; we saw Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and a panorama of the Olympic Mountain range. I truly enjoyed the hike on the way down. But going up was a hard slog.
Summit view to the west - Olympic Mountains in the background
Summit view to the north, with Hood Canal partially obscured by high clouds
I learned that it's easy to get discouraged on a steep trail if you are: A) too hot; B) thirsty or hungry; C) at all subject to vertigo. I learned that stopping to rest is necessary if you want to make the summit. I learned that my hiking boots are comfortable, but have crappy traction in the snow.
And I learned some things about David, whose generous gifts of patience, coaching and willingness to understand my fatigue (and my dismay at that fatigue) were beyond what I could have asked him to extend to me. He was a true gentleman with his encouragement and kindness, when he could have done the hike in far less time, with far less trouble, without me. I am blessed that he invited me to spend the day with him, and he never once said a word of criticism.
On the summit
I feel humbled, happy to be home, and (as the British say) "knackered." If I am lucky enough to be invited to hike with David again, it will be something less than a "4 out of 5" for difficulty!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


During the past week, members of Field's End Writers' Community's Core Team met with programming staff of the Kitsap Regional Library. We have a vibrant, welcoming library system here in Kitsap County, and the staff is simply superb. Field's End is a committee of the Bainbridge Public Library (upon whose board I serve), and the Bainbridge Public Library is a part of Kitsap Regional Library, so we are able to share programming resources and information. We are working on new kinds of collaboration, and it is tremendously exciting. I love our libraries!
One of these collaborative events is coming up in May: I am going to teach WORD SOUP in the Poulsbo Branch of KRL. Last year, I taught WORD SOUP for Field's End at the Bainbridge Public Library, and this year, KRL Poulsbo has graciously invited me to teach it here. If you are an aspiring writer, a former writer, or a "blocked" writer, we'd love to have you join us for this fun, easy-going yet motivating series. We will meet each Tuesday evening in May from 6:00 - 8:00 P.M. in the West Reading Room of the Poulsbo Library. It's free and all are welcome, but space is limited, so if you'd like to join us, please register at (360)779-2915.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stroll for Well-Being, Spring Session

I started my new job yesterday!
I am a co-facilitator of the Stroll for Well-Being at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, and am thrilled about it.

This program was created by Ruth McCaffrey, DNP, FAAN, a professor of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University. It's my privilege to be learning from, and co-facilitating with, Ruth. She is a gem.

Ruth originally created the program for the Morikami Garden in Palm Beach County, Florida. Over 700 people have participated in it. Here is what participants have to say about the Morikami Stroll for Well-Being program:
Ruth created a customized program for the Bloedel Reserve. Today was our first of three meetings for the spring sessions (one group in the morning and one in the afternoon). Each person present received a beautiful journal, filled with inspirational quotes, ideas for reflection, maps, blank (unlined - wonderful!) pages for writing/drawing and gorgeous, full-color photographs of the Reserve. The journal itself is a treasure, but in addition, each participant also receives a one-year membership in the Reserve.

I predict that it is going to be great fun, and a healthy experience for everyone, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Both of the Spring Stroll sessions are filled, but if you are interested in joining a summertime Stroll for Well-Being, just contact Erin ( and she will put your name on the list.

I cannot imagine a better job for me, right now. Thank you, Ruth, Erin and Bloedel Reserve for making this possible!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hannah's Hopeful Hearts 2015 RECAP

On Friday evening, April 10th, I had the privilege of introducing my favorite cancer researcher (Dr. Michael Jensen) to the audience at Hannah's Hopeful Hearts 2015, held at Grace Episcopal Church on Bainbridge Island. Dr. Jensen was joined by Dr. Jim Olson, who also presented his latest, equally-inspiring research. The two doctors are friends, and their work is complementary, but they focus on different areas of oncology.

You've probably read notices about HHH, if you follow my blog, facebook postings, or read Inside Bainbridge, the Bainbridge Review or the North Kitsap Herald, as I have been spreading the word as much as possible.
Dr. Jim Olson and Reba Ferguson (Hannah's mom/HHH organizer) Photo credit: Project Violet -
The event was a huge success, for which I thank my friend, Reba Ferguson (Hannah's mother). Reba poured her heart and countless hours of time into making this event go. She personally oversaw EVERY SINGLE detail, and she did it with grace, good humor, and kindness. It was a marvel to watch her work with people from different organizations over months of planning - with attention to detail, yet without micromanaging. I thought I would simply volunteer to be of help in the background, but Reba's generous heart opened wide to invite us to include Katie and tell her story as part of this event. Reba introduced Dr. Olson, and invited me to introduce Dr. Jensen.

I was very nervous - very, very nervous - about speaking. I don't know why this is the case, as I used to speak in front of large groups at work. I used to love being on stage; I even thought (in my youth) that I might want to major in drama in college. I like to talk. But it is becoming increasingly difficult, rather than easier, to speak - and nearly impossible to do so without notes. I have a couple of theories about why (including the emotional nature of the subject, hormones, personal betrayals which have undermined my confidence, PTSD-induced anxiety, perfectionism..."the usual suspects"), but whatever the underlying cause, I was nervous.

As I was getting dressed, I noticed that the more nervous I am, the more I fall into what I think of as "Bellevue Syndrome." It's a function of my upbringing in that community:  to avoid being criticized or mocked, I try to present a PERFECT SURFACE. That was a big deal in the Bellevue, Washington of my day, and it means trying to cover any physical imperfections by dressing and using makeup to the very best advantage. It's humorous, once I am aware of it; it reminds me of that saying about "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." I KNOW that no one is perfect, and that everyone is more concerned with their own issues and appearance than they are about other peoples'. But for some illogical reason, I go through the process - and then I let it go.

{ Last night, at the Rolling Bay Presbyterian Women's Fellowship Dinner, a singer with the voice of an angel gifted us with two different songs. She said, as a throw-away comment, "Fortunately, only God has to be perfect!," and her words went right to my heart. I wish I had heard her say it a couple of weeks ago, but I was grateful to hear it at all! }

So, getting ready for Friday night, I prayed a lot. It helped to have Gregg, David, my parents, Reba's family, many friends and our Sh*tty First Draft Writing Group there to support us. Reiki also helped to calm me.

I was enormously thankful for the opportunity to share from my heart with this group, and to introduce someone whose work means so very much to me. And it went well. Reba, Dr. Jim Olson and Dr. Mike Jensen spoke beautifully. I did my part wholeheartedly, and most importantly, the event introduced a lot of people (300 or so) to cutting-edge, super-exciting, non-toxic cancer care, and to the brilliant researchers who designed it, and who lead the teams which produce and administer it at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and The Ben Towne Center at Seattle Children's Research Institute.

The totals are not in yet, because there will be employer matching to tally, but as of Friday night, Hannah's Hopeful Hearts raised $180,000 to be split between Dr. Jim Olson's lab and Dr. Michael Jensen's lab. That is enough to pay the salary of a cancer researcher for one year in each lab!

So, although my part was small, I will share it with you here...
"By now, most of you know something about Katie’s story:  what a joyful, healthy and active girl she was for 11 ½ years; her dreams of being a writer, actor and mother; her shocking stage-4 diagnosis of a widespread tumor after 3 weeks of the simple symptoms of a virus.
During her prescribed 5 rounds of devastating chemotherapy and the grueling,18-hour surgery which followed, Katie suffered horrendously – and nearly died. It is hard to describe the pain of bearing with the suffering of your beloved child who is desperately ill with cancer, made even more ill from the side effects of poisonous treatment. We could see that the treatment was doing tremendous damage to Katie’s health - which was counter-intuitive to us - but there was simply nothing else to offer her. Her doctors – some of the best in the country - had to use the “blunt instruments” at hand, or stand by and let this massive tumor kill her rapidly.

We longed for a better way, but back in 2006, there was none available.

During all of this time, we were carried on the prayers of many faithful friends and family members. We felt those prayers, and saw many evidences of God’s tender love all through the 10 difficult months of Katie’s illness.

After Katie’s passing, I began to feel concern that her death might cause people to lose their faith. I myself wrestled actively with God, day by day, in my grief. I still loved Him, but I had a lot of hard questions, and I assumed others would, as well.

I didn’t want Katie’s suffering and death to turn people away from praying to God, or leave them feeling as if God didn’t hear their prayers, or didn’t care enough to answer them. Eventually, I realized that this was not my responsibility, but it concerned me.

In the fall of 2007, shortly after Katie’s passing, we invited our neighbors to have dessert with us. Ken is an immunologist, and his wife is a two-time cancer survivor – and they are also parents. I knew that they would understand our questions.

I asked Ken, “Why are we poisoning children? Why are we not harnessing the immune system, and using its power to kill cancer?” Ken told me that scientists would love to be able to do that, but they didn’t sufficiently understand how the immune system worked, to make it possible, at that time.

We continued to hope for better cures, devoting time and energy to establishing the Katie Gerstenberger Endowment for Cancer Research at Seattle Children’s Hospital, supported by of our generous family and friends.

In the summer of 2010, we were invited to a small gathering to meet Dr. Michael Jensen; he had been in Seattle for only five days.
As Mike talked about his research, I told him, “This is exactly what I was asking my neighbor about!,” and I began to feel very hopeful.

We gathered in the living room of this beautiful home, and Mike showed a video which changed my life (and I hope it will change yours). He showed us a film of T-cells devouring a brain tumor. No chemotherapy, no radiation – just the patient’s own immune system, working to kill the invading cells.

I leaned against the wall, felt tears welling in my eyes, and whispered to my friend Carin Towne (who was standing next to me), “This is it. This is what we’ve been praying for! The answer to our prayers is here.”

After getting to know Mike a bit more, I decided that it would be a good idea for him to meet our neighbor, Ken, so we invited the two couples to dinner. It made me very happy to see Mike and Ken chatting together in our kitchen, but after that, there was no “science talk” around the dinner table. I was a little bit disappointed that my attempt at “scientific matchmaking” was bearing no obvious fruit, but it was still a lovely evening.

Well, I was wrong. Though it wasn’t obvious that night, a match had been made.
You may have heard about a new company in Seattle, which debuted on the NASDAQ exchange in Dec. 2014, called Juno Therapeutics - a “biopharmaceutical company focused on revolutionizing medicine by re-engaging the body's immune system to treat cancer.” Juno Therapeutics is a partnership between Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Memorial-Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Mike Jensen is one of its Scientific Founders - and our neighbor, Ken, is the Chief Scientific Officer! We would like to thank Juno for their support of Hannah’s Hopeful Hearts this evening.

As Director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Dr. Jensen and his team have - to date - saved the lives of 19 children - children who had no more treatment optionswithout poisonous chemo, radiation or surgery. Young lives have been restored, and families saved, from the grief that we have endured. Katie’s Endowment supports this work.

So it is my pleasure to tell you, here and now, that our prayers are being answered; we have the privilege to witness this, and we have the privilege to support the work. And here is the man who will tell you about it: a brilliant researcher, a passionate and compassionate care-giver, and one of my heroesDr. Michael Jensen."

Thank you to every person who attended and donated to Hannah's Hopeful Hearts!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"...The Greatest of These is Love"

Last night, it was my pleasure to address the Women's Fellowship Dinner at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church. Rolling Bay was our beloved church home for many years; it's the place where David, Katie, my mother and I received the sacrament of baptism. I was asked to post the talk on my blog, so (not including off-the-cuff additions), here it is.

"The Greatest of These is Love"
"If I speak with the eloquence of men & of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal. If I have the gift of foretelling the future & hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, & if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all. If I dispose of all that I possess, yes, even if I give my own body to be burned, but have no love, I achieve precisely nothing.
 This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.
Love has good manners & does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails.
Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen. 
For if there are prophecies they will be fulfilled & done with, if there are “tongues” the need for them will disappear, if there is knowledge it will be swallowed up in truth. For our knowledge is always incomplete & our prophecy is always incomplete, & when the complete comes, that is the end of the incomplete.
When I was a little child I talked & felt & thought like a little child. Now that I am a man my childish speech & feeling & thought have no further significance for me.
At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole & face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!
In this life we have three great lasting qualities—faith, hope & love. But the greatest of them is love." 1 Corinthians 13, J.B. Phillips New Testament

This Bible passage is quoted so often – read frequently at weddings – that I wonder if people tend to tune out when they hear those first words.

But it has special meaning, for me.

There was a great preacher named Henry Drummond, who lived from 1851-1897, & wrote a little book illuminating this passage called, "The Greatest Thing in the World." This book was given to me by a dear Sunday School teacher when I was 11 years old. I have it with me to this day - carried through a lot of moves & life-changes. It is precious for two reasons: because the giver of the book radiated the love of God in a way which deeply impressed me; & because the book illuminated new ways to see & live God's love. 

My journey of faith, hope & love began when I was four, when my parents enrolled me & my siblings in Sunday School. The church of my youth had a very specific, perfectionist way of teaching faith. I absorbed it, & grew in it, but of course, I never felt that I had mastered anything close to perfection. I had faith in God, hope in good things to come, & love for God & man, much like any other young Christian person.

When I came to Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church around the age of 40, I knew I had found a path to a richer, freer relationship with God. The teachings, sermons & book studies, the various, wonderful ministries of the church - all blessed & helped me to grow in faith in God & His unconditional love - & away from the perfectionism of my childhood faith. Vestiges of it remained, but I became much freer in this community. Serving in LOGOS, as a Deacon & Stephen Minister expanded my faith; Lectionary class enriched it. Women’s Fellowship gave me some of the greatest friendships I had ever known.

I'm one of those people who was always looking for her "gifts." I never felt really talented at anything - you could say, "a jack of all trades, master of none" - except at loving.  I could love - freely, almost effortlessly - & I enjoyed loving the people in my circle of care. But that's not really considered a talent, & it is certainly not a marketable skill in today's economy! 

I had many jobs, & I worked diligently at them, but no job ever felt like it was a "calling," other than motherhood. And I didn't even feel especially talented, or naturally gifted, at that. But I received the gift of a wonderful husband, a son (David) & daughter (Katie), & I love them deeply.

When Katie was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2006, my faith changed. It went from study – learning from wisdom teachers, & trying to live what I learned - to a place where "the rubber meets the road." There was little time to read, no time to study, & no place for theological discussion. Faith in a children’s hospital meant accepting the path that we were on, & trusting that we were not alone on that path. It meant entering the field of ministry with the clothes on our backs – & very little else.

There was no time to go home & try to become a better, more perfect person; it was time, then & there, to do the best we could, because Katie could die at any moment. We were told from the outset that any - every - moment could be her last, & we lived in acute awareness of that fact. In the cancer ward, death was never far from our thoughts.

That changes how you live, how you practice your faith. Faith becomes walking the path as gently as possible, & looking for God in every person, in every situation, no matter how frightening or dark it seems to be. The teachings I had absorbed here at Rolling Bay sustained me during this time.

Hope became a single-pointed thing: HOPE meant hope for a cure, for recovery, for restoration of our daughter's life. HOPE meant going home with a cancer-free Katie. Suddenly, the other things we hoped for in our previous life fell away. 

There were short-term goals to hope for, along the way: that the chemo would shrink the tumor, that Katie would get through each day’s procedures without difficulty or pain, that she would survive until she could have surgery to remove the tumor – and, survive the surgery itself - but all of the lesser hopes pointed to the big one: CURE. That HOPE could also be called our PRAYER, and the prayers of countless others, including this community.

LOVE became the means, the WAY, of living. Love expressed by others became the daily evidence of God's presence with us – like manna from heaven - and we saw it in countless acts of generosity & tenderness (many of them from this community). LOVE became the way we could serve Katie (and each other), the way to hold our family together, the way to endure the many hardships of life in the hospital (and living as a foursome in one room at Ronald McDonald House). Love not only fulfilled the law, it smoothed the way, softened the edges, gave us eyes to see with humor & gentleness - countless times, day after day.

LOVE did bear all things, endure all things, & it never failed. We may have fallen short in any given moment, but through it all, LOVE carried us.

You know that our prayers for Katie to be cured were not answered in the way we had hoped; she recovered from her surgery, only to relapse, & die, after 10 months of suffering. 

What does this do to our FAITH, HOPE & LOVE?

Well, in my case, HOPE transitioned to hope to survive her death; to be able to carry on, spiritually, emotionally & physically; to live without bitterness, & be a good wife to Gregg & mother to David. I also hoped to find peace with God after this devastating turn of events.

My FAITH went through the refiner's fire.

I wrestled with God. If innocent children die, in spite of our best efforts to save them, how do we relate to this God? How can we go on saying “God is LOVE?” What can that mean, NOW? 

I came to see that the God of my childhood faith was not quite the way He had been portrayed to me. He was not a magician. He was not a mathematical being; our prayers were not "if...then" equations, with perfect sums as a result. Life is messy; it does not “add up.” It is mysterious, & heartbreaking; but this is the life we are given, & in spite of its messiness, it is still a beautiful gift.

As a result of Katie's illness & death, my faith expanded to include mystery, disappointment, & the Good Friday of my daughter's death. It includes faith in the Resurrection, as well, but before I get to enjoy that gift, it is necessary to live through her time on the cross, her time in the tomb - & my life without her, here on earth.
I began to see Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a great mentor & example.

And I learned that the way of the cross is not simply an icon to gaze upon; it is the WAY that we will all have to walk, in some form, at some time in our lives. We may walk it in Mary's footsteps – accompanying one we love - or in those of Jesus, as the sufferer - but the cross is the way of all flesh. I now have faith that God understands, cares, weeps & walks with us, every step of the way, whether we can see Him & feel His presence in our distress, or whether we can't. He gave us this cruciform pattern, & walked through it with His own Son, so we can know ahead of time what is to come – & that we are not alone when it happens to us!
With all of these changes in my hope & faith, I hope you can see that “the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen” is LOVE: our love for Katie, and the Love of God enfolding us – you, and me, and all of His creation. God’s love brings healing to our hearts. LOVE transforms our pain into compassion, into blankets for others who are suffering, into better cancer treatments which are NOW saving lives, into patience, service, generosity & understanding.
Our prayers are being answered; not necessarily according to our HOPES – yet they are still being answered. LOVE carries on, eternally working for the good of all of God’s children.

Your QUILTS are a wonderful illustration of that love, put into action. Generosity - Artistry - a Desire to Bless – Creativity – Craftsmanship – Patience – Warmth – Comfort: springing from God’s creative LOVE, these qualities are stitched into each quilt, and they bless – and enfold – each recipient. That is LOVE in action. Your FAITH & HOPE light the way, but LOVE is what translates your faith & hope into living service. With help from the Fearless Quilters of Rolling Bay, we have donated over 2,000 quilts and blankets to Seattle Children's Hospital's patients through Katie's Comforters Guild!

Henry Drummond wrote:
“There is a great deal in the world that is delightful & beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great & engrossing; but it will not last…Nothing that it contains is worth the life & consecration of an immortal soul. The immortal soul must give itself to something that is immortal…You will give yourselves to many things; give yourself first to LOVE…he that dwelleth in love dwelleth already in God. For God is Love…You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of Love.”

So I agree with the Apostle Paul, and Henry Drummond, that “The Greatest of These is LOVE.”