I had surgery two days ago for breast cancer. To ensure the surgeon operated on the correct side, she marked the top, left of my chest with a Sharpie: “Yes” and her initials, “G A.”

It is a visible remindersurgery ink that my circumstances have marked me with a new label–cancer patient. This new label is weighty. It carries with it expectations of treatments, illness, hardship. And it causes people to act differently toward me than they did before the diagnosis. Suddenly, I get more hugs. People ask me how I’m doing with an extra measure of compassion in their eyes. Folks want to help me with meals and anything else I need. I’m not complaining–I appreciate the extra help and am touched by everyone’s concern.

But at the same time, I resent the label, particularly because I didn’t choose it. And it gives me pause. What labels do I give to people based on their circumstances (or my assumptions about their circumstances)? Homeless man. Rich girl. Immigrant. Disabled person. Blue collar worker. Executive. Single mom. Elderly woman. Star athlete.

And what kind of weight do those labels hold? They surely affect what I think about those people and how I act toward them. How do we fight the urge to apply labels to people and instead focus first on the person? I don’t begin to know the answer to that question. But I think it’s an important question to keep asking.

Examine / Examen

hospital gown“Undress from the waist up, and put this gown on, ties in front.” Thus began my breast cancer journey, those words preceding a routine mammogram that revealed something not so routine. The weeks that followed have brought an ultrasound, needle biopsy, MRI, surgical consult, pre-op physical, and chest X-ray. Each of which began the same way: “Put this gown on, ties in front.”

The first few times I put on the gown, I felt awkward, exposed, and uncomfortable, trying to sit so as to maximize coverage of the ill-fitting gown. However, with each gown-donning experience, it felt a little less uncomfortable as I realized the doctor/nurse/technician has seen it all before, there’s nothing shocking or surprising. And, perhaps more importantly, each examination, scan, and test–invasive or exposing as it may feel–is a necessary step on the journey toward ridding my body of this toxic cancer and restoring my health.

Being a Christian woman, perhaps it’s natural in draw a parallel between all the physical examinations I’ve experienced lately and the spiritual practice of examen. They both involve taking a closer look to see what’s going on inside. Mind you, examen is not something I routinely practice. Self-examination in front of God, identifying and confessing sin, asking God to “search my heart”? That’s a bit scary–makes me feel awkward, uncomfortable, exposed. What are we going to find, God and me, if we go poking around? But, sins and wrong thinking can be just as toxic to our spiritual life as a cancer tumor is to our physical health. Only through exposing them and letting God do his transforming work in those areas can we begin to heal, grow, and become more of who God intends us to be. And just like the health care professionals I’ve encountered recently, God has seen it all, he already knows what’s going on inside spiritually–he’s not going to be shocked or surprised. So maybe it shouldn’t seem so scary.

I’ll have some periods of rest and recovery on this cancer treatment journey. And while I’m sure I’ll use some of that time for napping, reading, and watching bad daytime TV, perhaps I can use some of it to engage in the practice of examen. Maybe I’ll think of it as a mammogram for my soul (except God probably won’t make me put on a hospital gown, ties in front!).

Easter reflection

Eight years ago, we went on a tour of the Holy Land. There we saw the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb, both of which purport to be the spot of Christ’s tomb. One of the folks on the trip, who had been years before, said he’d be interested to hear the following Easter which location popped into our minds when we heard verses read about Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

When Easter came, one image clearly filled my mind–the Garden Tomb. And it has been the consistent image for me when I hear or read verses about the Easter story. At first, I wondered why. That site was no more authentic looking than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Both location were very grand and touristy–though in very different ways–and not at all what the place would have looked like in Jesus’ time. But the Garden Tomb had another significance for me that ties it to the Easter story.

Earlier in the day that we visited that site, I’d said something that hurt the feelings of one of our group leaders. I had spoken carelessly, he had taken what I said the wrong way, and he reacted angrily. I was embarrassed and I felt awful for hurting him. My heart was very heavy as our bus wound through the tight and crowded streets of Jerusalem and we made our way into the Garden Tomb. We looked in the tomb, read a Bible passage, and then we were to have communion. Before we did so, though, the person I’d offended pulled me aside. He apologized for getting so angry, I apologized for saying something without thinking and hurting him, and we hugged.

What stands out for me at the Garden Tomb was the opportunity, in a small but powerful way, to live into forgiveness and reconciliation. The other traveler could have remained angry. I could have remained in my state of feeling guilty. We could have given each other a wide berth, and by the end of the trip, maybe even have taken to avoiding each other as our feelings festered. But instead, we cleared the air, and relationship was restored.

Through Christ’s death on the cross and his glorious resurrection 3 days later, we can be reconciled to God. And more than that, as those saved by Christ’s death and resurrection, we are to be agents of reconciliation, so it says in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19: “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

This Easter Sunday, as we thank God for our new life and reconciliation in Christ, let us also remember that, as the reconciled, we are to work to bring reconciliation and restoration to the world.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Blog post #1 – The blessing of everyday and ordinary

A couple days ago, I set up this blog page, and I’ve been struggling with what to write about for my very first post. I wanted it to be incredibly insightful, beautifully written, and universally meaningful—the perfect “glimpse of grace and glory in the little everyday moments of life,” as the blog’s subtitle states. But I’ve been too busy to stop and notice grace or glory… or anything else, frankly.

And then, today, in a suburb of Pittsburgh, 22 people—mostly students—were stabbed in an act of school violence. I couldn’t help but notice that. Friends in other cities contacted me to make sure it wasn’t our school, that my boys were OK. Later, I learned of children hurt, and one killed, in Florida when a car slammed into their daycare center. I read these news stories with great sadness, considering just how quickly an ordinary, everyday morning or afternoon turned into a scene of danger, fear, and confusion.

My intention for this blog was to write down ponderings about the world around me. A way to acknowledge those regular, everyday moments that are somehow elevated to memorable or remarkable. I envisioned those ponderings would be primarily happy thoughts about unexpected joys, heart-warming interactions with people, and pleasant encounters with nature (as evidenced in banner photo of pretty moth on flower).

What I am struck by tonight, however, is how blessed and precious “everyday” and “ordinary” can be. I’m willing to bet that the families who were involved in today’s tragic events would gladly exchange these memorable and remarkable moments for the mundane or ordinary.

I’m still going to look for the beauty, joy, and grace that ordinary, everyday moments often carry. But perhaps tonight’s pondering serves as a reminder that ordinary—in and of itself—can be a blessing and ought not to be taken for granted.