JOURNEYING WITH CANCER


I am journeying with a client who is fighting cancer. This mother of three boys, wife, daughter, sister, friend and mentor to many women – invited me into the sacred spaces of her inner world whilst she is going through extensive chemotherapy and all that it brings. In our last session she posed the question: “What does my life mean and what will I have to show about my life should I die this young?” After our session I reflected on her question by asking myself what I have learnt from her life? In order to answer this question, I need to share some of her story.

Recently, after the cancer spread to her brain, she underwent radiation of her skull. This resulted in the permanent loss of her hair. After a week or so, as tufts of hair started to fall to the ground, she mourned her hair which will never re-grow. Soon there were only a few patches of hair left on her head and then she did the most extraordinary thing: her sixteen year old son was standing next to her while she was shaving the last bit of hair – she turned to him, gave him the razor and asked him if he wanted to make her “smooth”. He was happy to do so. This very practical moment became witness to and of their intense love and respect of each other. For me this action spoke of the trust between them. This moment was about allowing her son to see her at her most vulnerable, yet at the same time holding a position of so much strength. It made me think about allowing people to see us in our vulnerability and how much courage and strength it takes to show our hurt, speak about our insecurities and to acknowledge how fragile we sometimes are.

My client also started to make memory boxes for her husband and sons. Some might understand this to be a sign of giving up or over – that she no longer holds hope. On the contrary, this is about celebrating life and valuing one’s experiences. I thought to myself – each one of us should be making memory boxes. These memory boxes should be updated ever so often. We need to share how we experience life while we live it. Ten years from now I most probably will not remember how I felt about the highlights and lowlights of this year. There are lessons in these moments and if we do not document it, it is lost: to ourselves and to others. One day, my daughter or son, when they are the same age that I am now, might want to know how I experienced or handled age-related challenges. If we document our lives, we will be able to engage with wisdoms gained from our past experiences.

I am learning many other lessons from this journey with cancer. One of the most profound lessons of this journey is our desire to keep our dignity even when disease or other circumstances threaten to steal our grace and composure. It leaves me with the question: what is human grace and how do we live a life that will protect our own dignity but also the dignity of others?

LIFE – LIVE IT.


This photo is of a sculpture outside The House of JC le Roux winery, Stellenbosch, South Africa.

On Wednesday it was my forty seventh birthday. My husband took me to this venue for a wonderful tasting of “champagne”/ sparkling wine. When I saw this artwork something jumped in my soul. It is a wonderful artwork. One feels young, playful and full of life when you look at her.

This work spoke and moved me deeply. For me she is dancing with a ball in high heel shoes. My understanding/interpretation of this sculpture is that it a reminder about how we can life our lives. It spoke to me about living life to the fullest, maybe even sometimes a little inappropriately. I mean after all, who wears high heel shoes and play with a ball in something that looks like a 1920’s bathing suit? The answer I came up with is a person who understands that life is precious!

Life is for living and my only responsibility regarding life, is to live it. My responsibility is it to do so with all my energy, conviction and passion in ways that will be life-giving to myself, others and the earth.

I hold onto the same deep sense of freedom and acceptance, which I see/feel in this sculpture. I have peace when I embrace life with all its challenges and remind myself that life is not about who you are, what you have or your achievements, but about the effects you will have on all that you touch: physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, financially and any other way you engage with others, yourself and the environment.

Over recent years I have come to a place and space where I define contentment not as being content with what I have, but rather with what I do not have. This does not mean that I do not have any ambitions or dreams left. It only means that I live in the here and now for today with all that I have to the best of my ability.

In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh in BEING PEACE My well-being, my happiness depends very much on you, and your well-being, your happiness, depends upon me. I am responsible for you, and you are responsible for me. Anything I do wrong, you will suffer, and anything you do wrong, I have to suffer. Therefore, in order to take care of you, I have to take care of myself. (pg. 42)

Ps. I do not mind sharing my age, after all, age is just a state of mind.

MY THEOLOGY OF EFFECTS


As the year draw to an end, we often take stock of what we achieved, lost, gained or failed at during the past twelve months. For some this year will be filled with big moments which became affirming memories, for others maybe a year they would rather forget.

Yesterday, a good friend of mine, shared about her year. She had a very difficult year in which she experienced many losses. Many of these injuries were caused by her church. She is, as a gay minister, still in a legal battle with her church to recognise her constitutional and basic human right to have the choice to be married as gay person even if she is in the ministry. She shared with me that this year she came to know God as darkness. Before her construction of God was Light, but as God is all encompassing, God is also Darkness. In this year she met God as Darkness. For her God as Darkness are the mysterious and unknown sides of God. She associates darkness with that which we cannot see, the unknown and often the unloved. She finds it comforting to know that God is Light and Darkness and that she finds God even in the darkest of times: God of suffering, God of loss and God of death. As a Christian, she is reflecting on her year by addressing two questions:

  • What did I learn in this year?
  • Where did I find Jesus in this year and these experiences?

Our conversation invited me to reflect on my personal experiences of this year, but also my theology. I believe that each person should construct their own theology. If one unquestioningly follows the theology of another or as the church prescribes, it holds the danger of becoming mere religion appose to personally lived faith or spirituality.

My theology was greatly influenced and shaped by the work of Dr. Dirk Kotzé[i] on participatory ethics. This stance recognises a multiplicity of realities, especially the voices of the disempowered, the marginalised, and the previously silenced (Kotzé 2002:18). It moves from speaking theology to doing and living theology. It is about caring with people and not caring for people. It invites participation of all ‘realities’.

As Dirk, I believe that I need to live my theology. Theology is not found in book cases or on shelves, but in the lives of people. My theology has moved beyond what is right or wrong or what is moral or immoral. I position myself now in terms of the effects of my ways-of-being and living. I constantly ask myself: Is this life-giving, life-denying or life-restricting to myself, others, the relationships involved and the environment? To answer that question I must look at the effects of my thoughts, attitudes, actions and motives. However, when I look at the effects I do so in a participatory manner, thus inviting those affected by me to decide if it is life-giving to them or if it is life-denying. It is my preferred way-of-being to be life-giving, thus in relation to the effects my actions have – therefore a theology of effects.

I invite you to reflect on your year by directing your reflection by the following questions:

  • What did I learn in this year?
  • How do these experiences relate to the effects of my ways-of-being?
  • What stories will this year tell about me?
  • How did I live my theology/spirituality?

[i] Kotzé, D 2002. Doing Participatory Ethics, in Kotzé, D, Myburgh, J, Roux J & Associates, Ethical ways of being, 1-34. Pretoria: Ethics Alive.