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Issue 14-1

Rolling Stops


Dear Friends,

On January 1, this year, I made an early-morning trip to the grocery store to pick up food for a make-your-own sandwich supper for the ten of us. Our grandson, Landis, and his girlfriend Caitlyn Bell, arrived from Phoenix the day after Christmas. I figured that with all the meals and city plans and Christmas events, an easy dinner would be this feed-a-crowd standby.

By 8:30 I was back in the car, groceries loaded and headed for home. I caught myself at the stop sign as I turned onto Joliet Street in West Chicago, the town where we live; David is always reminding me to watch the rolling stops. When no other traffic is around, and I’m in a hurry, I’m liable to ease through the signs without coming to a full pause. “See,” he’ll say to me. “You did it again—a rolling stop.”

Now, I’m being very kind by not mentioning that David often neglects to use his turn signal when he’s changing lanes, but that’s another driving topic.

I stopped completely, consciously thinking No rolling stops, turned right, then proceeded home. After passing the intersection of Brown Street and Joliet, however, I noticed that a police car was tailing me closely. If I braked suddenly (which I certainly intended not to do), he (or she, as it was in this case) would slam into my car’s rear.

Sure enough, the next thing I knew, a siren was signaling behind me. I turned the corner, parked, rolled down my window and said to the policewoman, “I honestly don’t know what I’ve done wrong.”

“Rolling stop,” she replied, pulling out her paper pad. “Back there at Brown and Joliet.”

Oh, drat! I knew she was right. There was no other traffic. I was hurrying to get home. To be sure: rolling stop.

I noticed there was another police car behind hers and an unmarked police car on the other side of the street. All with their lights going—I suspected I was the first traffic violation of the New Year, and with the whole rest of West Chicago still sleeping, these officers were all participating in pulling over a 71-year-old (almost 72-year-old), white-haired driving miscreant and Rules-of-the-Road violator.
 
“Great way to start the New Year,” I said with a smile as I handed over my driver’s license and insurance card. The policewoman smiled back. “I’m not intending to give you a ticket, just a warning.”

She finished her proceedings in the police car (all three lights still rotating) and came back to give me my cards. “Well,” I said. “I guess I have to thank you for the warning. Rolling stops are a problem for me; my husband is always reminding me about this bad habit. And also, thanks for not giving me a ticket.”

We chatted a little bit, wished each other a Happy New Year; I waved to the other cops and proceeded to drive home, taking care that I came to a full and complete stop at each stop sign or red light. Lesson, for that day, at least, learned.

However, I am well aware that nothing much happens in our life haphazardly. Most of the time, there is meaning beneath the meaning. I am not only guilty of rolling stops when I’m driving, I’m guilty of rushing through my life making rolling stops of all kinds. I was rushing in the kitchen the morning my foot caught on a throw rug, tripping me into the open dishwasher door, throwing me against a cabinet and dislocating my shoulder, badly tearing my rotator cuff. Rolling stop.

My general physician noticed a small goiter on my thyroid a couple years ago, but I rarely pay attention to my physical self because I’ve got so much going on in life. A pre-op exam before the shoulder surgery revealed the goiter again; this time a new GP sent me off for a long-needle biopsy and hooked me up with an ENT specialist, who eventually removed a nodule the size of a tennis ball (and the rest of my thyroid, due to a 2.5-centimeter-sized papillary cancer). I am since paying a little more attention to my body—not so many rolling stops. Turning 72 (and a lot of time spent in the healthcare system last year) has helped me understand that I have, for all practical purposes, received a terminal medical diagnosis. Aging certainly is that (among many things), is it not?

Years ago, a young Chinese woman joined our family for a year and a half. She was Jeremy Mains’ Mandarin tutor and a grad student at Wheaton College. Yan Li taught me that when the Chinese people say goodbye to one another, they say, “Walk slowly.”

How appropriate is that for a rolling-stop addict?

The phrase in Chinese is “Man Zou.” It’s a little like what we say to one another on parting, something like “do well,” “take care” or “safe journey”—but I think modern Americans would be much better off if we were reminded again and again to “walk slowly.” Walk slowly.

Perhaps one of the reasons the disciples inculcated the mentoring of Jesus during just the three short years they spent with Him was the fact that they walked everywhere together. Strolling along sheep lanes or down dusty paths, talking as they journeyed, gave them time to listen, to hear and to assimilate. Of course, knowing Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, experiencing His teachings and His doings was a tremendous model. Jesus was unforgettable. And after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was available to teach and guide. But I’m suspecting that those long journeys on foot, walking together, strolling slowly gave them all an opportunity to absorb the impact of Jesus in a way that our technology-driven, automotive culture prohibits.

Please hear me in all kindness: Being too busy is not a sign of maturity or of effectiveness or of spiritual depth or of wisdom. It is a sin—or let me put it this way: In my life it is a sign of sinfulness. Nothing extraordinary can take place in a life that is too busy. A mind too full is no mind at all. A too-busy life is a sign of many things, but of few things that are significantly impacting. Being too busy can be a symptom of character deficiency.

In the best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain interviews research psychologist Anders Ericsson. A question that has driven his career is: How do extraordinary achievers get to be so great at what they do? One of his conclusions from decades of collecting data to that question is huge amounts of hours of alone time. Cain says, “What’s so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement.” Most of us are too busy to be alone, let alone to establish deliberate practices for anything.

Remember: This is the rolling-stop addict speaking here. Perhaps we all need a traffic cop—a lifestyle policeman—to pull us over in this New Year 2015 and give us a warning, You just rolled through the stop sign on Brown Street and Joliet.

Uh, thanks for the warning. The first thing of significance that happened to me this year was an annoying event that held deep meaning beneath the surface of its common meaning. If I am going to accomplish the most important things God has for me to accomplish in this time of life (when every birthday is a reminder of my terminal condition), I am going to have to end this frantic rolling-stop kind of life.

Since our modern American fast-paced, breathless, too-many-opportunities environment defies walking slowly, we have to become intentional in resisting its godless impact on our schedules. Yep! I mean what I say. So help me out here. Can you take a moment to share how you have learned or are learning how to walk slowly? Write me back and tell me what practices are helping you contain a rolling-stop life.

In the meantime, Man Zou.

Karen Mains

NOTICES

Karen Mains' Writer's Memoir-Writing Course

Sheri Abel’s course Experimenting With the Creative Process on the Spiritual Journey is full. That’s exciting! I told her to put my name on the list if registrations faltered, but I got bumped! Next time around.

Another woman who has extraordinary credentials has stepped forward to apply her gifts to some of our Hungry Souls gaps. She and I are going to start pulling the eight years of 24-Advent Retreat templates into publishing formats so that others can benefit from the planning and learning that occurred over those years of wonderful silent retreat experiences.

Heather Ann Martinez, our Mainstay Ministries office manager, has pulled the Global Bag Project into organizational health, and is setting up venues to show bags, display bags, sell bags. More about this later.

The Writer’s Memoir-Mentoring Course led by me is still open. I’ve moved the final registration date to January 28. Following is the Course Description:

Writer’s Memoir Writing Course led by Karen Mains
Karen rolled out this course two years ago as a test and was amazed with the community that developed through conference-call work. Some eight writers from all over the country joined in the journey, and because we were sharing memoir work with one another, we became close and supportive with many fruitful results.

Simply put, memoirs are personal essays that may or may not become book length. You must have a sample memoir piece written for purposes of submission when you register. We will have TWO conference calls a month, and an editorial team, headed by Karen Mains, will evaluate your submissions. Unlike past years, this memoir-writing course will include a section on digital publishing, blog-writing, self-publishing, etc. Karen will give personal evaluation sessions to each member, and the group will act as an evaluation team. Depending upon how many sign up and from what parts of the country, we will try to hold an evening conference call and a daytime conference call.

Sign up by January 28, 2015. We will begin in February. My former literary agent said I should be charging $600–$800 for this. I will settle for a $150 registration fee. If you then want to make a further donation to Hungry Souls according to your own lights, monies are needed.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: We MUST have your written memoir piece by our mid-February startup date. Final registration deadline is January 28.

Contact Karen Mains at karen@hungrysouls.org.

Meeting for Misfits

Early in our pastoral ministry, David and I offered a “Meeting for Misfits,” an evening of exploring why some people felt they just didn’t fit into anything our young church was offering. The most interesting and creative kinds of people showed up. Believe me, we created spaces where they could use their unique contributions. One of the men, Dr. David Larson, a resident in psychology, went on to Duke University Med School, where Dr. Bill Wilson was offering a track on health and spirituality. David Larson stepped from Duke to the Health & Human Services Department of government, where he set up the measurements and protocols that determined how spiritual practices positively affected health. An exciting man, to say the least. Much of what David (and colleagues) did informed the turn of the psychological community to examining health factors rather than just pathologies.

So David and I are wondering if there are some of you who have always felt that you just don’t fit the mold. You’re kind of a quiet renegade and march to a different drummer. We would like to have a conversation with you. Sunday afternoons after church are a good time for us, so if you would like to begin that dialogue, contact Karen at karen@hungrysouls.org and we’ll find a good mutual time.

Blogs

Karen is blogging three times a week in the new year and also posting regularly on her Facebook page. Blog address is http://blog.karenmains.com. Next week's blogs (for January 26-30) are "Where Were We? Where Are We Now?", "Bruises on My Knees" and "Terminal Life Diagnosis."


Reminder!

The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.


Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“I suspected I was the first traffic violation of the New Year, and with the whole rest of West Chicago still sleeping, these officers were all participating in pulling over a 71-year-old (almost 72-year-old), white-haired driving miscreant and Rules-of-the-Road violator.”
BOOK CORNER
Being Mortal
Being Mortal:
Medicine and What Matters in the End

by Atul Gawande, M.D.


A book I have loved and am highly recommending is Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, M.D.

At last, people in the medical profession are stepping up, diagnosing what’s ill in our health system, and proposing practical and doable solutions. After spending almost five months in one of the top hospitals in Chicago watching a beloved son die of an aggressive lymphoma, I came away with extraordinary questions about treatment protocols. The medical profession is geared to helping people get better, but it is horrendous about knowing how to help people die well.

Atul, a practicing surgeon, addresses the medical profession’s outrageous ineptitude when it comes to death: “Our reluctance to honestly examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm and suffering we inflict on people and has denied them the basic comforts they need most.” Many physicians, indeed the entire system, is so determined to preserve life that it causes incalculable suffering.

After viewing the effects of chemotherapy on our son, Jeremy, I came to the conclusion that another generation will look back on this protocol the way our generation now looks at the past custom of bleeding the patient: We will think of it as barbaric—the best we may have right now, but barbaric nonetheless. At any rate, I won’t be around to see if my predictions come true.

Gawande’s experienced voice is gentle, humble—he includes stories of his own errors with the dying—sensible and inspiring. The story becomes personal when he recounts the death process of his own father, a surgeon as well, and catches his own reluctance to introduce the difficult but imperative discussion about approaching death.

I wish I had read this book before we took our own terrible journey into our family battle with cancer.

A few quotes from reviews about Being Mortal taken from Amazon summarize reactions to the book:

“A deeply affecting, urgently important book—one not just about dying and the limits of medicine but about living to the last with autonomy, dignity, and joy.” —Katherine Boo

“Masterful … Essential … For more than a decade, Atul Gawande has explored the fault lines of medicine … combining his years of experience as a surgeon with his gift for fluid, seemingly effortless storytelling. … In Being Mortal, he turns his attention to his most important subject yet.”

This book is a New York Times Bestseller and was named by the Washington Post as one of the 10 Best Books of 2014.

Without a doubt, one of the most humane books I’ve read in a while. One day, if not now, you will need to know about Gawande’s proposals. It is a must-read for people at all stages of life.

Buy From Amazon.com



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