this stage of life, every birthday is virtually a terminal diagnosis.
At 72, I know that my lifeline is shortening: This is not troubling to
me; I have been considering the fact that every day is a gift and that
it is given to me to live it as well as possible for a long time, but
since our son Jeremy died of lymphoma and then after having my own
little bout with thyroid cancer, I am keenly aware of the quickening
Then there are constant reminders. We went to a
urologist to have David’s PSA levels checked; this was encouraged by
our general physician, Dr. Madeleine Kwiatkowski (I made a point of
telling David that since I had seen male physicians much of my adult
life, it was his turn to navigate the cross-gender medical exam), who
referred us to a very nice and very young specialist.
it turns out, David’s PSA numbers (for a prostate check) were a little
high, but I loved the young specialist’s conclusion: “Oh, we’ll just
watch this for a few months, but I don’t think you should be concerned.
More men your age [David is 78] die with prostate cancer than from it.”
Having conducted a layperson’s survey on prostate diagnoses myself, and
reading The Harm We Do: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America
by Otis Webb Brawley, the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer and
Executive Vice President of the American Cancer Society, I, wife to the
78-year-old man, concurred!
This self-education has
made me greatly aware that we all have cancer cells bobbing along (or
lurking around) in our physical infrastructure, waiting to pop out and
surprise us. A study published in the British Journal of Cancer
predicted that more than half the people born in 1960 will develop
cancer at some point in their lives. For people born in 1960, the
lifetime risk of developing cancer is 53.5% for men and 47.5% for
women. Compared with people born in 1930, this is an increase of 15%
for men and 11% for women.
Some interpretive conclusions
about this study explained that a good part of the reason for this jump
is that people are living longer, and since cancer is primarily a
disease of old age, more than 60% of all cases are diagnosed in people
aged over 65.
is more than likely I will have to face something cancerous in the days
ahead. My endocrinologist reminded me that with a thyroidectomy, it’s
hard to eliminate all the thyroid cells. He said I might want to have a
radiology test to see if there are any cancer remnants left, “when you
have a little extra time” (I laughed at that last part). Papillary
cancer had been removed, I reminded him; it is a slow-growing cancer, I
am 72 years of age, and there are a lot of other things I’d rather be
doing than spending a week isolated after radiation.
In her excellent book Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction,
Margaret Guenther makes an intriguing point about her topic. She talks
about her earlier ministry after leaving secular teaching and becoming
ordained as an Episcopal priest: “I felt called to work with the dying.
… While it was emotionally and spiritually taxing, it was also
fulfilling beyond all my expectations. It must be a sign of God’s
gracious (and ironic) humor that I no longer walk dark and empty
corridors in the middle of the night or watch physical strength
diminish and once-clear minds grow dim with age. At first I was
disappointed to exchange work at life’s thresholds for this quiet,
well-groomed business of sitting and listening until I realized I was
still working with the dying. It is no longer fashionable to talk about
preparing for a ‘good death,’ yet that is what spiritual direction is
all about. The journey does have an end, and our physical death is one
of its markers. Even when it is not clearly articulated, people come to
spiritual direction, grappling with questions of their own mortality.”
David and I are making intentional plans to head into the last years of
our lives prepared to meet death, prepared to look at it as an ultimate
ascent, not the paramount decline so many assign to this “leaving
earth” process. I have a friend, a musician, who is putting her funeral
ceremony together; I think I’ll ask her if I can look over her shoulder
and borrow a few ideas. We are making plans in the near-future to
diminish our household belongings and responsibilities and move into a
place that will be less demanding for us to manage. We’re hoping,
within this year, to make a major move from the home we’ve lived in for
And I have set myself the task of carving
out a writing life—one dedicated to actually writing five hours every
day—a life framed by research and reading and giving ideas form and
putting them out somehow so they connect with readers. This requires
that I remove myself from deeply loved involvements—not an easy task,
but I can’t concentrate on major works if I am overly involved outside
the Most Important Things. It means I will not be so readily available
to so many people.
David and I have decided that we will write a fourth, yet-unnamed book in the Kingdom Tales Trilogy
(thus making it a tetralogy rather than a trilogy). The plan is to
release one chapter a month with the book to be published and to also
invite eager young contributors to contribute by brainstorming the
narrative line of the stories. We’ll see how this develops.
rest of my strategy is to write book proposals on several other
projects that are ready to be formed. I am thick in the middle of
composing the first three chapters, a book outline, a table of contents
of the book on Listening Groups (Listening With My Fingertips)
that I’ve been hoping to get to for the last past years. In addition,
there is a novel that I won’t feel happy about dying before I get a
chance to finish it.
So will you do something to help me? Will you help me prepare for a good death?
looking back through the years, it is clear that when David and I set
our faces toward doing what we believe God has placed upon our hearts
to do, that sudden and intense spiritual resistance forms. The
resistance is not in the form of inconvenient and annoying bumps in the
road, but cataclysmic detours, head-on wrecks and eleven-car collisions.
years ago, I had written a book that was designed in its language and
terminology to reach to spiritually hungry readers outside of the
traditional religious-publishing markets. A huge controversy eventually
resulted in our ministry being $2.6 million in debt. It took us some 15
years to dig out from under that mountain. Two years ago, when I
started to “write out” as that inner voice seemed to be prodding me to
do, our son Jeremy became ill and died quickly from an acute and rare
lymphoma. The January after Jer died in November, I cleaned the writing
study and was preparing to head into a writer’s life, when I fell,
dislocated my shoulder and tore my rotator cuff, resulting in slings,
an operation and months of physical therapy. Pre-op exams eventually
determined that I had “suspicious papillary cells” and resulted in a
think you can see why I am bidding your prayers—as I prepare to make
fruitful whatever last years are given to me, I feel the need for
prayers of protection, prayers that my mind will be strong, that I will
have the discipline to withdraw from things I love to do for the sake
of being obedient to what it is I hear God speaking to my heart. I need
prayers that the Enemy who loves to destroy will not be able to breach
the circle of protection your prayers will put around us.
If you would like to be part of this prayer team, will you reply to this Soulish Food
and give me your email address? I will put you on my private
intercessory-prayer list, in which I will send out reports and prayer
requests. This will become, I hope, my inner circle.
night, with the help of Nyquil—I have a head cold, which I rarely ever
get—I slept deeply without coughing, and I had a dream.
was in a pre-sermon dialogue group with a bunch of pastors, and I had
worked hard on my sermon. In fact, I had requested that this meeting be
held so I could perfect the sermon I was going to present. The leader
of the group, a well-known Christian leader with much influence, chided
me kindly about something he thought I hadn’t accomplished, but I
strongly defended myself and reminded him that this pre-sermon dialogue
group had been my idea.
Suddenly, his wife swept into
the room with a number of other women; they were holding a birthday
celebration, and the cake and decorations came out and began to subsume
the purpose of our gathering. I explained to her that this actually was
a group that had formed to listen to and help me construct a good
sermon at my request. She didn’t appear to be ready to back off her
plan; nor did I appear to be willing to back off mine. Then I woke up.
with this dream a little, it became clear to me that all the “womanly”
things of my life—housekeeping and cherishing, in fact, much of the
relational ministry that I do and the normalcy of living I have
achieved in these last 15 years, are the activities that, if I am not
strong, will keep me from the work that is at hand. I need the left
side of my brain to dominate the right side, the creative side, for a
while. I need the planning, aggressive, organizing, ordering,
intellectual/thinking, authority-taking left side to take charge and
give the whole me the determination and resolve to see all these
writing tasks through.
If God gives me enough life,
it will be a gut-wrenching ride as I prepare myself to go gently and
even eagerly into that good night. So let me know if God has placed me
on your heart. Who knows what will happen if prayer is activated?
Abel was in a Listening Group with me last night and reported briefly
on the first meeting with her art-making, writing and listening
laboratory. It is so much fun listening to Sheri as this whole area of
her life is expanding. The course is full, and we plan to repeat it if
we can find some sort of studio for the future. Sheri talked about
working with her French students at Wheaton College and incorporating
some spiritual-formation principles into their conversational-French
class. So much fun. I envy those language learners!
SAVE THIS DATE!
(for those nearby geographically)
Baker Community Center, St. Charles, IL
June 6, 2015, we will be holding a fundraising banquet at the Baker
Community Center in St. Charles, IL. This idea began when our good
friend, Bryan Erenholm, volunteered to fly to Chicago and cook for the
event. Bryan is an outstanding chef who, in addition to many cooking
honors, has had 14 pies named Best in America at the APC Crisco
National Pie Bake-Off. Two pies have been awarded Grand Champion,
meaning the best overall pie in the U.S.
In 2010, First Lady
Michelle Obama and the Department of Health sponsored a Healthy Kids
recipe contest for the schools across America. The team that Chef Bryan
volunteered for won first in their category of Side Dish. Because of
this, a relationship with the Manteca (CA) School District was
established, and Bryan became the Executive Chef for the Manteca United
School District, where he is in charge of the healthy-menu development
for 32 cafeteria sites.
David and I have promised to have
ready the first story of the fourth and completely new next book in the
Tales of the Kingdom quartet.
Dinner is at 6:30. Let Karen know if you want an invitation—email firstname.lastname@example.org.
MEMOIR-WRITING TELECONFERENCE CLASS
thought we’d have one class with six to eight students. Instead there
are THREE classes with five to eight students. We start the last week
in February. Memoir-writing is a way to tell our stories, and often as
not becomes a dialogue about spiritual formation, about God’s working
in our lives. People from Canada, the East Coast, the West Coast,
Texas, Florida and the Midwest will be joining in on our conference
call. This is exciting!
RELEASE of THE SERMON-SUCKING BLACK HOLE: Why You Can’t Remember on Monday What Your Minister Preached on Sunday by David Mains
The advance copies of David’s new book The Sermon-Sucking Black Hole: Why You Can’t Remember on Monday What Your Minister Preached on Sunday
arrived at the office last week. We have 1000 copies and will gladly
give you a FREE copy if you will pay the postage. In return, we ask
that you write a review of the book on Amazon.com, or mail / email us
your comments. If you are interested, contact David at email@example.com.
years of informally asking parishioners what their pastors preached on
Sunday, David discovered that at least 80 percent (probably higher)
didn’t remember. Nor could they remember what the preacher wanted them
to do. (If you don’t believe this, conduct your own informal
interviews—with the other preacher’s parishioners, of course!)
Dr. Lori Carrell, former communication professor at the University of
Wisconsin and now Vice-Chancellor of the University of Minnesota
Rochester, conducted research with some 30,000 parishioners and their
pastors, concluding much the same that David assessed in his informal
We heard Dr. Lori speak two weeks ago at the
Calvin College Symposium on Worship and were extremely affirmed by what
changes in preaching her studies showed actually moved listeners to
areas of measurable spiritual growth. Many of them were the same
recommendations David makes in his book.
Morgan James is the
New York publishing house that has published David’s book, but we are
going to have to market it in the religious markets through our
connections. Help us out if you can!
The Soulish Food e-mails are
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.
“I think you can see
why I am bidding your prayers—as I prepare to make fruitful whatever
last years are given to me, I feel the need for prayers of protection,
prayers that my mind will be strong, that I will have the discipline to
withdraw from things I love to do for the sake of being obedient to
what it is I hear God speaking to my heart. I need prayers that the
Enemy who loves to destroy will not be able to breach the circle of
protection your prayers will put around us.”
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
been an introvert all my life (and no apologies for it), I have had to
work hard to understand how I restore, why everyone thinks I’m an
extrovert, and how to keep myself healthy (in a world that cannot stop
talking), I loved this thoroughly researched study about some one-third
of our population. This is a book that both introverts and extraverts
need to read in order to better appreciate one another. A section for
extraverted parents to help them understand their introverted kids is
especially helpful and practical.
Perhaps this reader’s review from Amazon will be encouraging to some of you:
book changed my life. I've always been very ashamed to be an introvert.
I thought it was unnatural to not attend fabulous parties and be
surrounded by hoards of people. I thought preferring to work alone
meant I was antisocial and mean. I thought being able to count my
friends on one hand meant I was unlikable. None of that is true. This
book really helped me appreciate my good qualities and become more
self-confident. Plus, it's just an interesting read. The best part is
that it doesn't bash extroverts. In fact, it shows how essential it is
for the two types to live and work together; it creates good harmony.
Buy From Amazon.com