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Issue 14-2

Terminal Diagnoses

Dear Friends,

At 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 countdown.

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.

As 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.

So it 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.”

So 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 38 years.

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.

The 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?

Retrospectively, 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.

Twenty 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 thyroidectomy.

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.

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.

Last 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.

I 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.

Sitting 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?

Karen Mains


Sheri 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!

(for those nearby geographically)

Baker Community Center
Baker Community Center, St. Charles, IL

On 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


We 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, or mail / email us your comments. If you are interested, contact David at

After 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!)

Concurrently, 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 interviews.

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 Sermon-Sucking Black Hole" by David R. Mains


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

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“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" by Susan Cain
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
by Susan Cain

Having 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:

This 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.

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