Sunday, September 25, 2011

You Must Do The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

The words in the title belong to Eleanor Roosevelt.

I first found them scrawled on a piece of paper among some belongings of my grandmother.

My grandmother's mother suffered from bipolar disorder.  Her husband, my grandfather, had something they called "a breakdown" in his late twenties (and then went on to a successful family and business life).  When my mother and brother died, she and my grandfather lived next door to us and took on much of the burden of our family in a time of blinding pain.  By the time she reached her nineties, she was almost completely deaf and blind, with her brilliant and still clear mind thus unable to engage with others except in the most limited ways, and yet she lived for ten more years.

In other words, she spent nearly a century doing things she must have thought she could not do.  

And in the doing of most of them, she affected a great many people.

I am not afraid, as I told one of the newest people in my life, a breast cancer surgeon, of cancer.  I am not afraid of surgery or chemo or radiation. Three years  ago my husband and I had just spent a week overseeing the immediate consequences of our son's death and were planning a trip to Chicago to empty his apartment; I can't imagine that there is much left for me to be afraid of in this life.

But I am a little bewildered, you know?  This morning I am supposed to be preaching my very first sermon as the pastor of Small Church in Tiny Town and this week I am supposed to be meeting people in my congregation and working with them on the plans that will see us through Christmas.  And instead I am hanging out at home, still recovering from Surgery No. 1 and awaiting the end-of-week consultation that will provide a hint of the alternative framework that will control my life for the next several months.

There are so many unanswered questions which affect not only my immediate family and friends, but also so many unknown people who are suddenly in my life.

Oddly enough, the thing I do not know how to do has little to do with the nuts and bolts of contending with cancer.  Those I will most likely learn about pretty quickly.

What I have no idea about is how to serve a church community by providing it with a sense of positive and loving leadership and direction so that it continues to thrive while simultaneously creating a positive space in which its members can support me. 

I don't think there's a book out there about this one.

When I looked up the Eleanor Roosevelt quotation to be sure that I had it right, I found this one as well:

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

My dream is to tend and nurture SC so that it continues to thrive as a community of God.  

I guess that that means I will be doing some things I think I cannot do.

PS: Ordination Service is still scheduled for October 30.  We are going to try to work around that date, but I won't post the info here until it's for sure.


  1. "I can't imagine that there is much left for me to be afraid of in this life." I've uttered those same words many times over in the wake of Erin's cancer/death, as I've faced into situations that would have most likely caused me to slam on the brakes of doubt or panic. Perspective - the grounding force that stabilizes my thought patterns. After experiencing the death of our children, most everything takes a back seat. Even our own health situations.

    You will draw from your wealth of knowledge borne of experiences few have encountered, and now, as you move gracefully through your unexpected new detour, your church community will reap the benefits of your grace and ability to create that positive space as you "do the thing you think you cannot do".

  2. For me, it was just breathing. Just to get through the day. I was not comfortable with visits from the congregation on my "bad" days. But folks came for my surgery and sat with me. Some relieved my sister when she stayed with me. For me it was a trade off between being their pastor and being cared for. It is a time of growth for both. I don't think there are any answers that fit everyone. Praying for and with you. Maggie

  3. Oh,there probably is a book out there and it's probably worthless. OTOH, we could write the book.

  4. All I can say to encourage you (from my experience) is: when you have no idea how to proceed, God will show you the way, one breath at a time. He is WITH you. You will receive the light to take the next step - not likely the next 50 steps, but the one right in front of you. He will give you guides, support, love - whatever you need - He will generously provide it all, in many forms, to do what you have to do now. If you keep looking for signs of His love, you will keep finding it. It is with you, holding you, inside of you, around you. And I can think of no better way to provide loving leadership to your new church family than with your own life and actions. "Be here now in love," and it will bless your congregation. Your prayers for yourself, your prayers for them, their prayers for themselves and for you - it is all God's love. There is no limit to what it can do. Sending you MUCH love.
    P.S.: If I can help with any cancer-medical-related info, PLEASE ask. I don't want to butt in, but I am here.

  5. It's not the same thing, but when I had that awful life threatening infection I had to manage a balance between tending to church needs, letting people visit me or not, and how to let them care for me. The Jungian who was working with me said that one of the signs of a healthy church is one that can reach out and care for it's pastor. So, finding a balance that you are comfortable with that enables you to be their pastor while also being cared for, will be a gift to all of you.

    And, I've found that when one has looked the worst of life in the eye, one is no longer afraid of stuff like this, just take a deep breath, and walk into it, God will be with you.

    Mt prayers continue, I do hope I can make it to your ordination,

  6. Terri, that woukld be AMAZING if you could come. And, as I've taken to saying, I hope I can make it, too!

  7. Praying all the time for you.

    Having walked through something this summer I didn't think I could do, I will say that,when I have thought or said, "I can't do this any more," more often than not I felt a palpable sense of support. I figured it was the Cloud of Witnesses.

  8. Dear Robin - yikes. I have to say I really want a dislike button for reading a post of yours that has "breast cancer" as a tag.

    I send you my love, my prayers and my best hopes for all to proceed smoothly, if differently, toward the goals ahead.

    Hope you're feeling better today.

  9. Robin, you've been on my mind. I've lived through a number of things I've had to do that I thought I couldn't. I wouldn't have chosen them, but I recognize that they made me who I am, and that's the person I'm glad to be. But it's easy to say that when the medical things on the list are only slowly life-threatening (i.e. chronic).