A rose "candle" for Heidi. Today is her birthday -- and perhaps also the day of her birth into a new life. They have told us that the end of this life is imminent. Every time I check email, I wonder if there will be a message from the Assembly office.
The rose with raindrops comes from the first set of photos I took, back in September, soon after hearing that Heidi had stage IV cancer, when the light caught by raindrops on my rose leaves somehow also caught the mix of sorrow and hope our congregation was experiencing.
And below is a mix of the bright colors of early summer, for a rainbow in celebration of Heidi's birthday, and for the gift of beauty in the midst of sadness.
I've been thinking about weeds and unwanted growth this week. I've been working in my garden and flowerbeds, pulling the weeds, making room for the veggies and the flowers I want to be there.
And I've been thinking about the weed of cancer, and the effect it is having on our copastor Heidi, and on the parents of several friends. Last week Heidi and Mitch made the decision for her to end chemotherapy and to enter hospice care.
There is beauty in thistles, in the right place. There is no beauty in cancer. I don't know if there is ever a "right place" for cancer. I do know that it doesn't belong in Heidi's body.
There is beauty in the supportive responses, in the ways our congregation has gathered around Heidi and her family, in the courage and hope with which they have approached this cancer journey. But beauty in cancer? No.
Thinking about cancer, and about thistles, I went back on campus to look for the thistle I had photographed a couple weeks ago (see yesterday's entry).
I couldn't find it. I looked where I thought I had seen it, and I went back and forth along the edge of the prairie plantings and there was not a thistle anywhere in sight.
Or rather, not any that I recognized. I finally took a second look at this shriveled specimen and realized it was the thistle I had photographed earlier. And I remembered seeing a groundskeeper prowling the plantings with a spray nozzle in hand and a tank of something on his back. A tank of something lethal, apparently, because it certainly did in this thistle.
Apparently thistles don't belong in the prairie plantings, anymore than they belong in my garden. In this setting it was a weed, and the groundskeeper dealt with it.
The doctors tried numerous ways of dealing with Heidi's cancer, but they didn't succeed. Did I mention the beauty of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers who deal with cancer day after day, rejoicing when the treatment goes well, mourning when it does not?
This blog began on a day when I saw raindrops on red rose leaves catching the light. (That photo is the banner for this blog.) I took the picture just a few days after we learned that Heidi had stage IV cancer, and for me the image somehow captured the tears and the hope we had.
Winter has come and gone, and last week there were again raindrops on my rose leaves. This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, and also Heidi's years of pastoring at Assembly Mennonite Church. We don't know whether she will be able to be present -- she was last Sunday -- but the service will be recorded. And we will remember and laugh and weep together.
Another rainy day today, with a thick gray cloak of clouds overhead until late afternoon. It was drizzling when I went out to run errands, and I didn't expect to encounter a spark of light.
And I certainly didn't expect to encounter it on the rose leaves again. Yet there it was, a more subtle light then yesterday, but once again there were drops filled with light and a few that sparkled, despite the gray clouds and the drizzle.
For months our congregation has been lighting a peace lamp each Sunday. We hear about one of the world’s troubled spots, light the lamp and respond to the leader’s “The light shines in the darkness” with “And the darkness cannot put it out.” (John 1:5)
This past Sunday one of our pastors, Heidi Siemens-Rhodes, shared with us that she learned earlier in the week that the cancer she had ten years ago was back. On Monday she had further tests and the news was bad. Not only is it back, but it has spread to several new locations. Radiation treatments started on Tuesday. Heidi, her husband Mitch, their three young boys, and their network of friends and family are still reeling.
There are many tears, and many prayers, and many photos of candles posted to Heidi’s facebook page. “The light shines in the darkness.”
It was raining Sunday as we heard the news, a slow, steady, relentless rain. As we anointed Heidi, we sang "Rain Down, rain down, rain down your love, God of life." (Jaime Cortez, OCP Pub)
It kept raining all day. It has continued raining all week, interspersed with moments when the rain eases. Yesterday brought one of those breaks in the rain, and the sun even came out. I seized the opportunity to get outside and walk around my yard and garden, checking on things.
My attention was caught by the splendor of sunlight reflected in rain drops scattered over burgundy rose leaves. The sight seemed to capture something of this week’s spirit of tears and of hope, of God's light shining in the darkness and in the midst of lament.
It occurred to me that a good practice these next weeks would be to look for the daily moments of light, and to try and capture them in a photo or words. And having just gotten this website up, a blog seems a good way to structure this prayer of hope and attention. I won't post every day, but I will keep watch, with my eyes and with my heart.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"