The very first time I was intravenously given chemo, it went well…. for about a half an hour. I remember thinking, “Okay if this is what it’s going to be I can handle it”- then I got the rigors. It began with a slow momentum of shakes that worked it’s way into furious shakes all over my entire body, as my blood pressure was skydived downward. My close friends and family stood by with panicked looks on their faces, yelling at nurses- I knew this wasn’t good. I chattered to my friend Richard, “please Psalms 91”, he could barely understand me and asked me to repeat what I said again, but all I could chatter was 91-somehow he knew what I meant, scrambling for a bible he slowly began to read: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust….” Shaking as I listened, I held on to every word until I could feel nothing but God’s presence. My shakes began to lessen and my blood pressure stabilized just as they were about to intubate me. The Psalms have been a constant companion on my chemo-grace journey, 150 poems that express the inspiring, raw, vulnerable, sometimes brutal experiences of the Isrealite’s faith. It’s the book in the bible that I can read when all seams cryptic and questionable. These Psalmists tell it like it is and because of their unabashed poetry I can lean into my own vulnerability while celebrating God’s love with best of them.
During my first cycle of chemotherapy, my friend Richard diddy bopped into my room- he’s from East Harlem and his walk has rhythmic urban character. He held a large pink pad of post-its in his hands; he ripped one off, pulled out a blue sharpie and quickly scribbled something down. I then curiously watched as he peeled the post-it and slammed it on my yellow-beige hospital wall. The post- it was scrawled with one word, “WHY?”. This question stood in direct opposition to the often pat responses to suffering, “we don’t know why, but everything has a reason.” And Rich was saying, “Screw that-I’m angry God, Why is this happening?” He voiced a prayer that I had been unwilling to edge towards. The truth is that humans, yes even Christian humans, want to know why-we may not get an answer but it’s a sentiment that is cried out throughout the Psalms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” Psalm 22:1; “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?” Psalm 74:11. And that’s how my wall of Psalms began. Pretty soon, I was asking all of my visitors to add to the patchwork of Psalms, some were hopeful and funny and others were just raw with truth and pain. But all were reminders that I didn’t have to edit my suffering with hyper-spiritual language, I could just cry out and sing my own Psalm and it could be gut-wrenchingly honest or inspiring to the soul. I eventually combined all of the post-its together and it became my security quilt of prayers. I made sure I packed it for all eight cycles of chemo. Every time I checked into the hotel Mt. Sinai, I would immediately find a space on my peeling yellow beige hospital walls and hang the words from my chemo-grace Psalmists. Here are some of my favorites:
I think this one is pretty self explanatory….
Sonya reminded me that I could wake up every day and choose to be brave.
Sonya also encouraged me to believe that life was not something that would happen after chemo–life was happening right where I was. As lonely as I felt, God was a constant presence-expressing His love through people and through me.
Rev. Alfonso Wyatt’s wife is a survivor of breast cancer and he shared the words that someone gave him as his wife endured chemo.
Ahh, my friend Eunice, the consummate comedian. She thinks my sassines is an asset to getting well-so she reminded me that yes “I AM A FIREWORK!”
My spiritual director at the hospital wrote these beautiful words. God’s presence is not hiding, we are living in an ocean of His love.
John has a gift (or a curse-lol) for being brutally honest about spiritual matters. Sometimes all you can do is keep going…
Little Kaela from church who drew this picture for me-it made me smile with child-like delight! Life is filled with rainbows and clouds…