We find our faith where we put it

This week was amazing. I realized that I feel even better than I did two years ago. My energy and spirit have been fabulous, and I want to shout my thanks from the mountaintops. I thank you for your prayers and your good wishes and your presence in my life. I THANK GOD that I feel so strong and vibrant. I regularly give thanks to the spiritual entities who carried me through my last week and who apparently continue to do so. I can deeply feel the shift.

Sometimes I am shocked that I talk about such intangible aspects of life as though they are tangible and proven. I always believed in God and have always, for as long as I can remember, had clear spiritual events happening to me. The effects are so real to me, but I have only recently started talking about them. While I know that many people have even stronger experiences, I am still very aware that many people (including myself before all this) would think I am crazy.

For example, when I bring up anything “unproven” with my oncologist – which includes any alternative practices I can imagine, including diet – his reactions are (paraphrased), “That hasn’t been tested” or “We don’t know how it works” or “It only works for a small subset of the population.”

Despite his doubts, he tries to be supportive, saying, “If it makes you happy and does no harm, go for it.” Not a ringing endorsement but I can accept that we view the world differently. I stay with him because he is smart and easy to talk with, characteristics which go a long way with me.

When we met immediately before my last chemo session, my doctor and nurse were discussing ideas to help manage the nausea I had been experiencing and offered me a different drug.

“What kind of drug is it?” I asked them.

“It is an anti-psychotic, but it is also useful in managing nausea.”

“How does it work?” I wondered out loud.

“We don’t know how it works. It just seems to work for nausea,” they replied.

Not knowing how treatments work obviously doesn’t bother me; I do plenty of healing modalities that just seem to work. However, I was hesitant to use a drug that would change my already-chemo-addled brain in some unknown and unneeded ways, so I declined.

After our previous conversations, I was intrigued that he would recommend something without knowing how it worked.

This conversation pushed my thinking about where we place our faith. My doctor may not have faith in say, acupuncture, but he does have faith in the scientific system of drug development. Because of his faith in that system, he is comfortable prescribing a drug without knowing firsthand how it works. He trusts that others have tested it and he trusts their account of the results.

I completely understand that it can be hard to believe in the intangible aspects of my path. I can automatically hold those same kinds of doubts when someone tells me something that is outside my own experience.

For example, if one of my kids were to say, “The pasta is crunchy,” my first reaction would be to taste a piece and see for myself (except that I no longer eat wheat). Then if my particular piece was perfectly fine, I would say something like, “This pasta is perfectly fine,” fully negating their experience.

Lately, though, I find that I am able to have more faith in what someone else says. Consider this image:

My friend and I stand together in front of a painting. She makes some comment like, “Wow, you can just feel the anger in this!” or “The joy just leaps off the canvas!” I look at the painting, trying to see what she sees.

Nothing leaps out at me, so I tilt my head, as if a new angle will expose these hidden secrets. Still nothing. I turn my head to look at her face, which has an unusually focused and emotional expression connected in some way to the painting. My eyes follow her line of sight, as if it were a string, back to the painting, and I look at it again.

I cannot see what she sees. I can’t “just feel the anger” in this. I see nothing “leaping off the canvas” toward me or even toward her. I can say that I like the painting. I can say that it makes me feel happy. Mostly, though, I feel like a spectator. Maybe even like a blind spectator. But I can trust that she sees what she says she is seeing. In fact, I have no doubt. I just can’t see it myself.

In most circles, it doesn’t feel socially acceptable to say that you believe in the unseen and unproven. I used to joke that I was raised Catholic, a faith in which we believe that during the Mass, bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. When that is your starting point, one can believe that anything is possible.

The more I look, the more I notice that so many of us put our faith in that which we cannot see or prove for ourselves. My oncologist has faith in scientists he has never met and a scientific process that he didn’t perform. I have complete faith that my friend sees elements that jump out of paintings. Countless people in the world have faith that the Passover and Easter stories occurred, even though they were not there to witness it. We have faith in God and in each other in powerful ways that enable us to do and to be more than we could ever have imagined.

It doesn’t mean that any of these are right or wrong. But, for me at least, as I venture frequently into the unknown, I rely on the views that others share with me to support and expand my own experiences, and I find that they can be just as tangible as any object.

Thank you for sharing the things you see. I have faith in you, and thank you for your faith in me.


Heart-felt actions

I’m a little afraid to jinx it, but last week was my best chemo week in recent memory (recent memory being years). Though I still stayed in bed for three days, I didn’t throw up at all (TMI?) and wasn’t even nauseous.

The weekend before chemo, I saw John of God in Toronto. Believe what you want, but I personally know that the entities had a hand in my physical state this week. I have done all kinds of mind-body work to manage the nausea but never attained a state like this. On top of all that, when I went to see my acupuncturist and he took my pulses, he noted that, if I had just walked in as a new patient off the street, he would question why I was even there. Things were that good.

John of God in Toronto felt different than John of God in Brazil. However, I got to meet up with some friends from Brazil, which felt both expansive and grounding.

We also ran into some Cambridge friends at dinner in the hotel restaurant. Our Cambridge friends included a nine-year-old boy I will call T and his parents. T heard that LeBron James of the Miami Heat (basketball team) was staying in the hotel, and he exuded excitement to just to be in the same space as this sports legend.

My friend, Abi, and I sat together at dinner and, at one point, we noticed the entire Cambridge family suddenly leave their table and the restaurant, while their belongings remained on their chairs.

When they returned, T was visibly thrilled: He found LeBron James lounging in the lobby! Though LeBron James was initially hesitant to engage with the little boy, T’s cuteness factor won out, and T got a picture of himself with LeBron and TWO autographs: one for himself, and one for the waiter.

His enthusiasm infected us and the waiter, who had a decidedly different tone waiting on T than when he waited on, say, our table. This little boy, in his excitement, thought not just of himself but also of someone else who would be happy to share in the experience. The ripple effect of a passionate, positive act continued from there.

I was also struck by the positive ripple effects of one passion-driven performance in this TED talk:


In summary: Eric Whitacre is a professional classical composer and conductor. As a gift for him, one of his fans sang a piece he wrote, and she posted it on YouTube. She didn’t know him, and she was nervous doing this, but her actions seemed to be driven by a passion for his work.

Her performance wasn’t earth-shattering. It wasn’t a big wow. Eric Whitacre was, however, touched by it, and it gave him an idea for a larger virtual choir, which he discusses in the TED talk.

I continue to be struck by the fact that the ripple effect of this one heart-driven idea, earnestly implemented by one young woman, fueled the idea for an exciting project that connected thousands of people from around the world and helped them become part of something bigger than themselves..

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Have a beautiful, holy week, whatever your beliefs, and know in your soul that your heart-felt actions create ripples that grow larger and impact countless others.

Much love,

I Met Myself*

Boarding an airplane in Boston last week, I sat in my aisle seat, next to the young woman already occupying the window seat.

Before I could settle in, she started talking with me.

“Are you staying in Toronto or going on from there?”

“Toronto.” I was hesitant to engage in a conversation with this perky person randomly assigned to accompany me for the next 90 minutes. But ingrained politeness allowed these words to escape from my mouth: “How about you?”

“Vancouver. For the weekend. I return on Sunday night. I know it sounds crazy. But I want to see my friends, and they are getting together there, so I am going.”

It didn’t sound crazy to me. In fact, that type of travel felt vaguely familiar. I asked what she did for work.


“Oh I used to do that.” Thankfully, I stopped before I might add, “A lifetime ago” which would make me sound old.

She launched into a description of her current project. It should have taken six months but got condensed into four months. The choice was to practically work themselves to death to get it done on time, or fail. Without so much as a discussion, they chose to work themselves to death. It was expected.

The plane was now about to take off. At this point in my travels, I say a litany of prayers covering the pilots, the flight attendants, the mechanics, and the other passengers on our flight. I pray for the ground controllers and air traffic controllers along our way. I pray for the other planes in the air, their pilots, staff and passengers, and I give thanks for a safe landing for all of us.

It can take awhile, and there was no natural break in the conversation where I could just DO it. So I considered a few good lies (“I just need some quiet” or something like that) before I decided to just tell her that I pray before takeoff. Her reaction wasn’t bad and she gave me no strange looks. Just some quiet space and patience while I did my thing. When I was done praying, she asked cheerfully, “Are you a Christian?”

“I am.”

When she smiled, said, “Me too!”  I realized she meant “of the Christian faith.” So before we went down that path, I added, “I’m Catholic.”

We soon returned to our conversation about her job.

The client was happy but my seat mate  didn’t feel good about her contribution to the project. She felt that, as a team and as individuals, they could have done better.  She worried that the partner leading the project didn’t hold a high opinion of her.

She had only recently joined this top consulting firm full of highly intelligent, driven people. At her old firm, she felt so smart and capable, but was now starting to feel stupid and inept and wondered if she belonged. Plus, she was 31 years old and wanted to pay more attention to her personal life.

This situation felt so familiar from my time in consulting.

She was obviously bright. I asked her to consider that she is surrounded by incredibly smart, driven people, and she probably imagines that they are super-capable in every way. So she can’t compare herself to them and their fantasy selves and decide that she falls short. I shared that, in consulting, there is always more work to do, something that could be done better, new ideas that feel promising but you don’t have the time or budget to explore, so you would always fall incompetent considering your undone tasks. There are people you will never impress, no matter how hard you try.

I told her, with alot of conviction, that it isn’t crazy to fly across the country to see your friends for 24 hours. That sometimes, that is what you need to do to feed your soul and to stay grounded. Especially when you are working more than 60 hours a week. Inspired, I told her that that connecting with her friends was exactly what she needed right now.

She told me that she decided to trust that God will help her but that sometimes it is just hard to trust. So we talked for a bit about God and trust and following the guidance we receive from Him.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

–Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem

And then, it occurred to me – I was talking with my younger self. She showed up, not at 4 a.m. of a bad night, but right in front of me in the broad daylight of my daily life. I hope I treated her well. I definitely sent her lots of love as she went on her way. She wasn’t as bad as she thought she was, for sure. And maybe I wasn’t, either.

*Taken from the title of Janet Feld’s new and wonderful CD, “I Met Myself”

Precious stones

It has been an AMAZING week so far, filled with so many serendipities, which only adds to the fun. Plus I have some breathing room, provided by canceling chemo for this week.

Last week, when I called my oncologist’s office to cancel my chemo appointment, the conversation went something like this:

Me: I have an appointment on Tuesday and I need to reschedule.

Nurse (kindly): You know this is an infusion. You can’t just cancel.

Me: I know. But the chemo is just weighing down my spirit.

Nurse (understandably confused): What?

Me: I’m going to Toronto on Thursday.

Nurse: Oh, yes, let’s reschedule you for next week.

I thank you for all the wonderful parts of you that you share with me, enabling me to live with exhuberant feelings. I hope you can feel and experience those wonderful parts of you even right now!

This story from Paulo Coelho’s blog reminded me of you (as the wise woman). Thank you for your willingness to teach me.
(I reprinted it below so you don’t have to click through.)

Love, Marie

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.
The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him.
She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.

“Teach me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

To Everything There is a Season

Recently I was sitting in heavy traffic, and no matter what lane I chose, it seemed like the other lane moved faster. Eventually, I decided to commit to staying in the right lane and trying to relax about it all. Taking a deep breath, I watched a white Jeep pass me in the left lane and I noticed its license plate. Sure enough, about 20 minutes and a mile later, I found myself sitting behind that exact white Jeep.

Realizing that hurrying doesn’t always get me there sooner doesn’t stop me from racing to get ahead in other aspects of life. For example, my to-do list seems to be never-ending, leaving me feeling like I am always behind and that there isn’t enough time.

I suppose that feeling is normal, then add chemotherapy to the mix. Every other week, I am basically out of commission. So I try to cram two weeks’ worth of living into one week.

As I’m sure you know, you can be efficient and even rush around, but some things can’t be rushed. I can’t rush traffic or how fast the train runs. I can’t rush conversations with the kids, reading a book to them, doing a project, watching a movie together, or being available as they do their homework. I can’t rush time connecting with family and friends.

When I was initially diagnosed with cancer, I became conscious of time and specifically, I held a sense of having a finite amount of time. I thought a lot about how I was spending it.

For example, I could justify seeing my oncologist as investment that could pay off in having more time. But waiting to see my oncologist? That felt like wasted time and I raged internally as minutes turned to hours.

Away from the cancer center, I resented standing in any kind of line, wanting to scream out, “I have stage IV cancer and I don’t have time for this!” From there, my little fantasy progressed in one of two ways:

  1. Someone else waiting patiently in line reveals that they have a worse prediction of their future or
  2. Everyone feels sorry for me and lets me go first.

Neither is an attractive scenario, so I usually waited quietly (albeit fuming and fidgeting).

When I wasn’t waiting, I struggled with how to use my time. Did I really want to be washing dishes, picking up after my sons, and doing the many mundane tasks that can make up my day? Should I instead check items off my bucket list (starting with making a bucket list) and do “big things,” whatever they were?

Whenever I am stuck in indecision, I end up doing….nothing. All that empty time, doing nothing, only added to my stress, frustration and feeling of going in circles.

Eventually, some confluence of circumstances forced me to focus on each individual moment. I’m sure those circumstances included feeling like I couldn’t count on tomorrow or even this afternoon. I’m also sure those circumstances involved some degree of grace that swept in like a gentle breeze or maybe like a hurricane, forcefully knocking me from my stuck place. Whatever brought me to the present moment, it gave me peace and sanity.

Though I stopped feeling as pressured, I continued to think about time, the norms around how we spend it and specifically how I spend mine. I dropped commitments that didn’t fuel my passion. I prioritized doing fun things over chores. I spent time with people who give me energy and lift me up.

Still, I feel like I can’t fit everything in.

One weekday morning, I put the dog in the car with an intention to take him for a walk. Instead, I ended up at church and wandered into the Mass. Yes, with the dog, who sat quietly under the pew.

While I was there, I realized that I think of Lent as this time when Jesus went into the desert, using this time to connect more deeply with God and to pray for strength as He approached His crucifixion.

But during that Mass, it occurred to me that he walked into the desert despite the gazillion people who still needed and wanted to be healed, the many people to help and the many who wanted to hear His teachings. He walked away from all the demands and all the contributions that He could make in order to do the single thing he needed to do.

If there was time enough for Him to walk into the desert, and if he was able to put aside His very important work, maybe I need to reconsider my own little list of things to do. Maybe I can remind myself that doing even one thing can constitute time well spent as I try to keep from racing to wherever it is I am going and trust that I am wherever I am supposed to be.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

Messages come from everywhere

A few years ago, a friend gave me a little cloth from St. Therese The Little Flower. My friend wore it every day during her bout with cancer, and she shared her heartfelt advice that I do the same and that I also pray the novena to St. Therese.

I do wear the cloth every day, but I don’t often pray the novena, which is a prayer that you say for nine days in a row. It is said that St. Therese will send you a rose to let you know that she heard your prayer. Every time I’ve prayed the novena (except for one), roses have come to me. Sometimes one, sometimes a bunch, and always from the most unlikely places. Even with this wonder, it has been awhile since I prayed the novena.

Early this morning, it occurred to me that I should start a novena to St. Therese today, but then I continued with my regular morning routine. As I was getting dressed, the cloth fluttered to the floor.

I laughed and said to myself, “Okay, it’s been a long time so I guess it would be good to start a novena today. But first, I need to get the kids to school. I’ll do it when I get back.”

When I returned, I remembered my intention to start the novena but instead had something to eat, did a couple small things around the house, and checked my email.

While I was on email, a message arrived from my dental hygienist. I have been seeing her for almost 20 years and while we know a lot about each other’s lives, we never email back and forth. In fact, I think she sent one email to me in that entire time.

I read through her message. She was forwarding a newsletter that she thought I would be interested in. I scanned the newsletter and at the bottom was…the novena to St. Therese.

I had to laugh again, and then got started on that prayer before a 2×4 hit me in the head.