Finding Hope in Hostage Negotiations and Stage 4 Cancer

“Hope. Giving people hope was the center of my job. Someone was going through with a divorce, I told them they’d get through it, have an opportunity to find someone who could help them find happiness. Someone was jobless or had financial struggles, I told them resources and opportunities existed, and that we could help them find something to meet their needs. Someone who was fighting with an addiction, I told them we’d get them help and talked to them about those I’ve met who were in similar straits. But what about those who had a life threatening diagnosis like what I have right now? I had nothing back then. I was an avid atheist. But now, looking back, I see that God is the only source of hope for something you can’t help but feel so powerless in.”

Some time back, I had a rich blessing to speak to a hostage negotiator with stage 4 cancer.

Paul had a lifelong career in law enforcement, and 10+ years of his service in law enforcement was as a hostage negotiator. Paul shared with me that he was still a relatively new cop responding as backup to a situation of a man holding a gun and threatening to shoot himself. Paul witnessed the hostage negotiator—an older cop not new to his role—act less than empathic in this situation, his patience dwindling after hours of talking with the gunman. Paul told me that witnessing the older cop in the situation was a kind of challenge to him, a solemn vocation to be more empathic than the last guy. This was not a task of hubris, I believe, for Paul, but a God-given vocation to rise to a challenge and grow in a particularily challenging field.

Paul shared of multiple hostage negotiations he deescalated, most of all of them being suicidal situations, wherein a gunman was more of a threat to themself rather than anyone nearby. Paul shared his gratitude for his success rate, but also shared of the hardships he faced. He recalled events that carried him from one day into the next, overnights to seriously troubled individuals. As a parenthetical, in the various sectors of counseling, there is usually a boundary with time, an agreed upon limit as to how effective a counselor’s support/listening can be. Some crisis’ I’ve been asked to be present to have benefitted from hours of presence and empathy, though most one-on-one conversations top out in their usefulness by about an hour; after that hour, the counselor’s own fatigue can wear on the quality of empathy and presence wherein a follow up would be more appropriate. Not for Paul, though. This gentleman had spent 12+ hours with those in dark places and dire straits.

I was fascinated with Paul’s line of work, myself curious of the talents, gifts, and training needed to work in such a delicate field that required both tact and empathy. I asked Paul what helped him in those trying encounters, what tools he frequently called upon when being present to these crisis’.

“Hope. Giving people hope was the center of my job. Someone was going through with a divorce, I told them they’d get through it, have an opportunity to find someone who could help them find happiness. Someone was jobless or had financial struggles, I told them resources and opportunities existed, and that we could help them find something to meet their needs. Someone who was fighting with an addiction, I told them we’d get them help and talked to them about those I’ve met who were in similar straits. But what about those who had a life threatening diagnosis like what I have right now? I had nothing back then. I was an avid atheist. But now, looking back, I see that God is the only source of hope for something you can’t help but feel so powerless in.”

Last Thanksgiving, Paul received a diagnosis of having Stage 4 Cancer (pancreatic if memory serves). The doctors gave him a couple of years if he underwent treatment. It was a hard holiday season to get through, to see family with knowledge of the finitude of his life. Hard feelings were shared, feelings of injustice and bitterness. Paul felt some despair, a feeling of purposelessness and helplessness. He had a Catholic upbringing but his heart-breaking experiences he’d seen in his work inclined him only to turn further away from God. Although he identified as an atheist, he wondered why God would allow him this diagnosis to surprise him without warning, why life had to be cut short in his 60s. 

Among those Paul spoke to, a family friend approached him after the holidays, told him that in light of this new diagnosis that he had to find Christ, he had to reinvigorate his faith. Paul told me that he was at first resistant to these conversations, but this friend of his was a trusted confidant and he thought he at least afforded the man some consideration. The family friend shared how the only hope one can find as we confront our mortality is the one who has saved us from death, the one whom conquered death.

After many conversations with this friend, after many prayers, many readings of Scripture, Paul felt his heart soften, his curiosity build. Paul began praying himself to know the Lord, and slowly he felt a load lifted from his shoulder, found some hope and light while staring down the sadness of his illness and while reflecting on the tragic experiences he had seen.

“Thank God nobody ever died on my watch, in those I talked off the brink. We always got them help. That being said, I can only imagine how much more impactful some of my conversations could have been if only I knew then what I know now: that the only hope one can have when all things seem hopeless is to find Christ, our creator, our savior.”

Paul continued to return to those memories of speaking with those who lost hope because of a poor diagnosis/prognosis, because of insurmountable pain from a health condition. Paul gained no perspective in this diagnosis, of utter helplessness and hopelessness. While I have no doubt that he gave 200% of his heart and soul in those encounters, I imagine the work he did would only be further magnified and long-lasting knowing what he knows now.

Paul intended to continue to speak to his friends in law enforcement, to share with him the wisdom he learned over the years and the wisdom and hope he has learned since getting this diagnosis. 

When we find ourselves in a similar role as counselor—even if it’s not as intense as “hostage negotiator”–we sometimes are tempted to patch up problems, find hope in other avenues. I confess, in my work I often turn to the secular first when in this role of counselor. It should be a reminder to all of us that our only hope is in the all-poweful, that the Lord gives us some interventions to scratch the itches we find. That being said, the ultimate goal is not for the Lord to make us self-sufficient, but to lean on Him, to understand our powerlessness and recognize His power, to not be isolated from the Lord but in full communion with Him.

When we find ourselves in hopeless straits, we ought not turn to the Lord looking for one fix so that we may return to our isolated ways away from Him, but seek a new way that affords His light to shine in every day, to bless every action, word, and endeavor of our days.

May we continue to open our hearts and minds to Him, especially in times of hopelessness, be patient for His glory to shine forth. And when we see His glory, may that live in us each day going forward.

Who Are You In The Book of Job

How do we forgive ourselves when we have harmed, even maimed, someone else?

There was a man name Alan I spoke with who went to the hospital for a routine podiatrist appointment. An accident occurred while he was driving his vehicle to the hospital, resulting in a gentleman losing his leg.

“I thought my foot was on the brake. I was putting it in park.”

Alan’s foot slipped, the vehicle kept going. The vehicle struck a hospital worker, resulting in a severe injury to the hospital worker’s leg. Days later, we all found out amputation of said leg was needed.

Alan was angry, ashamed, sorrowful, and suffering of total despair. He couldn’t help but see dark and bitter irony to the circumstance, coming to the hospital for a small procedure on his foot and, in his own words, “at the expense of someone else’s leg.”

In our conversation, Alan repeated Christian motifs over and over, his knowledge of Christ saving us from our sins, forgiveness that comes through Him alone and His sacrfice. Nonetheless, he couldn’t forgive himself, indicating he should have never come to the hospital. It didn’t matter to Alan that this was an accident, and the grace that he believes Christ gives him didn’t seem to address the personal resentment he had for himself for this accident. Alan was furious with himself, calling himself a list of names and regarded his own medical needs—having cancer in addition to diabetes that was affecting his foot—as insignificant in light of the event. I think in part Alan wished he would have suffered bodily himself, to be martyr to his own medical complications rather than suffer the accident. Putting myself in his shoes, I don’t blame him for such sentiments. I can’t imagine living with that guilt, even knowing it was a total accident.

How are we to make sense of such things? Both Alan and the medical worker suffer from immeasurable grief from something accidental, something so blameless. There was no impariment. There was no malice. What is to be said to Alan? What is to be said to the medical worker? What consolation or sense can be made out of this?

We are tempted to offer our own explanation for such things, to provide some answer for the calamity. We offer this both when we are asked and sometimes we offer this unsolicited. But it is a haughty thing for us to espouse a particular meaning or message out of it, and we must be careful as we attempt to offer explanation that we do not become like Job’s friends.

In the Book of Job, we hear the tale of a righteous man who undergoes undeserved suffering. The reader sees in the beginning that Job is tested due to the devil being given certain permissions to afflict Job; Satan seems to think Job will stop praising God once his fortune turns around, and God allows Satan—with some parameters—to afflict Job. Job laments for the lives lost in the calamity, for the illness he endures. He does voice some hard questions to both God and to his friends that come to “comfort him.” But what we find at the end of the Job’s story is that Job is not satisfied with the explanation for his senseless suffering, nor is God satisfied. At the very end, God restores Job and gives Job the holy responsibility to offer prayers and sacrifice on behalf of his friends who attempted to rationalize the calamity. In short, God rewards Job for wrestling with Him and with the calamity, whereas the friends are looked down upon for their poor counsel.

Looking back on my conversation with Alan, I can’t help but see Job shine in him. Alan is a dedicated man of prayer, faithful in reading his devotionals, doing his daily prayers, and can theologize about grace. Alan carries a kind of blameless record that Job had of being an upstanding servant of the Lord. Like Job, there is wrestling for the calamity, questioning as to why he has to suffer such things. 

But no answer will suffice, perhaps because it is not our part to offer the answer and perhaps because both the sufferer and the counselor cannot examine any answer until a due time presents such clarity. In short, empathy does not come in the form of explanation, and answers cannot provide a balm of healing to such pain.

I think of another encounter I had some time ago with a grieving grandmother and her family as they were about to pull life support from a poor teenage boy who had shot himself. Why had the grandmother’s prayers not been answered? Why had this boy not been protected from such a horrible tragedy in spite of all the prayers and devotion the family had to God? 

“What am I supposed to tell my daughter who is grieving her son and my grandson?” The grandmother asked me quite angrily—and understandably irate. “What can I offer her?”

“Today is not a day for answers. You cannot provide your daughter with that answer, and neither can I. And truthfully, I’m not sure any answer will suffice how awful this tragedy is. But here you are, pouring your soul out. You are here for your family, you are here for your daughter, and for your grandson. That’s what matters. That’s what she needs. That’s what this family needs.”

All praise to God for giving that to me in such a harrowing moment.

Similarly, I nor anyone else could give Alan a proper explanation for such a senseless and horrible thing.

That being said, Alan and I did pray, and we prayed for his health and for his needs to be met. But we also prayed for the medical worker who had lost his leg, for his needs to be met. We prayed acknowledging only God’s hand being able to sustain them both in these awful circumstances. Alan cried at that, shaking horribly as we prayed for this man. In closing of the prayer, i saw some hope in Alan’s eyes. He found some hope in this. Further, Alan seemed open to the possibility of becoming an intercessor for this medical worker for the rest of his life, to lift this man’s concerns up in his own prayers each day.

Did this accident happen so that Alan would become a prayer warrior? Did the man had to lose his leg in order to have an intercessor? It’s not for us to pose such possibilities. God has purpose, but it is His and not our own.

That being said, I do believe God uses us to two specific ends when we are witnesses to calamity, when we are Job’s friends:

-Sit in the muck of the tragedy with the Job in our life. Don’t sugar coat, silver line, or wax on about some answer we have little discernment of. Let us not presume to be God or know His will…

-But let us fervently pour our heart out in prayer for God’s hand to be in that calamity. Rather than use our words to imagine meaning, let us ask God to make meaning and make mercy in light of the tragedy.

-Lastly, encourage action, with discernment. While I think it’s not our place to offer answers, I think offering action can provide catharsis. That being said, this is something earned and not granted. We ought not lead our empathy with suggestions. In the case of Alan, at the end of the visit, I suggested the possibility of him praying for this man, and it seemed earned as it came after our prayer together and I could see both grace and hope shine forth. In the case of the grandmother, I had sat with the family for about an hour silently listening, confessing my own powerlessness in the circumstances. When the grandmother asked what she could possibly do or say for her daughter while feeling so powerless, I offered her to see to what she was already doing, to continue doing what she was doing: showing up, being present, and nothing more or less than that.

Brothers and sisters, let us forgive each other and one another and seek out the Lord for forgiveness. Let us acknowledge the suffering each of us endures and provide what Job lacked in his friends. 

Hard Nuts – The Story of Moving a Boulder of an Old Man

There was a gentleman I spoke to not long ago who had trouble with a lot of hardships in his life, mostly of medical issues growing more complicated as he got older. He was already into his 80s, goes to dialysis three times a week, and each time he goes he’s drained of his energy. He told me that he’s pretty sure he slept non-stop for three days, though I’m sure he was disoriented by his stay in the hospital.

I spoke to him because his sister was concerned about his mood, about his attitude. She had become her brother’s keeper though this task had been wearing her down. From the sister, to the nurse, to even what I observed, the patient was short-tempered, bitter, negative, and angry. He absolutely had the right to be too. His life had become this dance of going to the hospital and going back home, of being treated for one thing just for another thing to pop up. He goes to clean his body through dialysis just to spend his body’s energy for the rest of the day.

I’d been tasked by the nurse and the sister to address the depression, to provide some special kind of blessing through either prayer or conversation. Again, from the outright, the old man hardly gave me the time of day. He said he was fine, but if you asked him about the competency of the staff, the quality of the hospital, or anything else he’d tell you what was wrong with the system. Nonetheless, he’d settle down, say everything was fine, say he’d get on with it. 

I do my best to avoid small talk, to get to some big talk, even get people to open up about their history so that people will feel trusting to share more. I asked him where he was from, he said Michigan, and basically left it at that, commenting briefly only on the change of weather but how people were “smarter” up north and how everyone was a bigot in the south. Then we talked about work. He mentioned working for Nasa for a few years, and despite how interesting I remarked that was he said “it was just a job, nothing special, humanity comes up with new stuff, what’s new.” Then i asked about recreation, he bitterly said there wasn’t much for him to do in the hospital and he was resistant to reading. I asked what he’d done for recreation before the hospital, he said “everything you can think of” though when I asked about the most common retirement hobbies (fishing and golf) he spoke negatively of both. Lastly we got to God. He did mention believing in God, and that one HAD to believe in God, but that wasn’t sufficient for me.

“What’s your belief in God look like?”

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Him.”

“So you’re grateful?”

“I am grateful. For a lot of things, for a lot of blessings.”

“Such as?”

“Well, to be alive. I keep having health problems, and I keep getting back up, all becaues of Him.”

“That must fill you with a sense of purpose.”

“What do you mean?”

“Most people, when they recover or find themselves coping with health struggles, usually ask about a sense of purpose: why does God keep me alive.”

“All I know is that He keeps me alive, and i’m happy about that.”


“Okay, and what about your relationship with God? Do you pray?’
“Sure, here and there, not like three hours at a time.”

“What’s that look like for you?”

“I thank Him for my blessings.”

I didn’t push it. I knew he’d keep me in circles with his vagueness.

We ended the conversation with him saying his room was too cold, though I was sweating as I spoke to him about nothin in particular for just under half an hour. I told him I’d ask the nurse if we could raise the room temp or get warm blankets.

“Young man, you don’t understand. They can’t get me anything. Their damn hands are tied. You’re not going to get me a blanket. They’re not going to do shit for me. They don’t do anything, they’re so inept.”

We talked a little about his frustration about how miserable it is to be stuck in the hospital, but then he bounced back to his common answer, “but I’m fine, and i’ll be fine. I’m okay,” as though he hadn’t raised his voice or cussed at all.

I asked if I could pray for him, he limply said that would be okay if I did. I can’t remember what intentions I lifted up, but I think I asked for the Lord’s peace and joy to visit him. Then I left the room, and the nurse and the sister looking up at me expectantly.

“Did you give him a special blessing?” The sister asked me.

“We prayed and we talked,” I answered.

The sister happened to also be a medium. Though I disagreed with her sense of spirituality I was grateful that she was transparent of her own difficulty with her brother as well as being transparent about their upbringing. She mentioned that there was verbal and physical abuse growing up and that she felt spirits had led her to find healers in her life. I asked if her brother felt his emotions and voice had been “quashed” in their home environment. She said he kept all his anger inside, always did, and became a bitter person throughout. The sister asked me if I could stop by agian later to check in on him. I hadn’t a whole lot of time that day for an especially hard nut to crack, but I told her I’d try if I had time. I left just as the nurse braved going back into the room again as she said with a belabored look, “here I go to get beat up again.” The sister and I were silent. We’d all been given quiet a bit of grief from him.

I did end up circling back, but this gentleman was fast asleep. The nurse noticed me, looking particularly refreshed.

“Whatever you did in there, it worked.”

I was stunned.

“What do you mean? He hardly gave me the time of day. I worked so hard to get him to share about himself.”

“Well, the three days I’ve had him, he’s been nothing but unpleasant to me. But when i walked in after you talked to him, he was a totally new person. Thanks for giving him the time.”

The nurse and I spoke again about the background the patient came from. Not only did we converse about what the sister said about the hard home they came from, but I learned the patient’s parents came from Communist Romania under an iron fist of a government. The man’s behavior began making sense.

I write this because crochety old men are not individuals in our society we can afford to ignore. I’ve met dozens in my life and my vocation, and in some way I feel as though most are testing us, to see which of us put up with them and can listen without retort why things are miserable. I also mention this because I sometimes find myself challenged to pray, unsure at times how to give petitions before God and wonder/fear how/when God might respond.

This interaction served as a reminder of a few things:

  1. God does all the work. We may be beset with an impossible task or person, and we might feel as though our efforts were in vain. Only by giving the matter to God may we see His goodness, His work, and His intention in our cooperation in that act. For those of us who place all the work and expectations on ourselves and forget to include or consider God as part of whatever work/ministry/vocation we do, He will remind us through the impossible that He will accomplish the great task
  2. We dont always get to see the fruit of our work. it was a total fluke that I got to return to the nurse, a lull in my day that allowed me to hear what the nurse had mentioned about this old man’s attitude totally changing. i’ve often been told my clergy that “God makes us the sower, but seldom gives the sower the pleasure of reaping the harvest…that’s usually for someone else.” Even if we don’t get a glimpse in the rear-view mirror, consider that God will still use our prayer and our efforts for HIS glory (and not our own).
  3. There’s always a story behind the bitter resentment. And it’s our job to listen to it, to hear it out. Unfortunately I didn’t mine deep enough as to the center of this man’s hurt. Next time I point-blank address his frustration and disposition, see where it stemmed from. Maybe he’d tell me eventually, maybe it’d only come through the sister. Either way, sometimes it takes for us to be curious or imaginative to discern a story behind the hurt. By that discernment, we can grow in our capacity of reaching others who otherwise seem unreachable.

The path of least resistance against a boulder is to go around it, ignore it. That being said I believe sometimes the boulder is waiting for us to press long enough and just hard enough—gently really—for it to move somewhere new, for a river to decide to dislodge it from its stagnation. My brothers and sisters, let us allow Christ who is the living water to flow through us that we may be vessels and tributaries of His life giving stream.

A Lawyer At The Judgement Seat

According to Cohen’s model of adult human development, a common theme of individuals as they approach or enter their mid 60s to 70s or retirement age is that of reflection.

But not just any reflection. Deep introspection, a shifting in one’s own priorities, a taking inventory of regrets of things not done and even guilt for things having done.

It’s refreshing when in my work I’ve encountered individuals who seize this moment of their life with contemplation, with taking an account of their whole life. The value in this is not merely to have some clarity about one’s own story, but to see what is left to be done in this twilight of life, to address needs of shifting one’s perspectives, engaging in meaningful and charitable work, and even repentance.

I had the rare blessing of meeting a gentleman whom we will call Michael.

Photo by Huy Phan on

Michael is a retired lawyer, and has been retired for several years. He’s a man proud of his work and seems to have had a strong work ethic and sense of orderliness in his life. He shared how in his 60s he had no intention of giving up practicing law, but his own heart had other plans. He reported getting up early years ago to see to the mundane chore of taking out the trash. He reported everything began spinning in this task, bidding him to return home, too disoriented to get the trash all the way to the curb. He sat in his recliner, and fortunately his wife found him early that morning and advised him to go to the hospital. He’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, that fluid had accumulated around his chest that had set him into such a breathless fatigue. They drained the fluid from his chest, he was given a new regiment of medicine, but above all his doctor told him: if you want to live for more than 6 months, quit your job.

Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on

Gradually, Michael did. Michael began stepping back and taking what I understood to be more of an advisory role for a younger crowd of lawyers. Within two years, he retired altogether, which he told me was five to ten years earlier than he had hoped or planned. Michael shared that his motivation for work had been in part material as well as motivated by the desire to see his children through college and see to all their other needs.

Michael shared having a feeling of accomplishment, reporting happily that his children were all taken care of, had finished schooling with proud and accomplished degrees and careers. They had their own homes to raise up grandchildren in. He was happy about that, feeling proud and accomplished.

But Michael confessed of his other priorities while he worked. He enjoyed nice things, buying nice cars, paintings, etc. He retired wanting to downsize and to make ends meet for retiring earlier than he imagined. As he began selling his prized possessions, he shared, “things I paid thousands of dollars for, I can only make a few hundred from. I placed more value on things than the things actually possessed any value of.”

As we continued to talk, Michael shared of other revelations and musings he had as he reflected on life. He regarded himself as not all that religious, that he’d received a “Catholic guilt upbringing” which affected his view of God; in part I also wondered if his legal background affected his own theology. He spoke of the challenge he had in this part of his life beginning to think about God. Heart problems provoked the thought of his own mortality—a topic we tend to push off, though not unsuprisingly—and with that he began thinking about God, the afterlife, Heaven & Hell, sin and salvation. Michael confessed feeling unworthy to only now begin thinking about religion and reaching out to God in prayer.

“I’m a hypocrite by my standard,” he confessed. “This late in life, just after getting my diagnosis, I become a man of prayer. And even so, my prayer life seems to be mostly sporadic, addressing only my needs as they come up. Going to God only when I’m afraid.”

Michael was afraid of God and of death as he became reflective of his “motive” for prayer and engaging in a religious life. This is not an uncommon feeling from what I’ve encountered. What’s troubling is when one encounters an individual who has written himself/herself off at life’s crux, of not seeing the diagnosis, the turn of the age, the pause on life, as an opportunity for change. Instead, my heart has broken hearing others bitterly cast off the notion of faith and prayer.

“It’d be hypocritical for me to start now,” I’ve had others confide in me. “I’ve made my bed, and I intend to sleep in it. There’s no use changing my mind now.”

Where my conversation with Michael concluded was on the topic of prayer and grace. I acknowledged the Catholic guilt, the wheres and whys of it, and paired it with what our faith teaches us: of accountability and mercy. We also spoke about prayer, his concern that his prayer life tends to be one-sided and on his own schedule rather than a routine. I leaned on his Catholic faith, acknowledging the Catholic tradition of the rosary—something I comfortably help others lean on as it is a cousin to my own tradition of the prayer rope—and the hours of prayer. He was receptive to these, though in the end, I would have to say I received more than I gave to Michael…but by receiving from Michael, I believe it important to share his story, to have written the account of our conversation.

Photo by M&W Studios on

You see, Michael is miles ahead of most of us, possessing an insight of something that needs changing, a need of change in one’s own values, living, and habits. Although each and every one of us, at any stage of our life, is welcome to embrace this level of repentance and repurposing that Michael has seized, Michael has not squandered this alarm of his failing heart. While a diagnosis can be a cruel and horrible thing to stare in the face, it’s also an opportunity to pause in life. Again, most of us are relatively healthy, with our needs met, with our loved ones whole and together with us. So we don’t often think about our own mortality, and with that think on our purpose in life and from Whom great purpose may come.

Michael, in this twilight of his life with a fragile heart, has seen through the veil of the world and observed the futility of storing up earthly goods. He has found greater purpose in presence with his family and presence with God. He reflects on his life rather than taking it for granted. He lives with no appreciation and consideration for each moment never knowing when it will be his last, and with that appreciation and awareness works towards a holy life.

May we all learn to repent and reevaluate our lives like this holy lawyer.

Taken For Granted: The Perspective of Sickness

The other day, I met a woman waiting to die of her stage 4 colon cancer.

Her name is Antonia.

She’s in her 50s, was diagnosed 6 years ago, and initially given just months. Her cancer spread to her kidneys and has caused reoccurring infections. She finds herself making monthly visits to the hospital, and she fights herself each time she does. She’s tired of the medical dance she’s constantly forced to participate in and there doesn’t seem to be anything the doctors can do about her condition.

Antonia is on palliative care at home. She has a pain management routine, though she’s described this as taking her medication in order to feel “half-alive”. She also requires home health to assist her with showers; she has tubes in her body which can’t have water getting in. Not only does this mean she has been without the simple luxury of taking a shower on her own, but she’s also had to stop a favorite hobby of hers: swimming. She laments not being able to take a lap around the pool, not being able to plunge into the ocean from the beach. Her everyday pain has forced her to slow down, to be less active, to be stuck inside the house.

While she does have the support of her children, she finds it hard to talk to them about what she’s feeling and what she’s hoping for. They talk to her about miracles, but she wants to talk to them about not waking up one day. She prays every night for God to take her.

“I’m tired,” she told me.

She’s tired of the hospitals. Tired of the medication. Tired of “not living life” as she reflected on the things everyone else around her enjoy that have been taken away from her by her disease. She seemed to light up as she spoke about the things she misses, about swimming, about eating, about waking up with a fraction of the concerns she wakes up with today.

We spoke about purpose. This is a common and needed theme among those who question why they are still alive, why disease has not taken those who suffer from a marathon of illness. For Antonia, this itch to understand her purpose in living is acute. She recalled a friend of hers diagnosed with colon cancer years ago. The man was initially distraught from the diagnosis, absolutely shocked.

“It’ll be ok,” she recalled telling him, “you’ll learn to live with it.”

The cancer took her friend 6 months after he received his diagnosis. She reflected, 6 years into her own diagnosis, why God still allows her to live in light of how short a time her friend had to live with his diagnosis.

“Why does God still have me hear? What more does He need of me?”

The conversation then ventured towards what things filled Antonia up, what things that brought her joy or peace. She spoke about where she used to live, close to the heart of the city, not far from a homeless shelter. She mentioned her passion for cooking, and she spoke how early into her diagnosis she’d started a practice of making warm meals for the homeless. She’d ask her children to take the warm meal as they went out to work, to find someone on the streets who looked like they could use the sustenance. In a short while, she had many homeless individuals come up to her porch where she didn’t even need her children to deliver the meals. She mentioned at times this would bring her some trouble. A credit card stolen here, medications there, an intruder sneaking into her garage just to find someplace safe to sleep.

Antonia shared all this fondly, warmly, the good with the bad. 

“Even the days where I felt like someone was taking advantage of my kindness, God gave me a blessing.”

She mentioned how she’d get some gift or money in the mail, a random act of generosity from a neighbor, different blessings that would come her way immediately after she extended her kindness even to her own detriment. She had faith in God’s protection over her, that God wouldn’t let her be at a deficit for being generous.

As our conversation continued to circle around the topic of purpose, we revisited something that shifted in her as she spoke about the things other people could enjoy that she couldn’t. We spoke about the new perspective she received with the diagnosis, a kind of cursed gift. She is able to see the blessing of a clean bill of health others are able to enjoy, even if it is squandered or unappreciated. She sees the trivial quarrels of those around her as she lives each day at war with her own body. She lamented how much she has lost to her disease and, more than that, how others struggle to appreciate what they have.

In short, the simple pleasures, comforts, and even means of life should not be assumed or expected. Her wish is for those around her to not take a drink of juice without giving thanksgiving first, for one not to lay their head before they can acknowledge the luxury of rest. In this new perspective, she sees how important it is to pair—even marry—gratitude with every luxury, every action, every basic need. The two cannot, should not, be inseparable.

Antonia seemed to find some possibility in finding purpose by sharing her perspective, through telling her story, with the hope that it would enrich and edify others.

“You have a story to tell. I can tell it’s important to you to tell it, and I believe God sees it as important for you to share it with others. I think people can really benefit from your perspective. You have a story to tell, and I hope you’ll continue to tell it.”

“I will.” She said.

“Can you tell it too?” She asked me.

So often I think we are quick to dismiss our own troubles and circumstances as misery, to snowball all our small issues into something bloated. It’s unclear the exact reason why we do this, but I wonder if it’s done because we think we are Antonia, because we think we have a disease that warrants pity or curative measures. And yet Antonia seeks neither pity nor curative measures. Yes she receives pain management as she reconciles with the fact that her disease is actively killing her body, but she sought no pity from me in our conversation but rather wanted to share with me her new cursed gift, the gift of perspective, in order to enrich the lives of others.

Antonia is like salt in this regard. She is pure, stinging yet curative to our superficial wounds, but most of all drawing out the flavor of our own lives, enhancing the blessings we possess but sometimes do not acknowledge. This is her cursed gift, but it is a profoundly purposeful one.

As a daily exercise, let us totally join gratitude—a mere acknowledgment of something we have that others cannot—with all that we do, with all that we enjoy, with all that we have. Let not a single person in our lives, a single gesture of our healthy bodies, a single crumb of food or drop of drink go unacknowledged, unappreciated.

Let us marry thanksgiving to everything we have, and more than that, let us act charitably as though we have everything. Because we do in fact have everything if only we stopped to count our blessings.

Putting On Pathology: The New Age Placing Band-Aids on Psycho-Social Wounds

I had a rather interesting conversation with a man who openly shared struggling with being schizophrenic. Our conversation went everywhere, to his childhood, his family dynamics, his views on God and Grace, to the thoughts that constantly plagued him, and even the voices that haunted him inside his head.

This gentleman, Huey, shared how he always felt morose growing up, inextricably depressed and dark. He shared feelings related to shame, how he rough-housed at home a little too hard and played tricks on his siblings. But what Huey confessed was his most plaguing feeling was his lustful thoughts and actions. He shared how he believed he had these from a very early age that continued to manifest in his late adulthood.

Huey shared that he wanted some clarity as to why he felt so shamed, depressed, and “broken”. Interestingly enough, Huey did not first seek out a counselor for answers, but rather he first visited a psychic. He mentioned that he had gone to a psychic with the hope that they would see something in his past buried, something hidden or secret that could account for his lustful behavior and thoughts. Huey suspected abuse, though he hadn’t any memories of being abused.

At the end of his session speaking to this psychic, the psychic told Huey he’d been sexually molested by his father. I didn’t ask for Huey for details how the psychic discovered this. But in Huey’s own words he said, “so I put this on, I wore this feeling, this feeling like I’d been abused by my father.” Somewhere in his 20s he confronted his mother about this mother, though his mother was in disbelief—perhaps she herself was skeptical of the source of this so-called revelation. Huey shared he felt ashamed—even unworthy of God—because he firmly believed to the end of his father’s life that his father had abused him. Both his parents had passed about 10-20 years ago, when Huey was in his 40s/50s.

I was struck, though, how Huey phrased the whole thing. He didn’t share with me point blank that he was abused, but rather how he felt abused. He mentioned specifically how he “put on” the narrative the psychic gave him. He said it felt like it fit at the time, like it matched what he felt inside. But in the present, he knew it wasn’t true, and in fact, he felt bad for adopting the belief and conducting himself as though it were truth.

“So, today, do you believe your father did this to you?” I asked him.

“No,” Huey answered resolutely.

Huey again lamented having this opinion of his father and never reconciling with him, to see his dad to his grave as an abuser who had hurt him, for believing the psychic’s narrative.

As mentioned, Huey does suffer from schizophrenia, and in our conversation, I could see how at times this impaired some continuity of his thinking, though the severity of his diagnosis seemed not as acute as I’ve seen among others I’ve talked to with this disease. Huey was dialogical, relatively cohesive, could elaborate on the questions I asked for clarity, and seemed to be able to understand traits of himself that we might call as “rough edges”. 

But Huey’s clarity, his ultimate statement about this identity and narrative that he “put on” as though it were a jacket, I think it speaks to a broader phenomena that we see in our culture today. We are in a kind of new age of gnosticism wherein complicated and inner feelings are being addressed without a great deal of psycho-social curiosity. If someone is having any type of identity dysphoria, the popular narrative seems to be the most prescribed one: we need to prescribe you with a narrative that fits what you’re feeling. To be frank, I’m speaking about gender dysphoria and how quick we are to create or affirm a gnostic narrative rather than doing real psycho-social work: exploring concrete synapses, real experiences, and family dynamics that underlie the complex feelings.

Huey’s story is not much different than many who are experiencing gender dysphoria. Perhaps many are not also stricken with schizophrenia itself, but how many of our people are assigned to an affirming “psychic” who prescribes a fabricated narrative rather than getting curious of the real ailments of a person. How often are our people told to “put on something” like a new identity or narrative instead of teaching a person to become comfortable in their own skin, and more than that, to give them a path to become whole, formidable, and noble? Huey today doesn’t believe that his dad or anyone really abused him, and I imagine there are some who might critique that there may have been real trauma to lead him to subconsciously adopt it in the first place. Be that as it may, his story conveys that we need to walk away from the witchdoctors of everything new age (the magicians, psychics, and gender-affirming so-called “therapists”, all the same). Instead, we ought to seek help and therapy that, as the medical field should aim to do, works diligently and patiently to identify the underlying malady with objectivity, and provide either curative or palliative measures to address that malady so the person can live a life, chiefly of, purpose and growth…instead of giving the emperor his new clothes that feigns empathy only to humiliate the subject.