Sunday, October 30, 2011


The greatest privilege of my life was to offer these words at my Dad's service yesterday.  Thank you Daddy for teaching me how to do this--I'll miss you till I see you again.  Thank you Mom for asking me and believing that I could do it.

Daddy loved to work.  He loved to tinker around the farm, fixing things, mowing, and harvesting.  In 2009, Dad began to feel tired, an weary, and unable to work.  He thought it was his heart.  Instead it was the onset of Multiple Myeloma, a diagnosis with a grim prognosis.  For a while chemotherapy provided moments of renewed strength.  Actually, he was doing pretty well until this past year when he was diagnosed with Leukemia.  The last four months, Mom and our family surrounded him with their love and tenderness.  I’m so very grateful to them for the sacred work that they did. They sat in the hospital with him for long, often grueling hours, watching unbearable suffering, yet they counted it as an honor and a privilege. They are my heroes.

As difficult as Dad’s last battle with leukemia was, our family received several blessings from it.  One is that as a family we are closer than we have been in years; taking care of Daddy required teamwork and communication.  He loved being surrounded by his family, and we loved the time with both Dad and Mom.  Another gift was that as Daddy grew weaker aspects of his personality were highlighted.  I’d like to share a few of the stories and insights from our family scrapbook.

It’s hard to talk about Daddy without talking about his sense of humor.  Daddy loved to laugh and he loved to make us laugh. In our family, a particular corny joke was called a “Papa joke.”  The last few months, while he was so incredibly sick his dry sense of humor would surface, and catch us all of guard.  Early in June, our brother Bob was sitting with Dad at a particularly tough time and Bob offered to pray with him.  After finishing the prayer, Bob said: “I forgot one thing.  We need to pray for patience.”  The prayer continued.  Dad opened one eye and said: “And hurry up.”  Just a week or so ago, he rendered those in his room speechless.  He was restless and wanted the nurse to come in the room.  Bob said to Dad: “the nurse said she’d be right back.” Dad replied: “that’s what Jesus said.”

Daddy had an enormous capacity to love.  I’m not quite sure how he did it but he convinced all of us that we were his favorite. Every last child and grandchild knew that they were special to him.  Daddy was proud of every accomplishment and supportive during our darkest moments as well.  When we were struggling, he’d say: “well keep your chin up.”

Daddy told all of his daughters and granddaughters every time he saw us that we were getting prettier everyday.  There were times in our lives he’d pull out the “pretty card” to get us to wait on him, saying: “Will the prettiest girl in the room get me a cup of coffee.”  At the time we rolled our eyes, and ignored him. As he was nearing the end of his life we would have done anything to ease his pain and suffering. 

This last summer, we noted the way he greeted us girls.  Every time he answered the phone or walked in the door, he always said: “Hey Dear.” Another sweet thing he did this summer, when he was so sick and to weak to talk, he’d look around the room with a twinkle in his eye, and a mischievous smile he’d wink at us.

For many of you Daddy was your pastor—actually, he was ours too. As our pastor, Daddy taught us the foundations of our Christian faith.  He also taught us about Quakerism.  He believed and lived all of his days with the gentle understanding that there was that of God in everyone. The center of Dad’s ministry was his love of God, and his love for others.  As we visited Cumby’s the other day, James Cumby pointed out that he had been in the funeral business for 50 years, and he believed no one could offer a better eulogy than Daddy.  Perhaps it was because of his great love for others.  This provided a way of connecting with people, and for sharing their sorrow. 

We can’t talk about Daddy without talking about Mom; she was the love of his life.  They met at Western Yearly Meeting in Indiana when he was 16 and she was 15.  When he saw on the walkway, he said to his friend: “Introduce me to that girl; I’m going to marry her.” And he did.  They were married at 17.  Sixty-five years later, he still adored her, still thought she was beautiful.  Last week his doctor offered him a particularly grim prognosis and treatment plan.  After carefully, explaining his options, Dr. Powell said: “Mr. Rees what would you like to do?”  Daddy replied: “I want to hug Mom.”  As I was leaving his bedside Monday night, I told him I was going to be with Mom.  The last words I ever heard him say were: “Tell her I love her.”

One of the other things we noted these last few months was that Daddy had a stubborn streak, at times downright cantankerous—leukemia exacerbated that.  He fought so hard to live.  If he could’ve survived leukemia by his sheer determination and prayer, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. Several of us said we’d never met anyone who wanted to live more than Daddy.  I don’t think it was a fear of death or dying.  After all he was the one who taught us about eternal life.  I think it was simply that he didn’t want to leave Mom and all of us.  My guess is that Daddy was still arguing with God when the angels came for him.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6-7: “As for me, I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  

Dad you fought a good fight.  You won the race.  You kept the faith.  We love you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shhh...just be still

I almost never write out my sermons, but I did this time.  Here is the sermon I'll be sharing in about 1/2 hour.  
Psalm 46
God’s Defence of His City and People
To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth.
 A Song.

God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble. 
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 
though its waters roar and foam,
   though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
   the holy habitation of the Most High. 
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
   God will help it when the morning dawns. 
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
   he utters his voice, the earth melts. 
The Lord of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our refuge.

My Momma used to say: “Be still.  Sit still.  Stop wiggling.  Stop talking. Rebecca Louise Rees just sit still—and now you know why I don’t like to be called Rebecca.  It probably isn’t shocking to many of you that keeping still has always been a great challenge for me.  Long before there was a thing called ADD or ADHD I had a strong case of the wiggle-worms.  I could make straight A’s except for the one little grade in conduct, because I was a talker.  If you ever wondered if God had a sense of humor just remember the great irony of me being a Quaker pastor, required to sit in stillness, required to listen more than talk and you’ll know for sure that God is chuckling all the time.

Our passage today is one of my favorites. We will sing Martin Luther’s adaptation of it when we sing our closing hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”   Psalm 46 is a song of affirmation of a belief in God, a belief that our God was and is trustworthy. In faith communities, we speak of Trinitarian beliefs, or Father, Son, Spirit, but note the beginning of this Psalm has a differing trinity: God is refuge, strength, and help.

A familiar theme in Psalms is to take refuge in God, or to trust.  This concept is built on the idea that God is in control and is sovereign or ruler of the world.  But the Psalmist also points us to the concept that not only is God in ruler, and in control, but that God uses all of it as a help to us and for us.

To illustrate this concept the Psalmist points us to the things under God’s control. In antiquity, it was believed that the mountains were the foundations of the earth.  They held the seas in place and held the skies in place.  They were the pillars of the sky.  So when the Psalmist uses words like “earth changing,”  “mountains shake into the heart of the sea,” and seas foam he is saying worst case scenario if there’s an earthquake, and a tsunami we can still rest in the refuge of God. That in the midst of whatever turmoil you find yourself in God is a point of stability.  Stake your tent in the city of God because God will not be moved, and provides us with a sanctuary.

The Lord of Host is with us could be used as military terminology.  It could be interpreted to mean God is a warrior, but notice within these words is the idea that God brings not war, but peace.  God was a god who broke bows and spears, and burned shields.  You see in antiquity it was expected that rulers would bring peace, a concept I wish our leaders adopt.  This ruler, our powerful God could speak and the earth would melt. 

All that is asked is that we be still and recognize that God is God. The same God of Jacob, the same God of the troubled family we studied this summer is a God for our troubled families, for this troubled time.  Even when our worlds crumble around us, when we are in the midst of earthquakes and tsunami’s physically or literally, God is a place of refuge, strength and help.

When I was in Divinity School I realized that I was a Biblical lightweight in terms of memorization.  While I freely admit that I’m a Bible nerd, please don’t ask me for chapter and verse—I’m awful at it.  But those Baptist friends of mine were amazing.  You see they had “sword drills,” far too militaristic terminology for Quakers, but Ephesians 6:17 tells us that the sword of the spirit is the word of God.  So Baptist kids had competitions and memorized scripture—and I’m envious.  I’m envious not because it was so incredibly helpful to them in Div School, but because in the truly hard times of life these words surface.  The more words, verses you have inscribed upon your memory and heart the more you can count on during the mountain top experiences or within your deepest, darkest valleys.

As most all of you know, I can now proudly say that I am a breast cancer survivor.  However, I just want to tell you a part of my journey, because cancer is one of those words that crumbles the foundations of your life.  It is a word that spoken, even if you have been prepared every step of the way to hear that final diagnosis brings tears to your eyes.  It is a life-changing word.

One of the many challenges of cancer is that you literally place your life in the hands of the medical community.  They say you are scheduled for surgery on Tuesday September 13 at 3:40 and that’s when you show up.  It doesn’t matter if your husband goes to work the next day for 7 days.  They schedule every aspect of your treatment from appointments for radiation to oncology appointments and you go.  Now of course you can question and argue, but the point is that during all of this I had to trust that God was in the midst of all these schedules, that God was in control—this isn’t always easy for those of us with type A personalities. But when I could surrender it I could see the numerous places that God was at work, from every nurse, doctor, to every appointment with technicians.

I sailed through surgery—it honestly wasn’t the hardest thing I’d ever done.  I sailed through the insertion of a balloon catheter for radiation.  I sailed through the first 2 ½ days of radiation and then hit the wall.  The fatigue kicked in and it felt as if someone had drained off a quart of my blood, by Friday it felt as if they had drained 2 quarts.  You may not know this about me, but when I’m tired I get weepy and I hate it.  My Daddy always says: he’s sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.  The apple didn’t fall far from that tree.

Two times a day for 5 days they took a cat scan and then moved me to the HDR room or the high dosage rate room and hooked my catheter to the radiation machine. Just as an aside I hate, hate being tied down, and being tethered to a machine felt like being tied down.  Then like rats off a sinking ship everyone left the room and I was alone.  I was alone fighting the urge to pull out the electrodes and run as far and as fast as I could from cancer, from machines, being stuck, and bandaged.  By Friday I was too weak to run, all I could do was weep when they left the room.  I was left alone with classical piano music that was overlaid with the beep, beep, beep of radiation, and the flashing red light that radiation was flowing.  I tried to pray as I had during every other treatment, but honestly I just didn’t have the strength.  In the midst of all that weakness, weepiness, flashing red lights and beeping or radiation, I heard God say: “Shhh…just be still Becky, just rest, let me hold you for awhile.” 

While cancer shook the foundations of my world and caused a flood of epic proportions in my life, my refuge, strength, and help was God.  Without a shadow of a doubt, I believe God led me through this journey.  Every appointment was a divine appointment.  When I was weak God was still strong, bringing me peace when my emotions were at war.  I even like the imagery of God speaking and my cancer and it melting away by being irradiated. When I wanted to run, God said: Shhh…just be still.  Rest and let me hold you for a little while.

Hold these words with you.  Memorize them if you can.  Etch them upon your hearts, so that on your darkest days you can call them forth.  God is your refuge, your strength, and your help.  Quakers as a whole don’t like militaristic language, but there are times when we want our God to fight for us: cancer is one of those battles—make no mistake,  I’m not passively resisting cancer.  But in surrendering this battle to God, I find that God is a God who breaks weaponry and brings us peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding. 

I offer you my rewriting of Psalm 46

God is my refuge, my rock.  When I’m in trouble God is present with me and I need not be afraid, even when my world crumbles and I’m awash with tears.
God provides me a sanctuary and won’t be moved.  When I wake up, God is there.  When the world seems a bit off God is there.  God can utter a word and melt my greatest fears.  God fights my battles for me.  God breaks the spears and daggers that come my way.  By surrendering to God I find peace.  All I need to do is to be still and bask in the powerful presence of God.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Radiation, Photon torpedoes, and Kryptonite

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve entered an intergalactic worm-hole or was transported into a different life.  My life used to be filled with studying, meetings, and taking care of people I love.  The last 8 weeks have been a blur of procedures, scans, surgery, radiation, and appointments. 

As I laid on the gurney today for my radiation treatment, I was in a funk. The red light flashed, the constant beep, beep, beep of radiation sounded, all the while “soothing” piano musak played in the background, and I really wondered about that intergalactic wormhole.  This wasn’t the life I had planned. One too many receptionists had called and said Dr so and so wants to see you in 3 hrs.  I tried to counter with I already have two appointments today, could we make this one nearer either of them, so that I don’t have to make an extra trip?  When this was an impossibility, I just got cranky and my mind raced.

Yet the words that kept coming to me were: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  I thought to myself I’m doing the best that I can here.  I’m not running, because part of me did want to jerk the connectors off my body and run. What if this radiation was my kryptonite?   Although I was physically still, emotionally my mind was running a mile a minute.

I went home and had lunch and then went back to see the doctor who had forced me into a third trip for the day, Dr. Patel.  Before this appointment, I hadn’t heard of her, didn’t know anything about her including that she was female.  She was wonderful, reassuring, and positive.  She told me that I take some magic pills (hormone therapy—to block estrogen and progesterone) and that I was going to be fine. 

 One more time I realized that God was taking care of me in the midst of the chaos.  In the midst of what seemed like firing photon torpedoes and a surrender to cancer. I’ve been given the gift of the exact right doctors every step of the way--doctors with the right skill sets and the right personalities to tend to me.  Sometimes I think God needs me to be still and listen.  Sometimes I think God just needs me to be still and trust.  I have a ways to go on the stillness, but I know that God is God.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Last Monday I was diagnosed with stage I invasive breast cancer.  The doctors, techs, and nurses had been gradually telling me for weeks, yet the words still stung.  When the doctor said the words, they hung in the air like killer bees.  I tried wrapping my mind around them.  I tried being logical and rational; I mastered it for a while. Within a few moments tears sprang to my eyes; I had no control of them.  I knew that the words weren’t a death sentence.  Truth be told they weren’t even the hardest words I’ve ever heard, but they were still difficult words.

Honestly, it has taken me several days to grasp the word cancer.  In fact it reminded me of Harry Potter and the wizard world.  In the books there is an irrational fear of speaking the unspeakable name of Voldemort, or their mortal enemy.  I thought about keeping this diagnosis of breast cancer to myself. I realized I was giving the word more power. I wanted to speak the unspeakable word and release its power over me.

Instead of the unspeakable word of cancer, I decided to focus on Philippians 4: 4-7

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This verse changed my prayer life years ago as my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer.  I learned that within each hardship there was a gift of possibility.  I learned to live with the nearness of God.  I learned the impossibility of being anxious and thankful at the same time. 

Next week I will have surgery. The following week I’ll begin radiation. I am sure that neither will be easy, but at this moment I’m going to live in the space of being grateful. I’m not ignorant of the seriousness, but I also realize that this isn’t a death sentence-I refuse to live as if it were.  Cancer isn’t going to rule my life and neither is anxiety. I decided that the only word to which I am going to offer my complete surrender is the Incarnate Word of God or Christ Jesus.