Good byes and Good Friday

I was born on Good Friday.

In 1971, Good Friday fell on April 9th, which was the day I was born.  For this reason, even before I understood the beauty and the message of the Easter season, I was intrigued by Good Friday. And by the time I was 13 or 14, I finally stopped making the joke, “you know why they call Good Friday good? ‘Cause I was born on that day”.

Yup. I was hilarious.

But even when the laughter died, I still asked myself what makes Good Friday good? It’s like the saddest day ever, right? Taken at face value, it is the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion and death- not even remotely ‘good’. More like Horrible Friday!

(Disclaimer: I am aware that theologians have long explained the assignment of the name Good Friday. I am also aware that no one reads this blog for theology- or even facts, for that matter.)

Driving around seeing patients today, I was thinking a lot about Good Friday and Easter and all that its message does to restore me. The rain, and the acute sicknesses of todays’ patients, however, had put me in quite the Good Friday funk. Looking for a perk, I scanned Spotify and put on John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulder”- an all time favorite that makes me feel warm. After singing along loudly, the playlist moved on to another John Denver classic, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” (Also famously sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary...coincidence, I think not!)

“Leaving on a Jet Plane” is one of those songs that will send tears to my eyes and put an immediate lump in my throat after just the first few bars. Ever since it was popular when I was very young, and up until now, I can sing all the words but it will always ALWAYS make me sad.

When I was growing up, my beloved grandparents lived in Arizona and we only got to see them twice per year. “Gummy and Pop-pop” would fly east to visit us at Christmastime and the four Lanes would travel west to visit their home for April break. Gummy and Pop-pop were the absolute best- loving, giving, fun- and they would, bless their hearts, turn themselves inside out for our visits. It was my ABSOLUTE favorite time of year. From the moment we landed at Sky Harbor in Phoenix and Katie and I would SPRINT off the jetway to tackle them with hugs, I would have a permanent smile on my face for the entire visit. I can not remember ever being happier than I was on those trips.

My smile would, however, immediately and dramatically disappear on departure day. The routine included getting out the suitcases, packing our airplane “fun bags”, stripping the sheets and cleaning up the bathroom as Gummy insisted we not bother. Mom would make sure Katie and I were dressed in appropriate “flying outfits” (my how times have changed) and Gummy would spray one of our stuffed animals with her “Youth Dew” perfume so we could drink in her scent during our months apart. And through this entire routine, I would be battling to not cry. I hated- absolutely HATED- leaving Gummy and Pop-pop’s house.

Inevitably, every year, I would lose the battle to not cry just as we would get close to the airport. Big tears would start to spill over as my Dad would double check his sport coat for our boarding passes. In those days, anyone could go right up to the gate, which Gummy and Pop would, of course, do and they would even wait until the plane took off so they could wave through the window. And I would cry and cry. Not a “waaah waaah waaah” kind of cry like a baby, just a silent and sad hiccuppy cry that usually subsided somewhere over New Mexico.

So I am not sure if “Leaving on a Jet Plane” would play on the car radio in my grandparents’ Tornado (tore-nah-dough) or the Jet plane part reminded me of the annual Phoenix back to Newark flight, but the melancholy song is still an arrow through my forty-eight year old heart.

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go,

I’m standin here outside your door

I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…”

For me, whether John Denver or Mary from Peter, Paul and Mary is singing, the image of the singer standing at the threshold of the bedroom next to their packed suitcase brings me right to the feeling of deeply regretting an obligation that is making me leave this comfortable place.

But the dawn is breakin, it’s early morn

The taxi’s waiting

He’s blowin’ his horn

Already I’m so lonesome

I could die.”

The taxi. That damned beckoning taxi. Don’t you know the singer doesn’t want to leave?!  ENOUGH WITH THE HORN ALREADY!

And it was in that verse, sung by someone deeply in love who doesn’t want to leave the one they love, but answering obligation despite the tax on his heart, was what brought me back to Good Friday.

Easter has songs. Christmas has songs. And yeah, yeah Good Friday has a famous song, but I submit that “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is a song with the Good Friday message.

(And I mean NO disrespect or sacrilege by comparing dying on a cross to a business trip- really, I get it.)

Imagine for a minute if the singer of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is Jesus. Jesus, at the time of his death, was a young man with a deep love for his people. Scripture tells us that even though he accepted his fate, he was afraid. Jesus took time to say goodbye to his friends and let them know how much he loved them. Jesus implored them to stay focused on the future he had promised them, despite the sadness they might feel from being separated from him.

Now the time has come to leave you,

One more time, let me kiss you,

Then close your eyes

I’ll be on my way…

Dream about the days to come,

When I won’t have to leave alone

About the times, I won’t have to say…..”

Obligation and necessity push the singer’s goodbye, but there is no question where his heart remains.

Oh, Babe.. I hate to go….”

Just like I hated leaving Gummy and Pop-pop’s house, just like parents hate leaving their too soon adult children at college or just like my hospice patients hate saying goodbye to their loved ones and vice versa, Jesus’s heart broke as he took up the cross and began his trek to Calvary.

Saying goodbye to someone you love can be the hardest thing we ever have to do in life. Sad. Painful. Gut wrenching. Heart breaking.

So I am back to the question, What in the “heck” makes Good Friday good?

Of course, people that remember Good Friday know about Easter Sunday. Jesus’s “goodbye” was short, not permanent and transformed into a magical and everlasting “hello again” that is the greatest story ever told.

Resurrection is cool. Way cool. And you can’t have Easter and what it gives without Good Friday, right? But is that enough to make it ‘good’? Because I still can’t stop thinking about the man- on the cross- who died- and was wrapped and buried in a tomb- that was blocked by a large stone.

We didn’t want to say goodbye to what went into that tomb.

Or did we?

Scripture tells us Jesus died for our sins. He died so that we, his beloved people, could have everlasting life.

In the season of Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter, followers of Jesus are asked to make sacrifices during this time. Give up something or give of yourself in a way that brings you closer to God and more mindful of his sacrifice. Some people give up broccoli like that matters at all. Some people give up meat on Fridays during Lent which is cool if you consider tilapia, salmon or lobster a sacrifice. Others, however, are more deeply called to embrace the spirit of the season: they may give up something that tries to hold power over them like an addiction, a compulsion or a resentment.

And I believe it is in those sacrifices, those offerings, those gestures that move us closer to Jesus, that we find the good in Good Friday.  When Christ died for our sins and was buried but on the third day rose again, guess what didn’t follow him out?

All. That. Stuff.

I’ve written before about the virtues of Holy Saturday, the day in between hope lost and hope restored that mirrors where so many of us live every day. Between diagnosis and treatment, devastation and relief, Holy Saturday is where we hold space. And of course I’ve written about Easter- my blog is called HOPEspot, after all. I’ve praised its gifts and reminded us that they’re there for us only if we roll back the stone in front of our own tomb and rejoice for what we’ve been given.

For those that have spent Lent praying and striving to be a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, or a better person in ways that made them get uncomfortable and dig deep within themselves, Good Friday is for you, my friends. Good Friday invites us to throw it all up there with Jesus- put your sin, your weakness, your anger, your burden up on that cross and let it die. Jesus is resurrected but your sins are not. They die today. On a cross. In Calgary. With a man who was willing to assume them all so that you could be saved.

That, to me, sounds pretty good.



One of the things I am proudest of on my life resume is the bullet point that belongs to cancer survivor. I’m proud of this ascription, not because of all I did to make that possible - that was really all done for me -but because I know survivorship is a privilege and I’ve  tried to use my experiences for the powers of good.

I’ve been a cancer survivor for 32 years, so I am more experienced in this role than I am as a nurse, a wife, or a mother. As a teenager, I was embarrassed by the title and the attention that came with it. I also understand the role of daughter of cancer survivor (both parents)  and sister of survivor. As a professional nurse, I am grateful for the insight and empathy I believe the experience has provided me.

 I also understand that my cancer diagnosis was not likely fatal, which eliminates a lot of fear. (I’m not sure my parents felt that same comfort at the time of my surgery and treatment.) Additionally, I am clear that my diagnosis was extremely unusual for my age:  unusual has brought with it a lot of uncertainty. 
I’m tight with survivorship and the benefits and responsibilities, freedoms and fears that come with the “award”. Someday, in fact, I hope to write a book on survivorship. Personally, I find the experiences of survivors - young and old- both positive and negative - fascinating and important. 

I have always said throughout my cancer experiences I was blessed with: knowledge, advocates, and outstanding family support that included financial resources. It has never been lost on me the fear that newly diagnosed patients must feel that don’t have that trinity of power in their back pocket.  

Today, however, I want to share with you a letter I’d like to send, one of the many I’d like to have sent over the years. I write these never to be sent letters because as an adult survivor and as a healthcare professional, my biggest sadness, shock, frustration has been the black hole that survivors get dumped in, all the time screaming, “what next?”

Recently, I had a CT scan. Six days ago to be exact. The purpose of the scan was to assess the status of my lungs as compared to the last CT scan five years ago. To be clear, I don’t go through life afraid of what might happen next with my old and probably harmless thyroid cancer remains. I’m far more scared of a new and livelier cancer and my job can feed that fear each and every day. But I have this annoying voice in my ear, that I call common sense, and it says, “you have to follow up, Jenny. You are a mother, Jenny.”  So I listen and I hunt around to find a doctor that has seen “people like me”.  And I take the time and spend the money and ask for the scan because it seems like the most prudent thing to do. 

Dear Dr. X:

I am (imaginarily) writing to you to determine if you have received the results of my CT scan from last Wednesday.  

Before I explain to you my disappointment over not having had any contact from you yet, I’d like to “catch you up” on the events of my “CT SCAN DAY”. (I like to write it in all caps and pretend it is a holiday since it cost me $2700 -out of pocket.)

I saw you in your office two months before the “big day”. You repeated what we both knew. My cancer, at my age, was unusual and there’s not a lot of research that you know, if something changes. I suggested we do a CT scan to see if anything had changed and you agreed. (I really don’t like calling the shots).

I waited two weeks before asking your office where my CT orders stood. I was told you didn’t feel like it was necessary. I asked why and then I was told you would order the CT. (Confidence level: ZERO.)

I’ll spare you the details of the hospital’s failures on my big $2700 fun day. (That’s a different letter for them). What I will share with you is this: no one asked me why I was there, what problems I may or may not be having, or why I was having this study. 

Having been diagnosed with lung metastasis in 1985, I’ve had A LOT of CT scans. We’ve discussed the peculiarity of my situation. Every CT study I’ve had has taken 45 mins or more. This study- on my big fun $2700 day- took 8 minutes, with and without contrast. 

Dr. X, either they didn’t do the study correctly or you didn’t order it correctly. I wouldn’t know, however, because you haven’t called me. At all.

Dr. X, I may not be a doctor but I understand the difficulties of responding to multiple acute patients. I understand triaging responses. Your silence, regardless of how insignificant you see my study, is inexcusable.

Because here is what I know about you now, Dr. X, with absolute certainty. You don’t get it. 

You. Don’t. Get. It. 

And I don’t want anyone who doesn’t get it anywhere near me.

Please send me my records. Please accept in exchange my best regards that neither you nor a family member of yours receive the negligent care that you offer, in a time of need.

DO YOU GET IT? This, I believe is the question that sits in every survivor’s heart. Pride and fear keep it from passing their lips.

Do you get it that my left thumb is tingling and I have NO explanation for that but I am only one year out from colon cancer treatment and I am scared out of my mind?

Do you get it that my spouse has ceased to see me as an attractive viable partner and now doesn't ‘want’ me because I’m ‘sick’? How do I handle this?

Do you get it that I am an extremely reasonable and logical woman but it feels WEIRD that you bring me in for breast cancer follow up but we just talk? Do you have X-ray vision?

Do you get that I am ashamed by my anxiety because I am strong and capable? What do you expect for me? PLEASE don’t make me ask.

As survivors we will never forget the moment we were told, “you have cancer” or “your results were atypical” or the mother of all cowardess, “your results weren’t as positive as we hoped”  (WTF.. did you want more positive malignant cells??)

I told my super sage sister recently that I plan to buy a beret and a black turtleneck so that I can look legitimate starting a revolution.

A revolution begins when people feel unheard and under represented. Cancer survivors could accrue in the millions to take up this cause.  I certainly don’t have all the answers but life has given me explicit familiarity with the questions.

Why do we, as survivors, feel so unguided?  How do we, as survivors, streamline common sense with present medical protocols. And finally, how do we continue to support the survivor community and learn from them?

 Survivorship is undoubtedly a blessing. Many are denied the privilege. With it comes responsibility and most survivors I know, understand that. Cancer robs us of many things - innocence, naïveté and, frankly, acceptance of bullshit. My army of survivors doesn’t have a lot of time for platitudes or protocols or just because’s…

Sadly, I don’t yet feel in 2018 that we are truly winning the war on cancer, but I can’t deny there has been progress. One of the ways progress is best seen is in the growing numbers of survivors. People who have battled- fiercely- while terrified- but have heard the words “you are in remission” or “we believe you are cancer free”. (Movies will depict these proclamations with violins and crescendo music, but the fact is most doctors mumble these words because even they are scared to say them out loud). 

My imaginary letter to my doctor is admittedly angry but no less than a call to action for the army of survivors. Here is my letter to them:


God bless you for your struggles. Praise God for remaining in the population that could receive a letter to survivors. Too many were denied the privilege.

Please take on the responsibility of survivorship. That responsibility includes continuing self care, following up on your status in spite of how scary that is, inspiring those in the battle and advocating for better ways to care for the army of “us”- survivors.

We are unique. We are blessed. We have battled. We were scared. 

And when you meet Dr. X, and his colleagues, remind him that we make them look good. They owe us care and attention and more than “you were lucky”. We are entitled to understanding of our difference and celebration of our second chance. 

Most importantly, we, Survivors, pray there will be more like us and none like the alternative. No matter what. 

Advent's Ride on the Donkey

Hi Hopespotters!

Confession time: I’ve been feeling guilty. We are deeply in the season of advent,which is synonymous for HOPE, and I have been radio silent. Who am I, as a self proclaimed professor of HOPE, to be silent in this celebrated season? And while my writings are not intended to be religious, I can’t deny the spirit that this time brings to each of us. 

Advent. Hope. A birth. Light. 

Each of the above sits right at the top of my throat in this time, and mostly in the very best way. The Christmas season is sacred to me, as much for the beautiful traditions with which I was raised as for the message of hope in new life. As much as I feel exhausted as an adult trying to produce the magic of the season for my own children, I can’t stop feeling awed by the every day miracles I observe during this time of year. For me, during the season of advent, I have one foot in the spiritual and one foot in the secular craziness.

Saturday, I was deep in a Christmas crater. Near tears, I acknowledged that I had done it again- driven myself crazy trying to produce a magical Christmas. A magical Christmas that includes breathtaking gift surprises, stunningly beautiful decorations, a Christmas card portrait worthy of the royal family and complete, uninterrupted joy for the ENTIRE month of December for everyone I love, especially my children. 

When I looked around Saturday morning, I didn’t see magic. I mostly saw misery- starting with my reflection staring back at me. I was exhausted. My children were wholly disinterested in anything I tried to initiate related to the holiday and therefore appeared ungrateful and spoiled. My Christmas list, let’s be honest- my Christmas spreadsheet that is planned with military execution so everything is equal- was a disgrace of cross offs, arrows and x’s. And let’s please not mention the eviscerated budget that went with that plan. My over decorated house felt cluttered and dirty and I had neither the time nor the energy to begin to address that.

Do you feel me, friends? No. Magic. No. Sir. 

In case you don’t know me personally, here are two things I can’t overstate enough. One, I was blessed with an amazing upbringing that included magical Christmases. For real, months of December where I would lie in bed with the light of the electric candles in my windows, and seize this Goldilocks feeling of everything “just right”. My beloved Grandparents would visit and hearing them move about in the room next door put me to sleep in the happiest way imaginable. Two, I am so crazy about my sons I really don’t know how to act. To be clear, they drive me MAD on the regular and there have been and will be plenty of blogs about the years they take off my life. But, there was a time I didn’t think I could have children and that I have TWO who are healthy and bright still takes my breath away. More than anything else, I want to give them that Goldilocks feeling.

So unfortunately the Christmas season that I’ve treasured has become a garland around my neck. The lists. The expectations. The ELF- lord of mercy, the ELF!!! All of it taking me further and further away from the meaning of Christmas. The manger. The message. The hope. The most Goldilock thing of all. 

Wouldn’t this be a great story if I told you I went to mass Saturday evening, listened to the Word of the Lord and changed my attitude completely? You’re right, it would. And I did go to Mass Saturday evening but my mood remained stressed, tight, unloving.

I have felt, in the first three weeks of Advent, like Mary, riding a donkey, through the night, looking for respite. Yet at each “inn”, reality has spat rejection, just as it did for her. Holy season? Ha! How about sexual misconduct, every day terrorism, natural disasters? Kids with exams, problems at work, all the stuff. I have no intention of comparing myself to the Virgin Mary preparing for the birth of Jesus, but I can feel a kinship to her likely responses in that journey, that might have sounded like, “are you kidding me?” And “Seriously?” And finally, “Is someone filming this because this s--- is bananas!”

But I learned - re-learned- this weekend what Mary was taught and we all must remember. Christmas is lovingly aggressive. Take your “Silent Night” and tuck it away in a precious place- the truth is, the message of Christmas, because it is SO powerful, will find you and grab you and your willingness is not a factor. Maybe the Christmas spirit was found in the legs of the donkey that carried Mary and just kept going until it found “the spot”. 

I woke Sunday resigned to another “failed” Christmas (and to be honest the verdict is still out on that) but I was inexplicably scooped up by a donkey and moved to a better place. Within 24 hours, I had the PRIVILEGE of spending time with a boy, who lost his Mom way too young, but asked me to sing the Rudolph song with him. I gave a small gift to someone who sees the world so simply and beautifully and she responded with the best response I’ve ever seen. I sat with a man who is losing his young wife to cancer but told me -with conviction -that he can only feel peace that she will no longer suffer, and he meant it. And then I came home to a rare and special surprise from one of my boys that lifted my heart and renewed my faith in goodness. 

I am so blessed that I have the opportunity to be part of each of these experiences.  In 24 hours!!  I must fiercely guard my heart to ensure that these things never cease to amaze me.

And to be clear, I am still stressed and worried about making a magical Christmas because I am just that hard headed and dumb. But the collection of today’s experiences allowed me to peak at the manger, to look at the place where hope lies and peace rests. It. Was. Awesome. Thank you, Donkey. Thank you, Aggressive Christmas. Thank you for the real life ornaments that adorn the experience of this season. 

Friends, Mamas, Peeps- no lectures here. I can mess up Christmas like nobody’s business. I like to think, however, that hope is my calling card. And even when, especially when, it seems invisible, I want you to know -- I am actually begging you to look for-- a donkey waiting to scoop you up for a quick manger peak. Advent is a season of hope. Not a season of magic making. The manger was the most imperfect thing ever and yet it delivered the best gift of all time. When the season of expectations starts to wrap around your neck and choke out tears of undelivered perfection, I give you a barn. With hay. And the real deal of “this isn’t how we expected a King to be born?” 

Sit with me in imperfection and honor the manger - and its message of hope- by being present for the real stories of the season. 

Roll Back the Stone

I’ve often wondered how preachers, ministers, priests or rabbis inspire themselves to write and preach something unique each year at the same holiday that holds the same message. It must be enormously difficult and probably why they are specially ordained to perform their task.

I’m not a preacher or theologian of any kind, but Easter compels me to write and share. Its message makes it my favorite holiday. I, too, have the same question about how to deliver a unique and yet meaningful message to my flock, my HOPEspotters.

Last year on Holy Saturday, I posted a blog about the sanctity of this day. In Holy Week, Holy Saturday is, for me, the unsung hero. Maundy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper. Good Friday is the clear message of John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Yup. Pretty Huge.

Then we leap to Easter Sunday. The Resurrection. If you’re like me, you can still get chill bumps hearing the trumpets blare during, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and I’d be willing to bet you are silently singing “All-le-lu-ia!”

But Holy Saturday isn’t celebrated. I believe, that is a shame. Because, as I’ve said before, Holy Saturday, is where most of us live, a lot of the time.

As a hospice nurse evaluator, my primary job is to meet with patients and families who’ve been given a terminal diagnosis and talk to them about the option of hospice. It’s like I walk in on Good Friday and try so very hard to explain Easter Sunday. Yes, there will still be a death, but there can be hope and purpose and continuous expression of love.

But just like the disciples, Easter Sunday is almost impossible to see on Good Friday.

Holy Saturday, I’ve come to believe, should be the national holiday celebrating the gift of showing up. Because Holy Saturday for the disciples was the day their faith was most supremely tested. The Messiah was in a tomb, behind a stone. All of their hope and belief lay with him in that tomb. How could they survive that day, especially given the brutality of Good Friday?

Too much. Too hard. Too sad.

And yet, they stayed together. They circled the wagons as we say now. They showed up for each other on that day for all the feelings they felt. Undoubtedly, they grieved.

I have a family member I love dearly. Very recently, one of his closest friends suffered an inconceivable loss. His youngest brother, after years of battling depression, commit suicide. My beloved, very private, family member acted in what can only be described as Holy Saturday godliness. He knew there was nothing to say. His actions were simple and pure: he went to his friend’s house. He helped his wife take care of their young babies. He washed the dinner dishes. He drank beers on the deck with his buddy and listened without judgment. There was sadness and hurt and laughs and confessions. There was Holy Saturday.

The courage to show up on Holy Saturday is what made the disciples godly as it does those among us who are willing to do so. Are you the friend who appears after the cancer diagnosis before the established treatment plan? Are you the person who listens to the heartbreak without offering solution but only pure empathy? Can you look hideous inconceivable, totally unfair loss and fear and stay present? Well, then you are a patron saint of Holy Saturday.

But unlike last year, where I tried to highlight the sanctity of Holy Saturday, this year I have a call to action. Showing up and being present is purposeful and holy action, never to be minimized.

Yet, when possible, roll back the stone.

I’ve said before, I don’t consider myself seriously religious and I am admittedly lackadaisical in practice. But I was raised in an amazing church community with exposure to and love from some of the very best clergy and for this I am eternally grateful.

With this background and faith I go into every patient and family conversation understanding I am walking in to their Good Friday. Regardless of their religious belief, in my head, I know that when I show up they are walking to Calvary. Hopeless. My challenge is to meet them there and be present with them through the uncertainty and fear of Holy Saturday. I refuse to lose that sensitivity, no matter how long I do this.

What I haven’t figured out is how to post on LInkedIN as a skill - what I’ve realized is my actual job. I, with my entire team behind me, have to roll back the stone. I have to/ I GET to demonstrate that there is HOPE beyond their Good Friday:  there is love and there is community.

And to be clear, even the Easter holiday can’t turn me into a Polly-Anna. There are some cases I encounter, professionally and personally, that are so grievously sad, that the thought of rolling back the stone seems flippant and likely impossible.

For example, a boy died in our elementary school this year in a freak accident. He was 11. How do you move that stone? A 35 year old Mom, with a freak cancer,died in our hospice program, leaving behind two elementary school kids. For them, that tomb must seem sealed.

And yet, albeit impossibly, it isn’t. The wings of HOPE have been consistently, demonstrably strong and wide.

The stone gets rolled back. In the Bible. In your home. In your heart. I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. We’ve all, from time to time, even been part of helping it to roll back.

If I were a preacher, or a scientist trying to prove a hypothesis, my experience based message is this: yes, we all live in Holy Saturday, the in between of hope lost and hope restored. Especially at the most dramatic parts of our lives. BUT. What I’ve found is this: last year I preached the sanctity of Holy Saturday. This year, I extol its purpose.

What I mean is, perhaps Easter Sunday couldn’t happen without Holy Saturday because perhaps only when we genuinely. show up TOGETHER do we have the power to roll back the stone- or at least begin to try.

Hopespotters, on this my favorite day- Happy Easter. May all the stones in your heart be rolled back by the true disciples in your life.