Water Spouts and More, by Renee Gehman Miller

KCGuestPost-ReneeMillerOf all the bedtime Bible stories, Jonas had picked the story of the healing of the lepers, so on a recent, unstable kind of day, I found myself reading:

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten men were very sick. They were so sick, the doctors couldn’t make them better. They were so sick they couldn’t be with their mommies or daddies or boys and girls.”

I didn’t think he noticed a waver in my voice, but after I finished the story and we were lying in the bed, he said, “Tell me the truth, Mommy.”

I panicked a little. He was likely just trying out a new phrase he’d heard me say, but I was nervous about what was to come when I asked, “Tell you the truth about what?”

“Umm. . . .” He took a moment to fish in his mind for something he wanted to know the truth about before saying, “Um, about the water spout.”

Now I was trying not to chuckle. Of course I had no idea of what possibly could’ve brought his thoughts to “the water spout” in this moment (no, it wasn’t in his story of the 10 lepers, nor had it rained that day), but here we were.

“Well,” I said, “The truth about the water spout is that it helps catch the rain that runs down the roof so that it can all flow right down one road to the ground.”

“Oh,” he said, satisfied. “Okay.”


Thus were the pleasantries of bedtime held intact for the night, even as my thoughts lingered on the men who were so sick the doctors couldn’t seem to fix them.

Nine days before, I had received a phone call to come in for an impromptu appointment with the doctor, which is never good.

It was an appointment during which the doctor left at one point because she wanted to give me time to punch the wall if I so desired. Not because I appeared to want to, but because she was concerned about my stoicism in the face of her words and thought maybe I might find some needed cathartic relief if she left for a moment.

It was an appointment during which Anthony and I exchanged words in what ought to be considered a foreign tongue for 31-year-old people who are not certifiably insane. (Or are we?)

And just like that I was scheduled for a return to chemo, something I never thought I’d do. Lung surgery been planned for the prior Thursday was canceled, apparently not because anything changed about my lung nodules but more because of the general up-in-the-air-ness of my case.

There will be two new (to me) chemo drugs, a loathsome ten weekdays on, five weekdays off per cycle, four cycles (until right before Christmas, I think), then scans, then determine if more chemo is the way to go or not.

I have a sort of post-traumatic-stress type association with chemo. It takes up a lot of time that is precious, it destroys what’s healthy while maybe getting rid of the bad.  While I am very skeptical of its ability to do much (any) good for me, I will proceed simply because this is the door we are in a position to access at the moment. I’m not quite sure, though, how I will return to the third floor, sign in, sit in that chair, and say “yes” when they hold up that bag of poison and ask me to verify that I am the person whose name is printed on the label.

Right now if you looked at me, you’d probably have no idea anything is wrong with me. Starting chemo again feels like unveiling truths that may start to become as plain as with the water spout. The truth you can see when Mommy has to rest so much, and her hair is falling out (again), and she goes to the doctor’s almost every day, and she can’t be out in public, and her leg that hurts seems to be having such a big effect on the rest of her, too.

And I wish he could face the transition to a big-boy bed or to school before learning about cancer. I want to create a masterful façade out of it all like the father in the Italian movie, Life is Beautiful, who convinces his son that the concentration camp is all one big game for which they must wear uniforms and strive to win the most points by following the rules.

If we are going to talk about the truth, let’s please just talk water spouts.


We have disciplined ourselves to live one day at a time these past couple of years and will continue on in this way, one uncertain step at a time in an ever-changing plan. We continue to look into options for treatment, and flew halfway across the country recently to begin that process. We learned of a possibility to pursue that comes with a bigger price tag and no guarantees or refunds, but it sure sounded better than our alternatives. We still have a couple places we’d like to check out, but in the meantime, we go to chemo.

In a time when all the doors seem either closed or opened to the wrong way, we knock on Jesus’ door and say, “Tell me the truth,” and that is the happy ending to this otherwise Eeyore-esque journal entry.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

The reality, for me, in light of these truths, is that even though we have had some really bad days recently, we are still finding that in our days there is joy, and hope, and faith, and a good deal of love.

—Renee Gehman Miller, writer and editor, was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in 2013. Kingsview & Co readers who once subscribed to the blog’s prior incarnation, DreamSeeker Magazine, will remember Miller’s lively and creative contributions to DSM as former assistant editor and columnist. Her “Ink Aria” columns can still be searched for and read at DreamSeeker Magazine online. “Water Spouts” is adapted from one of the many eloquent CaringBridge posts through which she has shared her journey since 2013.

Mindfulness, Death, and the Bald Eagle

EagleKCPost-MAKThe grandmother’s response seemed almost the last straw to these grandparents. The van pulled into the gas island behind where I was pumping gas. The woman jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran her credit card through the pump. The little boy sat in his car seat. “Grandma,” he called out cheerfully. She whirled on him. “Would you be quiet! Let me pump this gas! Why can’t you ever wait for anything!”

We had spent much of the weekend mourning death, angry at a country and a world that seems unable and unwilling to band together to choose life.  Angry that the very systems that energize and organize our world seem to be destroying us. Angry that consumerist frenzies leave some addicted to making and taking millions of times more wealth than they can ever enjoy while millions to billions of others barely have any. Angry that across the globe mounts the evidence that we could destroy the very viability of Mother Earth and of our grandchildren, if not even ourselves, if we don’t change course. Angry that some believe the solution is to just free ourselves up to do more of what has gotten us to this point.

And then also angry because of course we’re not perfect and we don’t have all the answers but now all of us together, whatever our perspectives, have  brought ourselves to such an impasse that even to speak of our dreams for a better way forward is to unleash more death, whether spiritual or literal. What is to be done when what I think will heal, you think will foment hell? What is to be done when as death stalks schools and nations and cultures and religions we seem only to know how to double down on the views that have brought us to this point?

I don’t know. I’ll just report this: After the grandmother yelled at her grandson to shut up, I got back into the car and in, yes, anger reported what I’d heard to my wife Joan. I said how can she do that to him? How can she take the treasure he is and be so unmindful of it? How can she be so ready to add yet more ugliness to the world by not seeing the beauty sitting right there in that van waiting to be cherished?

We had just come from church. We had been asked to be open to a different way. We had sought to open ourselves to each other through communion and through footwashing and handwashing as symbols of our readiness to be servants to each other as Jesus is servant to us.

We fumed. We drove toward home. Beside a field several cars were stopped, right in the middle of the road. I prepared a heartfelt homily on this latest evidence that we’re all idiots on the path to perdition. Then Joan said, “Pull over, pull over!”

I did. The cars were stopped because a majestic bald eagle was sitting just a few car lengths off the road, pulling flesh off a large rack of bloody ribs, likely a deer. We walked partway back. A driver of a pickup pulled up and said if we kept walking we’d probably scare it off but it seemed not to mind if people watched from their cars.

So we started to turn around. By this time there was an incipient traffic jam into the middle of which suddenly drove a township police car. But the officer, apparently as startled  as the rest of us, didn’t arrest anybody or even urge resolution of the jam. He simply slowed down and finally drove off. Soon we were parked near the bald eagle. He knew we were watching; he kept watching us. Then he’d pull again at the meat.

Even though it was ultimately the most earthly of activities, it was to us humans increasingly so cut off from our environment an unearthly sight. We watched some more. We did what humans do these days: We took photos. We watched.

Just as we started to drive away, the bald eagle took flight. It was breathtaking, the sight of that amazing denizen of God’s creation rising, rising, up from death into a gray sky.

Eagle-IMG_20151004_112451 (3)-CroppedSharpB

“Why didn’t you take a picture of the flight?” I asked Joan. “I didn’t think to,” she said, admitting failure. What twenty-first century technophile doesn’t know point phone camera first, think later? Then she caught herself: “Maybe it’s better that way. We were forced to see it directly. We were forced to be mindful. And isn’t that what you were saying that grandmother, and maybe all of us, no longer know how to be?”

—Michael A. King is dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary and vice-president, Eastern Mennonite University; blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; and publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC.