Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Chamberlain is a small town of about 2600 people, but it’s the biggest town for 65 miles in any direction.
We have a small community hospital here and dedicated doctors. But what many of us in rural America face when it comes to health care is long hours of travel for services that go beyond the basics, and in my case, that includes chemo and radiation.
So my bags are packed, and with Fr. Bill accompanying me, we’re off this afternoon on a half day trip to the hospital.
I’ll likely be out of touch the next couple of days but will update this blog when I get back, hopefully on Saturday.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Today, we held our annual Healing Camp for students who lost a family member in the past year.
On South Dakota Indian reservations, the life expectancy for a man is a mere 59 years and for women about 70. Our students face grief and loss much more often than the culture I grew up in.
So, we’ve developed a day of activities and sharing to help students work through this difficult time of grief.
I started the group off with an opening prayer and met them again at the end of the day to close with prayer. In between, our staff ran all the rest of the process and activities.
One cultural tradition that helps Lakota people in their grieving is the “Wiping of the Tears” ceremony.
We had a prayer leader from the Lower Brule reservation come in and hold this ceremony for our little ones. As tears are symbolically wiped away, amid support from the community, it acknowledges the reality of loss, but also encourages mourners to take part in community activities again.
Yes there are tears. But, laughter and togetherness help heal.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Today’s mail brought in another batch of bills and forms from doctors, the hospital and the insurance company.
Thankfully, I’m one of the fortunate ones with good insurance. As an administrator, I deal with complex paperwork all the time, but I have to admit these forms can be intimidating.
I’m sensitive to the needs of people who don’t know how they’ll ever afford needed medicine or treatments, and those who get lost in the paperwork system or are denied coverage.
I had supper in the Afra Home, which is home to our 1st – 3rd grade girls.
As a way of promoting reading, I sat on the couch after supper and let the girls take turns reading stories, which all were excited to do.
The biggest difference I see between this semester and last is the progress the first graders have made with their vocabulary and comprehension skills.
During a break, one of the first graders started talking about her family.
Prior to St. Joseph’s, she spent a lot of time in a shelter. There were times as a kindergarten student when she was responsible for babysitting and caring for her three younger brothers and sisters for long periods of time.
Some of our kids have been through a lot, and I encourage them to talk it through with houseparents, teachers and counselors. The younger students freely talk about everything. The older students tend to hold more within and need to build trust so they can share.
I received a book in the mail today – the reflections of Cardinal Joseph Bernardine of Chicago, written during the months when he was dying of cancer.
I was in Chicago for graduate school during that time and admired the way he so openly and freely shared with people. During that journey, he found the ability to live so fully each day.
When you look around, you can always find people who inspire us with their love and compassion during the hard times they’re going through.
St. Joseph’s recently celebrated Catholic School Week.
Our event theme for Catholic Schools Week 2010 was Dividends for Life.
An essay contest was part of the celebration. Students were to reflect on what they’re learning at St. Joseph’s Indian School and how it provides them the dividends of faith, knowledge, discipline and morality.
Read more essays by St. Joseph’s students!
Sunday, February 7, 2010
I had good energy today. Unfortunately, I know the next wave of chemo will hit soon. But, I also now know my body’s ability to fight back and overcome.
We had our monthly community meeting for the eight members of our Priests of the Sacred Heart community who work in our South Dakota mission.
Some of us work in Chamberlain, while others tend the needs of the small churches on the Crow Creek and Lower Brule reservations.
It’s a morale boost to share prayer, stories and break bread together.
After our meeting Fr. Bill – who leads the Chamberlain parish – grilled up some brats and burgers … good Super Bowl fare! Even the non-football fans joined in the camaraderie of the game (and the new ads) as we talked and cheered and laughed.
These men have been great help to me by taking turns accompanying me to the doctor and through their prayer and support.
Today was also the first anniversary of a friend’s death, Fr. Justin. He served as my spiritual director and mentor during my seminary studies.
Fr. Justin was also a cancer survivor for many years and kept such a positive attitude about his illness. His other illness lead him to AA where he used his own struggles to reach out to so many trying to find sobriety and peace of mind.
We all face different limits and struggles, but God can find a way to help us be a blessing to others not just in spite of them, but actually through them.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
The office is usually empty on Saturday mornings, and since there are no interruptions, it’s great time for me to go in finish lots of the 10 and 15 minute tasks that pile up. I felt a good surge of energy this morning, and actually found the bottom of my desk today!
Some of our students get checked out regularly and spend quality time with their families. Other students live four or five hours away from family or have home situations that don’t allow for a lot of family time.
For those reasons, we have a mentor program at St. Joseph’s, sort of like a big brother/ big sister match up.
I enjoy the chance to hear about life at school from a student’s perspective, so I support the program completely. Today, I took one of our students, RJ, downtown for a movie and a bite to eat.
Sixty of our staff members have also volunteered to take part in such a monthly activity with students who appreciate the outlet. To me, these selfless actions speak of the extra miles our staff is willing to go because they care about the well-being of our students.
Friday, February 05, 2010
Friday is my usual day off, a chance to get away and relax before the weekend duties.
With icy roads, and feeling tired, I opted just to stay home and read, exercise, and work on answering some of the many cards coming in.
I know I’m being prayed for in every corner of the country, in many different churches and denominations and among many prayer groups.
One prayer card sits before me and made me do a double take.
One of the sisters I used to work with sent me one of our St. Joseph’s Prayer for Healing Cards. It has my name as the one being prayed for, and my signature as the one leading the prayers.
I guess other folks who receive those cards these days can be reassured I’m praying extra hard for all the people on that list!
Thursday, February 4, 2010
I went up to the clinic for another blood draw today, and the white blood cell count must be climbing back to normal because they didn’t have to call back this time.
I’m feeling physically better each day, as I build up before the next cycle of chemo, but the biggest drawback is lack of energy, motivation and oomph.
When I feel really sick, I don’t feel guilty about not accomplishing much. But, now that I don’t feel “sick,” it seems like I should be doing more. But, I tire out so easily.
When mom and dad called to check in on me, Dad reminded me my main job right now is to get well. That’s a very boring job at this stage of the game, but Dad is right!
After school today, the 1st – 3rd grade honor roll students had a pizza party to celebrate their success.
I initially sat with some of the boys as we gathered around the tables, but once the video started playing, they ditched me to move closer to the action on the TV screen.
After a few minutes, two tender-hearted girls – Sasha and Jayda – saw I was sitting alone. They moved their chairs over to keep me company. We watched some of the movie but also talked about school and families and many things.
How often I’m impressed by the kindness of a child!
The girls reminded me the importance of looking around a gathering and seeing who might be feeling alone or left out and reaching out to them.
Wednesday February 3, 2010
Today was our school spelling bee.
Initial rounds were done in the classrooms; then, each grade sent the top 6 finalists to the school gym for the friendly competition in front of cheering classmates.
Fr. Anthony and I took turns as MC, which helped me from playing out.
Some of the matches were decided quickly; others went round after round to determine a champion.
The last group was, of course, the 8th graders. It came down to 4 students who went many rounds without missing.
The difference in their personalities showed even in how they spelled.
Cody is easy-going, had fun and grinned ear-to-ear as he got each word right. Amber is shy, and the judges could barely hear the letters as she successfully handled her words. Erica spelled perfectly; yet, each word finished came with a big question mark. Christian had bold confidence as he rattled off the words.
We got through the regular list and moved on to the challenge words, which caused two students to falter. It came down to Cody and Amber.
Both missed a few words, but since their competitor couldn’t finish the word, the spelling be went on.
I was right next to her and said, “I heard you do it right, Amber; now, go ahead and show the judges you can do it.”
She repeated her spelling more boldly and won!
It’s so satisfying when our students overcome their fears, shyness, insecurity, whatever, and find ways to succeed. Some students are more gifted and talented, but all generally need affirmation and encouragement.
I suppose that’s a good thing for all of us to experience from time to time.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
After I felt the first tufts of hair fall out, I went to the barber shop and got a good buzz cut – the kind dad used to give us to keep us cool in the heat of summer – no sense messing around.
I don’t know if the buzz was the best idea given our South Dakota winters, but there are plenty of knit caps around as the need arises!
Today, I got to read the winning essays for the Catholic Schools Week writing contest.
Students wrote how being at St. Joseph’s helps them develop faith, knowledge, discipline and morals. Their reflections reassured me we’re passing along some good values.
Because we accept students based on need rather than religion, many of our students come from other faith traditions, which we respect and work with. The four keys we stress – faith, knowledge, discipline and morals – will help anyone make their way through life regardless of tradition or denomination.
Tuesday is also one of my heavier meeting days.
There are so many day-to-day things to attend to while running a school. But, our work also requires planning and thinking ahead.
While there’s so much of the school year left, I just reviewed a draft of next year’s schedule. We also started planning for next year’s budget and discussed the timing for our home remodeling projects.
My stop at the campus print shop reminded me they too are working ahead … on our graduation mailing for May. As we adults look ahead and plan for the future, we also find it helpful this time of year to remind the children in our care of the long-term goals and prizes that will come with graduation if they faithfully study and learn along the way.
Personally, with this illness, keeping my eyes on the long-term goals helps me get through the daily struggles, too.