Fr. Steve’s updates

Sunday, February 21, 2010

At Mass today, I presided over the Rite of Enrollment for our students preparing for Baptism.

Having so many members of their families present gave it extra festivity.

It mostly went well, and was uplifting, but during the prayer of the faithful some of the younger students, enthralled with the new children’s Bible we gave them, quit paying attention to the prayers and kept flipping through the pictures.

The boys, in particular, were fascinated by the hero action stories of the Old Testament.

I wondered if we were going to have some David and Goliath slingshot action played out in front of me!

I felt great energy grow throughout the ceremony. These days, when I feel great energy, I know it’s soon to be followed with a crash, which meant a monster two-hour nap after church.

This evening, I visited the high school girls in the Hogebach home and stayed for some delicious homemade beef vegetable soup.

I like to visit and hang out and find out what’s going on in their lives. While my white blood cell counts are low, I don’t get over to the homes as I’d like to. The doctors want me to limit the chances of picking up a cold or virus.

The most pressing question about my treatment and recovery for the high school girls was, “ When are you going to start playing basketball with us on rec center nights again?”

That’s another incentive to press on toward full recovery!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We had a retreat for the families of our students who are preparing for Baptism at Easter time.

One of the moms came 10 hours from Denver, and one set of Godparents drove 3 hours from Sioux City, Iowa to be here. It’s special for our students when their families can visit, and we try to make it welcoming and special for them.

We started with lunch, and then our high school girls took on babysitting duties for the younger children who came along.

Everyone laughed and enjoyed the lively “get to know you” icebreakers. Then, we began a series of prayers, presentations and activities to help the students learn about the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist they will soon receive. Many of our staff pitched in to make the day successful.

I made one presentation, and stayed for about half the retreat. Then, I retired to my Sleeping Beauty (probably more like Rip Van Winkle) mode and spent the rest of the day taking it easy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday is my day off, and I often take off to see a movie or get in some entertainment and relaxing. Today, I mostly slept and rested with some reading in between.

Many people told me laughter and having fun is a real help to recovering from any illness, but especially cancer. For me, music is what’s most fun and enjoyable. This evening, I dusted off some of my favorite CDs let the music do its magic.

There’s a song (and a saying) that to enjoy life you’ve got to dance like nobody is watching. From Blues to Big Band, Country to Cha Cha, nobody was watching as I moved to the music and let it lift my spirits.

… to enjoy life you’ve go to dance like nobody is watching.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Since it’s been a week since the last chemo session, I had to visit the clinic for blood work. My white blood cell count is again very low. Last time, it took about two weeks to get back into the normal range.

I haven’t been running any chills or fever, which is positive. Just means I have to be careful to avoid picking up a bug while my resistance is low.

As I’m sure happens with lots of folks, it’s hard to get into the full and normal sleep rhythms. I got four hours of solid sleep, then was up in the wee hours of the morning.

Instead of tossing and fighting it, I used the time to read and pray and putter.

Though I wouldn’t want to do it every night, there’s a peaceful reassurance following the monastic practice of praying lauds at 3 a.m. Then, I emptied the dishwasher and sipped a cup of warm milk.

When I got tired again it was back to bed for round two, and everyone is understanding that I’m sleeping in as my body needs to.

One of our newer SCJ Brothers, Clay, joined our St. Joseph staff in January. He just graduated from college and is here for a year’s internship, acting as a support person in the homes. He helps supervise the high school students and does everything from dropping kids off at basketball practice or part-time jobs to helping out with homework.

We had our weekly supervisory meeting to help him adjust and reflect on the experiences here. Sometimes our students inspire him, sometimes they drive him nuts, but that’s pretty normal when working with teenagers.

On the frustrating side, some of the boys have gotten into a game of “chicken” where they dig fingernails into each other to see how long they can tough it out. In contrast, they all banded together and shoveled the sidewalk of one of our staff who just had a bad fall on the ice.

As Brother Clay earns their trust, he hears and understands more of the hardships they’ve faced and are working through. We brainstormed about ways to listen and ask the kind of open-ended, empathetic questions that allow people to share more of their stores as they are ready.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What I’d really like to give up for Lent is cancer!

Usually when Lent comes around, I take on some small sacrifice of doing good or giving up to remind me of the need to embrace the cross.

This year, the cross has embraced and chosen me, so my task is to bear the cross of cancer with hope and good will.

The first and second graders aren’t old enough to have received First Communion, and several of them come from other faith traditions, so I don’t often see them coming up to the front of church during services. But, Ash Wednesday is a great equalizer, as all our students and staff who wanted had the opportunity to receive the smudge of ashes.

With the littlest kids, some only 3-foot something tall, instead of bending over, I found it natural to squat down and face them at eye level. I understand others better not when I tower over them, but see life from their perspective.

As ashes trickled down their forehead onto their nose, a few got the giggles, but most were very serious as we were all reminded to turn away from our sins and turn toward the gospel.

All the students recognize daily how sinful actions cause hurts and tears, and we all have room to improve.

Today was about meetings, large and small, as we reviewed upcoming budgets and looked over building and remodeling plans, sorted out personnel issues and reviewed how outreach programs are going.

But, it’s life’s little joys that don’t get written into minutes that touch you the most: A note of support from “100 prayer warriors in Texas”; an email from my cousin saying he’s including me and another cousin in his Hail Mary’s for his own kids each night; the worn, but nostalgic, baseball cards my brother included in a get well card to celebrate the opening of Spring Training.

Hope springs eternal, and is renewed each day.

Hope springs eternal, and is renewed each day.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Mardi Gras party was not beads and revelry, but I rested long enough in the afternoon to see our last two home basketball games for the 7th and 8th graders.

Tonight, we played Chamberlain, so bragging rights for the city were at stake. It’s a spirited, but fun, rivalry for a couple of reasons.

Lots of students on the Chamberlain team have family who work at St. Joseph’s, so those Chamberlain students join us at school picnics and other events throughout the year.

Also, because we hope our students can make friends with town kids as they move into the High School Program, we run an intramural league in the off-season where these kids play with each other instead of always against each other.

They all know each other well. Still, there’s an intensity to win, and there weren’t many parking places near the Rec Center by tip off.

Chamberlain bested our 7th graders, but our 8th graders won. I think it was the first time since they started playing in 4th grade that St. Joseph’s beat that group, so they were feeling proud of their accomplishment. Both sides played hard and with good sportsmanship; they all gave us a lot to cheer for.

My “In” basket is still growing faster than my “Out” basket.

I write a lot of cards and brief notes – staff birthday cards, sympathy cards, get well cards, cards of prayers and cards of thanks. Hopefully a few sincere words can help lift someone’s day. But, I’m still getting more of them sent my way.

Today was also a day of phone calls as family and friends are starting to check in now that I’ve finished a few days of recoup time. People are surprised how upbeat I sound, without realizing that their calling connects me with that spiritual strength only family and friends can give.

One downside to my chemo is I get dehydrated and gravelly voiced. But, maybe today it’s not just from talking, but yelling and cheering at the basketball games!

Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, February 15, 2010

Compared with my first treatment cycle, I’m sleeping better this time around but am more queasy and still getting around slowly.

By the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12 :1

In my religious congregation, it’s customary to start out each morning with an act of oblation – an offering of our day and life to God to cooperate in the work God wants to accomplish through us.

Carpe diem is the Latin phrase meaning – “Seize the day”.

I normally approach a day wanting to squeeze so much out of it. These days I just want to pass the day, get it over with and get closer to a time I feel energetic and whole. But, we can only offer God who we are and what we have in the moment.

God takes me just as I am, and being able to only give a little each day, is a humbling reminder of the need to turn things over to God, who’s really the one in charge. When I accept that, there are still many things I can do to love God and serve others, no matter how I feel.

I went to the office for a couple of hours in the morning, mostly to read mail and reply to lots of messages.

After lunch, I managed another visit up to the business office for afternoon break and just to check up on folks. Becky from accounting approached me from behind and didn’t recognize me at first – the sides of my head now almost match my slick top! We joked as I “reintroduced” myself.

The snowboarders on the Olympics may have more height on their jumps and more style points, but they don’t have more fun than our kids who took advantage of the snow and scrambled up and down the hills leading down to the football field. It would be nice for them to dream big, like earning a gold medal.

For now, it’s most important that they exercise and enjoy those moments of laughter and camaraderie.

Their laughter sure enriches my life.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The second cycle of chemo is finished! The roads coming back home were an icy mess. Fr. Bill had to slow down to 30 MPH in stretches. But, we made it home safely.

The hospital lobby features a piano where people are invited to play and lift up the spirits of patients, their families and the staff.

When I walked through the lobby on the first day of treatment, a man was playing “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” a most beautiful and reassuring hymn.

While waiting for the first appointment, I walked by an empty table that held a partially completed 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

I’ve seen families and individuals working on the picture to pass the time. I just had a few minutes, but I stopped and found where one small piece fit.

It’s like a lot of things in life – with many people, often unseen, working together, we can accomplish bigger tasks … if only we all take a small part.

… we can accomplish bigger tasks … if only we all take a small part

The doctors put my last three blood tests on a graph on the computer. They showed me how the blood cell counts dropped so low the first week, but built back up to a normal and healthy range – good news as the treatments continue.

When one of the nurses came in to change IV bags, she asked where I was from and what I did. We found out that she is a donor to St. Joseph’s – she even had one of our appointment calendars in her purse! Whenever I meet people whom I’ve only gotten to thank by mail, it’s a special treat to express that thanks more personally.

I did get to see the first part of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on TV. I was impressed by the respect and inclusion of the First Nations of Canada in welcoming the athletes and telling the story of this continent. Part of our South Dakota mission statement asks us to be builders of respect and unity between the Lakota people and other traditions, which we strive to do.

I know how my body responded to the first round and know I’ll have to stay low key for several days.

This morning it was enough to get up and get ready for church, which is such a strength for me Sunday after Sunday. One of the songs today was very upbeat at a point where I wasn’t feeling very good at all, but I sang along with as much energy as I could afford.

Church has a way of expressing so many different emotions. When you’re down, a happy song can help me remember the good times and remind me I won’t feel so punk forever.

And, when I’m self satisfied, sometimes a hymn that focuses on our need for forgiveness and reconciliation is a reminder that I have still have plenty of work to do spiritually.

I don’t feel too good now, but I know this is just a stage, and I have strong faith there are better times ahead.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Hello dear friends! We’ve received word from Fr. Steve.

He and Fr. Bill made it safely to the hospital for Fr. Steve’s treatments.

All went well yesterday. Fr. Steve will have another chemo appointment today and hopes to return home to St. Joseph’s on Saturday.

Another round of winter weather is expected to hit our area this weekend, so your extra prayers for their safe travels are appreciated!

Of course, all the support you’re showing for Fr. Steve’s continued healing also means so much to him. God bless!

Fr. Steve’s updates

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.

Fr. Steve’s updates

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.