Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Grace under pressure

ruthie leming red spot.jpg
Look at that portrait of my sister Ruthie and her husband Mike, taken in the hospital the other day. Would you imagine that they were dealing with a Stage Four cancer diagnosis? Look at the light in their faces. That’s how they are.
It occurs to me that the way I’ve been writing about how Ruthie’s dealt with her cancer might make her seem unreal, or that she’s in some sort of denial about the gravity of her condition. It would be inaccurate and misleading to think that she’s got an entirely sunny disposition about all this. There have been lots of tears in this past week, with more to come. I honestly do believe that for Ruthie, nearly all of her sadness has been in thinking about the hurt her condition is causing her family. Our cousin texted me last week and said that if Ruthie makes it through this crisis, it will be because she decided that her dying would inconvenience too many people, so she might as well live. I laughed at that, because it’s true.
I talked to her last night for the first time since I said goodbye on her front porch last Saturday. Her breathing is very labored; she has lung cancer, after all, the particular cruelty of which is exacerbated by the fact that she has never, ever smoked. And she’s exhausted from her treatment and from a nonstop stream of visitors (she likes seeing folks, but if you go by, please be kind and stay only a short time). But her spirits were so light. She told me that she’s reading as many of the comments on these blog entries as she can manage, and that she’s especially encouraged by stories of you readers choosing to reconcile with your families and those from whom you’re estranged, because of her suffering. It tells her that in some mysterious way, the Holy Spirit is working through her suffering for the greater good.
“I know I’m standing right in the middle of God’s will, where He wants me to be,” she said, with complete conviction. Obviously she’d rather be somewhere else — on the beach in Florida, say, with Mike and the kids — but Ruthie has accepted that God has asked her to walk this terrible walk, and she’s going to go forward with faith, hope and courage, come what may.
She is not walking alone. She has a small army walking with her. And just look at the face of the brave man at her side, and rejoice that God has given her such a companion and helpmeet.
If you want to do something for Ruthie, pray, yes, but also forgive someone, ask someone for forgiveness, choose to be kinder to your spouse, your children, make a firm decision to turn away from selfishness, and to love others in a real way. And then write down here what you’ve done so we can all see, and give thanks. She’s reading these threads, and takes courage and inspiration from these stories. It helps her know that her suffering has meaning, and in some way is bringing light and healing into the lives of others, even those she’s never met. I’m stuck here in Philadelphia, unable to help in any practical way, but I can tell you how awesome my sister and her family are, and share with you how they’re handling this crisis — and, with your help, be the conduit of good news that gives her strength to carry the battle forward. We have to carry each other.
Dear God, I love them so much.

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Mary Beth

posted February 24, 2010 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Rob, for this post. And thanks, Ruthie, for your smile. It is a reminder to hug my dear ones close today. I’m also reminded that although the world loves to celebrate Romantic Love — especially on Valentine’s Day — there is no holiday to celebrate Sibling Love. Like you, Rob, I truly love my four siblings so much. They are closer to me (genetically too!) than anyone, yet we live states apart. Let’s hear it for brotherly and sisterly LOVE. (Just this morning I was thinking about Love.)

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posted February 24, 2010 at 11:11 am

They really sound like marvelous people. I am so sorry they are facing this terrible crisis. It really sounds like you and the rest of your family are suffering along with them.
I so hope that your sister’s treatments will be successful, and that the damage to her body caused by the cancer and the treatments will not be too great.

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bill holston

posted February 24, 2010 at 11:31 am

Ruthie. I am praying for you and your family each morning. I want to thank you for allowing many of us to know about your situation, and to permit Rod, who I love, to discuss this in a public forum. I believe that our heavenly father is quite honored by you and your family’s actions and attitude.
I will add to my prayers, a request for God to show me anyone that I have harmed, and to place on my heart the steps I need to reconcile with them.
Blessings and Peace through our Father and our Lord Jesus, Messiah and Prince of Peace.

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posted February 24, 2010 at 11:43 am

I think that Ruthie’s disposition is more common than we realize. We are so removed from death and dying in this society — yet so in so much fear of it at the same time — that many of us are utterly unfamiliar with its various shades and nuances. When death actually stares us in the face, we can react in a myriad of ways.
My own father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at this exact time last year, in February. At the time he was retired, living in South America. He was too weak to fly home alone so I went down there and brought him back to the states. It was decided that he would stay with us, in our house, since at the time I was in nursing school and could look after him properly. I took a leave of absence from school and stayed at his bedside 24/7 to administer his meds and make sure he was kept clean.
On his birthday, which was today the 24th, the doctor told my husband and I on the phone that my dad had 4-6 weeks to live. I will never forget getting off the phone, sitting on my dad’s bed and tearfully telling him the news. His reaction: he sat in silence for a moment, then said he’d had a good life, and that he couldn’t think of a better place to die than here in our house, where friends and family could visit and where he could watch the deer herd outside through the window as he lay in bed, listening to his favorite jazz music from the 50s. And so he did.
The support we received from the hospice team was wonderful. Like your Ruthie he was calm and accepting of his fate, even as his body grew weaker and more emaciated. Most difficult for him was accepting help from us in doing the most basic things, as he had always been the one to take care of others. In the end, he could not speak, lapsing in and out of consciousness. When he could no longer eat even the mushy food we had been spoon-feeing him and started to refuse water, we knew it was only a matter of days. My mother and I watched him take his last breath shortly after midnight on March 10. The last words he said, before falling into a coma were, “I don’t know why, but I’m just really happy right now.” I thanked him for teaching me how to live in life, and also for showing me how to die.
Rod, I am so sorry about your sister. Since you started posting about Ruthie, I have found myself utterly unable to post any comforting words; everything I start to write ends up seeming so trite in the face of what you and your family are dealing with. May God bless Ruthie, you and your families and help you through this time.
Thanks for letting me rambling. I hope it wasn’t inappropriate. Today is Dad’s birthday and I just wanted to say a few words about him. Your posts of late have really brought back the memories of that hard time.

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Rod Dreher

posted February 24, 2010 at 12:07 pm

BD: Since you started posting about Ruthie, I have found myself utterly unable to post any comforting words; everything I start to write ends up seeming so trite in the face of what you and your family are dealing with.
Not true! Q.E.D. by this post of yours.
Thanks so much for that comforting testimony, B.D. May your dear father remember my sister in his prayers. God bless you on this difficult day.

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posted February 24, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Indeed, the grace with which your sister and your family face this terrible situation is a remarkable testimony to your faith as well as your love for each other. Let us hope that this faith and love will win out, and that she will enjoy a complete recovery.

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Jeff Sullivan

posted February 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Hi Rod, and hello Ruthie – I give thanks for Bill Holston’s words above: I will add to my prayers, a request for God to show me anyone that I have harmed, and to place on my heart the steps I need to reconcile with them. Ruthie, I am remembering you every morning as I pray my Rosary during my morning walk, and the addition Bill is making to his prayers is the same one I will make to mine.
Ruthie, God has given you an incredible assignment. Thank you for permitting Rod to share it with us.

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posted February 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Rod — these posts are beautiful, touching, and powerful.
It all almost feels wrong to me to be reading, because I don’t know you and I don’t know Ruthie, and it feels almost voyeuristic at times to me. But I feel as though I’m getting to know Ruthie from these posts and getting to know you better after years of reading your blog.
Ruthie, it is a privilege to be able to get to know you through Rod’s blog. Your grace and spirit are extraordinary.
Having lost my only brother in a car crash when I was in high school, reading these posts has been excruciating at times. My experience is all I know, and that was sudden, unprepared loss. To actually be going through this in real-time, and face the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘who knows’ while taking every chance to beat this must take a courage that I cannot even begin to fathom. It is a testament to your faith, your family, and your friends.
My continued best wishes to you, Ruthie…and to you, Rod. Thank you both for sharing this with us.
I don’t pray often, but asking for a recovery for Ruthie and strength for all involved will be the impetus again today.

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Prayer Request

posted February 24, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I’m sorry for your cancer diagnosis. My mother was a cancer survivor for about 40 years after having a “radical” bilateral mastectomy among other surgeries.
Your faith in God and your desire for eternal salvation is all important.
I’m praying for your family: comfort, courage, financial assistance, strength, love, compassion, and warmth. AND most importantly, I pray for your salvation because that is the ultimate prize.
The Lord Jesus Christ is our one and ONLY God. Praise Jesus Christ.

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Need to be Anonymous for this one

posted February 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Rod and Ruthie,
Thanks for sharing your lives here, and thanks, Ruthie, for your inspiring, strength-giving witness. I’m beset by economic and professional woes and anxieties at the moment, and have been for several months now. We’re doing okay, but being okay requires a constant focus, a determination not to give in to despair. And in the last week or so of reading The Ruthie Story, I’ve been deeply encouraged. Because the thing is, if I put my life on a spreadsheet (which I have) and a resume (which I have), I have plenty of cause to be worried. But if I examine the larger context of my life, I see community, I see family, I see love. I’m in a strong and resilient marriage–a partnership and deep friendship, really. I have three healthy and happy children. We have good neighbors nearby, and good friends sprinkled throughout our city. We have good friends sprinkled throughout the nation. I don’t have any badly broken friendships–well, there is one sort of troubled relationship, but I forgive that person daily, pray for his family, and hope he can forgive me. In short, in every area that counts, we’re rich.
It took reading your story to make me really count those blessings, and it’s been such a gift to do so. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I love the way you’re living your life.

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posted February 24, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Your sister is being sent postitive healing thoughts from far away RI.
She is fortunate to have a loving family …. the basis for healing is love and caring from family and friends.

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posted February 24, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I have had the pleasure of working with Ruthie from afar. Her sunny disposition shines through in your writings. I remarried a little over 3 years ago and gained 3 wonderful sons. My middle son was in 8th grade when we married on New Year’s Eve, so he started the second semester at the middle school. He’s a hard-working student, which can sometimes be a challenge for a new guy in the mix. Ruthie was one of his favorite teachers because she made him feel at home in a new situation. Our favorite story is of a time when he dressed up as Andy Warhol for a presentation at school, and we had bought him a blonde wig to complete his costume. When Ruthie saw him, she burst into laughter and asked if he was wearing my hair. It’s been a joke ever since between the two of them.
On a different note, I know the challenges that are ahead of Ruthie and Mike and their daughters. My former husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer on August 20, 2004. It had mestasized to his liver and his lungs. Throughout the nearly 2 years of treatment, Sidney never lost his peace. We knew whatever happened was in God’s plan, and we never failed to be amazed at the encounters we had during his treatments. This Saturday will mark the 4th anniversary of his death.

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Mere Catholic

posted February 24, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Ruthie, if you happen to read this combox:
I wish that I had the pleasure of knowing you. From what I’ve read of you on this blog, you are truly a handmaid of the Lord. I have read with tears of your diagnosis and with joy of your love of family and God. My father died of cancer and not a day goes by when I don’t marvel at his courage during his illness. I am praying for your complete healing and for Christ to supply you and your family with all the courage you need as you beat this cancer. Please pray for me too. God bless you!

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posted February 24, 2010 at 9:45 pm

“It tells her that in some mysterious way, the Holy Spirit is working through her suffering for the greater good.”
Look at how true Christianity is manifesting itself because of this: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, courage. Isn’t this nicer than debating about this or that interpretation of something? Folks, this is how it should be all the time; but it’s so sad that something like her illness happened. She and her family are in my prayers.

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Rhonda Smith

posted February 24, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Dearest Ruthie – I want you to know that what you are going through has impacted how I try and live my life in so many ways. When I think strictly about you I seem to be at peace because I know you. You are such a beautiful person who is right with God. However it is when I think of those beautiful girls I come to tears. When I think of Mike I think about what my Mike would do in his situation. Because of this I have actively tried to be more patient and loving with Cameron. I treasure every phone call or text I get from my Mike.
I was also recently advised my uncle is suffering from inoperable pancreatic cancer and he has elected against treatment. Oh, how I want to give him a big bear hug like never before! I cry often for him, you, your family and also my Mike and when I do I feel guilty. Thank you, Rod, for letting me know it’s okay to suffer with someone and that is a showing of love and not selfishness. I do hope to see you soon! Rest well and let our prayers go to work. We love you!

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Heritage Hills

posted February 24, 2010 at 11:22 pm
They have an outstanding one-week series of teachings on what God in his word has to say about sickness, healing, etc. People from all over the country go there and have loved it. There are stories of all kinds of miraculous healings associated with having attended. This isn’t hokey. It’s what should be happening at every church. Please look into it. I went with difficult health problems that no doctor could treat and it changed my life.God bless you !

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The Health Dude

posted February 25, 2010 at 5:32 am

“Health is wealth” is known to all and everyone wants good health. So, Let us build a food habit discipline, keep pace with work, rest and or exercise to Achieve good health, The ultimate wealth.

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Sherry Brumfield

posted February 25, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Dear Ruthie,
When I think of you I think of you being Cody’s favorite 6th grade teacher. Your wonderful spirit, always smiling. I am thinking of you and praying for each one of you. Remember God takes you thru what has only been thru him first.
God Bless You,

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posted February 27, 2010 at 4:46 am

Hold on to your faith. Know that so many people are praying for you.

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