As a figurative artist (the kind who paints people a lot), it was surprising to hear so much conversation revolving around that old genre of portraiture after the unveiling of the Obama portraits at the National Portrait Gallery last week.
A Preface from Pastor Vermon Pierre: "We are so thankful to our Lord for quick diagnosis and continued good recovery of our sister, Jennifer. Please continue to keep her and her family in our prayers. Since Jennifer is a writer, it’s best to hear from her (in her own distinctive style, of course) about what happened and how she’s doing now. Here’s her blog post on her experience."
From Jennifer: I'm so truly thankful to God and to all of the people who stepped in to help me. I wrote this after I got home. Thank you for the opportunity to share! (It originally appeared here.)
I sat down with myself – or probably stayed standing, really – and told myself that this time, I was going to back off. This time, I was going for a low, low, low profile. No goofy self-promo, because I’m really socially awkward, clumsy in person/articulate on paper (wha????), and frightfully opinionated. I thought, Hey, This Time, I’ll Even Heed The Words of That New U2 Song, “Get Out of Your Own Way!”
But even that’s problematic. Because who likes U2 anymore? And didn’t I recently make a fool of myself with regards to them? I think so, friends.
Anyway. I got a book deal. Third book, second novel. (I’ll put the link below, but this piece is about something else.) I’m out-of-control thrilled; I’m actually not going to write about that today, but it’s so very much on my mind and I truly do need to offer my sincere gratitude and respect to FIVE OAKS PRESS for getting the news out under my dire circumstances. Something serious happened. Really serious. And Publisher Lynn Houston really stepped in, side-by-side with my husband, my kids, my mom, my extended family, and my community. I was supremely supported. I am still being supremely supported.
So, this morning, I am violating my own Silence Agreement to tell my readers (you, right?) what just happened. And then, I think, in the interest of my own literary endeavors, I will primarily use this blog for book reviews – with one future exception. I’m planning on posting a blog piece on our U2 concert experience for my kids. Just for them. I have to. I love them. I could copy it out and give it to them, but they’ve been saddled with a mom with a pen-in-hand. It has tough consequences.
And then, I intend to play out this publication scheme better?
So what just happened?
Here’s your handy-dandy intro to Jennifer Spiegel, Writer.
“Bosco’s Going Down” is my official blog, named after my dead cat. Man, I loved Bosco. Jules, names after Samuel L. Jackson, in Pulp Fiction is also dead. Now, we have two other cats and a stinky dog. I love them all, but I probably wouldn’t name a blog after them.
In 2012, I amazingly had two books come out, The Freak Chronicles (Dzanc Books) and Love Slave (Unbridled Books). I still love them whole-heartedly, but I have some regrets about how I handled myself. I didn’t know what I was doing on the business end, and it showed.
Primarily, I was a college English teacher, a better college creative writing teacher, a person with a weird background including a grad degree in International Relations, a wife, and a mom. Maybe primarily isn’t the right word. I cannot—even at this insane moment—strip off that writer identity, whatever it is, from my being. I write and I’m other things too.
Since 2012, I’ve been writing nonstop. And the novel is coming! Crazily, I also got Stage Two Breast Cancer in June 2015, and I wrote a memoir (Cancer, I’ll Give You One Year, or How To Get Your Ba-Da-Bing Boobies On the House) that I actually think will show up soon. I wanted for the novel to come out first. I really did. I’ve found that now, well into my forties, I’m very smitten with narrative nonfiction. I didn’t expect that. But, in truth, my first love is fiction. The novel is my other baby. I am, right now, novel awaiting publication—in the midst of a sweet trial—pregnant, gleefully so.
I also review books—and I’m not going to stop—with Lara Smith on Snotty Literati.
And that’s the background information.
Let’s return to the question about what happened.
Book deal already pending. Breast cancer “resolved” (meaning: I try to live my life well, while imagining that I’ll be dead soon). My marriage is pretty good. I’m not being boastful; I mean, we’re nuts and imperfect. But it worked out. I’m not a great mom. I love them so much, but I’m very mediocre, actually.
I made it till mid-January when I started noticing constant headaches. Different than the usual fare – a pressing, heavy, back of the skull, oddity. I called my oncologist (more on this doll in the cancer memoir), and he ordered an MRI – probably to appease me more than anything. Once you get cancer, you think everything is cancer. This is the truth.
I had the MRI, and within two hours my oncologist called me. Not good. Not good at all. This was all one week ago, exactly. It looked very much like a benign brain tumor called Meningioma. But it was so huge! Like, massive! He said, “Don’t panic. It’s probably not cancer.”
My oncologist set me up with a neurologist for the next day. Tim came home, messed up, but not unused to this, our life. Parts of my body have been continually whittled away over the years, big parts, defining parts.
By Wednesday afternoon, I was hospitalized, scheduled for brain surgery the next day. I still don’t really know the neurosurgeon. I just went with him on my oncologist’s word. People liked him. Good enough?
Really, here I am downplaying my fears. I wanted to survive cancer for my children and Tim. This is still a sore spot for Tim and me because I have a hard time believing in my survival, and he wants me to. The writer-thing is so terribly intrinsic to who I am that brain surgery and its risks are utterly worst-case-scenario stuff. If I couldn’t read, write, be my socially awkward/crazily married self, I’d like to die. Yes, I said that aloud.
But I had very little choice. It was so big. And pressing. It had not yet dug into my brain; it was superficial, and closest to occipital stuff—not personality or language stuff. I hadn’t had any seizures yet! I actually had taken my kid to see Hamilton on Friday night, primarily out of guilt because I’m such a lousy mom! (It was great!) Tim and I finally saw Get Out, and I lamented, Will this be my last movie ever? I’d miss the big book sale at the Arizona Fairgrounds this year! How can I afford to miss work? I’m an unknown writer who lives off of my husband? What if this is it? I was reading Olive Kitteridge at the moment, and didn’t that figure? I couldn’t survive in a vegetative state; I couldn’t do that to Tim, to my kids. I needed to die, instead.
And things happened. The prognosis was always good, though who could hear that? This hospital stay was not like others. In all honesty, I’ve been in and out of hospitals for five to six or maybe seven surgeries since the cancer. Some have even been fun! Once, I ate kinda fresh-ish salmon, drank pots of pretty good coffee, and ran around the nurses’ station listening to Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime on audio! Another time, O.J. Simpson got paroled, thereby ending my youth officially.
But this time was not fun.
Tim refuses to read the parting notes I wrote to him and the kids before surgery.
Surgery was a success.
It’s out. It was not cancerous. I’m myself. I’m home after one freakin’ day in ICU. I have a million staples in my head that come out next week. I actually taught yesterday, and it was okay. Tim is so present, as are many, many others. I’m not sleeping much. I’m pretty functional. The only strange phenomenons I’m noticing include a mild loss of taste (due, we think, to meds which are temporary) and a bizarre light flicker I periodically see in my right peripheral version (which will supposedly “resolve itself” in a couple weeks). I keep thinking I see a cat or something. It’s my beloved Bosco!
That’s what happened. Here are some photos. This is public, so I’d prefer the deep, serious messages to be sent to me privately. I’ll include the link to my book. (Again, allow me to express my profound affections for all who made this book possible now.)
Thank you for the love, support, and prayers!
Your Name: Charlotte Campbell
Why are you at Roosevelt: I had been church-hopping for awhile and felt discouraged about the process when a friend suggested Roosevelt. The first time I visited I knew I wanted to make it my home.
How long have you been here? Going on 5 years
How long have you been a Christian? I grew up in a Christian home and was saved when I was 6. And then again when I was 7, and probably two more times when I was 10, because I think that’s probably how it goes when you’re a kid. Growing as a Christian has definitely been a process. Finding a high school discipleship group with an amazing mentor and becoming involved with InterVarsity at the U of A were aspects that very much shaped my maturity. And, alas, the growth continues!
Tell us something interesting we should know about your life as a Christian: I don't love to work, but I do love to travel. I met my match when I became involved with medical missions over five years ago. Since then, I’ve been able to work only part of the year, and spend the summers traveling to India, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe to run the pharmacy department for medical outreaches as a volunteer with Jewish Voice Ministries. I feel lucky to get to use my skills as a pharmacist to serve in other parts of the world. It’s truly fulfilling to be part of another culture and see God’s glory at work.
Where are you from: I am an Arizona native. I grew up in Tempe, went to the University of Arizona, spent a year in Prescott, and eventually made it to central Phoenix. If I’m not in Arizona, I’m usually very far from it on the other side of the world. Stay close or stray far.
What's your job: I’m a pharmacist.
What are your hobbies: Globe-trekking, bike rides, basking and iced mochas, podcasts, volunteering with refugees!
Name two things on your bucket list: Become a beekeeper, To take a ride in the Cash Cab and win big in the video bonus round
Your favorite book: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Your favorite movie: Once
Something that you're really praying for: The plight of the Rohingya, that they would be given a country of refuge and know the love of Christ.
Your Name: Nicole Mielke
Why are you at Roosevelt? When I lived downtown for grad school, I would walk by Roosevelt. It reminded me of my home church when I had just moved to Phoenix. I've stayed because of the people, the community.
How long have you been here? 5 years
How long have you been a Christian? Since right after high school!
Tell us something interesting we should know about your life as a Christian: I would say my conversion story is rather dramatic. It involved a car accident and a complete turning away from behaviors, friends, and lifestyles at a time in life when that's hard to do. I am a new creation, hardly recognizable to myself.
Where are you from? Born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota . . .
What's your job? Social work supervisor at a hospital.
What are your hobbies? Reading, hiking, being outside, gardening, trying new things, traveling, crafting/making things . . .
Name two things on your bucket list: I'm really goal-oriented--so, yes, I keep a long bucket list. 1. Learn Spanish fluently. 2. Be in the crowd for an Olympic event (summer, not winter: there's a reason I moved to the desert).
Your favorite book? My favorite book is usually whatever I'm reading at the moment. But my all- time favorite is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.
Your favorite movies? Anne of Green Gables, Tommy Boy
Something that you're really praying for: Lately, I've been thinking a lot about kingdom impact. I've been praying that God shows me ways He can use me here, now, for something beyond myself and beyond time for His glory. So much of what we focus on each day is so temporary, and seems so important in the moment, but is ultimately very self-centered and fleeting. I pray for opportunities and leading in the direction of eternal actions.
Your Name: Gary Cloud
Why are you at Roosevelt (and if you are volunteering/serving somewhere at Roosevelt, where are you serving): This is the current location where, I believe, God has called my wife and I to serve.
How long have you been here: Since RCC's first Easter service in the sanctuary (Easter 2015) . . .
How long have you been a Christian: Fifty-seven years!
Tell us something interesting we should know about your life as a Christian: I believe our prayer life should be continuous.
Where are you from: I was born in Phoenix, raised in the San Francisco bay area, and I moved back to Phoenix in 1975.
What's your job: I challenge my health professions' university to prepare healers for the under-served (Vice President of University Partnerships, ATSU-SOMA)
What are your hobbies: Loving my grandkids, boating, sporting events, travel!
Name two things on your bucket list: To see revival!
Your favorite book: Love to read about heroes of the faith . . .
Your favorite movie: (blank)
Something that you're really praying for: See bucket list
Last October, I coordinated a Voices for the Voiceless outreach event on RCC’s front lawn. That night, we posed the following question to over 200 Art Walk enthusiasts: “If your friend texted you ‘Hey, I’m pregnant,’ what would you say?”
We asked respondents to write their responses on a card and clip the card to a creative display for all the community to see.
The premise for this outreach was simple. In America, one in two pregnancies are unplanned, and 43%--almost half—of those pregnancies end in abortions. Statistics show isolation and shame are two of the main reasons that drive people get abortions in the U.S.But here’s the truth: isolation and shame don’t empower anyone to bring new life into this world. Community and hope do.
Our message was met with overwhelming support and understanding. Hundreds of stories were shared as friends, siblings, parents, and boyfriends resonated with the need to #standbyher.
I wanted to share with you three of the most telling responses to "Hey, I'm pregnant" we received that night.
1. "Your body. Your choice. <3"
In an eagerness to help — to remove the problem and make things right again — many are tempted to push the cheapest and seemingly easiest solution (abortion, predominantly). Such one-sided thinking doesn’t factor in the long-term implications that accompany every option she has to choose from.
This slogan was designed to encourage independence. In truth, it recommends isolation in the moment where knowledge of a supportive community is paramount.
2. "Abortion will be the biggest mistake of your life."
On the pro-life side, we often don't respond to unplanned pregnancy very well either.
In order to motivate healthy decision-making, the tendency is to forecast inevitable regret. This response also fails to offer support and is equally unhelpful.
I’ve heard many stories of church members responding to unplanned pregnancy with shaming and sexual moralism that punishes sinners instead of taking the opportunity to offer redemption and hope that overcomes every mistake (including abortion) in the power of the Gospel.
It's true: women often regret choosing abortion. But in that "Hey, I'm pregnant" moment, believers have a higher calling.
3. "Homegirl, can I be the gay uncle?"
Yes, my favorite response of the night was a joke. But let me explain why this response is so great.
First, this guy injects a bit of humor into a very dark situation. Psychologically, women facing unplanned pregnancies often go into survival mode. Dealing with the problem can become everything. Humor (or a simple "how are you feeling") can be tremendously life-giving.
Second, he looks forward to the future with excitement. Despite the overwhelming cultural narrative that unplanned pregnancy means the end of a college degree or career, he looks at her situation and sees a bright future ahead.
Lastly, he shows he isn't going anywhere. No matter what lies ahead, he's going to be right there, ready to listen and to walk with her.
There’s an old saying that goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I believe this is overwhelmingly true.
As community, we must do a better job of supporting and believing in women facing unplanned pregnancies in our city. We must show her that we believe she is capable of the extraordinary strength required to conquer this challenge and go get the bright future that awaits her.
ABOUT VOICES FOR THE VOICELESS
Voices for the Voiceless is a 501(c)(3) based in Phoenix that helps students and young professionals advocate for life with creativity and compassion, while providing peer-to-peer support to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Want to get involved? Email email@example.com or follow us on Instagram @_VFTV
As we begin 2018, we’re featuring interviews with members of our Roosevelt Community!!
Your Name: Julie LaJoe
Why are you at Roosevelt?: Roosevelt was the church I started coming to when I moved here. It is similar in ways to one of the churches I got plugged into in Raleigh, North Carolina shortly after I moved there, and that church had a very urban and diverse feel as well. I also really love that Roosevelt is welcoming and communal. I've been able to build a lot of relationships here.
How long have you been here?: I've been at Roosevelt a little over two years.
How long have you been a Christian?: I've been a Christian since the beginning of college.
Tell us something interesting we should know about your life as a Christian: Hmm, this is a tough question. I would say thinking about my life prior to being a Christian and then after, I have seen God use my passions and desires for His purposes. For instance, as long as I can remember, I have been writing, just all the time. It is has been a love of mine. I have seen how God has used that and He has given me a passion for writing about Him and my faith journey.
Where are you from?: I was born in Georgia, grew up in Ohio, and spent 9 years after college in North Carolina before moving here. I still have a lot of Midwestern upbringing in me, but my time in the south holds a special place in my heart.
What's your job?: I'm a counselor for kids/adolescents.
What are your hobbies?: writing, reading, improv, storytelling, traveling, playing tennis, swimming/snorkeling/most water activities, being outdoors/walking/hiking
Name two things on your bucket list:
I don't actually keep a "bucket list," but I have many ideas of adventures to take, and I'm a big dreamer, so I don't know if that counts. For one, I'd love to experience going to some different countries again. I think it would be amazing to visit Greece or Ireland as my family is from both those places. I also want to publish a book.
Your favorite book: I have so many books I love! I read and reread them. Here are some favorites:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Koningsburg
Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist
Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Your favorite movie: Harry Potter, Ratatouille, Stranger Than Fiction
Something that you're really praying for:
Recently, God’s put on my heart to find ways to connect artists in the community who might not be connected to church with a vehicle for that or to just to discuss spiritual things as God would lead. I believe that there is so much to be said for the beauty and purpose in creating and that this comes first from the Creator God. I would love to allow space for this within the artist community for those who would like to explore it more. I have seen my heart grow for discussing spirituality amidst art in the past couple years as I have seen God allow me to have so many neat opportunities with the creative community in Phoenix. I would love to see what He does with that in the future.
I am also praying for youth! There are so many competing voices out there. I specifically pray for the age group and population I work with and counsel to live boldly, find their purpose in the world and understand their value as human beings. I pray for youth susceptible to sex trafficking, abuse, and so on and pray for brokenness in families, that God would place His healing on these areas.