The Forgiveness Project: The Startling Discovery of How to Overcome Cancer, Find Health, and Achieve Peace by Rev. Dr. Michael S. BarryFebruary 18, 2011 at 12:05 am | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Kregel Publications (December 22, 2010)
***Special thanks to Cat Hoort, Trade Marketing Manager, Kregel Publications for sending me a review copy.***
Rev. Dr. Michael S. Barry is the author of four books to encourage and strengthen patients and their caregivers in their battle with cancer, including The Forgiveness Project: The Startling Discovery of How to Overcome Cancer, Find Health, and Achieve Peace (January 2011, Kregel Publications). Dr. Michael Barry joined the Cancer Treatment Centers of America as their Director of Pastoral Care at Eastern Regional Medical Center when it opened in November 2005.
His journey with Christ began in his late twenties, in the midst of a successful business career in Texas. In his mid-30s, he responded to God’s call to ministry. Dr. Barry is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, having served several Presbyterian churches in Arkansas, Texas and Illinois.
Dr. Barry currently serves as the principal investigator for the research project Release! which focuses on the topic of forgiveness as it relates to cancer patients. He is a featured seminar speaker on topics including “Spirituality and Health” and “Forgiveness: Healing for the Body and Soul.”
His philosophy of caregiving for cancer patients is based upon the Christian concept of joy and is the subject of his book, The Art of Caregiving.
Married and the father of two, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, his master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1990 and his doctor of ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1999.
All religions value forgiveness, but only Christianity requires it. Internalizing anger is destructive to our spiritual health and can destroy families, marriages, and even churches. But what about our physical health? Is there a relationship between a spirit of unforgiveness and cancer? Between forgiveness and healing? How do you really forgive?
After thorough medical, theological, and sociological research and clinical experience at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), author and pastor Michael Barry has made a startling discovery: the immune system and forgiveness are very much connected. Through the inspiring stories of five cancer patients, Barry helps readers identify—and overcome—the barriers that prevent healing and peace. See how a breast cancer patient named Jayne experienced spiritual and physical renewal when she learned to forgive. Meet Cathy whose story illustrates how forgiveness can positively change relationships. Be inspired by Sharon’s story of spontaneous remission. With each true account comes proven strategies, tested and used by CTCA, that readers can implement to find peace with their past, relief from their hatefulness, and hope for healing.
Competing titles may talk about forgiveness, but none specifically address the connection between forgiveness and physical health or offer forgiveness as a specific step toward healing from cancer. The Forgiveness Project presents scientific findings in easy-to-understand, accessible language and offers practical steps to help Christians let go of past wrongs and find peace.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (December 22, 2010)
AND NOW…THE SECOND CHAPTER:
“A feeling of lightness”
Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Among the more dramatic miracles I’ve witnessed is the one experienced by Jayne Rager, which is described in this chapter. No story incorporates the principles of finding forgiveness more than hers. She is the poster child for finding and living in freedom.
After she developed cancer, she learned how to battle her way back into good health, leaving no stone unturned. She sought out every possible advantage in her fight against cancer, including the benefits of forgiveness taught at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Today, she eats a healthy macrobiotic diet, exercises regularly, and even does chin-ups in her living room. (Can you do a chin-up?) Jayne has a publishing contract for a book she’s writing, and a Dateline NBC program about her tragic experience in Mexico.
Here is her story.
In June 2007, on a little-traveled country road less than a mile from their home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Jayne Rager Garcia Valseca and her husband, Eduardo, were surrounded by armed men and dragged from their Jeep at gunpoint. Eduardo was struck on the head with a hammer. Injured and frightened, the couple were forced into another car, their wrists and ankles bound with duct tape and pillowcases pulled over their heads.
The day hadn’t started like this, of course. Summer vacation was just around the corner, and the Valsecas and their three children were looking forward to the break. The family lived on a ranch just outside the small town where Jayne and Eduardo had founded a not-for-profit elementary school for the town’s children—including their own. They dropped their kids off at school that morning, and on the short drive home their lives changed forever.
Jayne’s journey—at least as it applies to the topic of this book—begins here, at the depths of despair and sadness. And I don’t think it will ruin the story to tell you that her journey has brought her to the emotional heights of forgiveness, which she describes as a feeling of lightness.
She certainly had a lot to forgive. About twenty minutes after the abduction, she was dropped off on the side of the road with only a ransom note to keep her company. “We have your husband,” it said in Spanish. Her husband was held captive for nearly eight months. He spent much of the time in a box no bigger than a small closet, with just enough room to stand up or lie down. He was kept naked on a hard, cold, rough floor, tortured with beatings and with blinding light and loud music day and night. He was shot twice at close range, once in the arm and once in the leg. Several of his ribs were broken.
For her part, Jayne spent some thirty long weeks in a living hell. “There were moments when I thought that I couldn’t possibly go on,” she said. The criminals sent her photographs of her husband to coerce her into paying a multimillion dollar ransom, one that she couldn’t afford to pay even if she were willing to deal with these horrible men. Eduardo’s captors force him to write notes and make phone calls at gunpoint. Throughout the whole experience, Jayne “felt the deepest kind of hatred for these people and what they were doing to me and my family.”
Jayne says this of her thoughts of revenge: “These thoughts became fantasies of all of the creative ways I could torture them, even kill them. My favorite one was of being a giant, female Samurai, beheading all of them in one clean sweep of my sword. Thinking about these things brought me great pleasure.”
Not necessarily the best thoughts for a person to have, but certainly understandable for a woman in Jayne’s horrific predicament.
Although she felt helpless against these feelings and emotions, Jayne knew they would do her absolutely no good on the inside—especially since she had already battled cancer. Jane had been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2005. After going through conventional treatment (along with several holistic therapies), she found herself cancer free, full of energy, and happy to be alive.
The emotional trauma brought by the kidnapping threatened to change all that. “I knew the negative potential it could have,” she said. “I sought professional help, which was hugely comforting, but my anger, rage, and resentment were extremely hard to get a handle on.”
Jayne wasn’t terribly surprised when her breast cancer returned in the spring of 2008. She wasn’t surprised, but she was devastated. She was almost numb.
What else could be taken from me? she asked. Why me? How could all of this be happening to me?
Still, it made sense when she thought about all of the unresolved rage she had been clinging to for so many months. Jayne realized that in order to heal completely—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—she needed to go in a different direction than before. Her search for a holistic approach to cancer care led her to Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia, and then to my office for a conversation about forgiveness.
The first time I met Jayne, she was wearing her trademark straw cowboy hat, the kind that rolls up easily on the side and can be shaped in a pointed fashion to easily cover her eyes. She wore a pink bandana underneath to mitigate the all-too-common embarrassment of losing her hair. Though she is Caucasian, her time in Mexico lent a Hispanic flair to her clothing. Almost always, she was able maintain her natural beauty and usually displayed the all-important cheerful, hopeful, and optimistic attitude that is, as the experts tell us, the telltale sign of long-term cancer survivors. As hopeful as she was, though, she was always rightfully concerned about her health and her future. Jayne wanted to live.
By this time, Eduardo had been released from his captors. At the end of January, two months before Jayne’s second diagnosis, she had recovered her husband—though when he returned, he was almost unrecognizable. His weight had dropped from 160 pounds to ninety.
Despite his injuries and depleted physical condition, Eduardo came back ready to jump into life, grateful for every breath of freedom. He was amazed that he could go to the refrigerator and eat whatever he wanted, that he could talk with others whenever he wanted—or at all. He was immensely thankful for everything that you and I take for granted. Strangely enough, he didn’t seem to have forgiveness issues with his captors. He wasn’t angry. His happiness to be alive, home with his family, and free, overrode any hatred, anger, or bitterness.
Jayne, on the other hand, was still stuck in her desire for revenge. She was angry and hated the kidnappers for what they had done to her family. She hated them with all her heart. Jayne had become so hardened that she hadn’t been able to cry for months. At times, she would shake uncontrollably, but she could no longer shed even one tear. She had been running on adrenaline, like a soldier on the front lines of battle, afraid that if she let her guard down all would be lost. Her way of processing things (or not processing them) was her way of surviving, and it worked—but it took a toll, and now she had breast cancer again.
As I talked with Jayne during our first meeting, it became apparent that she was aware of her need to forgive, her need to let go off all the negative emotion that she kept bottled up inside. But, like so many people, she hadn’t figured out exactly how. She needed more direction in order to apply it to her life in a new, permanent way—one that she hoped would help her along the road to health and wholeness.
In short, she needed to let go of her painful memories. She needed a clean slate.
I’ll let Jayne tell the next part of the story:
At one of our first meetings, we talked for about an hour. Dr. Barry heard my story and was compassionate, but to my surprise I didn’t get a whole lot of sympathy. Now, don’t get me wrong: he was sympathetic, but that was not his focus. I had kind of gotten used to having people cry when I told them the story; they would embrace me and mirror my feelings of injustice. Dr. Barry’s reaction was very different. It was nonjudgmental. The conversation was more about his wanting me to find peace again, which often requires learning to feel empathy toward the kidnappers. At one point, he even suggested that there might be some self-righteousness in what I was feeling. Well, that was the last thing I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear about how right I was to feel the way I felt, how wrong and despicable they were and that sooner or later there would be some sort of divine justice.
Jayne wasn’t having it. She told me how she had already tried to find empathy for the men who had taken so much from her. She had even tried praying for them. She had tried to find forgiveness in the midst of her pain, and had come up empty-handed.
“How in the world can I find empathy for these reptiles?” she asked me. “They ambush you, snatch you from your life and your family. We lost our home, our business. We were devastated financially. We had to flee the country leaving our belongings behind, everything we had worked for seventeen years and built as law-abiding citizens. I lost my health from the months of stress, and my children are traumatized. How can I possibly find empathy for these horrible individuals who kidnap, destroy families, and harm and kill people for money?”
I never suggested that life was fair or that forgiveness would be easy.
I reminded Jayne that, under the right circumstances, every one of us is capable of great evil. No one is exempt—not Jayne, not you, and not me. This isn’t easy to hear, of course, but it’s true.
“It’s not about them, Jayne,” I said. “They’ve moved on, maybe to the next victim. You’re still angry and they probably haven’t given you a second thought. You are only harming yourself by holding on to this. Forgiveness is a gift that you can give to yourself. As a concept, forgiveness transcends any particular religion. It’s not that it’s the Christian thing to do or the Jewish thing to do, or the Buddhist, Muslim, or Catholic thing to do. It’s the right thing to do, if what you want is the best chance of beating your disease. It’s the human thing to do.
“This is what you do can do for you, Jayne.”
I left Jayne with a homework assignment. I told her to go home and write a letter to the men who had kidnapped her husband and thrust her life into chaos. She didn’t have to forgive them right then and there, and she didn’t have to conjure up eloquent words for some grand pronouncement of empathy and understanding. She simply had to tell them how she felt.
Jayne’s letter was five pages long. “It felt good to write it,” she said. “It really did. It felt like some kind of emotional release. Like getting it off my chest.”
The next time I met with Jayne, we talked about the letter and about how she felt while writing it.
“It felt good,” she told me, “but I’d feel even better if I had an address to send it to, and maybe just a tiny bit of anthrax.”
Funny—and honest—but not exactly what we were working toward. I told Jayne that she should do some more writing. This time, she needed to work a little harder toward finding empathy. It isn’t something that comes from the head, I told her, but from the heart.
When she sat down to write for the second time, Jayne found herself stuck, not sure what she could say that hadn’t already been said. The cursor on the computer screen blinked at her silently. She decided to clear her mind and meditate on empathy. The answer eventually came to her, and when it did, it took a surprising and inspired form.
“I decided to use my creativity to create a mental movie set. I imagined the kidnappers as babies. I’m a mother of three and I adore children. I’ve often thought that all babies come into the world as blank canvasses. I’ve seen as a mother how they absorb, like little sponges, information about the world around them, about their environment. I saw these little babies in my mind, innocent and new, and then took them forward in the imaginary movie, creating what they must have gone through in order to ultimately become what they became, capable of doing what they do. I did this for each one of them, one by one. All seven of them.”
Suddenly—after an hour and a half of stretching her mind and creating a script by which she could understand these men and their motives—she felt it. “I felt an enormous wave of relief,” she said, “as if the weight of the world had just been lifted from my shoulders. It was amazing. I felt so much lighter.”
Sharon Whitmore, a fellow cancer patient, described the result of forgiveness in similar terms. “I woke up the next day and had this feeling,” she said. “It was a lightness. It was a lightness in my heart. You know how you have a heavy load? It didn’t feel heavy anymore.”
Moreover, and much to Jayne’s surprise, she felt the most relief in the places where she had the disease. “I had gotten it off my chest,” she smiled. “Literally.”
The process of releasing her anger made her ask some questions, as well. How much of this is the result of my own emotions? How much is the result of my own way of thinking and processing things?
Jayne felt amazing for the rest of the day. She had a smile on her face that could not be contained, and a lightness in her step that was noticeable to everyone around her. She had more energy. Her chemotherapy infusions felt easier to take. Most importantly, she had a renewed love of life and was ready to move into healing.
The lesson has stayed with her and has begun to change the way she lives her life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
“Now, I remind myself daily to apply forgiveness to my everyday life—while driving, while in the grocery store, and at home with my family. Every time I feel myself going into anger or judgment, I instead choose empathy and forgiveness. I get better at it every day. Doing this has been life-changing for me and has had a ripple effect in countless encounters.”
I believe that everyone can experience the same life-changing feeling of lightness that Jayne describes. It isn’t going to look the same for everybody—which is perhaps one of the reasons that forgiveness has been overlooked and underused in the recovery process. It can’t be precisely quantified. The notion that the process of forgiveness requires a predetermined number of steps in order to arrive at the final destination is a notion that must be put to rest.
In short, there is no easy equation that says
(action a + understanding b) x (y2 empathy)
————————————————————— = forgiveness
Such equations simply do not exist. There are too many psycho-spiritual variables involved for a step-by-step process to work. This isn’t as easy as setting the clock on the DVD player; it’s more complicated than ensuring that, at the end of the cycle, your whites are whiter and your colors brighter.
In light of how complex we are as human beings, why would we expect our emotional experiences to be identical?
This does not mean, however, that there aren’t any common threads between individual stories. Even as religious conversion experiences are often quite unique, they also share similarities. So, too, is it with experiences of forgiveness.
For example, one woman tearfully approached me after a sermon I preached on forgiveness. She told me that when she learned I was preaching on forgiveness, she almost decided to skip church altogether. Instead, she decided to stay. During the sermon, “something happened.” What happened can be explained spiritually as a miracle, for anytime a heart hardened by hatred is transformed, suddenly or otherwise, into a heart of flesh able to forgive, it is a miracle.
On the other hand, I have worked for several months with people who were unable to get to first base. In one case, after months of work, a woman harbored just as much hatred against her father as when she had begun.
Just as no two stories are the same, no two paths to forgiveness are identical.
Your path to forgiveness may happen miraculously, a change of heart at a moment’s notice. Like Jayne, it may require a fresh and creative approach to discovering empathy. It may take days, weeks, months, or years. There is no way of knowing until you begin the process.
But I do know this: the most important variables are not the time and effort a person is willing to put toward forgiveness. Rather, it is motivation. It relies on whether or not a person has the wholehearted desire to let their painful past go. Without the firm desire to be healed and whole, a person could go through a hundred steps and spend many long months working at the issues at hand without ever experiencing the change of heart required for true forgiveness.
Forgiveness, then, is a process with a definable beginning and end; but the road linking them is often as distinctive as each individual.
The one trait that each story—including Jayne’s—seems to share is the strong desire to live. Like Jayne, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to increase your quality of life, even if it means facing your demons—and forgiving them. Jayne faced her demons with anything but a feeling of helplessness. Rather, she exuded resiliency, the ability to bounce back from her situation with a strength and personal power that came from a potent will to live.
Her life, as dark as it had become, now blossoms with numerous opportunities to speak before impressive audiences. It would be trite to suggest that there is a silver lining in every cloud; but if ever there was a dream that I hoped would come true, it is the dream that is coming true for Jayne, her husband, and their wonderful children.
We’ll close this chapter with some final thoughts from Jayne:
My gratitude to Dr. Barry and everyone at Cancer Treatment Centers of America is beyond words. I believe that going through the forgiveness process has been an essential part of my recovery, and I feel so blessed to have had access to this complete approach to healing from cancer from the inside out.