Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency in the midst of trauma: Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’

Photo courtesy of Emily Kuhn via Wikimedia Commons.

Consider Meeting Lucille Online

Her Zoom series starts September 14, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. The weekly series of columns so far:

Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s online conversation with readers, which begins Sept. 14, 2021, please look at the information at the end of this story.

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Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’

By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

I had lived in Chicago for four years—such good years. My dear friend Frank lived one floor above me in our building in Hyde Park. The University of Chicago, seminaries and museums were in the neighborhood. Plus, we lived just three blocks from Lake Michigan and we delighted in the ever-changing water from our own apartments.

Frank and I meditated twice a day. We met monthly with a meditation group and these people became like family.

Frank was always reading theology and we had marvelous discussions about his favorite theologians.  In 2019 one of these was Meister Eckhart, a German from the 13th century. In late July, he and a friend, went to Germany for a week-long conference on Eckhart.

Three days after they arrived home I treated Frank to our favorite Italian restaurant and it was there that I realized something was wrong. We were chatting away about a friend whose father had died. I mentioned that we were at the funeral. Frank had no memory about the funeral and was somewhat irritated with what I was saying. Frank does not get irritated quickly so this was out of character.  He then mentioned the car assuming it was parked in the lot near the restaurant. The reality was that we had not driven the car. It took some persuading before he was willing to walk home. Home was only two blocks away but he was not convinced that we had not driven until he saw the car in the parking lot.

Frank’s memory continued to deteriorate over the next week. He was admitted to The University of Chicago Hospital and was given a wide variety of tests. After three months it was determined that he had a form of central nervous system cancer.

For it, Frank received a stem cell transplant. This is a long and difficult process and I was shocked when I asked his doctor how effective this treatment is. He responded that this would give Frank about a 20-to-30-percent better chance of surviving.  I was stunned.  I assumed it would be at least 50 percent or more.  While I knew that his form of cancer is very serious, it was not until the doctor referred to the low survival rate that I became terrified.

Frank was a perfect patient. His faith was strong. Many days when I would visit, he would say, “I feel God’s presence. It is so strong.” Frank was very much at peace. But I was not. I had moved to Chicago to be near him and I could not imagine my life without him.

My own mental health started to slide. I lost confidence in myself and was not able to write stories, which I had loved to do. I felt exhausted even though I was getting eight hours of sleep. I travelled to Philadelphia to be near my brother and his wife but their loving care did nothing to stop the depression. When I returned home and visited my psychiatrist I was hospitalized immediately. It took seven weeks in the hospital before I could stabilize and return home.

The central psychological question was: Could I live without Frank?

If he dies, would I be able to carry on? Would I move to Washington DC to be near my son Soren?

It is then that the poem that I had written eight years ago began to speak to me on a very deep level. Back then, I had to let go of the fear of losing my house once again. Now, I must let go of my beloved friend and place my hope in God alone.

These lines once again guided me. “Oh Lord, please give me the grace to hold lightly any person and to open my heart to God’s abounding love and abiding rest and be free.”

Frank has now been free of cancer for over a year. He receives an MRI twice a year. We both hold our breath as we await the results. It seems that I agonize over this more than he does. In some ways, his faith is stronger than mine. He believes he will live as long as God has some purpose for him. And it is clear to him that at the moment he has purpose in a number of ways. He is organist at Montgomery Place, a home for retired people. He is a spiritual director and it is clear that his wisdom is powerful in guiding his counselees.

I receive support from several close friends as well as from a psychologist and psychiatrist. My faith is stronger than ever. When I begin to falter I return to spiritual practices I developed with Frank.

One is a walking meditation. It is so simple. I simply walk slowly and repeat these words:

This step, each step, right here, right now.
This step, each step, right here, right now.

The past is behind and the future has not arrived.  Thus these words:

This step, each step, right here, right now.

And finally, the little chant Frank and I composed many years ago, is as powerful now as it was then:

Let it come, let it go,
Let it come, let it flow,
All is well.

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Look for the next part in Lucille’s series in our September 20, 2021, issue of ReadTheSpirit magazine.

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Care to take part in Lucille’s September 14, 2021, Zoom?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it.

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Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency after trauma: ‘All manner of things shall be well’

What do you see in this photo of a stream in autumn? The fallen leaves? The waters of uncertain depth? Or do you see stepping stones?

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Share These Stories of Resilience, Now

THEN, PLEASE MEET THE AUTHOR IN SEPTEMBER

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider already has inspired readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma, every week in neighborhoods everywhere. This weekly series of columns began on August 23 with a first story, The Perfect House. This second column builds on that first one. Please, share these column with friends via email or social media (or print out a copy to share using the convenient “print friendly” button at the end of the story). Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s online conversation with readers in September 2021, please look at the information at the end of this story.

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‘All Manner of Things Shall Be Well’

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

For two years my perfect house brought deep joy.

Visitors poured in. That first summer I invited my nieces for a week-end. Two came from Ontario, Canada, and two from Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania nieces brought beautiful toddler boys and we all loved watching them splash by the fountain.

We had a lot of fun and a lot of deep sharing. Four of us had been sexually abused by my brother-in-law, Edmond. The niece who was not abused just shook her head appalled but grateful that he had not reached her. We prayed together and felt so upheld by each other.

My son and his wife came from Washington, DC, and that first Christmas opening gifts in the living room in front of the fireplace was heaven. My cat PJ was on every lap taking in all the love he could find. He had been a gift from my son and daughter-in-law when I moved into the house.

My brother and his wife who had master-minded the rebuilding after a major flood came to visit and always helped with some house project. And always, we went to Lowe’s and found just what we needed.

I loved to show off my garden, especially to my female friends from church. While we were playing croquet in my back yard, I delighted in showing them the flowers: azaleas, petunias, geraniums, impatiens and on and on.

In fact, that first year I could not bear to let my flowers die so I just started potting them and carrying them into my house. Every window was dressed with the flowers. I later counted and found that I had 91 plants in the house.

Just one small area of my indoor garden!

I also had a plant infirmary where I could give them extra TLC with a large grow light. That year I had countless tea parties in my beautiful living room garden.

I was enjoying all of my relationships with family and long-time friends. One of those friends was Frank, who I had met in our 30s when he was the pastor of a church in Chicago and I was the church’s pastoral counselor. We formed a small spirituality group with some other friends and we remained in touch even as we found ourselves moving around the country.

My friend Frank had by this time moved to Pennsylvania from Chicago. Now we were only three hours away from each other and we were back and forth often. He loved to sit on my deck surrounded by flowers. That first fall I had 15 mums and, coupled with my water fountain, the setting was idyllic. We chatted and we meditated as we do when we’re together.

Frank had started a meditation group in Pennsylvania and I was always invited to participate. I went as often as possible. The time that affected me most profoundly was when the group was meditating silently in a creek.

I’ll never forget that day. The weather was perfect. About 75 degrees with a slight wind. Birds were singing their hearts out and the little fish seemed so happy as they swam around me.

I was truly struggling at that point because of some concerns that had arisen in my family. For a while I could find no peace. But after about 20 minutes, my worries just seemed to float away in the ripples of water.

Simple phrases ran through my mind and eased my soul: “Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. “

When the meditation was over, I told Frank about my experience.

“All shall be well,” he said, telling me that he was drawing on Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic whose book, Revelations of Divine Lovehas become popular once again.

Her famous verse was: “All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”

On the way home I repeated over and over again the words that spoke so deeply to me: Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. All is well.

The next day I composed a simple tune and wrote it down. I called Frank and sang it to him.

“Absolutely wonderful,” he said.

I have been singing that little chant ever since. And both Frank and I have taught it to many people.

Life seemed perfect for a long time, even after the drawn-out trauma of the flood, but eventually I began to feel lonely. I longed to have a house mate. The days when darkness started to descend at 4 pm became frightening.

I was in psychotherapy and of course I discussed my loneliness with my therapist. We scoured our minds for people I might invite to live with me. I was open to having either a woman or a man. My friend Frank was back in Chicago by this time. But we kept very close contact.

We chatted about living in the same retirement home someday. Frank would organize hymn sings. He would play the piano and I would lead the singing. My parents had done this in later years and I so admired it.

“Doing all of that with Frank would be perfect,” I said to my therapist, “If only I could find someone like Frank.”

My therapist immediately replied, “He is one in a million.”

So I left the office discouraged, thinking I would never find a friend like Frank. But on my way home this thought came to me: If he is one in a million, you better go and live near him. When I got home, I immediately called him and he responded, “I would love to have you come to Chicago. We can get you an apartment in my building.”

I had lived and worked in Chicago for 26 years so it felt like this would be a homecoming of sorts. I discussed this with my son, my bother and many friends. We all worried that I would miss my beautiful home in Binghamton so much that I could not adjust again to city life.

So what I decided to do was rent my house for a year. Then I could come back if that felt right. During that year I missed my gardens a great deal—both my outside garden and inside garden. But when the feelings were intense all I had to do was sing, “Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. All is well.”

My apartment in Chicago was in the same building as Frank’s. It had huge windows with a southern exposure and immediately I started filling those windows with plants. I mean—lots of plants. About 60 in all. Frank and I began to meditate together twice a day. We ate meals together at least once a day. We started a meditation group with six other people and they became so foundational to my spirituality and later to our friendship. My beloved friend Alyce lived in the city and we spent such wonderful times together. At times I had doubts about selling my house. Of course I would take these to my therapist. But what guided me more than anything was the chant.

“Let it come, let it go, Let if come, let it flow, All is well.”

I later came to realize that the earlier poem I composed about my house has the same theme. It is about letting go and daring to trust in God. The last three stanzas have spoken to me so deeply:

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To own my house
But not let it own me.
To love my house
But hold it loosely.

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To hold lightly
Any place or person
Any thought or feeling.

Oh Lord, please give me the grace
To open my heart
To your abounding love
And abiding rest
And be free!

And Lord,
Please bless my house.

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Look for the next part in Lucille’s series fin our September 6, 2021, issue of ReadTheSpirit magazine.

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Care to take part in Lucille’s September 2021 Zoom?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it.

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Lucille Sider urges us to step outside: ‘The gods are painting the whole world green again!’

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EDITOR’S NOTE—Our caregiving-themed books recommend that all of us spend more time reflecting on the natural world around us. Just a few examples: Suzy Farbman’s GodSigns includes a catalytic scene as Suzy walks along the ocean shore; Never Long Enough includes gorgeous illustrations encouraging families to enjoy nature together; and Now What? urges families to maintain the mobility of aging loved ones—and lists many ideas for stepping outside. (Cover-links to those books are in the left margin.) In Lucille Sider’s memoir, Light Shines in the Darkness, the visual metaphor on the book’s cover is a glorious, sunny morning in a tree-lined meadow. This week, as spring breaks out across North America, Lucille reminds all of us:

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The gods are painting the whole world green again!

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

The ground is thawing,
Roots are stirring,
Long nights are shortening,
The sun is beaming.
Hastas peek through the ground,
Buds climb out of branches,
Grasses spread over the lawn,
Chipmunks ascend from their darkness.
The gods are painting the whole world green again!
Light green,
Lime green,
Blue green,
Olive,
All glorious greens.
Pine needles, maple leaves, ferns and holly
Tulip leaves, junipers and lily of the valley.
All gloriously Green.
My heart is charmed by,
My mind’s enlivened with,
My pores are fragrant with,
Glorious green.
Robins are singing,
Chickadees are chirping,
The whole world is chanting:
O GLORIOUS GREEN!
O GLORIOUS GREEN!

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PLEASE, feel free to share this poem with friends—our share it in your discussion group to inspire everyone to spontaneously write their own odes to spring.

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

READ THE BOOK. You can order Lucille’s Light Shines in the Darkness from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle and Barnes & Noble—as well as many other online retailers.

And, oh yes! Of course, her book is available through Walmart (via Walmart’s website so you don’t actually have to drive to a store as Lucille did in today’s column).

Clinical psychologist and clergywoman Lucille F. Sider adds her voice to the chorus of women in the #WhyIDidntReport and #MeToo movements. This is Lucille’s story of resilience and hope as a survivor of sexual abuse. She explains the challenges of finding her way out of a fear-based spirituality into one that is full of grace, hope and forgiveness. The unique richness of her book is that she wrote it to spark healing discussion. As she describes her experiences in these pages, she also steps back and offers helpful analysis as both a psychologist and a clergywoman. At the end of the book, she includes a complete study guide with questions for reflection for individuals, small groups and classes.

“The book is arranged to be a valuable tool in the hands of persons in the helping professions, such as clergy, social workers, psychologists,” writes the Rev. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita and Ambassador of The Wesleyan Church. “This writing is so powerful, yet gentle, that people will be able to add their own words to combat the pain. Lucille’s credentials enhance the power of the story. Truly a book for these days!”

“Timely, compelling and courageous, this autobiography lays bare the trauma of both child and adolescent abuse. This book deserves to be read by any adult who, living in a culture where 80 percent of females have experienced some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18, are no longer content to keep their proverbial head in the sand.” Carol Schreck, Professor Emerita of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Palmer Theological Seminary

INVITE AN AUTHOR’S ZOOM

GET IN TOUCH! Lucille Sider has received many requests to give talks and workshops—or to appear in media even in the midst of the pandemic. She considers each request and has accepted many invitations—so her voice and storytelling already is a popular part of the national conversation. Would you like to get in touch with Lucille to make such a request? Email us at [email protected] 

Meditation in Motion 1: ‘This step, each step, right here, right now.’

Walking meditations are among the world’s ancient religious traditions. Many centuries ago, this idea was captured in a design element during the construction of Europe’s great cathedrals—taking the form of winding labyrinths built into the floors. This photo shows the most famous of these medieval labyrinths in the floor of Chartres Cathedral. Although labyrinths may look like a confusing tangle of lines at first glance—a labyrinth is not a maze. Mazes are built to confuse. In a labyrinth, walkers are never truly lost and always can find their way home.

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

In November 2011, I found myself physically and emotionally exhausted after my home in Binghamton, New York, flooded from an overflowing of the Susquehanna River.

After eight weeks of rotating friends and relatives throughout the cleanup, I was alone and grieving the loss of treasures I had accumulated over my entire life. In just one night, the flood took Mediterranean rugs, my mother’s priceless silverware chest and a multitude of other mementos. There simply was no replacing a priceless “Certificate of Penmanship” for my son from his kindergarten class!

Early that ninth week, I got a phone call from Frank, a friend of over 30 years. He told me to come to Chicago for the weekend. Frank was never bossy—but this time, he insisted. So I ordered my ticket and packed my bags. I was there by Friday.

Frank picked me up at O’Hare around noon. We stopped at our favorite Mediterranean restaurant in the city, which has the best tabbouleh in the world made with bunches of fresh, bright green parsley. From there, we set out on a two-hour drive north to DeKoven, a retreat center in Racine, Wisconsin.

During the drive, Frank told me how eager he was to show me the labyrinth there—he had a hunch that walking the labyrinth would help me let go of some of the stress from the flood.

I was interested. Over the years, Frank had introduced me to many kinds of meditation: sitting silently, singing, repeating a sacred word and even meditating in a creek! Frank’s confidence in the effectiveness of walking meditation assured me that it would be just right for me at this time.

I had never seen a labyrinth before, and all I knew was that it was a space for a walking meditation. A walking meditation is exactly what it suggests: the participant silently and slowly walks along the path of the labyrinth, with attention focused on each individual step. After pausing for a time in the center and listening for inner guidance, the participant walks slowly back through the path and out to the exit. This particular labyrinth was circular and about ten meters in diameter. Like all labyrinths, the pattern resembled a winding path that begins at the entrance and leads to the center. After pausing in the center, one walks back through the path and out to the point of entrance.

As I started on my walk, I was anxious—and quite agitated. After eight weeks of dealing with the emotional and financial stresses of the flood, I couldn’t seem to let go of the tension and stress.

After about ten minutes of walking I felt myself relaxing. Both my body and mind started to slow down. The walking enabled me, in the midst of the chaos, to slow down and be present to the moment. When I got to the center, the intersection of my inner wisdom and God’s wisdom spoke a phrase to me I wasn’t familiar with, but it changed everything:

This step, each step, right here, right now.
This step, each step, right here, right now.
This step, each step, right here, right now.

At the time, I did not realize that those words would echo in countless situations. In fact, they came rushing back to me the day after I returned to Binghamton. I had gone to Walmart to get groceries, but on the way home I realized my purse was not on the seat beside me where I always put it. I pulled off the road, thinking I might have put it in the back seat, but it wasn’t there. After thoroughly searching everywhere in the car, I started to panic. It was not just about the $100 in my wallet: it was about credit cards, driver’s license, medical cards and more.

Sitting on the side of the road overwhelmed, I remembered the words from walking the labyrinth:

This step, each step, right here, right now.

I repeated those words over and over, and each time I relaxed a little more.

Soon, I realized that I needed to return to Walmart to see if my purse was there. It was! The customer service desk had kept it safely for me. I had left it in my shopping cart, and the young man collecting the carts took it to the front desk. I was thrilled. Even my $100 was there. I was quite aware that the words of my labyrinth walk had spoken to me and guided me in the anxiety of possibly losing my purse. After this experience, I had a hunch that these words would guide me through many other circumstances and places.

When my home was remodeled after the flood, almost everywhere in and around the property became its own space for a walking meditation. I walked around my dining room table then to the living room with its floor-to-ceiling fireplace made of riverbed stones. Then on to the kitchen with its glorious island and many windows bringing in the eastern light. Often I’d walk outside onto my large deck and through my winding garden. When snow came, I walked in the empty lot next to my house. Leaving footprints on the snow illustrated the words of my meditation.

This this step, each step, right here, right now.

After a year, I felt a strong desire to introduce walking meditation to my church, Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton. In a large room, I led a walking meditation with eight participants. We had no set path, so I slowly led us around the perimeter of the room then into the center. There we paused with hearts open to receive any guidance from our inner wisdom or God’s wisdom. Finally, we walked around the perimeter once again and then we sat down in an intimate circle. We shared our experiences. We reflected on hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. Listening to each one made it immediately clear that this meditation was speaking to all of us. The steady, slow walking brought relief and comfort and often insight.

Six months later, our group designed an oval labyrinth for that large room. The center was shaped like a lotus. We aptly named it the Lotus Labyrinth, and continued to meet and walk monthly. It was a precious time.
Four years later I moved back to Chicago where I had lived most of my adult life and where my beloved friend Frank lived. Immediately, walking meditation became foundational to my peace of mind. The walks around my house in Binghamton soon transformed into walks along Lake Michigan and in my apartment in Hyde Park. The skyline brought me inner peace day after day.

Chicago prides itself in an abundance of walking opportunities. Most glorious is the 18 miles along the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan and the Chicago loop—the stunning array of buildings—both new and old. (Here is a link to the City of Chicago’s own online guide to the shoreline walk.)

Chicago also invests deeply and proudly in its countless neighborhood parks. Yes, every neighborhood has at least one park and often more. Then there are forest preserves. Twenty six forest preserves in Cook County of which Chicago is a part! Now that is some serious walking!

Since moving back to Chicago, I’ve walked three church labyrinths. The first was a small concrete labyrinth in the yard of a Roman Catholic Church that featured a statue of Mary. The second, in a Lutheran church, was defined by a pathway of flowers. As a lover of flowers, I cherished each one. And the third was in the basement of the National Cathedral in Washington DC. It was 13 meters in diameter, and a replica of the one in Chartres Cathedral in France which was built in the 12th century. (Here is a link to the National Cathedral’s labyrinth programs.)

Each of these have brought me stillness and peace, especially in troubling times. In every setting, the words bubbled up in the same way they did that first evening of walking the The DeKoven labyrinth.

This step, each step, right here, right now.
This step, each step, right here, right now.

With that mantra deep in my soul, I know that I am able to face whatever challenge life throws my way.

For that, I am deeply, deeply grateful.

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A special “thank you” goes out, this week, to contributing editor Cody Harrell.

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

READ THE BOOK. You can order Lucille’s Light Shines in the Darkness from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle and Barnes & Noble—as well as many other online retailers.

And, oh yes! Of course, her book is available through Walmart (via Walmart’s website so you don’t actually have to drive to a store as Lucille did in today’s column).

Clinical psychologist and clergywoman Lucille F. Sider adds her voice to the chorus of women in the #WhyIDidntReport and #MeToo movements. This is Lucille’s story of resilience and hope as a survivor of sexual abuse. She explains the challenges of finding her way out of a fear-based spirituality into one that is full of grace, hope and forgiveness. The unique richness of her book is that she wrote it to spark healing discussion. As she describes her experiences in these pages, she also steps back and offers helpful analysis as both a psychologist and a clergywoman. At the end of the book, she includes a complete study guide with questions for reflection for individuals, small groups and classes.

“The book is arranged to be a valuable tool in the hands of persons in the helping professions, such as clergy, social workers, psychologists,” writes the Rev. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita and Ambassador of The Wesleyan Church. “This writing is so powerful, yet gentle, that people will be able to add their own words to combat the pain. Lucille’s credentials enhance the power of the story. Truly a book for these days!”

“Timely, compelling and courageous, this autobiography lays bare the trauma of both child and adolescent abuse. This book deserves to be read by any adult who, living in a culture where 80 percent of females have experienced some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18, are no longer content to keep their proverbial head in the sand.” Carol Schreck, Professor Emerita of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Palmer Theological Seminary

Invite an author’s Zoom

GET IN TOUCH! Lucille Sider has received many requests to give talks and workshops—or to appear in media even in the midst of the pandemic. She considers each request and has accepted many invitations—so her voice and storytelling already is a popular part of the national conversation. Would you like to get in touch with Lucille to make such a request? Email us at [email protected]