Learning From Others

When I look around, I see so many wonderful qualities in others that I try to incorporate into my own self.

For example, my friend Angela once said, “People pray for strength. I pray that bad (stuff) doesn’t happen to me.”

I loved that. I am inspired by her attitude. While I can’t become Angela, I try to incorporate her approach into my life view.

Last Monday, my mother-in-law (a surfer) took my younger son surfing, and he wanted me to go along and watch. I was thrilled to be invited, and beyond excited that I could actually go.

This is not his favorite video from the day, but it is one of mine.

You can briefly see him paddling, then popping up onto the board. He keeps his balance, gives two thumbs up and then, at the end, falls off the board. But my favorite part – he emerges all smiles and heads back out for another go.

When things don’t go as I plan, hope or expect, I don’t pop right back up and I certainly don’t rebound with big smiles. Mostly, I get annoyed and try to force it to be my way.

It is easy for me to say, “But THIS (whatever “this” is that I am trying to do) is more important / has greater consequences, etc.” than surfing.

Then I remember a later run he did, where he fell off the surfboard in a wave and, when he got out, told me, “That was really scary. It looked like the fin was coming right into my face.” That would be an important and big consequence. But even following that near-hit, he wasn’t discouraged. His smiles quickly returned and, after a brief break, ran back into the water with his surfboard.

In the meantime, the opening between heaven and earth continues to draw the people I love. This past week, my “chemo buddy” Julie said good-bye to this world and hello to the next.

Julie and I were diagnosed within months of each other, then connected through mutual friends.

We had much in common, including being close in age. We discussed treatments and side effects as well as mothering two young children and having a good marriage in the midst of all this. We eventually had the same oncologist and sometimes even the same chemo days.

As anyone with cancer knows, disease path is variable. Initially, mine looked curable and hers looked quite advanced. In fact, the doctors didn’t give her much time. But 6½ years after her diagnosis, she was still here, a testament to her strong will to endure incredibly difficult medical treatments and her strong faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, her memorial service emphasized her love and devotion to Jesus, which was present in everything she did.

Me, I sort of have an arm’s length relationship to Jesus. I have lots of questions about where he fits into the whole picture. I’m totally into the saints and spirit entities, the Holy Spirit seems to be everywhere in my life, and I’m crazy about God. So all that felt like enough for me.

But I was inspired by Julie and her service, and I decided to be open to the possibility. What do I need to do, to have what she had?

Of course, if you ask a question, the answer appears. The next day, I went to Mass and got this from the Gospel reading:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24

Hmmm, that answer came faster than I expected. This path is certainly not what I would have chosen for myself, and I resisted for a long time. But now I think I understand that my life might not be what I set out to create. All I can do is step into what is in front of me, even if it often feels like this:

Your Plan - Reality

I try to incorporate Angela’s ability to aim high and focus on what I want. When it is apparent that I won’t be getting my way, then I hope I can let go and ride whatever wave is carrying me. And if I fall, I want to emerge smiling and ready to go again. And maybe, just maybe, like Julie, I can follow his lead, even if I can’t figure it out.

Thank you for always encouraging me – it lifts me up and gets me going. Thank you for being such an amazing, incredible role model in so many ways. Your life and the way you live it creates energy and more life in others and in me. I send that love and energy back out to you.


To Everything There is a Season

Recently I was sitting in heavy traffic, and no matter what lane I chose, it seemed like the other lane moved faster. Eventually, I decided to commit to staying in the right lane and trying to relax about it all. Taking a deep breath, I watched a white Jeep pass me in the left lane and I noticed its license plate. Sure enough, about 20 minutes and a mile later, I found myself sitting behind that exact white Jeep.

Realizing that hurrying doesn’t always get me there sooner doesn’t stop me from racing to get ahead in other aspects of life. For example, my to-do list seems to be never-ending, leaving me feeling like I am always behind and that there isn’t enough time.

I suppose that feeling is normal, then add chemotherapy to the mix. Every other week, I am basically out of commission. So I try to cram two weeks’ worth of living into one week.

As I’m sure you know, you can be efficient and even rush around, but some things can’t be rushed. I can’t rush traffic or how fast the train runs. I can’t rush conversations with the kids, reading a book to them, doing a project, watching a movie together, or being available as they do their homework. I can’t rush time connecting with family and friends.

When I was initially diagnosed with cancer, I became conscious of time and specifically, I held a sense of having a finite amount of time. I thought a lot about how I was spending it.

For example, I could justify seeing my oncologist as investment that could pay off in having more time. But waiting to see my oncologist? That felt like wasted time and I raged internally as minutes turned to hours.

Away from the cancer center, I resented standing in any kind of line, wanting to scream out, “I have stage IV cancer and I don’t have time for this!” From there, my little fantasy progressed in one of two ways:

  1. Someone else waiting patiently in line reveals that they have a worse prediction of their future or
  2. Everyone feels sorry for me and lets me go first.

Neither is an attractive scenario, so I usually waited quietly (albeit fuming and fidgeting).

When I wasn’t waiting, I struggled with how to use my time. Did I really want to be washing dishes, picking up after my sons, and doing the many mundane tasks that can make up my day? Should I instead check items off my bucket list (starting with making a bucket list) and do “big things,” whatever they were?

Whenever I am stuck in indecision, I end up doing….nothing. All that empty time, doing nothing, only added to my stress, frustration and feeling of going in circles.

Eventually, some confluence of circumstances forced me to focus on each individual moment. I’m sure those circumstances included feeling like I couldn’t count on tomorrow or even this afternoon. I’m also sure those circumstances involved some degree of grace that swept in like a gentle breeze or maybe like a hurricane, forcefully knocking me from my stuck place. Whatever brought me to the present moment, it gave me peace and sanity.

Though I stopped feeling as pressured, I continued to think about time, the norms around how we spend it and specifically how I spend mine. I dropped commitments that didn’t fuel my passion. I prioritized doing fun things over chores. I spent time with people who give me energy and lift me up.

Still, I feel like I can’t fit everything in.

One weekday morning, I put the dog in the car with an intention to take him for a walk. Instead, I ended up at church and wandered into the Mass. Yes, with the dog, who sat quietly under the pew.

While I was there, I realized that I think of Lent as this time when Jesus went into the desert, using this time to connect more deeply with God and to pray for strength as He approached His crucifixion.

But during that Mass, it occurred to me that he walked into the desert despite the gazillion people who still needed and wanted to be healed, the many people to help and the many who wanted to hear His teachings. He walked away from all the demands and all the contributions that He could make in order to do the single thing he needed to do.

If there was time enough for Him to walk into the desert, and if he was able to put aside His very important work, maybe I need to reconsider my own little list of things to do. Maybe I can remind myself that doing even one thing can constitute time well spent as I try to keep from racing to wherever it is I am going and trust that I am wherever I am supposed to be.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.