The very night I finished radiation, I joined a gym. It was on my list, right before, “Get Pizza for Dinner.” When I mentioned the pizza to the guy who was registering my gym membership, he said lots of people do that. Go hog wild the night they join a gym.
But it wasn’t like that for me. Eating pizza wasn’t hog wild. It was just a way to keep living.
Although cancer treatment is no picnic, the days and months following the treatment have been hardest for me in the past. While I am seeing doctors and having blood tests and being radiated every day, I feel like I’m fighting the disease. When it stops, I feel like a sitting duck for cancer to return.
After my first and toughest cancer treatment, I stopped planning, lived one day at a time for months on end, telling every person who invited me to dinner or asked me to a movie for the upcoming weekend that I wasn’t sure if I could make it. I might not be alive then was what I was thinking, as if never planning anything was much of a life.
This time around, I am trusting the Lord for something different. Not only am I planning, I’m planning big and long, not because there are any guarantees but because the abundant life Jesus promised me starts here and now and has nothing to do with fear and doubt.
A few weeks before my surgery back in August, my friend Kelly was watching the Cars 2 movie with her sons and decided she and I should plan a trip to Italy. (Apparently there are some animated panoramas of the Italian countryside in the film that can leave a mother dreaming!) So, today, Kelly texted me and said she had started her Italy savings fund. Italy is officially on the list.
So is attending the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College next Spring and taking another crack at writing a book and training this silly puppy of mine to quit jumping.
This is not a bucket list. These aren’t things I have to do before I die. These are things I have to do if I want to keep on living. This list is really just a prayer in disguise: Lord, keep me hoping.
Past experience tells me it would be easier to make a different kind of list, to number one by one all the things cancer has taken from me. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made those lists in the past.
In her post, “How Our Litanies Shape Us,” Stephanie Smith talks about this kind of catalog of complaints and what that can do to a soul.
This week I discovered there is another kind of litany. If a litany of naming all things good and beautiful directs us into grace, then a litany of complaints deforms us. I have been cataloging my complaints and I am afraid they are becoming ingrained in my living. But counting faults and keeping score is tiring. And I don’t like the fact that I so willingly spend myself on counting and collecting injuries, when I could find freedom in simply letting them go.
If this new list of mine, or litany as Stephanie refers to it, is really about living, then it can’t just have the big things on it. Trips to Italy and writing books can motivate for a while, but those goals are so far away, and I have a lot of living to do in the meantime.
My litany needs to include things like writing letters to my nieces and nephews, painting canvases with my friend Sarah, reading good books, memorizing Scripture, walking Tilly every day. I need to write down every single one of those things on the list, and then I need to hand it to Jesus. Is this what you want my life to look like?
Litanies are monologues of human wants and needs, the simplicity of which serves to keep us distracted souls in dialogue with our Christ and Creator, and the repetition of which serves to ingrain the pattern of our prayer into the pattern of our living.
This afternoon, as I was finishing up an appointment with my oncologist, he was talking about all the new doctors he was hiring for his practice, and I asked him if there was a retirement in his near future.
“Oh, I don’t know. I still want to work, I just want lots of time off in the summer,” he said, kind of chuckling.
“Well, then, I just need to plan my cancer recurrences for the Spring or Fall then, huh?” I chuckled myself.
“No, you just need to retire from cancer recurrences altogether,” he said. “It’s very possible that’s what you’ve done.”
We shook hands and he left.
Breathing hope into others, I thought. That’s going on the list, too.