a tiny nest in the doctor's officeIt’s taken over 2 years. Don’t get too excited. We haven’t arrived at a cure, yet. (Which sucks.) But, I have finally arrived at: thankful. At least I usually manage to visit the land of thankful, each day. If only for a few moments at a time. Apparently, I’m not holy enough (or maybe crazy enough) to be thankful for my husband’s cancer. (I’ve had several people encourage me to BE thankful for it…. so far? Not so much. Honestly? That sounds masochistic and sick. But hey- if it IS your experience- I’m glad for you. Just stop trying to push it on me, ok?)  I can, however- finally recognize my thankfulness IN cancer.

  • I’m thankful for the love and support of friends and family as we take this seemingly never ending Willie-Wonka- on- the psychelic -boat ride. A ride through diagnosis, surgery, treatments, appointments, emotions and trying to find a new normal that involves: cancer. Every single, day.
  • I’m thankful for the deepening of conversations and faith that this cancer battle has born like fruit on a thorny bush. I once heard that trees growing in harsh conditions where wind and rock make life difficult, dig deeper roots. I’m thankful the storm of cancer has caused our roots to deepen. (I’m feeling metaphoric- what can I say?)
  • I’m thankful for the daily reminder that life is short. Cancer puts a magnifying glass on the clock of life. There are no guarantees of tomorrow, and that loving people right now, where you are, is really the best anyone can do to honor God. This has always been true…. I was just oblivious of it. (Along with a lot of other things. Of course:P  Oblivious could be my middle name.)
  • I’m thankful that God has shown his presence in ways I recognize, at times I most desperately need it. He hasn’t DONE what I’ve been begging for- but he has shown up. We’ve not been, or felt alone. (We have however felt: angry, hurt, grief, fear, jealous of the healthy, frustrated with glib responses to our pain…. but not alone.)
  • I’m thankful for the strength of our family- birthed in love, is now being  forged in fire. Like steel hardened by a blacksmith- we’re becoming stronger- not weakened by the “stuff” we’ve been facing. (Cancer is just the tip of the iceberg….let’s just say if it COULD hit the fan? It has.) (You’re welcome- that was metaphor 3,002 for this post. I’m gong for a record.)
  • I’m thankful that life continues- even under threat.

I could go on…. But the point is- for the past few years I’ve entered each New Year hoping the next year would be better. I’ve been kicking years to the curb like the ripped wrapping paper and used paper plates currently filling my holiday infused trash. (I mean recycling. Yeah, that’s right- recycling.) I’ve been happy we survived them. But I’v not been thankful for them.

Last night, I felt different. I felt thankful. Finally. The cancer is still there. Life is still hitting us hard. We struggle. Like most people- it’s always something. Cars still break down and so do I.

But-I’m finally thankful. I’m thankful for what God accomplished last year. In spite of cancer. (And in spite of me.) Instead of kicking 2013 to the curb- I’m archiving it. I looked through this years “year in review” photo album with joy and thankfulness . Even the hospital pictures hold glimpses of humor and hope.

There was beauty amid  the mess and  I am thankful. As I look back- now I can see- I HAVE been thankful. As all the things above and so many more, unfolded this year, I felt thankful. Not every minute. And certainly not for cancer- but the thankfulness has been there. Sometimes so fleeting, I barely noticed. Like a butterfly- it momentarily landed in my heart- countless times.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been feeling guilty about my lack of thankfulness in this mess. I’ve had lots of people tell me how thankful they were for their experiences with cancer. That cancer has been “a gift in their life.” If it’s a gift, it’s been one I’d like to return. I’d even wait in the Walmart after Christmas return line for as long as it takes. (Walmart post Christmas return line? = a taste of hell on earth. Justsayin. It’s that bad.)

I’ve experienced magical thinking- “Maybe if I can make myself be thankful for the cancer- god will take it away… maybe thats the key.”  The problem is: I can’t be thankful FOR cancer. Besides- I highly doubt God falls for manipulation by emotion. I  can’t get rid of it. Not even with magical thinking. It’s not returnable or regiftable. (Even I have limits for re-gifitng.)

Cancer doesn’t come with a gift receipt. There are no returns. Not even for store credit. It just: sucks. It’s the gift that keeps on sucking.

However- I’ve been looking back- all the way to the beginning of this journey- and now I can see not just God- but my own footprints of thankfulness, in the cancer- if not for it. The truth is-I’ve been thankful all along.

I refuse to keep trying to believe that I have to be thankful FOR cancer. Jesus never met someone sick or in pain and said: “You should be thankful for this affliction. Go and enjoy it some more.” The bible says Jesus had compassion on the afflicted, the outcast, the pained. It also says he understands our weaknesses and our pain. We have a high priest (Jesus) who “gets it.” “Jesus wept.”  Is one of the most profound verses in the Bible. It shows God doesn’t expect or desire denial… he desires honesty of feelings. And that he can handle it.

Dear Lord- I’ve felt guilty for my lack of thankfulness in this cancerous mess. I’ve longed for it- I’ve even tried to manufacture it. Thank you Lord- for loving me even here. When I’m too blinded by pain to be thankful. And to messy to even recognize the thankfulness I have experienced. Thank you lord for being with us- everyday- in and through all this mess- And thank you lord for letting me off the hook of being thankful FOR cancer……. Thank you for 2013, and your presence in it. I’m not kicking it to the curb- but am gently archiving it in the story of our lives. Thank you for 2014. I’m looking forward to seeing where and how you’ll be showing up in this new year. Lord- this year I already hear you whispering to abide…..even here. Please Lord- help me to live fully- to remain- to abide- in this new year. I love you. But- I still hate cancer. Amen.

Dear Reader- I don’t know what you’re experiencing. Maybe it’s cancer- loss, divorce,job loss, financial struggles, sickness, chronic pain, relational struggles…. But if you’re like me and think you need to be thankful FOR it- and are feeling guilty and frustrated with yourself in addition to all you’re going through. I want you to know you’re not alone. I’ve been there. And: I don’t think you have to be thankful FOR whatever you’re going through. It sucks.  But maybe, just maybe if you look back- you may find you’ve been thankful IN it all along even if only for fleeting moments. If not- I promise- it will come. When it’s time. I don’t know how long it will take. It’s taken me a long time. Just keep breathing. Keep praying. (yes even ugly prayers… God can handle it.) Keep waiting. Stop heaping guilt on your already burdened heart. You’ll find thankful. If you let yourself.

I think it was around third grade- that I learned that paper had margins and that margins should be “neat and clean.” In related news: That’s also about the same time I stopped enjoying coloring and drawing. Mostly, it’s because I couldn’t stay in the lines or make my lines look like they “should.” I struggled to keep those margins neat and clean.. It took years of dogged practice- but eventually I got it. (We won’t discuss my penmanship- that has not improved- I’m lucky if it’s near the lines let alone between them.)

Anyway- maybe I got it a little too well. I started applying the “clean margin” rule to my life.

If it didn’t fit neatly within the margins- it was erased. Cleared. Eliminated.

  • Activities that stretched into and muddled my schedule’s margins? Ended.
  • Ideas that didn’t fit onto my nice clean pages of my personal perspective? Eradicated.
  • People who were too messy and complicated to maintain my life’s clean margins with? Mostly, avoided.

Looking back- I see that some of the changes were good. Some were necessary. Some were just convenient. And some… were wrong.

One day, I noticed that the pages of my life were looking a little… ummm “clean.”  Things were predictable and fit well within the margins. My schedule fit. My hobbies fit. My kids and family (for the most part) fit. My bible study time fit. Even my skinny jeans fit. So did my friends. We had a lot in common- and agreed on (most) of the major issues- to be honest- there wasn’t much going on in the margins or in my life.

It wasn’t bad.. it was just.. kind of blank.

The margins were nice and clean. Just like I’d learned to keep them.

Then, I had an unexpected (and much celebrated) pregnancy. Then I had some pretty major changes- that changed my daily life and schedule. Then we faced some changes that moved us into an additional circle of friends. Suddenly- the margins of my life were full of Crayola scribbles and baby food dribbles. I out grew my skinny jeans. I  found myself surrounded by “new people,” in addition to my “old”  people. Some of these were people who disagreed with me on big issues. People who were different. It was messy.

None of it fit very well within my nice clean margins.

The thing is-over time- I started to like it.

I found beauty in those messy margins. I discovered art there. The art of compassion, new perspectives, flexibility and grace.

The relationships are complicated, and loud and messy. And wonderful. The margins of my life didn’t become ruined or tainted as I’d feared….and had worked so hard to try to avoid.  Instead, they stretched. They grew. They became more beautiful than I could imagine.

My life is no longer blank. It is full. Full of people and love and arguing and trying and scribbling and erasing…and art.

Just the way it should be.

Third grade is over. (Thank you, God. I may have spent third grade very near the teacher (who wasn’t too fond of me) and his desk. This was most likely due to my umm verbal proclivity, my general creativity (in avoiding work) and quite possibly- my: ADHD)

What do your margins look like?

Are they a little too neat and tidy? Is your life feeling a little blank?  Maybe it’s time for a little doodling. A little saying yes to what you would have rejected in order to keep those margins spotless. Maybe that messy person is just the one to bring some color into your life…. or maybe some grace.

Go ahead- this year- loosen up your margins a little. Invite someone new (and maybe different?) into your life. Say “yes” to something that stretches you. Embrace the change that comes.

Find the art in the margins….

look for it in those who are marginalized…..I have to think that’s what Jesus would do…. maybe it’s what he did… Matthew 9

Matthew 9: 9-13  “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.  While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Dear Lord- let this be a year of pages of lives abundant with the art of your love, your compassion and your grace.  Help me to open up the margins of my life and allow others in… help all of us to do the same, and in s doing to find more of you.. I love you Lord- amen