Today we celebrated my birthday, with my first trip to the Cheesecake Factory! I am the kind of person who likes to tell everyone I meet that it is my birthday – the people I work with, the check-out lady at the grocery store, the person I bump into while out for a walk, our server at the restaurant – if I am given half a chance to interact with anyone on my special day, they will know about it and be given the opportunity to wish me well. Some of you might think that sounds obnoxious, and maybe it is, but I don’t really care what anyone thinks. What the heck good is a birthday if people don’t know that they should be telling you, “Happy Birthday!”? (I am agonizing right now about where to place that question mark with my last interrogative sentence. Should it be inside the quotation marks next to the exclamation point?! That just seems too weird, because then, it looks like I want people to give me a questioning birthday greeting, with a raised voice at the end, and that is just not what I am saying. So, I am breaking the rules, and leaving the question mark outside of the quotation marks, just to prove that I am, indeed, aloof to the norms of societal behavior.)
Anyway, getting back to the point, I LOVE hearing those words, “Happy Birthday.” Not quite six years ago, with the diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer, I faced the fear, head on, of not celebrating any more birthdays. When doctors are telling you that you have a very aggressive form of breast cancer, and then they start giving you the statistics of your chances of being alive in five or ten years if you choose to take the chemo and radiation treatments, as opposed to opting out of treatment; when you’re going to the oncologist every other week for infusions, for the “necessary evil” toxin that floods into every cell in an effort to stop the cancer; when the hair falls out and the devastating complications of chemo knock you flat on your back, physically and emotionally, you might begin to think about the possibility of never getting back up again. I did. It’s not that I wanted to think that way, or even that I was prone to thinking that way, but chemo sometimes really messes with people. It chose to mess with me. And so the questioning fear came over me, what if this is the end? I was a home schooling mom, and my youngest was only in the seventh grade. She has a learning disability, but my home school program was giving her all she needed, and she was flourishing. Did I need to think about what her life would be like without me, and tie up loose ends?
That’s not a question that most of us like to think about. We all know that life on this earth comes to an end, sooner or later, for every one of us, but it’s not a concept we embrace too easily. Most of us just go about our daily lives, making plans and deposits into our retirement accounts, imagining that we will make it to a ripe old age and contemplate death as it draws near. For me, facing reality was painful and frightening, because death is something I preferred to keep out of my usual realm of thought. Dying “young” happens to other people, not to me….not yet, anyway. But, I did think about it, and I faced the chances of such a fate changing my plans. I began to realize that my “plans” are a puff of smoke, a tiny wisp of a cloud that no one would even notice on a bright, sunny day. The realization that came to me is that each and every day, being a gift from God, is not to be lived for me and my plans, but for the plans of the One who created me, who breathes life into my soul, the very author of life. The shape and content of my morning prayer began to change. Don’t get me wrong, I still wasn’t settled with the idea of giving up the ghost at that point, but I was learning to shift my gaze, from a foreground focus to a longer-range point of view.
I had always felt like I needed to find my way in life, and now it was becoming clear to me that what I really yearned for was to find God’s way for me, on a daily basis. Facing the potential loss of my life led me to a desire to live each day as thoroughly as possible, with God’s blessing upon my activity. Another thing that I was forced to recognize was that quiet time, relaxation time, down time…whatever you want to call it, is absolutely essential to a life of faith! I had been so used to being busy, busy, busy – planning, organizing, running around here, there, and everywhere (home schooling moms like to joke about the “home” part of the terminology, because we seem to find plenty of things to keep us out of the home!), but suddenly, because of a lack of physical energy and fragile emotional health, I started pulling out of activities. Everything left me utterly exhausted and stressed to such an overload that I would literally go into a daze because I could not cope with the struggle. I had never been a quitter before, so I found my behavior startling and embarrassing. I wondered what friends would think, and occasionally I tried to explain what was going on in my head, but mainly, I just ran away, settled into my recliner, and stayed there, safe and cozy.
From that vantage point, I was able to hear God’s voice stronger and clearer than I had for years, and mainly what I heard was something like this, “Be still, and serve those around you in love.” In these six years of waiting and serving, I have seen two of my daughters begin their married lives. I have helped in the care of my elderly mother-in-law and have given full-time care to my own mother in my home. I had the blessing of being at the bedside of both of these women when they breathed their last, seeing them off into eternity with words of love. I have had the joy of becoming a grandmother. I have completed my teaching career with the high school graduation of my youngest daughter. I have grown stronger and healthier with each passing year. And now…
Now I find that the landscape of my journey has changed, yet again. God has led me to new places that I would never have dreamed of going. With this change of course, I will not lose my bearings, I will not find myself questioning my way in life as in days gone by, because my hardships have taught me hard won lessons. I do not have to plot out my entire course, because I only have today. And today, I will live to the fullest of my ability, applying my unique gifts and talents to the challenges I meet, and I will strive to make a difference in the lives of those around me. Most importantly, I will offer it up to Him who has given me this gift of one more day. And if I receive the gift of another day, I will do the same, over, and over, until God deems that it is time for me to leave this life. This is all I need, and all that is asked of me, and in this, I find peace.