“Hey there! How are you?” Charlotte welcomed me into the office. It was the day before school let out for the holiday and I was there to wrap up loose ends.
“Hi! I’m doing well, thanks. Much better than a couple weeks ago. The kidney stone made for a rough two weeks. And how are you?” I asked. She was also recovering from surgery and had missed some school.
“Oh I’m alright thanks. But I’m glad to see you doing well. You certainly have had a rough year!”
I groaned and laughed, waving off her sympathy. “Ugh! 2017 … I’m so ready to be done with this year!”
Even as I said it and the conversation moved on, I felt the twinge of a white lie – the false face of socially-acceptable sentiment. I didn’t mean it. But why ever not? Why should I not want to be done with 2017? I have seen more doctors in the past year than I have in the previous ten. I have been under general anesthesia four times, and had numerous X-rays and CT scans. I have endured physical pain and wrestled with uncertainty. What is wrong with me? What should I do? Who should I see? Overshadowing everything, there was the Big-C: coming to grips with the truth and consequences of cancer. Not just any cancer, but one that threatened my life in more ways than one. The question was not only, would I die soon? But, would the surgery take my voice? Would I need to change careers? What would I be and do if I could not sing? Most people would agree – “Good riddance to 2017!” And yet …
Yet, I am thankful. There has been a profound grace permeating this last year. I am thankful, not for cancer itself, but for that which the experience has awakened in me: namely, a will to live, and joy in today. Both have been a struggle in the past. How many of my healthy days have I spent weeping with grief? How often have I looked cynically on my future and contemptuously at my past? Many nights I have given up and given in, wallowed in self-pity, anger, bitterness, shame, and fear, soaking my pillow with tears. There I would drift from despair to the mercy of sleep, and then miraculously wake to the wonder of a new day. What immeasurable grace this is! To be given another day!
While I bid farewell to 2017, I am not anxious to dismiss it. Time is indeed a gift, and the days marked with struggle come with a deep grace. I know that the points on a calendar are an arbitrary way to mark a season. I know too that this particular chapter of hard grace and growth is not over yet. My first full-body, follow-up scan is scheduled for the beginning of February. If there are any residual cells that the first round of radiation missed, I may need another round. Though I feel fine right now, (and am so thankful that I can still sing) I cannot say what may lie ahead.
Some tell me that I’m strong, others say resilient – one even calls me poetical. In my heart, however, I know that what strength and resilience I have are a gift of grace; and if I am poetical, it is only because my fragile heart strains to catch the tune of that “far off hymn.” In that spirit, I offer below an assortment of thoughts and songs that have spoken to me this last year.
(Also, the picture at the top of this post was taken with my phone from my hospital bed on a recent visit. This guinea fowl and a few of her family were keen to say “good morning” each of the days I was there – usually by tapping loudly on the glass and squawking. It was one of the small things that brought me joy.)
“For these faulty hearts of ours cannot turn perfect in a night, but need frost and fire, wind and rain to ripen and make them ready for the great harvest home.”
Louisa May Alcott – “The Brothers”
“In adversity, to the eye of reason, the providence of God feels like a night as dark as midnight. But to the eye of faith, the dawn brings light and a new day to see God’s glory.”
Harry Schaumburg – “Undefiled”
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Cor. 4:16-18
Time is a gift,
Fleeting and swift,
Ticking and tocking itself away,
Itself a way of saying better beware.
Time is a gift,
Precious and rare,
Take it and make of it all you can,
Use all you can, there’s not a moment to spare.
From the movie, The Phantom Tollbooth
And finally, one of my favorite hymns – “How Can I Keep From Singing,” written by Robert Lowry in 1868. (The video below was recorded by Audrey Assad in 2016.)
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?