#78 – Cancer Journey: Surprising Gratitude, Grace Unmistakable

Published by Douglas & McIntyre

“Joy,” says Richard Wagamese, “is a spiritual engagement with the world based on gratitude. It’s not the big things that make me grateful and bring me joy. It’s more the glory of the small” (Embers: One Obijway’s Meditations, 140).

As Canadian Thanksgiving approached last weekend, I wondered what it would be like for me. For my journey with cancer took an unexpected turn a couple weeks earlier.

A scheduled scan showed that my chemo pill continues to be effective below the neck.  However, some new lesions became visible in my brain. This necessitated a five-day course of palliative whole brain radiation, ending the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

So we’ve embarked on a new stage of my journey with cancer. Yet in the midst of it all, I’ve witnessed myself living in the “glory of the small.” Grace Unmistakable has found me during recent days and especially recent steroid-fueled nights.  These are still the days of miracle and wonder, which leave me grateful for lucidity.

Richard Wagamese asserts that “what defines me is not what I do but what I receive, and I have received in great measure” (155). Here are ten gifts I have recently received, which together embody for me Grace Unmistakable.

Gift #1: Visits during this period by three sets of old friends from afar, bringing chicken soup, new hymn arrangements for listening, and medical knowledge.

Gift #2: Steroid-fueled energy to get some things done, such as collecting books to donate to spiritual directors and beginning pastors, and fixing a box of sermons, books and files to send to the Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

Gift #3: Increasing colour bursts outside our condo windows, with brilliant orange and golden leaves now dotting the cityscape.

Yellow-fall-treesGift #4: A brightened sky after the rain, calling me to a lovely walk in Rockway Garden across the street, which still looks amazingly good.

Gift #5: A wonderful church service on Thanksgiving Sunday for all ages, with rousing singing.  A self-possessed middler sings two verses of For the Beauty of the Earth, one of my favorite hymns.

Gift #6: Thanksgiving dinner with friends, followed by backyard entertainment involving chickens and growing boys.

Gift #7: Members of groups I’m in, making accommodations that enable me to participate with the energy levels I now have.  The sense of inclusion and caring is wonderful.

Gift #8: Finding the music CD of my farewell service at Waterloo North Mennonite Church in 2005, thus adding two tracks to one of my nighttime play lists. The rendition of Great Is Thy Faithfulness by two skilled pianists on two grand pianos makes me smile, reminding me of my Aunt Esther’s most joyful, animated piano playing.  The Bach Chorale Sheep Shall Safely Graze settles me in God’s care.

Candle-and-iconGift #9: Lighting a long-burning tea light candle in front of the icon of the Holy Trinity, which I keep in one of my alternate sleeping/resting places. Each time I open my eyes during the night, I gaze at that glow illuminating the Trinity.  I feel myself part of the circle, directly facing Jesus.  (See blog #32:The Icon of the Old Testament Trinity). This comforts me in the night and my spirit sings.

Gift #10: Receiving this verse, which comes to me one night and feels true and right: “So we are not depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day” (2 Corinthians 4:16, CEB).

I cannot control the future.  I can revel in and be grateful for “the glory of the small.” I can embrace these days of miracle and wonder.  I can take each day and night as it comes, in gratitude.

I touch and trust Grace Unmistakable.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How has Grace Unmistakable found you during difficult times?
  • Which gifts of the season and of your community are you receiving with joy and gratitude?

Next week: A New Book!

#1 – Above all else: Grace!

I turn 70 tomorrow. This astonishes me.
How is such a thing possible?  Where did the time go?

I’m astonished that I even came to be, and that I survived my first year.

My parents conceived me when both were 41 years old. My brother Jim – 20 years and two weeks older than me – was an only child until I appeared. My conception and birth animated the gossipers in our neighborhood on West Chestnut Street, Souderton, Pennsylvania, and in our 500-member church at the end of the block.

My Mom’s pregnancy filled her with anxiety, and for good reason. Her mother Maggie lost two infants; the birth of the last one ended my grandmother’s life at age 37. Mom’s older sister Anna birthed five babies who didn’t make it to their first birthday. And while Mom was pregnant with me, Dad’s younger sister Esther delivered a baby girl who died.

My dad, Lester, and me

After my healthy arrival, both parents obsessed over whether the infant Susan was getting enough to eat. But I thrived! And 70 years later, here I am!

At various times of uncertainty during these 70 years, I’ve reflected on my unlikely birth, assuring myself that I was granted life on this planet for a reason.

Over this next year and a bit, I intend to write 70 blog posts as a thanks-be-to-God for this life I have been given.  I’m calling the series A Nourished Spirit.

At age 70, I continue to bask in God’s love and grace, and  to take comfort and courage in the companionship of God’s spirit.  Yet this nourishment often comes to me in the simplest of ways, through very earthy means.

Oh sure, sometimes my blog will give thanks for things overtly religious – Church Community, Old Hymns, and the like. Other posts will focus on relationships – Cousins, Soul Sisters.  But many will illustrate the third verse of my favorite hymn, honouring the senses as a doorway to the holy:

Public Domain. From Hymnal: a Worship Book

“For the joy of ear and eye/for the heart and mind’s delight/
for the mystic harmony/linking sense to sound and sight:/
Lord of all, to thee we raise/this our hymn of grateful praise.”

In fact the images and music of all six verses of For the Beauty of the Earth overflow with an amazing array of prompts to praise. Maybe that’s why I chose it as our wedding hymn in l969.

To complete my inventory of praise, I must surely include v. 6, even though the current Mennonite hymnal left it out:

“For thyself, best Gift Divine,/ to the world so freely given,/
for that great, great love of thine,/peace on earth, and joy in heaven:/
Lord of all, to thee we raise/this our hymn of grateful praise.”

Reflection Question: When you consider the circumstances of your own conception and birth, what if anything astonishes you? What if anything disturbs you?  What if anything makes you smile?

I invite you to sign up to receive a post each week by entering your e-mail address and clicking the “Follow” button at the very bottom of this blog.  

I hope my blog will encourage your own reflection on the myriad ways your spirit is nourished, whether in seasons of joy or sadness, excitement or boredom, or whatever unique combinations coexist in your life.

Next week: Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub.