It has been almost a year since we have posted a new blog on this site. We had just returned from a successful retreat in Brazil and were excited about the year to come. Then came the year 2020, which has been somewhat disruptive, to say the least. So, we think it is appropriate to restart our blogging activity on this day of Thanksgiving, to explain where we have been, what’s been going on and where we hope to go.
As for many of you, Thanksgiving 2019 was a vastly different experience than Thanksgiving, 2020 promises to be. As I gave thanks that day, I also dreamed of all the promises and plans that we anticipated in the coming year: retreats, travel, groups, new lives touched, and growth to name but a few. But, as my favorite Yiddish saying teaches, “Man plans and God laughs,” and I can only assume that Heavenly Father was having a good chuckle, this time last year.
What I didn’t know then was that like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, there were four big “C’s” staged and ready to ride into my wife’s and my life that would leave upheaval, turmoil, terror and eventually blessings in their wake.
THE FIRST “C”
“Oh, this isn’t good.” These are the words that will forever be branded in my mind, that mark the moment when I became conscious of my life changing. They were the first words I heard as the doctor reviewed my wife’s x-rays. What we thought was a ruptured disk was actually CANCER.
In that moment it seemed as if I was walking through a portal, entering into a new dimension of awareness. As I left the doctor’s office and drove home, I was aware that the world looked different. In hindsight I know that I was in shock and rapidly processing all the implications of how our life would change; wondering how long she would be with me. Despite the shock and growing fear, I was still very conscious that the world looked drastically different in an oddly beautiful way. I didn’t want to lose my wife and I also knew that I didn’t want to lose this new perception of the world. While I would never have invited this “guest” into our life, now that it was here, I felt somehow privileged to be given a chance to see things in a new and different way.
I don’t know if Marianne will agree with me, but I am still surprised at how quickly we adapted to the presence of cancer in our life. Everything changed dramatically and quickly, with new terminology, doctor appointments, drugs whose names I will never be able to pronounce, disrupted sleep, diet and lifestyle. There were a variety of physical pains that mostly she had to endure. There was also hope and many, many blessings that came our way.
A year later we have survived and thrived through the worst of the first year. Marianne is recovering from a stem cell transplant and life is starting to resemble the old normal, though it will never be the same, and we will never return to our previous blissful ignorance; nor would we want to. Cancer has taught us much and blessed us even more. Of all the blessings and lessons that the first “C” has brought into our lives is this simple truth. She doesn’t have cancer, we have cancer. Which leads me to the next “C” of 2020.
THE SECOND “C”
My life and our marriage changed dramatically in response to cancer because I stepped into the role of CARETAKER. The challenge of caretaker wasn’t about cooking, cleaning or laundry for me. I already knew how to do those things. No, caretaker was about learning to go beyond the physical care of an ailing wife and household and to learn how to be an emotional and spiritual “caretaker.”
In the gospel of Luke, the story is told of Jesus visiting two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha occupied herself with all of the details of entertaining while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and heard his word. When Martha complained about this to Jesus, the Savior taught her (and me) an important lesson.
“Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42
More than becoming efficient in the execution of household chores and providing less than adequate nursing care, I have learned that being a caretaker involves sitting and listening and being present in the moment. It means being attentive to “that good part, which shall not be taken away from me or her.”
In addition, I’ve learned that caretaking also includes self-care. It’s ok to make things about me from time to time, even to the point of being resentful, and then turning that self-pity over to God, so that he can take care of it and me. I have seen how much God has had things under control, even long before I was aware of what would happen. His timing is perfect, which leads me to the third “C” of 2020.
THE THIRD “C”
Can you imagine anything worse than having cancer during a worldwide pandemic? I mean with cancer you have to be super cautious about germs because of being immune suppressed. You have to wash your hands, wear a mask, and isolate from people. As a result, you wind up staying in your house a lot. Sound familiar?
Oh, you’ve lived with cancer too?
No, just COVID, like everyone else.
Marianne’s cancer, Multiple Myeloma, is the kind of cancer that can stay dormant in one’s body for many years, and in some cases never wake up. One “C” that is not part of this blog is coincidence, because I don’t believe in it.
The fact that Marianne’s cancer was activated at the same time that Covid appeared on the scene has been a major blessing for us. To start with, we feel a lot less alone and certainly aren’t the “odd people” wearing masks to the grocery store. In addition, we have been blessed financially in part by some of the Covid related programs, as well as savings and the generosity of friends, that has allowed me to be a full-time caretaker and a part-time coach in 2020.
At this time last year, being self-employed, we were anticipating a good year of revenue growth and not having to “worry” about money for the first time in our marriage. The irony, we now realize, is that none of that anticipated revenue materialized in the way we expected and yet, we still didn’t worry about money this year. That is just one of many examples I can cite where God anticipated and provided for our needs, before we knew we had them, which leads me to my final “C” of 2020.
THE FINAL “C”
CONNECTION is really important to me. I’ve always known that, or thought I did. And it wasn’t until connection, as I knew it, was taken from me that I realized just how important it is for me and others. But beyond appreciation for what I do not have at the moment, I realize that the absence of “familiar” forms of connection has made me turn to and deepen other sources of connection that I have taken for granted in the past. These include connection:
to myself through spending time alone, meditating, reading, and journaling
to my spouse through learning to work together and depend on each other in new and deeper ways
and a more profound connection to God, by seeking to hear His voice and act on the promptings that I receive.
So here I sit, on the day before Thanksgiving, very grateful for a year of challenges, lessons, growth and blessings. Grateful to have my wife here to share it with me and grateful to know that we not only survived, but thanks to the adversity that came into our lives, we have actually thrived. 2020 has taught me that adversity doesn’t define me, it refines me, if I don’t resist its prodding invitation to grow.
Finally, one year later, I am still dreaming about the future and what 2021 holds in store, including thoughts of retreats, travel, groups, new lives touched and growth. The only difference this year however, is that while I dream and plan, I am also taking a moment to chuckle with God and trust that whatever surprises He may have in store for me in 2021 and beyond, they will be for my good and that we will thrive.
We'd like to thank Alan Downing for contributing this article to Discover Identity.