Tuesday, November 8, 2011

every birthday grace

another birthday has come and gone.  it was not  supposed to be a momentous one, nor a milestone.  i imagine anything past 40 is, at best, only tolerable.  i certainly wasn't giddy like when turning 13 or 16 or 21.  i don't feel like i did at 30.  not even like i did at 40.  i'm not sure exactly what 43 is supposed to feel like.  43 just seems to be 43.  not much to talk about,  except that i think this year it is different. i think, from this year forward,  any and every birthday must count more.   i am just not sure i can ever again take one for granted.  i am not sure i can only tolerate the coming and going of this day.  not after my past year.  this year, i have to believe, has taught me to treasure things.  to treasure each birthday -- to treasure each day.  i'll be honest,  that doesn't always happen -- not even with cancer under my belt.  i still live life some days forgetting it is a gift.  forgetting to give thanks.  forgetting to marvel at the miracle of mere breathing.  like an old testament israelite, i am.  always forgetting. always forgetful. too often flippant and frivolous and foolish.

a year ago i turned 42, and i'm fairly certain at some point on that november day in 2010 i did a little wondering.  i wondered what the year ahead might bring.  i am kind of like that.  i don't mean i had deep, deep dramatic contemplation --  just simple, casual considering - wondering.  i can tell you this, i would never have guessed cancer.  there wasn't any room for it in our home, no room for it on the calendar.  but in my 42nd year, it arrived just the same.  ready or not here i come, it cackled in my ear.  i found out immediately that 42 was pretty young in the cancer arena.  my age wasn't a plus factor. it wasn't something to brag about.  the younger a person is when getting this ugly awfulness, the more agressive it tends to be -- the more serious the situation.  not that we are any more prepared for cancer after our 65th birthday, but it seems at least a little more in line with the body's natural decline.  but at 42 there is a whole lot of life ahead..a few extra decades of good health needed.  at 42 it seemed appalling.  at 42 i still had a bunch of kids at my breakfast table every morning.  not one of them ready to head out on their own.  not one of them close to independence.  i mean, sure most of them are able to handle their own homework assignments and lunch box packing and bed making.  they can find their own shoes and socks and toothbrushes -- even bella!  i've always kind of prided myself on raising capable kids.  even though i am a stay-at-home mom, i am careful not to cater.  but the bottom line was~is, they needed me.  they need me.  they need me to keep having birthdays.

i sit in the oncologist office every few months now, and notice how young i am.  i guess i should probably try to turn that into something good -- glory in it a bit. let my ego be fed by being the most spry...wearing the cutest shoes...having the longest hair...dialing the coolest phone.  but so far that hasn't exactly worked.  when i walk through the cancer building and into the oncologist office it feels like a place of the old, the sick, the disappearing.  it is contemporary in design: lots of glass and chrome and great lighting.  big windows.  everything clean and pleasing and sharp.  but i haven't walked through its great lobby without sensing decay.  there is a certain hush to its hallways. is this too morbid to write?  perhaps. but it's true.

in those first weeks of my diagnosis, i had some pretty fearful thoughts about my future...about the birthdays i'd see...or miss.  initially, i didn't know much about my prognosis.  all i knew is i was seriously scared.  i'd wake in the middle of the night begging God to make my body healthy again.  begging Him to allow me to continue as wife and mother and me. healthy and whole.  i promised all kinds of things --even crazy things-- if He'd guarantee that i'd someday see my children graduate from college and get married and have babies and be happy.

one afternoon early in the diagnosis, a few friends gathered together to pray.  one of those friends was beverly.  beverly was diagnosed with breast cancer the month before me.  here we were two women, both with breast cancer, surrounded by a group of friends in the family room of bev's home..all of us on our knees before our God. praying. pleading. petitioning.  when it came beverly's time to pray, she literally choked out her words.  "Lord, let jody and i be around to see and know our grandchildren....to hold them."  i hadn't ever thought much about my grandchildren before this.  (let's be clear, i am in absolutely no rush).  but the words of her prayer seared themselves into the tender places of my heart.  yes, that is exactly what i wanted.  to grow old. to grow grey.  to hold the children of my children.  the blessing of it all seemed suddenly so enormous and wonderful and precious. incredibly precious.   i didn't want to be thinner or faster or richer...i just wanted to be around to (someday) hold my grand babies.    there was no guarantee.  there never is.  cancer or no cancer,  not one of us knows what the future holds.  not one of us truly knows if we'll be around for the party or pain or plans of the future.   "we are all terminal, just some of us happen to know it."  i don't know who actually said that, but a friend shared it with me not too long ago.  i had to laugh.  it is true.  like it or not, it is truth.

"show me, o Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.  You have made my days a mere handbreath; the span of my years is nothing before you. each man's life is but a breath."   (psalm 39:4-5).  

really?  do we truly want to know "how fleeting is my life?"  i have always wondered about that verse.  i would have told you, "no!"  no, i don't want to know how fleeting.  i kind of liked my numb, busy, hustle and bustle.  i was really comfortable in my kind bubble of happily ever after.  i didn't think much about it -- that is before cancer.   but in this psalm, david doesn't just stumble across the information, he asks God for it.  he asks God to tell him how fleeting is his life.  is it possible david knows if he got it...if we get it...it might actually mean something.  if we truly, truly know our days are a mere handbreath  might we make something of them.  make them count.  now.  today.  would we live this day different if we knew tomorrow might not be ours?  would we be kinder, slower, softer?  would we hold more and harp less.  would we give more and grumble less?  might we sit longer, sing louder, love harder? might we?

a few weeks ago my friend, kelly, asked if she could plan a birthday luncheon for me.  her words were, "we have so much to celebrate this year."  she sent an invitation and gathered some girlfriends together and we met today at a place called grace.  my favorite place.  and we celebrated another year.  some might look at my last six months and ask how i could possibly celebrate all of that awfulness.  i would tell them,  i have more to celebrate today, more than ever before.  walking through these past painful months has shown me, in abundance, how much there is to celebrate.  so many of these women sitting around the table today have had their own challenges this year.  a couple of us have battled cancer, some of us have battled kids, anxiety, depression, fear, finances, failures...that is only the short list. but at the end of it all is grace.  grace to face another day.  grace to get another birthday. grace.   there's this old hymn which i sang as a young girl and still sing as an aging woman.  it means so much more now.

grace, grace, God’s grace,
                                       grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace
 grace that is greater than all our sin.
                      ~ grace that is greater than sin

pictures from our lunch today.  do you see the window behind the table?  
where true grace is truly found...for all of us.



I'll post one your here as am I by GOD'S GRACE!

Kelly Laughlin said...

Beautiful. So thankful. Love the picture(s). It is all about the cross isn't it? Awesome. Such a beautiful, yet subtle reminder. He is sweet to us. Love you!

Aus said...

Good morning Jody - "Is that too morbid to write"...of course not, but mostly because it is true. And that which is true is not morbid but simply a fact of life...

And I assure you that today you are more insightful, beautiful, clever, and loving than you were at 42...

Because this year Jody you "get it"...

And while cancer may be all those things you sense at the clinic...

Well - there can be Blessings in anything!

hugs - and happy birthday -

aus and co.

julie sawyer said...

"Oh the wonderful cross, Oh the wonderful cross, bids me come and "die" that I might truly live!" Awesome to see His reminder above our heads ~ subtle, yet loud!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Jody. The picture of the cross with the soft light reflecting off the window was so beautiful. Somehow we always feel just about 25 no matter how old we get....and that's good.