Living Our Litanies
The very night I finished radiation, I joined a gym. It was on my list, right before, "Get Pizza for Dinner." When I mentioned the pizza to the manager who was registering my gym membership, he said lots of people do that. Go hog wild the night they join a gym.
But it wasn't like that for me. Eating pizza wasn't hog wild. It was just a way to keep living.
Although cancer treatment is no picnic, the days and months following the treatment have been hardest for me in the past. While I am seeing doctors and having blood tests and being radiated every day, I feel like I'm fighting the disease. When it stops, I feel like a sitting duck for cancer to return.
After my first and toughest cancer treatment, I stopped planning, lived one day at a time for months on end, telling every person who invited me to dinner or asked me to a movie for the upcoming weekend that I wasn't sure if I could make it. I might not be alive then was what I was thinking, as if never planning anything was much of a life.
This time around, I am trusting the Lord for something different. Not only am I planning, I'm planning big and long, not because there are any guarantees but because the abundant life Jesus promised me starts here and now and has nothing to do with fear and doubt.
A few weeks before my surgery last August, my friend Kelly was watching the Cars 2 movie with her sons and decided she and I should plan a trip to Italy. So, a few weeks ago, Kelly texted me and said she had started her Italy savings fund. Italy is officially on the list.
So is attending the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College this Spring and taking another crack at writing a book and training this silly puppy of mine to quit jumping.
This is not a bucket list. These aren't things I have to do before I die. These are things I have to do if I want to keep on living. This litany is really just a prayer in disguise: Lord, keep me hoping.
If this list of mine really is about living, though, it can't just have the big things on it. Trips to Italy and writing books can motivate for a while, but those goals are so far away, and I have a lot of living to do in the meantime.
My litany needs to include things like writing letters to my nieces and nephews, reading good books, memorizing Scripture, walking Tilly every day. I need to write down every single one of those things on the list, and then I need to hand it to Jesus. Is this what you want my life to look like?
Past experience tells me it would be easier to make a different kind of list, to number one by one all the things cancer has taken from me. Don't get me wrong; I've made those lists in the past.
In her post, "How Our Litanies Shape Us," Stephanie Smith talks about this kind of catalog of complaints and what that can do to a soul.
If a litany of naming all things good and beautiful directs us into grace, then a litany of complaints deforms us. I have been cataloging my complaints and I am afraid they are becoming ingrained in my living. But counting faults and keeping score is tiring. And I don’t like the fact that I so willingly spend myself on counting and collecting injuries, when I could find freedom in simply letting them go.
As I was finishing up a recent appointment with my oncologist, he mentioned the new doctors he was hiring for his practice, and I asked him if there was a retirement in his near future.
"Oh, I don't know. I still want to work, I just want lots of time off in the summer," he said, kind of chuckling.
"Well, then, I just need to plan my cancer recurrences for the Spring or Fall then, huh?" I teased.
"No, you just need to retire from cancer recurrences altogether," he said. "It's very possible that's what you've done."
We shook hands, and I left.
Breathing hope into others, I thought. That's going on the list, too.