Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Ten-Week Anniversary

“For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, decrees, and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you, in the land you are entering to possess.” Deut. 30:16

            Remember your first girlfriend (or boyfriend)? You created anniversaries and special days for everything. You know like, “this is the two-week anniversary of our first milkshake.” Of course you tracked your monthly anniversaries. Lord, help the boy who forgot the date of the monthly anniversary of the first kiss…’cause he ain’t getting another one. Well today is my ten-week anniversary. A little over two months ago, July 10, 2013, I found out I had cancer. Yes, Neo and I entered into a long-term relationship. Neo is the name I’ve given my neuroendocrine carcinoid tumors (referred to as Damn Cancer or DC in our house). The name of those parasitic neoplasms that I have become quite attached to, or rather who have become quite attached to me, and my internal organs. Happy Anniversary.
            The good news, I’m not dead yet. Considering my original diagnosis was pancreatic adenocarcinoma which has a very short shelf life and an incredibly high mortality rate, I am fortunate. As it turned out that would not be my actual diagnosis. My cancer is a rare, slower growing version. Still terminal, but not immediately, I have a little time. How much time? Who knows, but of course nobody really knows how much time they have left.
            I can always tell when people become uncomfortable when I discuss the limitations of my life expectancy. They say things like, “Well we could all die at any time.” Yep, that is true. We should all live like today is our last day. I just have the advantage of being keenly aware of it, reminded by the personal, internal reminder who occasionally pokes at my side just in case I forget. Happy anniversary.
            The bad news, it has metastasized. Those are words that you never really want to hear. At the hospital they say, “Oh, he has METs.” Doesn’t sound so bad when you put it that way. I’ve noticed medical people abbreviate a lot of things that mean really nasty stuff. Who can blame them, I am sure it helps them deal with the incredibly difficult situations they face every day.
Having “METs” essentially means it has spread. I have 17.5 awesome centimeters of attachments on my liver sucking the life out of me. The other bad news, it is currently inoperable and terminal. That means they aren’t going to cut it out, at least no time soon because the risk of surgery outweighs the benefit I would receive. Having “METs” also means is will, probably, continue to spread and grow eventually, in some way or another, be the death of me. Neo is taking this whole “till death do us part” to a whole new level.
If our relationship was a story put to music, it would be a bad country song about a co-dependent girlfriend banging up my car with a baseball bat. Carrie Underwood would probably sing it. Maybe she already did. Have you ever noticed it’s always the dude who is the bad guy in country music? I don’t think I’m the bad guy in this situation, I’m pretty sure it’s Neo. Neo just wants more out of our relationship that I’ve got to give. Alas, it’s not a country song. It is a disease and it sucks. Happy Anniversary.
            Yep, it’s one of those days; days when I realize I’m dying and I’m kind of pissed off about it (can a pastor say “pissed off?” I will just claim mortality exemption). This is a week when I have felt particularly mortal. It is a week when I understood how Adam felt when he realized he was open to attack by the forces of evil and disease in the world. These kinds of things really do make you feel “naked,” that’s biblical language for over-exposed and vulnerable. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be sewing any fig leaves together (did you ever wonder where they got a needle and thread?) but I do feel like this disease has caused me to realize that I’m not invincible.
            I don’t mean to say that I’ve ever really felt “Superman” invincible. I have just always had the energy, intelligence, and tenacity to power through the challenges of life. For better or worse, whenever I’ve gotten knocked down, I’ve gotten back up. Somebody asked me once what my primary spiritual gift was; I said “tenacity.” When I’ve been backed into a corner, I came out swinging instead of backing down. Now I’m in a marathon that I have no idea how long the race will be, and some weeks it is exhausting. But you know what, I’m going to keep running. 
            I never thought I’d be one of those people who counted my days. Oh, sure, I used to count down the days till my birthday, or Christmas, or till summer break. But now rather than counting down, I’m counting up. Every week on my calendar is marked on Wednesday with weeks lived since diagnosis. This week was 9. It reminds me in the middle of every week to make sure I’m doing something significant. I want to make sure that I am investing in the life of another person. I am writing notes to let people know I love them. I want to give the gift of hope to someone to help them make it through a tough day. Today I made a donation to a friend’s family member who is dying of cancer. It is kind of my way if kicking cancer in the face (That is an unusually violent statement for a pacifist theologian, huh?). I wanted to let them know that there are others of us out there going thru this and we are with them. I wanted to remind Neo that this was a fight till the end and I intend to fight with everything I’ve got. In the Church, if we are really the body of Christ, if we are really community, nobody fights alone. Happy Anniversary.
            On Monday I had another anniversary. On Monday I celebrated being married to the most beautiful, loving, and giving woman I have ever known. Seven years ago in a little church in the mountains I married my best friend. Danelle is a “bright sider.” She always looks on the “bright side.” I need “bright siders” in my life. I tend to get discouraged. Then I get angry. Then I get backed up and come back swinging, even when I don’t need to. But, even on her down days, she is still my cheerleader. She is often the reason I can face the day; not just because she gets up first and makes coffee. I can get up because I know at the end of the day I have a shoulder to cry on and a partner who is in my corner and who has my back. Now, Monday, that’s another anniversary worth counting up to. On the wall infront of my desk is my goal to reach my 7th anniversary, on Monday I checked it off, now to work on number eight.
My goal is to have many more of these anniversaries. I’m going to keep counting up. So, happy anniversary Neo, we are going to be together for a while and just so you know, if I ever get a chance to get rid of you, you are history.
I am also going to stick around for a lot of anniversaries with Danelle. No matter what, I will cherish every day I get to spend with Danelle. We may even start celebrating random anniversaries like you did when you were with your first girlfriend…like Nov. 2, the anniversary of our first date. Or that day in May when I proposed with a Blizzard in one hand and a ring in the other (The way to a woman’s heart is with ice cream, duh! The ring was a side dish.)
Who is it in your life that you need to tell you love them today? What is it that you need to celebrate? Why not do it? No seriously; go do it, right now, I’ll wait.
Aren’t you glad you did? Don’t wait so long next time. Don’t wait until your next anniversary. Find a reason to celebrate You don’t really know how many of those celebrations you have left. Make the most of the one you have today!

Gracious God who only gives us today to celebrate, remind us that there is always time for a party. There is always a reason to celebrate. There is always an anniversary worth sharing. Jesus showed us, because He was often accused of partying with sinners. Lord, help us to be party people and not pitiful, pouty people. In the name of the One who came to invite us to the forever party we pray. Amen.

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