Three years ago today I spent most of the day in waiting rooms at Duke Cancer Center getting tested, scanned, and evaluated for cancer treatment. Danelle and I had come straight from family vacation to The Cancer Center the previous day in a grueling eleven hour drive. Those days were filled with anxiety and uncertainty. More than 80% of people with advanced, metastasized neuroendocrine cancer are disabled within a couple of years and die within five years. I wrote about those days in Dying to Go On Vacation which you can order from Amazon or shoot me an email and I’ll sign and send you a copy for a few bucks more. Like I said, that was three years ago.
Three years later I’ve learned hundreds of life lessons. I have spent my time striving to love deeply, live passionately, and listen to God more intently. I have had a myriad of treatments with only moderate positive responses and lots of side effects. My tumors have grown yet I am still able to function, work, and more importantly, go on vacation!
Each year about this time I try to share with you, my friends, the lessons gained from the previous year. Here are just a few of the things I’ve gleaned from the past twelve months:
1. Everybody is dealing with something.
Some are visible like obesity,a speech issue, or a physical struggle. Some are invisible like depression, OCD, or MS. All of them are real and let's face it, for most people there is some part of life is just hard. One of the things I’ve realized is that we often want others to judge us by our best days, and we are often guilty of judging others by their worst days. When you see somebody struggling over something that seems trivial to you, you have no idea what difficulty they are dealing with in another part of their life that very moment.
Over and over again people have come up and thanked me for writing about my struggles, for speaking about my doubts, and sharing my pain. Some how by doing this it has given them voice to to the same. It is not easy to be vulnerable, and often after I do it I go home and wonder, “What was I thinking?” If I have learned nothing from the past three years, I’ve learned that everyone is dealing with something, and when you share your wound, it validates their struggle. This brings me to lesson number two…
2. When you are vulnerable and open up it gives others space to do the same.
When I wrote a book about part of my journey I didn't realize it would be an invitation for others to tell me their story. Sharing our stories is important. Our stories tell more about us than all the personality assessments and Facebook tests combined. I had oftener wondered why, when asked a question, Jesus always told a story. He rarely actually answered the question, he would simply launch into a parable about a man robbed on the side of the road or a farmer with a field.
As an introvert in interpersonal, social situations, having a line of people standing waiting to tell me
3. Being uncomfortable with another's struggles is not bad.
Sometimes those stories made me uncomfortable but that is not a bad thing. We do anything we can to escape being uncomfortable, yet I have found we learn life’s deepest lessons when we are suffering from some form of discomfort, rather than when we are at ease in our own little life cocoon. Some where along the way we have made an idol out of comfort. In most cases comfort leads to complacency, and complacency leads to stagnation. I am learning to listen and to live into other’s discomfort. During those moments if discomfort there is the overwhelming temptation to try to escape.
What I’m learning is that even when it is uncomfortable, you must try to stick around anyway. In the past year I have found myself in be hospital rooms, mental wards, and living rooms. I've been uncomfortable in a hundred different ways and I've tried to embrace the discomfort. I haven't always succeeded. I like comfort as much as the next guy, however like I said before, the best things seem to happen from times when you were the most uncomfortable.
As I re-read this, it occurs to me how counter-intuitive it is to everything that we are taught in our culture. We are encouraged to “put on a good show,” “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” (not that I actually have boots), or “fake it till you make it.” What I’m learning is that in the end, when you “put on a good show,” that is all it is, a show. Real life is hard. Cling to those days that are good, share your story, and strive to live passionately! Quit the show and embrace real living!
If you want to help me celebrate my 3rd Year Cancerversary, how about joining me Friday and Saturday, July 15 & 16, 2016 for Into The Woods at The Dunn Center. This is a real show!