“Its pretty amazing, you know?”
“Knowing a real-life miracle.”
I don’t remember who said this to me first, but it’s happened several times in the last handful of weeks. Maybe it’s the holiday season and all the talk about Jesus and Mary and the miracle of the virgin birth. Or maybe it’s the fact that everyone can see that I am solidly still thriving four months out from the time I was told I had incurable cancer and decided not to do more chemotherapy.
I don’t know.
But it’s given me a lot to think about.
* * *
I’ve shared in the past that as a Catholic school girl I was obsessed for a time with being called to take Holy Orders. I wanted God to ask me to be a nun so badly. I think in my child’s mind, receiving such a call would mean that God approved of me. That I was okay. Special, even.
Plus, surely it would be more difficult than living a secular life in so many ways, and I’ve always been down for a challenge. (If you don’t believe me, remind me to tell you the story about taking pre-calculus at 6am every day for a summer once. Just because.)
Along with that obsession came a fixation on the stories of Mary appearing to children in different parts of the world. My mind was boggled by those miracles and I often wondered if she would ever pick me to appear to. Or if maybe Jesus would show himself to me in my piece of toast one day.
I wanted my own miracle, dang it.
* * *
I wrote somewhere at some point recently (my chemo addled brain is preventing me from recalling exactly where) that when I made the decision to follow God and stop chemo He didn’t tell me that I would be cured. All He told me was that I didn’t need more chemo.
For all I knew, the lesson He had for all of us would be found in my death.
Making the decision to stop chemo was the hardest of my life.
It terrified me.
Just a few days ago, I was reliving the moments after leaving Dr. Carter’s office with the love who stood there with me. I think we were both socked in the gut when we heard the word “incurable” come out of her mouth. I was shaking and sobbing and it took more energy that I actually had at the time to stay upright.
I had never seen him look so pale.
Before we walked in, I had already made my decision – I was not going to do more chemo. I was going to follow God. But if you want to know that truth – it was easier for me to decide that when I was convinced Dr. Carter would disagree with Dr. McGuire. When I thought I had a free pass in my back pocket in the form of an optimistic report from her.
So with that Get Out Of Jail Free card ripped from my hands as I left her office, it was really time to hop out of the boat. No more life jacket. No more standing on the edge looking at the waves. It was time to stop worrying about the sharks or the water temperature and start walking alongside Him out away from the shore and the boat and all other potential flotation devices. Full stop.
We stood in the parking lot and I fell into his arms, sobbing.
“I don’t want to die.”
“Well, you know what God wants you to do. The rest is up to Him now. You have to decide if you trust Him.”
* * *
I’ll confess – all the miracle talk has me wondering why I get a miracle while some others do not. And then I wonder if that is even the right way to frame my query.
What is a miracle, after all?
I’m not only a disciple of Christ but of Tommy Rosen as well, and very, very shortly before my diagnosis I listened to an interview he did with another of my great teachers – Richard Rohr, S.J.
Tommy told Father Richard the story of his sobriety and of how his father had pled with him through tears to get help for his addiction. He did. Around the same time, a dear friend of his did not receive such pleas, did not get help, and died as a result of his own addiction.
Tommy says he was saved by God’s grace (as most of us in recovery do). Why, then – he asked Father Richard – did God’s grace not reach his friend?
I’m not going to attempt to summarize the answer he received, but his question hit so close to my heart then and is one I have come back to several times in the course of the last few months. I watch women I have come to know and love around the world with similar diagnoses not have the results I have seen. Many have not had a road as “easy” as mine has been (I can’t even believe I am ascribing that term to my cancer journey, but compared to what some others have endured, it was). I am no better, more faithful, more deserving than any of these women. So why am I the one who seems selected for God’s grace, while others aren’t?
Why do I get the miracle?
* * *
As I’ve struggled with this in the last several weeks, I’ve come to a conclusion about miracles.
They don’t always look the way we might imagine.
This week marks one year in the recovery rooms for me, this month marks two years since I started my journey to sobriety in earnest, and I’ve been in the Y12SR (yoga of 12-step recovery) rooms for even longer than that, trying to figure out what it was I needed to recover from (while simultaneously trying to shut God up about the whole thing).
This ovarian cancer journey is itself a miracle. Not because I am cured. Not because I listened to God and stopped chemo.
Its a miracle because God gave me exactly what it was I needed to move my recovery forward in meaningful way, and He gave it to me in a way I could never have anticipated. Could I have worked the steps with a pen a paper? Sure I could have. But I needed to live them. Could I have healed my codependency through more years of therapy and a few more failed relationships? Probably. Would any of it have really stuck for me and changed my heart?
There is a difference between just being in recovery and really being sober and God knew I needed something like this to get me from one to the other.
That fact that God knew this is a miracle.
The fact the He always knows what we need is a miracle.
The fact that we can put our egos aside and listen is a miracle.
Miracles aren’t just the big rock-you-to-the-core moments a handful of us might experience in this lifetime (and believe me – I do not have the words to express the gratitude I have for the ones I have experienced).
They are the way He guides us every day.
If we just stop fighting Him.
* * *
I think somewhere along the way our definition of miracles got lost in translation. Its probably because of the way miracles look in the bible - the blind see, octogenarians give birth, the dead walk again.
As a result, we have come to believe that if an angel doesn't appear and give us the scoop straight from the mouth of God, there is no miracle.
But I'd wager that if we could ask Jesus, there are lots of other miracles He performed that didn't make it into the Bible. At some point, the editors had to come a bit back, or the Bible would likely fill an entire floor of a library all on its own. So the big miracles made the cut. The little ones? The lives moved in small ways that ultimately had a huge impact? They maybe ended upo on the cutting room floor.
And as a result, we've forgotten that the little miracles happen each and every day.
* * *
I wake up in the morning these days and I never groan or grumble like I used to. I hug my puppy and tell her about the great day we are going to have and throw up a quick prayer that she doesn’t pee in the bed before I can get myself unsnuggled (#puppyproblems).
I don’t fall asleep to daydreams of how life might be better anymore, but fade out with Hope tucked under my arm and amidst a litany of thank yous to God for my countless blessings – my puppy, my colleagues, my home, my recovery.
That’s the miracle. That God gave me a situation through which I would truly find Him, fall in love with myself, and recover. The miracle is the amount of weight that has been lifted from my shoulders and heart. The miracle is that I somehow listened after fighting for so long.
The miracle is that He saved my life in myriad ways that do not involve cancer at all.
* * *
Today is the winter solstice. I spent last night preparing to hold a ceremony tonight with some loves to celebrate and set the intentions of our heart for the new solar year. I’d like to encourage you all to do the same. What is the miracle you need? What is the miracle you might be fighting? What is God asking of you?
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)