In August, I began the search for a new planner, an effort I take very seriously. Since I was young, every year I spent a lot of time looking around at all the styles and formats, wanting to find THE ONE (I am NOT a nerd–ok, maybe I am.) Like many people my age, I feel the constant pull between an “old-school” paper planner and one of the hundreds of apps marketing itself to be the “best life-organizing app around.” Personally, I keep going back-and-forth in deciding which works best for me. I still don’t know. But anyway, after searching through the varieties, I decided on the Simplified Planner. I picked out and ordered my favorite version and counted down the days til it arrived.
A few days later, it came in the mail and I couldn’t wait to open it. (When it comes to planners and writing supplies, my middle-school geekness comes out. I just can’t help it). It was packaged in this beautiful blue keepsake box and included a little letter from the company’s founder, wishing the new owner a beautiful year, full of dreaming and joyful productivity. I turned each page slowly, not wanting to blemish the beautiful, crisp paper. It was then I realized what I had done. I had intended to order the “academic calendar”—the one that started in August. But I hadn’t. I had ordered the full, January-December 2016.
Once I realized what I had done, I froze. I must have sat there, staring, for at least 3 minutes. Slowly, I put my pens back in the package. I picked up the planner and carefully slipped it back in the cellophane package it came in and put it back in its box, covered by the bubble wrap and brown paper that softened its ride to my house. Just like that, my excitement was replaced by suffocating fear and unexpected dread.
You see, for me, that 2016 calendar was not just a calendar. It was my future. And for someone who just finished brain radiation, the future isn’t something I tend to think much about. Ya know, it’s strange. Most–as in 90%–of the time, I really am doing great. I don’t have much fear, I’m joyful, and I have little worries that cancer will defeat me. But every once in awhile, something will happen or I’ll have a season where something triggers a fear or worry or physically, I’m not feeling well. Well, radiation had taken a toll on me, physically and emotionally, and consequently, I was vulnerable. And suddenly, being asked (or prompted) to think about this time next year was just not even an option. No thanks. I’ll just stay in today.
That box sat under my desk all of September. October. And November. Finally, last Monday, December 7th, I had had enough. Physically, I felt better. Emotionally, I was still up-and-down. I had just done my follow-up brain MRI and was waiting for results. Waiting for results just sucks. I won’t even try to make it sound pretty. It just sucks. And this time, I was a little nervous. They were looking at the area radiated but they were also looking at another suspicious area that had potential to be more serious. I had been spending time with Lord last Monday, letting his words saturate any fear that might be trying to surface when I looked over at that stupid box I had been ignoring for months. I walked over to it, picked it up, and decided it was time. I took out the packaging, just as I had the first time, and carefully took out the planner and placed it on my desk. I stared.
I allowed all the questions that I had been so trying to ignore come from my lips.
What will life look like in 2016? Will things be the same? Will they be different? How will I feel? How will Lilian change? And the hardest…will I be here to watch her change?
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I said–out loud–some of my deepest fears. As hard as it was for my ears to hear the trembles of my heart, I forced myself to do it. It was awful. So hard and so painful. Yet with each word, I realized that something was happening. With each word spoken, the fear that I didn’t even know that I had was starting to subside. Each phrase seemed to be followed by a wave of peace filling my heart, as if the departure of each word was making more room for the truth of the Holy Spirit.
I grabbed a pen and turned to September 24, 2016. “I turn 33!” I smiled as wrote, remembering back to my 27th birthday and celebrating with my friends in Nashville. We sat on my sister’s back deck, guitars strumming, laughing and dreaming of the future. It had been my first birthday after the cancer diagnosis, the event that makes birthdays a true celebration and not just another day on the books. It was the hardest birthday I’ve ever hard but even as I write this now, I’m smiling. That was 5 years ago. WOW!
I turned to April 3, 2016. “6 year anniversary!” Disease takes it out on marriage. One person is a patient, one is a caretaker, both difficult in their own ways. But I smile, thinking that there is not one other person that could have handled being married to me on this journey. And that despite our imperfections, I am so, so thankful for my marriage.
And perhaps the hardest, I turned to January 24, 2016. “Lilian turns 3!” The hardest day of my life was the day I found out the cancer had returned with a vengeance. Lilian was a tiny little baby (we had induced because I had found a new tumor at 38 weeks), and I was about to take on a whole new level of cancer treatment. It was in my brain, kidney, liver, lung and adrenal gland. I remembered wondering if I would ever hear her say “mama” and now, she is weeks away from her third birthday, and I have just traces of cancer left in my body. I smiled. God is so good.
I filled out a few more important dates in my planner and closed it. That was enough for now. That had been exhausting–but so important. For months, I had allowed that little blue box to have too much control in my life. While small and “not that big of a deal,” I had let it remain in my peripheral vision for months instead of taking the time to just ask Jesus to just help me deal with. It was hard, yes, and even a little painful. But it was worth it.
About an hour later, the phone rang. It was my radiologist. It’s crazy how nothing can make your heart pound like the words “We have the results of your scan” and nothing can compare to the relief of “Everything looked great!” The radiation had worked well and best of all, the “suspicious” place doesn’t even look like a tumor anymore.
When I hung up the phone, I walked over to my desk and took another look at my planner.
As hard as it was, I’m actually glad the call from my doctors came after I had had to find the courage to the face fears of the future. You see, often times breaking fear off our lives requires something. Sometimes, the fear just goes. Other times, it requires us to SAY something. DO something. To stare at what makes your heart pound with fear and take a step forward anyway. To hear your own voice speak is powerful (ESPECIALLY when it’s something you’re already terrified to hear out loud) and often times, the very thing that will spark breakthrough.
And truthfully, we all have a little blue box in our lives. No matter how great life might seem to be, we all probably have a box that hides our deepest fear or darkest shame. Can I ask you–what’s in your box? Maybe it’s your past, the shame of who you used to be, the thoughts that you just aren’t good enough. Maybe it’s a secret, something you’ve never told anyone yet it still holds the power over your life. Maybe it’s the fear of your future, the thoughts that you’ll never get married, have children, or find the career you’ve always dreamed of. Let me encourage you, what exists inside you by the grace of God and the power of Holy Spirit is far more powerful than what is in your box. And while what is in that box might not seem significant right now, it is taking up space in your heart and spirit. Jesus doesn’t want the good parts of us, he wants ALL of us…even those parts that we’ve tried to hide or fears we’ve ignored. I can tell you from experience, taking the short time to deal with your box is worth it. It’s hard and ugly and awful and yes, it hurts. But it’s so, so, so worth it.
I know this post is longer than most and if you’re still with me, I thank you. I am so grateful for each person that reads my words and pray that my own journey with Jesus will somehow encourage each of you in your pursuit of our sweet King.