Originally published through Church of the Holy Communion's Sacred Presence Blog
The past 31 months have taught me to count in new ways. When my son, Adam, was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to get to the end of his treatment 913 days later. It was the hardest journey we could have ever imagined, but we got down to zero days left this week. The past two days have been filled with celebrations as Adam received his last of more than 1,000 doses of chemo at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on Feb 27.
In Late January, Father Sandy, sent me this email:
This is just a quick note to let you know that I’m thinking about you this morning. I know that these last days of Adam’s treatments must be continuing to weigh on you. If there is anything that I can do to support you, or if you’d like to sit and talk ever, it would be my privilege.
Yours in faith,
Hi, Sandy, thank you for your very thoughtful and timely note. The Angels must have nudged you. I would like to come see you. This time in our journey is the toughest time I have had, but I'm resisting feeling what I feel and letting God teach me. I am both life exhausted and stuck in some old patterns that don't serve me. Please let me know when you are available.
And then this:
God does have a way of arranging time just right, doesn’t He? (appointment details edited out.)
Peace to you in all things,
A week later, we sat on a bench in Holy Communion’s memorial garden. Sandy listened as I shared that in many ways I was just realizing all that had happened since 2014. I had been so busy being Adam’s primary caretaker, supporter of Adam’s Army, wife, Mom, and playing out all the other roles in my life that I hadn’t taken time to feel much more than urgency and gratitude. Sandy’s compassionate listening and wisdom offered me suggestions that have now helped lead me out of resistance and fear.
One of those suggestions begins for me today, Ash Wednesday. Being raised Methodist, I was fascinated by the many new traditions I experienced throughout our first year at Holy Communion. Learning more about the season of Lent intrigued me the most. In Sandy’s sermon Sunday, he spoke of Lent as a season of penitence and fasting, a time to reflect on where we have become separated from God. He said that when we fully engage in Lent, it can become one of those thin places where we can see through what is and into what is divine. He spoke of the wilderness as a place where we can face our demons, name our fears, and where God reveals himself and we can see His divinity. He said, “When we journey in the wilderness, God shows up. It is good to go there.”
That day in the memorial garden, we talked about the gift of Adam’s last treatment happening as Lent begins. I asked for a book suggestion, but instead he offered me a possibility that spoke to my needs clearly in that moment. Throughout February, I thought about what he told me. Here’s my plan based on his suggestions.
*I listed six areas of my life that I want to examine, one at a time during each week in Lent. For me that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Maundy Thursday. I chose areas like, me as Mom/St. Jude Mom, writer/coach/creative self, spiritual self, etc.
*Each week I’ll take one of the areas and consider: What to keep?, What to let go? and What to grow?
*To better discern those questions I might ask: What’s my relationship to/with this role? How did this role come to be? (Using curiosity and compassion. Not to look back with regret, but forward with what to shift.) How is it currently serving me? What do I want to change? What support do I need to keep, grow, or let go of - in this role? (My partner in this journey is my friend, Eryn McEwan Seavey in Boston, and she added these great questions.)
*At the end of each week, I will write what I want to let go of on a piece of paper.
*On Good Friday, I will bring those six pieces of paper to the church service and place them in the cauldron to help kindle the fire for the Great Vigil of Easter.
*For the areas I want to grow, I will find at least one way to help make that happen.
*I will also remember that this is a journey and all journeys go better when the option to do it perfectly is left at home.
During the past couple of weeks, I’ve shared about the struggles I’ve been having and the framework Sandy suggested with several friends. Many of them have also decided to embark on their own wilderness journey using Sandy’s framework or in another way that suits them. What I love is that they all have very different backgrounds and none of them participate in the season of Lent, but each has something to discover in their own wilderness. Knowing there will be other people out there wandering with me has made me even more willing to take the first step. I hope many more people decide to join us in whatever way they choose.
I see more than ever now, that we often take on roles and write to-do lists as if they are who we are. Sometimes, like when Adam was diagnosed, we are handed roles we never asked for and then don’t realize we have the choice to reframe them later. I believe that when we step into an intentional Lent, we have the chance to discover what waits to be learned from that thin place. Sandy referred to the wilderness as Holy Ground. “A place where it is good for us to be there. Not easy, but good.”
I began this week with the end of a long and sacred countdown. Today I begin a new one at Day One. This time I will be counting on the promise of the wilderness journey and my willingness to be still and listen.