I can’t see what’s ahead.
The mountain path winds, drawing me deeper into the trees, up toward the sky. The aspens arch and bend, shading the sun and blocking my view. All I see is here, now. Not the miles of path I’ve yet to cross.
If I’m tempted to worry, I don’t.
This is one of my favorite hikes in the Rocky Mountains. I look down, at the path worn bare long before my feet came near. I look up, at the shimmering leaves and cornflower sky, breathed into life by Another. Surrounded by evidence of life’s bigness, reassured it does not depend on me or what I see, I feel safe.
And I keep walking.
But sometimes it’s not so easy. Like last week, when my family turned a bend in our path.
My dad—69 years old, father of two and grandfather of nine, endurer of childhood horrors and the Vietnam War—was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
We didn’t see it coming. Somehow I thought we’d achieved our quota of hard things, as if what we’d already endured would guard us against the unwanted.
Of course, that’s not how it works. You know this. So do I.
So, yes. My dad has pancreatic cancer. A difficult phrase for this girl to type with fingers he helped bring into being.
“How are you doing?” everyone asks.
As you would expect. Stunned. Sometimes anxious. But hopeful. Doctor’s reassured us they caught it early, which never happens. This is one of our miracles. If you have pancreatic cancer, Dad’s is the best-case scenario. That means we’re celebrating.
Cancer, like any crisis, is as much a battle of the mind as the body. When the diagnosis is leveled, fear multiplies faster than cancer cells. It messes with your mind, steals your appetite, makes sleep impossible. Worries and “what if’s” taunt.
At the same time, a crisis can enhance the hue of every flower and sunrise, enrich the celebration of every birthday and holiday, deepen the joy of an ordinary day with an awareness of the sweetness of life.
And that’s when you discover—standing there with the path winding up ahead—that the struggle isn’t a physical one. It’s the war you rage in your head. The fight to see beauty over fear, gratitude over panic. To keep trusting and walking and experiencing every leaf and branch and smell when you’re tempted to run ahead.
Last week, my parents flew to New York City, where they met with doctors at Sloan-Kettering. Tomorrow, Friday, Dad will have major surgery, one that will leave him hospitalized for at least a week. After that? We don’t know.
We just don’t know.
But isn’t that always the case?
We’re so very good at planning the days, months and years of our lives. We have it organized in iPhones and retirement plans. But life, in all its fierceness and fullness, cannot be contained. It must be experienced:
1. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Refuse the panic that wells up. Instead, lean into what is. Stop. Rest. Take in your surroundings. Crisis, by definition, is a decisive moment, a turning point. We mustn’t rush through and miss the fact that we get to choose how we walk through it.
2. Talk. Fear, doubt, and loneliness thrive in isolation. Like that used tupperware my son left unwashed for two weeks, it grows fetid and foul when ignored. Relationships cleanse. Tell stories. Laugh. Cry. It is not merely the means to getting to the other side. Relationship IS the other side.
3. Pray. There’s a scene in the movie Shadowlands (a favorite) in which C.S. Lewis’ character says this: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” When I pray, the weight of worry and doubt transfers to the shoulders of One stronger. Like climbing a tree, I’m lifted to a new vantage point. I’m changed.
4. Move. A crisis can be paralyzing. When the doctor called with my own diagnosis two years ago, the shock of it leveled me. I hadn’t expected it, didn’t know what to do with it. Fear became a beast that kept me locked in the house waiting for death to arrive. Foolish? Maybe. Real? Definitely. But then I learned something:
A crisis is scenery, not a destination. And it can only stifle life if I stop moving.
The next weeks and months will not be easy for our family. But nor will it define our family. We are more than our most recent crisis.
So are you.
I look down, at the path worn bare by your feet and mine. I look up, at the shimmering leaves and cornflower sky, breathed into life by Another. Surrounded by evidence of life’s bigness, reassured it does not depend on me or what I see, I feel safe.
And you and I—we keep walking.
[Dad and Mom, we’re with you, tomorrow and all the days that follow! God will not let you go! ~M]
What crisis are you facing? Which of the four—Breathe, Talk, Pray, Move—will you lean into to help you find your way through?
Michelle, I am so sorry you are going through this. I’ve experienced this on both ends too…in a parent…in myself. The fear does level you at first. Then the grace starts to flow. Your post reminded me of the Scripture, “Lord, your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path.” We shine that light right on the path in front of us instead of off in the distant trees lest we miss seeing a rock or a branch and stumble. He shows us each step to take, one right after the other. I will be praying.
And when the grace starts to flow, it’s a beautiful thing indeed. Thanks for the prayers, Linda!
I find it so funny that I KNEW about your Dad’s cancer, yet reading this post still took the breath right out of me as the nausea-inducing knot forms in my belly. When can I be considered a pro at this “dealing with cancer” stuff? Praying for your Daddy, and for all of you. I still hold my ground that caregiver is harder than patient. And every hue of life truly IS enhanced, and your Dad will get to experience that extra fullness of this life now. Praying for blankets of protection, healing, wisdom, & patience for all involved, sweet Michele!
Those of us who’ve “been there” experience the same sinking feeling every time we here of one more person joining the ranks. Cancer is a beast. Evil. And I HATE IT. But I love, love, love how near God feels in the middle of it. I think of you all the time, my friend. All the time.
Michele, Beautiful words and such an amazing view and perspective. May the Lord be with his doctors, along side your mom, holding your dads hand and in your heart tomorrow (and always) as the journey back to health begins. Hugs!
Love to you, Stacy.
I am praying for you and your family, Michele. If you remember, the reason I couldn’t come to SCORRE last year was because both of my parents were diagnosed and going through treatment. I hate cancer. But just like God always does, He takes something meant for evil, and brings good out of it. Relationships get stronger. Love is expressed freely. Time is not wasted, but treasured. Faith grows.
Walk on, my friend. You do not walk alone.
Thank you for reminding me, Kelli. I’d forgotten. How are they/you doing? I’m so grateful for your prayers and presence. Truly, the one truth I keep going back to is the fact that so many of us have walked this same road. We’re all in this together.
Praying. I’m here for you. Love you. Your words are absolutely beautiful, resounding truth.
How do you do that? Michele it seems everytime you are empowered to write of those “deeper” more difficult things of life, it is a word I need to hear, an encouragement to keep walking though I cannot see what is ahead. If I look with human eyes, I see things even harder, more devastating than the one just endured, and yet when I look with the eyes of the Spirit who dwells within, I see the challange to “raise the level of what I believe is possible with God and once again I am moving a little closer, learning something a little deeper about this One who is my very breath, my Comforter, Healer, and though the crisis isn’t over, and the odds are not at all in our favor, yet I can stand firmly planted and pray in a way I’ve never dared to before. We are asking, demanding of God a miracle intervention, praying His word of truth over the days ahead and specifically Aug. 1 at 1:30 pm. I’ve “burned my boat” which held plan B. I see no other outcome but the one we are praying, and believing that God who sits on the throne of Heaven as our Righteous Judge, is listening intently to Jesus Christ the Son who is advoccating before Him at His right hand for us, our grandkids, and I am praying like never before, because He’s shown me I can, advocating before the seat of grace and mercy, for two precious kids who don’t deserve what they’ve been handed, committed to intervene on their behalf because no one else will but us, offering a ray of hope, because He is our only hope, our only comfort, our only strength, healer of the broken heart, Father and mother to two who feel like they’ve lost one and the other doesn’t see or hear their brokenness.
So thank you for sharing your story and speaking through it into mine. Making my feet and heart attach a little deeper into the unmovable, unshakable Rock on which I stand. Continuing to move…..”dancing in moment time!’
Love you so much! Alice
I was so touched by your Keep Walking post. It is genteel, elegantly written and so timely. Your sweet family is in my prayers and in my heart. I do not think that folks even realize how much they matter. When things happen in life…the purpose is evolution and sometimes…us (human beings) take these nudges personal. Instead of us blooming like a beautiful flower, sometimes we isolate ourselves.
Cancer is HORRIBLE and my heart is aching with the news about your father. I will pray that everyday and in every way, he gets better and better.
Thank you for sharing and then taking the time to get these eloquent thoughts out to the world. Happy Thursday! You ROCK!!!
Your dad will use this experience as a way to witness to others.
He will learn from it and use it as a common ground;
using the body to reach the hearts for Christ. When I was diagnosed
with cancer, I refused to ask “why me?” but asked instead
“how will this be used to serve God?” I know Loren will do the same
Blessings and peace to all of you as this chapter is turned.
Hey, just had a chance to read this, though you’ve been on my brain a ton. Still praying.