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The gift of it all

I have a ritual I love. In the octave of Christmas, when the rush settles into cozy contentment and time unfolds a little more slowly, I sit with an extraordinary spiral-bound goal planner that might double as a life coach and I put words to my hopes for the coming year. Over the course of several days, I grant myself the luxury of unhurried self-reflection and I let myself believe that anything is possible in the year ahead.

And so it was this year. Me, with my many-colored, fine-tipped markers, drinking endless cups of Christmas tea and creating page after page of goals and plans. Things were moving along at an ambitious clip until Dec. 29. Then, the focus shifted.

For me, the end of the calendar year happens to coincide with marking the end of another cancer-free year. On Dec. 29, with very little fanfare, I gave immeasurable thanks for my 28th year since the year I spent keeping company with chemotherapy and radiation. Twenty-eight years.

I’ve lived more years after cancer than I lived before cancer. Perhaps the timing is to blame, or perhaps it would have been this way no matter when I celebrated the anniversary of my cure, but when I put Christmas decorations away, I always take care to make sure someone else could find everything if I weren’t here to do the unpacking next time.

That’s the thing about cancer. It leaves you knowing on no uncertain terms that life is fragile and time is not to be taken for granted.

The focus of my plans shifted Dec. 29 this year, almost imperceptibly at first, but then with fervor. What if, instead of focusing on betterment — on doing more, on being more — I focused on being content where I am? What if I challenged myself to remember to live like a cancer survivor? What if looked at the me of 28 years ago and answered her most pressing questions and then we looked together at the year to come.

What would she ask?

I know her first question — before even asking about the cure and how long and whether there were secondary tumors — did I have more children. She’d want to know if there had been siblings for the 2-year-old who was my only child Dec. 29, 1990. How pleased (and relieved) she’d be to learn there were eight more. How we’d delight together in the poetry of that first child’s wedding Dec. 29 six years ago, and the four grandchildren born in quick succession.

The girl of 1990 who’d been all but guaranteed infertility would be so thrilled to know these children. She’d be so grateful, so eager to soak up every second of the miracle of getting to mother them. To be a grandmother? Not something she even allowed herself to dream.

There’d be more questions, more items of a long-ago list of plans and prayers she’d want to know about. We could move slowly through the lot of them and for every item on the list, she would see how God answered the prayer with more. In time, I’d tell her about the heartaches, the real sorrows of a real life, but mostly, I think she’d be overwhelmed with the great gift of it all.

And so, the first goal of this new year: to remember the gift.

In order to remember, I have to pay attention. I have to slow down. I have to look those children in the eyes and give them my full attention. I have to inhale deeply because I really do have the time to take full breaths and because that breath itself is a gift. I have to notice the good, to recognize the steadfastness of God, but then to look even more closely to see how he outdoes himself again and again. Every time I notice the gift, I can remember the one who gives it.

To be mindful of gift and giver changes everything. Every plan, every goal: how much better is it to make them in cooperation with the God who outdoes himself in answering prayers? So, yes, go ahead. Put pen to paper with those plans. But let every stroke be prayer. And at the end of every day, at the end of every month, at the end of this new year, be astonished by his goodness.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019