The Fourth Blessing of Cancer: Being Still

I am about to go back to see my family for almost a month. I can’t wait! Being away from my family has been so strange. I miss them so much, but I have needed time to rest and to heal.

After 15 years of mothering, it is odd to be given such a large block of time right in the middle of my parenting.

I am used to being in motion – fast and constant. Having an entrepreneur husband and six kids accounts for much of the motion, but I have an overachiever personality to boot, and have added activities and projects to my already full plate. My life was full of appointments, schedules, expectations and responsibilities.

Cancer has forced me to drop them all. I would have never set my stewardship down voluntarily. It had to be literally taken out of my hands.

The world of cancer has a different pace. Cancer treatments take time and are unhurried. The treatment process can span months and years. There are times of pain where survival is the only aim. Recoveries are slow. Family and friends help to take over responsibilities that can no longer be handled alone. Priorities that were once paramount shrink to nothing. Outside pressures and expectations diminish. Kind people encourage rest and healing.

So what will I do with all of the time?

I could entertain my way through it, but I have a gut feeling that I won’t learn the lessons I need if I fill the time with diversions. I could take up a new hobby, but that didn’t work out so well either.

One day,  Sharon and I saw some a cute hand-knit scarf in a store. They were a a simple rectangle design with one buttonhole on one side. “This would be easy to make,” we both said. Never mind that neither one of us knew how to knit, nor had I crocheted anything since I was 9.

(Here’s the only photo I can find of the general idea: It doesn’t look that hard, does it?)

We tried to find a yarn store and then went home in a moment of strength, telling ourselves we didn’t need a new project. We both had plenty of work (Sharon’s photography) and interests (my reading and writing).

Unfortunately, Sharon found a quaint yarn store and our willpower melted. We ended up buying $80 worth of fine yarn and a pair of knitting needles. Sharon dutifully attended the free knitting class. She knitted and purled at home to practice, but ended up taking most of it out after trying to remember the instructor’s directions. I watched a You Tube lesson to brush up on crochet and then worked on that simple chain stitch, shaking the whole time because of the effects of the transplant. A day later, we saw our mistake and set it aside. We will not be making scarves, now or ever. (Does anyone know how to knit? We have really nice yarn and a pattern!)

As a mother, I know how precious and scarce quiet time really is. Why did I fill this rare resource with extra, unimportant busyness?

In the case of the scarf, I think I allowed my busyness to define me. If I am busy, I feel more competent, talented, valuable or important because I am creating or producing, even though the produced product has little or no end value whatsoever.

This is only one of my many reasons for staying busy. Here are more:

What starts as work towards a noble goal becomes a long list of tasks, with no regular system of measurement in place to see if the goal is actually being achieved.

Sometimes I just want to be “done” so I rush through the motions to get to the end, when there is really no true end, only “enduring to the end.” In the rush, I usually miss the moments that mattered.

Living with scarcity is almost easier than living with prosperity. There are SO many choices. I think I might have nagging regret that in picking something up, I had to put something else down. Choosing my “best” thing means that I will miss out on something interesting, urgent or important.

Cancer brought me to a screeching halt. Stepping out of my daily routine for a long enough time has taught me a thing or two about being busy.

Busyness brings haste. Brigham Young’s message for Utahns in 1872 is  also for me.  “You are all the time on the wing, and in such a hurry that you do not know what to do first.”

Haste destroys inner peace and leaves no time for reflection or contemplation.

Haste fails to prioritize. Everything is urgent and important.

Haste closes our eyes to simple gifts we receive every day. We fail to look up and see the beauty of the ordinary, our noses buried in our long to-do list.

Haste brings impatience, which damages relationships. Eye contact, conversation, listening, courtesy and graciousness are lost in the rush to get to the next thing.

(Sigh.) Cancer has made me tired of being in a hurry. Knowing how rare quiet time will be in my life, I am taking advantage of being still. I have surrounded myself with silence, ready to be taught new lessons. I have visited with friends and enjoyed their company.  I have written letters to my children. I have read good books and listened to music that brings me joy. I have walked through beautiful neighborhoods and driven up canyons just to enjoy the leaves. I have enjoyed time in the hammock in the back yard. Being in nature, especially, has been uplifting and healing.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” Anne Frank

It was in nature that Thoreau was able to find more white space in his life. “I love a broad margin around my day,” he writes.

Giving your self a broader margin certainly seems easier to do if you are alone in the woods for a year, but Thoreau had the right idea, even for normal family life. Nature plays at a different tempo than we do.

Living differently is possible – I’ve seen people pull it off. My role models are men and women of character and accomplishment. They do not seem to be frantic people in a hurry. They have an unfailing sense of purpose and work steadily every day to accomplish that purpose. They take time to plan and prepare for the day ahead. They pray for divine help and dedicate their efforts to their Creator. They are realistic about how much can be done in one day. They are gracious and thoughtful. They do the best they can, and have faith that it is enough.

Learning to do this for myself will be my next discovery. I am grateful that cancer has helped me see things differently. Living differently will be the ultimate reward.

7 thoughts on “The Fourth Blessing of Cancer: Being Still

  1. Hi Sweetie,

    This is a wonderful post. It is an important message that everyone can take to heart. Each of the “Blessings of Cancer” you are writing about have a very authentic feel and your writing brings a completely fresh perspective to ordinary challenges we all face.

    Your blog makes me think of the truly great people I have met. When you are with them they have the ability to stop time and make you feel important. They don’t make you feel that they are in a rush to be on to the next thing, but rather they are completely focused on the moment they are with you. Just listening sincerely, focused and being there for a person is a talent and speaks volumes about the depth of a person’s character.

    The kids and I can’t wait to see you.

    I love you. Good night.


  2. Thank you Jennie for your great example and insight. I appreciate you taking the time to share your feelings. Your blogs give me an opportunity to reflect. They encourage me to try and be a better person. I have learned so much from you. I also have been strengthened and felt a sweet spirit of renewal and strength when outdoors. I’m so sorry I missed your visit. I look forward to visiting with you again soon. I am so excited for you to share the next month with your sweet family. My prayers are with you.
    With love,

  3. Jenny you are so wise and insightful. What a pleasure it was to see you this past Sunday. You bring such strength and courage with your presence and it is truly a blessing to know you. Good luck with your travels and revel in the joys of being around your children and husband. They are so very lucky to have you 🙂

  4. Jenny,
    What a great reminder that time is our most precious treasure and we should not squander it. I’m so glad you get to go home and spend the next month with your family. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  5. Jenny, this is beautiful. These lessons you are sharing are eye opening and uplifting. I read them like chapters of a good book- eager to just keep reading, and excited to continue when the next “chapter” is published. You are incredibly insightful and write so beautifully. Perhaps you should turn these lessons learned into a book.

    You are an inspiration to us all. And with these words you challenge me to be better, just as you have always done. I am really trying to simplify my life, and your words were just what I needed to hear.



  6. Jenny,

    What a beautiful post. I am so touched by your insights. Thank you, thank you, thank you – you have no idea how much I needed to read this!

    Lots of love,

  7. Jenny,
    I feel like you are truly inspired with your insights and you have such a gift for writing! Thanks for sharing the lessons you are learning. I agree that you should publish your thoughts. Love, Sam

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