The other Friday night, I found out that my dad has cancer.
I know you’re supposed to ease into bad news like that, but that’s not usually how bad news works. It doesn’t sit you down and hand you a nice drink and pat you on the shoulder while gentle words tumble forth the awful truth. Nope. Usually it’s more like a gut punch as you’re turning a corner. And you’re left trying to catch your breath while you figure out what just happened.
See, my dad was having some back pain. So I knew something was wrong, but it was all supposed to get better with physical therapy or another chiropractic adjustment or the right seating cushion. Back pain and cancer aren’t even a couple and besides, my dad had a heart attack several years ago, which I thought made him exempt from cancer.
But there he was, seated across the living room from me, telling me he has myeloma.
I come from a long line of emotionally constipated individuals, owing perhaps to our Germanic heritage, and so I didn’t even know what to say or think or feel. It just wasn’t registering. This wasn’t where I thought the road was leading and like Siri, I was stuck re-calculating..re-calculating.
I was still a little lost when I got home. I wanted to hop on the Internet, but I didn’t because I knew that Google didn’t know the answer to my question, which was “What’s going to happen?” I ended up just getting ready for bed and, climbing into bed, glanced at the journal laying next to me. I had recently begun doing a “Daily Examen” to help me reflect on my day and where I was aligned with God and where I was pursuing my own agenda. It’s actually more of a “Bi-Weekly Examen” at this point, but I noticed the journal and without anything else to do, I picked it up and got started.
I got stuck on the first step: Gratitude. The examen process I had selected opens with recognizing the blessings and gifts God has given that day. What a joke, right? I find out my dad has cancer and one hour later, God invites me to recognize His blessings?
I just sat and stared at the blue lines on the page. And then finally I wrote:
My dad. I’ve got a good one.
I kept going: We have a good relationship. He’s had good health until now. We’ve got a great doctor. There’s such thing as chemo. I get more time with him, even if I don’t know how much more time.
Pretty soon I had two pages filled up, all decorated with teardrops.
And when I got done, everything had changed. My dad still has cancer and cancer is still a yucky disease and there are still hard days ahead. That’s reality. But reality is also this good stuff, the stuff that I was having a hard time seeing before. God handed me an opportunity to see the good things He’s given me alongside the reality I’d prefer to go without. True, gratitude didn’t look like all that appetizing, but it ended up being exactly what I needed.
I don’t think gratitude is the answer. I think Jesus is the answer. Jesus knew I would get a better glimpse of Him when I tasted gratitude. And I did. Gratitude did something for me, but even more than that, I was left knowing that Jesus is right next to me and can spoon feed me what I need. Even a plate of mushy gratitude.