Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner #28 Believe What God Says About You

Believe what God says about you.

This will take a step of faith – perhaps the very first one you’ve ever taken. Faith may be the last thing you feel capable of right now. But if you’ve ever read or heard someone’s story and laughed or cried with it, or been moved or inspired by it, then you are capable of faith. It takes faith to believe, and to believe in someone’s story, whether it really happened or is made up. If you’ve ever believed someone else’s story as they told it to you, you have enough faith to believe in your own.

Believe what God says about you.

If you’ll take this step of faith, then all the tangled, crumpled things will begin to unravel and unfold before you. You may begin to believe you can indeed let go when everything inside you screams to hold on. Letting go can feel like the last thing you want to do, but letting go is what you need to do to move beyond the here and now. There’s a saying, “Let go, or be dragged.” Can you remember how it feels to let go?

When you let go, you’ll feel afraid. Perhaps very afraid. But in surrender, you will begin to see everything afresh. What’s been unclear and hidden from you will come into view. Your eyes will see horizons again. When was the last time you saw a horizon?

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

Believe what God says about you.

Faith is the first step, and will always be the first step toward healing, wholeness, health, freedom and future, whatever the outcome of this present difficulty.

Yes, even if the worst possible case scenario seems or becomes inevitable, there’s still room and scope for hope, healing and wholeness – in your soul and in your mind, in your relationships and in your religion. You can be healed, even if you don’t survive this.

There are more ways than one for cancer to kill you. And there’s more than one way for faith to heal you.

Believe what God says about you.

Don’t be afraid.  It’s only one step.

The first step isn’t a leap. A leap of faith may come later, after you’ve mastered the step. God knows you, and He knows where you are. He knows you’re fragile right now. And He understands all you can cope with is one small step.

Believe what God says about you.

Listen. He’s speaking.

 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”*

You’re far from home, far from where you want to be. This exile feels like hell, like punishment and retribution and spite. But it isn’t those things. You haven’t been punished by God, but you have been captive. He wants to make you free. He wants to make you whole, healed and free.

Your story now has a chapter about an exile and a captivity. It’s not a perfect story any more. But there is a future and a hope in your story, still. God has written restoration and prosperity into your story. Don’t believe what you see right now. Believe instead in the higher story. Believe what God says about you.

Believe what God says about you.

*Jeremiah 29:11-14

*****

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Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner, #17 Your Burning, Broken, Beautiful Story

Talking about yourself is hard.

Talking about the worst thing that ever happened to you is even harder.

Talking about yourself, and the worst thing that ever happened to you, which also happens to be the one thing the mere mention of which generally sends people crashing backwards across the room, out the door and halfway down the street is the hardest. I don’t care who you are, it just is.

This is why an awful lot of people – probably more than you realise – will never tell anyone they’ve had cancer. Maybe not even when it’s happening.

Cancer and treatment can be lonely, difficult and stressful. It’s stressful for others around us as well. Often, the reason we don’t want to talk about cancer is because it upsets the people who care about us. Even if we managed to cope quite well with the experience, our having cancer may be the worst thing that ever happened to our friends or family, and they may never want to hear about it again. Not talking about cancer may be our way of assuring folks everything is all right again, and normal life has returned.

Not telling anyone about your having cancer, even when you have it, can have its benefits. But there are times when telling people your story is going to be worth the trouble, if not for you, then for the person you’re telling your story to.

There is more than one way for cancer to make us  “sick.” We can be heart sick. Soul sick. Brain sick. Friend sick. Cancer can hurt us in a plethora of ways, other than the obvious physical ones. I know, because I got all these kinds of sick when I had cancer, and more besides.

When I had these ten kinds of sick because of cancer, I really needed contact with another human being who understood what I was going through. More than I needed to hear the cliche’s like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”, more than I needed to stay positive or know how much longer I could expect to live beyond my treatment , I really needed someone who would sit with me and tell me I wasn’t broken because of my thoughts and feelings – someone who could say “I know”, and mean it. It was hard for me to find that kind of help, because many of the folks who’d been where I was had kicked out running and never looked back. Many folks who’d been through cancer didn’t want to go back in to that world, because getting better for them meant leaving it behind. But I knew I needed someone who didn’t just read about the ten kinds of sick I had in a book. I needed someone who truly understood, who spoke the language and recognised the landscape. I needed someone who’d been there.

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

Now, even though I’ve been through cancer and treatment, I can’t know exactly what you’ve been through. But I do know this. At some stage, someone is going to ask you about it. Someone is going to want to know what you did when you had cancer and how you did it, and it won’t just be a morbid fascination. It’ll be because this one feels as though they’ve just returned from a foreign land, and they just heard you speak a few words of the language. It’ll be because they’re frightened and feel desperately alone, and all the folks they love look so terrified and helpless whenever they try to talk to them about how they feel. It will be because you represent something they desperately want to believe exists.

The future.

You’ll become a symbol of hope.

And one day, somebody’s eyes will swing around to meet yours, and you’ll see there the familiar fear you’ve faced before, and you’ll want to run away, but your heart will remember that loneliness and terror, and compassion will overcome you. And someone will ask you if you’d mind having your picture taken for the local paper, because they’d like to run a story about cancer to raise awareness, or raise money. Count on it. And one day, you’ll find out that people with cancer in your town can no longer have access to a treatment you were given because someone changed the rules, or someone decided to pull funding, and you’ll become hot with anger and indignation about it, and you’ll want to go and give someone a piece of your mind. And you’ll think about how talking about yourself is hard, and talking about the worst thing which ever happened to you is harder, and talking about yourself and cancer in the same sentence may well be the hardest thing you could ever do. But then you’ll realise you probably already did the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And you’ll know then in that moment, telling your story is just what you need to do.

You survived, you’re surviving, you are a survivor. You did and are doing something very, very hard. People need help, and they also need hope. You don’t learn about how to give people hope out of a book, in a class or from an expert. You learn to give others hope by very almost losing it, and then getting it back again.

You can give people hope. Your story matters. Tell your story.

*****

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Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner #16, Your Wonderful, Powerful, Imperfect Story

We live in a success oriented society. On the whole, we highly value perfection, excellence, progress and achievement.

We’re encouraged to plan and organise our lives at every juncture and in every respect to best place ourselves for this success we value so highly, as well as for efficiency and effectiveness. “Fail to plan, plan to fail” they say, and we believe it.

Because failing at something is the worst thing that could ever happen. Right?

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

We are compelled to dream our most wonderful life whilst at the same time subjugating it into a rigid, formulaic and logical narrative, as if our whole human experience could be simply lined up and trotted out neatly like chapters in a book.

In fact, whole books, programs and seminars have been designed around the premise we should, and can, “write our life like a story”.

But what happens when our story takes an unexpected and very unpleasant turn? What happens when that marvellous plot, good organisation, superb administration, meticulous planning and logical order is thwarted by something random and uncontrollable?

Like cancer?

The “worst thing that could ever happen” happens, that’s what.

The “f” word.

Failure.

—–

The problem with thinking you can plan your life like a story is the fact nobody in their right mind is ever going to write in any shitty parts if they actually have to live that story.

Would you write cancer, or a car accident or a miscarriage or a divorce for that matter, into your own story? Of course not.

Do people in the real world – not in super-amazing-rainbows-and-unicorns-plan-your-life-like-a-story world – get cancer?

Statistics say one in two folks in the general population do.

Are the rest just very well organised?

—–

An awful lot of people who find out they have cancer are walking around feeling as though they’ve been very poorly organised.

In fact, they feel like failures.

They think they and their stories are flawed, imperfect and broken.

But this isn’t true. You see, a story without any expected turns, without risk or tension or threat or failures isn’t actually a story.

It’s a filing system.

Your life isn’t an exam to be passed.

It isn’t a menu to be perused and chosen from, with only excellent choices available.

It isn’t the road you’re travelling down, the gravel and the tar and the white lines painted down the middle to tell you which side to keep on. Life is the journey you make while you’re on that road, with all the turns and the scenery, the stops, starts and yes, the turns, expected and unexpected alike.

You can’t plan your life like you write a story. Nobody wants a life with any of the things in it that make a good story interesting. If we had to live the kinds of stories we actually have the stomach to write for ourselves, we’d find ourselves constantly falling asleep at the wheel.

—–

I believe in the power of story. Not “story” the militant life-coaching regime, or “story” the magical-thinking formula for perfection, or “story” the nothing-to-see-here, all-the-bad-parts-written-out movie script. I believe in story, the real thing.

Story. You talking about the stuff that really happens to real people in the real world, regardless of how well-organised we are – the stuff which happened to you.

Story. The imperfections and the flaws, the scars and the wounds tenderly revealed and gently touched upon with compassion and acceptance, instead of with judgement, distaste and disdain.

Story. All the things which connect you to others, and they to you, instead of setting us all up against one other in a kind of competition for impossible perfection.

Story. Reflecting on the past and dreaming of the future knowing we only have so much control, and there is bittersweetness in the chaos, as well as in the order.

Stories connect us and inform us. They help us feel like we’re okay. They excite us, inspire us, comfort us and illuminate the past and the future.

Your story has value simply because it’s yours. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or need a moral or message to matter, or to be powerful.

Stories let us know we’re not alone in our frailties, imperfections and flaws, and even more than we need to feel perfect, successful and less like failures, we need to know we’re not alone.

Your story matters. Mostly to the other folks out there who feel their stories are flawed, and they are failures, because of cancer.

Tell your story. Your real story.

*****

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Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner, #15 Your Story Matters

People love stories.

There are many reasons why. Stories connect us. They inform us. They help us feel like we’re okay. They excite us. Inspire us. They comfort us, and illuminate the past and the future. They make us feel special. They help us realise we’re not alone.

What happened to me happened to them.

That’s just like me.

I feel that way.

I want to do that.

That’ll be me one day.

I know what that’s like.

This is who I am.

This is where I belong.

Stories connect us – to place, to people, to experience, to culture, history and to each other.

Indigenous cultures understand the vitality and importance of story. And not just the individual story, the collective story.

The story of me, and the story of us.

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

There is an intrinsic power in story we can access and use, but we must overcome any beliefs we hold which dictate telling others about ourselves is something resembling pride, conceit, narcissism, self-centredness or ego.

Those mediocrity-maintaining, self-preserving habits may have served us well in the playground or the classroom, or some other hostile environment, but our story may turn out to be far more powerful than we can imagine.

Your story is important, significant, and infinitely interesting.

People are hurting. We are hurting. We need each others stories.

Someone needs your story.

Yes, your story matters.

*****

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