Leanne W. Smith
Fearsome words, Laser Focus
I sit on the screen porch listening to cicadas in the trees. Singing the song of summer. Wondering how I’ll answer the common refrain when I go back to school next week, “How was your summer?”
When you work at a university it’s the question of August.
And I’ll likely say, “Great. Yours?” Not because it’s true, but because it’s short. Uncomplicated. As an introvert I seek to economize these exchanges. It’s ironic now that last summer seemed a downer with its drain flies and broken bones. Mild inconveniences compared to a cancer diagnosis.
In June I had a hysterectomy. We thought it was a uterine fibroid. Turned out to be cancerous. That tumor was removed, the malignancy discovered by a pathologist after, and the oncologist and I…I have an oncologist now…have a plan.
Seek to find and eliminate rogue cells. Hope it doesn’t come back en masse. And praise God continually for “stage one” and “clear CT scan.” The obvious things. I'm still not sure how to get the dark cloud that rolled up over my shoulder whispering “what if” to go away, but I'm working on it.
My mother said she’d feel better when I could get this behind me. I never like to disappoint my mother, I’m a middle child after all, ever striving to please. But I don’t know if there’s a place to set this thing and call it done. Squash it with my foot like a spider. Rake the carcass neatly into a trash bin labeled “past hindrances.”
Remember when Jacob wrestled God? That’s a better analogy here. Or a roller coaster that goes up and down, and around another unexpected curve, jerking my heart one way, then another. Now I have a handle on Fear. I pin it to the ground. But before the referee calls the match, it slips out and gets me in a chokehold. I remind myself that God holds me in the palm of His hand, and I’ve got the drop on Fear again.
As a writer, it’s my job to pen the hard things—things people think, but don’t say aloud. But nothing is harder for me than publicly sharing my private demons. I’m more comfortable offering hope and inspiration to others.
So let me turn there now, to words of hope and inspiration. May they do you the good they have done me.
I am not in control. God is. Having Him as the captain of my fate suits me fine. I’m not sure what the sailing looks like from His vantage point, but He has commandeered this boat before.
Empathy is a healing salve. My own empathy for anyone who has ever had a phone call or direct conversation with a medical doctor that included the words “malignant tumor” has increased, and the empathy I have received has held my arms up.
My heart bleeds for the growing number of folks (twenty on my current prayer list alone) who have received a cancer diagnosis in the past couple of years. This does not include me, for whom I pray with equal fervor. If I started listing friends, family, co-workers and neighbors beyond the last two years, the list would extend far past my morning. All these folks are in wrestling matches, too. The roller coaster gets long. And tiresome.
Yet every time I’ve hit a dip, someone calls, texts, emails or sends a card to say "thinking of you" … "praying for you" … "loving you." Continually. One of my favorite texts was two words: “Oh, honey.” There is nothing to compare with the warm wash of empathy from another.
Others really do reflect the hands and face of Jesus. Sometimes I fall into a funk and think kindness is dead. Christianity is stale. My own faith alongside the faith of well-intentioned people around me. But Christianity is not stale. It is alive and active. I only needed to open my eyes.
Blessings can come from unwelcome places. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn penned: “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”
Fearsome words can lead to laser focus. A better alignment of one’s priorities. A reminder of matters truly important. This is why I sit on the screen porch listening to cicadas in the trees. Singing the song of summer.
A Song to Lift the Soul
Speaking of songs, my friend Amy shared Hillsong's Highlands (Song of Ascent) with me recently. Lifts my soul every time. I’m going to have to listen to it again right now.
Surgery recovery was great for my reading and writing. Books I’ve enjoyed this summer:
Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton – Fellow writer in my agency; set in Memphis.
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown – What did we do before we had Brene’s wisdom?
The Shot Caller by Casey Diaz – Loaned by a friend. Powerful story.
Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis – What a sparkplug Hollis is!
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – Two Brene books. I should be brilliant by now.
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks – The man can write as well as act.
Grit by Angela Duckworth – Another sparkplug! Love her TED Talk, too.
Yes: A Memoir by Courtney Koctar - Story of adopting three children from Uganda.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – This was a re-read. In prep for a Women in Business class.
Educated by Tara Westover – Recommended by a friend. Heartbreaking and powerful.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – Also heartbreaking and powerful.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – Gilbert is good. She’s real good, as writers go.
On the writing front I finished the first draft of that fourth novel mentioned in my last post. Books three and four both need editing. But we’re getting closer! Stay tuned.
Grateful for you.
Pictured above: An angel my artist friend Martha painted (to remind me I am loved), Georgia mug my friend Laura sent (who has been bravely battling breast cancer herself since last November, to remind me I am not alone), and dozens of cards that have brightened every day of my summer.