A week ago, I celebrated a significant milestone in my physical and spiritual development. February 6th marked the 20-year anniversary of the surgery to end my first breast cancer episode. (I will celebrate again on April 30th to mark the 10-year anniversary of the surgery to end my second breast cancer episode.) The physical milestones are obvious – 20 years and 10 years cancer free. The dates, however, are also markers of transformation in my spiritual development, as well.
In 1997, I faced a mastectomy (following two previous lumpectomies to remove a cancerous condition called Ductal Carcinoma in Situ – DCIS) by scouring the medical libraries for information on the condition, the surgery, follow-up treatment options, and recovery time. At the time, I felt compelled to share my news and all that I learned with family, friends, and co-workers. I sent letters to everyone before and after the February surgery.
(from my letter dated January 19, 1997)
My sister has been at my side – literally and figuratively — throughout the saga. Those of you who know her and love her as I do can understand why these experiences are bearable because of her part in them. I can’t begin to thank all of you for your thoughts and prayers directed my way. I’m not always sure what I believe about prayer, but I do know that I can feel all your love and concern from near and far. I truly know in my heart that we are in this together and I have not loved you more than in these early weeks of 1997.
(from my letter dated February 12, 1997)
I continue to enjoy this recuperation period. Despite the fact that I am feeling stronger every day, I’m not yet ready to resume campus responsibilities – much to the chagrin of my departmental colleagues. I’ve been given a great gift of time to reflect, to reorder priorities, and to explore new directions and meanings. I want to take advantage of every minute.
(from my letter dated March 23, 1997)
I have decided not to follow up with any medication. My plan, instead, is to make four lifestyle changes: daily meditation/reflection, exercise, low-fat high-fiber diet, and plentiful sleep. I began some good practices during my recuperation period, and hope to continue them as I return to work. In some ways, this cancer episode is a real wake-up call. I always knew what I had to do to be truly healthy; now, I am seriously motivated. I feel better – physically and mentally – than I have in more than a year. I pray that I can maintain my new lifestyle without being obsessive or preoccupied with my own wellbeing. I can’t thank you enough for your concern.
Fast forward 20 years . . .
The time for daily reflection that began 20 years ago eventually developed into time for prayer. I suppose that those early reflections were a form of prayer but not intentional prayer. Looking back, I think they were prayers of confidence. I knew that I would get well and was grateful to God, family, friends, and co-workers for rescuing me with their love and support. They were always there to accompany me. (Remember accompaniment from a previous post?)
Today, I can pray with confidence as the psalmist prayed in the Book of Psalms. The focus of psalms of confidence is that God can and will protect us. God has saved us in the past, and God will do it again. The tone is often quiet and gentle. We know that if we keep hold of God, we cannot be shaken. The psalms of confidence are an honest acknowledgment of our very real fears and our trust in God despite our fear. No matter how perilous our world may be, we will never abandon our confidence in God. Examples include Psalms 11, 16, 23, 27, 91, 121, and 131. (Sr. Irene Nowell, OSB)
You are familiar with Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd), but may not have recognized it as a psalm of confidence. You may want to pray it again looking for the theme of confidence. I would like to focus today on Psalm 16 (contemporary translation from The Message):
Keep me safe, O God, I’ve run for dear life to you.
I say to God, “Be my Lord!” Without you, nothing makes sense.
And these God-chosen lives all around – what splendid friends they make! (v. 1-3)
My choice is you, God, first and only, And now I find I’m your choice!
You set me up with a house and yard. And then you made me your heir!
The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake is confirmed by my sleeping heart.
Day and night I’ll stick with God; I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go. (v. 5-8)
Now you’ve got my feet on the life path, all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand, I’m on the right path. (v. 11-12)
Paul Inwood set Psalm 16 to music in “Center of My Life” (1985). (You can find his performance in a YouTube video.)
O Lord, you are the center of my life:
I will always praise you,
I will always serve you,
I will always keep you in my sight.
Keep me safe, O God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord “You are my God,
My happiness lies in you alone;
my happiness lies in you alone.”
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right, I shall stand firm.
And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
Even in safety shall my body rest.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay.
You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand, at your right hand
Q. When you were afraid in the past, how did trust in God transform your outlook?
Q. Are you better able to pray and love those around you today on the particular path you are now taking?