Monday, November 16, 2015

Giving Thanks

I am a list maker. Maybe it is the result of poor memory (even before chemo-brain!), but I am forever making lists. Whether I am going to the grocery store, packing for a trip or in charge of anything, anywhere, I have my list. One time it was my turn to lead a group study. I made a list. My friend saw it and laughed at my first item: #1 – say hello to everyone.
“Did you really have to write that down?” he asked. Yes, I did. As a natural introvert, I needed the reminder.
The last few years I have been keeping a different kind of list.
It isn’t written on paper, but it exists just as concretely in my mind. It is a running tally of everything I have lost since—cancer. I try not to revisit it too often, but it is there all the same. And top and center, capitalized and in bold font, is my number one loss. LOSS #1 = FAMILY AND FRIENDS. These are the loved ones who faced cancer, fought hard, yet never received an “all clear” diagnosis. I miss them. I mourn them. I wonder why I am still here while they have passed on. I know, in professional writing all caps and bold font are a thing of the past. But this is my list, and I give myself permission to use all the resources possible to create an impact, because loss #1 is a crappy loss.
Loss #2 hurt earlier more than it does now. Loss #2 = loss of my job. I haven’t been able to return to work since my diagnosis. At first it was hard to accept. Maybe I tied too much of my identity to a profession. Now I look at this loss and consider it a 50/50 item. 50% loss, 50% blessing. But we will get to that later.
Loss # 3 = physical impairments. Many cancer survivors have to deal with permanent changes following treatment. For me this means fatigue, loss of hearing, chemo-brain, and lymphedema.
Loss # 4 = lifestyle changes. Some are obvious, like moving a little more slowly and having to plan my days around my energy level, and others are more personal (I won’t embarrass you with the details).
I recently read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. I was impressed by his candor when writing about his depression following an automobile accident that left him in poor shape and extreme pain. He had his own list of losses. Then he heard of a man who lost his eyesight. The man obsessed on what he could no longer do, and then was challenged by a friend to instead make a list of everything that was still within his abilities.
Aha – a list. That got me thinking about my own list, my list of losses. What if I flipped it around and started to keep track of my gains since cancer? It was enlightening. What have I gained? 1. A more intimate relationship with God and greater dependence on him. 2. Deeper relationships with friends and family. 3. A love for writing. It wasn’t something I pursued, but something God gave me and is not impeded by my physical limitations. 4. I can wiggle my toes. I know this isn’t technically a newly gained skill, but my appreciation for it is new. When I get frustrated with the lymphedema/swelling in my legs, I wiggle my toes. I can still do that.
This is just a start. I hope to keep adding to my new list. And what about you? What do you have to be thankful for in this season of thanksgiving? I challenge you to start your own list. I bet you will be surprised.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3

A special thank you to Paula Pickhardt for the use of her photograph: Sunburst Mum, Copyright © 2014.

Sara Nelson O’Brien is the author of The Bald Headed, Tattooed, Motorcycle Mama’s Devotional Guide: For Women Battling Cancer and Those Who Love Them. Copyright © 2013. Available on

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