About Canoes & Cancer

(Back in January, I spoke at a women’s ministry event.  It was a cruise themed brunch entitled “Sailing the Crystal Seas.”  I was asked to speak on navigating life’s stormy gales.  It took me a while to decide to do it.  Not because I’m afraid to speak in public, but because I felt like many people already had me up on this inspirational cancer girl pedestal, and I didn’t want to pretend to be some sort of role model.  In the end, I didn’t have a good reason not to speak, so I did.  The space constraints of the old blog site prevented me from publishing it back then, but that’s not a problem here.  For some reason I feel impressed to publish it today.)   


I grew up canoeing.  Our family got a canoe when I was about 7 years old, and we spent a lot of time during the summer canoeing on Big Raccoon Creek.  Not too long after we got the canoe, my dad and I entered a parent/child canoe race that was part of what used to be known as the Banks of the Wabash Festival.  The race was a sprint—I believe about ¼ mile.  If I remember correctly, it was from the old river bridge to some point along the bank at Fairbanks Park.  When it came time to race, I remember sitting in the front of the canoe, pouring every ounce of effort I had into paddling, as family and friends watched from the river bank.  I remember thinking how fast we were going, and how speedy we must look to the folks on the shore. 

Of course, to hear my dad tell it years later, my contribution was not the powerful paddle strokes that I thought I was using.  Instead, they were poorly timed, badly executed, and succeeded more in slowing us down than speeding us up. 

Nevertheless, we won first place. 

This, my friends, is my first place trophy from that race.  Can’t you just hear the crowd cheering?  At 30 years old it’s a little worse for the wear…the plate which held the event name was lost somewhere alone the way, and sometimes it kind of comes unscrewed and ends up all cockeyed…and that may be due in part to the fact that I loved to show it off and tell the story of how we won a canoe race on the river.  Of course, I usually left out one little detail when I was bragging.

We were the only ones in the race.

I was thinking about my canoe because Women of Joy had asked me to tie into the whole sea-faring/cruise theme.  There’s quite a contrast between my canoe and a cruise ship, and it occurred to me that it was a pretty good analogy. 

In a canoe, we’re in control.  And canoes are great for navigating streams and rivers, lakes and ponds.  I like to compare this to the everyday, mundane circumstances of life.  God has given us the intelligence, and the ability to handle these types of things without consulting him.  For example, I’ll bet that most of us don’t stand in the grocery store and pray over the various products asking for God’s guidance.  “Lord Jesus, I want to do your will.  I know Dawn cuts grease and takes it away, but Lord there is also Palmolive, which softens hands while you do the dishes.   I just ask that you make it abundantly clear to me which dish soap is the one you’d have me to use.”  

We don’t do that, because we don’t need to.  God has not only given us the ability to make such decisions, but He’s given us the freedom to do so, as well.  We’re in our canoe.  The water is calm.  The decisions are ours.  No problem.  Hopefully, we make wise decisions based on the brains God has given us and our personal preferences.  If so—wooo!—look at us!  First place!

But, calm inland waters are not the only ones we will navigate in life.  We often find ourselves out in the ocean.  Even when calm, the ocean is not really a good place to be in a canoe.  Canoes aren’t made for that sort of thing, but many times we try to stay in them anyway.  Our successes with the mundane make us think that we’re somehow skilled enough to remain in control despite the fact that we simply are not equipped to do so. 

And there’s something else about canoes:  they’re not very big.  We can only carry so much in the way of provisions.  If we have to be on the ocean for a long time—and we do—how will we ever carry enough supplies to make the trip?  And forget canoeing the stormy seas.  You’ll soon find yourself hanging onto your capsized canoe trying desperately to maintain control while the provisions you did bring sink.  “What will I do?  How can I fix this situation?” you think.  Completely self-focused, without nourishment, and hanging desperately to our upside down boat, we can’t even take care ourselves, let alone anyone else.

What we really need is to be on a vessel that is big enough to navigate the ocean.  One that is steady in the waves, and secure even in the storms.  A ship that has plenty of space to store everything we need for our journey.  We need to be on a cruise ship, but there’s a catch to that: we will not be in control.  In fact, we will have to trust God to be in control. 

When you’re standing on the deck of the cruise ship, the decision to trust God can seem easy.  You’re already there.  Of course it’s better than being tossed around in a canoe.  Duh!  Besides, check out the buffet! 

But, when you’ve canoed out into the ocean, and the waves start getting high and fierce, and between the salt water burning your eyes and the smothering waves crashing over your head, your fear may be so great that you won’t dare let go of your canoe to grab a life preserver thrown from the ship. 

Can I just say that Satan loves that?  He loves to see us clinging to what we think we can control as we are overcome by waves.  He loves to feed fear to that part of us that needs to let go of the canoe and grab the life preserver.  He loves seeing us doubt whether or not to put our trust in God.  We have a choice to make: Do we grab the life preserver?  Or cling to our canoe?  We may not be in control of the waves, or even the canoe, but we have control over our choices. 

Hopefully, we choose to put our faith in God.   

When Jody asked me to speak, she mentioned something to the effect of everyone being anxious to hear how I keep my focus on God, and how that has helped me through this past year.  I thought, “Oh, I’m SUCH a fake!  Is that really how I come off?  Like I’ve got it all together, and it’s because I’m so very holy that I just breeze right through whatever happens?”  Let me enlighten you.

My friends, I’m no role model.  I’m not always focused on God.  I don’t pray as much as I should. I have wrestled with God for control of my situation more than once.  Still don’t believe me?  Do you want to know what the first thing was that I thought upon hearing that I had cancer?  I thought, AT GOD, “I hate you.”  

I’ve never told anyone that—because I’m ashamed that I ever thought it.  But, I needed to make clear to you that what you see in me that you call strength is not me at all.  It’s God’s grace—given to me not because I deserve it, or because I’m so focused, or at all holy—but because that’s what He does for his children when they are broken. 

Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

People often say to me, “I don’t know how you manage.  I couldn’t do it.”  I really don’t even understand a comment like that.  I want to ask them if they think this was optional and I chose it.  Perhaps they think one day God said, “Hey what do you think about some cancer?” And I was like, “What a great opportunity for me to show everyone how well I’ll cope!  Bring it on!” 

We don’t get to choose our circumstances.  But, we still have a choice.

In movie The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo, the ring bearer says, I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”  Gandalf replies,  “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

We need to realize that all life is not about us.  We can either get all wrapped up in our circumstances, or choose to focus on something beside ourselves.  I can tell you from my own experience that focusing on self is counter-productive.  When we focus on ourselves, we focus on what we can do and what we think we can control.  The only thing we really control is our attitude and our actions.  Beyond that, we’re just wrestling with God.

When we wrestle with God, we’re playing right into Satan’s hands.  He wants us not to trust God.  He wants to feed our doubts and fears. The devil is opportunistic.  If we beat ourselves up, if we work ourselves into a frenzy of fear, if we wallow in self-pity, we’re basically doing his work for him, and he’s happy to let us.  No matter what our situation, our choice boils down to this: Either we trust God, or we let Satan get the best of us.

I remember a few months back I was boo-hooing to a friend about the fact that I was going to have to have a mastectomy.  This was one of those days where I was just completely in meltdown mode.  She said, “Can you still fulfill God’s purpose for you without that breast?”  What could I say?  I had to admit that I could.  Yet I was still all wrapped up in myself, and at first I was kind of annoyed with her for asking.  “Yes,” I grumbled, I could still fulfill God’s purpose, blah, blah, blah, “BUT….” I started in again.  She wouldn’t leave me alone though, and I finally saw how self-focused I was being.

 Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m still not thrilled about giving up a breast.  You won’t hear me say ”Gee, I hope I can have another mastectomy for the glory of God!  In fact, my only regret is that I don’t have more breasts to sacrifice.”  If I do have another mastectomy, I’ll wish that it didn’t have to be so. 

It’s not wrong to grieve for our losses in life.  God created us with the ability to feel deeply.  However, we cannot build permanent homes in the desert.  God has better places in mind for us.  We must trust God, and keep moving.

Acts 26:16  says “Now get up and stand on your feet.  I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.”

Can someone tell me what the first word of that passage was?  It was now.  Now.  Not “when I’ve got it all together”.  Not “when I get through this”. Not “when I’m as wise as so-and-so”.  Now.  Wherever you are—there is value there.  There is opportunity there.  God has work for you to do.  Don’t focus on yourself to the point of becoming cross-eyed and miss seeing the opportunities around you.

Now get up and stand on your feet.