I have been in remission from Leukemia for over twenty five years now. Doctors considered me “cured” long ago. But it’s a paradoxical term, in my opinion; a combination of current success with the possibility of future failure. When someone is said to be “in remission,” that means the cancer has been beaten… for the moment. The body has taken back control and the cancerous cells have surrendered. Until they don’t. Too often they lie dormant, waiting for another opportunity to catch the body’s defense system off guard, only to come flooding back in, working furiously to strengthen their numbers. Sometimes the body successfully beats back the invasion again, once more entering into a state of remission. And sometimes it doesn’t, fighting until the grave. I am, unfortunately, intimately familiar with both.
I believe that every single person combats their own cancer- perhaps not on the cellular level, but on the soul level. If you consider what cancer actually is by definition (a disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells), I believe we are all born with a soul containing abnormal “cells” (a.k.a. our sin nature). The thoughts we think and the choices we make throughout our lifetime determine how much those cells divide and proliferate or remain dormant and inactive. Ultimately, though, the sad truth is that we all develop cancers- be it selfishness, pride, greed, anger, depression, hatred, bitterness, or any number of other soul-draining diseases. It is humanity’s curse.
But thank God the grave was not the end of His story, and it’s not the end of ours either.
There are no saints in this world. Even the “best” trudge through the trenches of imperfect living and thinking. I may be in remission from Leukemia, but there remains a more deeply rooted disturbance that gathers its strength daily every time I allow my anger and frustration to supersede kindness, gentleness, and respect.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)
“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
If it seems like much of my writing focuses on this one particular character flaw of mine it’s because I am very much a fool in this regard and it is the refining fire that burns hottest, the one that I often reject walking through out of pride, the one that keeps me lying awake at night wallowing in guilt. My propensity towards immediate frustration and annoyance is the thorn in my side. I get angry that I am angry, for goodness sake! And God’s response to my pleas that He help me acquire more self-control? More opportunities to practice getting it right.
Practice makes better, right? Well, unfortunately, my efforts most often feel a lot like one step forward and two steps back. I desire that my body reject the spread of this cancerous beast. Many days I do well. My reactions are slow and thoughtful, kind but firm. Other days I forget I’m the model for my children’s learned behavior and throw some epic adult tantrum-like attitude around, complete with yelling sarcastic responses at my sassy four year old in hopes that he won’t have a witty or quick enough response to “win” the argument. He usually does, though. And how? Because he’s been listening to ME.
It’s the ugliest kind of mirror.
Wasn’t my previous essay all about how I had finally figured it out and solved my problem? Yeah, that was a glorious week and a half of living in remission, of beating back the dark of my sin nature and living cancer-free. But while patting myself on the back, my heart was blinded by its own self-congratulatory pride, leaving the door cracked open for a few low-lying cells to sneak back in and take my body by surprise.
Normally I might say I’m back to square one, but I know I’m not. I recognize the signs earlier now, the swirls of smoke that signal a potential explosion- the heat rushing up to my face, jaw clenching, eyes narrowing. I have come to the point where, even in the heat of the moment, I hear God’s spirit within me begin to speak the way of wisdom to my rapidly disconnecting mind: slow down, breathe, pause, just wait, close your eyes, breathe again… and if I listen, I win. If I don’t, and allow my initial feelings to boil over into a reaction, I lose.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)
Ditto, Paul. Ditto a thousand times.
Living in remission of the soul means staying vigilant to potential threats that would create opportunity for a relapse. It means that the first time my son stares at me with a scowl on his face, I immediately take a deep breath. When his eyes roll all the way around his head and back again, I pause and close mine. Learning to react less and respond more is a developed skill that takes a whole lot of intentional practice and a whole lot more prayer. It means accepting the challenge of opportunities that offer such practice and need for prayer and facing them with a type of brave that goes beyond the natural.
And with the grit and determination of a mama who is committed to raising the right kind of men, I have resolved to keep on fighting. Every day. Every hour. Every moment.
Peace & Love, Amy
(If you are currently standing on a similar battleground, please let me know how I can pray for you.)