Writer’s Block: Ma(r)king celebrations in life

by Sue Austreng

You know that old cliche that says “When March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb”? Well, for my family and I, March 2011 indeed came in like a lion.

On March 2, my younger brother was diagnosed with a very rare, very aggressive form of lymphoma. On March 3, my youngest child reported that he may be deployed to Afghanistan with the Air Force. And on March 4, my husband lost his job. Uff-da! What a way to start the day. Or the week or the month or the year.

It became absolutely vital that we uncover the good in those challenging months that followed. During the trials we endured in those days, we learned to live life to the fullest. To embrace the wonder and joy of each new day. To celebrate even the smallest of victories.

Those celebrations were so vital, but sometimes felt so selfish, especially as Jeff endured the painful and abusive effects of his high-powered cancer treatment. How dare we celebrate life and count tiny accomplishments as victories? How could we see any good in any of this? But Jeff led the way, wearing neon-colored shoelaces to his chemo infusions just because he knew it would make nurses’ days bright.

Or unfolding paper medication cups and making them into flowers and then pinning them to the bulletin board in his hospital room, just because he knew it would brighten the room and give nurses something pleasant to look at when they came in to check his vitals. Or the time he alerted hospital staff to a wilting American flag, hoisted outside the window of his hospital room where he was receiving one of his intense 24-hour chemo treatments.

“We’re honoring the military. Shouldn’t we raise a nice, crisp flag?” he said to Mercy Hospital’s president, who visited Jeff after hearing about his observation. Sure enough the tattered flag was retired and a new one went up in time for Memorial Day.

Yep, Jeff showed us all how to see the good in life and live life to the fullest, even as he battled the cancer that ultimately consumed him. And get this: as my little brother crossed the threshold into his heavenly home Nov. 20, 2011, our good and gracious Lord reminded us of His renewing life-giving love with a fresh blanket of snow.

During the course of those many months of wonder and worry from March until the end of November, there were times when it could have been easy to become numb to small victories, to see only the dark side. It would have been easy to brush the small things aside, our eyes and hearts fixated on the bigger goal. Or maybe we could have been afraid to celebrate, thinking that we don’t deserve to celebrate until we reach the prize – remission for Jeff, a stateside assignment for my son, a new job for my husband. Or maybe we think we’re going to jinx ourselves by counting our chickens before they hatch. That’s not only misguided, it steals our joy!

If we did finally reach the big victory, our joy would not be diminished by having celebrated steps taken in the right direction along the way – or taking steps to create joy for others! And if we didn’t reach the goal, we might be heartbroken, but at least we would have fully embraced the journey every step of the way – and perhaps that is the real prize after all. After some distance traveled down life’s challenging lanes, tangible victory was won in the other two “in like a lion” attacks of the first week of March 2011: In June, my son’s deployment was canceled and just last week my husband landed a job.

And there were more joys, too: my daughter’s wedding, my older brother relocating here from Montana and my son’s purchase of his first house. As life goes on, the first steps of new journeys are taken and challenges will arise. But be sure to celebrate the small victories along the way. Once your eyes are open to victories of all sizes, you’re all the more able to see them in yourself – and in everyone else. There is no better feeling than to acknowledge someone else’s victories, especially the little ones they haven’t thought to celebrate.

Remind them of all the good in life and celebrate along with them!

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