This week, Christians celebrate that God became human in the form of an infant child. The story is full of unexpected twists and turns—Mary becomes pregnant even though she is a virgin; Joseph stays true to his commitment to marry her because an angel appears to him in a dream; and Mary and Joseph trek to his hometown for a census, only to find no room for them at the inn.
It is easy to imagine the people in this story saying, “I didn’t expect that” or “I didn’t see that coming.”
“How was the past decade for you?” someone asked on a radio show this week.
My first reaction was “Ugh!” The past decade was a tough one for me—full of unexpected twists and turns. Many times, I said, “I didn’t expect that” or “I didn’t see that coming.”
If someone had asked me at the end of 2009 to predict what the next decade would bring, I would not have been able to guess most of what happened over the past ten years.
It started in December 2009, when my cousin died from pancreatic cancer. Her death rocked my world on several levels. She was near my age (too young to die) and she lived away from family (as did I). She was unwilling to talk about her illness and seemed to be in denial that she was about to die.
I grew up in a house where denial was a way of life. Years of therapy have helped me learn a different way, but my cousin’s death made me wonder if I would revert to the fallback position of denial if something catastrophic happened to me. I began to ask myself how I would react if I was diagnosed with cancer or another terminal illness.
Of course, we only know what we will do when we are faced with the situation, but my cousin’s death made me face my own mortality.
Over the next six years, five friends died from cancer and one (who was only twenty-six) died from a heart attack.
Plus, I moved back to my home state to be near my family.
It was a decade of change and loss, and I am happy to put it behind me.
At the same time, I learned a lot during this decade.
I am not the same person I was ten years ago and much of that change happened because of the challenges I had to face.
I learned that I really would step up in a crisis, take someone into my home and help him to have the kind of death he wanted.
I learned to be more honest and realistic, to let go of unmet expectations and accept reality.
I learned to spend more time and energy on what really matters and give little time or energy to petty problems or contrived dramas. “Is it brain cancer?” I ask.
Unexpected events happen; how we respond to them is what makes the difference.