I was a counselor at kids’ camp. It was the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep. The thin mattress was hard and pressed on my chest. There was a lump, so I moved.
But the lump followed wherever I went.
Sitting on the edge of the bed in the darkness, I pressed my fingers in my chest and it felt gumball sized. Not the tiny yellow and red and blue gumballs, but the large ones that cost a quarter in the machine.
Later, when I arrived home and went to the doctor, all the tests came in and the lump was bad.
It was cancer, and it had spread . . . and I was only 31.
I had lots of things on my mind up until that time.
Children. Three of them, nearly all the same age. Soccer practice. Basketball. Hard bleachers that left their mark on my behind. Lunches to make. Messes to clean. My husband of 12 years who I loved like crazy. Bills, ministry, friends, commuting, my job, whether I would ever get to write, stretch marks that hadn’t gone away, packing lunches, laundry, whether we could afford a new tire for my car, a bossy relative, that TV show I liked . . .
Everything faded as I dealt with surgery. Chemo. Radiation. Surgery again. For two years, my life revolved around getting better. It was a scary time, but finally I emerged.
And I was still me. Except when I looked around, my perspective had changed.
Focus on the Miracles
That scary time of battling cancer taught me what really mattered, and lots of things that used to take up space in my heart and head just didn’t seem as important anymore.
Which made what mattered stand out even more.
One daughter slept by my bed every night, and I often woke up with her little hand reaching for mine. My oldest daughter reassured me God was with us with child-like faith. My son wasn’t 100 percent sure what was going on, but he was over-the-top grateful for the movies, treats, and love he was receiving from our family and friends while Mom got better.
The first time I sat on those hard bleachers again and watched a soccer game in the rain, I was delighted. Cancer didn’t make motherhood magical—it just added more weight to the miracle instead of the mess.
I looked over and saw my gorgeous husband who lost his hair while I went through chemo. (I didn’t lose mine, but his never came back.) Hair or not, I wanted to grow old with him.
I saw family, friends, my church—all who wrapped around us the best they knew how in the most difficult time of our life.
Those other things that once almost consumed me—my job, my stretch marks (stinking body image!), bills, my car, and everything else that once seemed so big—sure, they were still there, but they took their proper place in my thoughts, my time, and my heart.
It’s been 23 years since my diagnosis and that long-ago scary battle with cancer still alters the way I look at life.
Take, for example, wrinkles.
I love them.
When I look in the mirror and see the lines around my eyes, it tells me time has passed and I am growing older.
That those three young children have grown into adults, and I was there to watch it take place.
I held my first grandbaby in my arms, and the second, all the way to the fifth.
Growing older isn’t a pain. Wrinkles aren’t a terrible thing. Each of these wrinkles is a gift.
So I celebrate—not just life itself, but what matters in life. For when we discover that, it has the power to change the everyday things, even wrinkles, into miracles.
A wise person once said, “The things that you take for granted, someone else is praying for.”
Even though my perspective on aging—on all of life—changed due to battling cancer, as time passed, it was still tempting to forget my miracles. To take for granted what really mattered. We each face this temptation, don’t we?
When I start to look in the mirror and see my wrinkles negatively instead of treasuring the miracles or if I view good things as a burden, this practice helps put it all back into perspective. It’s not a utopian way of looking at life—I’m still going to buy great anti-aging cream!—but it means intentionally choosing gratitude as you tackle real life.
Here’s what I do to put it all into perspective and maybe this practice will help you too: Slow down for ten minutes. Open your journal. Take a good look around you. What do you see? Write it down.
Maybe you wrote down, “The mess in the living room.” Next, name the miracles in that mess: provision, a home, sticky kisses from a toddler, warmth, laughter.
Sure, there’s cleaning ahead and more messes to come, but seeing what matters changes it from a negative source of frustration into a miracle.
Ask God to shine a light on those miracles. (It’s okay to ask for help in this.) Then give thanks for what you might have taken for granted.
Do it again and again, as needed. Choose to treasure the messes and the wrinkles as the miracles they truly are.
Suzanne (Suzie) Eller is a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and author and her newest book is The Mended Heart: God’s Healing for Your Broken Places. Suzie lives in Northwest Arkansas and she’s delighted that she’s growing older with her husband of 34 years, Richard. Connect with Suzie on Twitter at @suzanneeller or on her website TSuzanneEller.com.