Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Things I Learned In My 60th Year

I only have a few days left at age 60. I turn 61 on Saturday. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I'm definitely an old dog, but I've learned a lot this past year. I don't think I've learned any tricks, though, so maybe the saying is true.

One reason I wanted to reflect on my 60th year today, and no later in the week, is that today is an unfortunate anniversary. One year ago today, the church where I led worship, Hope Fellowship, held our last service. The loss of that church was far more than the loss of a gig to us. We lost the support of a church home during one of the most difficult times of our lives. It took months to replace that, and I still miss seeing those people every week, though we still maintain friendships with many of them to this day.

One of those friends, Mark Allen, gave me the coffee mug that's pictured above for my 60th birthday. On the other side, it says, "I'm not old, I'm epic." That appeals to a prog rock fan like me. Epic like a 25 minute Yes song. That's me. I wish. I have to use this mug for the rest of the week. On Saturday, I won't be 60 anymore.

At my 60th birthday party, I learned that it's not necessarily a bad thing to have a blizzard the same night. We had a great turnout in spite of the snow on May 9th, but the weather kept everyone inside, and it turned out to be the best party we've ever had.

But that's not why we're here. This won't be a retrospective post, but a reflective one. I learned some bad things, and also some very good things at 60. Life changing things.

Of course, I learned this past August that I have cancer, after learning in April that my PSA was 15.8, up from 6.6 two years earlier. Any number above 4.0 is bad. Since I have prostate cancer in my family, I knew what the likelihood was, but I didn't know for sure that I had cancer until August. Soon after, I learned that it was aggressive and inoperable. I learned that I will probably have a much shorter life span than I was expecting.

I learned much more than I wanted to learn about how a hormone treatment like Lupron would affect me. When you are diagnosed with cancer, you get a crash course on a lot of things, and there's no instruction manual on how to handle it. You have to learn as you go, and it's a bumpy ride.

I had to learn how to gain weight. Because I've been naturally thin my whole life, it's always been easy for me to lose weight, and very hard to gain it. Cancer makes it that much harder. I had to go to a nutritionist to learn how to put on pounds. It's working. I weighed 130 today, which is my normal weight. Now I have to learn how to maintain at this weight. I don't want to keep gaining.

I learned that people can say some pretty dumb things when they find out that you have prostate cancer. Well meaning things, but dumb nonetheless.

But I've learned some much more important things at age 60 than anything health related. Things that are just as life changing as cancer and the treatment that goes along with it. Wonderful things, mostly.

When I went public with my diagnosis, I learned within hours that I was much more loved than I realized. In the first few weeks after I announced my cancer on Facebook, and we opened our GoFundMe campaign, the outpouring of love and support was nothing short of astonishing. I told close friends and family members that my wife and I had no clue how loved we are.

If you've read my early posts, or were one of my original CaringBridge community, you've seen how I struggled for months to wrap my head around all of this love. I still struggle to come to terms with it, and I don't think I'll ever feel that I deserve it, but I accept it now. It forms a foundation under me, a "bed of love." Friends make fun of me for using that expression, but that's how it feels to me. I feel like that bed, or cushion, or foundation will catch me if I fall. It's hard to explain.

This is why I encourage my cancer brothers to go public as well, but many don't feel like they can. My heart breaks for them.

But I've also learned that, when you first go public, while the initial response is great, even overwhelming, after a few months, it slows to a trickle. People move on with their lives, of course. You have to expect that. In the early stages, a lot of people say to let them know if you need anything. But later, if you seem like you're getting along OK, people forget that you may still need some help. And if you're at a late enough stage of cancer, you probably always will. But people don't ask how they can help, probably because they know you might tell them.

In our case, this is probably directly related to not having had a church home during this time. Had we been part of a congregation who knew us and our needs, things might have been different. That's a reason to go to church! A church family will rally around you in your time of need. So I've learned not to get cancer when we're between churches! Oops.

I've learned that I have a legacy that I want to protect. A worldwide ministry that I've been a big part of for many years. So while it's difficult at times for me to focus on my old work because I'm so preoccupied with this thing that's taken over my life, at the same time, I want to make sure that I finish well in that ministry and hand it off to the next person or people, who will take it places that I never could.

I've learned that what's really important are the people in my life. Long dormant relationships have come alive. Old friendships are deeper now. New friendships keep developing. It's a wonderful thing. My favorite thing to do now is be with my friends in person, or communicate with them on the phone, via email or text, or online. Love is addictive. Giving it and receiving it. When we love, we are most like God.

Which leads me to the most important thing I learned at age 60.  I learned that God is real. I always believed that he was, and have experienced him throughout my life. But not like this. Now he's so close I can hear him whisper. I can feel him all round me and inside me. The love of friends and family, as wonderful as it is, can't compare with the love of God. Like him, it's infinite.

I've learned what joy is. I'm experiencing it on a continual basis for the first time in my life. I learned about joy when I finally understood that I had to rely on God. I can't take care of everything myself anymore, as if I ever could. I wish it hadn't taken until age 60 to learn that, but at least I finally did.

I've learned what songs are for. Not for me to analyze or criticize, but to add meaning to people's lives.

And I've learned that God has something for me to do. Something important. And it's something I love, which makes it all the better. I'm supposed to write about what I'm going through, and try to use my experience to help others who are going through similar things. Whether I live or die, that will live on. This blog will always be here, long after I'm gone. I may start turning it into a book soon. If I do, that will be out there too, hopefully helping many people.

I'm glad that I've never stopped learning. In my adult life, I've learned about music and technology, recording and pop vocal technique. I've learned a lot about the Bible from years of intensive study. I've learned how to be a church worship leader. But none of that compares to what cancer has taught me, and what God continues to teach me through it. That's the purpose of this blog; it's about my cancer and about what God is teaching me through it. It's the most important lesson of my life, and I don't think I'm anywhere near done learning.

Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long. (Psalm 25:5)

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