For The Someday Book

The Incredible Year

Posted on: June 9, 2017

One year ago today, I carried the last box of my belongings out of St. Luke’s UCC, where I had served as pastor for more than 10 years with a congregation whom I loved and who loved me in return. With tears in my eyes, I returned to take this photo, lock the door one last time, and surrender my keys.

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I got into my car, piled high with boxes, and drove to the radiologist for a mammogram on the lump I had found in my breast a few days earlier, on the eve of my farewell service and celebration. The mammogram produced hushed tones, and I knew right away that wasn’t good. The tech escalated me to an ultrasound, and, after a few minutes, quietly left the room to fetch the doctor immediately.

They told me they couldn’t be certain, but the lump I found showed every characteristic of being cancerous. I called a dear friend from the parking lot, sobbing with fear and uncertainty. The next morning, as the crew loaded all our belongings into a container bound for London, the doctor called to schedule a biopsy.

Thus began the most incredible year of my life. Incredible is the only word I can muster, because it literally means unbelievable. I find this year in my life impossible to believe.

Today, one year later, I am sitting in the tiny village of Cadouin in southern France, sipping wine, eating Camembert on a fresh baguette, feeling great, and preparing to officiate a wedding in a chateau later this afternoon. I can’t believe I get this opportunity. Incredible.

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My writing spot for this post: Les Anciens Gendarmarie, a police station in Cadouin dating to at least 1606, converted to a B&B. Every now and then, someone passes by my window on horseback.

This year, our whole family moved to London, and we have learned how to navigate a new country, a new city, a new currency, a new house, new groceries, and a new language (it’s more unfamiliar than you think). I have made more cultural faux pas than I care to remember—usually not even realizing it until hours or days later, too late to apologize—and received much forgiveness. Incredible.

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View of London’s Canary Wharf from Greenwich, on a Sunday afternoon outing with the family.

My son has made his way in a new school, and we have all made new friends that we expect will last a long time. Incredible.

My new ministry at the American International Church in London has been a gift in every way, and I am honored to serve with such faithful folks. We are energizing one another with the possibilities and the power of the Spirit to work through us in this place. Incredible!

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The day I had my PICC line removed, the end of chemo and just before surgery and radiotherapy.

I have had three surgeries, countless tests and procedures, six sessions of chemotherapy, 23 sessions of radiotherapy, yet I now feel stronger, healthier and more fit than I did a year ago. I lived with a PICC line for five months and spent most of the year completely bald. Another surgery and more targeted chemo injections still await, but the worst is over, my hair is growing back, and the cancer seems to be gone for now. Incredible.

Having never been to Europe before the move (except for the interview at the church), I have now explored Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; Rome, Italy; Prague, Czech Republic and the Perigord region, France. Unglaublich! Neuveritelny! Incredibile! Incroyable!

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My son’s team in Prague. An hour after this picture, my son would be wrapped in this flag celebrating victory over Lithuania. Amazing!

Last weekend, my son played on Team UK, a 10U baseball team representing the United Kingdom in a tournament in Prague. We made new friends from across England that suddenly feel like our closest kin. They brought home a trophy and he wrapped himself in the Union Jack after hitting a walk-off double to win the game. Incredible!

My father died unexpectedly this year, yet even as I grieve his loss, there remains a sense of peace and relief in his sudden death, knowing he was spared a coming suffering. I want to call him up to tell him things all the time—like my son’s game-winning hit in Prague, or the fact that the rehearsal dinner last night at this wedding in France featured the Good Old Song from his alma mater the University of Virginia—but I feel a sense of peace and trust that he already knows. Incredible.

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Standing in front of my dad’s office one last time, having dressed in our finest to go to the courthouse to probate his will. He took us to the courthouse with him often when we were growing up, and always required we look our best. I also always remember him in his gray suit, so I dressed to match.

A cadre of friends—both old and new, here and abroad–have been a posse, a safety net, a support structure, a protective guard, a soft landing place, a strength in times of trouble. I cannot imagine how I would have survived this year without such support, encouragement and permission to be needy for awhile. Incredible.

I learned to drink coffee. For those who know me well, you know that this may just top the list of unbelievable events. Incredible!

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I learned to drink coffee in Vienna, accompanied by some new friends that already feel like heart-friends.

At several moments this year, I believed my life to be in jeopardy. There were some scary times, not just at the initial diagnosis, but during treatment here in the UK. (Those are some of the stories yet untold, except to a very small group of friends. They will be written as I am able, as I still need to process all that has happened.) Yet here I am, and the prognosis for my future cancer-free life looks very good indeed. Incredible.

This morning, I sat at a panoramic overlook looking over the village and Abbey of Cadouin (built in 1115), just trying to comprehend all that has happened this year. Incredible. Unbelievable.

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This morning, one year later, overlooking Cadouin. The smile is genuine—I started laughing with joy after contemplating this incredible year. Here I am in France, a cancer survivor, pastor in London, beloved of God. Incroyable!

I was overcome with the feeling of privilege. I feel privileged to be alive at all, and only more so to have experienced this incredible year. I think this might have been simultaneously the best and worst year of my life. I have been privileged to experience things this year that most people only dream about—travel, living abroad, engaging in meaningful work, a thriving child, feeling beloved by family and friends. I have also been privileged to experience things this year that most people fear—cancer, chemo, the death of a parent–and to have survived them.

Today, it all feels like privilege. I can’t call the events of this year a blessing, because that opens the door to a theology in which God sends pleasure and pain to edify or punish or reward or inspire, and I don’t believe God works like that. Things happen, from cancer to death to miracles to weddings in France and baseball games in Prague.

I wrote earlier in this journey, quoting Frederick Buechner: “Welcome to the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.” Today, I make an addendum. “Give thanks, for God is abides.” I can only stand on this anniversary day, in this incredible, unbelievable year, and tell you that God has been with me, that I have survived, and that I feel only gratitude for the gift of it all—the hard days and the amazing ones, the grief and the joy, the pain and the pleasure. I am glad to be alive, and I am overwhelmed by love. If it seems incredible, that’s because it is, even to me. But it is my truth, my joy, my testimony. Praise be to God, for the gift of life.

 

 

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9 Responses to "The Incredible Year"

Wow…I have always loved reading your blog posts and really missed them during your hiatus. This post is very inspirational (I think that is the right word I am looking for), it is truly amazing looking at your last year’s journey through these words you have written. I am amazed, excited, proud, saddened, and a handful of other emotions as reading.
I thank you for your leadership and devotion while at St. Luke’s, you are missed by many, but we all understand that GOD’s calling has blessed us, you, your family, our family, and our greater family more than we can imagine. Keep your head up and driving forward in life.
By the way the picture of you and your “new” hair is awesome. You look really good.
Barney

Beautiful, just beautiful. Here’s to many more years of your wisdom and joy!

Wow, Jennifer a watershed year for sure. And something radical — radical trust? Radical surrender? Radical treatment? Or all of the above.
So happy for all your adventures….
Susan

Thank you for your testimony!! Blessings for all the years ahead.

I share with you so much gratitude and love my dear friend!

Jennifer, thank you for these writings. I often wonder about you and much time had passed since we last heard from you, so this submission makes me very happy. We recently completed a UCC4 CREDO and I remember you so well from Lake Logan, NC and UCC2. Continued blessings to you, your spouse and your son. I will forward to hearing more from you! Love, Joanne

Thank you for sharing your beautiful and sometimes tragic story. I love reading your blog. You truly are an inspiring gift from God.

Bless you. Thank you for sharing your story. Incroyable, indeed!

Jennifer, I hadn’t realized that our wedding day was 1 year since such another important day. I am simply in awe of your bravery, joy, and leadership in the past year in the face of so many challenges. Having only moved to the UK at about the same time as you, but not faced cancer or a death in the family, I can say it’s been overwhelming at times. You are an inspiration.

We were so incredibly thankful to have you officiate our wedding. I’m also glad that June 9, 2017 found you celebrating with us!

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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