I love this day. ... I have loved this weekend.
Yesterday morning, I'd woken up, thinking that I had a week left to decide what I'm going to say at the conference on the 20th. (Note that I've known about this since Labor Day weekend, and I'm still not sure what I'll say. I am super awesome like that.) As I realized that I was on the six day countdown yesterday, I actually got a little nervous. I thought maybe I should get a little structure in my life and come up with a plan. ... For about ten minutes, I was afraid that I wouldn't have anything to say. I wasn't sure if I was gonna be able to go 45 minutes without getting boring. (Worst. Nightmare. Ever.) But there was somewhere I needed to be, so I stopped worrying about it and got myself there. As I settled in for a two hour appointment, in which I knew I would be lying perfectly still, my friend who was working on me asked me to tell her about my cancer. So, I did. I talked and I talked and I talked and I talked (you can imagine). And just when I got to the part of how I have a love/hate relationship with the cancer (mostly it's pure hatred... but I do love it for what it has shown me, in regards to how blessed I am, and how good people are), I realized that I had been talking for 45 minutes.
There went any worry that I would run out of stuff to say. (Like that was a legit concern in the first place. Really, Evans, you thought you'd run out of words? Really?)
And then she gave me feedback on what I had said. She told me she would have never thought I was sick. She told me that she loved that I could find humor in this hard thing that has happened, that she could tell that this particular struggle has brought me peace.
That is exactly what I would want anyone to know - or feel - when I talk about what the cancer has done for me. Gone are any concerns or worries I had felt that I cannot do what I need to do next week. G-O-N-E, gone. ... I do so love it when life hands me the very experience I need to have, so I can know that I'm on the right path.
My cousin Shelly is in town this weekend for a family function on her husband's side of the family, and we've been trying to meet up for days. This morning, I woke up and my first thought was "text Shelly - now", so I did. She responded right away that she was glad I was up (it was around 7:00), and said that she and Scott would like to come to my church, so they could see me.
(Wow, they're good, right? They go to church when they are on vaca. ... I am not sure if we're actually related.)
As I walked down the sidewalk into the church parking lot, I heard a car door shut and a familiar voice call out, "COUSIN!", and I felt a rush of love that I cannot quantify. That is one of my favorite words, it is one of my favorite titles - and all of the people who call me that are people I love. Shelly and I met in the middle of the parking lot. We hugged, we talked. ... And then we walked into church, late. ... The congregation was singing the third verse of Count Your Many Blessings, and I remember thinking that it was too bad I had missed the beginning of the song, as it's one of my favorites. We sat down and I started to sing. Shelly started right behind me, in harmony, and she sounded so like my mother that it brought tears to my eyes.
I had a hard time getting through the fourth verse without crying, I was so overcome with gratitude for the blessings in my life. Specifically, I was grateful that I was in church - and singing - with my cousin. I remember having two distinct thoughts: "I can't forget to tell Shelly that I count her as one of the blessings in my life" and "How happy would Grammy be, if she could hear us singing this hymn together?"
When the song was over, Shelly leaned over and told me that I sounded like Grammy. (That was a lie, but it was a kind one. So, I thanked her without calling her out.)
When the Sacrament song was announced - I Stand All Amazed - Shelly leaned over again and said "Wow, they sing good songs in your ward!" I smiled and agreed and told her that the chorister is a music teacher, so we usually have pretty good hymn combos. Again, we sang in harmony. Again, I had a hard time choking out some of the words... because I love them so much.
I marvel that He would descend from his throne divine to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine (anyone who knows me knows that I am both rebellious and proud), that He should extend His great love until such as I, sufficient to own, to redeem and to justify. (Today, the words, own, redeem and justify hit me like a ton of bricks.)
I think of His hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt! Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget? No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat, until at the glorified throne, I kneel at His feet. (The punctuation in verse three is a thing of beauty. I can't even type it without welling up.)
The rest hymn - For the Strength of the Hills - was, astonishingly enough, another of my FAVORITE hymns, I got through the first two bars of verse two before another wave of emotion and gratitude hit me:
"... we've borne and suffered long; Thou has been our help in weakness, and Thy pow'r has made us strong"
I especially love the end of that hymn. I love how solid and strong the language and the music are. Whenever I sing that song, I feel bound to my ancestors who really did find refuge in the strength of the hills. I love that my God was their God. I always feel a tie to family, to my history, when I sing that hymn - but singing it with my cousin, a woman with whom I share both my heritage and beliefs, made it that much more impactful today.
The closing hymn was God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand (I can't even type that without hearing the organ pounding behind me). Another favorite, with beautiful - almost painfully beautiful - harmony and accompaniment.
After Sacrament Meeting, I walked Shelly and her family out to their car. (They did go to church on vaca, but it was only for one hour. Maybe we're related, after all!) As I walked back into the building, I ran into Darrell Winder (the chorister) and he stopped me in the hall, saying that he had a story he felt that he needed to share.
Darrell told me that, on Tuesday, he was having difficulty selecting the hymns for the upcoming Sunday. He didn't have the topics for the talks and was having a hard time settling on what to sing, and suddenly his mind was directed to me. To give a little back story - Darrell and I went to high school together, so he has known me for over twenty years. Add time spent with mutual friends years (really, a generation) ago to the years he has been in my ward here in Mesa, and he has known a lot about the big events in my life to date. He told me that my name came into his mind on Tuesday, and he thought about me for a few minutes, remembering who and how I was in high school, and what he knows about me now - years later - and the four songs we sang just came right into his mind. He told me that he hadn't been sure why it was those songs, but that he'd been glad to see me walk in towards the end of the first hymn, because those songs had been chosen for me. He asked if there had been anything that had happened on Tuesday that would have led to his experience with the music. I told him that there hadn't been anything monumental on that day, but that last week as a whole had been hard, and that I had been amazed at how well the songs that we had sung today had resonated with me. I told him that my cousin had been there, that we had even talked about the hymn choices... and that I had been so happy to get to sing multiple favorites today.
Getting to sing songs I love with family was awesome. Hearing the story behind how those songs came to be chosen and grouped together brought me to tears.
Yesterday, I received an email from one of my childhood best friends. She wrote, "I hope you always feel the great love the masses have for you, and feel it the strongest when you need it the most."
I do, in fact, feel the great love the masses have for me - and it is always the strongest when I need it the most. At the end of the week last week, I needed to feel loved and supported. And I had both of those needs met - in spades - from no less than a dozen people in less than 48 hours.
I am so grateful for the sure knowledge that the Lord is aware of what happens in my life. I am so grateful for days like the last two, where everything has lined up and it has been crystal clear to me that I am where I should be, doing what I should be doing, spending time with those who matter the most.
To paraphrase a line from one of my favorite hymns, "I stand all amazed at the love that is offered me".
My goodness gracious, I love my life!