Monday, December 31, 2012

My annus mirabilis

It’s tempting to just call 2012 my annus horribilis and be done with it, but my life and my family’s life has been more complicated than that. In fact, as difficult as things have been at times, we have also seen minor miracles and been showered with great joy and love. I could just as easily call this my annus mirabilis (year of wonders) without minimizing the physical and mental distress that has been our companion over the last five months. We have so much for which to be grateful.

I use the plural pronoun deliberately, as no cancer patient (or “witness to cancer,” as I prefer to be known) is an island. We are in this together. My melanoma has altered forever the lives of my wife, Ellen, daughter Allison and son-and-in-law Jonathan, and son Nicholas (and girlfriend Sara). All have been with me and for me through the ordeal of brain tumor surgery and subsequent waves of therapy. In even my darkest moments I’ve never felt alone.

I’ve been willing to share this adventure knowing that it’s through suffering—both our own and that of others we love—that we come to know more about God. It’s possible to assert that no one can really say they know God at all until they do suffer.  While no sane person would wish for a diagnosis of cancer, seeing how my friends and family have risen to the occasion makes me an optimist. I know something today about the source of all strength that I didn’t before Aug. 5. I’ve been to the edge, looked over, and know that there is nothing to fear.

Tucking in at the Cowboy
Dinner Tree restaurant
in Summer Lake last June.
This year includes seven months during which my health was mostly a nonissue. It was last December that Nick graduated summa cum laude from George Fox University, and exactly a year ago that we solemnly celebrated Allie and Jon’s wedding vows and then partied exuberantly. What a rare and precious evening last New Year’s Eve was. We’re still tickled by its effervescence. In May, Jon completed his Master’s degree in theological studies at Notre Dame University and just weeks later he and his bride packed off to Buenos Aires to volunteer at a hospice run by the Society of St. John. Allie has written movingly about their experiences on her blog, Come and See.

Allie and Jon flew home just before Christmas and are now living in our downstairs apartment until they return to academe next summer. It was hard on us all to have them so far away during my medical emergency, but I was comforted by their prayers and we managed to keep up communications via Skype. Sharing the same roof will present new challenges as we discover anew what it means to live in community.

Nick presents at Jacques Ellul
conference at Wheaton College
Nick remained in Newberg after graduation, volunteering and auditing classes at GFU during spring term. He also invested countless hours preparing a paper on “The function of the university in the technological society” that he delivered (as the sole student presenter) in July at a philosophy conference in Wheaton, IL. I was eager to attend myself, so we cooked up a two-week road trip that took us through national parks from Corvallis to Chicago. It was epic—the best time that Nick and I have ever spent together. We had a blast.

We got home on July 13, Ellen and I coordinated a work party of squirrelly high school students at Acorn the week of July 22…and then all hell broke loose for me medically. You can read about what happened if you scroll backwards in this blog. I want to acknowledge that neither Ellen nor I can imagine getting through those early days without the encouragement and stalwart support that Nick and Sara provided. They were magnificent.

Nick is now in Seattle, tutoring English with elementary students in one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the country, extending hospitality to the North Beacon Hill neighborhood where he and his two roommates live, and hanging out with Sara. He loves the urban vibe of Seattle.

Ellen directs DACA candidate at
 workshop she organized last summer.
For Ellen, it’s been all about Acorn when she hasn’t been home helping me out. The Christmas letter posted on the Acorn blog provides a good summary of what we’ve accomplished this year. Starting with the Justice Conference we attended back in February, Ellen captured a vision of how we needed to move beyond primarily offering English classes to native Spanish speakers and into immigrant legal services. She caught the wave created by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) just about the time Acorn was recognized and accredited by the government to act as legal representatives for immigration purposes. I believe that everything that Ellen has learned and experienced in life up to this moment was preparation for what Acorn is now doing. This is kingdom work at its finest—helping those at the margins of society while honoring God’s name.

My own story continues to be written, and for that I’m grateful. I remain on my quest to explore why I’ve been allowed to remain in this world and what it means to be here as a man whose toes have curled over the edge of the abyss.

As you may have noticed, this blog has progressively become a record of my spiritual journey, despite the occasional diversions into technology and the economics of healthcare. I decided long ago that there are better ways of being ill than the modernist rendering of a journey that is primarily a series of interactions with the healthcare system. In most respects, that is the least interesting thing about what’s happened to me since August. At its core, my life is now about its transformation. It is something different than it was only months ago. There is no denying that I remain marked by cancer, but it is not the curse that some might think it to be. I now have different experiences than most people, and I intend to continue to tell about them.

What we’ve lived through as a family this year has wrought a level of commitment and trust that I never expected to know—not just from Ellen but also from our adult children. This bond has been strengthened by my recent medical therapy but was created through a series of traumas that each one of us has weathered, in turn, since Nick was a baby. Our family ties have been forged by fire. It has made us inseparable.


Nancy said...

Peter, the Lord truly works in strange and mysterious ways. That's an old saying that I've only recently come to understand. So great to see you last week and spend time with you. Your faith is steadfast and comforting. Blessings to you and your family in the new year!

Carl Pelz said...

Ah... a wonderful post, Peter, that not only keeps us up to date with the goings on of the Ogle clan but speaks into our lives as well. Continued blessings in this new year!