As you may recall from my earlier post on the Agony in the Garden, I have been thinking of the mysteries of the rosary in a new light lately, by trying to place myself in the events that took place so long ago. (There is nothing like the diagnosis of a possibly terminal illness to jump start your prayer life, let me tell you!) At any rate, I thought I would share some of my reflections on the Annunciation from my new perspective on things.
Lately I have been thinking that many of my feelings following diagnosis must be similar to those that Mary had after the Angel Gabriel visited her to tell her that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.
When Mary first saw the Angel, she must have been afraid and apprehensive. How majestic and frightening must have been this glorious creature sent to communicate with her! She must have wondered with trepidation, "What is happening to me? Why am I here? Am I in trouble? This could be very bad!"
Although the creature sent to share my news with me was necessarily less glorious than the Angel Gabriel, she was every bit as majestic and frightening to me, because she held the answer to the rest of my life in the little manila folder in her hand. I stared at her with apprehension much the same way Mary must have stared at the angel Gabriel, and I can tell you that all the same questions were running through my head as well. "Why me? Is this really happening? I must be dreaming."
(Now, here the similarity briefly ends. While among the angel's first words to Mary were "Fear not, you have found favor with God," mine were more along the lines of "invasive carcinoma." Not the same thing, I assure you. But after this we get back on track...)
Mary must have been overwhelmed when the understanding came to her that she had been chosen by God among all others to bring forth Jesus. As a good Jewish girl, she knew what it meant that the Messiah was at last coming, and how amazing it must have been to her that she was THE ONE. Yet at the same time she must have been worried about what was ahead. The angel did not give her a lot of details, and there was much she had to be concerned about. She was, after all, engaged to be married and how was she going to explain this to her husband to be?! Not to mention the pressure that must go along with mothering the Savior of the World. Yet, she took a deep breath, trusted God, said 'yes'.
It didn't take long after my diagnosis to realize that I, too, had been chosen by God. This did not just happen. 38 year old, otherwise healthy women with no substantial family history of cancer do not wake up one day with stage IV cancer as I did. Especially ones who have birthed and nursed as many babies as I have, as each one reduces the risk of breast cancer. It took the perfect storm of events to allow this to grow so long undetected inside of me. No, indeed, this was not an accident. Nor do I believe that God is punishing me with this. So, there is only one conclusion left: this is a gift.
Crazy, you say? Many will think so, but I do not. I firmly believe that God gives us what we need to become better people and for some reason I needed this. This is an opportunity for me to learn charity from those around me, to smooth the rough edges of my pride and to come to appreciate what is really, truly important in life. God would not have picked me for this great trial if he did not think I could handle it and rise to the occasion. And I certainly intend to do so to the best of my ability. So, like Mary, 'my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.'
Also like Mary, I do not have many details about the future. I have things that concern me and much uncertainty. I did not have an angel to tell me to fear not as Mary did, but I do have wonderful priests in my life who have told me again and again, both directly and through homilies to never, ever be afraid. And I am not. I hear God speaking through them and I am listening.
I did not have the opportunity to say "yes" to this cancer, and I can't honestly say that I would have had the strength to do so if asked. However, now that it is mine, I embrace all that I have to learn from it. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.