Of Snowstorms, Surgeons, and Snafus: Keeping Life in Perspective

Today did not go according to plan.

If it had, I would be typing this from the airport in Los Angeles, awaiting my flight to the Mid Atlantic Congress in Baltimore. Instead, I am sitting in my home office trying not to seethe over the fact that my flight was cancelled due to a snowstorm.

Sometimes God has a way of getting my attention and reminding me of what’s most important. He did that this morning: I was all packed to go on a bit of a complicated journey. The plan for the day was to make a morning doctor’s appointment visit, then jump into my car (all packed), drive the four hours to Los Angeles, work for a few hours, and then hop an overnight flight to Baltimore. I would arrive refreshed and ready to help Therese Brown of the Association of Catholic Publishers and her team with their final preparations for this conference. I’d have the day to get ready for the Congress’ opening on Thursday.

My role at this event is to “live tweet” the conference, providing a virtual play-by-play for folks from around the globe who cannot attend in person, and also reminding Congress attendees about on-site news and information.

Five minutes before I was to head out the door my phone rang. The automated voice on the other end of the line was United Airlines, calling to say that my flight had been cancelled.

With that knowledge rambling around in the back of my head, I felt my blood pressure begin to rise. I had no time to deal with the situation, since I was already running late for my appointment: my four-year check up at my Oncologist’s office. I’d already cancelled this annual chat three times, so I decided to go ahead and head to the doctor and then deal with the issue. Driving across town, I threw up one of those, “Really, God?! This is what you’ve got for me today?!” types of prayers.

Pulling into the parking spot and throwing the door closed, I raced into the Cancer Center. It’s a familiar environment. Four years ago, I spent seven weeks in that waiting room, taking my turn each day to lay down on the Radiation Oncologist’s table for a dose of radiation to my right breast to treat non-invasive breast cancer. That was a different time in my life – the diagnosis came at the same time as the planned writing of my first book. That was before life became filled with books, with speaking, with travel and with so many other unanticipated blessings and their accompanying, dizzying busyness.

Feeling a combination of stress and anxiety over my inability to follow through on this professional commitment as I’d anticipated, I checked in at the front desk, almost forgetting why I was there. Co-pay processed, I took my seat, trying to steady my breathing to avoid a “Your blood pressure is high again,” lecture from the nursing assistant. It was then that I caught the eye of the young girl sitting next to me. She had the familiar Cancer Center hairstyle: a bald head covered by a lovely scarf. Her clothes hung a bit on her small frame, letting me know that she’d lost a good deal of weight. I looked at her mother sitting next to her and my mind flashed instantly into that woman’s thoughts, knowing that she would do anything to take on this ordeal her daughter faced, to spare the girl her pain and suffering.

My travel woes instantly came into their proper perspective.

Sometimes life doesn’t go according to our perfectly laid plans. Sometimes there are snow days and sick days and stressful days. That’s the way things go.

When I arrived home, I worked my way through the maze of phone calls to rebook my flight. I lifted my computer bag from the car and left everything else packed up – hoping that by not unpacking I wouldn’t jinx tomorrow’s flight.

Then I came in the house and rewatched this video shared with me last weekend by my friend Dr. Paul Camarata of the Saint Cast. Paul is a Catholic podcaster, an amazing dad, and oh yeah… a neurosurgeon. In the video, we hear the story of Amber, a young lady with four tumors. Paul sent me the video because he knew I’d love seeing his sign, featured prominently at the very end of the video (and pictured above). Rewatching this video today again put things into perspective, and reminded me of the adage on Paul’s sign: Operate Like a Champion Today. A different version of the same sign hangs outside my home office: Play Like a Champion Today.

Champions don’t whine when plans don’t go according to schedule. Champions drive through snowstorms to perform brain surgery. Champions smile before having four tumors cut out of their heads as they lay awake. Champions drive their daughters to chemo, keeping a smile on their face so they don’t scare their child even though they probably feel like crying instead. Champions play the cards they’re dealt with grace, perseverance and gratitude.

Now that I’ve had some time to breath, to assess the situation, and to come up with a Plan B, I’m finally ready to play like a champion today – are you?

"Only good things are to come!! Saying yes is the best. See you around, friend."

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