Participate relentlessly

Jeff participates in the traditional ritual of "ringing out" on his last day of radiation at Walter Reed, September 2013.

Jeff participates in the traditional ritual of “ringing out” on the last day of treatment
in Radiation Oncology at Walter Reed Medical Center, Bethesda MD, September 2013.

“You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

Two years ago today we got the devastatingly bad news nobody ever wants to get, and despite some initial hope that it might not be as fearful as it seemed at first, the prognosis only got worse and worse in the weeks that followed.  Yet life went on, and blessings abounded.

Some of them were decidedly mixed blessings, as Jeff endured grueling chemotherapy, side effects, and harrowing surgeries.  The toughest one was less than a year ago, in November, a multi-stage resection that lasted 14 hours, after which he was kept asleep until the next morning, and then spent another two hours in the operating room to address complications.  As traumatic as these procedures were, they gave him a considerably improved prognosis, and we feel thankful he had the options available.

Every step of the way, we have been mindful of the tremendous advantage we enjoyed in having top-notch health care provided through the military medical system, without fears of catastrophic debt or threatened job security.

We also appreciate the physical strength that Jeff had built through years of a healthy diet and daily exercise.  While these did not prevent him from getting a highly malignant cancer, I have no doubt the foundation of generally sound health helped him endure and survive extremely aggressive treatments.

I have been so grateful to Jeff for his understanding of the need to “participate relentlessly” in the blessings that were there for us at a very dark time.  Because he has been willing to face the ordeals of treatment, he is now at the 2-year average survival time originally predicted for patients with his diagnosis who started the chemotherapy protocol he began shortly after his stage IV cancer was discovered, and he’s doing much better than originally expected.

Amazingly, he still works full time on days when not in the hospital or receiving outpatient treatments. In this way, too, he participates relentlessly in the life he has lived in faith for so many years.  The future remains far from assured, but we take each day as a gift and live in hope for more years together.

If you’re like most people, some of your richest blessings may have been, or still may be, not easily endured.  Others will be hidden for years, until you look back and realize that things you were unaware of, or even worried about, were bright threads weaving a beautiful pattern in the tapestry of your life.  We may be unable to see the finished designs of our lives for a long time; we’ll see mostly the knots and loose threads.

I hope you won’t let that sidetrack you.  Some days will be more difficult than others, but relentless participation does not require our best every day.  It just requires faith and commitment.  If we keep showing up, the blessings will continue to flow.  I really believe that.

One year ago today:

Other springs


  1. Yay!
    Good morning, Julia! I’m so happy to hear how well Jeff is doing.
    I’m also glad that he agrees with you and Elizabeth Gilbert.
    My dad’s latest favorite little saying is, “I’ve decided to be immortal. And so far, so good!”
    Every day is … So good!

    • Susan, thank you. One of my all-time favorite movies is Life is Beautiful, because it does such a good job of illustrating its title, despite the trauma and tragedy of the story. Today was an ideal day for your dad’s favorite phrase; it was a nearly perfect day for me, one I wish I could bottle up and take out when I need a dose of bliss (the weather had a great deal to do with it). But you are right, EVERY day is a good day. Our college president used to remind the student body of that in our daily chapel, which was required in those days. He had this big, booming voice and he would say “STUDENTS, ENJOY THE WEATHER!” Makes me smile just to remember it.

      • Ah! Very good! Today it looks as if I may be enjoying rain!

        • Hooray! I love the rain occasionally, and I know many places are sorely needing it right now. Hope you did enjoy the day, rain or shine.

  2. singleseatfighterpilot

    Reading this makes me speechless. Perhaps if I knew the relentless participants more remotely, I could heap praise? So why type out anything at all? Because I care to continue to read, and to learn all I can about these relentless lives.

    • Thank you. ❤

  3. HarryS

    Mere words would never express my joy and appreciation for being able to participate with you for almost all of this blogsite’s journey.
    Please don’t ever let it stop.
    I don’t believe you will ever run out of fresh ideas.

    • Harry, thank you. Your kind words and encouragement mean a lot to me. Like a lot of other writers, including some who are actually published 😀 I do seem to have more ideas than I know what to do with, but I never know whether anyone but me will find them interesting. I too am so happy that you have been here with us for so long. Can you believe it’s nearly 700 posts so far? Thanks so much for being here!

  4. raynard

    Julia you are telling a story that only you can tell.Young people need to hear this.. I was just told the other week from a different perspective about their hope.We once seen things their way and the world’s way.I said this weekend to the lady and minister at the assisted living facility we were touring’ if today was my last day I know what wouldn’t matter.Things and” stuff and the accumulation of them”..Do we really need a 60 inch flat screen T.V or a Google/Samsung or Apple wristwatch..?”Dick Tracy calling Joe . blah blah blah yada yada yada.. Jeff may not be “Superman with his cape in the cleaners” but he is a hero who” doesnt need his name in lights( the theme from Bugs Bunny just popped in my head I digress lol. Be blessed

    • Hi Raynard, thanks so much for that wonderful compliment. I appreciate your encouragement. I can say with all honesty that I’ve never had the slightest desire for a 60 inch TV or an Apple watch (though I have grown very fond of my Fitbit, but I digress…). Isn’t it funny that the comic book authors knew about these watches decades before Apple did? They are ahead of the inventors…Maxwell Smart with his shoe phone would be green with envy at the tiny smart phones people have now. BTW Bugs Bunny has always been my favorite cartoon character, a lovable smart alec who doesn’t let anything get him down. I love his theme song! “Overture! Dim the lights! This is it! We’ll hit the heights! And oh, what heights we’ll hit! On with the show, this is it!” Not a bad theme song for life, when you get right down to it. 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful week.

  5. Larry

    We are so proud of the strength and spiritual faith that Jeff shows us all. The strength seen in his continuous uphill walk thru life for the last two years has been remarkable. His faith to hold to the one True and Living God has shown us prayers are answered. It is always a blessing to see God at work in our lives.

    • Thank you Larry. Jeff is Superman lately, no doubt about it, but he does tap into a divine source of strength that’s available to all of us. We’ll just keep hoping and praying for more blessings to come.

  6. Julia. Your writing helps to pour out inner thoughts, feelings, blessings that you don’t even know you have and those you do. You connect these emotions to people all across the world in a very special way. I want to use todays blog for one of our October Women’s Encouragement Calls as I plan to continue the theme: The Woman of God Loves Anyway through….! God is continuing to do His good work in You and your family. I see it and it’s a light shining on a hill! Matthew 5:14-16

    • Thank you Renee, it is so good to hear from you here. You have been a tremendous source of encouragement to me from the very first day you introduced yourself to me at church so long ago. Thanks for being with us at home (York AND DC!), at church, at the hospital, and everywhere else. Philemon 1:4-7

  7. A great example of faith and enduring trials. It’s always too soon to quit!

    • Alan, I love that – “It’s always too soon to quit!” 😀

  8. Julia, just yesterday Bill mentioned to me that these very days that we’re living right now may be far better than what we can comprehend. The “maybe” and “what if” that we speak of in our future is so unknown. We always hope and pray for the best and know God will lead us there! 🙂 Jeff certainly looks like a “Relentless Participator” there.

    • Hi Sheila, I agree with Bill – often we don’t realize how good we have it until later. In our many moves as a military family, I noticed a common pattern. When we first arrived at a new station, I would feel tremendous homesickness for our previous home, and also sadness when I remembered how much younger our sons had been the last time we moved; how quickly the three or four years there had passed, and how different they seemed now. Finally I figured out “in three more years you will be looking back at NOW and missing that too” so I decided to remind myself “these are the good old days” (as Carly Simon sang in her song “Anticipation.”) So here’s to relentless participation! Meet me on the Verandah tomorrow for a cup of tea and a celebration of this wonderful season. ❤

  9. Jack

    Very nice Julia, blessings to you and all of your family. I don’t know your husband, but he sure does sound a lot like my dad who left us in 2000 after a short, courageous and matter of fact struggle with cancer. He refused to accept any pity,suffered no melodramatics from any of his three children who loved and admired this imperfect but beautiful man. He carried on until the end with his normal, everyday activities of gentleman farming, paying his bills, playing golf, eating dinner with us, weighing in on all the things we as a family loved to discuss (my wife says argue!) until just a couple of days before he departed, at home, in his bed with my mother, in his sleep peacefully. May God bless you both with many, many more years.

    • Jack, it sounds as if your father left you a good lesson in how to face death. Our friend Ben did the same for us in 2011, living his life til the end and dying in his own home with tearful but grateful goodbyes from all of us who loved him, and his beautiful wife with him all along. When he was first diagnosed, Jeff told me in no uncertain terms “I do not want you to feel sorry for me.” So I remind him of that when we are engaging in one of the endless emphatic “discussions” that inevitably result when two strong-minded people live together for so many decades. 😀 I pray that if and when I am ever faced with a situation such as your father, or Ben, or Jeff have all faced, I will have the grace to remain strong, thereby helping others around me to do the same. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  10. MaryAnn

    What an absolutely wonderful way to lift us up! That huge, beautiful smile on Jeff’s face tells it all! I agree w/ your followers today: that you & your family do a great job of shining God’s Love, near & far! Love to all “my” Dentons!

    • Aw, thank you Mary Ann! I can always count on you to have encouraging words and a heart full of love for us. Thank you so much for surrounding us with your faith, cheer and friendship!

  11. Maxine Peebles

    Hello Julia,Jeff and Matthew , I have been following your blog and am so pleased to see your faith has been so important to you all.You have such a beautiful way with words,I admire you so much! will keep the whole family in prayers.Feel so blessed to have known
    and worshiped with you several years ago,say a special hello to Jeff for me.maxine

    • Hello Maxine, it is so good to hear from you! I’m honored that you are following the blog. We cherish our memories of Fairfield and I especially remember fondly all you ladies who laughed, cried and prayed with us through some very difficult times. I knew the moment I first stepped through the door at Fairfield (on a house-hunting trip before we moved there) that it would be our new family. I sat with Olive and Elizabeth that day and they took me out to lunch. From that time til this I have held such joyful memories of the blessings God gave us there. Thanks so much for your kind words and prayers. It means more than I can say – and considering how much I talk, that’s really something! 😀

  12. That’s such a nice photo of Jeff. Your hubby has a big genuine smile. I guess you both would have been so happy that day. What a year. The battle of your lives and Matt’s operation, then little Mr Grady arrives to soften the blows. I hope there is still lots of years together to enjoy all the fruits of your efforts. Your fight should be rewarded. One thing’s for sure, we should all celebrate life’s joys continually. Big and small, they’re a gift and not guaranteed tomorrow. Possibly due to a change in health, economics or some other mayhem, life can change in a blink of an eye. I feel Carpe Diem is over used but they made a good point. xoox K

    • I tend to agree with you that the phrase Carpe Diem is too trendy nowadays, but the underlying message is much deeper than the trivial ways it is sometimes used. From the day Jeff was first diagnosed we have reminded each other that nobody has any guarantees of tomorrow. I learned that lesson from a special friend who died of cancer after a hard fight many years ago, leaving behind two sons and a baby girl the same age as our baby Drew. She reminded me that such a time would come for all of us, and “some of us just find out sooner than others.” I have never forgotten her words or the way she refused to feel sorry for herself (at least not in front of her friends). Anne Lamott tells a touching story of shopping with her friend Pammy who was also losing a battle with cancer. They went out for a little “retail therapy” and in the dressing room Anne was trying on jeans and asked, “Do these make my butt look big?” and her friend just looked at her and said, “Annie, you don’t have that kind of time.” She said “Suddenly I got it. I really got it.” I think of that often. Thanks so much for your kind words and most of all for being on this journey with us!

  13. Lynn

    Loved this quote and the happy bell ringing photo too. We are off on a new adventure (sold house– going full time in our rv around Texas but mainly near our granddaughter!) and Intend to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of this blessing (opportunity!). And as always my day will continue to start with defeat despair readings. 😉

    • WOW that IS an adventure! So many of us fantasize about doing something like that, but you are really doing it! Kudos to you for taking advantage of the opportunity to “participate relentlessly!” Enjoy that beautiful granddaughter. I am pleased and honored to have you reading the blog. Thanks so much!

  14. I wish him well in his journey Julia. You both look like such lovely people, you truly do, I hope for the very best of outcomes for you.

    • Thank you for your kind thoughts and encouragement! I appreciate your being here with us.

  15. Congratulations, to you and Jeff for your two years of blessings amid struggles… # 1 blessing your sweet g-son, Grady! 🙂
    Great pic of Jeff!

    • Thank you, Merry! I appreciate your visits here and your encouragement. Yes, Grady has been an absolute delight…a gift that keeps on growing and giving.

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