Bill Montgomery reflects on how his cancer diagnosis changed the stewardship of his entire life—the way he looks, the way he lives, the way he gives, the way he worships, and the way he serves our Lord. Following is Chapter 3 from his newly published book Prayer for Time: A Memoir.
I ask that you guide me each day so that thy will be done.
I am not the same person I was at the time of the original cancer diagnosis in 2008, and we are not the same couple we were four years ago. There are several reminders in the cottage to help me look for ways that I have changed since then: photo albums, pictures of the kids and their families, as well as a mind sated with memories and feelings of this place.
The most obvious way I have changed is the way I look. When I met Dr. Slovin the first time, she told me to lose weight immediately and suggested the elimination of alcohol and red meat. On the plane back to Michigan I proposed to Anne that we go out and have a big dinner to mark the end of an era of wine, scotch and steak. She told me that the new regimen had already started and that if I didn’t agree, we were going to have a problem. I agreed that we needed to implement the dietary changes immediately and that we would get back to Traverse City in time for the daily exercise and meditation regimen.
Over the next months I dropped 40 pounds. The clothes that hung in the back of the closet because they had become too tight returned to active duty. And there is no doubt that I am a calmer, more tolerant, more focused individual. I get more done. I now believe that the most effective part of the diet was the elimination of all alcohol. My increased effectiveness in the evenings has probably offset the increased time I spend sleeping due to the medication. Overall, I spend a lot less time sitting around “having one” with friends—so much so that in my mind’s eye, I see an ocean going tanker with a load of scotch circling off New York Harbor as the US scotch market slumps. I feel 10 years younger than many of my peers.
In order to lessen the negative effects of stress, we simplified our lives by selling our Dallas residence after 27 years of being Texans. We moved into a large condo in Traverse City and now enjoy the area on a year round basis. Our permanent residence is only 25 minutes from the Lake Skegemog retreat, which attracts our kids, grandchildren, and friends. The money saved by this consolidation allows for a larger participation in support of Traverse City religious, charitable and cultural activities.
By spending most of our winters in northern Michigan, we are seen as having “skin in the game” and thus have become a more significant part of the town’s institutions. We feel welcome in the community and the friends we maintain are those with whom we enjoy richer conversations. Imagine talking about the legacies we want to leave versus rehashing the last Dallas Cowboys football game. The social atmosphere in Traverse City provides us with more acquaintances than we ever had in Dallas and we now have more good friends, including the important friendships we maintain from around the country.
As a couple we are much more involved in the activities of the local Traverse City church; Anne through the parish-run indigent center and I through the church’s Finance and Stewardship committees. We have become sponsors of the National Writers Series, a Traverse City based organization that gives aspiring high school writers assistance with creative writing instruction and through college scholarships. In deference to our own reading and literary interests, Anne and I have almost entirely stopped watching television so as to focus upon life’s bigger issues and purposes.
Additionally, my difficulty identifying and choosing a cancer treatment, as well as the fact that I’ve had to travel to receive it, has led us to become significant contributors to the Munson Cancer Center that is now being built and staffed within the local hospital. I am on the Board of the Hospital Foundation that seeks to raise about a third of the cost of this center. That this center will be of great value in our community was underlined for me this noon when the person I was eating lunch with almost came to tears as he related his experience seeking the correct treatment for his recently diagnosed cancer.
But these are not the only changes. I am in the midst of a transformation from a worshiping, rite based Christian, to a more action based Christian. This is a change in my view of the role of the organized church and of the Sunday church service, which I now realize is preparation for going out into the world and acting like a Christian by “loving thy neighbor.” While it sounds like a relatively simple paradigm shift, it is an epic change for me—a redirection similar to turning a large naval vessel. It takes miles. The significance of the time it takes to make this turn is important because cancer is trying to shorten my life and I feel an urgency to identify and act upon tasks the Lord expects me to complete.
Excerpted from Prayer for Time: A Memoir by William R. Montgomery. The book is available at Horizon Books in Traverse City and on Amazon.com. Bill will donate all the proceeds from sales through February 8 to Jubilee House.