The Big C

I spent the morning inhaling a microwave breakfast burrito and a large Diet Coke with watermelon flavoring from Sonic.

Maybe I should be eating something a little healthier.

The truth was that I was pretty nervous. You see, I had spent the weekend having discharge come out of my left breast. I had talked with a friend, who suggested that it may be a tumor on my pituitary gland. Non-cancerous but still scary.

****

When I was in high school, my stepdad was diagnosed with two forms of cancer, kidney and testicular. I still remember that time in my family’s life. We were moving upward. The family was bustling with busyness. My stepdad in particular had been working two jobs and going to school full-time. He was stressed but managing.

****

I had made this big decision to be a foster parent. My life had reached a stabilized point. I was comfortable and honestly, I felt a little bored. I was in school but it was only one class at a time. I had a good job, solid relationships. Everything was going well.

And slowly, I started adding more to my plate. I started volunteering for a ministry. I joined the prayer team at my church. I took on a second job. I got promoted. I took foster care classes.

It all became too much. I had friends who told me to slow down. Friends who told me I had taken on too much.

But I didn’t listen. I could do it all. I was the girl who had survived losing her family. I was the girl who had been through church excommunication and broken friendships. I had held my own through a diagnosis of schizophrenia. I could handle a busy schedule.

****

Cancer does something to a person. My stepdad had always been this tough, self-reliant person. But cancer made him rethink his life. He spent his days talking about his life. He and I had a fractured relationship but it was during this time that I got to know him. I heard his stories. He stopped fighting so much. He was gentle.

And it made him slow down.

****

The doctor scrunched her face. “It could be hormonal. But I’ll be honest – stress doesn’t cause discharge. It could also be your medication but you’ve been on your meds for so long. It shouldn’t be happening.”

I sat there, calm as a cucumber.

She was quiet for a moment. “I’m going to schedule a mammogram for you. It could be breast cancer, particularly because there’s a family history.”

The words breast cancer hung in the air.

Had I not just told God a week ago I was tired? I was done. Come down and show me your glory! Had I not just screamed this through tears a week ago?

And now, days later, I am sitting in the doctor’s office and she is telling me I could have cancer.

Am I scared?

No. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I do not have time for cancer.

I don’t understand. Maybe she is wrong. Maybe the doctor is mistaken. Maybe I am so stressed out that this is why I have breast discharge. Maybe my meds are causing the problem.

And maybe, this is God’s way of trying to get my attention. I will know in about two weeks if I have cancer. Literally the longest two weeks of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Streams in the Desert

I spent the morning crying in my car, wondering if I had done something wrong. The day before, I had made the decision to release a huge desire in my heart and let go of the control I had been fighting for. I experienced a great deal of peace in doing that but I also struggled with a deep sadness. It hit me like a tidal wave. Every hurt, every cutting word I had thrown at me last year by men who I trusted to care for me.  I ugly cried driving down the freeway this morning.

It’ll be a year in 11 days. A year since the day I checked myself into the hospital because I was a danger to myself. A year of getting better, being healthy, making friends. A year without tears or depression. Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and tell the girl who curled up on the floor that day, May 7, stuffing Cheetos down her throat and avoiding social media, that things would get better. That she would be okay. And a week later, when I made my way to the front desk of the emergency room and told the nurse I was going to hurt myself and could she please help me, I wish I could tell that girl this was the game changer she had been waiting for.

Suicide is still a taboo topic. I’m pretty upfront about what I’ve gone through but no one asks me what being in the hospital was like. Nobody asks what led me to consider suicide. It was the year from hell. I can’t fully explain what it’s like to feel so stuck in your head and no matter how much you try to dig yourself out, you can’t. You’re just stuck in this chemical imbalance and your “friends” are screaming at you to get your act together and then there’s the pastor who emails you to say that no matter how many times you apologize, you will never be enough for forgiveness.

But you get better. You go to the hospital where they feed you to the max with graham crackers and pudding, which you appreciate because for the last two weeks, you’ve eaten nothing but handfuls of Cheetos.

I was sitting at this prayer meeting last week, reflecting on where I am at this point in my life. I could not imagine loving God any more than I do right now. There’s something really beautiful about what happens when you suffer. For three years, I was trapped inside a brain that could not reason or make sense of the world around me. I struggled to form meaningful relationships with people and follow through with long-term plans. At its absolute worse, I quit a job I deeply cared about because I believed a coworker was conspiring to have me fired. This led to struggling to meet my basic needs, including staying in my home and providing food for myself. I’m grateful to be so far removed from that life but I have a deeper intimacy with God because of that desert.

Someone once told me that the deserts we go through in life are meant to prepare us for what’s ahead. Even the really good things in life can destroy us if we’re not prepared.

I let go this week of the control I was striving for in relational conflict. The tears I shed this morning was me challenging God’s goodness, struggling to believe that God will restore this without my input or help. I have to believe that things will be okay, that God is for everyone involved, that He will reward my faithfulness. There is not a single instance in my life where God left things a mess forever. Some things took twenty years to resolve but they were eventually resolved.

It’s been a year of healing. For that, I’m grateful.

Search Me & Test My Heart

I haven’t written in a while. Mostly, I think it’s because I’ve been too absorbed in the world around me to take the time to write down what I’m experiencing.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been in this play where people with disabilities share their personal stories with the audience. I made a choice to be a part of the performance, a choice I regretted as soon as I did it. Because as much as I could talk about my cerebral palsy, what I felt compelled to talk about was the last year of my life, living in psychosis. It was really good for me to reflect on the last year, the last three years if I’m honest, and it led me to some startling conclusions.

As a healthy person, I have never put much emphasis on romantic relationships. I didn’t think of my husband or what my wedding would look like. I have wanted two things consistently: to have a successful career and to be a mother. I knew how to guard my heart, almost too well.

But when I got sick, something shifted in me. I couldn’t guard my heart. I latched on to any guy that I was attracted to. Often times, these men had girlfriends already or were at least not interested in me. I was persistent and pushy and advocated to be loved by men that I probably would have not pursued otherwise.

It got me into a lot of trouble. The worse part was that I couldn’t understand where this audacity came from. I thought I was changing and I really didn’t like who I was becoming.

My friends got involved, calling me out on what was supposedly my evil nature. Boyfriend stealer. They said that they believed that I was not capable of change, that I would continue to be this evil, intrusive person.

It was awful, mostly because I believed them. It was the harsh words they said to me that, in the midst of my psychosis, led me to try to take my own life.

When I got better through treatment, I saw myself going back to the person I was before I got sick. Quiet, reserved, patient. Combined with the counseling I had gone through over the last three years, I understood that I have worth. I began to love myself again.

Despite this healing, there was this nagging feeling that until I was presented with an opportunity to test this shift back to who I was, I would never know if this was truly change in my heart or if it was just a feeling.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24

I said this prayer early on in my treatment because I needed to know that I was okay, that the person who interfered with men was not the real me. Until I was sure of that, I couldn’t see myself dating anyone.

God was faithful. He brought a man into my life that set off every trigger I had experienced in the last three years, only this time I was able to withstand the temptations. I came out the other side with renewed joy. I was okay, really okay.

Ultimately, I didn’t end up with that guy. I actually got to a point when I knew he wasn’t the type of guy I wanted to date, something that I would never allow myself to reach that point before. In my illness, I had always jumped the gun.

I was driving home one night, questioning God as to why He would allow me to open myself up to the possibility of this man, only to have it fizzle out. And then it hit me. It was never about the guy. This was about me knowing I was healthy, that I was not the vile, evil person I had been accused of being.

When this clicked for me, I knew I was ready to start dating again.

Nothing is ever wasted

One of my favorite prose pieces is “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros. In the piece, she proposes this idea that we are not merely the age we are but a collection of the ages we have been. We experience the ages we have been in response to situations we are in

I am 27.

I recently went home for Thanksgiving. It was my first holiday with my family. I expected flash backs and hurt feelings over past memories but that didn’t happen.

I kept having flashbacks to being 19.

I’ve felt 19 on numerous occasions over the last year. I’m not really sure why. I think it has to do with that time in my life feeling so new, ready to embark on a fresh adventure.

 “Tonight feels like the last night of camp. 19, bare feet in wet grass. The sky red with a light breeze. I remember how sweaty I was, my cotton shirt clinging to my back. My hair a greasy mess. I had never felt better. I had spent my last $25 on this treasured Bible that I could carry around everywhere. $22 and some change if I remember correctly. And in that moment, when everything was silent and peaceful, I wasn’t thinking about what 7 years later would look like. I was only thinking about what it would look like when it was over. What redemption would look like.

Tonight, my only emotion is a memory.”

Redemption 7 years later didn’t look like what I thought it’d look like. It was different. I didn’t get married this year or end up where I had wanted to be. What I got was so much better.

I got my health back. Because of medical treatment, I get to have a future. A real one, full of plans and dreams. All with a fully-functioning brain and a heart for Jesus.

For 7 years, I weathered storms of illogical thinking, hallucinations and erratic behavior. I made plans I could never finish, dated men I could never commit to and talked faster than a Gilmore Girl.

Redemption didn’t come the way I thought it would. Instead of a knight in shining armor, it came in the form of a hospital gown and proper medication.

I remember being 19. I remember having my whole adulthood before my eyes and the wild uncertainty that I experienced with elated joy.

Wistfully, I regret the time I lost because I was sick. It would have made my life easier had I had been diagnosed earlier. But God ultimately allows what will bring Him the most glory. Somehow, this mess of a life that I’ve endured is not wasted time.

So as I move forward with making plans, forming commitments and nestling into God’s promises, I’m grateful for the future I get to have. I get to finish my undergrad, go to law school (hopefully) and learn to love this messy life God gave me. I’m grateful for the way things didn’t turn out.

Nothing is ever wasted.

What if it’s messy?

A few years ago, I knew this girl that everyone kind of stayed leery of.

She was of the messy grace variety.

She made a lot of mistakes. She would take one step forward, three steps back. There came a point when people started questioning her salvation.

No joke. I distinctly remember the chill I felt down my spine one night when an onlooker whispered in my ear, “I just don’t think the packaging matches the inside.”

I was quick to retort that she was wrong. I had known this girl for ten years, much longer than anybody that dared to judge her, and knew that, despite her mess, she was indeed growing in her faith.

It broke my heart to hear the judgments from people who sinned differently than she did. Flash forward five years and now I’m of the messy grace variety. I’ve had just as many people question my salvation, throw stones, cover me in shame, refuse to speak or socialize with me. I have often on the fringe of the church. Unwanted, tolerated, patronized. And when I am wrestling with shame and guilt, it is the people who have known me the longest who are quick to remind me that, despite my mess, I am indeed growing in my faith.

I used to believe that I had my life all together, that I didn’t sin too much. I went to church every Sunday, joined a community group, showed up to all the churchy events. I was a model Christian, lukewarm in faith. My life was boring but safe.

But God doesn’t call us to a boring but safe life. Every person of God I have looked up to has been of the messy grace variety. They’re always the ones with the most grace, the most outspoken, the strongest advocate. They have a fierocity for God and His church that religious people just don’t have.

Because I just don’t see how you can be moved by the fact that you are covered by the blood of Christ until you understand your own depravity.

How can you truly extend grace to another person until you have experienced that grace from God first?

I’ve been working through my perfectionist attitude, the side of me that falls apart every time I fail. It’s been through reading through the biblical heroes that I’ve started to question how we as Christians perceive salvation. Because there’s not a single person in the bible that wasn’t of the messy grace variety. So why do we expect perfection out of each other?! Why is there condemnation when you produce some fruit of the Spirit and fail to produce others?

What if it’s messy? What if your walk with Jesus is littered with mistakes and failures and God still sees the finished work in you? He still sees you covered in the righteousness of Christ.

I don’t know what happened to that girl. We lost touch but I’m sure she is still as in love with Jesus as she was five years ago. I hope she found people who pointed her to Christ and not her messiness. It’s the same thing I hope for myself.

Who do you want to be?

One of the most profound things anyone has ever told me was remarkably simple:

A worthy woman keeps the end in mind.

Unlike many people my age, I haven’t thought much of the future. I’ve never thought of growing old or made long-term plans. Where most people would dismiss that as emotional immaturity, for me it’s more complex.

I never thought I’d live this long.

As an adult survivor of abuse, I have attempted suicide and struggled with self-harm as a teenager. In the back of my mind, I just assumed that an attempt would one day be successful. I have struggled to dream of a future because I didn’t anticipate one.

I’ve become healthier in more ways than one so I have attempted to make plans for the future but as God has routinely shown me, I am usually wrong when it comes to my future. So, unlike my peers, I tend to only walk in the few steps I see in front of me and leave the future up to God.

But, a worthy woman keeps the end in mind. She knows who she wants to be and what people will say about her when she’s gone.

***

I ended a friendship earlier this year. It wasn’t easy or impulsive. It took a couple months and some long conversations with a counselor to decide to end the relationship.

She made me feel worthless. Every conversation we had was about something I did wrong. And I was always wrong. I was always a failure in one way or another and honestly, I cannot remember a single time in the four-year-long relationship that she encouraged me or gave me a compliment.

You may ask why I would stay in a relationship with someone who thought so little of me but that wasn’t how I saw it. Her criticism was meant to improve me and as the perfectionist I am, I was always in need of improving. It took a counselor, a life coach and a few friends to speak truth into my life that I was allowing myself to be emotionally abused by someone who had her own issues to work through. It was not the first time I had been in a relationship like this, but I would be sure that it would be my last.

***

So what had I gained by engaging in relationships that broke me? Years of counseling were finally starting to make sense. Somewhere along the way, the cycle of abuse was broken. I was learning to trust my value as a daughter of God and that the relationships I had let in were not reflecting that truth.

A worthy woman keeps the end in mind.

Who did I want to be?

I know very much who I don’t want to be. I have spent the last twelve years in counseling working hard to not be the abuser or the abused. And much like digging up a hidden treasure, the dirt that is dug up gets everywhere before you finally reach the treasure. As I have been diligent in dealing with the mess, I’ve been getting closer to the heart of who I am. How God has wired me.

Of all the things I could be, I want to be what I so desperately have needed myself, a reminder of grace. I want to be the person that people come to be heard, understood and encouraged. I want to point people back to Jesus and that doesn’t happen if all you do is point out their sin. The gospel is not about behavior modification.

When at my lowest point, it was not the pointing out of my sin that brought me back to the cross. It was the moment when someone, having witnessed my sin, told me she loved me anyway, that her love for me was not conditional on how I behaved. Nobody had ever said that to me before. I will never forget that for the rest of my life.

If I look anything like her at the end of my life, that’ll be good enough.

 

Church, humility and grace

My love for the church runs rivers deep. Sunday has long been my favorite day of the week.

But then this year happened. This year was the year I got sick. I had a schizophrenic episode for eight months before I finally got diagnosed.

And the church failed me.

At my absolute worst, I was an obsessive emailer who wrestled through bouts of paranoia and shame.

I didn’t walk away from the church. They kicked me out.

I didn’t threaten anyone. I wasn’t physically abusive. I was just scared. And suicidal.

At my absolute worst, I was an obsessive emailer who wrestled through bouts of paranoia and shame.

When I finally did get help, the chaplin summed it up for me: They gave up on you.

I’m grateful every day for God guiding me to the hospital. I’m grateful for good doctors and kind nurses. I’m grateful for medication that works and the friends that didn’t walk away.

But I’ll never forget those pastors. For the rest of my life, I’ll carry those pastors and what they did to me.

A popular story in the bible is the story of the Good Samaritan. If you don’t know the story, basically a Jewish man gets beaten up and left to die along the road. Men of status, from his own community, see this man dying and ignore him. Finally, a Samaritan sees this man and gets him the help he needs. Which is mind-blowing because Samaritans and Jews were enemies.

Pastors use this story to illustrate an important point: It is our responsibility to care for our neighbors.  

But what if the problem is not that the person is beaten up or struggling financially? What if the problem is an illness? How do we respond to a mental health crisis?

Do we know how to care for the neighbor that is clearly struggling with a mental illness? Do we know what resources are available?

The pastors responded in fear. They chose in that fear to remove me from the church. There were a multitude of other actions they could have done, actions that would have conveyed Christ-like love. But they didn’t. They chose fear.

I credit one person for saving my life. I would not be here if he had not seen me hurting and interceded. A gay man who doesn’t have a relationship with Christ saved me from taking my own life. I will be forever grateful to him.Where others walked away and even shamed me for what I was experiencing, he walked alongside me.

That might rub people the wrong way but that’s  what happened. Religion and your position in the church does not make you holy. Faith does. And faith, without works, is dead.

Humility is not about thinking less of yourself but in taking ownership of your identity in Christ. Acknowledging my worth as a daughter of God brings me back every time I experience despair over what happened in that church. And each time I’m brought to that understanding of humility, I extend grace to those pastors a little more.

I found a new church to attend after months of having nowhere to turn and wrestling through months of isolation. I was sharing this part of my story with a new friend recently when I was asked why I would come back to church after such a heavy rejection.

I explained quite simply that to punish the global church over the actions of the local church is unfair. The church is the bride of Christ, beautiful and effective when healthy. I geniunely believe that God allows bad things to happen in our lives for His glory and our redemption. If we all walked away from the church body when things go badly, the church won’t be changed. It won’t grow without pruning sin. Sometimes I think God allowed me to experience excommunication while I was in a mental health crisis because He knew it wouldn’t break me. He knew how deep my love for the church runs.

If you love Christ, love His bride well. 

Don’t walk away.