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.

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.