To My Concert Prayer Warrior,

Music. Something about the combination of lyrics and melody, creating a powerful synergy, transports me out of the here and now.

And I love it.

The same song, heard by hundreds in the same room with hundreds of concurrent unique and specific experiences.

Music. The communication method God most often uses to stir the Spirit in me.

It felt like a farce that night, at first.

For the reader, let me give you some context.

The invitation to a worship and praise concert was unexpected. Without a doubt, I was excited but didn’t really know what to expect. The introvert inside was a hot mess. Big crowds. Lots of people. Lots of eyes. At least I was with a friend, close to the back and right by the aisle.

The point to all this?

To the faith-filled believer and prayer warrior two rows ahead, as we sat in prayer together, God put something so profound on my heart.

When you asked for my prayer request, I said cancer. Without even thinking.

As soon as it left my lips I wanted to stop you from praying. Tell you I lied. Tell you I no longer have cancer and that I’ve been declared cancer-free. I wanted to tell you I was a fraud.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I sat in silence and asked for clarity. There clearly was a reason I said cancer.

And clarity came in a deluge. The plague still roamed freely in my life.

“Why are you still talking about the cancer I’ve removed from your life?”, the small, still voice asked.

I knew this wasn’t about the cancer cells that created a tumor in my body. The tumor that cannibalized my life.

This was about the cancer that WAS my life.

Other than the obvious, how else is cancer defined?

Something evil that spreads destructively or a blight. Blight?? That’s anything that causes pain. Impairment. Frustration.

This was no farce. God reminded me that He carved that cancer out of my life. Cancer not only in my body, but more importantly in my mind, in my heart, in my soul.

I had left no room for Him on top of the all-consuming disease. So He ripped it out. I had given Him no other way. If He would’ve waited on me, He’d still be waiting. He knew it was time and I was about to find out.

He broke me back together.

That’s not to say this process has been easy. If it were easy, without struggle and painless, I could explain all the good stuff away and not give that credit to God.

So, to the believer two rows in front of me, the prayer warrior that prayed with me and over me. Who joined our faiths in that moment and appealed to the King of kings that I be restored, thank you. Our God is faithful and does answer prayers.

Sincerely,

The Girl in the White & Gray Striped Shirt, Two Rows Back

“To console those who mourn in Zion,

To give them beauty for ashes,

The oil of joy for mourning,

The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

That they may be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

Isaiah 61:3 (NKJV)

Of Baldness and Lies

I’m not fond of dwelling on my cancer journey, but I feel God is asking me to talk about my life during that time. Maybe in the event it may help someone else during their struggle. Only He knows the reason.

I knew it was coming. The tests. The waiting. The non-specific language and careful wording with each examination. I suffered my first and only (to this point) anxiety attack on June 15, 2017; Diagnosis Day.

What soon followed was the degrading self-talk. Shame. Unworthiness. Disgust and loathing. Just a small sampling of hideous and (sometimes) self-inflicted emotional trauma. Not to mention the utter physical devastation.

Diagnosis Day. The day the lies began.

I repeatedly reminded myself throughout the ENTIRE process I was going to be okay. I believed my doctor when he told me:

  • “It’s the most common type of cancer.”
  • “We know exactly how to treat this.”
  • “This is just a bump in the road.”

The lies were my own. And embarrassingly, they began on a superficial level.

I was going to lose all my hair.

You see, I was proud of my long, pretty hair. I maintained it well and over the years it had morphed into a self-identifying trait and feature that I nurtured.

I was losing all.of.it. My security blanket, gone.

Bald. Ugly. Sick. Weak. Powerless. Oh, the unrelenting lies.

Mentally resigning myself to a dark, dismal upcoming year, X took me for a haircut. Deciding to take the loss in stages, I cried throughout the appointment as chunk after chunk of my locks hit the floor.

A simultaneous shedding of skin and crawling into my new cocoon. I had no idea who this new creature was or would become. Certainly no longer the person I believed myself to be.

Yet, roughly two weeks later, the first of several empowering moments. After the chemo had begun to wreak its poisonous havoc on my body and I awoke to find my pillowcase carpeted with the first dead and accursed strands, X (at my insistence) purchased a good set of clippers. It was time.

That night, standing alone in front of the spare bathroom mirror, staring at the body that was no longer mine, I shaved my head.

Right up the middle, G.I. Jane-style.

Although I didn’t go on to complete one-armed pushups or sport rock-hard abs, I had never felt more like a badass. Even if it was just in that moment, it was enough. It helped push me forward while the infrastructure of my life crumbled.

  • “You rock the bald look!”
  • “You’re so beautiful!”
  • “You’re so brave!”

Compliments and encouraging words offered in complete sincerity and love, of which I will be forever grateful. They provided a much-needed, if only momentary, positivity injection. And in what was now my parallel and diametrically-opposed existence, my Upside-Down, I couldn’t be: Weak. Sad. Tired. Hurt. Confused.

I was a: Warrior. Survivor. Champion. Example.

Silently suffering a season of anguish, despair and utter loneliness.

And I was so lonely.

Loneliness is haunting. Hollow.

Fake it till you make it. Dress the part. Look good on the outside and you’ll begin to feel better on the inside. I couldn’t even do that much.

Wrap my smooth, bald head? Check.

Cover-up for the dark circles and inevitable tear-stained cheeks during my morning commute? Check.

Confidence –> nope. Bravery –> nope. Fulfillment –> nope.

I know now this was a mountain only for me. God walked me to it so He could help me move it.

But during that time? A ghastly black and desolate landscape.

Let the Restoring Begin

Rarely are your plans and God’s purpose for your life synonymous.

“I hope the cancer comes back and kills you.”

I didn’t know how to respond, other than my then-habitual eyeroll and flat, emotionless “Whatever.” Truthfully, X’s comment lacerated my soul.

Newly enlisted in the 40’s club, life was supposed to start making sense. Have purpose, meaning, using my life experience for good. Building the 401k. Going on exotic vacations and eating food with names difficult to pronounce. Right? I mean, 40 was the new 37 and we should have been killin’ it!

Instead I was sick, bald, exhausted and scared. For months I survived chemotherapy and a failing marriage. Not to mention a tenuous relationship with my teenage daughter that continued to disintegrate by the day. What was happening to my life??

Have you ever been in the presence of the enemy? Not just know he’s around and lurking, but actually FELT it and been witness to him incarnate? I don’t believe X to be evil in his soul; however, I believe he was being used as a vessel during that time. You see, I know God has plans for my life and the enemy will do all he can to derail that train. Certainly something malicious took over and the darkness was visible through the windows of his eyes.

It was terrifying. And it made me angry.

The jig was up that day and there was no return.

Don’t get me wrong ~ I lashed out many times and used my tongue as a vicious weapon. I’ve done it all my life. I’ve had to beg forgiveness, in hopes the damage wasn’t irreparable. I am not blameless nor will I ever be: I am a sinner. Thankfully I serve a merciful, loving and gracious God.

There is something about the trials of life. When the outer fa├žade is dismantled and the real you is revealed. Recently, in an effort to encourage a friend, I stated “Trials of life strip us down to the barest of our souls and God rebuilds us from what’s left.”

Cancer. Divorce. Loss. Financial devastation. Self-doubt and loathing. Rage. Disappointment. Sadness.

This was not the end of my road. It was just a stop on my journey where I had to unpack some things in my life that didn’t serve God’s purpose for my future. It was confusing for sure. But He met me there. And my next steps led me back to Him.

I’ve had to learn to give those feelings to God because I’m not meant to carry them. That’s not to say they don’t creep back in and drop down my cheeks. Hot streaks of shame, uncertainty and deep, painful hurt. I allow myself five minutes to mourn the life I had imagined, then lay my anguish at His feet.

It’s in those times I’ve taught myself to pray for X. For his happiness. For God to bless him in ways that can only be attributed to God’s hand. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that forgiveness isn’t for the other person ~ it’s for you. And it’s true. Unforgiveness is heavy and tiring. I had to lay it down on the side of the road if I was going to move forward. I refused to be defined by this stop on my journey, nor was God going to leave me there.

I was struggling through a dark, difficult season. Brokenhearted. Downtrodden. In a valley. If you’re there, take courage. God sees you. He hears you. He loves you. He will meet you there.

He is the God of mountains AND valleys.

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” ~ Isaiah 41:13 (NIV)