Friday, February 24, 2012
It's been a while since I really sat down and talked about my battle with breast cancer. Not because I haven’t wanted to, but mostly because life has gone on around me and the fact that I have lived through this beast is not something the world cares to slow down to notice. I have been in the depths of grief many times during my struggle with breast cancer and I have felt the harsh, sometimes burning sting of those who feel the need to strike the wounded while they are still down. It’s sadly part of the game of life. I have always referred to these types as cancer bullies and they seem to strike, to come out from under rocks when you least expect them. It’s honestly a vicious go around we all live through. We pray to make it through, don’t we? We want to be blessed with long life, to be free of cancer and all her consorts, including the cancer bullies. We pray for healing, for enough money to pay the bills in the after math of cancer and for His mighty hand to hold us, carry us through our darkest hour.
Each need, each hurt, each rip at our hearts. It’s almost too much for us to accept blessings come from our pain, resilience; each trial, a moment of grace. We doubt life has any goodness to offer us when the beast comes to inflict her mark, or when once thought tried and true friends come to steal our joy, our hope or abandon us on the side of the road. Our desperate cries go up, our pleas resound, the rage inside bounces against the walls of our fear. When the betrayal of this life we thought we had all planned out fails us, and our greatest disappointments come calling how do we overcome? Resilience is not something that comes easy, but it is something we have to grab hold of if we really want to get through the hundred, possibly the thousand sleepless nights ahead and the anguish of our brokenness tearing us apart.
The truth is living my life as a misshapen broken shell of the woman I once was has been terrifying. I can’t count all the times I have felt lop sided, half of the woman I saw myself becoming, nothing more than half a plastic doll, wrapped up and waiting for life to begin. Growing up to be Barbie seems like a dream come true right? Not, exactly because the real, true life, lifetime story of Barbie is not an easy one. Sure I have a genuine Barbie breast (one side anyway) but the truth is that's not how we envision Barbie is it? We see her as perfect, in every way, not missing a boob or a nipple (even though she is actually nipple-less) that’s not our image of perfection, is it? In the war of the mind we don’t envision the battle with perfect as a boob-less, woman?
So we all see Barbie as the perfect, head to toe, image of a woman despite the fact she is far from actual perfection. How many of us honestly think about the fact that she has no nipples? Seriously, after living through breast cancer and all her disfiguring clawing, I think Barbie and I have a lot more in common than most of us realize. No, I don't have her polished skin, or what most see as a perfect figure but we do share the fact both of us are a bit lope sided. Seriously in real life do you think she could manage to balance her life with measurements like she has? I can tell you living with one real and one fake boob, I can barely manage to balance my own life, not to mention the craziness of shopping for a bra that actually fits. In Barbie’s world she has perfect, perky, non-movable and truth to told nipple less breasts. In the real world, outside of our impossible perfect imaginations, imperfect is perfection. Barbie in all her glory is really the picture of real life, imperfection at its best. Let me fill you in on life after breast cancer: Fake hair, drawn in eye brows, shiny, hard skin, joints popping in and out of socket and truthfully told missing nipples, hard, unmovable boobs that can crush anyone you hug or knock them out cold if you accidently swing around hitting them sideways! Not exactly perfection is it? But you know what, it’s exactly how Barbie is put together.
This year has been a tough one for me ( Summer 2011- present). I have been through some pretty rough surgeries ( September 2011) after a major fall and had to make some fairly tough decisions. Six years after losing my breast and 5 years after stepping into remission, I was finally able to complete my breast reconstruction. I was so close to having my breasts back (well not mine technically but as close to man’s vision of what I should look like as possible) until I woke up the morning before my final surgery and called it off. Why, I am sure you are not just asking me this question but screaming it at me! The truth is I was already whole. I didn’t need to risk one more surgery, a possible stroke, for the sake of nipples, of man’s idea of God’s perfection. The honest to goodness truth is I am complete, with or without breasts, boobs or nipples! I have never been nor will I ever be perfect, I am honestly about as imperfect as they come! I am me, Christina, simple, happy and loved by both a God who loves me and all my imperfections and by my husband who sees past every single scar, mishap, misshapen part of me. I am not resilient on my own, I can’t bounce back solely by my own merit. Yet by God’s grace I am on my way to being content, imperfect and forgiven, Barbie doll ideas and all. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but when it comes down to it, accepting our imperfections, every last one of them, is really what makes us human.
And now, after all this time, my life after breast cancer, I can see how deep, just how wide God’s love is for me, a love so faithful He doesn’t let go despite all my imperfections. What I know is this: when the Lord comes to take me home, to sweep me off my feet, lopsided, extremely imperfect body and all, I WILL be restored. I seriously have to chuckle just a little bit thinking of His trumpet sounding, my body rising, and my breast implant, falling, crashing, and hitting the ground. Talk about a sight!!! Man's idea of perfection won't make it through the gates, only our obvious imperfections made whole, perfect by His grace, will rise that day. And you know what? I am perfectly OK with that! So where am I going with my BIG imperfections speech, well straight ahead, forward, complete, whole, shorter, taller, missing a breast, gaining a nipple or not, Barbie doll perfect or imperfect and all, broken in so many ways, in places you may never know, but resilient and full of grace, a survivor ready to make the most of this beautiful life my God has wonderfully given me!
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
We all have a God Story, whether we believe in His Grace and Mercy or not. If you hold God as your compass through this darkly lite world we live in or not. If you have rejected the idea of His existence you have a God Story, your story is what you believe or do not believe in when it comes to faith. Some of us find God early in life, some of us find him late. Some of us reject His purpose in our lives from the moment we are aware there is more to this universe of ours than just you and me, some of us reject God as life begins to unravel around us. Some of us can't seem to find Him at all and still others seem to be able to believe in the unseen without much effort at all. For many grace seems so far out of reach, so untouchable, so unlikely, yet His grace is the Hand that holds us, that binds us to joy and provides peace of mind in the middle of so much turbulence, the very rope keeping us from the depths of total despair, longing to reach down and ease our sufferings if we will only believe.
My God story begins way back when. I came to know His grace, His love as a child. In fact I grew up in ministry. I went to Bible College, I led worship and I was an example to many, until I allowed hurt, pain and fear to bury His tender mercies under a tarp of uncertainty. I feared allowing God to search my heart and my soul because I was afraid He would see my doubt, not in His love but in my own self doubt.
I never gave up on Him, I guess in reality I really gave up on myself. Oh I clung to His hand, the only problem was it was just the tip of God's finger. For a period in my life, it seemed the tip was about all I could cling to. I just could not allow His mercy to wash over me. I wanted to throw myself into His arms, and cry Abba Father, yet I felt so ashamed, so unworthy because I had reached a place of doubt in my own life. All I had known, all my life was His love, even in the middle of such tragedy, such despair growing up I had held on to His grace but yet here I was, doubting His love for me, His plan for me. The truth is I began holding on to resentment, fear, and the hurt of some who came in His name, ready to pounce on my open wounds for being unworthy of His grace. The thing is this none of us are beyond Gods grace, we just have to come as we are, imperfect, unbalanced, scared, angry, hurt, fearful, none of it matters, because when He looks at us, He sees the child He loves, the woman, the man, the sinner, the pastor, the murderer, the sick and the beaten down, He sees it all and in the blink of an eye His grace covers us.
I ran from grace, I ran from hope yet He found me, at the bottom, struggling to hold on to what joy I had left and He pulled me up, back into His arms and restored His grace, His mercy and true joy to my life once again. Breast cancer could have been the death of me in more ways than one. Cancer could have taken my joy, my hope and my faith yet God took what was meant to destroy me and instead He used it to strengthen me, to draw me closer to His grace. I had to learn to trust His plans for me in spite of my own ideas of what was good for my life. The truth is my way only leads to making a full blown mess of myself.
I am so far from perfect, it's really not funny. If I had to repent of each and every grievance in my life, if I had to stay away from all the little messes which find me on a daily basis, or had to try and fit all the pieces of my life together on my own I would certainly fall short of His grace. But that's the beauty of the real God, the One I have come to know and sadly the One many are never introduced to. It is in His arms where we are free to be ourselves, we do not have to do anything but trust Him. We come just as we are, dents, cracked rear view mirrors, broken seat belts and all. Every secret, every fear, every pain, every shame He sees, He knows each one and yet He does not hold even one against me. He conquered death , He can certainly conquer Christina's shortcomings. I may be a walking, crazy, upside down, turned sideways, inside out, imperfect, stitched back together again rag doll but I know in His eyes I am perfectly forgiven.
I am called to this simple truth: His love is greater than any sin, any misgiving, any ineffectiveness, any pain, any hurt, any disappointment I can hold inside my heart. He is the light within me, He is the reason I can shine, He is the reason I have joy in the midst of so much uncertainty. He is the One who searches my heart, He is the One who knows me, who I really am, He knows the Christina no one else can see. He is the One who makes my God Story real. With all I am if I can only open my closed, squeezed tight eyes, God will reach into my uncertainty and misgivings and not only shower His redemption over me but He will also bind my heart to pure joy and true hope restoring every part of this crazy life I truly surrender to Him.
Once we make peace with our own God stories, we can be courageous, unafraid of tomorrow. Does that mean life will be easy? Oh no, not in the least bit I can assure you of that, my life is an open book of trouble with a capital T, a living breathing testimony of mishaps. But I do know for a fact that once I surrendered my fear, I was finally able to experience a love so deep and so wide it has begun to spill out of my own life into those of my family. It's a real battle of the heart and mind when it comes to God, to finding where we fit in His existence. Sometimes we can't face him and sometimes all we can do is fall before Him and then sometimes all we want to do is run away and hide. The truth is this: some us us even reject Him , the fear, the pain, the uncertainty this life has laid at our feet is way too much for us to bear. Seriously how are we to believe a loving God can allow the world to be such a turbulent place? The battle of the heart and will can be almost completely overwhelming , it can cause us to doubt, to even hate a God we don't understand.
Well, let me tell you friend I do understand where you are, I truly do and I don't blame you if you can't accept my faith or my belief in a faithful, loving God because truthfully everything out there in the real world tells us differently doesn't it? Honestly, I have been there, right where you are right now and no one person could have ever convinced me to look at my circumstances any differently. I wasn't going to budge until I was ready to let my own hurt, pain, fears and most importantly to turn my life over to a God I wasn't sure I should even trust to begin with. Come on, look at the tract record I was keeping against Him? I was bound to come on my terms, not His. I was a walking, talking book of grievances, full of reasons why my way was best, why my God Story was bound to the pages I was really tired of writing on my own. Sadly most of us never really meet the God Who's love never ceases, never fails or leaves us, a love that is genuinely unconditional. Why? This " God" of anger is usually our first real introduction in the beginning of our God Stories. We're taught He's some sort of crazy stern God, a man 20 feet tall, wearing gold sandals,a white robe with a long fuzzy beard and wild, fluffy gray hair, looking down with His over the the top god-like- complex while hovering somewhere above us. We are convinced He or at least His crazy followers are eagerly waiting to pound us over the head, take us down with pious judgement holding some kind of a horror flick based gruesome hammer in their hands. Just an FYI: that's not my God, not in any shape or form!
The truth is even if my own God Story is not yours, you have your own because no matter who you are each of us have a God Story it's just a matter of how we choose to have it written. So today I share with you the truth which has opened my eyes, a God who is humble enough to wipe away my tears, forgiving enough to over look my faithlessness and loving enough to keep comforting my fears even if I am afraid of the monster in the closet that is not truly there night after night. I pray, I hope that one day you will experience this transformation, this freedom, that this unconventional grace finds you as it has found me, a faith, not a religion, a love which has allowed me to be free to be me in spite of myself.