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Glancing Back

I hate the oncology office. It smells like chemotherapy and pain.

I’m currently waiting in the lobby of Texas Oncology, breathing through my mouth, so that I don’t smell the odor of illness. Okay, I’m not certain what illness smells like. Most likely I’m smelling a combination of hospital cleaners, hand sanitizers and latex gloves. Regardless, my mind associates the smell with all the crap that cancer brought. I’m taken back to chemo, nausea, muscle pain, soreness and radiation burns. I hate this smell. On rare occasion I’ll get a sniff of it while in the foyer of my apartment complex, or in the grocery store and immediately must move away from it. But right now, as I wait for the nurse to call me back, I must sit in it and flash back to the worst of the past year. I hate remembering.

Flashbacks are fickle.

These very same images that I hate to recall in the doctor’s office, are the very same images that come to mind during worship. I stretch my hands to the Father, close my eyes and meditate on the “red devil” coursing through my veins, and the days after where I lay in pain on the couch. I recall to memory sickle cell crisis’ in the hospital and crying from the mind numbing pain in the emergency room. I recall the smell again, and I smile, because I’m reminded of the healing that God has brought. I need to remember the bad that occurred in my life, so that I’m consistently aware of the good that is happening. I love remembering.

Where is the healthy balance between remembering and forgetting? How do we balance no longer living in the past and rejoicing in the present, while not forgetting just what the Lord has done?

And then I remembered our friends, the Israelites, and this particular scripture:

“Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” -Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

Now, I’ve heard this scripture before, understanding it as a call to put my past out of memory. I grew up thinking that there was something “healthy” about forgetting. We are told as children to forgive and FORGET. But as I wrestle with the memories of my cancer battle, I question this. So I look at this scripture a little closer and as I read it now, I’m noticing two important things. The first thing I noticed is the verses above this passage:

“This is what the Lord says—

he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:” -Isaiah 43:16-17 (NIV)

In the preface to telling us to forget the former things, the writer reminds us, pulls to memory, what the Lord has done in the past! The writer is saying, “Look, the dude who parted the red sea, who drew you out of the hands of your enemy- that guy has something to say.” He is defining God by what He has done for him in Israel’s past! This requires us to go back, and recall all of the mess we were in AND HOW the Lord delivered us from it. We look back to remember this, that we may remind ourselves of just who God is.

The second thing I noticed is the word “dwell” in vs 18. Remembering the past and dwelling in the past are two different things entirely. It’s not the casual glancing back that is dangerous, but the complete 180 turns we make to stare and meditate on our past. This is dwelling. The longer you stare in a direction, the more likely you are to walk in that direction. We move in the direction in which our feet and body are postured; surly if I’m facing towards an exit, I will walk in the direction of the exit. Surly if you position yourself to fixate on your past you will move toward it.

So, I encourage you to not turn around and dwell on your past. There is nothing in the past that is worth the repositioning of your body, and the slow backwards journey you will embark on. Your future, and the brightness and fullness thereof, is in front of you! Glance back. Occasionally turn only your head, ever so slightly over your shoulder that you may be reminded of the incredible road you have challenged. Do this only that you may remember what the Lord has done, and that it will propel you deeper into praise, worship and service. This is important, as Moses warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:12 of forgetting, saying,

“Then take care lest you forget the Lord,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

out of the house of slavery.” (ESV)

I’ve often wondered if this is why the Israelites complained so much, and had such little faith during their journey. Time and time again, the Lord showed His mighty hand, providing for them in miraculous ways! The Lord parted the Red Sea, allowing them to escape from slavery and the wrath of Pharaoh (Exodus 14); He rained down manna from heaven that they may eat (Exodus 16); He provided water for the Israelites to drink, from a rock in the desert (Exodus 17)! And yet every time they approached a trial, complaining and unbelief overcame them. Maybe they didn’t glance back. Maybe they allowed themselves to forget the previous wonders and miracles that the Lord had done. Maybe they no longer remembered the pain of slavery and their prayers for freedom.

I don’t want to forget. i wont forget. I shall not. I’ll be sure to glance back to the past on occasion while resisting the fleshly urge to dwell on in.

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Savior

A little episode of PTSD kept me from falling asleep a couple nights ago. In these rare moments, my mind fixates on the idea that I am not going to be alright- my life will be taken from me and surly I will die. The root of these thoughts are deep, birthed out of my mother’s death in 2011. Since then, I have irrational thoughts of being afflicted, just as she was. While I have grown tremendously in this area, the thoughts sill come on rare occasion, and I’m stuck in anxiety.
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In the thick of the panic, I cried out to God for peace and calm, for it was internal anxiety I could not will myself out of. And so, I prayed and in the midst of tear soaked prayers, God reminded me that He was and is my salvation. He brought to memory various situations in which He has saved me; a testimony of His greatness. I kept the list of saving grace on repeat over and over in my head, until a calm fell over me, because certainly if He did it before, He’ll do it again. We often want to erase the bad from our memories, but I want to hold on to them just enough, so that they may operate as reminders of victory and my undefeated God. The very breath in my lungs serves as a reminder that I have survived the worst days of my life and that the Lord is a continual savior! So in the racing of my thoughts, as I rock back and forth in the thick of darkness, I will my mouth to speak out loud the things that the Lord has saved me from: 
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1. You saved me from Mental Breakdown
2. You saved me from Abusive Relationships
3. You saved me from Drunk Driving
4. You saved me from Cancer
5. You saved me from Sickle Cell Anemia
6. You saved me from Pulmonary Embolism
7. You saved me from Fatherlessness
8. You saved me Starvation and Homelessness
9. You saved me from Dangers Unseen
10. You saved me from ME
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What has the Lord saved you from? Reach back to your past and recall the moments in which you thought you would never make it, when it seemed that your mental stability or very life would end. You were at your breaking point and yet you are still here! Because you’ve been saved, and mercy has surrounded you! I encourage you to write them down, and keep them close. This list serves as your reminder that the Lord your Savior is a faithful rescuer.
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And surly if He’s done it before, He will do it again.
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Therefore, I’m free.
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Gratitude

I have been loved on, taken care of, and fussed over from the time I entered this world. Partially because I was brought into a family with big hearts and partially because I was born with Sickle Cell Anemia Disease, a genetic blood disorder. Upon my diagnosis, you rallied beside me and poured your love over me. My Village- you’ve always been present. You then grew in numbers upon my breast cancer diagnosis and another portion of love came to me. I’ve always been amazed at your heart for me and for doing good by others. Through out the years:
You’ve claimed me as your friend even after I flashed the male nurse under my morphine endured stupper.
You’ve took me to the emergency room and sat with me in the early hours of the morning.
You’ve committed to wheelchair races and strolls through hospital gardens. How did I always win?
You’ve pressed the nurses button more times that you can count at the slightest chance that I may be uncomfortable.
You’ve listen to that damn machine’s beep, beep, beep, beep… beep.
You’ve memorized the medications I was allergic to, so that you could inform doctors and nurses. 
You’ve come to understand my treatment plan better than I do. Morphine, I. V fluids, heating pads. Repeat.
You’ve prayed.
You’ve held buckets while I threw up in them.
You’ve seen more blood and needles than you ever cared to. You haven’t passed out yet.
You ever so subtlety placed water bottles in front of me as your plea to hydrate. “Drink you water.”
You’ve turned up the heat so that I may not get too cold, while you wiped the perspiration off of your own face.
You’ve brought me balloons, flowers, games and treats to my hospital room.
You held my IV bag up in the air for 20 minutes while we waited for an IV pole, which was quite the task for someone with little arms.
You’ve spent the night with me, sacrificing the comfort of a bed and shower, to watch movies with me until I fell asleep.
You’ve listen to me complain and told me to suck it up- there’s work to be done.
You prayed again.
You’ve cooked for me. Fed me. Stolen my hospital jello and replaced it with candy.
You’ve intentionally made laugh, to keep my mind off of the physical pain.
You’ve called my parents and family to update them on my health. They’re numbers are saved in your phone.
You’ve run errands for me, gathering my prescriptions and miscilaniois items through the city.
You’ve endured a rediculius amount of hospital cafeteria food. And it ain’t all been gravy.
You’ve packed many a hospital bad, both for you and me. It’s required you to rummage through my underwear drawer and you were never judgmental.
You’ve been my chemo & hospital entertainer, is coming to never ending games of uno, cards and checkers.
You’ve collected my homework for me and committed to helping me play catch-up once I returned to school.
You’ve held my hand while I was in pain. You’ve endured my grip, which is strong.
You’ve lied to nurses, telling them you were my sister, so that you could stay with me in the absence of my family.
You’ve wiped my tears while you hid your own.
You’ve taken me to chemo appointments, enduring the disgusting sounds and smells of the clinic.
You’ve sent me care packages from across the county, that carried healing supplies, fun activities, words of encouragement and items to sooth my soul.
You’ve thrown me “No More Chemo” parties, reminding me that I didn’t do it alone. I’ve never done it alone.
You’ve loved me relentlessly, unapologetically, wholeheartedly and sacrificially.
Thank you.
I believe it’s my turn to do the same for you.
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Bonding With Purpose

I’m. Cancer. Free.

I completed the checklist. Chemo. Surgery. Radiation. My understanding was once that checklist was complete, once I was officially a cancer survivor in remission, that life would return back to “normal” and I would operate as I always had. My old life, my definition of normalcy, is what I coveted for 10 months. What I did not know, what nobody told me, is that cancer (and I imagine all life altering events) shatters normalcy, leaving you with fragmented bits of your old life. Like shattered glass, you can’t mend it back together, as some pieces are chipped, scratched and missing all together. Instead, you’re left with a few familiar pieces and the scars, wisdom and revelations that cancer left behind. Then it hits you: life as you knew it is over. You can’t go back to who you were despite how desperately you may have wanted to. There is a spiritual and emotional shift in the atmosphere, orchestrated by non other than God, and it requires every ounce of your attention.

I’m not the same. I never will be. There is something terrifying, yet so freeing about not recognizing yourself. There’s something even more surreal about realizing that you’re simply at the beginning of this transformation and that a month from now, a year from now, 5 years from now, you’ll continued to be shocked by who is looking back at you in the mirror.

Because Cancer.

Because you spent too many moments questioning death. You saw too many patients suffering more than you had. You wrestlers with God in your attempt to convict Him for what He has allowed. You can’t shake these things; the experiences bond to you like thick adhesive, becoming an extension of who you are. It’s like a heavy tumor, a sudden growth attached to your side, which causes you to now walk with a perminamt limp. I have a perminamt limp. A glorious limp that oddly enough I wouldn’t trade for the world.

The tumor’s name is Purpose. I’m so glad that she has found me.

Purpose will cause you to walk differently and therefore I no longer anticpaite going back to “normal”. Instead I’ve come to realize that further change is on the horizon and it will affect every facet of my life: relationships, career, vision. Changes that will further propel me into my new relationship with Purpose, are coming and have already arrived. I acknowledge that these changes are frightening as I’m not certain in which direction I am moving. But I’m certain in this: God is in control and I am His own possession.

So this is what I say to you loved ones: that which has not killed you has come to shed light on your kingdom purpose- to proclaim the excellence of God. And as you shift into this purpose, do not resist, attempting to glue back the pieces of your old life, but rather embrace the changes within and truly bond with your purpose.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” -I Peter 2:9