Four days ago, on June 15th, I began the fortieth year of my life. Isn’t it funny how birthdays always force us to take inventory? This birthday, my thirty-ninth, knocked me to my knees. On my thirty-eighth birthday, my husband had been home from Iraq for twelve days. Five days after his return, I was sent to Walter Reed for biopsies on the lymph nodes in my neck. The biopsies were scheduled because blood-work, scans, and an ultrasound all led my doctor to believe that the cancer I had been diagnosed with two years earlier had spread to my lymph nodes.
My husband held my hand as person after person was called in to see if they could find the ‘nasty ones’. They were not there. They had been there in an ultrasound one month earlier, but on the day of the biopsies, they could not be found. Not by the first ultrasound tech. Not by the second. Not by the radiologist. Not by any of the three pathologist. They were gone. The pathologist eventually decided to take samples of the only two lymph nodes he could see. My thirty-eighth birthday was spent awaiting the diagnosis of those samples.
Yesterday, June 18th, was another birthday for me. It was the day that I stopped and acknowledged that one year earlier I received a phone call that lit a fire inside of me.
I hit the talk button and said, “Hello.” My doctor said, “I have your biopsy results. I don’t know why your tumor markers showed up and multiplied and I don’t know what happened with those lymph nodes, but YOU’RE CANCER FREE!”
This birthday was so much bigger to me than the one celebrating my birth. It was a celebration of just how big God loves me. It was a celebration of my acceptance of that love.
To cap off my cancer-free birthday, Christine Caine was speaking at our church. If you ever have a chance to hear her…GO! She crams more of God’s truth into every breath than most people will in a lifetime. The first time I ever even heard her name was after we returned from Serbia. It turns out that she was adopted and that she was not given a name at birth. It also just happens that she has a ministry that is stopping human trafficking in Eastern Europe. I was broken by how much significance there was in the fact that God put me in a seat in that building to hear what she had to say.
She started her message in Deuteronomy 1. Verse 2 tells us that, “It takes ELEVEN DAYS to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.” Verse 3 tells us that it took the Israelites FORTY YEARS to make that journey because of one act of doubt and disbelief.
I awoke this morning and read the whole chapter. In verse 6, Moses tells the Israelites,
The Lord our God said to us, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain.”
The healing that took place in my body last year was insignificant in comparison to the healing he has been done in my spirit since my cancer diagnosis. I suppose that every person who is diagnosed with cancer changes in some way. You just can’t ever look at life through the same lenses after you hear that word applied to your body. For me, I saw my diagnosis as a pinnacle. I spent thirty-eight years trying to climb a mountain with the weight of a lifetime of wounds on my back. I was dragging pain and guilt and shame and self-defeat and all the ugliness of the world along with me. The weights never let me climb more than a few feet before I tumbled back down again.
In May of 2007, when a doctor avoided eye contact while telling me that I had pretty advanced thyroid cancer, I was given a chance to leave my weight on that mountain. God was saying to me that I had been there long enough.
The fire that God planted in me with my diagnosis was really just a big seed of urgency. We have no tomorrows promised and if we have any hope of fulfilling God’s plan for our lives, we need to do it with urgency. God has a purpose for me that can never be accomplished with a bag-full of junk on my back and I never again want to take decades to get somewhere that should have taken eleven days.
I had to wait two years to hear that I was cancer-free and it took just about that long for me to leave some of those weights on that mountain.
In this fortieth year of my life, I hope to wake up every day with the fire of urgency. I pray that God continue to show me purpose and that He continue to provide me with the strength and character to fulfill that purpose. And I thank Him. For second chances. For freedom from the weights of the past. For victory. For purpose. For life.