Imagine your reaction if someone told you this…
A woman was sitting in her living room dealing with a terrible ordeal and all of a sudden, a peace that totally goes beyond anything she could understand or imagine or explain came sweeping over her body. In that instant, she suddenly felt happy. Joyful.
Would you think she was crazy?
That woman is me.
You might still think I’m crazy, and that’s okay, but hear me out.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and dealing with all the decisions that go with it, I put on a pretty brave face. But let me assure you, there were many many many times when I lost it.
I’d hold it together in front of my family until I could escape to the shower where I would sob under the steaming water so no one could hear me. Or I’d wait until everyone in my house was gone for the day and then crawl into my bed so I could feel safe in my own little cocoon.
I talked to God a lot during those times.
I never really had the right words, but somehow that was okay. God knew what I was feeling.
And more often than not, as I was talking with Him, my anxiety would be replaced by a strange sort of calm. A knowing– that whatever happened, I was not alone.
Some people might say, “Well, that’s because crying is therapeutic. Of course you’re going to feel calm after exhausting yourself with tears.”
I didn’t always cry.
Sometimes I would just be feeling especially anxious or panicky and start talking to God and the calm would come. Not every time, but many times. And if I started praying out loud, often my body would first be filled with chills, followed by the calm.
This isn’t magic or paranormal activity. This is a promise God makes us in the Bible. It’s part of the series of scripture we’ve been memorizing.
Last week God told us what we need to do: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
And this week He tells us what He will do: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
The promise is there for the taking. If you don’t believe me, memorize this verse and take it straight to God in prayer.
Maybe it looks like this:
God, you told me to come to you and share my heart. To tell you what I need and thank you for all you have done. I’m here doing that now. Regardless of what the answer is to my specific request, will you please cover me now with a peace that transcends all understanding?
God can do that for you, you know. And there’s no limit to the amount of times you can ask and the amount of times He will give.
Trust me. I’ve tested the limits and haven’t found them yet.
I never knew nipples were such a big deal. Actually, it’s not the nipple, it’s the areola that’s causing all the problems.
When I stand in front of the mirror, I notice two things:
1) The tattoo I had on my reconstructed side has faded and lost pigmentation in some spots. The tattoo artist told me this could happen and offered to let me come back in for a “touch up.” He is 2.5 hours away from my house. I’m no longer interested in driving long distances to make my breasts look good, so I figured I’d just live with it.
2) The areola that was reattached after my native breast was lifted is a little misshapen and has a distinct circle of scar tissue outlining it. Again, I could go back for more surgery, but that seems awfully compulsive of me.
Neither of these things are a big deal. I don’t stand around looking at myself naked and fret about them. But when the opportunity arises to do something, I take it.
Have you ever had one of those times when a word or phrase or message randomly popped up again and again over a short period of time? That happened to me with Ellie.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, so it seems a little strange that now of all times people keep asking me if I know a nurse named Ellie.
It turns out Ellie is a cosmetic and paramedical tattoo specialist. She does permanent makeup on lips and eyebrows, but she is especially passionate about women who have gone through breast cancer.
She works about 10 minutes from my home, so I thought I’d call her.
“Hi Ellie! You don’t know me, but I keep hearing your name. You do areola tattoos, right? I’m a survivor. I’ve had a tattoo but it needs a touch up. Also, I’m writing a book about reconstruction so I’d sort of need to bring along my photographer who will document the whole thing. Do you mind?”
Ellie was in!
I sent her a photo of my right breast (the one that was lifted) so she would know the size and color when she worked on creating a match on the left side.
She messaged me back immediately and gently said, “You know, I could do a little work on that breast too. Maybe soften the scar lines and even out the shape?”
And that was how I ended up getting a tattoo on both of my breasts.
Ellie spent four hours mixing colors, measuring sizes, and tattooing my breasts while Ann took photos and I tried not to flinch. I couldn’t feel anything on my mastectomy side, but I definitely had sensation on the other side, even with the numbing gel. There were maybe 5 or 10 minutes where I thought I might go through the roof, but looking back, it wasn’t terrible. I did go home however and eat ice cream for dinner. Being brave for 4 whole hours is exhausting.
Now some of you reading this might be thinking, “Why would Nicole go and desecrate her body like that? It’s not Biblical.” How do I know you’re thinking that? Because some of you have said that to me. I understand your concerns, but please, please hear my heart on this…
Cancer isn’t Biblical. It doesn’t play by the rules. It doesn’t follow God’s plan. It comes in and tries to kill us and then turns around and runs away, leaving a wake of physical and emotional scars. Some of those I can’t fix, but some of them I can. When I look in the mirror now and see something that resembles the “me” before cancer, a small part of the emotional damage is healed.
I don’t know if God cares if we get tattoos or not. I have no idea.
But I do know if Jesus were here today, he probably would have driven me to that appointment. Because regardless of whether or not we manage to follow all the “rules,” he is always by our side.
I think it’s a pretty safe bet that we all know what “anxious” means, right? Yeah, I thought so.
But just the same, humor me while I google it…
experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. “she was extremely anxious about her exams”
wanting something very much, typically with a feeling of unease. “the company was anxious to avoid any trouble”
The Latin root of the word “anxious” is “angere” which means… to choke.
Wait, did that stop anybody else in their tracks?
When I get whipped up in worry about something, I feel like my heart is being choked.
I’ve heard that worry, fear, and anxiety are the opposite of faith. I think that’s true. When I’m feeling anxious, I’m basically saying that I’m not certain God can do what he says he’ll do; that he won’t take care of me, because he’s either too busy or not big enough.
Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m anxious about. Things are going well, but I’m just sort of jittery. Like I’m so busy juggling life that I don’t have time to think about what I’m actually worried about, but I know it’s something. The anxiety settles over everything like a heavy, constricting, sometimes choking presence.
Is there a solution? Or is this normal; how we were meant to live?
Today’s memory verse tells us 1. God did not intend for us to live in nervousness, and 2. How to escape the choking.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
This verse is so comforting to me because it basically says, I get that you’ve got a lot of stuff running through your head. Bring it to me. Let’s talk about it — all of it– so I can ease your mind.
And the way God eases our minds is by telling us to remember all the things he’s already done for us! That’s where the thanksgiving comes in!
We tell him what we’re worried about. (If you’re me, you also tell him what you want him to do about it.) And then we start making a laundry list of everything he’s already done for us.
When we do that day after day, we change. We become brave. We begin to focus on the eternal instead of the day-to-day.
And that constricting feeling that once threatened to take hold is choked out by a faith that says no matter what tomorrow brings, it’s okay, because I know God will be there.