Breast cancer. It was an experience but not an identity.
When I was first diagnosed in January 2016 with an aggressive form of breast cancer, this was my prayer: God help me to offer up this experience but don’t allow it to become my identity.
A few Octobers have passed since I completed surgeries and treatments but I have felt prompts to acknowledge the experience and HOW it has impacted my work, HOW I show up for my family, practice self-care, lean into my faith and yet does not define WHO I am.
Those close to me knew not to purchase anything pink. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but for me, it felt commercial when it came to my breast cancer experience. I needed to guard my mind and heart’s identity. All the pink in October, well intended I know, but easily turned commercial. Don’t even get me started on some of the (again well intended I know) fundraisers that leverage names referencing breasts as sexual. Ok I’ll call out one: save the boobies. Really? Honestly, that felt like an assault and dismissal that we are talking about a human life battling a disease. I digress.
Cancer was an experience not an identity.
Your diagnosis, your circumstances, your disappointments, your regrets or shame...none of that is your identity: they are experiences.
They are experiences that offer opportunity for you to reflect where you ground your identity. Where you find significance and security. For me it was Christ not cancer. That intentional mindset and the support of so many around me (especially my husband Kevin) that held me up with that decision created a different experience for me, but even more importantly I pray for those that I encountered. Touch points during my doctor appointments, treatments, choosing a wig, sitting waiting rooms. I pray it created a different experience for those I encountered in the grocery store as I wore a scarf because I just didn’t feel authentic and honest wearing Hattie (yes, I named my wig: Hattie the Hairy Hat). That’s a whole other story with unexpected dynamics and emotions I needed to process.
But most importantly I pray that it created a different experience for those close to me. My sweet husband, my children and my grandchildren (born and not yet known).
You see, I get to be their Mimi. I got to hold my two grandsons in the MIDST of the cancer and on the other side of the experience I got to MEET my two granddaughters!
This is unmerited grace. This is Christ over cancer. This is separating identity from experience. This frame of mind changes just about everything.
The story is not over. Though the experience of cancer is behind me, it has left it scars (physically, mentally, emotionally). And yes I worry at times about it returning...a leftover scar. But those scars are just experiences...not my identity. My scars are held and healed by One greater than any earthly experience you or I will encounter. Though we can’t change the past we can reframe how we look at the past experiences and that will change how it impacts us today. How it impacts everyone you and I encounter.
Because my friends, our experiences are not likely just about us. That frame of mind changes how we show up at the table.
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As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. Genesis 50:20
Stories are powerful.
I have the privilege of creating “tables,” spaces where people gather and stories can be told, old chapters reflected upon with the intention of redirecting the plot line, writing a new chapter, or maybe a whole new book to move forward in the story that is theirs alone to pen, but not having to do it alone.
Sometimes it’s an exhausted mom, an overwhelmed organizational leader, a person struggling with making a key decision about a relationship or career, a discouraged team of co-workers working through a difficult change, a pastor seeking balance in ministry, an individual receiving a medical diagnosis, or a person simply feeling stuck in a personal habit - all wondering how to move forward, to move beyond just reacting to circumstances and toward responding with relevant action. They all come to a “table” to explore potential, emerge a personal or collective vision, and engage practical strategies to walk away from the table stronger, more confident, and ready to do work and life with greater intention.
Sometimes it takes moments or circumstances like these to “encourage” us to pause and consider, to be curious about a different way to do work, or to live life; an approach that isn’t rooted in exhaustion, fear, confusion, discouragement or maybe apathy. Sometimes it’s these very challenges that launch us into the gift of being curious.
Curiosity fuels thoughts that focus on…
what could be?
what do we want?
how do we move towards that?
what resources do we have or have yet to discover?
It’s this reframing from fear to curiosity that creates new possibilities at the “table.” Problems or difficulties are viewed as opportunities with anticipation versus annoyance.
Create some pause to consider what your current chapter is revealing…
-Is it reflecting what you want in your life, in your work?
-What do you want those spaces in your life to look and feel like?
-Are challenges viewed as annoying or do they hold a bit of anticipation or curiosity on what could be or how it is relevant to your story?
If these questions intrigue you to explore more, let’s meet at the table and start being curious about how you can transition the plot line in your current chapter. Together, we can surface natural strengths that are unique to you, and resources yet to be discovered that can move you towards living with greater intention and joy even in the midst of challenge.