My horizons have changed a little in the past 48 hours. I’ve gone from the serenity of Port Franks’ beaches…
…to the serenity of Riedlingen’s hills and forests. It’s an adjustment I’m happy to make!
Over the course of the last few weeks, as my more faithful readers know, I’ve given plenty of thought to the concept of identity. It started with the discovery in January that I’d have to lose a “chunk” of my cheek to cancer #1, and it continued through this past summer with a series of surgeries for breast cancer. If I’d also lost my hair to chemotherapy, I would have scored the perfect trifecta, with all three symbols of femininity scarred or marred by this disease. And in the midst of so many assaults on the female portion of my wholeness, with another attack soon to come in the form of Tamoxiphen, I continue to ponder the inevitable question: who am I?
I sat on the beach earlier this summer and began a list of roles and loves that contribute to my identity. It went something like this:
- I am a daughter
- I am a sister and an aunt
- I am a teacher (through passion, not training)
- I am a lover of beauty
- I am a romantic
- I am a joyful eater!
- I am a mentor
- I am a soul-dancer
- I am an explorer of the human condition, particularly that of MKs
- I am a healed cynic
- I am a hope-fueled overcomer
- I am a survivor of much more than cancer
- I am a child of God, protected by His promises from the storms of life’s diseases
With my return to BFA, I have also returned to some of the roles that make me feel most useful. There is great joy (unspeakable joy!) in that, but I learned a long time ago that usefulness does not measure worth. It is a lesson I’m grateful to have begun to learn before this journey with cancer sent me on a revolutionary weigh-loss program (ie. losing weight one excised chunk at a time!). The list above is certainly true. It is more poetically defined in words I used for my Facebook bio: “I am a kaleidoscope of far-flung thoughts and stagnant pain and errant dreams–which hope and Heaven’s Hand bid flow back to each other and dance and delve and dare and dawn into a miraculous, mosaical whole…”
But I also know this to be true: I have no more value as a teacher, mentor, friend or daughter than an unborn baby has. That’s because my worth is neither dependent on my accomplishments nor on the number of people I love…nor on the length of my collection of scars. My worth was given to me by the God whose love extended to the cross, whose own wounds healed me and whose own scars gifted me with a life that is not limited by mortal bodies and their diseases. Neither my scars nor my accomplishments have any bearing on the standard by which He has measured and proved my value.
So these scars of mine? By the world’s assessment, they are disfiguring and pity-worthy. But to me [and this is a choice I make every day], they are badges of courage and evidence of God’s unfathomable sustenance through a cancer-twofer that might have shattered me were it not for the healing He wrought in the past ten years and the comfort He brought to the past five months. They are a visible symbol of His invisible but nearly palpable presence at each jarring turn in the unpredictable road I’ve traveled. My identity is not found in them—my serenity is. And they point me every day toward the One in whom true identity and fullness is found, reminding me to contemplate His goodness and faithfulness.
I wrote a poem back in the late 90s, when a dear friend of mine was waging his own battle against a vicious form of cancer. In it, I compared the physical scars that were the proof of his medical salvation to the emotional scars that had led me to my spiritual salvation. As I reread the poem earlier today, I embraced in a new way the words I used so long ago: “And there, with you, immobile under Heaven’s kindred stars / I realized how precious are my own sweet, sacred scars.” Sweet, sacred scars? The adjectives have never rung truer than today.
They’re two of my favorite M’s!)
Well, a couple of students were playing with my camera the other evening and quite unintentionally erased all the pictures of my first days back in Germany…which means I don’t have much to show you! All I can say is that the airport welcome (with several precious friends and students holding a giant banner
signed by dozens of teenagers and collaborators) was an amazing and moving experience. When I arrived at school the next morning for chapel, human rockets launched themselves at me from all directions, leaving my mom wondering if I’d end up at the bottom of a rugby-like heap! Today was my first choir practice, and I am incredibly indebted to Katie, a remarkable woman who “foster-cared” the group while I was away and painfully (but willingly) relinquished it with my return.
It’s all still very fresh, and all I can say is that I am thrilled–to be back, to be involved in young lives again, and to be able to walk the next phase of this journey on this side of the big pond.
Thank you for your prayers. Please keep them coming as I embark on radiation a week from today (Monday).