Trading Darkness for the Dawn

The past 13 days have been been some of the heaviest I’ve carried.

Six weeks ago I started having ear pain. Long story short my primary care was concerned enough she wanted to refer me to an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Two weeks ago Wednesday I was gently cleaning my ear and found blood. I immediately called the doctor and they asked me to come in that day.

When my doctor was conducting his exam he found a lump in my lymph node. There’s a fairly extensive history of lymphoma in my family so there was quite a bit concern. He ordered a CT as soon as I could get in. I walked out of his office and started weeping. This new life, my new adventures, my hope of a fresh start felt stolen. It took about 10 days for the CT to get scheduled. And every day I carried the weight of the what if’s. 

Last Friday I went to the imaging center. I have terrible veins so the thought of getting an IV was already causing me anxiety. After the third attempt at an IV I really started to panic. On the 5th? attempt they hit a ligament and I cried out in pain. Once the tears started I couldn’t stop them.

It took three hours and literally 10 attempts but the nurse finally found a vein that would hold. At one point she told me she may have to send me out to the hospital to have them find the IV. The thought of not having the test done that day and having to wait even longer was excruciating. By this point I was resolved to the fact that I probably had lymphoma. I processed through what it would look like to support myself through it. If I’d be able to keep up with school work. What it would be like to lose my hair. I truly had prepared myself for the worst.

I vacillated all weekend between peace and despair. Knowing at some point in the next week I would probably have a conversation that could change the entire course of my life. The tech told me I’d probably have some sort of answer early this week. All day I anxiously awaited a phone call. Knots in my stomach. Remembering that I would be okay regardless.

I finally caved and called the doctor’s office. The receptionist told me she was unable to give me any information and I’d need the doctor to call me back. My heart sank. Usually a conversation with the doctor is not good. I sat on pins and needles for an hour and a half before I saw my phone light up.

I answered breathless with sweaty palms.

“Hi Rachel. I heard you were wanting to the know the results of your CT. It looks like everything is normal. It’s great news. The doctor looked at everything and it is normal, normal, normal.” I nearly wept with relief. There was no infection in my blood but even better there was NO CANCER.

I hung up the phone and released the breath I had been holding for 12 days.

I don’t think we feel the weight of the things we carry until we set them down. 

I knew I was hanging together by a thread and a prayer. I was unsettled and on edge. I walked on eggshells in my own life, waiting on this news before I let myself hope or dream. I just needed to know this outcome before I could process anything else.

I took a deep deep breath and let my shoulders relax. I called my family, I texted those closest to me, I hugged my co-workers who have been in the moment by moment trenches with me. I rejoiced at the goodness of the Lord through His mercy of being cancer-free. All the while knowing His goodness would not have been any less good if there had been a different outcome. And I truly had become settled in that.

So what is going on? It’s still the million dollar question. I’ve still got swelling in my lymph node and pain. But I see the doctor in a week and we’ll talk through more ideas. But for now I know there is nothing concerning looming.

I’ve had alot of time to process and reflect the past 12 days. I’ve thought about who I am and what I bring to this world. I’ve thought about the people in my life, both good and bad. I’ve thought about my hesitancy to try things or my insecurities at being seen. I’ve thought about it all. And I’ve truly realized how our lives can change in an instant. One moment we think we have an ear infection and the next we’re waiting to find out if we have cancer.

So life is precious. And fleeting. And wonderful. And messy. And it isn’t worth holding the heavy things that don’t need to be held. Because there will be enough heavy things we carry for ourselves and each other. If you see me around and I’ve dyed my hair or gotten a tattoo, it’s only because we’ve got one shot to do all the things and love all the people.

Hug your people tight today, dear ones. Make that phone call, send that text, write that email. All we’ve got is today. And it’s time to start living fearless and without regrets.

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10 Things I Wish I Knew at 20

Dear Rachel,

There are only minutes remaining your twenties. A decade full of things you never could have expected — experiences, emotions, adventures. The fullness of life in all the heartbreak and wonder to a level you never could have hoped for.

We’ve been thinking alot about the past 10 years. How only traces of you was still remain. There’s a new woman who stares back at me. A woman who has the scars of life and lines of laughter etched on her body. She’s a little wiser, a little less naive, but still believes the best about people almost to a fault. She’s a woman I’ve grown to respect and even like if I’m honest.

You see, dear one, your twenties will be a crucible. You’re going to be sanctified, refined, put through the fire, you’ll go to hell and back, but you’ll survive. And not to spoil the ending, but you’re going to be captivated by where life takes you.

So tonight, as I’ve been looking back on where you are at 20, beloved, it also makes me look ahead, at the things to come in this next decade of life. I’ve heard our 30’s are your best years and I’m sure when I’m 40, I’ll want to tell 30 year old Rachel a few things as well. But I have yet to learn those lessons and instead I’ve got a few things I’d like to say to you. Things I wish I knew when I was turning 20.

  1. Yes, love, you will finally kiss a boy. Several in fact. This will be a tough thing throughout the next decade. You’ll go through another half a decade before you finally kiss a boy, but you get there. I promise.
  2. Going gluten – free will get easier. Everyone will catch on and it will become a fancy trend and you’ll get to eat a turkey sandwich and have birthday cake. Maybe even a pizza or two.
  3. You will lose more people you love. One Saturday morning you will wake up and find the world has shifted and the people you love are no longer on this earth. But you will have been given time and stories and love and legacy. You will get to say your goodbyes.
  4. Your community will change over and over and over again. People who are in your life right now will not be in your life in ten years. And people who become your soulmates are still years off. Your community will change, revolve, evolve, but one thing will stay consistent, you will have community. You will have people. You will be known.
  5. You will fall in love. True love. You will tell a boy you love him and hold your breath while you wait for his response. And then you’ll fall in love again and again. You’ll understand what it’s like to have butterflies and someone staring into your eyes and telling you they have butterflies. You’ll meet their parents and their siblings and their friends. You will be a girlfriend. You will dance in an empty ballroom around Christmas time and be told you are beautiful. You will fall hard and fast.
  6. You will get your heartbroken. It will be torn out of your chest and smashed to the ground. You will have dark nights you never imagined possible. You will feel like you will never be able to get out of bed again and frankly, you won’t want to. You will be devastated more than once by them leaving.
  7. But you’ll find strength in yourself. You’ll learn how to put one foot in front of the other and face the day with hope. You’ll learn that the scariest thing you thought could ever happen – finding love and losing love – will happen and you’ll be okay.
  8. You will travel around the world. You will have adventures and misadventures. You’ll be driven down windy back roads in India and through downtown DC. You’ll go coast to coast, you’ll bring back the red clay soil from Africa, all the while leaving bits of your heart scattered among the jungle. You will truly see the world.
  9. You go to grad school! Not only do you survive undergrad but Surprise! The thing you’ve always wondered about, the thing you’re actually called to do, the tugging in your spirit you try to ignore? It finally catches up to you. You stop running from it or being afraid of it. You face it straight on and realize it’s exactly what you were created to do. And it’s entirely opposite of what you’re doing right now.
  10. You live life. Fully. You engage in the beautiful and the ugly and the fun and the devastating. You feel it all. You learn how to not let it control you. You learn that it can be a bad day but it doesn’t mean it is a bad life. You learn gratitude for the small moments and large alike. You say yes more often than no. You’ve got the scars to prove it. But you’ve also got the beautiful things. The memories of a baby’s first cry, your first kiss, laughter at Thanksgiving with your family around, standing beside your best friends on one of the most important days of their life, the hilariously awkward things you’re going to say to people which become stories in their own right, the nights you’ll dance until 2am, the words your heart will become fluent in, the moments you’ll pinch yourself wondering if this is really your life. It is sweet girl, it is.

There are so many things to come for you. So many incredible and hard things. You’ll still want the same things when you’re about to turn 30. You’ll ache for a family of your own and someone to share your life with. But you’ll learn how to find depth and love and fulfillment with the life you’ve been given. Because it’s a gift, these precious days you’re living. They are a gift to be cherished regardless of how they look.

So Rachel, I hope you know that while your twenties feel a bit like a mess, they’re amazing. They’re beautiful. And they’re making you exactly who you need to be.

Here’s to hoping the next ten are as wonderful as the last.

Love,

Rach

I’m the One Who Got Away

I took a deep breath and let it out.

I was driving home from work and I realized — I was happy. Content. At peace.

It was the first time in a very long time I felt like I could take a deep breath. You know the kind — the ones that go into your marrow. Into your cells. They change you. They are life. They are rest. They are full.

I don’t know when it happened. Probably sometime between chasing dreams and cutting negative people out of my life. And on the cusp of my 30th year I’ve realized I don’t need any of them, nor do I owe any of them a single thing.

look what you’ve done
look what you have become
you’re a puppet, a fool, and a thief
with my eyes closed
’cause that’s how it goes
everyone knew it but me

It’s been a slow process, this awakening of contentment. It’s been messy and stilted. One step forward and two steps back. Full of tears and throwing my hands up in the air. Regrettable conversations and placing boundaries in my heart. But yet, I’m happier now than I’ve been in a very long time.

you’re a good looking loser
and I’m the one who got away

This contentment caught me unaware. It caught me on the edge of a meltdown. It was the calm after the storm. The sense that life had been wrecked by the hurricane yet you know the pieces can be put back together, you’ll find a new normal with scars of the wreckage. You’ll manage and not only manage but thrive.

with my eyes full of tears
and my hands with two beers
I’m as sorry as I am ashamed
should have been smarter
should have tried harder
should have been quick to your game

I hit a point where I finally admitted that I was so ashamed of my wrongs. Unable to admit the ways I screwed up, the ways I had offered my heart to the wrong men, the ways I should have known better. But the darkness caused by my sin choked the life out of me. It haunted me at night. Leaving only regret. It felt like I lost myself for a few months.

you’re a good looking loser
and I’m the one who got away
nobody said it’d be different this time
maybe you’re all the same

So the untangling process, the process of admitting my wrongs, the process of healing, the process of wrestling through this shame, took longer than I thought. It took more of my energy than I care to admit. Until one day, there was freedom. There was release. The chains broke and I found myself not caring. I didn’t care about the men in my past. I cared about the woman they’ve shaped me into — the good and the bad — but I realized I didn’t care about them. The final string in my heart severed and they floated away.

And I had my doubts
but I threw them all out
I had faith
there would be no price to pay

There’s a lightness to life when you don’t have the baggage of your past weighing you down. A focus when you’re not distracted by trying to figure out why you weren’t enough or where you went wrong or why they said the things they did. A hope when you lean into the things ahead. A joy when you realize your life won’t be the hard you were willing to choose. A love when you understand your heart has capacity for so much more than any of them realized.

I’ve wasted much of my life on men who did not want to my life given to them. I’ve wasted much of my thoughts on replaying the moments over and over. I’ve wasted much of my energy on trying to reconcile the past. And now I’m just done. Because I’m happy. And life is good. It is full with room for so much more.

On the cusp of 30, I’ve found love. And contentment. And peace. And joy. And they look nothing like I thought they would. It’s funny but I think I’ve found those things because I got away.

you’re a good looking loser
and I’m the one who got away

Yeah I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the one who got away
Yeah I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the one who got away
Yeah I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the one who got away

So when I took that breath, in a lot of ways, it felt like I was breathing for the first time.

you’re a good looking loser
and I will do what I have to do

Dear Denver

Hi, um hello.

It’s nice to meet you. Officially. It’s been almost a month now, that I’ve had my bed and clothes here. And roughly two weeks since I took up overnight residence.

I have to say, you’ve been more than I could have imagined.

You’ve been fun nights downtown, quiet nights at home, long days at a new job. You’ve been new friends and unexpected adventures. You’ve been familiar and unknown. You’ve been exhausting and exhilarating.

You see, Denver, you have been something brand new.

I feel like windows rolled down, new city, streets and cabs
I feel like anything can happen, laughing
You take me right back, when we were kids
Never thought I’d feel like this

Because you have almost nothing. Few memories, maybe most notably the airport and two Rockies games. You hold no painful places where love was found and lost. You hold no afternoon hikes or strolling aimlessly down the street. You hold no introductions to my people. You hold no tearful fights in the car.

Instead of a painful twinge at the sight of a restaurant or my old apartments or the bar where he broke my heart, I find myself curiously glancing around to understand my surroundings. I find myself wondering where the closest grocery store is or the best happy hour. I find myself day dreaming about the things to come, the things ahead. Excited at the anticipation.

Like when I close my eyes and don’t even care if anyone sees me dancing
Like I can fly, and don’t even think of touching the ground

But Denver, with the blank page and brand new, comes the ache of lonely. The knowing that 60 miles to the south are my people. New babies and beloved souls. Family and home and comfort. And I find myself wrestling through the draw back. To be known and loved and seen. But there’s this feeling — the movement of time and seasons and space. The feeling of being ready for now while loving the past. And I guess that means I’m a really lucky girl, because I have love and understanding and home and people. I have these things to stand behind me as I take tentative and terrified steps ahead, with a literal move of North. Of forward. Of new.

You’re not my home yet — But you’re well on your way.

Before I left Colorado Springs I tried to let go of the heavy things. I started to take the pieces of my past and set them down. I felt them break apart and fall away. I knew I needed to deal with them in the season where they began. I wanted to bring the best parts of who I grew into the last three years and let the other pieces blow away into the wind. I think maybe I wanted that too much — to forget the painful and the hard and the ugly parts. To pretend like they don’t haunt me sometimes. But the truth is, they’ve made me who I am. The hard and hurtful left their marks and I paid their price.

And grace comes in like a salve. It reminds me that I do not have to let those things define me but they are part of me. I don’t have to actively carry them into what the Lord has given me but they will always be etched on my heart. The men I loved. The people I believed the best about. The ways I experienced love in return. The community who surrounded me. And the lessons I learned.

Denver, I know I’m going to make mistakes while I’m here. In fact, I’ve already made a few. I know I’ll have more awkward dates and uncomfortable text messages. I’ll probably feel left out and wonder if everyone is hanging out without me. My feelings will probably get hurt and I’ll unintentionally tell a boy I smell like ham because I’m nervous. I’m sure I won’t get invited to a Halloween party or I’ll get left off an email chain. I know those things will happen.

I feel like a young John Cusack, like making big mistakes
I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid

But I also know you’re going to have new community. You’re going to have first dates and first kisses. You’re going to have new love. You’re going to have “what? you too? I thought I was the only one!” moments. You’re going to have more yes-es. You’re going to have people and weddings and babies. You’re going to have questions and answers and more questions. You’re going to have my grocery store and my gas station. You’re going to have back roads and shortcuts. You’re going to have baseball games and Christmas parties. You’re going to have all the things and more. Because I’ve learned that life is what you make of it wherever you are. And Denver, I’ve decided you are worth putting everything on the line for.

Like a heartbeat skip, like an open page
Like a one way trip on an aeroplane
It’s the way that I feel when I’m with you, brand new

So dear one, I’m ready. Ready to dance and not care who is watching. Ready to open my heart. Ready to live life fully and completely and with my hands wide open.

I’m all in.

Love,

Rach