May 7, 2017, I had the humbling and honoring opportunity to participate in a powerful event: Vivre; hosted at the Lavish Hair Studio in Jersey City by a good friend of mine from college and her team (Pamela Pastorino). The heart behind its effort was to bring awareness to cancer and raise funds for a beautiful woman and her family, who is currently facing the diagnosis of cancer. When she asked me to be a part by taking pictures as a sign of hope, I was both excited and scared. I was so willing, but so challenged all at once. I wasn't sure what I'd say or how I'd say it because my story is not hers in its entirety. But I said YES because despite the fear, I have faith for the miraculous in everyone's life, even if their miracle doesn't look like mine.
I went with great anticipation and with so much love for this woman that I had not even met yet. I didn't need to know her to love her. I shared part of her story and fear and pain and love. And that's all that mattered. I wanted her and her family to know, cancer is NOT her identity and this is not ALL that she was meant to live in. I saw so much courage, support, love and compassion from all walks of life in that room. I felt like I was part of a community of hope. I was reminded why I said yes in the first place. If I had not adjusted the perspective of my scars, I would have missed out on fostering change in someone else's life. I would have missed the tears of hope and joy that flowed down her face. I would have missed purpose being fulfilled in that family’s life.
Life takes so many twists and turns. I don't ever know what is inscribed on the next page of my life. I just have faith in a God that loves me and through me. As I step back and look at the journey I am on, no one would've been able to convince me 5 years ago that I'd publicly be speaking about this journey to anyone outside of my journal filled with prayers and tears. Wholeness felt so farfetched and unreachable. I did not know then that all of my life would be a beautiful undoing of who I thought I was supposed to be and transforming into who I was designed to be.
What you see and read today is a development. What you witness are the results of very painful realities, endless nights of crying and larger than life moments where I literally felt like I wasn't going to make it past the current set of circumstances. But it's also the result of sheer grace covering me when I felt worthless. It's the result of God's love enveloping me in moments I felt unlovable and unmanageable. It's the fruit of God inviting me to a journey of wholeness from the inside out.
You see, when I was healed miraculously from Leukemia at the age of 15, I was left with the scars. The scars that reminded me of the pain, of the biopsies, of the medications, of the hovering fear that I'd die because my aunt had died from the same disease years before. Every scar told a story of unconceivable anger because I didn't understand why I'd go through this. I hadn't done anything wrong, so it felt so unfair. I feared that if I ever opened up or tried to bring hope to someone else, the cancer would return and I would be ridiculed as a result. So I did what most of us do at first, cover them up. I invested time and money on finding the perfect make up so that I can mask the scars. I didn't see the glory in sharing my story.
In my book, Be Made Whole, I share in depth how it all happened, but it wasn't until I was confronted with how much I hated my scars, that I was propelled into this journey of healing and wholeness to share with others. For so long, instead of being grateful for being healed from Leukemia miraculously, I was overtaken by the shame of the scars and evidence thereof. I wanted to be a clean slate. I wanted wholeness MY WAY. I wanted God to fix me, how I thought I needed to be fixed. But what I failed to see was that every single one of those scars spoke of overcoming, triumph, love and the miraculous. What I neglected was the opportunity to share my story and help others be made whole through their own scars and stories.
It was then that I saw my scars, not as ugly blemishes of my past, but beauty marks that open up the opportunity to talk about what I went through and WHO was behind it all for me. It was then that I embarked on displaying, not displacing the evidence of God's love and grace through Jesus in my life. It was then that my faith was solidified in a way that no Sunday school lesson, bible study, conference or good read could cement. I gave myself completely to what it means to answer the call to live out loud, even when it sounds like cacophony at first; even with unanswered questions.
So I pay it forward in every and anyway that I can. Helping and serving is more than an event, it's a call to "be the change I want to see in the world." I don't see people for their issues, struggles, scars or circumstances, because I'm not my scars. My scars are simply the way in which I get a chance to speak life, hope, love and beauty to a soul that feels like their scars are too shameful to reveal or talk about. I pay it forward by fostering change in collaboration with others seeking to love on others. Why? Because there is no greater sense of existence than embodying love. Love for God and love for my neighbor. And loving my neighbor, I learned, has come from seeing people for more than a label; more than what they've been through -- but for who God made them to be.
And today, today I am grateful for my scars.