For everyone who wasn't able to make it to my party, I wanted to share the night with you anyway. I was so blessed to see or hear from many friends and family; your presence and/or words to me will be treasured always.
My favorite color has always been yellow and, being such a cheery color, it just seem natural that it would be the chosen color for party decorations. Imagine our thrill when we discovered that the weekend of my party was also the annual all-you-can-pick sunflowers event at Hope Field about an hour from our house (seriously, it's called HOPE Field!). We loaded up the cars and made the trip over to stuff the car full of gorgeous blooms:
God also gave us a gorgeous day for picking! It had been so hot earlier in the week, but picking day was only about 83 degrees - still warm, but not scorching. Thank you, Jesus!
I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone who made the party possible. My in-laws came up from Chattanooga to get our house ready and to do whatever else we needed. Andrea's mom also came up from NC to lend her hands in the kitchen and in making our decorating ideas come to life. My sister worked late into the night to get our kitchen cabinets painted in time for the party debut, not to mention all her help planning the party with Andrea! Husbands and kids strung up lights, hung up signs and balloons, moved heavy objects, set up the sound system, and made runs to the store, while my brother and sister-in-law took photos of the evening and my niece painted a scripture sign for me. Although I was still completely exhausted by the end of the event, all this help made the party possible and allowed me the strength and energy to focus on my guests and enjoy the time. My special night truly could not have happened without them and I'm so grateful.
Look at the magical space we created!
I forced everyone to pose for a picture with me so I can remember each one who shared this day with me. I felt so loved!
Some brave souls also shared memories or special thoughts with the group. While we, sadly, didn't get all the sweet words shared that night recorded, I do have the words I shared, words for those who came and for all who couldn't come:
I want to thank you all for coming to help me celebrate that I’M NOT DEAD YET! This all seems so surreal. Like someone else’s life. Who am I to have 50 people come celebrate my life?? It’s like something you read about happening to other people. It means so much to me that you would care about me and make the effort to come today. You know, having cancer is a gift - it forces you, and those around you, to be aware of your own mortality. To remember that we are not promised unlimited days on earth. And it forces people to actually show up at your party. LOL
Three years is a special milestone for me because, on the day I was diagnosed, I read that three years is the average life expectancy for a stage 4 breast cancer patient. Now my doctor later assured me that he felt I had much longer than that, but the only statistic I can find even now still says three years. And not only have I lived three years, I’m still on my first treatment! This is huge, because there are only a certain number of treatments and once your body has figured out how to beat them, there’s nothing else to do.
So we celebrate tonight for THREE years and ONE treatment. But even if I get news next week that my cancer has spread, I want to testify that God is good. He is good to give me three years and He is good if I don’t get another three years.
We are all here tonight because I once told God that I had a boring testimony. Big mistake. Haha. Just kidding. But seriously - if you want God to show up big in your life, you’re probably going to have to go through some hard stuff. If you can do it all on your own, where’s the room for God to work? I didn’t know all this when I started and my first Hard Thing almost crushed me. But once I recovered from that and realized all that God had done in me and all I had learned about Him through the process, I thought it was something I was ready to take on again. So I told God that. And as soon as it left my mouth I took it back, because I realized I had basically just said, “Give me more Hard Things!” What idiot says that? LOL And then, in all seriousness, I said it again - "Take me to the next level. I believe knowing You more is worth it."
And I was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer at 31. And He showed up in such big ways and taught me more than I could ever have learned otherwise. It took me several years to stop reeling from that adventure, but when I did, I told God I’d be up for another Hard Thing - and cancer round two began. A little bit harder and a little bit worse. Haha.
I would like to encourage you not to shy away from Hard Things. Don’t pray that God will take them away or spare your loved ones from them. They are hard because they have the greatest reward. If you want to know our suffering Savior, you are going to need to suffer, too. Now I don’t think you need to go out and buy a wardrobe of hair shirts, but be open to paths that might lead to suffering. We can’t sing about wanting to go deeper with God and growing closer to Him and then run the other way when we are faced with the opportunity to do so.
Hard Things are not necessarily bad things. I want to circle back to the fact that we’re all here tonight because I once told God that I had a boring testimony. So many of you I would never have known if it weren’t for Hard Things. They forced my life to change in ways that brought you into it. And then God used you to help me through all the Hard Things. You all brought meals and did my grocery shopping, you cleaned my house, went to doctor’s appointments with me or gave me rides, sent me encouraging notes or little presents to brighten each day, helped in creative ways from out of town - paying for Netflix, sending books, treats, comfy clothes, kitchen tools to make healthy meals and gift cards for eating out. You helped me shave my head, made me hats when I was bald, did projects at home for me, helped me move (numerous times!), had me over for tea or coffee, prayed for me or organized prayer gatherings, befriended me when we had nothing in common except cancer, and read my blog. I recently found this soapstone candle holder from Kenya. It shows five people holding hands in a circle around the candle’s flame. I thought this was the perfect illustration of how I feel about going through this illness - it takes a village, or a great circle of friends. God knew I needed you. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.