One Year Ago Today: I'll Never Be The Same.
Updated: Jun 29, 2022
Have you ever experienced something that seemed to cause time to stand still? In that moment, your entire being locks in on that one thing and you are overtaken by all it entails. Maybe it was the moment you gave birth to your first child after battling infertility for years. Your strength had dwindled, and your hope was hanging on by a thread. The test finally came back positive, but you wouldn’t allow yourself to celebrate for fear that one more heartbreak would be the last you could take. But now she’s here! Your baby girl is here! Out from the womb, into this world, she’s a miracle before your eyes. Everything around her fades to grey, nothing else matters and you are wordless. One tear rolls down your flushed and freckled cheek as you finally allow the dam to break. You can hardly process that this is real life.
Maybe you’ve experienced something much different. You had done your best to hold things together as you waited for your prince charming to return home. When he joined the military out of high school, the goal was to get assistance through college so you could start your life together when he got out. You both knew it would be a process and you prepared to spend time apart, but who could’ve planned for war? Deployment was never discussed. Every day was intertwined with a lot of sorrow because he was so far away and a little bit of comfort that you were one day closer to feeling his embrace again. Your future would begin soon enough and forever would be in front of you. You were doing an exceptional job of encouraging yourself that day. You were feeling particularly brave. The weather was just perfect, so you decided to get out, go for a stroll in the park and meditate on all things good. On a day that seemed too perfect to shatter to pieces, the call came. What was never supposed to be led to your world ceasing revolution. Your vocal cords tightened, and no sound could escape. Just a few yards from the baseball field, you fell to your knees and where words were silenced, tears screamed. You could hardly process that this was real life.
Can you relate? On any level? There are moments when this beautiful and tragic life ascends to heights so high and descends to depths so low that the air becomes either so thin or so thick, we can barely breathe. In these moments, words don’t suffice. In these moments, our minds labor to process what’s happening and what will become. Sometimes we shut down. Sometimes we cry out. At the very least, these moments change us.
Last year, I experienced one of these moments. Here’s my story:
It was early 2019 when I saw it. There was a spot on my leg that I'd never noticed until then. While it didn’t appear suspicious or threatening, logic told me things shouldn’t just be showing up on my body with no explanation. I decided to make an appointment with my doctor so he could confirm that it was indeed nothing. Months passed before I finally made the appointment and went in and when I did, he agreed that it didn’t seem like anything alarming. “If it will make you feel better, we’ll schedule a punch biopsy and send it away just to cover all bases, but I’m certain this is nothing to be troubled by.” These were the reassuring words of my Primary Care Physician. I wasn’t fearful, but I agreed since he suggested it.
No Big Deal
On July 3rd, 2019, I went in for a small, simple procedure. I was notified that due to the holiday, the results would take a little longer. “Give us until Monday or so,” the Physician’s Assistant instructed me. Monday came and went. By that time, I had a few close friends and family asking if I had gotten results, so in attempts to ease their minds, I began calling… Every day. No results. I was a bit annoyed, but still calm. I just KNEW the spot was benign… Certainly not cancerous… Nothing to even consider. And yet… I was waiting.
On July 11th, I caught a plane to Denver, Colorado to attend the Woman Evolve Conference hosted by Pastor Sarah Jakes Roberts. (Cue chaos) I travelled in a day early to hike The Incline (check out my post about that hike in 2018—Lessons On The Incline). Well, things didn’t go as planned. I made it to Denver, but my luggage chose not to follow me there. As much as I travel, this had NEVER happened to me before so all I could do was chuckle. I was surprised how much peace I felt considering my entire day’s plans were thwarted and I had NOTHING with me—no clothes, no makeup, no toiletries, NOTHING. I guess I’ve been through enough at this point in life to realize wasting energy on things I have no control over is just that… Wasted energy. The airline assured me my luggage would make it to me by the following evening. Problem: conference started the next morning. So, what was supposed to be a day for hiking turned into a day of shopping. Everything from hair products to shoes to ointment to treat the stitched site on my leg needed to be replenished that night. I remember saying to God, “Okay! Let’s do this. You’re in control. This won’t shake me.”
God, You’re Up To Something…
I’d come to find out I wasn’t the only one the enemy was messing with that weekend and it didn’t take long to discover why. Sisters and aunties, cousins and Grannies came from all over with such a hunger and thirst for the Spirit of God, I’m pretty sure Satan was mad. Friday was fire. And Saturday was fire. This conference was good! For everyone! Then Saturday night rolled around…
This Doesn’t Make Sense
At 6:17pm MST on July 13th, my phone rang. I had just taken my seat at The Potter’s House of Denver and the session openers were on stage getting us warmed up to close out the weekend with a bang. Ashley, a sweet soul from Dallas by way of the DMV, was seated next to me and agreed to watch my purse while I stepped out to take the call. The number was unfamiliar, but local to Maryland. Sure enough, it was my PCP: “Well… Shelby… Uh… I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get these results to you. We… Um… Actually had to send the sample to another lab to verify what we thought we saw. Uh… Shelby, I can’t believe it, to be honest, but it seems I was wrong. The results show cancerous cells.” After these words invaded my ears, every other one fell on deafness. I have no idea what he said after “cancer”. But eventually he stopped talking and the only words I could manage to formulate were, “Are you sure?” I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t receive it. It didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be real. I thought he was reading the wrong report. “It was your right thigh, right?” He confirmed. It was. My name was at the top of the report and these were indeed the results. He told me I needed to see another Doctor ASAP. There was urgency in his voice. He said we need to see if and how far it had spread so we could determine “next steps.” What?? The only next step I accounted for was the call that said, “We were right. All clear! Carry on.”
The irony that the Denver skies began to crack open and lightning began to strike as this conversation was taking place was uncanny. Trembling, I took down the name and number of the doctor I was to make an appointment with… ASAP. By this time, my voice began to break, and I could tell my doctor was clambering for words to comfort me. “We’ll take care of you,” he tried. “Thanks, Doctor. I’ll talk to you later.” And I hung up. As soon as the line disconnected, my body began to catch up with my mind and I started to fall to pieces. I could hear, feel and see nothing but cancer right then and there. This was NOT supposed to be my story. My emotions asked no permission to take over, and yet they hijacked my entire being. Tears began to uncontrollably cascade down my face and my next thought was, “I’ve got to get out of here!” I didn’t want countless strangers to catch me in such a vulnerable moment. As God would so divinely orchestrate, the head of security (who I know personally), in an event with thousands of people, just so happened to be a few yards away from where I was standing and as soon as he saw me, rushed over to cover and protect me. He took me to a safe, private place and told me to call him if I needed anything. All I knew to do was pray as I fell apart.
I’ll spare you some of the play-by-play, but all I can say was God never left my side. From placing me next to Ashley to watch my purse (which I had forgotten about by this time), to allowing me to walk out in the vicinity of someone who would cover me, to the next person who would find me and pray with me and go get my spiritual brother who would pray with me, every step was lovingly and powerfully ordered by God. He allowed me to get the call, yes, but He had a plan for THIS just like He had a plan for my lost luggage (which was returned to me and I received double for my trouble [more on that at another time]). Cancer was catastrophic to me, but to God it was no bigger of a deal than lost luggage. He is in control of all things. As my brother (and later my sister [as well as a few others]), prayed over me, loved on me, covered me and declared that we would not receive this report, I began to believe that not only was this forecast not supposed to be my story but that it fact it would NOT be. My brother made this statement-- “It is not a coincidence that you received this report in this atmosphere of glory. God is here and miracles are happening!”
He Loves Me Like That?
Let me fill you in on a few details I left out earlier. I was supposed to fly out from Denver that night, but remember how I mentioned a storm was brewing? My flight got delayed so late that I decided to reschedule and stay over that night. Had my original travel plans proceeded, I would have been on the way to the airport by myself when I received the news. Can we also point out that 6:17pm MST (7:17pm EST) on a Saturday night is not normal business hours? Why did the doctor call at that time? None of it made sense… But God. As I look back, I can’t help but review that whole weekend and consider that maybe God loves me enough and cares about my heart at such a level of intensity that He would command nature, airlines, doctors, conference speakers, sisters and so much more to coordinate in such a way that every step I took would be joined with the assurance of His presence in inexplicable ways.
All I Did Was Worship
After doing my best to process and knowing my small circle of support was immediately in prayer, there wasn’t much left to do at that time. I made my way into the closing session (which turned into a night of prayer and worship [Good lookin’ out, God!!]). Various leaders were called to the stage to pray. I believe it was the second person up who began to pray for healing. She said, “I KNOW my God is a healer. I know He can work miracles.” She started to call people to the altar for specific conditions, the first being… You guessed it… Cancer. The fact that I responded was inconceivable. Not that I responded to an altar call, but that that condition had now entered my repertoire. No matter the outcome, it had, that day, become a part of my story. I rushed to the altar and with everything in me believed for that miracle.
If I were to describe what I was feeling that night and for the next several days, it wasn’t fear. I refused to allow that to enter. Not because I’m a super saint or wonder woman, but simply because I was terrified of fear! I knew that the moment I entertained a thought of doubt, it would threaten to move in and takeover any faith I was clinging to. I had to be intentional to let nothing that even remotely had the scent of anxiety enter my sphere. I stayed distracted and when the topic arose, I’d declare the promises of God. I didn’t have much of an appetite for the days to come, so I’m sure that indicates some level of uneasiness, but I would not allow that to dominate my heart and mind. I would not look up stats. I would steer clear of Google. I would listen to and trust in nothing but God and His Word until I saw in black and white what I saw in my spirit.
On July 17th at 9:40am, I went in for the second biopsy. This one was wider and deeper and painful. My palms were sweaty, and my heart thumped faster than it had during the procedure two weeks prior when I was cracking jokes with the doctor. I didn’t even ask the doctor any questions because I didn’t want to know facts or stats, I just wanted to know when the report of the doctor matched the report of the Lord. This doctor was super sweet, and her PA took great care of me. Eight stitches later, we made a follow up appointment to have them removed and by then, we anticipated results. Good results.
On July 24th at 10:15am, the stitches were removed, and the report announced that not a single cancerous cell was detected… Only scar tissue. Scar tissue? Could it be…? As I look back on this moment now, I understand that Jesus scar tissue is the reason I’m healed. He took the disease to the cross. He traded places with me. 1 Peter 2:24—"by His wounds you have been healed.” I stand here with victory today that I didn’t have to die for. That’s why I bear His marks on my body. Those marks mean I’m healed!!
As focused and quiet as I had been during the process waiting and believing, the new report caused a different hush to settle in. Initially, I couldn’t fathom the bad news. Now, I was the recipient of a miracle and all I could do was ask God, “Why?” He could’ve chosen for the first report to be clear. He could’ve allowed me to walk the journey of surgeries, chemo, other therapies or radiation. He still would’ve been in control. But He chose this specific path and I determined not to let weight of it fade into the abyss of my consciousness.
Since this experience, my perspective on everything has changed. The Word of God is illuminated in a new way. Life has brand new meaning. Petty things don’t bother me anymore as I feel an urgency to take my time on this earth seriously. I’m focused because there is something God wants to accomplish and establish here through me. My voice matters. My story is significant. My gifts are purposeful. And if you're breathing, that's evidence that you have purpose too. God loves me and He loves you beyond our comprehension.
Remember in Mark 4 when Jesus calmed the storm? He was in the boat when the wind and the waves began to rage and because He didn’t react to the gale, the disciples questioned His love for them. Think about that. Because Jesus wasn’t freaking out, the disciples assumed He didn’t care. Because He remained calm, cool and collected, His boys weren’t sure of His commitment. What they didn’t appreciate was that God was present. He was with them in the storm. He didn’t jump ship. He loved them enough to not leave them alone. But notice… He was silent until they called out. He was in control, but He was quiet in the chaos. The storm didn’t stir Him, but their hearts did. When they were feeling panicked, Jesus cared enough to move. I used to think the purpose of this story was to prove He was in control or teach the disciples to remain still when adversity arose. While these themes are certainly true, what if one of the reasons God allowed this storm to arise but be short-lived was to display the depth of His love for them? The disciples knew how powerful He was. They had witnessed Him perform miracles! They didn’t question His strength, but they did wonder if He would use His strength for them. They weren’t yet sold on Jesus’ concern for them. The storm revealed Jesus’ heart. The trial wasn’t just an opportunity for Him to flex His power, but to prove He would flex it for them.
He's In It
What if the issue you’re facing is a chance for God to prove to you once and for all that you are the apple of His eye? Would you believe it if He demanded the heavens roll back for you? Would you be convinced of His love then? What would it take? I’m not saying you must encounter a life-altering, time-warping situation to receive this sort of revelation, but what if you were open to experiencing every season of life with eyes wide open for the “why” of God? We don’t always receive the answers we’re looking for, but God will always display what we didn’t know we needed even more.
Whenever God would reveal Himself to people in the Old Testament, they would often build an altar to bring something visible to the revelation they received of the Invisible God (See Genesis 12:7, Genesis 35:7, Exodus 17:15). I'm sharing this post on the one-year marker of the day God chose to reveal Himself in a new way to me as a type of memorial, an altar. It is concrete evidence that God still works miracles. He is a Healer and He is in control. He always has been and always will be. You may walk through some scary things in life, but with God, you're never alone. Keep walking. And might I suggest building altars as you go? Just in case you ever get weary, you can look back and remember: You'll win if you don't quit.