Reflections on 2021: What Cancer Has Taught Me

Happy New Year!! What a year 2021 has been!! Whew! I don’t know about you but I have never been more thankful to say…I survived 2021! Literally!!!!

As 2021 came in with all it’s hope and anticipation, on January 13th, I also ushered in the biggest thorn in my flesh, the battle for my life with Ovarian cancer.

As we embark on yet another year before us, it is normal to have high hopes of newness, new life, new jobs, new plans, new diets, new hopes. Every year provides us with an opportunity to do things differently. To live differently. And yet as much as we all want to live differently every year with our resolutions and plans and diets and exercise programs and “read the bible in a year” plans….we resist change like it’s the plague, like it’s COVID. :0)

The Lord knows us. He created us. He knows that we are creatures of habit, that we live our lives on auto-pilot much of the time. Yes, of course the strong willed will make some changes, but change is hard. Very hard. We naturally revert to the easy, the habits, the mundane, the routine.

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers says this in my devotion for today, “Before we choose to follow God’s will, a crisis must develop in our lives. This happens because we tend to be unresponsive to God’s gentler nudges. He brings us to the place where He asks us to be our utmost for Him and we begin to debate. He then providentially produces a crisis where we have to decide–for or against. That moment becomes a great crossroads in our lives. If a crisis has come to you on any front, surrender your will to Jesus absolutely and irrevocably.”

God is nudging you. He is nudging all of us to seek Him, to surrender. And sometimes, unfortunately, he allows trials to come into our lives to shape us. But the trials themselves don’t change us…if we don’t allow God to use them for His glory. Trials will either make us or break us. We can become bitter and angry and fearful, or we can lean into the struggle. We can allow it and God to shape us into who we truly, genuinely are, who we were created to be. To be free, servants of the Most High, resting in his Peace and Love and worshiping the One True God.

Jesus cares more about our character, our hearts and our minds than he does about our happiness. He brings joy and contentment and peace, but he doesn’t just wish it upon us, he doesn’t touch our imperfect lives with a fairy wand and suddenly we have everything we want and need. No, God is bigger than that. He is wise and knowing and he knows us intimately. Jer 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”. He teaches us, shapes and molds us through His Word and experiences in this life.

So, as believers, we trust God, we say we trust God, we want to live like Jesus, yet we struggle within our flesh to actually live as Jesus lived. This struggle is real. Do you feel it? You want to be calm and content, at peace, faithful and kind but you find yourself overreacting emotionally, feeling defeated, desiring more than what you have, wishing life were different. Same desires, different year. Same yearning for a new life, yet stuck in the old one.

We ALL struggle with this. Different scenarios. Different people, same struggle. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun”. The human heart has struggled with the same sins since the beginning of time. God knows this. He loves us anyway, and he has a plan. A plan that is so much bigger than us. A plan for redemption, for a new life, Not just a new year, but a completely NEW LIFE! Our hope for transformation, for a different life, is in Christ, not a new diet. Not a new year.

2022 will never give you what you desire.

Only Jesus can do that.

But, He does it through living. Life. Through the ups and downs, the difficulties and the joys, the struggles and the grief. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of ALL kinds, as the testing of your faith produces perseverance”.

Jesus told us “In this life you WILL have trouble, but I have overcome the world”.

He never said, you might have some difficulties. He says, you will.

It is a promise.

Before chemo

That isn’t one of the feel good verses in the bible. It’s easy to skip over this one. But God’s word is true. We want to just focus on the “I have overcome the world” part. But in order to truly know God, to truly see and believe and increase our faith, we must walk out the difficulty part.

Maybe this year- 2021- wasn’t a year of difficulty for you. But , although I’m not trying to be the bearer of bad news, 2022 might be. Or if not, guess what, in the next 10-20 or 30 years, you WILL have some troubles. Someday . Do not be surprised. Do not be found asleep, for the thief comes in the night

Satan wants nothing more than to catch you off guard. But what satan intends for evil, God can restore. He brings beauty to ashes. Brings hope to the hopeless.

But, its’ going to be hard. Really hard. Like, you don’t know if you can take one more step, one more breath. The emotions are real and devastating and terrifying. And you feel so close to death you can feel its breath on your face. You feel claustrophobic and like your life is being swallowed up by a deep black hole. And emptiness that you will never find your way out of.

You feel alone. Oh, so alone. Even with a plethora of friends and family. You can’t sleep and you are afraid to wake up. That maybe it is really a dream, but it isn’t. It’s reality. It’s truth. And you want to cry and scream but you are so numb and exhausted and broken that you sit and pretend that maybe its going to be ok, but when you wake up the next night, in the middle of the night, you are reminded that it’s not going away. This thing, this new life before you, is spiraling out of control.

The tears come. You are angry and scared and so very sad as the life YOU had planned is crumbling to nothing. You have died. All your dreams are gone. The life you envisioned….the vacations, the joy, the 20 year family vision you just wrote and began with your family, has been wiped away. You can’t see your children grown or married or retirement or growing old with your husband, you can’t see what’s in front of you. It is a black hole.





It is here. Right here. Where you find jesus. In the middle of the night. Broken. Shattered. Empty.

He is here. He’s always been here. He never left. He is patiently waiting. Waiting for your heart, your life, your mind to let go. To surrender everything…everything you thought you had control over. Every false thing your mind created to reassure you that you were in control and had everything planned out.

Jesus gently reminds us….we are not in control. He is.

He allows the difficult to remind us of this truth. But he whispers to us…“Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.”

I am with you. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. You are mine. I will bring beauty to ashes. I will bring hope in the midst of your hopelessness.

He was waiting for me–for you– to give up. To surrender to Him.

Not just my marriage, my parenting, not just part of my life. But the whole thing. Every last bit of my mind, and my heart and my stuff and my family. The idols that somehow deceived me into thinking they were the most important thing in my life.

It isn’t about my husband, my children or my home or my to do list or my titles. It is about Jesus. Jesus wanting all of ME.

In that moment of complete surrender, I found him. I found me IN HIM. Phil 4:5 “The Lord is at hand.” He is here. Romans 8:28 “I will bring all things together for your good and the good of those around you”.

And almost one year later, I can see that He has.

Wheat grass shots!

Life still isn’t perfect, but it is better. I am still learning, growing, surrendering. I am still struggling with accepting this lot the Lord has allowed, but I am learning to rest in today, this moment. I am learning so much and as this year comes to a close, I wanted to share a few things I have learned on this cancer journey.

I pray that your 2022 and beyond is filled with joys beyond imagine. An easy and peaceful life. But in case that isn’t the truth for you this year….Remain hopeful. Jesus does bring beauty to ashes . He does bring hope to the hopeless. He never leaves you. He will restore your life….Let go and live differently.

What Cancer has taught me (in no particular order) and some things to ponder for this coming year.

  1. An abundant life is messy
    • I am learning to see the mess as a blessing. Peace doesn’t come from a clear counter (although it can help! Ha!), it comes from a clear mind. A mind uncluttered from the to do list. A mind that is fully present in the now.
  2. We need community
    • We NEED fellowship with other believers. We are to carry each other’s burdens. We are meant to serve and help and love on the people around us. We are meant to be useful. I couldn’t have made it through this year without the community we have built around us.
    • So….Build your community. Go to church, join a small group. Get connected to someone. One person at a time. Invite people over for dinner. Find a way to connect to others this year.
  3. Live in the present
    • The past is gone and the future hasn’t happened yet. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. We spend so much of our lives regretting the past and fearing the future. Anxiety, fear and depression are in the mind. So…stop. Stop thinking. Learn to be mindful. To be present. Mary learned this before her sister Martha. Sit and Jesus’ feet. In the midst of the chaos, the trial, the dishes, the mess. Set your priority, your mind on the right now. Learn to breathe and let go. Stop living in your head and live in the present.
  4. Surrender to god
    • We live and plan and do. But we fail to surrender our lives to the One True Omnicient God who sees us and our lives and knows us better than anyone and is good and works all things out. We keep planning…maybe its time to start surrendering. Releasing your expectations and trusting in God. Lean not on your own understanding, but follow Him.
  5. Seek integrative medicine
    • God created the world, he knows all things. And for thousands of years, he has kept humanity alive and living and thriving. Never before the last 100 years has health been born from a pill. We have become a society that trusts a drug, more than God, more than the food we put into our body, more than the natural living things God created. God has designed us to be healthy, whole. Could our life choices and habits be a cause for our sickness, our mental agony, our fatigue, our depression, our dis-ease? Could God’s plan be what you need this year for your health?
  6. Eat as if your life depends on it
    • The back of the Primal Kitchen Avocado Oil bottle has this written on it. Truth! My life-my health- DOES depend on what I eat. What I choose to put into my body. And so does yours!
  7. Be still and know I am God
    • Be quiet. Ecclesiastes 5:2 –let my words be few. I am a talker. My kindergarten report card said “Alissa is a great student but she talks too much.” Ha! Well, there you have it. God keeps reminding me to stop talking and listen more. To Him, to my family, to others. Learning requires a quiet, listening heart.
  8. Take care of myself
    • It is ok to stop in the middle of the day to read a book, go to Yoga, or exercise. I am modeling behavior to my children every day. Will they learn to be healthy emotionally, physically, spiritually from my habits?
  9. God’s Word is truth
    • I have been a Christian for 20 years and never before this year, has God’s word spoken to me so clearly and faithfully. God still speaks, it is us who are too busy to hear from him. Our minds and hearts and lives and homes are too cluttered to see and hear him clearly. Seek Him. He is here with us. Be curious about his Word. Make time for Him in your day. I have learned to get up at 5:00 every morning and spend 2 hours with him; reading and writing and learning and sitting at his feet in silence and stillness. Before the day starts and everyone and everything is vying for my attention. Listen. Read God’s word.
  10. I can’t do everything my mind tells me I can.
    • My to do list has controlled me for too long. I have grandiose, even delusional plans for my days. And so….Satan keeps reminding me at the close of every day what a failure I am for not completing all he had planned for me. I am finished with this thinking. I am not a failure. I am me! Loved, and created exactly for this season, this time. I am learning! I am to trust God, love my people and get some things done every day, but I will never accomplish my to do list. Let it go and love the people in your life before they or you aren’t able to any longer.
  11. Slow down
    • Breathe. Seriously. Learn to use your breathe to remind you to stop. Take a break. Rest. Sit outside in the sun and get some much needed Vitamin D. Take a walk. Read a book. It’s ok. You don’t need to rush. Chronic stress is not acceptable or normal. When people ask you how you are, It’s ok to respond with I’m at peace, instead of the cultural “busy”. Stop being busy.
  12. Watch the sunrise and sunset
    • These mark a beginning and an end. A gift to usher in the day and a reminder to be thankful for the moments in front of you, that just passed by you. Start a rhythm, a tradition, a habit. Leave a legacy with your family to stop and observe life -nature- around you. Because the stuff in your house is dead. But your children, your husband, your family and creation is beaming with life. Don’t exchange what is alive for idols that are dead.
  13. Focus on helping others
    • Life isn’t about you. Sorry. Naturally we know this, but are you living as if you really believe this? Do you think about what YOU want most days? Or do you let go of your own desires so you can be a blessing, a help and source of joy for someone else?
    • People want to help, they enjoy helping other. But our culture keeps us hidden in our homes, managing our stuff. When trials come, it’s an opportunity to look outside of our own circumstances and do to others what we would do to and for ourselves.
  14. Live differently
    • Change is hard. Change is good. Lean into it. Embrace it. It is coming whether you like it or not. We ALL change. Life is not stagnant. Push through and come out on the other side…changed. Different. Better.

As we begin this new year, I always pray about a word and verse for the upcoming year. Las year is was TRUST.

Proverbs 3: 5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.

This year it is PEACE.

Isaiah 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you.

Peace in the Hebrew is salom, meaning completeness , welfare, health, prosperity (growth, thriving), quiet, tranquility, contentment. Yes!! Lord, this is my prayer and the desire of my heart!

And God’s Word tells us this peace, this health, this tranquility comes from our mind…our thoughts, our focus, our intentions being steadfast. Which means to be firmly fixed in place, immovable, not subject to change. And our minds can be steadfast, immovable, not given to changing and being swayed by everything….WHEN we trust in God. When we have confidence in Him. Trust means to be assured of the character, strength and ability of someone (GOD), to depend on something in the future, to hope.

My health and growth and peace is dependent on keeping my mind, thoughts, and emotions, my entire being focused on who God is and his strength and faithfulness and the hope he gives me today and forever. God WILL do all He promises. I must surrender to Him alone.

And that is my prayer for all of you. May this last year have reminded you ….to trust God, to seek him and SURRENDER your lives to the Lord. Let MY trials encourage YOU to strengthen your faith!

And lastly, know this is my prayer for you all…..Phil 1:12 “That what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel….that you have become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment( my cancer) and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear!

Love and peace to you all this year!!


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