Embracing Life, Leaving the If Only Behind


The sea turtle was huge. I stood in waist-deep, crystal clear ocean. My surfboard secured to my ankle, hands pressed to the gritty surface of the board. My eyes locked on the massive creature gliding effortlessly through the rolling water. The board rocked with the incoming surf, and I lost my footing for a second. Children climbing along the beach were shrieking with glee at the turtle sighting, pointing and chattering excitedly. He lifted his head out of the water, opening his beaked mouth for a gasp of air, and disappeared again below the surface with a smooth stroke of his flippers -- all of this only a few feet from my reach. I realized I was holding my breath and exhaled slowly, letting the moment envelope my being with a very powerful truth hitting me with clarity. If it wasn’t for cancer, this moment may never have happened. Maui may have never happened. Taking a risk and learning how to surf may have never happened. Meeting all of the beautiful souls who were survivors and thrivers of a path they didn’t willingly choose, but were living life fully, would have never happened. And I was determined to embrace it all.

Cancer was the turning point for my twenties. Up until that fateful (and grace-filled!) day when I received my diagnosis, I thought I knew what I wanted in life, but spent a lot of time wishing for “someday”. Someday I would travel more. Take more chances. I would get “healthier”. Figure out what I wanted to do with my life, what I was passionate about, and who I was. It wasn’t that I lived without purpose...and yet, this AC (after cancer) life somehow seems bigger, brighter, bolder, and more daring than it ever was before. Suddenly, those “somedays” became “today”.

It saddens me a little to think that there was a time when I really didn’t understand how to live. That I missed out on so many opportunities to take risks and experience the exhilarating feeling of conquering fears. Instead, I was focused on negative body image, pursuing dead-end and life-draining relationships, and living for affirmation. I was focused on trying to be accepted and understood by those in authority over me and those who I considered friends, and doing what others wanted for me. It was a stressful, confusing struggle to be better, do more, perfection always… It was exhausting and unfulfilling.

In chapter 6 of the book of Matthew, Jesus makes a very bold statement to a culture of busy-work, anxiety, stress, unmet expectations, and self-sufficiency (sound familiar?!):

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” - Matthew 6:31-34

Being future-minded isn’t a bad thing. Lifting up your hopes and dreams to your Heavenly Father and waiting on Him isn’t wrong. But getting so wrapped up in the future without fully embracing the NOW, this finite present time that you’ve been given, is to miss out on precious moments of growth, strength, character-building, and hope-filled anticipation.

As children, we can’t wait to be adults. When we’re in college, we can’t wait to start our “real lives”. When we are living what we consider our “real lives”, we always have that thing we are waiting on; marriage, a home, that dream job, the next trip, a baby. Nothing is ever enough. How often do you find yourself thinking, “If only THIS...THEN that?” If only I was married, then I could go on adventures with my husband...I had a better job, then I could buy a better car..I had more friends, then I would feel more fulfilled. If only...

Cancer was my wakeup call to live my best life right NOW. Not waiting around for the “perfect” scenario, not thinking things will be better later on, but trusting God and believing He’s up to something good in every present moment. Don’t wait until something bad happens to shake up your perspective! Maybe an unexpected diagnosis isn’t your story. But there is always a turning point in each of our lives where we realize what’s really important, and who God really is in our story.

Your story matters. Your journey is unique. Allow yourself to fully embrace the reality that God knows what He’s doing even when it seems too broken or too complicated. It will be the moment you open your heart to really living a full, grace-filled, others-driven existence.

There is something to be said about healing. Don’t obsess over tomorrow, but don’t put off taking care of yourself. Honor God through consciously tending to this beautiful and intricate body that He has given you to temporarily house your soul. Be His hands and feet to this physical world in need.

I obviously can’t go back and change anything about what brought me to this point in my life, but I am so grateful and thankful for this journey I’m on. If it hadn’t been for cancer, I wouldn’t have discovered alternative and holistic medicine. I never would have switched to a chemical-free lifestyle and a whole foods diet. Never would I have known how much my body needed healing on a physical and emotional level. I never would have taken the plunge into health coaching and essential oils.

And all of this has strengthened me as a singer/songwriter, worship leader, and writer. Sometimes our faith has periods of testing and molding. I’m sure I have more lessons to learn in this life. Facing the possibility of death at 26 and now getting ready to celebrate my 29th birthday has given me triumphant hope and confidence that my God is bigger than stage IV cancer and doubting doctors. Bigger than job instability. Bigger than my bank account. Than the seemingly impossible things that I am still waiting for His perfect will and timing in my life.

If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d put an arm around her shoulder and tell her to let go. You’re only young once. So take care of yourself. Follow the 80/20 rule of health and wellness. If you’re feeding your mind, body, and spirit the right things 80% of the time, then you have 20% of wiggle room for that Netflix binge, that piece of chocolate cake, and that ice cream cone without obsessing over your meals and driving your body into crisis-mode. Reduce stress and find your peace. That may be yoga with a friend, or simply taking time to meditate daily. Spend real time with Jesus. Not just a quick peek at the verse of the day on your Bible app, but actually getting alone with your journal. Listening to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.

Travel whenever you can. Expand your horizons. Do what makes you happy and brings glory to God through your strengths and passions. What really makes you tick? Ignites a fire in your soul? Moves you in compassion to world-changing action? Pursue those things, because He created you for a specific purpose! And those dreams and goals He’s placed in your heart aren’t just wishful thinking. He will bring what He has purposed together in just the right time.

And in the waiting, I want you to forget about the “if only”. I promise you, tomorrow will take care of itself. Our Heavenly Father has already gone before you into the coming days. He will give you the all the strength and clarity you need for today. Trust, believe, and really, truly live.