For a long time I have been embarrassed by all the scars I have on my belly. I have actually felt shame that I didn’t have the super flat and amazing abs that I had all my life, pre-cancer and that we see in so many pictures. Last night, as I was watching a video of myself doing yoga on my paddleboard, I saw my scars and imperfections for what they truly are: beautiful, and a deeper healing is setting in.
I wouldn’t be alive today if these scars weren’t there.
These scars are an ever constant reminder of the hell I went through as a stage 3 ovarian cancer survivor, getting a 5 pound tumor removed, then 50 tumors removed, then a hysterectomy, then a hole in my colon, getting an infection, then being attached to a vacuum for 6 weeks, then a 12 hour surgery to remove more tumors and organs, then an ileostomy bag, then, and finally, freedom. These scars show the story of hardship and trials, pain, and tears of not only me, but my family and friends. I have wanted to get as far away from those memories as I could, for a long time. I have slowly faced them as I have been able. This is my next step in the journey: showing them, being vulnerable and open, facing fears, and inviting in even more healing.
I have prayed for them to dissipate. I have tried all sorts of creams and wraps and detoxes and exercise and yet, they are still there. The mountains and valleys, the craters, and holes, the lumps of fat displaced from all the surgeries, the crevices of stiff scar tissue that try to hold me back.
Today though, I am making the choice to see that these scars also tell an incredible story of hope, of courage, of the power of prayers and support of family and friends, of medical staff who were creative and revolutionary; all these people who believed. These scars do tell of the ugliness of cancer, the evilness of disease, the destruction of surgery, and yet, there is a beauty in them: the power of human ingenuity, God’s miracles through our work, that our thoughts of limitations are only in our minds, that truly anything is possible, and that there is beauty in imperfection. These scars show the story of where I have been, who I am today, and in my story, I wouldn’t be where I am, doing what I do, without them. So, I embrace them.
I know that I will continue to walk out this journey called life, every day. Today marks a new one though, and I’m setting up a marker.
Hope exists. Nothing is impossible. Keep moving forward. Fail a lot. Have the courage to stand back up again, and maybe, just maybe, we can change the world through our courage.
Webster’s defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”.
Many look at my life, hear my story, and tell me that I have a lot of courage. I don’t disagree, but I don’t want to be the Dead Sea. I don’t want to hog all the courage. My heart’s cry is to edify, build-up, and strengthen my students, you, and the world with courage! I want to en-courage. I want to encourage you that YOU can do what I am doing. You have what it takes. You can accomplish things that seem hard. You can overcome. You can dream big dreams and make them a reality. I also want to bring to light some more good news, you already have.
I teach a class for the Recreation Department called Walk With Ease that starts with 10 minutes of walking 3 times a week, then gradually adds 5 minutes each week for 6 weeks. Today one of my students, who is in her mid-60’s, said that it wasn’t until this class that she realized she is normal. She thought the pain and struggles she deals with daily were abnormal. She, too, is a cancer survivor. She too struggles daily with pain, old injuries, surgery aftereffects, and negative emotions and thoughts. And she too is courageous. She stepped out and registered for a walking class. She stepped out and has shared her pains, her struggles, her fears, her successes, her failures and in doing so she has en-couraged me, the other students in the class, and now, hopefully you. It makes me such a proud teacher to hear my students say such things. I know that they are getting it. I know that they are different. I know that they are becoming more powerful, able to share and spread good news of hope and healing. I know that they will not leave my class(es) with some more head knowledge, but with a real demonstration of courage and strength. I am now embarking on this journey in blog form. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Education. I have been teaching since my sister was born and have a lot of practice with encouraging and teaching in person. Now, I want practice encouraging through writing. Thanks for being on this journey with me. My hope is through this blog, my classes, and my life, we create a new and larger story of hope, healing, and courage, together.
I welcome your stories of courage. May the world be all the better for it.
I have been a Christian since 2001. I didn’t grow up in church and soon after university, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and my life turned upside down. I tried to maintain hope, courage, and strength in the 1 and 1/2 year intense cancer battle where I underwent 6 major surgeries, a hysterectomy, an ileostomy bag, 13 weeks of chemo, eating only from an IV for 9 months, losing all my hair twice, weighing only 95 pounds with huge tumors in my belly, getting a 5 pound tumor removed in one surgery, having 50 tumors removed in another, experiencing lung damage and hearing loss, getting shingles, having about 12 blood transfusions, spending 3 full weeks in the ICU and spending another 6 full weeks in the hospital, among many other things, but I found out really quickly I couldn’t do it on my own strength. Enter Jesus.
My first experience with yoga was when I was an adolescent and my Dad bought a yoga book. I remember flipping through it and trying the poses and thinking to myself, wow, there’s nothing too mystical or hard about this. It’s just like what we do in gymnastics class! My next experience was with some friends at a gym, right after college. Since then, I have taken yoga classes all over the world, and seen a lot of different styles and techniques. I have really enjoyed some classes and others I haven’t. Some have felt and been spiritual, some have not.
While I was fighting cancer, I started to attend church and the local Cancer Support Center regularly. I was learning spiritual truths at church and in the Cancer Support Center. What was also incredible, was that at the same time I was learning about the Spirit, I was learning about physical and mental truths applied practically, with scientific evidence to confirm their importance. At the Support Center we learned about the power of a whole food diet, of shared experiences and the sharing of experiences in community. I started to take yoga classes again, along with Tai Chi, cooking classes, guided imagery, and read all that I could about healing, cancer, “alternative medicine”, and God. It was through this that I saw the power of the spirit partnered with movement in the body and I saw and read the stories of people being healed through simple changes to diet, exercise, and prayer. The importance of each became incredibly significant for me through my battle and subsequent win over cancer.
As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus, I have had to face fears and change my thinking in all sorts of areas. Because I had such a radical conversion to Christianity, I knew the power of the cross and God’s great love for me, but there is always more to learn. I had begun to believe things that some Christian people, whom I respected, told me about demons, the devil, yoga, and opening one’s self up to dark spiritual powers. Although it caused a lot of fear and insecurity, I needed to walk through this. I needed to really understand that there is more to this world that what we can see and even feel, but what I have learned since is that what Jesus did on the cross, his dying, his going down to hell, his reappearance and walking around on the earth thereafter, and then his rising up into heaven, was enough. It defeated the devil and gave us humans the power to live a free, full, joyful, happy, and healthy life on this earth, right now! So, when I am asked about yoga and if it’s demonic, if I am worshipping the devil, and when I am told that yoga originated from people seeking spiritual enlightenment and that it’s a form of devil worshipping, I laugh, although, honestly, I sometimes get irritated. It makes me sad to think that someone can be so fearful of the devil that they point fingers and judge people and completely discount the power of the cross.
God talks a lot about belief. The word occurs nearly 150 times in the New Testament alone. Some highlights are: “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” – Mark 9:23. “Do not be afraid, only believe.” – Mark 5:36. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life.” – John 3:36. What we believe becomes reality. If you believe that what Jesus did on the cross was enough, or as He said, “it is finished” (John 19:30), then you will live out the truth that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” – 1John 4:4.
I don’t want to discount that there are demonic forces in this world. I have experienced them (hello, can we say cancer?!). However, do we believe in a big God, or a big devil? Do we believe that Jesus took the weight of sin, all sin, so that we could live in freedom? I pray for us to allow the perfect love of Jesus to cast out fear (1John 4:8), especially when we feel, experience, or sense that there are some not so good vibes coming from someone or something, whether that be in a yoga class or otherwise.
One of the many amazing tools I learned from ministry school is to eat the meat and spit out the bones. God is everywhere. He created this planet, the computer/phone you are using, the grass outside your door, and even the movement of your body into a particular position. It is always about belief or the position of the heart and one can be believing lies at any particular moment in their life: while overspending at the mall, eating one too many ice cream sandwiches, gossiping about their co-worker, or losing their temper with their significant other.
Jesus said that we will not enter the kingdom of God unless we receive it as a little child (Mark 10:15). What is just one noticeable characteristic about children? I have found that they constantly ask questions! They constantly want to learn! They usually aren’t afraid (until an adult teaches them to be) and are always exploring and searching. If God is everywhere, if He defeated the devil, if he created everything that we see around us, then why would it matter if some people shaped a pattern of particular movements, called it yoga, and maybe found demonic forces? They were looking for spiritual enlightenment!! Let’s allow this little light to shine and enlighten people to the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) that is Jesus. Some have found Him through yoga, but because some Christians point fingers, judge, and condemn them, they think His name is something else. It’s time to change that and love the hell right out of people.
Let’s explore as little children. Let’s strengthen our living temples (our body’s – 1 Corinthians 3:16) through exercise, movement, breath, and the perfecting of love that casts out fear. Let’s let our light shine in the darkness because that’s where it shines the brightest!
You are always welcome to come and join me in my yoga classes where I happily lead people into encounters with the Lord (whether I say His name out loud or not) but more than that, I hope that you find the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) in EVERY situation you find yourself, yoga class or not.
I have had people ask ‘What are your yoga classes like? What is your vision? What makes you different?’ These have been great questions for me to think about and work on formulating into understandable points, not only for others but for myself. As with all instructors, I have a particular style and way of teaching but there is power in knowing where you are, right here, right now. It allows for assessment and thus helps direct the future, it lines up like-minded and passionate people, and gives a person confidence and/or fuel for change. I teach and lead my students in this activity in my classes, now, it’s time for me to do the same.
My heart is for people to walk away from my classes more than just strengthened. My hope is that my students also walk away different: more relaxed, peaceful, while at the same time stronger and more confident. I want my students to feel and be equipped, more able to face life and decisions, confident yet humble, restful yet strong; a humble and valiant warrior enjoying each moment. I want my students to en-joy life, no matter the circumstances! In my flow classes we open and build up to more complex poses while I encourage and adjust them as necessary. We take breaks after difficult poses because I want them to regain the deep breathing if they lost it; I want them to visualize themselves strong, confident, and joyful in the pose again; I want them to check in with their body’s to see if they are pushing themselves too far, or not far enough. I have my students take a moment or two to recover because in life we do that each and every night we go to sleep. Our muscles (including our brain!) cannot repair, rebuild, or grow stronger if we do not take a break. Most people I come across don’t have a problem barreling and pushing through poses or asanas or even life for that matter and comparing themselves with their neighbor in a “I want to keep up with the Joneses” sort of way. Most people need to actually stop comparing and listen to what the Creator is whispering to them through their body, their mind, and their spirit. I create and allow space for this in my yoga classes. I allow time to reflect, in a safe and peaceful place, as I encourage my students into trying new things that deep down they may not believe they can actually accomplish. Most people I come across don’t believe in themselves and feel quite hopeless in one area or another. It is my passion to change that and I get to every time I teach a yoga class.
How do I do this? For starters, I have had to work on believing in myself, believing in a powerful, loving, and joyful God that wants to see all people live full and happy lives, trusting that I have what it takes, and stepping out, over and over again, even if I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. In my classes, I do this through the encouragement of smiles in hard poses, deep breathes in twists and holds, and steady but soft gazes in balance asanas. I allow time for my students to visualize themselves in poses that they want to master, imagining what they smell, how they feel, what their body is doing, what the mat or SUP board feels like under their feet, hands, belly, etc. I am a teacher and as such it is my responsibility to create an atmosphere of practical application of principles that most of us have heard for years. My yoga classes are where you can put theory into practice and have some fun doing it!
Thankfully time and time again I hear my students say that this is what they receive. It’s encouraging to me that I am making a difference through something that some would say is inconsequential: a yoga or SUP yoga class. I hope you can experience this for yourself too, whether it be in one of my classes or not: a peaceful strength as you courageously live this life fully alive, joyful, present, strong. May my life be a challenge and example of what is possible to those who believe and may the world never be the same because of it, practically through your life, your neighbor’s, and mine.