Today’s story come to you via Shawn Hodges…
I met Marla as a client about two years ago. Marla is a great listener and encourager. She is strong, courageous, and deeply in love with Jesus! I am so blessed to know her! When God first told me He wanted me to be involved with this ministry He immediately gave me Marla’s name for a story! When I went to ask her about writing I saw that her cancer was back and almost felt bad for asking, but God told me to go ahead. She answered right away with “Anything to give HIM Glory!”
My journey with the word “beauty” started as an early child. I can remember comments like, “Oh, what a beautiful girl!” People might say to my mom, “You have such beautiful daughters!” Then I got a little older, and while my sister stayed little, I was on the heavier side. I might add that I was very tomboyish. In my mind if I couldn’t be beautiful, I would be tough.
The week before Easter in 1983, I began a new life with Christ. I was young, but I was all in. As the years passed, my love for Him would deepen with the help of many Christian leaders. I will forever hold dear Hal Schmidt, who was my Youth Minister at First Baptist in Henderson, Texas. He helped me with a gift the Holy Spirit was opening up in my life, a passion for sharing my testimony. At age 13 I gave my testimony to the church to around 300 people. It felt like it was Texas Stadium. As I started talking about my walk, everything went to ease, and that was the first time I truly felt the Holy Spirit working in me.
I would go through many trials as a teen and young adult, testing my self-worth and my walk with Christ. I would always go back to scripture that I had learned at church camp. We learned it as God’s telephone number, Jeremiah 33:3 Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. I was calling, but I was unable to listen very well.
I became so caught up in my own world after my parents’ divorced. I longed for wholeness, someone, and something to fulfill my needs. All my friends were getting married and I was 29. What was wrong with me? The ugly duckling syndrome had set in. Who was going to want me? I had just come out of a six year relationship that went nowhere. What was I doing wrong?
I soon met a man and we got married fast. The marriage was a hot mess from day one, but the only thing I could hear in my mind was that God doesn’t like divorce. That is true, but when He is not over it from the beginning, there is another story. I would soon find out that my husband was a drug addict. He would feed his addictions, and I would feed mine by trying to fix him.
I had longed for a family since I was a little girl playing with dolls. Two years into our marriage, I became pregnant. I was so excited! This was going to be the break I needed. I was going to finally have the baby I had longed for, get my husband sober, and get my family back together. I had it all planned out. Twelve weeks into my pregnancy, we had a miscarriage. My heart was broken. My world was falling apart. This time I was mad, and my pride was hurt. What was I going to do now? I kept playing it over and over in my head – my husband’s going to die of drugs now, and it is my entire fault.
A month before we found out I was pregnant, we had received news my mother-in law had brain cancer. This was going to be the blow I could not recover from, at least I thought. Depression had set in, and I did not care. I was just going through life to be there. My mother-in-law died a year later, and she was a beautiful soul. My husband dug deeper into drugs, and it seemed like we moved a million times. I would try and save him from the bad people and drugs that kept finding us. Three years would go by, and we moved to Houston. After many trials there, his sister, who lived in North Carolina, called and said she was going to help him if he would move there. He told me he would get right, and then I could move there. Shortly after his move, I received divorce papers.
I had returned to church while living in Houston. God had brought me to Houston’s First Baptist Church for a reason. The church was offering a woman’s Bible study on Esther, and the teacher was some lady by the name of Beth Moore. I was blown away, needless to say. Who was God putting in my life? A pure blessing! I had never heard the Word spoken with such conviction from a woman. This changed my life and my path forever. I know now it was me that needed to change. I was the one who had lost her way, or did I have it all to lose in the first place? John Piper quotes Thomas Wall so powerfully in his book Future Grace. He states, “We are not bound to trust an enemy; but we are bound to forgive them. We are not responsible to make reconciliation happen. We are responsible to seek it.” In Romans 12:18 So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. I pray that my ex-husband forgives me as I have forgiven him. Our God is faithful.
When I finally started walking His way, I never knew where He would lead me. I met the man God had planned for my life. Shortly after, I found out I had Ocular Melanoma Cancer in my left eye. The tumor was too big for treatment and would have to be removed. In my heart I was struggling with not knowing if this man could love a one eyed freak. “Beautiful” would not be a word in my life that I would ever hear again. I mean the devil was on high alert. Little did he know, my God is mighty! After my eye removal, I was depressed, but God showered me with the love and care of many saints. Stephen loved me, and we got married that following year. God blessed us with a beautiful, baby girl. Six weeks after she was born, they found that the cancer had spread to my liver. I cried out to my God right there in the dressing room at MD Anderson, “Please save me! I am not ready!” My husband held me tight. There I was quoting Jeremiah 33:3 once again. I was answering this time and seeing the true beauty of grace.
The next week I was set up for 8 treatments of hepatic arterial infusion with Abraxane – chemo, in other words. I had reached the maximum level of treatment; therefore, on my 9th treatment I had radiofrequency ablation followed by doxorubicin beads. After that procedure I had a T.I.A. The doctors would try to rule it out by chronic migraines. I was fine and my next check-up proved NED, which stood for No Evidence of Disease. Praise the LORD!!!
I had clear scans from August 2010. Then, that day came, January 24, 2013. The cancer returned for a third time. I cried but it was a peaceful cry. I knew who was carrying me. I thought to myself, “God, you are using me for a reason. If there is just one person to share Your mercy and grace, I am all in.” As it is written, Colossians 4:3-6, And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
When Shawn came to me and asked me to write my story, I thought God is working once again. I thought long and hard about the question: Who is beautiful? It was simple to me – everyone who walks in the Eyes of Grace with Christ. You would not understand the meaning behind Eyes of Grace if you did not know my walk with Christ. You see, it took me losing my eye to regain my true sight. We have so much work that needs to be done for Him, yet, sometimes those of us who pull away, return blessed with new sight. I have returned ready! It makes me think of the scripture 2 Corinthians 5:20: We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. We are the called and must be ready.
Over this past year, I had formed a team to help in the fight against Ocular Melanoma and spread God’s grace. We had entered a race in the Austin Half Marathon. My cancer had returned on January 24th. My treatment of radio frequency ablation was February 7th, and yes, I walked the Austin Half Marathon on February 17th. It was a day I will never forget. I did not make it to the finish line, but in my heart I did! My team finished strong for me, and for that, I will be forever grateful. We ran for a prize. Some of the runners ran for medals, others ran for the fight of a cure. Some walked in honor of their loved ones. As for me, I can sum it up in scripture for all of us. It says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. The true prize is sharing Gods Word. He is our true prize!
I love a quote from The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” We have died to sin, and we are living for Christ. So yes, the way I see it, get busy living. Do everything on your bucket list, or at least try. Fear not! True beauty is letting your God light shine.
My God light will be shining May 11th as I graduate from BTCL, Bible Training Center for Leaders, at Denton Bible Church. Little did I know, my testimony at age 13, and the passion I felt while listening to Beth Moore would bring me to this moment in my life. My God knew, and that my dear friend, is His beauty!
2 Corinthians 3:3-6, You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
***UPDATE ON MARLA***** At the time of the post Marla has received the amazingly good news that she is CANCER FREE!!!! Praise God!!
As a young teen, Shawn had dreamed of becoming a photographer/artist one day. Shawn Hodges Photography officially was born in January 2008. The business celebrated five years in January 2013. Shawn wants to help other woman and teens find their identity and beauty in Jesus! She is so excited to see what God will do through this ministry. She is experiencing first hand how God can restore life and value. She is planning to impact the kingdom of heaven with the hearts of many beautiful women!