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From Ashes

Architect Lisa Masteller shares a deeply personal story of challenge and change. Remaining faithful in the depth of hardship can foster the strength and growth to push through all unforeseen circumstances.

By Lisa Masteller   •  April 28, 2016 12:28 pm EDT

Tags: architectural design, business, challenges, hope, strength, sustainability,

Have you ever been hit by a challenge that steers you away from your goal because of an unforeseen circumstance?

It's only a matter of time [until] you find out that the way in which you were doing things can no longer be the standard by which you move forward. You find that within the walls of substantial change you're forced to leave what was once customary and move toward a new level of procedure and quality of effort. This is a defining moment. Well, if I'm going to be honest with you, this is exactly where "yours truly" has found herself.

Let me back up a little and let you in behind the scenes of Sassafras Studios, [Raleigh, N.C.-based architectural design firm]. September 19, 2014, to be exact. With family in tow, I walked into the doctor's office for my follow up visit. As they closed the door to start the procedure it was only a matter of minutes until they had confirmed what we had feared. From my biopsy, the doctor, who had performed hundreds of procedures just like this, was confident to confirm a diagnosis of Stage 2 IDC breast cancer. It wasn't aggressive, but clearly defined. I remember [it] like it was yesterday. Within minutes of finding out, I numblingly walked back to my family who had been waiting patiently in the lobby. As I slung open the hallway door to notify my family, I bravely mustered a smile to let them know that everything was going to be okay.

You see, just two weeks prior to my diagnosis, I had an impressionable moment between God and me, where I believe, He was getting me ready for this very thing. Once it was confirmed, something inside me just clicked. I was in a "new gear."

With the deafening news of our new reality, we all piled into the car and drove to the nearest Sonic -- and got drunk on our fill of fast food. Each of us visibly horrified to embrace the challenge and yet trying to relish the moment we now had. Life was now different. Though I had lost my father to a brain tumor when I was just 11, I knew I had my father's incredible example to lean on -- to fight well for both myself and for my family.

There's only so much a person can do; my family and I were given more love and support than we had ever experienced. There is a lot of hope and strength when you're surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses."

All to say, Sassafras Studios had to take a back seat for a year of treatment. I did take on a job or two; I worked bedside to get those designs underway. With chemotherapy and five surgeries behind me, I am now walking into an ever-changing new me.

And although I never thought that I would ever hear these words come out of my mouth, I just celebrated a year of being cancer free and am walking away from a year with an anemic work load and on toward a very full and demanding design year. Even though I'm back on my feet, I have moments where I still feel the "ripple effect" of what I've been through because of how entirely different I look. I have to admit, even though the road was hard to travel, in some ways, I feel stronger than ever before.

So, you ask, what in the world does this have to do with you? Well, everything. We can all agree that unforeseen circumstances will come. Somewhere, somehow. The important thing is how we react. An unforeseen circumstance can alter an unforeseen reaction. I'm finding that even now in my processing, it's [vital] to be brutally honest [with] yourself, [with] others, and [with] God. Things don't always align or make sense the way we want them to, but how we climb out of it is even more the story than the actual circumstance itself.

Although circumstances can sting like a son a gun, He alone gives "beauty for ashes."

If we can keep our hands up and open, we can then surrender the unforeseen into the hands of a God who can direct and breath life back into our weary souls.

I have to admit, Sassafras Studios is in more demand than ever before, and with that comes some great growing pains. And though I'm not dealing with cancer, "a struggle is still a struggle." I have to remind myself that in this new season as a business owner, I love to work hard, and adjust to quickly learning how to implement new procedures moving forward. It is my resolve to trust that with God being present in both the pain and the glory, it is a momentary life on this beautiful earth and He will soon make sense of the mysteries and unknowns of our fragile [existence].

Until then, "Only one life will soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last; to me, to live is Christ."


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