A Year of Dreams

I remember writing this birthday post and excitedly anticipating all that my 18th year would hold. It's always so funny looking back because if I had been able to catch even a glimpse of some of the trials God was going to walk me through this past year (i.e. learning how to give myself an injection, a sporty ex-boyfriend, and a kidney infection just to name a few) I think I would've crawled back under my covers that day and refused to age... ;)

BUT, since hiding from life never helped anyone live it...here I am today. Turning 19 and in complete awe of God and His faithfulness.

This year was a year of dreams for me. Dreams of being accepted to my dream school, dreams of enjoying senior year with my best friends, dreams of attending my senior prom, dreams of graduating with honors, dreams of traveling, and dreams of embarking on the new and wonderful journey that is college.

It was a year of dreams, my friends, and I never could've imagined the joy that was in store for me amidst some of the most trying times of my life. 

Last October, I was accepted to my dream school - Bethel University. I got to do senior year with my best friend in the entire world + I got to invest time in so many other precious friendships. My friend group changed and for once I was more than okay with it. I got asked to prom by one of my wisest + funniest guy friends...and my little sister got to do prom with me! I got asked to represent our senior class as a speaker at our graduation ceremony. I graduated with honors. I was selected as a scholarship recipient to the Juvenile Arthritis Conference in Keystone, Colorado where I got to meet one of my longtime, online BFF's in real life. Jesus sent me to Africa for 14 days where I fell in love with the culture and people of Swaziland. And finally, just over 3 weeks ago, I moved into my dorm at my dream school - Bethel University...where the next chapter of my story is just starting to be written. :)

Life is such a wild ride. I don't know where I'll be a year from now - heck, I don't know where I'll be a month from now. I don't know what trials I'll be walking through or what friendships I'll be pouring time into. It's unknown as to what I'll be looking forward to or saving money for. The wonderer spirit inside of me is curious to know what my favorite cereal will be or how I'll spend my Saturday's. ;)

At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is simply that we don't know. We have no idea and that's what makes us capable. Of learning. Of living. Of laughing. Of dreaming. Of fighting. Of having faith. Of becoming. Of hurting. Of healing...and of doing all those things over and over again. We are capable because we are oblivious, as silly as that sounds, and I believe that's what's so beautiful about this wild and precious life. Here's to 19!


The Fault in Our Understanding

The world's most recent infatuation with the The Fault in Our Stars made me even more aware of the fact that many people have not the slightest clue what it's like to live with a chronic illness. Now, don't get me wrong. John Green is an incredible writer. I actually loved the book and am still dying to see the movie...but I feel as if though many readers and movie goers got a glamorized look into the life of someone with a chronic illness versus a real look at what it's actually like to live a life hindered by one.

Much like every other teenage girl, at the end of the book, I was crying. Not because the oh-so-perfect and completely fabricated character of Augustus Waters had died...but because I understood. I was crying because I understand. I know what it's like to wake up and realize that although you may be feeling "well" or while that day may be a sparse "good" one...you will not be cured and you will continue to fight the same pain of the chronic illness you've known for so long that you simply cannot remember what it feels like to be "normal."

When I first read the book back in February, I had no idea it would be such a big hit. I mean, how could it be? How could one make the story of living with a chronic illness into a fictional novel? And how could people who can't relate enjoy reading such a thing? The text is loaded with glimpses and analogies of what it's like to live with a chronic illness. It's jam packed with emotions and thought processes that are a reality for those with chronic disease (which is the sole reason I fell in love with the book).

"Don't tell me you're one of those people who becomes their disease. I know so many people like that. It's disheartening." 

"That's the thing about pain," Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. "It demands to be felt."

"She seemed to be mostly a professional sick person, like me, which made me worry that when I died they'd have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I'd ever done was have this disease." 

"The body shuts down when the pain gets too bad, that consciousness is temporary, that this will pass. But just like always, I didn't slip away. I was left on the shore with the waves washing over me, unable to drown." 

"Most of the time, I could forget about it, but the inexorable truth is this: They might be glad to have me, but I was the alpha and the omega of my parents' suffering." 

"She just keeps fighting the battle, waking up every morning and going to war without complaint." 

"You're a hard person to comfort," Augustus said. "Easy comfort isn't comforting," I said. 

"I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of the people I loved." 

"Some war," he said dismissively. "What am I at war with? My body. And what is my body? My body is me. This illness is made of me. It is a civil war, Hazel Grace, with a predetermined winner. There is no glory in illness. There is no meaning to it. There is no honor in dying 'of'."

"When you go into the ER, one of the first things they ask you to do is to rate your pain on a scale of one to ten, and from there they decide which drugs to use for your pain and how quickly to use them. I'd been asked the question hundreds of times over the years...after they'd given me something, the nurse came in and she was kind of stroking my hand while she took my blood pressure and she said, "You know how I know you're a fighter? You called a ten a nine." But that wasn't quite right. I called it a nine because I was saving my ten. And here it was, the great and terrible ten, slamming me again and again as I lay still and alone in my bed staring at the ceiling, the waves tossing me against the rocks then pulling me back out to sea so they could launch me again into the jagged face of the cliff, leaving me floating face up in the water, undrowned."

The quotes I listed above were some of my favorites from the novel. When I say "favorites" I don't mean I liked them, per se, I just mean that they were some of the truest and most relatable words I've heard since my diagnosis.

So, great. I loved the book because I found it relatable...but why did other people love it?

That's where my love-hate relationship with this novel comes in. You see, I think the main reason people today love stories like this one is because of that fact alone. They're stories. There's a plot line to follow, unrealistically perfect characters to get attached to, and eventually (even if it's tragic) there's an ending with some sort of closure that results in understanding and/or comprehending.

Unfortunately, that's precisely where the problem lies...because my story, along with the story of so many other individuals, does not have an end. There isn't closure and we are far from being one of the unrealistically "perfectly sick" characters society has become accustomed to through novels like this one. We don't always have the right words. Sometimes, we don't have words at all. And unlike a book that can be flipped through in a matter of hours, we live lives filled with pain over a much longer duration of time.

Being chronically ill isn't as glamorous as our society believes it to be after reading books or watching movies solely based on fictitious circumstances. In fact, it really isn't glamorous at all. The physical and emotional pain of fighting a daily battle against your own body is both exhausting and inescapable. We learn to tolerate the pain and to make our lives go on despite it...but we can never dodge, bypass, or depart from the suffocating feeling of living with it. The future is a giant question mark and we eventually learn to be okay with that...or at least pretend to be.

I don't know how to accurately (and healthily) display, share, or communicate my emotions/pain 100% of the time and I'm not claiming to be any more capable of relating to others than anyone else in this world...but I do believe that fighting an autoimmune disease for just over 5 years has given me a unique sensitivity for others and their struggles. It makes me want to understand the things I don't even when it's difficult to. It's made me realize that only when we take the time to put ourselves in someone else's shoes will we discover that the fault isn't in our stars after all...the fault is in our understanding.


Some of the Greatest Rewards...

I'm always so shocked to discover "new" people who read the words I choose to publish here. So free to the public yet I still have "real life" friends who approach me and say, "OH MY GOSH, I had no idea you have a blog!" On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are my best friends... My little sister Madi and my sweet friend Amy, just to name two, whom I'm not sure have ever missed a post. (Hi, girls! I love you!) Occasionally I'll get a comment from my adorable Grandmother and of course there are the majority of readers I've never even met in person but feel like I'm BFF's with. :)

I went to a relatively small high school. I went to grade school with most all of my classmates. We grew up in the same tiny town and/or neighboring areas. I was comfortable. I was confident. My schedule was mundane and predictable. I genuinely didn't care what people thought of my blog and I must say I highly underestimated the impact my words could have.

After moving on campus to my dream school just over two weeks ago, that confidence was shattered... Especially after swapping social media handles with some of my floormates + new friends. For lack of a better word, my balloon had been popped. And not just with a tiny little needle... Oh no. It had been popped in a full-fledged fork fight and I was left to pick up all those little balloon remnants myself.

My schedule wasn't predictable anymore. I had to form new connections. And perhaps the most terrifying? I had to start over at square one. When people would ask who I am, what I plan to major in, and what I am passionate about, I had to have an answer. Quickly, it became quite apparent that I wasn't going to be able to hide who I was if I wanted to form real friendships in this new season of life.

At first, this threw me into a bit of a panic.

"Will they like me?"
"Will they think I'm weird?"
"Will they go back through my blog archives and read the abundance of emotional posts that got me through some of the most trying times in my life up to this point?" (If you're reading this and you haven't done that... DON'T.)
"THEN will they think I'm weird?"

For my first few days here, I was entirely consumed by thoughts that were thought up purely through the oh-so-defeating and pointless process of overthinking... But over the course of several conversations that led to some deep heart-to-hearts, I came to realize that there's no reason to panic, no reason to hide, and no reason to be anything less than completely confident in the person that I am today, have been in the posts that litter my archives, and will be tomorrow.

The other night as a group of us were laying on the floor of the dorm I share with my roomie, one of my floormates started following me on Twitter and asked a question about my blog. It ended up turning into an hour long conversation that led to questions about my arthritis which then in turn led to two other girls on my floor sharing that they, too, suffer from a chronic illness. Ever since that night, I've wanted to go back and whisper in the ear of the terrified Kenzie I was two weeks ago and tell her to stop playing the camouflage game. In fact, I kind of want to scream it at her for nearly preventing such special friendships from forming.

Vulnerability is a scary thing. I would go as far as saying that sometimes it feels like more of a burden than a blessing. It's a hoop that we as human beings have to jump through in every. single. relationship. we form at one point or another if we want it to grow. There's always an uncertainty when unmasking and unveiling the things that your heart longs for... The things that make you tick... The things that your deepest desires and craziest dreams are composed of... And doing so is always a risk. A venture. An opportunity for possibility... But there is also something so absolutely beautiful in sharing those things exactly.

"Some of the greatest rewards come from doing the things that scare you the most."