25 in 2015

I was a little bookworm growing up. I don't have any vivid memories of learning how to read. I only remember knowing how to as if reading were some autonomic ability; one that never comes or goes...just simply is.

I sped through The Little House on the Prairie and onto The Series of Unfortunate Events. The Boxcar Children, American Girl, and a pile of non-fiction books about horses cluttered my desk and filled my backpack. I read on the way to school. I read on the way home from school. I spent weekends sitting on the edge of my bed reading aloud to my very own imaginary classroom of students.

Sometime unbeknownst to me reading just sort of slipped away. It wasn't something I prioritized anymore or had to do in order to feel content. I was more interested in learning how to apply makeup, planning sleepovers, and babysitting for various families in our neighborhood. Before I knew it, I was 16 and licensed to drive with a new job at an assisted living home. Not much time had passed until I was throwing my graduation cap up in the air among my classmates, saying goodbye to the tiny town I grew up in, and moving to the Twin Cities.

When I got here, I didn't know who I was anymore. I questioned if I had ever really known. I distinctly remember staring at myself in the mirror on the back of my dorm room door just after my mom, younger sister, and little brother had helped me unpack and said goodbye...leaving me in a new, uncomfortable life that felt two sizes too big.

In this unfitted and newfound life of mine, I used reading as a getaway. When I couldn't sleep at night because my mind was whirring with questions, worries, and homesick thoughts, I pulled out my iPad and opened the trusty Kindle app. I would read a few pages or chapters at a time and in that short time be reminded that there were indeed worlds outside of my reality and words outside of the constant conversation going on in my head. When things felt turbulent and unpredictable, reading allowed a way to focus on something outside of my monotonous worries. It gave me a distraction and someplace else to go.

As I settled into my new home, routine, and circle of friends, my love for reading waned again. Distracted by homework, chronic pain, family matters, and plans for surgery just up ahead, I forgot about the books in my desk drawer and the potent discovery of my escape.

In March of 2015, I woke up one morning groggy and sore. I was still slowly and begrudgingly recovering from two major joint surgeries, but for some reason I felt excited to wake up. I grabbed my iPad from my desk and downloaded a few books I'd wanted to read for a long time. As they nestled their way into my Kindle app, I felt the need to start another one immediately.

I quickly walked to brunch, ate, and returned straight to my dorm room. I opened the blinds, cracked the window, and crawled back into bed. I started to read. I continued to read. Then, I read some more. I laid in bed all day swiping pages on my iPad screen and remembering what it felt like to escape.

Shortly thereafter, I found out about the Goodreads app and the Barnes and Noble in my area that had a huge selection of used books. (!!!) My short little "to read" list grew from one or two unfamiliar titles to a good hundred and counting. I knew there was a long way to go and it was utterly ridiculous to think that I could read hundreds of books in the little free time I had...but something told me to try. And try I did.

Soon the semester ended and I moved in with a couple and their two sons for the summer. We spent our days having water fights, raising ducks, licking melting popsicles, and biking to the park. On my days off, I read. One book. Two books. I distinctly remember the day I finished my sixth. Before I knew it, another season had passed and my total for the year had reached 18.

Being back to school and maintaining life as a student gave me a run for my money yet again, though. I could hardly complete my reading for class, much less choose a title off of my list for leisure. Even still, I tried. I prioritized the fleeting time as best I could and made sure my weekends consisted of blocks of time devoted to self care. And somewhere amongst all that, I read 25 in 2015.

As I completed my 25th and final book of this year, I paused for a moment and genuinely became teary eyed. Before I could even wonder "why the heck am I crying right now?!" my mind flashed back to each of the books that had passed through my hands in the last 365 days and how each of those books had refined bits and pieces of me I'd forgotten existed. Books filled with underlines, circles, stars, and notes in the margins. Books filled with words that resonated with me in a way that made me feel found. Books that sparked conversations. Books that had taught me and undoubtedly changed me.

I'm a long way from finishing my "to read" list, but I've found that even in that gaping space between now and not yet, it feels like I've found a little piece of myself again...and that feels good. So good.

"It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know." -Cheryl Strayed, Wild


1.) As My Body Attacks Itself
2.) Brain on Fire
3.) A Long Walk to Water
4.) The Idea That is America
5.) An Unquiet Mind
6.) A Love Worth Giving 
7.) Gone Girl
8.) The Best Yes
9.) Eight Twenty Eight
10.) Scared
11.) Go Set a Watchman
12.) Grace Eventually
13.) The Sister Season
14.) Until I Say Goodbye
15.) Jesus Feminist 
16.) A Stolen Life
17.) Blindspot 
18.) Who Needs Theology
19.) Reflections from the North Country
20.) The Problem of Pain
21.) Prozac Nation
22.) Every Bitter Thing is Sweet
23.) Room
24.) The Bell Jar
25.) Wild


I Almost Threw in the Towel

As of 2pm today, another semester is in the books. Projects presented. Papers turned in. Final exams complete. Donezo.

As I look back on the past 4 months, I find myself wishing I had taken a bit more time to document these memories here on the blog or at least journaled more about them. There is just something about written words that relaxes my anxious heart. It makes me feel like maybe time isn't fleeting after all.

Deep down, I know that it is. I know that living in the dorms with 5 of my best friends won't last forever. I know that the stress of finals week always feels like it's going to kill me...and then it's over and I realize I made it. I know that nannying won't always be considered my job and one day I'll probably have to give it up for good. I also know that it won't always be acceptable to shower once every three days. Pause. What do you mean that's not even acceptable right now?!

I've learned those things. I've learned those things and a whole lot more. A year ago today I was being wheeled into the operating room for my first of two joint surgeries. Through those surgeries and recovery alone, I primarily learned about endurance and how crucial patience is as part of the process.

This semester began with awful abdominal pain and unrelenting nausea/vomiting. I ended up taking a trip to the hospital and spending the first week of classes at home. A colonoscopy was ordered and came back unremarkable aside from inflammation at the very end of my small intestine. I continued to be thrown around between providers who did not understand the extent of my pain and symptoms. Night after night I cried myself to sleep and morning after morning I woke up in tears. It was as if the crying refused to cease -- just as the pain would not cease, either.

Finally, two weeks ago, some answers found their way to me and my team of doctors. After a second opinion, an endoscopy was ordered which revealed a rather large (and bleeding) stomach ulcer. The days following the procedure were mayhem. I was sick from anesthesia, my pain was out of control, and we had to reevaluate my med list to eliminate any and all NSAIDs. I began taking two new medications to treat the ulcer and stuck to a strict diet of bland foods. So much had changed, but the vomiting still persisted and the pain still remained. I spent hours in bed when I should have been writing papers or completing projects. I felt defeated and so badly wanted to throw in the towel and give up on this semester. It was all looking so bleak and dreary.

As I was cleaning out my backpack that day, a crinkled piece of paper fell to the floor. I unfolded it and a smile came across my face as I read the lightly written words...
Lord, may I learn to love You with my mind and through my studies. May I not only seek You when time most perfectly allows or when it is most convenient -- but may I do so in the wake of adversity and in the face of challenge. May I not fear things that push me past my comfort zone. May I not be tempted to take the easy way out. May You calm my anxious spirit as these thoughts run rampant.
Heavenly Father, use my time in higher education -- especially my time here at Bethel -- to honor You and grow in more expansive ways. Reveal Yourself in new and unexpected situations and continue to keep me in the grasp of Your perfect and Heavenly peace.
The paper was dated October 22, 2015. I distinctly remember writing out the above prayer one day in class after becoming so frustrated at still being behind on homework after being gone for so much of September. I remember wanting to throw in the towel that day.

I remember wanting to throw in the towel when I was a freshman in high school -- undiagnosed and struggling with my mental health. I remember wanting to throw in the towel as my home nurse taught me how to give myself a weekly injection of Enbrel (a drug to treat autoimmune arthritis and psoriasis). I remember wanting to throw in the towel when I had a kidney infection and spent a week rotating between the hospital and my bed. I remember wanting to throw in the towel after a nurse called me with MRI results and mentioned the words "mass" and "cancerous" last November. I remember wanting to throw in the towel as I began chemotherapy and immunotherapy this past year.

I remember so many times that I desperately, desperately, desperately wanted to throw in the towel...and I also remember that every single time something gave me just enough strength to refrain from doing so.

So instead of chucking the towel as far as I could for once and for all, I readjusted my expectations for this semester, had a long conversation with one of my best friends, and opened up to my professors. I started going to bed earlier and taking a break from homework/studying occasionally to read for fun. I spent some time alone. I took a break from social media. I wrote a bunch of awesome people some good old fashioned snail mail. I prioritized my commitments for next semester. I kept going.

And you know where that led me? Right here. To today. Today when I can say shout "I DID IT!" at the top of my lungs and rest in the truth that this semester panned out just as God had planned it would turn out all along.

To me, it just felt like more pain. More stress, more anxiety, more fear. But with Him, it became an opportunity for more growth. More endurance, more strength, more dependence on Him...and I am oh so grateful for and comforted by the fact that He has allowed me a tiny glimpse of that Heavenly perspective.