Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts


I Don't Want To Be (Physically) Healed

It was a Monday-- the start of a fresh semester. I pushed through a weird queasy/cramping feeling in my stomach all day and happily attended night class. Following class, I went to bed feeling completely nauseated and incredibly exhausted from "pushing through" all day. Still, it didn't occur to me that something could be seriously wrong.

Around 2am Tuesday morning I began throwing up. I woke up sweating profusely with a fever of 101.2 and attempted to go back to sleep + ignore the pain in my stomach though it appeared to be worsening. At this point, I thought perhaps I had the flu. I had also done my Methotrexate injection the evening prior and it is not uncommon for me to experience nausea/vomiting/a low grade fever following injection night(s). I continued trying to get some rest. No big deal, I thought.

I was wrong.

By 8am Tuesday morning, I could no longer hold down water or lie in anything other than the fetal position. The "twisted" feeling in my stomach left me feeling pretty certain that I was suffering from a bowel obstruction. I picked up my phone and dialed the colorectal surgery office and spoke with one of the nurses who cared for me following my subtotal colectomy last April. Through tears, I explained my symptoms and attempted to breathe deeply through the pain which was becoming more and more difficult to do as the seconds passed. The nurse and I both agreed that I needed to get to the Emergency Room where my attending surgeon would come by later. That said, she started the admitting process over the phone.

As I was giving the nurse the basic admitting information she asked for, she told me to pack a few things and gather my medications. Though I was aware of my delusional state from lack of sleep and the exhaustion that accompanies such pain, I somehow thought that I was going to drive myself to the ER. As I crawled my way out of bed and stood up to gather my medications, the pain became so severe that I blacked out/fainted. It happened quickly and absolutely without warning. When I came back "to" I was lying in a puddle of vomit and completely disoriented. After a few seconds, I remembered I had been talking to a nurse. I picked my phone off the floor and heard her say "McKenzie, stay with me. There is an ambulance on the way."

I don't know if it was the sheer feeling of defeat or the effects that the significant pain/lack of sleep were having on me at this point, but I broke down into hysterical sobs on the floor of my bedroom. Within 5 minutes, several paramedics came into my dorm room apartment, somehow managed to get me on the stretcher, and on the way to the hospital.

The ambulance ride was absolutely terrifying and incredibly uncomfortable. The pain continued to ebb and flow much more severely. As it lessened and then spiked again I screamed, continued to sweat, and white knuckled the scratchy ambulance blanket all wadded up in my hand. I really don't think I can even recount further details right now as my mind seems to be blocking them out (and for good reason). The 12 hours between 8am and 8pm that day were easily the worst and most painful hours in my 21 years of life thus far.

By the time we arrived at the hospital, all of my admitting paperwork was done. I was brought to a room in the ER where I was given pain meds and we arranged for a CT scan. The CT revealed (as suspected) a small bowel obstruction. Due to its location and severity, my surgeon suggested I may have had this obstruction for over a month.

Immediately, an NG tube was placed to decompress my stomach and remove the bile which had settled and was making me so sick. My surgeon came in again shortly thereafter and explained the emergency dilation procedure I would need to undergo early the following morning. At this point, my pain was being phenomenally managed and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital room I would call home for the next 7 days.

The days were long and the nights were even longer. Though my pain management regimen was very helpful in "taking the edge off," it was very evident that beyond the mechanical obstruction problem, we were dealing with significant inflammation all along my digestive tract. This inflammation can only really be treated by entire removal of the affected part(s) or utilizing high dosages of immunosuppressant drugs. Thus, the pain and symptoms continued as we began having conversations about permanent ileostomy/colostomy placement.

Around the 4th or 5th day, I remember lying in bed around 4pm. I had just turned on the song "In Control" by Hillsong United, closed my eyes, and quite literally began to cuss at God. Mere seconds after this argument began, in walked the hospital Chaplain. As we began talking he said "McKenzie, I remember you." It turns out this Chaplain had also come to visit with me back in April '16 when I underwent my subtotal colectomy. He remembered me as the youngest patient on that particular floor, and he also remembered a joke I had cracked in the midst of the hysterical tears that often accompany such post-op pain. Ha!

The Chaplain sat next to my hospital bed in an uncomfortable folding chair for a good hour. We talked about the complexity of my illnesses, how passionate I am about studying to become a social worker, and how I managed to get a hospital room "with a view." (Seriously! It had the best view of the Minneapolis skyline!) As we wrapped up our conversation, he asked to pray with me. Without thinking or really even knowing what was coming out of my mouth, I replied by saying "we can pray, but I don't want you to pray for me to be healed."

A bit taken aback but seemingly intrigued, the Chaplain looked and me and said "tell me more about that." Through tears and a continued whisper tone of voice (thanks, NG tube) I told the Chaplain things I have never told another human before. I told him what I feel God has been telling, showing, and teaching me for the past 7+ years.

I told the Chaplain I couldn't remember the last time I prayed true, physical healing over my own body. I told the Chaplain how I haven't really been to church in over a year. I told him of some recent experiences in which two church "leaders" suggested there may be "unforgiven, generational sin" in my family...hence the reason I had not yet "received healing."

Finally, I told the Chaplain what I felt God was telling me as I had been lying in the that hospital bed. I told him that I had spent the past several days doing nothing but swearing and yelling at God. Angry...livid, really. But also that I had never felt so close the One who created my body this way...and no doubt for some good and holy reason.

I told the Chaplain that I believe God can heal. In fact, I believe that He DOES. But there is something to be said about other forms of healing (in ways and for reasons higher than our own) apart from the physical. I believe that God has been faithful to me thus far and will continue to be. I see that God has used this pain whether He ordained it or not. He has made it purposeful, intricate, and beautiful. He has made it worthwhile. And yes, He has even made it good.

"God could have healed me 7 years ago, a week ago, even yesterday...but He has not chosen to do so...and that," I shared, "gives me reason to believe that perhaps the path I'm walking has a purpose far greater than what I will ever be able to comprehend."

That, to me, is the absolute truth. Some way, some how, God has given me distinct purpose and great joy in a life marked by tragic illness, great despair, and exhausting desperation. Perhaps having been given those things is what allows me to live a better life than the one I would be living if physical healing allowed me to do so painlessly and "ailment free" here on earth.

The bottom line I tried to explain is that to live in a constant state of pain is to live in a constant state of reliance on faith in Christ. I believe that and know nothing will ever compare to that. I fully believe that being healed and whole in Heaven one day will be worth the journey I am currently on.

Heaven. My mind was then directed to the idea of Heaven. Through tears I told the Chaplain "I don't want to be healed because I want to experience the fullness of God's presence HERE. In great sickness. In horrendous pain. In a plastic hospital bed with an NG tube down my throat, a defeated spirit inside of me, and visible tears in my eyes..."

I want to experience the fullness of Christ and how He responds to His children when they are lying awake at 2am screaming in pain and begging for the strength to make it through to the next dosage of pain meds. I want to experience the fullness of Christ which feels so visceral and overwhelmingly beautiful upon waking up from yet another round of general anesthesia. I want to experience the fullness of Christ in the deepest, darkest hours of my life here on earth.

...And I want those things not for attention, pity, or to be seen as some great martyr. I want those things and the other pain our broken lives bring because I want to seek, to know; to pursue, to learn. To wrestle with and experience the perplexing truth that authentic JOY is possible in the midst of severe pain.

All of these thoughts and tears had me reciting a favorite poem in my head. A poem that I'd never truly understood before, but could now grasp to its full extent.
The Thorn by Martha Snell Nicholson 
I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne
And begged Him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, "but Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me."
He said, "my child, I give good gifts and I gave My best to thee."
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without His added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

I don't want to be (physically) healed. Not here, not now...for I know God is using this daunting hike through life and the mountains of chronic illness to refine and restore my soul in ways that only He can.

So, the Chaplain and I prayed. Not for physical healing but for the strength to endure. The grace to benefit. The willingness to learn from and let God use this pain. For the first time in a long time, I felt like someone had truly listened to me. Someone allowed me to be comfortable in all of my uncomfortableness...someone chose to enter into that uncomfortableness with me. And in my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than that.


And There Is No Shame

My ongoing battle with major depressive disorder began around the age of 14. It began to rear its ugly head shortly after the onset of what would later be diagnosed as seronegative juvenile idiopathic arthritis and has now become seronegative rheumatoid arthritis. The nature of this autoimmune condition is still idiopathic, meaning we have no idea what is causing the inflammation.

All that to say-- because not a lot is known regarding the nature/progression of idiopathic autoimmune diseases from a juvenile perspective, I went misdiagnosed for a period of almost 2 years. During those 2 years, I struggled intensely. I was passed around from doctor to doctor-- many of whom refused to acknowledge a single physical symptom I was experiencing. Because I was a young woman in pain, it was believed that I was clinically depressed and there was no more to the story. But for me, there was.

If I wasn't occupied wishing that death would soon come, I found myself wishing that I could at least find a way out. I figured that 'way out' had to come through one of two things: suicide, or finding a purpose in the pain. I am grateful still today that the latter won out.

Although I was diagnosed with both primary and secondary physical conditions, my mind remained in the dark. All the while I thought "Kenzie, what the hell is wrong with you? Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it. No one else your age feels this way. You have a physical diagnosis at last-- your mind has no reason to be in the depths of despair anymore."

But that's just it. Depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder have no rhyme or reason. They don't signal warning signs before they take over your life and they are far from predictable. They ravage your life and take all that they can; whether that consists of your energy, your passions, your spirit, or your ability to do something as 'simple' as taking a shower.

And that's precisely where I found myself. In the depths of despair day in and day out...constantly looking for a way to draw attention elsewhere. I got into unhealthy relationships, attempted to ignore my mind's cry for help, and eventually became convinced that this bleak life would never improve.

For 4 long years, I continued attempting to ignore the pain of both my mental health and physical state. And finally...halfway through my freshman year of college, I recognized that I really needed help. Really needed it.

I saw a free counselor on campus. Our styles didn't "jive," per se, so I decided to try someone new. I saw that new counselor for a few months and soon found myself sending her e-mails filled with excuses about how I'd have to miss our next session due to this and due to that. In reality, all I did was pull the covers over my head for another two hours and mope around when it was time to go to class.

Pretty soon, I wasn't even seeing a counselor anymore. Then the summer came, and I was referred back to a pain psychologist I'd seen several years prior as part of a pain management program. I was honest with her and began writing-- and I mean really writing-- again. Journal entries were dark during that time, but oh how therapeutic they proved to be.

"Waking up is hard. Getting out of bed is hard. Showering is hard. Pretending it's going to be a good day is hard. Starting things is hard. Finishing them is even harder. I noticed something awhile ago...I'm not excited to get dressed in the morning anymore. I used to practically run from my morning shower to my closet -- brimming with outfit possibilities and clothes that I adore. Now, I limp over to the cabinet I keep my t-shirts in, pull on a stretched out sports bra, and try to gauge how long it will take for my neck pain to kick in, radiate down my arms, and give me a migraine.  It's almost as if it has become some kind of sick game..."

That summer-- two summers ago-- became a massive game of trial and error. I was put on some of my very first anti-depressants and I saw a licensed psychologist 3 times a week. I was referred to a psychiatrist in the area and we continued to find the med combination that would work for me. We burnt through Cymbalta, Savella, Effexor, Prozac, and a list of PTSD inhibitors to help me sleep at night. Things certainly got worse before they got better.

But then, we found somewhat of a medication match. Even, I still find myself somewhere between "stable" and "unstable." I am able to currently work part time, study full time, and participate in college life. For the most part, I am able to socialize, complete tasks, motivate myself, and LIVE. It's refreshing, but it's not the reality everyday for someone who is mentally ill. To advocate for that truth, I've made it my mission to acknowledge the beauty, the pain, and everything in between...most often, publicly.

Whether it's an Instagram caption turned mini blog post, a simple 140 character tweet, or an extensive post like this one that I've poured tears and so much more into...I have found that the sharing of our own realities and perceptions not only empowers us, but it breaks down the barrier that says conversations surrounding mental health are 'uncomfortable' or 'wrong' in the context of community...especially the religious/spiritual community.

I made a decision when I was first placed on anti-depressants and given a prescription for sedatives to calm me down during a panic attack or PTSD episode. That decision was this: there can be questions, there can be uncertainty, there can even be fear...but one thing you will never, ever find dwelling here is shame.

Let me tell you something, friends. Mental illness does not discriminate. That is unfortunate. Even tragic for some. But what we must also remember is that neither does the ability of HOPE to carry us through. There is always hope.

Physically, this has been the most painful year I've experienced yet. Mentally (though there were certainly moments of great triumph), I would have to say the same. It has been painful and so so heavy to carry this pain around and it's been even harder to the ignore the stigma that is associated with such struggles.

I have had 3 intense scares with my mental health in the past month where the idea of hurting myself became more than a distant thought. I spent several nights in hospital psych wards not knowing how I got there or if I would get to go home that day.

3 weeks later, I am much more stable. We have adjusted medications and I am being followed closely by multiple competent physicians. While I'm "okay," I'm also still struggling. That in and of itself (as previously mentioned) is a pretty freakin' weird limbo to be in.

A quote I read once says "it is necessary to let things go, very simply for the reason that they are heavy." That couldn't be more true, especially right now. I don't think I've ever resonated with something so strongly.

I have been given the opportunity to embark on a European study abroad adventure on January 4th and will be away until the 26th. I am very, very much looking forward to the respite and perspective this trip has the potential to provide and cannot wait to share those adventures through writing and pictures with many of you. For now, though, I need to (and am going to) step away.

Social media (and this blog in particular) is an instrumental part of my life and journey any way you hash it, but sometimes we need space -- even from the things that make us feel most alive and ourselves.

And there is no shame.


I Just Want to Be Better

*** Written last night -- April 3rd, 2016 -- the night before today -- SUBTOTAL COLECTOMY DAY!

No positive pants on here tonight.

I started drinking my colon clean-out prep a few hours ago. I carefully selected orange Gatorade to mix the solution with when I was in Target the other day because it's a flavor I haven't yet gotten sick of (after 3 colon clean-outs in the past 6ish months). Anyway, I started drinking it and had just given myself a pat on the back for finishing the third glass when a full-force feeling of nausea came over me. Immediately, I ran to the bathroom and threw most (if not all) of the solution right back up.

I flushed the toilet, peeled myself from the bathroom floor, and cleaned myself up. I dizzily limped back to my sisters bedroom floor where I've set up camp for the weekend and threw myself onto my small mattress. I whispered one word as teardrops made their way down my cheeks..."why?"

I texted my mom almost immediately and told her to come downstairs when she was done eating/cleaning up supper with the rest of my family. A few minutes later, I heard her making her way down the steps and almost instantly those stray tears turned to unrelenting sobs. As she entered the room, my mom asked, "Kenzie, what's wrong?" Before I could even gather my thoughts and form a response, the words came sputtering out of my mouth. I replied, "I just want to be better." 

I am desperate to be better.

I can't stand another uncomfortable conversation about the chronic constipation I deal with or drinking another glass full of water + Miralax. I can't stand one more night of puking my guts out on the bathroom floor and screaming out in pain as my unruly colon attacks itself. I can't stand enemas, suppositories, laxatives, stool softeners, one more sip of magnesium citrate, or any other over-the-counter solution that "should work for me." I cannot stand it. I just want to be better.

And thankfully, I will be. I'm choosing to believe that. To hold onto hope and positivity even though those things feel so far from the truth tonight.

How wonderful it is to have surgery scheduled just 12 hours after I hit my breaking point. How wonderful it is that I have a brilliant surgeon on my side who is more than ready to get me better. How wonderful it is that my close family/friends dropped everything they were doing to pray for me the minute they heard I threw up the solution I'd worked so hard to get down. How wonderful it is that we have a Savior and a Heavenly home awaiting where there will be no tears, no pain, and ABSOLUTELY no colon-clean out solution.

Thank You, Lord, for having Your holy hand in scheduling my subtotal colectomy tomorrow. Thank You, Lord, for knowing my limits and numbering my days before I can predict them myself. Thank You, Lord...because I am so close to having life as I know it tonight be so freaking far away.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Lord...for making me better.


The Progression

It feels like yesterday and it feels like a year ago when I posted a mess of a GI update. I wrote it just to write again and get some information down somewhere. I was journaling a lot, but I needed the chronic community to come alongside me as I waited for test results and began to pursue surgical options.

This blog has grown with me over the past 6 years. It has nurtured honesty and it has taught me the value of telling it like it is. And so, even though the GI issues I've been facing for the past year felt (and inevitably ARE) uncomfortable/embarrassing/what have you, I just felt like this blog needed to continue growing with me. So I wrote. And I posted that writing online...right here on Life According to Kenz.

And I'm thankful I did because things have since progressed fast and furiously. On April 4th, 2016 I will be having a subtotal colectomy. 

A subtotal colectomy consists of removing a majority of the colon (large bowel). Unlike in a total colectomy, my rectum and anus will be left untouched. My small bowel will then be joined to my rectum. This part of the procedure is called ileorectal anastomosis. According to my scopes last Friday which showed minimal inflammation in this area, there is no need for a stoma or ileostomy/colostomy bag at this time! (HUGE praise!)

My blog is going to become a CaringBridge of sorts over the next couple of months (pre-op, op, and post-op), so I want to get logistics down here for those who may not know me well. I am truly trying my hardest to respond to comments, emails, messages, etc. but it is impossible to get to them all in one sitting. Just know that I read every single one and each of them sustains me during the dark moments that inevitably still plaque me from time to time. This is my best (and probably failed) attempt at getting some answers down all in one place. :)

"So, how the heck did you get here?!" Back in September, it was suspected that I was developing early stage Crohn's disease (another autoimmune condition). However, after further investigation and invasive testing, we discovered that majority of my abdominal/GI/bowel symptoms are being caused by something called colonic inertia or severe slow transit constipation. I was officially diagnosed in January.

"What is colonic inertia?" Colonic inertia is a motility disorder. It is also referred to as an abnormal passage of waste throughout the digestive system. My colon (for unknown reasons at this time) is simply working FAR too slowly and refusing to contract on its own. This causes extreme constipation which results in excruciating pain, loss of appetite, and round-the-clock nausea and vomiting.

"You've had constipation issues for why are you having surgery now? Is it urgent?" Well, the short answer is no. It's not a matter of life/death. But it is a matter of quality of life/no quality of life. Let me explain. The past year has been awful, but I have accepted most of the symptoms as my reality. That is, until said symptoms started to affect my ability to get out of bed in the morning, go out for dinner with my friends, or get a good nights sleep in my bed...not on the bathroom floor. The reason we started pursuing surgical options is because my ability to function independently is decreasing with each passing day and I have now lost 35 pounds due to my inability to eat/hold things down.

"How long is recovery time? Can you have visitors in the hospital?" Recovery time can be anywhere from 5-14 days in the hospital depending on how the surgery itself goes. There is plenty of room for complications just as there is with any surgery, but the potential pros at this point far outweigh the potential cons. I can certainly have visitors in the hospital (and at home!) and will happily put you in touch with my mom should you want my hospital/room information. After I am discharged from the hospital, there is a 6 week period of no lifting/activity beyond walking and a 4 week period of no driving. I will NOT be bedridden (mark my words)...

"Are you dropping out of school?" ...but I will also be in no state to be manage 15 credits and two on-campus jobs. I have withdrawn from two classes, will be taking an incomplete in one, and plan to finish both an online course and night class pending my professors accommodations. I plan to be back at Bethel in the fall, but will be moving home for the remainder of the semester at the end of this week. And by the way, "dropping out" is a swear word (swear phrase?) in my book. Don't ever say that around me, and definitely not to me. ;) 

"Are you still going to the Dominican Republic over spring break?" I failed to publish a blog post about my excitement to go to the Dominican over spring break with a missions team here at Bethel...but I shared that with many of you in real life. :) However, after meeting with my surgeon and confirming surgery dates, it was decided that the infection risk is far too high for me to be traveling out of the country, returning, and then having a major operation (involving removing an organ). I am heartbroken and hate that it feels as if I am "losing" another bit of independence thanks to the condition of my health, but I know that the rest of my team will have a life-changing experience there.

"How can I support you?" Continue asking questions and please continue sending prayers. I feel them. I also so appreciate the words of encouragement through messages, conversations, and cute little cards. :) Words of affirmation is my love language! The night before I met with the first colorectal surgeon on this journey I kept repeating "I choose peace" under my breath until I fell asleep. I was so afraid of hearing what I didn't want to hear the next day. The night before my scopes last week, I simply thought "I can't wait to spend time with my mom tomorrow!" I felt content. Really. At the end of the day, I am anxious and afraid as any patient would be leading up to a major surgery, but I trust my team of doctors and the support system surrounding me. And you know who else I trust? The God that has brought me this far and continues to promise me healing.

At MedX in September of last year, I met a beautiful woman named Breck. She has a young warrior son named Bennet who has battled Cystic Fibrosis and its complications since birth. She chronicles her family's journey with the disease on her blog. Her writing has such a focus on what you would know, see, feel, etc. if you were in her position. The vulnerability she exudes is contagious and simply being a reader of hers has made me a better empath and advocate.

My only goal these next couple of months is to write and share more honestly than ever before, just as my friend Breck has. As I grew up dealing with constipation issues, I was so terribly embarrassed and ashamed. As those constipation issues turned into much more serious complications such as duodenal ulcers and anal fissures, I felt completely and utterly alone. It is my hope that through sharing my journey (the good, the bad, and the ugly), even one person would realize that they are not isolated in their suffering. That sounds cliche...but I would've given anything to be that one at the start of my chronic health journey.

I will update as I know more, but for now I leave you with words from the incredible Henri Nouwen. In his book "Turn My Mourning Into Dancing" (which I am currently reading) he writes,

"True gratitude embraces all of life: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not-so-holy. We do this because we become aware of God's life...God's presence...both of which are in the middle of ALL that happens."


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. 


Here's to Adventures...Even the Scary Ones

A year ago today I was in the midst of embarking on an adventure to Swaziland, Africa. I was a bit nervous and hurting, but I also found myself feeling confident and hopeful. I knew that God would use the trip to grow my faith and grant me some answers about my purpose in this big 'ole world. I knew that He would stretch me and change me and use me. In fact, He did those things and He did even MORE. 

He brought my special friend Nontsikelelo into my life for girl chats and giggles which have now turned into written letters and hand drawn pictures. He sent me sweet little Sisekelo for long naps/snuggles when my body needed to rest. He used my time in Swaziland to break my heart in new ways and call me to places I never thought I'd go. I know that I will return very soon and I cannot wait to experience the sheer joy of that day. Holding onto that dream alone has kept me going through all of the health trials this past year has brought me.

Today, I am embarking on another adventure...this time to spend some time at Mayo Clinic with my momma by my side. Again, I find myself a bit nervous and hurting, but still confident and hopeful that God will use this trip, too, to grow my faith and grant me some answers...this time regarding my ongoing health struggles and the debilitating pain I have been experiencing. Though it was a frustrating and exhausting process to get into the rheumatology clinic here, I can already say with certainty that it was 100% worth it. 

I am willing to do absolutely anything at this point to receive answers and experience relief. With that sort of desperation, I can only pray that the doctors I see today and in the days to come will use wisdom and their best judgement to care for me in my current condition. I can only pray that this long awaited visit will give me the bravery, assurance, and motivation needed to move us forward in terms of treatment that will help me get parts of my life back. Parts of my life that this pain has robbed from me.

photos c/o JL Stephens Couture

Endurance is a difficult skill to acquire, but I have seen God work through my pain DAILY and witnessing that has taught me much about what it means to be fully content in the midst of challenging circumstances. Those lessons are ones that I would not trade for the world. 

Today, I am not bitter...but I am prepared. I am not spiteful...but I will continue to fight. Living with chronic pain for 5+ years has been a balancing act of sorts. There is a fine, fine line between being angry enough at this disease to fight against it and do what it takes to keep it controlled while focusing on who I am aside from my health struggles and the pain I experience at the same time. I hope with my whole heart that my time here at Mayo helps me to balance those things just so.

photos c/o JL Stephens Couture

There is not always laughter and gratitude, rainbows and butterflies...but I am okay.  I am resilient. I am fighting. I am slowly but surely creating my new normal, grieving the loss of what my life and body once were, and finding ways to be me in a new light.

photos c/o JL Stephens Couture

Come what may, I am here. Living, breathing. Writing hard things. Chasing after littles who fill my heart to the brim. Enjoying community and vulnerability. Fighting.

To those encouraging and praying along with me for this weeks appointments and my time at Mayo Clinic: THANK YOU. Your support is a gift just as each day of this crazy life is. I will never, ever be able to express my gratitude fully. 

Here's to adventures -- even the scary ones -- and all the life that lies ahead. 


My Maddie

Today is July 14th. Though I have never recognized the significance of this date before, today I will acknowledge it greatly. I will reflect, I will thank God plentifully, and I will celebrate.

19 years ago today, my freshman roommate and beautiful friend Maddie was born.

There are 9 months and 25 days between Maddie's date of birth and mine. Let's lay out the facts and figures here: at 9 months and 25 days old, there is not a chance I had a clue that Maddie was being born thousands of miles away. Even further, there is not a chance I had a clue that I would meet her, experience the joy (+ insanity) of living with her, and watch her play such a crucial role in my faith journey and life as a whole. I had not a clue that I would grow up, surrender my life to Jesus, and choose to attend a Christian University. I had not a clue what my freshman year of college would consist of. Let's be real, I was clueLESS, unaware, and likely unconcerned with anything that did not involve eating, sleeping, or pooping. #babylife

Nonetheless and even still, here we are 19 years later...and I cannot stop praising God for all the "in-betweens" that led me to the here and now. I am filled with a heightened awareness and immeasurable gratitude for this one...this Maddie.

When I selected my dorm room through a "random" room draw last summer, I (again) had not a clue what was in store. Little did I know that in the months to come, I would experience some of the best and worst days of my life with Maddie by my side. The love, concern, compassion, comfort, and deep appreciation she has shown for getting to know me and my heart the past year has completely blown me away. 

In the short time she has been apart of my life, there have been many laughs and many tears. There has been stillness and anything but. There have been times of many words and times of silence. No matter what the circumstance was, the test revealed, or the day consisted of...Maddie was there to simply be in the midst of it with me. Looking back, I realize there never really was a "random" room draw. There was no "cluelessness" or "coincidence," there was only God perfectly carrying out His marvelous plans and proving His faithfulness to me yet again by blessing me with this dear soul and kindred spirit. He knows what we need, and my goodness, He PROVIDES.

She has taught me how to let others in. She has taught me how to think well and deeply. She has taught me how to stay up until the wee hours of the morning and still look flawless upon waking the following day. Nope, just wait...I'm still working on that one. She's got it mastered, though. ;)

Her humor is the kind that makes anyone and everyone laugh. She's not just sarcastic, she's not just filled with contagious laughter, and she's not just a creative story teller...she's all of those things and she is more. She is a writer and musician. She is kind. She is thoughtful, sensitive, and compassionate. She is witty and smart, oh, she is smart. She is wise and she has a captivating presence. Above all...she is a sister in Christ. No matter what the passing years may bring, the most beautiful thing about our friendship is knowing without a shadow of a doubt that we will be together in Heaven one day.

Last night as we were texting back and forth, you said: "there is nothing special about 19!" If only you could see what I see, my friend, because I beg to differ. Celebrating who you have become and have been to others this past year is a privilege and true JOY. I have said it once and I will say it again: thank you, Maddie, for being the answer to many of my anxious prayers and for being the beautiful woman that God has called you to be. Thank you for growing and struggling and being honest about the process. Thank you for listening, sharing, and teaching. The Lord has MUCH for you this coming year...of that I am sure! May it be one filled with hilariousness, executive decisions, and life-giving work that reminds you of the purpose you were created for. I am beyond grateful for each adventure we've shared and I look forward to all of the adventures that are to come.

Happy birthday, dear one. I love you so.


Onward with Genuine Love

If you've logged onto Facebook or scrolled through your Twitter feed the past few days, I would be willing to bet that you, too, have been bombarded with and overwhelmed by statuses, article links, and comments by/from everyone and their mother. 

"It's Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve!"
"Love knows no boundaries!"
"You can change a definition in the dictionary, but you can't change things in the eyes of the ultimate Judge!" 
"Gay marriage doesn't's just marriage!"

Leviticus 18:22 is quoted. 1 Peter 4:8 counters. Sides are taken. Comment threads grow. Another status is updated. Another article is shared. People around you start whispering about how so-and-so is sporting a rainbow colored profile picture. Your newsfeed now appears to be the makings of World War III -- and on the front lines are the people who have invited you to church, begged you to come to Bible study, and commented on the status update chronicling your rough week with the words, "I'm praying for you."

Suddenly, you begin to wonder...what is this faith thing all about, anyway? If Christianity is about love...why do these people have such a strange way of showing it? If we are all God's children, how can a "God fearing" individual be against gay marriage?

I want to first say that I am not writing this post to condemn or dismantle opinions, lifestyles, reputations, or teachings. I am not publishing this post to say, "look at me, I have it all together!" or to turn my back and pretend that cultural decay does not exist in our fallen world. I am, however, writing this post to discuss an issue of the heart and share what God has revealed to me through my seeking for answers on a topic much larger than (and not specific to) marriage equality. Today, I want to talk about genuine love -- the kind that sent an innocent man to the cross for the salvation of many and the kind that should revolutionize the way we think about and interact with the world that we live in. The kind that has the power to encourage growth, bring hope, and change lives.

I find that the more I try to write about this subject, the less I have to say. I could quote Scripture, link to an article I read, hashtag "love wins," and be done with it...but I feel as if there is an even shorter and more effective way. And so, instead of doing those things, I'd like to suggest we stray from the road most traveled by these days and try something new: 

Let us be so concerned with the desire to show genuine love that we forget to even form opinions on hot political topics, take sides in heated religious debates, and assume that we understand circumstances that we have never endured ourselves. 

Let us realize that no matter what the court system, hardship, victory, or other finalized outcome states/reveals, our call as Christians still remains the same. Let us avoid litigation, condemnation, and vilification. Let us fight for the equality of others and advocate for humanity. 

Let us care so much for LIFE that we quite literally feed the hungry, clothe the naked, invite the stranger in, and visit the prisoner. Let us remember that the actual lives of individuals is far more important than the nitpicking of lifestyles.

Let us love profoundly, deeply, and genuinely. Period.

Last night, I had a lengthy Facebook chat with my friend Alan. Alan is not a Christian and describes himself as a "confused Buddhist" -- someone who was put on this earth to become stronger spiritually. He questions many of the things listed above and says, "I think it's time we start challenging the "strange" ways. It's time more people start self-reflecting versus shouting whatever they see on pop tv {or hear within a religion}." After about 2 hours of messaging back and forth, he said, "the cool thing about our conversation tonight is that I think we are more similar in our spiritual beliefs than we realize. It's our starting point that differs, but luckily it's where we end up that matters most."

Though Alan is not a Christian, I cannot help but apply that last tidbit to my faith life and the way I view the subject of marriage equality. We really do serve a God who is in the midst, and the second we forget that is the second that we need to stop what we are doing and reevaluate what the word "surrender" means. He was with us last week, He is here with us now, and He is in the future where we will eventually be. He is moving us onward to fullness. To redemption. To the renewal of all things. In the meantime, let us move onward, too...and let us do so with genuine love.

This world did not begin with us/our opinions and it's not going to end with those things, either. May each and every one of us simply find rest in our place/call in this world and the part we play in God's story...and may we do that PEACEFULLY while appreciating the unique journey of every other person in this world no matter what the difference is between the lives that we live.

The love I follow and desire to live by was shown on the Cross. Genuine love wins; in every form, despite every circumstance, and through the test of time. Jesus wins.


A Work Not Yet Finished

About 5 years ago on a brisk October day, I was curled up in bed after suffering what doctor's believed to be a heat stroke following a cross country race. I was a freshman in high school, my only life plans were to get through the day at hand, and I hadn't yet had the opportunity to discover who I truly was or what I wanted out of life. As I was lying in bed that day -- missing school, spending time with friends, and cross county practice -- I recognized something: the pain I felt was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. That was the day I knew the tides had turned in a way that I wasn't sure I was prepared for. That was the day God began to prepare my heart to endure a life of chronic pain...that was the day He began a work in me that He is not yet finished with.

In the days and weeks to come, I struggled to get out of bed, dress myself, and put on a brave face. Somehow, by what I believe to be the grace of God, I did it. One morning around 5am, I woke up abruptly. Pain was shooting up and down my legs, through my abdomen, and back and forth between my head and neck. As I writhed and tried to restrain myself from screaming, I quite literally rolled out of bed. Using what little strength I had, I crawled to the bathroom, turned on the water to a somewhat scalding temperature, got into the shower, and laid down. I curled up in the fetal position and tears began to stream down my face as I came to terms with the fact that I may never, ever know what "pain free" felt like again.

In the months to come, I visited my primary care physician more times than I can count on two hands. The people in my life at that time may not remember me missing from class, family dinners, cross country races, or sleepovers...but I can assure you that I missed them, and in more ways than one. Not only did I miss them physically, I missed them emotionally. Every aspect of my day-to-day life had changed. Suddenly, the free spirited, naive freshman I knew myself to be had become a miserable sufferer who felt trapped inside her own body and mind.

It was at this time that I began to shut anything and everything out, convinced that I was the only one who felt the way I did...convinced that there was something wrong with my mind. Doctor after doctor told me that I was clinically depressed...that the blood tests were normal...that I would be okay with time and visits with a psychologist. They did not acknowledge the widespread pain that continued to overrun my body. They did not acknowledge the weight I continued to lose. They did not acknowledge the pain induced nausea that prevented me from eating. They did not acknowledge the swelling or redness in my joints or along my spine...and every time I broke down crying because no one acknowledged those things, I was handed some more little white pills and crinkled sheets of paper that contained referrals to mental health professionals I had not yet seen.

I can tell you one thing for certain about this chapter of my life: I was in extreme physical pain and I wanted to die because of said pain. I was grieving the loss of a "pain free" life (I'm STILL grieving that loss) and what it meant to be a teenager without much of a care in the world. I was grieving the loss of the freedom that my own body had taken from me.

During this time, it may have appeared that I began to internalize things and remain inside my head. It may have appeared that I rapidly became more withdrawn and distant. While I will openly say that all of those things are 100% accurate, I can also say with complete assurance that none of them happened because my pain was "all in my head," nor did they happen because I was seeking attention. They happened because my body was and IS attacking itself.

It wasn't until nearly a year of suffering that some answers were granted to me and my mother who was beyond desperate to understand. It was then that I was diagnosed with juvenile enthesitis-related arthritis, fibromyalgia, and moderate disc degeneration in my cervical spine. It was then that my pain was acknowledged. It was then that I was finally listened to by healthcare professionals. It was then that I finally had a name for the monsters I had been fighting.

Was I depressed at this time? Absolutely. Was I anxious and afraid? 100%, yes. Were those feelings caused by a figment of my imagination? Absolutely not. Those feelings were caused by underlying issues that went unacknowledged. Those feelings were caused by the extremity of distracting pain I experienced as I sat through Civics class trying my hardest to pretend it wasn't there. Those feelings were caused by the school events and sleepovers I missed because I was at home in bed, begging a God I wasn't even sure I believed in to heal my body or take my life (and I preferred the latter). Those feelings developed over time as reports of my pain were diminished, my judgements were questioned, and my time was wasted by people who did nothing but abuse my naiveté and try to talk me out of something that had so physically manifested itself inside my feeble body.

Not being acknowledged or accepted began to destroy me. And then I met Jesus. And Jesus taught me that we may not be able to understand or empathize with everything everyone goes through -- we are not Him. He taught me that we may not be able to find just the right words to say or just the right gift to give -- we are not Him. But just because we cannot or do not understand something does NOT mean it does not exist...and what we can do is precisely what He created us for. 

We can get on people's level and sit with them there. We can put our hand on their backs and rub it gently until the tears cease. We can offer warm, inviting hugs and we can lend a listening ear when they need to vent. And even when a mix of all of those things seems exhaustive...there is more. We can be transparent and share the truth. The truth that says we as humans are not all-knowing or invincible. The truth that affirms the fact that we may not be able to understand everything, but we genuinely desire to understand the best we can without experiencing it. The truth that acknowledges that we may not be able to take away the pain...but if we could do so, we would in a second.

A morning not too long ago, I woke up in my dorm room to the sun shining through the blinds. As I tried to get out of bed, pain shot up and down my spine. I shrieked and fell back onto my pillow as I began to have flashbacks from that brisk October morning just over 5 years ago. The pain. The fear. The desperation. It felt all too familiar...except this time, I didn't begin to wish my life away. Instead, I simply spoke 6 words aloud: "I can't do this without You..." And as I said that, I just knew. I just knew that I was not alone.

If someone you love has a chronic illness of any sort, I want you to know that it's not personal. The cancelled plans, the quiet demeanor...none of it is because of you. Most importantly, I want you to know this and this alone: acknowledgement matters. Complete belief, unending love, and absolute support are all things that matter. And though you may never be able to fully understand, loving people through and because of their pain in those ways will mean more to them than you will ever know.

I don't know who I wrote this post for. I don't know if anyone will read this and think, "WOW, I swear she took these thoughts right out of my own head." I don't know. I really don't. But what I do know is there's a chance. There's a chance someone out there is laying in bed, curled up in the fetal position, and writhing in pain right now. And whether that is because of chronic pain or mental illness or something entirely unrelated to either one of those things...they are waiting. Waiting to be acknowledged. Waiting to be heard. Waiting for someone to get on their level and sit with them there. And if that's you...if that's you there waiting, I want you to know a few things: you are not alone, the God who created you is the God that is with you, and He is not finished with you yet. 

I know it hurts and I know it feels like your world is crumbling. I know it feels like you will never be well again...and maybe you won't be on this side of Heaven. But He has promised marvelous things and He who promised is FAITHFUL. I believe that there is a reason for every ounce of pain in this world and I believe that He can use yours -- yes, even yours -- for your good and His glory. It doesn't mean it will be easy. In fact, I know it won't be...but He will be your strength and He will complete the work in you that is not yet finished.


When I Feel Like I Can't Anymore

When you are first diagnosed with a chronic health condition, there are things that you are absolutely sure of and there are things that you are so cluelessly and desperately unsure of. There is no in between, usually.

The way you feel and think about things becomes pretty black and white. It's one or the other. It's yes-- you're going to follow through with your commitments, or it's no-- your pain level is far too high to stick to the original plan(s). It's yes-- you're going to class and work today, or it's no-- you'll be staying in bed resting and attempting to *maybe* save up just enough energy to take a hot shower at some point.

You are sure you are in pain. You are unsure how long said pain is going to last. You are sure there was a point in your life when you were not in pain. You are unsure how that painlessness felt. You are sure you are "okay." You are unsure of how much longer you will be "okay" for.

Though I do it on a daily basis and dealing with the pain has become that of a second nature to me, there are times when I feel like I can't anymore.

On Tuesday, I had spinal injections for the first time in about 10 weeks. My neck pain and migraines had been coming back with a vengeance the week and a half before. I was excited for relief, but I knew that (as is the case with any procedure)... relief is not instantaneous. In fact, the 48 hours following a procedure of this nature usually suck a good amount.

As I awoke Wednesday morning I quickly noticed I could hardly hold my head up. It was in the exact moment that I let my head fall back onto the pillow that the words "I just can't" echoed through my mind. As pain shot back and forth from my head to my neck and then back to my head again, I reached for my iPhone, turned the brightness all the way down, and started drafting an email to the professor of my morning class.
"I won't be in class this morning due to pain following a spinal procedure I had yesterday. I can't..."
I wrote what I needed to. Attempted to keep it short and to the point. And though it killed me to type out those last two words... the very two words that make me feel beyond useless, helpless, and just plain angry... I accepted them.

Call it hopelessness. Call it settling. Call it depression, even. You can call it whatever you'd like to... but for me, it is simply reality and arriving at the awareness of feeling like I can't helps me to eventually arrive at the conclusion that I can... and that I already am.

When we feel as if we can't (in any circumstance), we need to remind ourselves of who we are. I'll start. Friends, I'm Kenzie. No diagnosis, no level of pain, no medication, and no lab test or scan result will change the fact that I am alive and human in this moment. Remind yourself of that fact daily. I would even go as far as challenging to remind yourself of that fact MOMENTARILY. We each have a life to life and a choice in how to live it. And we aren't living our own, individual lives... no one will.

I got out of bed for my next class on Wednesday. Though the pain was still running rampant between my head and neck, I managed to remind myself who I am and the strength that came from doing so got me to the shower, into some clothes, and on my way to class. The strength I found in remembering (plus a little help from pain meds) carried me through until I could finally lay down to rest again that evening.

And all that remembering led me to some more remembering. Remembering that when I feel like I can't anymore... I can stop, take a few deep breaths, and pray. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can reach out and utilize my incredible support system. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can choose positivity, joy, hope... even worship. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can allow myself to rest. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can reflect on all of the times that I did...

...and suddenly, when I feel like I can't anymore... I CAN.


He's Trying to Change ME

It's been eerily quiet around here lately...and not just in the physical sense. Emotionally. Spiritually. It's been quiet. After surgeries just over two months ago, I've been working through some tough things. Things I didn't want to document or discuss or admit to even though they have been consuming me.

The doctor's warn you about the possibility of post-operative depression when extensive or back-to-back surgeries are done. They warn you and they give you resources to combat those feelings if they happen to arise, but they don't tell you how it's going to affect you personally. They don't tell you because they don't know.

And, so, I was warned. I knew what to *possibly* expect. But much to my surprise, I didn't recognize when those feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and frustration began to affect me and every little piece that makes me who I am.

Immediately following surgery, I was in agony mainly due to the fact that I was in a lot of pain and struggling to get any sleep because of it. I was out of it/completely dazed for majority of Christmas break. I stretched, showered, napped, stretched, napped, ate, stared at the TV, and attempted to nap some more. Repeat. Day after day after day. I didn't feel much except for when it was time to take my pain meds again.

After New Years, I moved back into my dorm at school and started to prepare myself for j-term. I was on crutches and still in pain, but I was ready to get back to the school routine and be surrounded by the awesome ladies on my floor again. I didn't have a clue what I was in for.

As the days passed, I found myself internalizing anything and everything. I found myself avoiding my pain med because of the nausea it caused and in turn lying in my bed miserably for hours at a time. When people asked how I was doing, I would quickly respond "I'm good, how are you?!" in a peppy voice with a fake smile plastered on my face.

It wasn't that I had forgotten God's goodness. It wasn't that I had forgotten His faithfulness. I'm not even going to allow myself to blame it on being in pain. The bottom line is that I was looking at my circumstances -- the here and now -- as if they would never change. As if I would never heal from my surgeries, as if I would never be able to study in my favorite place on campus again, as if the friends I'd made would stop pursuing a relationship with me. I allowed myself to be drawn away from the eternal perspective God calls us to have, and that made me angry, bitter, and desperate for an awakening.

On the last night of j-term, I was lying awake in bed praying about my math final the next day. I had done all the work. I understood the overarching concepts. I had studied. In the middle of praying about that test, I was interrupted by something I still can't seem to put my finger on. All of the sudden, a thought hit me like a ton of bricks:

I used to pray that God would get me through the week, the month, or the season that He had me in. I used to pray for clarity hoping He would make my decisions and sacrifices easy. I used to pray for answers and for prayer to change circumstances to fit my desires. I used to pray all of these things, but now I finally understand...

In that moment, I finally grasped the logic that Jesus moves us to when the Bible talks about trials of many kinds, especially in Matthew 10:29 which says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Therefore, do not fear." I finally grasped that instead of "getting through" certain seasons, He wants to use us in them. He wants us to thrive and He wants us to enjoy the journey. I finally understood that instead of clarity and ease, He wants us to learn that fully trusting Him is the only way to overcome anything this world throws our way. I finally understood that instead of explanations as to why things happen, He wants us to simply have faith in His perfect plan.
I finally understand that He's trying to change ME, not the circumstance at hand. In all my muck and mess, He's trying to change ME. Now THAT'S what I love about the God we serve. Instead of brushing over the issue or sweeping things under the rug, He gets to the heart of the issue. He looks at the causes of the hurt...He looks at the causes of the desperation...He looks at the causes of the sin and He seeks to change those things so the causes can ultimately change the effects. He seeks to change all of those things IN us. And when those pieces of the puzzle begin to change, so do our circumstances. Why? Because the way we perceive them is never the same again. Though not without great challenge, I understand all of these things now.
And now that I finally understand these things, I hope that it will be a little less eerily quiet in every last nook and cranny of my life...right down to this little ole' blog. :) But before I make that promise or get to writing and publishing new posts, I just need to say this:
Thanks for sticking this out with me. I'm glad you're here.


Life Isn't Meant to be Lived All in One Place

Several years ago when I first met my friend Danielle, God began preparing my heart for the trip of a lifetime and relationships that would forever change the way I see and define love. He planted a seed in my heart that could only be watered and grown in a tiny little country called Swaziland, Africa.

I wrote about it some and desperately attempted to convey my feelings about the trip in a few published posts but really struggled to share the things I so intensely wanted to. So I kept them in the drafts folder and continued to write...but more importantly? Continued to pray. About what God wanted me to share and what He wanted to keep between Him and I along with that tiny little country I fell head over heels in love with.

Before committing to the team and trip, I scoured the Children's Hopechest website for a child to sponsor. There were several children in need of sponsorship, but no matter how much I prayed about it, I felt God saying, "just wait."

Hearing those words frustrated me beyond belief. "Just wait?" I want one now. I want to have a sponsor child to meet when I arrive! Looking back, I cannot believe how selfishly ignorant I was being. Oh, how I wish I had realized that this part of the story -- this chapter -- was not about me. Oh, I wish I had realized that it is never about me.

After travel delays, switched flights, and layovers in places I never expected to be (Amsterdam and Ghana, HOLLA!), we arrived in South Africa. I got to shower for the first time in days and eat something other than airplane food (which would make any American giddy). As I was getting out of the shower, I'd realized I hadn't even shampooed my hair because I was in such a hurry to get out. I wanted to get on the road so we could get to the guest house we'd be staying at for the remainder of the trip. I wanted to be one step closer to meeting the children I'd been praying for and about for so many months. "Just wait," He kept whispering to my spirit.

The first day was a whirlwind as our team got to know one another better, crossed the boarder to Swaziland, and got settled into the guest house where we would be staying. I spent a lot of time praying that night before sleeping like a rock and waking up to what I remember being the best day of my life thus far. Finally, our first day at the carepoint had arrived.

I vividly remembering pulling up to the carepoint and watching the children run to the fence to wave -- so full of joy and anticipation at the thought of meeting us, holding our hands, and sitting on our laps. It was so evident that these children loved without restriction. They were not choosy or stingy about whose hand they were holding or whose hair they were stroking. Though I'd never been to Swaziland before, there was something oddly familiar about the immense love, unexplainable peace, and overwhelming joy I felt being there.

That's when it hit me. Interacting with the children and watching the children interact with each other reminded me so much of the elaborate love of our Father in Heaven. Their innocence reminded me of the perfect, sinless sacrifice that Jesus was. My heart was broken, changed, mended, and filled over and over again that day and in the days to come. God was evident in each and every moment.

It was that day that I met my sweet Nontsikelelo -- a petite 10 year old with the most beautiful smile, sweetest laugh, and passion for school. She clung to my hand and side for majority of the day and shared her story with me. We talked about family, school, her dreams, and everything in between right down to discovering that we both shared a love for the color yellow. "It is so bright," she said. Oh, sweet girl, how bright you are.

The next day, we spent more time with one another and continued to enjoy each other's company and encouragement. Around dinnertime, we said our "see you tomorrow's" and went our separate ways. Just as our team was about to leave, Nontsikelelo came up behind me, tapped me on the arm, and handed me a piece of paper. "I have almost forgotten to give you your letter!" she said.

As she ran off and started down the path to go home (wherever home might be) I unfolded the piece of paper she had given me as tears began to stream down my face. Her words. Her handwriting. Her drawings. Her thoughtfulness. How worth it being obedient to "just wait," felt. How present God had been and continues to be.

In the days following, Nontsikelelo and I continued to laugh and sing and pray together. She brought some of her schoolwork to show me, I got to show her pictures of my family and friends here in America. As our time together came to a close, saying goodbye made me weep as I have never wept before. As we hugged one last time, she whispered, "I have been praying for a special friend for so long. You are my special friend and I love you!" Though the two of us are from what seems like two entirely different worlds -- and though those two "worlds" are so incredibly far apart, God's care and perfect will brought us together in a way that has forever changed and deepened the way I breathe, live, think, and pray.

It's funny, isn't it? How difficult the waiting is. How overbearing it can feel and how weary we can become when God asks us to do something while our flesh so desperately wants to do another. How much the journey matters. How one day things fall into place and the purpose of the process is revealed to us in such a marvelous way that leaves us breathless and saying, "only God," if we can manage to say anything at all.

Nontsikelelo is now my special sponsor child! I receive a stack of letters and coloring pages from her occasionally and everyday I look at her photo hanging on my bulletin board, I am reminded of God's faithfulness to and patience with us when we are, what seems, utterly impossible. On tough days when the world is so clearly baring its ugly teeth of stress and unfairness and tragedy, I am reminded of the ways that His goodness CAN be seen in this world if only we choose to fix our eyes on the eternal perspective He calls us to have.

I need to be reminded of that goodness. I need photos of this beautiful little spirit covering my walls. I need verses and quotes hung on my bathroom mirror, above my bed, and on my room door. When my heart longs to be back with the people I met in Swaziland, when it hurts to see how unfair this world can be, and when it aches to do something more...I need to be reminded.

{map art c/oHip Little Squares}

Those reminders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They come in forms of people, places, memories, and words. This vintage map by my new friend Denise and her precious Etsy shop Hip Little Squares is one of those reminders. A reminder I need

I need to be reminded that loving and living and all comes at a cost. A beautiful, beautiful cost already paid in full by a wonderful Savior who will one day, in the renewal of ALL things, beckon us home to be with Him in a much happier and pain free place. But until then, until the day we reach the gates of Heaven, life isn't meant to be lived all in one place.