Positivity & Divine Appointments

Among the many blessings that God has given me in my time at Bethel University thus far is a beautiful, beautiful friend named Julia. She is joyful and energetic and motivated. Above all, she holds me accountable. I have mentioned her in posts before and this certainly won't be the last you hear of her. She is someone who, though at times, cannot understand me...desperately wants to. She finds the greatest joy in genuinely pursuing relationships with others.

Before Thanksgiving, I received the startling/unexpected results of my MRI's, went home almost every weekend to attend multiple appointments, and got the news about my upcoming surgeries. Each and every day felt like another excruciating punch to the stomach and each and every night consisted of me worrying about things completely out of my control. I didn't beg God to change the circumstances and I didn't go to any length to change them myself -- instead? I internalized. Though I wore a smile on the outside and answered the dreaded, "how are you?" question with a entirely fabricated, "I'm fine!" I was growing weary. During this time, Julia, my roommate Maddie, my friends Carrie and Paige, and my best friend Amy all the way in Missouri made it (what seemed like) their own personal mission to make sure they kept me lively. Whether it was a hug, an encouraging note/message, or a funny story...they were there, day in and day out.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, my friend Julia came flying into my room as she always so energetically does. In her hand, she held a small black bracelet that read: "positivity." 

"For you!" she said amongst a spell of her infectious laughter, "and every time you have a negative thought, you have to snap your wrist with it!" She settled it on my arm. I laughed it off and thought I'd forget about it...oh, how wrong I was.

Throughout the weeks that followed, the bracelet served as a deep reminder of the power that positivity has in any and every situation. I have worn it every day, and, yes, I've had to snap my wrist a few times. ;) By God's grace and strength, I was able to complete my finals, pack my things for a long break home, and still enjoy the remainder of my first semester surrounded by girls who so fiercely love and support me.

Now, am I saying a bracelet magically combated all of my negative thinking? No, not at all. In fact, where I am now has a lot more to do with what God spoke to me through the gift of friendship than it has to do with a mere elastic band around my wrist. But what I am saying is this: though things have been trying -- though things on this earth will ALWAYS be trying -- I have been personally reminded of what JOY we have in our Savior no matter what the circumstance may be...no matter how the pain may feel...no matter how weary we may become.

I have been severely nauseous since my surgeries. Most days since? I haven't even gotten out of bed. I refuse to take my pain medications anymore as they make the nausea even worse. The pain and uncomfortableness at night makes the nausea worst. A simple shower leaves me in need of a two hour nap. Many days, my mom starts making a meal I requested and I have to make a crutched run to the bathroom because I can hardly stomach the smell. Each day is a battle and all I can do is keep waking up and going to war...with my own body. While it is exhausting, I understand it is also essential

Yesterday morning, my best friend Amy and her family picked me up for church. Before I even got in the car, I didn't think I would make it through. I miserably sat through the service deliberating with myself over whether I should make a crutched limp to the bathroom or whether I should just stay seated and hope that I could hold it together for the remainder of the service. I decided to stay.

It's always amazing and glorious and bit a funny to me when God shows up like that. A divine appointment, some might call it. I decided to stay, and I'm thankful I did because the message reminded me of the power of positivity, something so important, yet again. As I bowed my head to pray, my gaze fell upon that black elastic band around my wrist...and I was reminded of another powerful truth. You see, whether we find ourselves in a season of illness, joy, grief, peace, or something entirely different...HE is with us -- WITHIN us, even, and He is worthy of our praise. 

Psalm 94:19 says: "When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul." I can't think of a better reason than that to remain positive throughout this difficult season though, at times, it seems entirely impossible. He is with me and I have decided to stay -- and whether staying means battling, celebrating, enduring, or rejoicing (and at times, all of those things)...I will do so for He is within me and I will not fall.


Tales from the OR

Hello, hello! Though many of you would be able to tell from , I am alive and (somewhat) well after putting the whooping on two surgeries last week. :) Still not getting a ton of sleep, but each day/night is a bit more restful than the one before!

On Wednesday, I had to be at the hospital at 6 a.m. - my momma was with me. Things were pretty uneventful at first except for the fact that I couldn't get myself to pee for a urine sample because I'd been fasting for 10 hours! After that was finally completed, we went through questions and such and then started on pre-op procedures. This is where the fun began! I blacked out while the nurse was putting my IV in, I couldn't properly sign consent forms because of how nauseous/shaky I was, and my surgeon ended up being late. They finally brought me back to the the pre-op holding area right before the OR where they gave me medicine to settle me the heck down! I remember laughing a lot but I don't remember how long I was there for or when my mom left me. The next thing I remember is being wheeled into an OR that looked EXACTLY like my high school shop classroom. Um...yeah...let's pray I was just delusional at that point. ;)

The surgery took about an hour longer than expected. My surgeon shaved a solid inch of bone off and repaired my torn labrum in 3 tiny incisions! He also removed some scar tissue in there that was likely causing swelling. I woke up in recovery in excruciating pain. I faintly remember looking up at a nurse and desperately trying to scream but I couldn't make a sound. I was shaking horrendously and SOBBING. She asked me if I was in pain, I nodded yes, and then I went back out again. When I woke up the second time, I was still crying but my pain was much more controlled and my muscles were relaxed again. I was in recovery for almost 2 hours before getting back to my room.

There were a few minor complications when I got back, so I didn't end up getting discharged until the early evening. I spent a lot of the day sobbing and watching House Hunters while my mom stroked my arm and played with my hair. I was loopy as all get out but I remember my nurses being SO kind to me - praise God! They were encouraging and helpful and my mom said they even had me laughing sometimes. :) One of the nurses, Stacie, was exceptionally comforting and very good at distracting me from the pain I was experiencing. She knew about my surgery Friday, so she requested to get me as a patient then, too! She didn't end up getting assigned to my case but she came to check in on me multiple times while I was there and she came to give me a hug goodbye before I left...bless her for choosing to deal with me even when she didn't have to!

One of my church mentors came over Wednesday night. I remember having a long conversation about cute boots - I don't recall much else of our visit. ;) I had a post op appointment bright and early Thursday morning. Getting out of bed was a NIGHTMARE and I seriously didn't know how I was going to make it through the day. I have never, ever felt God's strength more present and active than I did that day! My physical therapist took the dressing off of my incision site and got me started on some stretching/strengthening exercises right away. She was amazed at how clean my incisions were and even let me shower that day!

My mom gave me my pain meds religiously and I ended up having a spinal procedure done that afternoon to help with my neck pain and migraines. When I got home from those appointments, three of my best friends came over to keep me company for the evening! Again, I don't remember much from their visit but I know I laughed and it felt so good to be surrounded by them. :) Plus, there's this cute picture to show for it - I love these girls!

On Friday, I had to be at the hospital at 7:15 a.m. They skipped the urine sample and just drew blood that time around which saved time and decreased my stress by half! My ankle surgeon came by to mark up my foot and explain things, I had another amazing nurse who put my IV in super smoothly, and I was whisked off to the pre-op holding area pretty quickly. We waited there for about an hour, I remember being wheeled into the OR, and then I was out for a nice little nap again. When I woke up, my entire leg was numb and apparently the first thing I said to the recovery nurse was, "You are so nice to me!" I then spent the next 15 minutes repeating it as she administered my pain meds and observed me. ;)

I dealt with the same complications following Friday's surgery as I did Wednesday's, but overcame them much more quickly and was discharged around 3. We were told that the tissue in my ankle is NOT cancerous and the surgeon was able to remove it all, so it should no longer be an issue! As the numbness wore off, the pain got progressively worse...but I slept much more than I had been because the anticipation of surgery was/is no longer. My leg is colors I did not know a leg could be and the swelling makes it very heavy, but icing and elevating seems to help! I got dressed Saturday and attended family Christmas for a few hours before landing my exhausted booty back on the couch!

My besties came over for a movie night on Saturday - I had a bowl of ice cream, then napped the whole time. ;) I slept 10 hours Saturday night and was only woken up by pain twice...huge progress...then spent the rest of my Sunday napping! Other than the throbbing, stiffness, and soreness, I've experienced a lot of nausea and a severe sore throat from the breathing tube they ended up putting in during both procedures. I sleep half the night in the recliner and half the night in my bed. The pain gets a little out of hand around midnight (making it difficult to rest), but during the day it is pretty well controlled and bearable! Still learning how to manage the crutches - no weight bearing for 6 weeks! That crap requires upper body strength like nobody's business!

I am excited to rest these next couple of days with no appointments or anything to leave the house for. :) Now that I am able to lay down and sleep without overbearing anxiety/stress about upcoming surgeries, I can already feel my body healing more quickly. I do, however, apologize for the rambling post - I just wanted to get an update down in one place for those wondering because my messaging back capabilities are at an all time low. I tried to reply to all texts, FB messages, e-mails, etc. yesterday and fell asleep in the process...sigh!

It is such a relief + joy to doze off to my worship playlist each night...feeling so thankful for my family, friends, and faith. God's provision always shines brightest for me during times of uncertainty! I am especially grateful for all the support from this community. THANK YOU for the care and concern you have extended to me throughout this journey! Prayer is powerful and comforting and absolutely beautiful in every way. Seasons change, but God's goodness does not and my prayer is that you would all enjoy the holiday season with the ones you love most. :) We must always remember how exceptionally blessed we are to be given the honor of celebrating the birth of the Son and Savior who took away every trial, inequity, and illness we could ever experience here on earth! Merry Christmas!

 "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love." -Romans 8:38

"My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever." -Psalms 73:26


Conquering Mountains

As of yesterday at approximately 11:05 a.m., my first semester as a college student at Bethel University is complete + in the books. I knocked 17 credits out of the way although the process was long, laboring, and at times quite bleak. I have so much to say and recap that I simply don't know where to begin. What I want to document most and never forget is that (as always) God has been faithful to me and has blessed me with immeasurably more than I could ever think or imagine. From studies to health to friendships to growth in my faith, so much has changed about my life...and oh how grateful I am that it has.

When I moved into my dorm this past August, I had no idea what I was in for - good, bad, ugly, (or sometimes) something in between. I didn't know what an actual mental breakdown during a stressful week felt like. I didn't know how much funnier everything seriously gets at 2 in the morning when your roommate turns an old t-shirt into a do rag and starts running rampant through the halls. I had no idea how much I'd miss my mom's cooking. I had no clue how much I'd miss my best friend leaving for school in Missouri. I couldn't have imagined becoming insanely close with so many of the girls on my floor. I didn't anticipate I'd be having hip surgery today. Heck, during midterms and finals, I wasn't even sure I'd survive.

But, I learned. I experienced. Firsthand and often brutally, I would say. There were times I thrived and there were times I fell apart but no matter what circumstances I found myself faced with, I could look to my left and to my right - in front of and behind me - and find myself surrounded by people who love and support me fiercely.

Jordyn, whom I formed a deep connection with before we even moved in. A lover and an encourager and the best hugger ever, I might add. My Maddie, my hilarious and altogether beautiful roommate who gives the best advice with the most gracious heart and can make me belly laugh no matter how my day has been. Carrie, a deep, sensitive, and understanding soul with the most amazing gift for listening and saying all the right things at all the right times. Paige, an energizer and supporter who goes out of her way to do the little things and do them well...whether it be a hello or a hug. Julia, the girl with the most beautiful smile and ability to hold people accountable. Her laugh is infectious and I desperately wish her motivation was too. ;) Amy, oh sweet Amy...who has facetimed, called, and/or texted me at ALL the hours. The selfless best friend I've been so blessed to know for all these years. My person. My people.

And that's not even all of them.

A powerful and amazing thing happens when you surround yourself with the right people - ones who support you, challenge you, and crack you up all at the same time. A 'thing' so powerful that doing so radically changes your life. Pursuing those people, being vulnerable, and learning the true value of friendship comes along with those things...and so do sweet, sweet (+often hilarious), memories.

One of my all time favorite quotes says, 
"Associate only with positive, focused people who you can learn from and who will not drain your valuable energy with uninspiring attitudes. By developing relationships with those committed to constant improvement and the pursuit of the best that life has to offer, you will have plenty of company on your path to the top of whatever mountain you seek to climb." 
And this morning, as I head into my first surgery and what already feels to be such a daunting + challenging season, I just want to document how blessed I am to have these beauties. Oh, how blessed I am to have these beauties conquering my mountains with me.


Embrace What's Difficult

Well, this week's the week. Surgery came fast, finals came even faster. Stressful things have been on the radar, but so have exciting and happy things! Back in November, I applied for a scholarship to the MedX Conference at Stanford University next fall. The conference aims to connect healthcare professionals with patients battling all sorts of chronic illnesses in order to create a better and more approachable system for all. It's no secret that my journey with chronic pain/illness has ignited a deep passion for advocacy inside of me, so I knew this conference was something I was more than interested in. Much to my surprise, my application was accepted, I got an interview, and shortly thereafter I discovered that I was selected to receive a scholarship to attend the conference next fall!

It is such an honor to have this opportunity and I know that God will bless my time there just as he blessed my time at the juvenile arthritis conference this past summer. I said it once and I'll say it again: I never know when or where God will use me to raise awareness for this disease and if I'm being completely honest, there are a plethora of days that I complain, cry, and absolutely HATE it. The calling, the purpose, the questions, the funny looks, the pain. There are days that I plead with God to just take it all away. But sometimes, for a brief moment in the midst of wonderful opportunities such as these, I realize I am glad. Thankful even, that He chose me to do this work.

Yesterday, I submitted my official biography to them and thought it might be beneficial to share here for newer readers or people who want more of a big picture approach to my diagnosis! 
At the age of 14, I was a carefree and energetic girl who had just entered into her teenage years. I worked hard in school, ran on the cross country team, and competed on the speech team. I thought I had everything figured out (until I didn't) and very quickly, my life was flipped upside down. After one of my cross country races, I suffered a heat stroke which brought on a migraine that lasted weeks. I began to lose mass amounts of weight as pain and swelling began to affect several areas of my body, more specifically my joints. I was unable to get out of bed most days and was so fatigued that doing something as simple as getting dressed resulted in the need for a half hour nap. As my parents and I sought help from the healthcare providers in our area, I was diagnosed as clinically depressed. I felt as though I was being passed off as certifiably crazy. It seemed that nobody would believe me, take me seriously, and/or get me the help I needed. 
In response to the pain and emotions I was dealing with, I decided to start my blog (Life According to Kenz) in July of 2011 with the intent of writing about my struggles with chronic pain. Multiple scans and appointments filled the next month and I was finally diagnosed with juvenile enthesitis-related arthritis, cervical disc degeneration, and chronic migraines about a year after onset. My blog quickly became a place where I very openly shared my thoughts about different treatments I was undergoing and also a place where I could begin to work through the feelings associated with being diagnosed with a life altering, chronic condition.  
Since then, my blog and I have come a long way. I have become extremely active in the online health community on Twitter and Facebook and I have also found a deep passion for advocacy. After 5 years, I received news that my arthritis is officially in remission, but contrary to popular belief, that does not mean my story is over. This past fall, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and will be undergoing two surgeries in December 2014 to fix some of the permanent damage my original diagnosis of arthritis caused.  
Every day on this journey has been a mountain to climb and a storm to weather, but I have never been more sure of my purpose or faith in this life and in something so much more magnificent following it. God has given me the ability to create a life I am more than delighted to live despite pain and that will always be my greatest joy. My sole hope is that as I connect with people in the online health community, they would feel encouraged and know that they are not alone no matter what battle, illness, or disability they may be facing. I am more than honored and beyond excited to be attending MedX as an ePatient Scholar in 2015, but more importantly, I am just so grateful for the online health community and how instrumental each and every person I've interacted with has been in getting me where I am today!
One of the young women who has greatly influenced my passion for advocacy is Samantha Petersen, a 17 year old from Connecticut. Samantha was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 11 and has used her diagnosis turned passion to form SHIFT Scoliosis, an organization she created to provide screenings and support for all people with spinal conditions. Samantha has been selected by Medtronic as a 2014 Bakken Invitation Honoree. Her motto is: "Embrace what's difficult," and I could not be more excited for all that she is going to do within the health community as she continues her advocacy! People like Samantha encourage me to do more and give more in every aspect of my life + health journey.

Who/what inspires you to do more and give more? Share it with me in the comments and be entered to win a $100 Visa gift card to donate to your charity organization of choice, courtesy of Medtronic!

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Full disclosure: this article is financially supported byMedtronic. All thoughts are my own.


Next Stop: Jamaica

About a month ago, I found out that I got placed on a spring break missions trip team here at Bethel. Originally I hadn't planned on applying at all, but I woke up one morning and really felt the nudge to do so. I initially applied for the Belize team and was pretty certain I had it all figured out...but, as always, God showed me a way that was so much better and more beautiful than I could have ever conjured up on my own.

I woke up at home one Monday morning in November...groggy and crabby and afraid. I was missing class and meeting with one of the orthopedic surgeons doing my upcoming surgery. I was feeling discouraged, but when I clicked into my Gmail app and read these words, I was reminded why the journey is always worth it:
We have completed the interview and selection process for Spring Break Missions 2015. Team Leaders met yesterday and formed what we believe to be incredibly strong teams for ministry over Spring Break. We are happy to announce that you have been placed onto the Spring Break Missions team to Jamaica!
Though I hadn't been expecting to be placed on the Jamaica team, I did not react with any less excitement than I would have had I been placed on any other team. I was filled with a lot of peace and excitement, yet I recognized I was also feeling a bit beside myself.

"I don't know if I want to do it again," I thought, remembering the feelings of brokenness and heartache I felt when I returned from my first missions trip to Swaziland, Africa this past August.

My mind flashed back to a night in Swaziland. Our team had just returned from a long day at the carepoint and I was exhausted. My ankles were swollen, my spine was in a massive amount of pain, and while my spirit was so full, I was struggling. I sat down on the edge of my bed, looked at my dirt stained feet, and began to cry. Oh, how useless and broken I felt. There I was, in the midst of all this poverty and struggle, and there was nothing - absolutely nothing - tangible I could do to change it. I began to pray, and as I was there dwelling in those feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness, God said to me: "Kenzie, I did not call you here to fix the world problems...I called you here to LOVE."

To LOVE. He said it loudly, clearly, and so very certainly...and that is why, despite any fear or anxiety of feeling so fully broken again, I will listen to that call from the God who knows me and what is best for me so much better than I ever will on my own. Whether doing so leads me to Swaziland or Jamaica or my own backyard, I will remember those words I heard so conspicuously and I will follow the call to love in whatever capacity I can in whatever season I am in. And if I happen to find myself blessed with a season that has me feeling so fully and sweetly broken again, I will embrace it and allow God to work through it + grow my faith JUST as He did upon my return 'home' from Swaziland.

I so often forget that having our hearts broken for the things that break His is precisely what draws us closer to Him. I may not be able to change the living situations of my friends in Swaziland, I may not have answers for all the world's suffering, and I may not have the resources to make a tangible difference 100% of the time, but I have faith in a God whose definition of love wildly and recklessly exceeds all of those things...and that love is all we need to change the world.

"I am blown away that God, who could do this all by Himself, would choose to let me be a little part of it. I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.” -Katie Davis


Currently (December '14)

thankful for -- my roommate, the girls on my floor, my best friend Amy, my mom, and my sisters for dealing with the emotional wreck that I've been lately + my nanny family and little brother for putting a smile on my face daily. I've always said that one can only be as tough as their support system is, and well, mine is pretty freakin' great.

watching -- Elf about once a week and, of course, Gilmore Girls. Every episode, courtesy of Netflix. Usually one a night, but sometimes it's more like two ten to avoid the final papers I have to write...I know, I'm a cotton headed ninny muggins!

listening to -- Christmas music, Christmas music, ALL THE CHRISTMAS MUSIC. Also? Any/every worship song by Bethel Live. And, if I'm in desperate need of motivation, the High School Musical Pandora station does the trick.

writing -- in my journal. A lot. About fears and questions and doubt, but always coming back to faith and hope and the promise of Heaven...which is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

stressing over -- finals + surgeries. I take my last final on the 16th, I have my first surgery on the 17th and my second on the 19th. When I first got the scheduling confirmation, it felt like forever away...but now? I ONLY HAVE A WEEK LEFT.

working on -- final papers. OY! And blog posts! Over Thanksgiving I sat down and did a lot of work on this little ole' blog of mine. This year, I really struggled with consistently writing/publishing stuff here and I have missed it so much. The goal is to write here at least 3 times a week for the rest of the year. :)

praying about -- finals, surgery recovery, next semester, the spring break missions trip to JAMAICA I'm going on, and finding peace in every circumstance...it's so comforting to know that He hears + cares about it all.

What are your currently's?


It Is Well

About three weeks ago, I got a phone call from a new rheumatologist I'd seen. The phone call consisted of so.many.feelings. but initially started with some fantastic news: my autoimmune arthritis is in REMISSION! (!!!!!!!) For those who have followed my blog for any extended length of time, you know this huge, huge news!

About 9 months ago, I wrote a post titled Look Out Autoimmune Arthritis which depicted some of the things racing through my mind as I started a new self-injectable medication called Enbrel in hopes of finally reaching remission. That post was (and is) arguably the most pivotal point in my journey to remission because it's the day that I decided I COULD do it with the help of an awesome Savior. It's the day that I recognized I was already doing it.

In the same phone call, however, (and what felt like the same breath to me) my rheumatologist informed me that the MRI we'd done a week prior revealed some not-so-celebratory findings. While all my inflammation levels seemed to be at a normal level, there was an area of abnormal soft tissue growth in my right ankle. Images of my right hip joint also revealed a torn labrum and an angry socket causing the severity of pain/swelling I've been experiencing the past two months.

I left school for three days, saw the specialists I needed to, sat through more scans, and discovered that the abnormal soft tissue growth in my ankle was also present in my hip. Because the masses of tissue are tucked in the back corner of my joints, they must be surgically removed and biopsied to get a better idea of what exactly the masses are and why they are present. The labrum in my hip needs to be surgically repaired, my growth plates need to be readjusted, and the bone that fits into my hip socket has to be shaved down to stop inflammation and the pinching of the muscle. I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia, another chronic condition that causes widespread muscle pain in the nerve endings throughout the body.

Over Thanksgiving break, I got cortisone injections into both of the joints affected to confirm that the pain was coming directly from the joints and alleviate some of the pain/swelling I've been dealing with. (i.e. not being able to wear socks or jeans) The procedures were uncomfortable, scary, and the side effects following them left me feeling pretty crap-tastic for the remainder of my time off. And you know, if I'm being brutally honest, that pissed me off.

I could not even begin to count how many times I've laid awake at night wrestling with anger and confusion and anxiety over the pain I've felt the past five years. I don't understand why or how chronic illness is real. Oh, how real it is. I don't know why God chose others. I don't know why God chose me. Some days, I'm really just in awe that I'm still here.

As I was talking to my roommate about all of this the other night, I remembered back to a time when I was 10. My family had just lost our home in a house fire and as I was laying in a bunk bed in my aunt and uncle's basement. I distinctly remember thinking, "Well, at least that's out of the way!" as if God only handed out one trial per person/per life or something. I know it sounds foolish, but I've gone through so much of my life with that mentality. Every time I've encountered a life altering obstacle since that night, "SURELY this is it!" has crossed my mind more times than I'd like to admit. Over and over and yet over again. After sharing this with my roommate, she said to me: 
"Well you have seen it for yourself, Kenz. There are people who just keep going through stuff. You have to take time to process it because it's a big deal. Until we are in Heaven, stuff on this Earth WILL keep happening...and if it's not happening to us, it will be happening to others. That's why we are so blessed that we believe in a God who is more than all the pain and suffering in this world combined..."
She said a lot more after that. Important words - wise, wise words...but I was so stuck on and blown away by what she had just said that I had to press the pause button and just sit in the presence of that truth for a moment...
"That's why we are so blessed that we believe in a God who is more than all the pain and suffering in this world combined."
And that's precisely it...that's the point I've been missing for so long. You see, it will not just be well when I am perfectly healthy and it will not just be well when I've endured my share of struggles here on earth. It will be well LONG before either of those things ever even BEGIN to happen because God is infinitely more powerful than it all.

Once I sat with that truth and just kind of let those words slap me in the face a bit, I literally FELT the animosity and resentment I've had towards my failing health for the past five years begin to fall away. And even though I'm facing some daunting things right now, I feel ready to endure them. Not because I am unafraid, have a handle on the pain/exhaustion that comes along with chronic pain, or even because I'm going to have a solid 3 weeks on bed rest to binge watch my favorite TV shows...but because {in the perfect world} whether I would've chosen this part of the journey or not, it's here and it's happening according to God's plan no matter how I decide to embrace it.

The truth is this: God didn't leave Rahab in her sin and He didn't leave Jeremiah in his depression. He didn't leave Sarah in her impatience and He didn't leave Noah in his drunkenness. He didn't leave Abraham in his faithlessness and He didn't leave Jesus on the cross. He's not about to leave us, either.

God has proven time and time again that He is there in the midst of it all...and so? Through it all, no matter what that looks like or just how terrifying that might be...it is WELL with me.


Yellow Scarves & Adorable Bags

WHAT I'M WEARING :: Top // Old Navy :: Chambray // Target :: Scarf // c/o The Breezy Room :: Jeggings // Old Navy :: Bracelets // Target :: Bag // Timbali Crafts :: Boots// Maurices

My fashion must have for absolutely every season has always been and always will be pretty scarves. Recently, my friend Kala opened up a boutique called The Breezy Room where she sells the softest, prettiest, and most unique scarves...scarves that I obviously MUST add to my growing collection of 40+. (I know...it's a problem!)

When I laid eyes on this yellow beauty, I knew I had to have it. Yellow is my favorite color and it's super versatile for brightening up drab outfits. Plus, it's perfect for so many seasons! It's soft and warm, but it's still relatively lightweight. I wear it at least twice a week and I'm not even sorry 'bout it. The next two I'm eyeing up for my collection? A little burgundy chevron and two tone gray action. Getcha some!

Can we also discuss this adorable bag? When I was in Swaziland this summer, I had the opportunity to meet the beautiful woman behind Timbali Crafts. I especially adore their headbands and bags...but what I adore even more than that is the story behind the company - I know you'll love it too, so here's a little blurb about their mission:
The women who create Timbali Crafts are all volunteer cooks at community based feeding centers, called carepoints, throughout Swaziland, Africa. In this tiny nation with the highest HIV/AIDS rate and lowest life expectancy in the world, the needs are immense. In spite of their own hardships, the Timbali women help to feed more than 2500 children each day. They are incredible! 
Timbali started in 2006 to reach out to the physical and spiritual needs of these hard-working women. At the request of a local pastor, we started a Bible study with some of the women to encourage them in their volunteer work. It quickly became evident that something more needed to be done so that these ladies, who were serving their communities in such a vital way, could also provide for their own families. 
So we started praying...and we made some really ugly greeting cards (blessings to any of you that bought those!). We didn’t have any start-up money, but a friend heard what we were trying to do and gave us $150 to buy our first little batch of fabric. Eventually we started making handbags (which also had some issues at first!) that have evolved into the beautiful products we produce today. What we first thought would just provide a little income here and there for a few women, has become a major source of income and outreach to 100+ Swazi families!
I figured it would be the best time to brag on these two friends of mine as we just celebrated small business Saturday this past weekend and are rapidly approaching the holiday season. And to top it all off? Kala wants to giveaway one of her scarves + offer a discount code to you guys! KENZ15 will get you 15% off your purchase!

Good luck, ya filthy animals! :)

Linking up with The Pleated PoppyBecause Shanna Said SoGet Your Pretty On,  Tucker Up, & Fashionably Employed!


She's My Person

At this time a week ago...I was packing to head home for Thanksgiving break and anxiously awaiting the moment my best friend Amy and I would be reunited for the first time since August! Just as much as Bethel was the school for me, Evangel was the school for her...And so, I moved to St.Paul, Minnesota while she headed down to Springfield, Missouri. For growing up 3 minutes from one another (Amy timed it), attending the same high school, and being virtually inseparable for the entirety of our junior high/high school years, we both really struggled with the distance aspect of our futures even though it meant so many exciting new things for each of us.

The most beautiful thing I've gotten to witness in my friendship with Amy is how selfless she is in giving to the people and things that she loves. She is truly a lover, an encourager, and a supporter no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you're facing. Her love for Christ and His command to LOVE is so vividly and tangibly portrayed in the way she lives her life. She truly has the heart of a servant.

Around 6pm Monday night, we were officially reunited for dinner, coffee with two of our other great friends, and a sleepover. I'm pretty sure sleep didn't even cross our minds until two in the morning because we were so busy catching up on all that God has been doing in our lives over the last three months. While I am so thankful for FaceTime, texting, long phone calls, and social media...NOTHING...absolutely NOTHING...will ever compare to face to face conversation and hugs from my person.

There is so much to be grateful for and so much that we've been blessed with, but I am convinced that nothing will ever amount to the value of the relationships we form. Our people, our mentors, our soul sisters, our brothers from another mother (does anyone say that anymore?)...THOSE people are precisely the people we should be thanking God for each and every day of our lives, no matter what we are facing or what currently has our attention.

I've been carrying some heavy news around for a few weeks now and there just could not have been a better time for Amy to be home to help me sort through some of the things I've been feeling. When we sat down on her bed Monday night, the first thing she said to me was, "So, how are you REALLY feeling about everything going on?" And before answering, I just sort of laughed and thanked God. Because she's my person...the Christina to my Meredith, some might say. And I simply could not do life without her.


A Pretty Good Place to Start

Ever since the day I returned from my time in Swaziland, Africa, my heart seemed to be missing a piece that (to this very day) I have not been able to locate. Ever since resuming my life here, I've felt a bit disadvantaged...as if though losing that piece of my heart was a bad thing. As if, for lack of a better word, my time spent there had wrecked me.

And then I went to college where I knew no one and no one knew me. I struggled through surface conversations and small talk while my soul desperately begged for a deep connection again. My best friend was suddenly +10 hours away. The boy I was crazy about went to another school. I spent my first few weeks counting down the time until I could go home again, thinking about sweet summer memories, and trying to preserve every last high school friendship I'd ever had...and it drained me completely.

For awhile, I tossed around the idea of applying to a spring break missions trip to Belize with a team at Bethel. "No," I thought, "I still haven't gotten that piece of my heart back from Swaziland. I can't give away another piece."

When I first started forming new friendships with people here at Bethel, my thought process was quite similar. "No," I thought, "I still haven't gotten the pieces of my heart back from the people who meant the world to me throughout my high school career. I can't give away another piece."

You see, I'm not a letter-goer. Never have been, never will be. I'm a hoarder of feelings and memories and I don't think I'm alone in being that way. So many of us crave new beginnings, the chance to be adventurous, and spontanetiy in its rawest form but struggle to fully enjoy those things or be intimately present in those moments because we are too concerned with clinging onto the past. Don't get me wrong. Remembering and reflecting are good and excellent things...but when those things get in the way of reality and renewal, we stop growing and our lives become plaqued with redundancy rather than opportunity.

One day not too long ago, I rolled out of bed and made some hefty executive decisions. I decided to apply to that missions trip. I decided to let new people in, I decided to let go of the friendships that were no longer valuable to me...and I realized something quite profound in the process. I realized that the beauty of giving little pieces of our hearts away to the things we are crazy about lies in the contingency that we will never the same again and neither will others. I realized that the beauty of never truly getting those little pieces back lies in the lasting impact and influence we leave by living our lives, sharing our struggles, and owning our stories.

I got accepted to that missions trip. I've formed some incredible connections and relationships with people I've known for just over two months. I've grown closer in the few high school relationships I chose to sustain and make a priority. I'm in the midst of praying about a return trip to the carepoint in Swaziland that sealed the deal on my heart for international missions work...and I am happy.

Am I exactly where I want to be? No. I still have to be intentional about being intentional in controlling my thoughts, giving what I cannot control over to God, and very simply being present in the moment. Is it easy? No. It's not. But, since doing the easy thing is almost never the right thing...I'll continue to deliberately make those executive decisions and trust that in doing so, the right opportunities - whether they be missions trips, relationships, or something in between - will present themselves.

I don't know exactly what I want out of life...where I want to be or what I want to do...but I do know that wherever I am, I want to love people with a wild, conspicuous, enormous kinda love that just doesn't make sense...and that seems like a pretty good place to start if you ask me.


I Just Do It

I'd been in a fever/nausea induced state for most of the day and I looked like hell. I hadn't slept more than an hour the night before. I was wearing leggings for the fourth day in a row and just by glancing in the general area that my lower leg attaches to my ankle, you could visibly tell I hadn't shaved my legs in days. I hadn't washed my hair that morning and I was wearing makeup from the day before. I'd missed my morning class and was just leaving my biology lab early.

And though I looked like hell, one of my friends stopped me in the hallway to ask how I was doing (and associate with me in my less than desirable state). As we stood there discussing our days, she said to me, "Kenzie, I just don't get how you do it. How do you do it?"

"How do I perfect the hobo look?" I said jokingly...surely that's what she meant.

She chuckled, "No, I mean THAT. How do you do THAT? That humor, that smile, that strut like you're on a mission thing even when you're in pain? I want to know how you do that."

I was dumbfounded. At a loss for words. Speechless, really. I had no idea what she meant. How do I do what? I felt like a walking zombie falling apart at the seams. All day, I had been desperately pleading with God just to help me make it through the day in one piece...and preferably without any mental breakdowns.

"I just do it." I said.

"Well, I'm glad you do." She replied with a smile.

We casually said our goodbyes after that. She jetted off to class. I conquered two flights of stairs and limped back to my dorm where I conquered several more flights of stairs before snuggling up in bed with a couple of ice packs and some ibuprofen. I intended on watching an episode of Gilmore Girls to reward myself for getting out of bed that morning, but instead I started thinking about the conversation I'd just had.

Though I wish I had a better, more elaborate, or wildly descriptive answer to give, "I just do it," is the only one that can really sum up what it's like to live with a chronic illness. 

You see, I hadn't slept for more than an hour the night before because I was running a low grade fever as my poor little immune system attacked itself in true autoimmune fashion. I was wearing leggings for the fourth day in a row because every time I've worn jeans in the past two weeks has resulted in severe hip swelling and pain that just isn't worth looking cute for. I hadn't shaved my legs in days because it's been impossible to bend over with the morning stiffness that meets me each time I crawl out of bed. I hadn't washed my hair because doing so would not only force me to blow dry and straighten it, (two things that would force me to lift my arms up over my head for an extended period of time) but also because every time I've washed my hair lately, I've lost excessive amounts of it as a side effect of a medication I'm on. I was wearing my makeup from the day prior because it generally takes me about 15 minutes to apply a fresh coat...and that morning in particular, I'd chosen 15 minutes of potential sleep after spending the night wide awake and unable to. I'd missed my morning class because I physically could not get down from my lofted bed at 8am and I was leaving my biology lab early because the fermeldihyde from our pig dissections was triggering a migraine.

"I just do it" encompasses every last thing I just did my best to explain in that last paragraph. In fact, it encompasses even more. It would be easy to stay in bed, skip my treatments/medications, and ultimately give up. "I just do it" doesn't mean I'm Superwoman or even that I'm trying to be Superwoman...it just means that I've chosen to show up and accept the invitation I've been so graciously given to live. I guess the best way to describe it is that I've simply realized if I'm not living my life, no one will.

There are so many things in life we don't get to decide for ourselves...and at times, that seems awfully unfair. I can tell you right now, my "ideal" life would not incorporate disease, illness, or any sort of pain. If there was a way to rid of it, I certainly would. But since eradicating that pain isn't in my power, I like to try to find the beauty in it. My pain has given me a profound sense of vulnerability. This disease has allowed me to connect with individuals I might've never "met" otherwise. The word determination has taken on a whole new meaning since my diagnosis. What's beautiful about the seemingly unfair moments is that they're also the moments I get to search for purpose in. I want people to know that they can "just do it," too. I want people to know that they're not the only ones.

And if I can do those two things alone...well, I'm glad I do it too.


World Arthritis Day 2014

Today is a day I can't say I ever thought I would be acknowledging - much less celebrating. Just over 5 years ago, however, World Arthritis Day took on a whole new meaning for me.

I was diagnosed with juvenile enthesitis related arthritis just before my freshman year in high school. Essentially, my immune system attacks itself for unknown reasons which causes swelling, pain, redness, and high inflammation levels within my body. Though I see an amazing team of specialists, treatment is available, and there are a plethora of medications to help control symptoms, this is a chronic condition that I and 300,000 other children/teens will likely live with for the rest of our lives.

Now, I'm sure many people would love to discuss the facts. I could sit here and list statistics, direct you to the Mayo Clinic's description of this disease, show you some photos of swollen joints, and call it a day. However, what I'm here to do today + every other day for the rest of my life is to discuss the hard stuff. I want to share the emotional parts of this disease. I want people to get an authentic glimpse into the life of a patient suffering from chronic illness, not just a glimpse at the numbers. In order to do just that, I filmed a short video sharing some of the 'highlights' from my journey including lessons I've learned and ways that have helped me cope with the physical and emotional tolls that come along with being diagnosed with a chronic condition.

Ironically, as I was writing this post last night... One of my best friends, Mady, e-mailed me a paper she wrote for her college writing class. I am honored to know + love her and the words she wrote about my journey mean the absolute world to me. Though she doesn't have arthritis, she has been able to serve as one of the biggest supporters in my life because she has read many of the posts I've shared here. She has been able to grasp a better understanding of what this disease entails and in turn, she is using her voice to share that understanding.
My best friend Kenzie suffers from juvenile arthritis. In order to cope with this, she uses her skill of writing and her love of helping others. Creating hope, that’s what she does. This past summer she went to Swaziland, Africa on a missions trip. She assisted and played with children at a carepoint there. Before she was able to go, she had to attend many doctor appointments where several doctor's told her it probably wouldn’t work. Despite that, she heard God's call that she belongs in Africa helping others. When she got permission to go on the trip, she was the happiest girl on earth. Kenzie has been through a lot, and yet she puts others first. After she got home from her trip, I remember making plans to get together and hear all about it.  The stories are one-of-a-kind. Even though her feet are here in Minnesota, she says that her heart is thousands of miles away with the children she fell in love with there.  Whether it's waking up scared about trying a new medication or waking up in Africa, Kenzie will fight her life-altering illness one step at a time. She will continue to strive for her passions and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for her.  I am so proud to call her my best friend. 
This past summer, I was named a Cure Arthritis Ambassador for the Arthritis National Research Foundation. Throughout my time working with + getting to know the team behind such an amazing organization, I have been more motivated than ever to get involved in every way possible to raise awareness for this disease...while hoping, praying, and working hard to find a CURE.

I am absolutely convinced that this debilitating disease cannot stop even one of us if we continue to raise awareness + find support, solace, and strength in one another.

Today, join me in wearing BLUE in honor of World Arthritis Day and arthritis warriors all over the world!


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!