This Is Real Life.

Real life is found in the battle. Or at least that’s what I’m learning these days. Real life isn’t the edited version of what we read in books or the movies we see in the theaters – real life is raw, broken, vulnerable, painful, but it’s also, often times, filled to the brim with joy and laughter. Real life is quiet moments of solitude mixed with loud moments of excitement. And real life is just as much the tears that you shed or the quiet prayers you whisper when you’re alone.

Early last week I was formally diagnosed with Chronic Intracranial Hypertension. The cause is unclear and it’s an unexpected diagnosis. 1 in every 100,000 people suffer from this condition and 90% of those individuals are middle aged, overweight women who also suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, and the list could go on and on. Those of you who know me know that I don’t fit the textbook for this one. It’s unclear what the cause of my sickness is and they are still running additional tests and making sure nothing was missed.

After 12 days in the hospital, I was sent home with a new medicine to try, extremely awful headaches, and equally awful nausea to match. The dizziness, nausea, and pain left me laying in the middle of the floor in fetal position at times. However, within 3 days the medicine has finally started working its way through my system and…so far, so good. My headaches aren’t GONE, by any means, but they are lessened. There is still work to do with dosages, treatments, and tests, but right now in this moment, I’m in the best spot (with headaches) that I’ve been since early December of 2017.

However, the battle is still raging. I believe that’s true for every single individual – it just comes in a different form for each of us. But this past Sunday, we closed our church service with a song called “No Longer Slaves” and I found myself with my arm around my boyfriend, tears streaming down my face. Not the cute, one or two little dainty tears type – the sobbing, messy mascara, runny nose, ugly crying type.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8TkUMJtK5k

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears are drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I will stand and sing
I am a child of God.

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God.”

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I was crying. Part of me was just so thankful to Jesus that we finally found an answer to my headaches – once you have a diagnosis, you can begin a course of action to treat whatever the issue is and that, in and of itself, is a HUGE step forward. But also, part of me was angry and scared. I was angry because I’ve already had to fight for my life once and it was a battle that robbed me of years of my life, robbed my parents of financial comfort, and broke the hearts of people that I love who had to standby and witness the entire thing. Angry because I had to give up going to Belize and Haiti to do missions work this summer – something I am passionate about and places where I felt the Lord had called me. I’m scared because I don’t know what’s to come – this is a chronic condition, meaning that it won’t ever go away. When a doctor mentioned brain surgery as a potential option (after exhausting all others, of course) all the blood drained from my face. Brain surgery, ya’ll. All of the sudden I’m living in fear of turning 26 and being kicked off my parents insurance, fear of the new year coming because it means starting over towards reaching our insurance deductible, etc. My new “normal” has become IV’s, blood draws, scans, and multiple doctors appointments in a week – and that should never be normal for anyone, much less a 24 year old.

When fear sets in suddenly I’m nothing but a burden to my boyfriend, I’m a bad friend to the ones I love, a bad dog-momma to my Rachi, and a needy, money sucking daughter to my parents. I don’t want to be THAT girl…that girl that always seems to have some crisis going on in her life. Those thoughts are signs that I’ve become a slave to fear.

But I think that facing the new reality of life with a chronic condition SHOULD be scary to anyone – and fear of the unknowns is also perfectly normal. Feeling fear is a lot different than letting fear control who we are and what we do. And it’s crucial that we can identify the difference and know when fear is taking on too strong a role in our lives. Inevitably, we will all experience seasons in our lives that feel so out of out control, but those moments that we’re drowning – they’re supposed to be brief.

In my current season of “real life” I’m learning that we can make our own plans and have our own dreams, but ultimately, the way of the Lord is the way we need to go. We can dig in our heels and plant our feet. We don’t have to like whatever we’re going through, but if we allow the Lord to be seen and felt throughout all of it, then there is no doubt that it will grow us. One of the primary lessons that I’ve taken to heart during this season is that God won’t always show up in the ways we think that we need Him too. God may not “fix” whatever we’re suffering through at any given time, but I believe we can rest assured knowing that He is suffering through it with us. When we think He is silent or that He doesn’t see or hear our cries of pain, we must remember that He doesn’t owe us an explanation for why we experience the things we do. But regardless of any reasons, He can take the worst, ugliest, most painful things in this world and transform them into the most wonderful. He can make all things new again. Even people.

I kind of feel like my body has abandoned me right now. I know I’ll get over it, it’s only temporary. I’m trying really, REALLY hard to be kind to myself these days – to remind myself that I did nothing to deserve this. This isn’t a punishment for some sin I committed 5 years ago or anything like that. I’m telling myself to quit looking for reasons that this has happened and start looking forward…to solutions, to new ways of living, to all the blessings hidden in plain sight.

I don’t know what my future holds, and at this point, I know better than to make any concrete plans of my own. The Lord works in mysterious ways, my friends, and although I didn’t ask for this and I definitely did NOT want it to happen to me, I’m deciding to make the conscious CHOICE each and every day to seek the Lord and His provisions for my life. He has my best interest at heart. He designed this body that I find myself being so angry with. And He makes no mistakes, so, like I said – I’ll get over my annoyance with this vessel He blessed me with and I’ll move forward with determination to do whatever it takes to take good care of it. After all, this is my temporary home away from home (heaven).

I am nothing without You.

I will take You at Your unfailing Word.

More than all I want, I will seek You first.

I will bless Your name when the night is long.

God, You have my SURRENDER.

I’ll cast my cares on You.”

-Lauren Daigle

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1mTYIKx4wc

So, battle on, my warrior friends. Real Life is worth it.

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For his anger lasts only for a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

-Psalm 30:5 (NIV)

So we do not lose heart. Thought our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

-2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I believe that the attacks on your life have much more to do with who you might be in the future than who you have been in the past.”
Lisa Bevere

We fall apart when we look at our fears and inadequacies and compare ourselves to every other runner. But fix your eyes on a God like Jesus, and you will not quit. You will not shrink back. Not from others, and not from yourself. Risk something. Step out and fail. Be the fool. Build a life that needs our God.”
Jennie Allen

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Shout out to my rock star Momma who came and spent 2 weeks in Michigan in order to help take care of me and my sweet little Rachi-Roo. You’re the greatest, Mom and I am so, SO, SOOO blessed by you ❤ I love both my parents so stinking much – what a lucky girl I am!!!!
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Strapped Down.

Hands down probably one of the most fear-inducing moments of my life happened yesterday. And if, in 20 years, it’s still the most fear inducing experience I’ve had, I will consider myself blessed. The end result was…not bad, just unexpected, but in the moment I was absolutely sure I was about to drop dead.

Those who know me, know that I don’t get freaked out easily – needles don’t scare me, doctors appointments don’t scare me, medical test, although sometimes anxiety inducing, don’t scare me. So, here I am with thick black velcro straps wrapped around my body, my entire backside exposed (yes, butt included…my deepest apologies if you’re a visual thinker), laying on my left side, teetering on the edge of a table that is probably about 5 feet off the ground, nurses and doctors all suited up with x-ray coverings and those fancy stylish blue hospital hair nets. The doctor pricked me in the back and my eyes water – but all the while, from the prep room to the procedure room – my blood pressure stayed the same. Hypotension. I run low – despite hypertension being a prominent health feature in both my parents and their relatives.

The entire point of doing a lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) wasn’t to prove that my spinal cord fluid pressure was low – it was to see HOW low it is and what types of treatment would yield the most beneficial results. So, after being numbed and being strictly warned, “DO NOT MOVE A SINGLE MUSCLE!” (which I already knew – thanks webmd for warning me of possibilities of permanent paralysis and all the other lovely things that can go wrong with a lumbar puncture), the doctor stuck his long needle into my spine. I could feel it, but thankfully it didn’t hurt. But man, it was as if he was digging for gold back there.

God bless this doctor because his first words came out in a thick middle eastern accent, “Opening pressure reading of…Wow! Oh my God, oh my God! Are you seeing this?! I have never seen this before. Oh my God, it just keeps going up! This is paradoxical!!!” He was all giddy and excited and bewildered along with the 2 nurses and x-ray tech that were also in the room. Befuddled grunts of confusion and awe were had by all. All but ME! I couldn’t see what they were all looking at – I could only see the x-ray tech’s face and he was shaking his head back and forth and muttered, “oh man. Man, oh man.”

If you’re wondering my I started that last paragraph with “God bless” it was because I was being sarcastic. I could have slapped the man. Except I really couldn’t because I was strapped to a surgical table with a needle the size of California stuck into my spine. Afterward, once the needle had been removed and the closing pressure had been noted, they all explained to me what the commotion was about…

The head doctor and his entire team that I see here on the Headache Treatment Unit were all practically convinced that I was suffering from low cerebrial spinal fluid (CSF) pressure based on the nature of my headaches and the fact that I have hypotension. However, my CSF opening reading began to rise…and then kept rising all the way to 27 (when normal is 10-18). So, not only was it the complete opposite of what the doctors and nurses were expecting to happen, it’s also exceedingly unusual for someone of my height, stature, weight, and someone who has hypotension to have a high CSF pressure.

Still. I don’t appreciate his exclamations of amusement and wonder as I was curled up in fetal position with a needle stuck halfway through my mid section. I was going to include a picture of a lumbar puncture needle, but then I Googled it and almost barfed up my breakfast, so I’ll spare you the gruesome details. But if you have a stomach of steel, Google image that for yourself and you can commiserate with me.

I don’t want to be THAT person, because I HATE being sick and not feeling my best…but oh how weary my soul was getting with not having any answers or even a starting place to leap from in tackling these headaches. It’s been almost 5 months now of daily pain and, although some days aren’t as bad as other, the constant fear, dread, and monotony of the pain was making my “grin and bear it” stamina almost non existent.

Although we don’t yet know the cause (and we may never know), and we don’t know an exact diagnosis (waiting for CSF test results to come back) at least we have a source for the head pain. We have a source and a starting place. As they say in the criminal justice world, “We have a lead.” And I am ever so grateful to God for this breakthrough – this discovery which has reignited my hope in terms of a full recovery and relief from chronic pain. I practically had myself convinced that I was simply going crazy and losing my mind because every other test that I’ve had done came back clear and with good results. But here we have something – something to cling onto, somewhere to start from – it’s not a solution, but it’s a starting place. And this morning, after having some of my CSF removed for testing late yesterday, I am feeling little glimmers of both hope for the future and relief from the pain. I know the relief won’t be permanent (darn our bodies for replacing whatever we take from them on their own accord), but it’s a start – it’s a reminder of what it feels like to not have the pain – even if only for a few hours!

I thought I was crazy. I thought I was losing my mind. But the Lord was simply holding out His hand and asking, “Do you trust me? Do you trust me to carry you through this semester of school? Do you trust me to provide the strength for you? Do you trust me to carry you when you can’t keep going on? Do you trust me to provide the answers in MY time, not yours?”

And friends, my answer wasn’t always a hearty “Yes, Lord!” and sometimes, I’m sorry to admit it wasn’t even a begrudging, “Yes, Lord!” occasionally my answer was straight up, “NO!” But that’s what’s so special about our Father – even when we turn our backs, even when we lose hope, even when we walk away and have to learn the hard way that our own strength isn’t enough, He always, always, ALWAYS welcomes us back with open arms. I envision Him crouched down on one knee as I ungracefully sprint my way towards Him and leap into His arms. He will catch us whenever we fall. He will welcome us back with open arms whenever we turn our eyes away from Him.

I don’t have all the answers – and I know I never will. But God provided the strength to get through the semester, He revealed to me who my Tribe is, He walked me through the darkness, and even though I still have no clue what’s ahead, I will be sure to continue to praise Him in this storm. Because, friends – God’s not finished with me yet and He isn’t finished with you either!

To God be the glory – in the good and especially in the bad!

The mind feasts on what it focuses on. What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”
Lysa TerKeurst

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I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.”

Psalm 16: 7-9

 

Ya’ll….ya girl is creative, so of course you know I’m gonna wreck havoc being cooped up in a hospital room…

God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!

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An Unconventional Semester Recap.

I’m writing my semester update from a hospital bed, which is not something I ever envisioned typing out or dealing with. I’ve had a few Emergency Room visits here and there – only ever for stitches or something small. The only other time I’ve ever been hospitalized was when I was admitted inpatient to Eating Recovery Center in Denver Colorado.

When you’re in the hospital the days feel long and the nights feel short. I’m honestly just longing for a few uninterrupted hours of sleep, but it feels like as soon as I fall asleep it’s time for IV medicine, oral medicine, some sort of test, or some type of group meeting. I feel like a human pin cushion (just to spare you of the gruesome details, I’ve been here 48 hours now and I’m on my 3rd IV line, and they’ve had to draw blood twice.) This is unlike my inpatient stay at ERC 4 years ago in the sense that everyone who is here genuinely wants to be here (i.e: there are no compliance issues), but it’s far more isolating in that I order and eat meals alone, I see a team of doctors alone, and I spend most of the day either being pricked or trying to sleep (mostly unsuccessfully at this point). Being on the Head Pain Unit has been weird for me because I’m half the age of everyone else here who I’ve met. I feel like a fish out of water and I am longing to spend my first days of summer walking my sweet pup or practicing violin – oh how I miss my best friend and my favorite instrument.

Let me be honest friends – I am filled with all sorts of fears and anxieties surrounding this hospital admission. I don’t know how long I’ll be here and I don’t know if they’ll even be able to find a solution to this head pain – or even ways to manage it. I’m terrified of spending my life stuck in this cycle of head pain, sleep, low energy, and failing to live life to the fullest.

What’s wrong with me?

Why can’t anyone find the answer?

Am I imagining all of this?

Why is my body abandoning me?

Is this my fault?

What if I’m stuck like this forever?

Some people are highly sensitive to physical pain. I am not one of those people. You can pinch me, kick me, throw a book at me every now and then and I’ll probably just throw one right back at you instead of crumpling to the floor in tears. Crying is not my style. I don’t even cringe when they draw blood or insert IV’s anymore. But the pain of the unknowns is what’s slowly breaking me down right now. The emotional pain that accompanies chronic conditions is a different type of pain – one to which I am deeply intertwined with. I wish I had no knowledge of this pain.

My mom sits in my room, watching them draw blood and give me IV treatments, helping me do the things I wish I could do on my own (or didn’t have to do at all – like putting that darn water proof arm glove on to protect my IV while I try to take a left handed shower…not sure how clean my hair actually got, but what can ya do?!).

But ya know what’s beautiful?

Despite the almost constant (or seemingly constant) interruptions, I’ve made a special effort to devote a significant amount of time to prayer and reflection. When inpatient, hooked up to IV’s, and confined to a small interior area, what else could be better to help get me through these long, long days?!

Prayer. And prayer works, ya’ll. Prayer has helped me find relief in the pain, hope for future treatments, and stamina to endure each and every prick and the general emotional roller coaster that I’ve been on. God is here and I can see him working. We haven’t found an answer or a solution yet to this problem I’m facing, but we’ve made progress. I’ve made progress. I fought hard when I was weary and worn down at the end of the semester. I pushed through to get the absolute bare necessities done and accomplished and I am proud to say that I walked away from the destruction of the winter semester with all A’s and one B in my theory class (which I was sure would be the death of me if the headaches hadn’t killed me by finals time!!).

As I reflect I see God working throughout it all – in the teachers who took mercy on me and showed me grace, to the times I failed to meet people’s high expectations, failed to simply show up, and failed to be present if I did manage to physically show up. So many people rallied around me when they knew that I couldn’t return the favor and they lifted me up in prayer and in spirits and that alone was enough to carry me through all the ups and downs. My tribe came forward and surrounded me when I needed them most and there aren’t words to express my gratitude. In a situation where it would have been so easy to crumble and fall apart – in a situation where there WERE many breakdowns and where I DID WANT to crumble and fall apart, they lifted me up and helped to hold me together. What a gift from God!

In the midst of our own messes, we need each other. We need other people to lean on, to lift us up, and then – when we have had adequate time to heal and mend, we need to return the favor. There is so much life to be lived, but we can’t do it on our own. It’s too messy and too crumbly and too explosive to manage on our own.

In the few quiet moments I’ve been blessed to find within this crazy roller coaster of health highs and lows, I’ve managed to squeeze in some extra prayer time with the Heavenly Father who brought me through it all. Today has been a decent day, my friends. I am hopeful at the prospect of full healing, of answers, of relief. And I am hopeful that, even if those things can’t be found, Jesus will give me the strength to continue enduring and working for the bettering of His Kingdom while I’m here on Earth.

A special thank you to my Michigan medical team for helping to get me to where I am now – the past 4.5 months have been a long haul but you have gone above and beyond your call of duty in order to help me be as well as possible. I am so, so grateful!

To my parents – thanks for loving me, listening to me, supporting me, and for paying my medical bills…because I know they are a burden to you and that breaks my heart. Please know that I am unendingly grateful for your financial support, but especially for your unconditional love.

To my tribe, my church family, my friends – you have made the past 4.5 months more bearable. Thank you for not pushing me away during my grumpiness, irritable moods, and my breakdowns. Thank you for allowing me the space to be real and to be authentic, and thank you for providing me so many shoulders to lean on in the midst of the struggle.

Even when my head aches, my heart is still full! Here’s to healing and here’s the Lord who gets us through it all!!!

And even if healing doesn’t come, He is still good!

Let us never forget to pray. God lives. He is near. He is real. He is not only aware of us but cares for us. He is our Father. He is accessible to all who will seek Him.”
Gordon B. Hinckley

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You have to thank God for the seemingly good and the seemingly bad because really, you don’t know the difference [until we get to heaven].”
Jennie Allen

Messages From Above.

This morning as soon as I woke up around 6am, I had lyrics to Kari Jobe’s “You Are Good.” stuck in my head.

“You are good, You are good, You are good, and Your mercy is forever. You are good, You are good, You are good, Your mercy is forever. We worship You, You are good.”

Over and over again, it played in my head as I lay there searching for the motivation to lift my tired and weary body from the comfort and warmth of my bed. Yesterday morning at church my dear friend sang this song. I had only listened to it in order to prepare to accompany her for the church service. But I wasn’t too familiar with it. There is literally no explanation as to why it would be the first thing in my head upon waking up – aside from one thing. And that one thing is The One.

I’ve never heard the voice of God specifically speaking to me or calling to me, but I have definitely heard messages sent from God and I have no doubt that this was one of those messages He was sending to me – to remind me of His goodness and His love as I face a long week of finals, term papers, medical tests, etc.

“Your kindness leads me to repentance
Your goodness draws me to your side
Your mercy calls me to be like You
Your favor is my delight
Everyday I’ll awaken my praise
and pour out a song from my heart.”

Last night, mid-breakdown, I reached out to a friend of mine and shared my struggle with her. I opened up some of my most vulnerable parts and let them be seen by another human. I took a risk in sharing something scary and that gift was returned with love, compassion, and kindness. God is good. And in this season full of unknowns, God is refining my heart. He is speaking to me through people, places, worship, and little blessings here and there.

The words of a new friend of mine keep echoing through my head, “Dream. Doubt. Delay. Fruit of God.” God will give us a dream. There will be doubt, delay, struggles, confusion, refining. But eventually, if we persevere despite all Satan’s attempts to derail us, we will experience the fruit of God. He looked me in the eyes and said, “You WILL experience spiritual warfare if you’re walking where God’s calling you.” and he also advised me to find my people, my tribe, and hang tightly onto them.

I can’t help but think that this season is one of Satan’s testing. The struggle with headaches, depression, anxiety, medical bills and appointments and what feels like endless testing, etc. It all feels like too much and I find myself wondering what good God could possibly be showing me in all of this?! I’m weary and tired of the constant search for blessings in all this messiness! But right when we’re on the brink of exhaustion, of giving up, that’s when God swoops in and brings us the greatest blessings and even miracles.

I’ve been blessed to witness that. Through all of this wreckage my relationships have gotten substantially stronger and my tribe has grown! I could look at this season as one of pain and heartache – and that would definitely be an accurate description. But I can also choose to see this season as one full of grace and favor. Neither view is wrong – in fact, they’re both really fitting and accurate. But one, although tougher to see clearly, is easier on the soul.

Grace and favor. Kindness, delight, goodness, songs of love and light.
He is good. His mercy is forever.

I’m not entirely sure what blessings are coming from this mess, but I KNOW that I have been experiencing small (and not-so-small) blessings despite all the pain and that there are more blessings coming my way! I also know that I am counting down the hours until the end of this grueling, long, stressful semester – at 10pm tomorrow night, I AM DONE! And then the next step is an inpatient hospitalization on the headache treatment unit on a local hospital. I’m full of hope and praying that this will be the answer I need to get my life back – to get a handle on proper medications and to interrupt (and maybe even permanently stop?!) the headache cycle. Nothing is impossible for our Sovereign God, my friends, and God’s got this!

To my Tribe, to anyone struggling without an end in sight, to my new friends, to my people whom I can’t live without, to those who I’ve never met who are reading this, please know that you are so much more than whatever your current circumstances are. There is NOTHING that our God CAN’T do. Because God is a god who cannot be rivaled, there is UNRIVALED promise on your life. Walk forward in confidence, knowing that He is using whatever season you’re in right now to stretch you, bend you, purify you, and refine you into a warrior for His Kingdom.

Remember: When you are weak, He is infinitely strong. When you feel like you don’t have the strength or the desire to go on anymore, call out to God and He’ll bring you the freedom you need to defeat the devil and more forward.

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“You have to thank God for the seemingly good and the seemingly bad because really, you don’t know the difference [until we get to heaven].”
― Jennie Allen

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“You know you are with true friends when they lift, encourage, correct, and then spur you on.”
― Lisa Bevere

 

 

 

Speedometer

I read something that changed my life this morning:

When you minimize your pain, you actually give it more power.”

It was in one of my devotionals that the Lord called me too when He woke me up at 4am. How fitting, right? God definitely has a sense of humor and, no doubt – the perfect timing.

Just like in sports where sometimes the referees will call penalties or throw a colored flag (I’m well aware that I’m currently revealing my lack of sports knowledge haha), God throws us red flags sometimes too.

Pain tells us that there is a problem. Pain is a gift from God because—whether physical, emotional, mental, spiritual – it is intended to notify us that something within us isn’t quite right. God doesn’t inflict pain on us, but when we experience it He swoops in and uses it to draw us back to Him.

In no way, shape, or form is pain used as a punishment or a curse for our past sins and mistakes – this world is painful enough without the burden of living in fear of our past selves and what terror that would bring. Rather, pain actually signifies the beginning of the healing process.

What if we viewed our current pains (whatever form they may be in – physical ailments, emotional baggage, mental struggles, spiritual burdens, etc) as gifts that are actually keeping us from further harm? If our cars didn’t have speedometers in them, how could we be expected to follow the speed limit – some of us would go so slow that we’d put ourselves and others in danger, and some of us would swing to the opposite extreme and go so fast that we would also be just as dangerous. Similarly, we often live in ignorance of ourselves and our own limititations. We begin to get confident in who we are and where we are in life and we begin to believe the lie that we can be self-sufficient. Eventually, we’ll experience some sort of pain but often times once we do, we’ve already wandered far enough away from God that it’s tough to get back on track with our spiritual lives.

Pain is our speedometer, in a sense. Pain lets us know when we’ve strayed too far. Pain lets us know when we are allowing fear to keep us in our comfort zones and we aren’t living up to our full potential and the life God has planned for us. Pain draws us back to the appropriate speed limit God has set for our lives and it leads us down the roads that will nourish, heal, and draw us into Him. Pain leads us to seek healing and, if we choose to look to God for our healing, then there’s no bridge we can’t make it across – despite any circumstances.

As my school semester draws to a close…only 20 days, 6 hours, and 37 minutes left (I’m kidding – but there really are only 3 weeks until classes and finals are complete haha)…I’m looking back with a strange mix of frustration, fear, and gratitude. God used the pain of daily headaches (and is STILL using that pain) to draw me closer to Him. It was really hard, at first – to run to Him instead of being angry. And if I’m being completely honest, there are still moments of anger and frustration at what feels like lost time and lost opportunities. But I am also able to see how God used the pain I’m experiencing to force me out of my comfort zone. I had to learn how to ask for help. I had to learn how to cry in front of people and let my needs be known – to allow my struggle be seen for what it truly is. I have had to deal with financial burdens and even find a new (read: cheaper) place to live.  The hardest part?  I’ve had to put travel dreams and plans on hold and face the unknown with outstretched arms and an open heart.

I have no doubt that God knows what’s best for me – better than I ever will. But in this very moment, that doesn’t make the pain of missed ministry opportunities any less painful and difficult to swallow, it doesn’t pay the bills or get the term paper done, and it doesn’t make the headaches dissipate. And all of that is okay. Accepting that God has the BEST plan and that He IS USING this pain to draw me closer to Him is not the same as dismissing the pain or even welcoming it. None of us wants to experience pain and loss – but when we do, and we inevitably will, we can do so knowing a few things:

1. God knows best.

2. He will use whatever we’re going through for our own good.

3. He is collecting every tear that falls from our face.

4. Pain is the beginning of God healing us in some way – even if that particular way is unclear to us right now.

You don’t have to seek pain out – God never wants us to inflict pain on ourselves or wallow in pain we’re experiencing. But He does want us to run to Him. He wants us to use the pain as a signal to slam on our brakes and get back on the right road…the road that leads us to Him and that will ultimately lead us to healing.

Pain is never, ever fun. But we can use it as a mechanism to begin our healing process instead of allowing it to break us and dictate how we live our lives. Don’t give your pain more power than it deserves – don’t minimize it, try to talk it away or hide it, or do anything that dismisses it. Look it in the eyes, call it out for what it is, and then hand it over to God and ask Him to use it to draw you back into His loving arms.

Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comforts.”

-2 Corinthians 1:7

More Of You – Red Rocks Worship

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The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
Brené Brown

He Meets Me in the Darkness.

Deafening stillness. It’s in these moments where God meets me. It’s still pitch black outside my windows and I’ve been awake since 1am. After reading for 2 hours I peeled myself out from between the bed sheets and sat down at my kitchen table to spend some time in the Word. Will I be exhausted later today? Yes. But God will sustain me. As I listen to the hum of the refrigerator and watch the flicker of the tall flame in the candle beside me on the kitchen table, I’m noticing that I’m surrounded by healing, transformation, restoration, and blessings upon blessings.

I’m beyond thankful for God’s restoring hand on relationships in my life.

One of these special relationships is with a woman who has become one of my best friends over the course of the past year – we’ve been through a LOT together and for awhile things were really rocky between us. But we are healing. We are communicating. We are refusing to make assumptions about the others’ thoughts, feelings, and needs.

Another place of healing has been with my family members. My parents and I have come so far and I’m gonna come right out and say it: I’m so flipping proud of us! I’m especially proud of me and my mom – how we’ve grown, learned, and begun to heal. We are breaking patterns and the bondage that has destroyed mother-daughter relationships in our family for many generations. My mom is still a huge “guider” in my life and definitely still maintains a parental role, but as I grow older and become more independent she is quickly becoming one of my greatest friends! So is my dad – my dad has always been an inspiration to me and a “safe place.” My loving, forgiving, and nurturing relationship with my father is part of what has led me to such a deep relationship with Christ. For many people, women especially, it’s hard to connect with God as a father figure because of having a detrimental (human) father-child relationship while growing up – not the case for me. Of course, no one is perfect, but my beautiful parents and I are growing, healing and making necessary changes as we go through life.

I called my sister last night. I dialed her phone number and awaited her, “Hey!” on the other end. I spoke with her about life for almost 20 minutes. I felt very little anxiety and panic in doing this simple action which previously has had me on the verge of tears and panic. My sister and I have had a VERY rocky relationship, for reasons which aren’t completely within either of our control. But we are growing, we are healing, and I am hopeful for a future relationship with her where we can support and encourage one another in whatever ways life demands of us. It’s these little steps here and there – a phone call, an encouraging text, etc that bring me to lift my hands in praise!

However, the relationship I’m MOST thankful to God for beginning to restore is my relationship with myself. Out of all the people in my life, I end up spending the most time with myself (funny how that tends to happen, huh?! Haha). I can’t walk away. I can’t choose to not answer the phone. I can’t ignore me when I AM ME (trust me, I’ve tried and it’s neither easy nor productive). But God is working in my life! Despite physical ailments which have, quite literally, knocked me off my feet, I am growing. I am becoming more myself. I hear words come out of my mouth that I would never have dreamed of uttering even just one year ago. Not bad or ugly words – but words of strength and conviction, words that help to define who I am and what I stand for. Words that lead myself and others. Words that, I pray to God everyday, help others in their healing process too.

I hate to admit it, but I have an angry streak inside of me (hate to burst your bubble – there’s a 99.9% chance that you have one too – whether you’ve discovered it or not). I used to be afraid of my own anger. I would hide it, shush it, stuff it down inside of me and it greatly hindered my true self. It prevented my passions, my loves, my interests and all that I longed to be from developing to their full potential. Anger, when controlled and dealt with appropriately, is an extremely healthy and even a helpful tool. A HUGE part of healing my relationship with myself has been allowing myself to express that anger instead of letting it fester and grow resentment, fear, and disappointment.

As I express my anger through appropriate and respectful words, it’s healing and…dare I say, maybe even a bit thrilling at times. I feel freed of the weight of it all and I can literally feel a physical release from my body as I work through it and cope with it appropriately. As I write it out – whether on a blog or in a private journal, as I talk through tough feelings and emotions with close friends, as I speak up and tell people when something they’re doing is hurting me or I don’t understand it, not only do I learn more about others – I learn so, SO much about myself. Thank the Lord for His provisions and teaching in our lives, can I get an AMEN?!

In this season of life – one that’s scattered with pain and hurt but also filled with smatterings of healing here and there, it’s easy to get caught up in all that’s going wrong…and trust me, I know it can feel like a LOT is going wrong. But I want to urge you, with all my heart, to seek out God in whatever season you’re going through. It may be dark and blessings may seem far and few between – but regardless of how far and few, how small and microscopic, they are there, my friend. Oh how those blessings are there – tucked away in the smallest, most inconspicuous of places just begging to be noticed and made over. We should throw a party at even the tiniest of victories…a colorful sunrise, little traffic on the way to work, a warm cup of coffee, a child’s laughter, the softness of a sleepy puppy, the warmth of a blanket, the smell of your favorite candle…and I could go on and on.

The fact of the matter is this: You are reading this. You are alive. Your heart is beating in your chest – all of that means that God has a purpose for you. You may not know what that purpose is, and guess what…that’s a-okay. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep your eyes on Him and follow where He leads and that purpose will come to fruition before you know it. Keep pushing on my friend. Keep placing one foot in front of the other – no matter how slow you go, keep your eyes on Jesus and you’ll get wherever it is He needs you to go. And just a travel tip…count your blessings along the way, no matter how small.

The ragamuffin who sees his life as a voyage of discovery and runs the risk of failure has a better feel for faithfulness than the timid man who hides behind the law and never finds out who he is at all.”
Brennan Manning

You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.”

-Jeremiah 29:13

You have to thank God for the seemingly good and the seemingly bad because really, you don’t know the difference [until we get to heaven].”
Jennie Allen

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Grace And Time.

We were enveloped in darkness – a soft blue hue was the only light that softly illuminated the silhouettes of the people around me as we waited back stage to play the last worship song of the Sunday church service. As I massaged my temples –yet again fighting off a brutal headache, he (my violin teacher) leaned in close and whispered, “When I was asked to do this I thought, ‘there’s no way I’ll have the time to do this.’ and then I realized…I don’t have time to NOT do this.”

And at the moment I was a little bit confused – it seemed so random and out of context. But later that evening as I was reflecting on the day and the powerful service I experienced at Northridge Church, it finally occurred to me what he actually meant in saying that.

Our days here on earth are numbered and, for better or for worse, we don’t get any say in what that number may be – and not only do we not have a say, we don’t get a 24 hour notice either. In a split second our lives could change forever.

As I battle these mysterious chronic headaches, I’m learning that there are far fewer things that are of importance during our time on this planet than we may realize.

1. Human connection and relationships.

People won’t remember the things you accomplished or the awards you won – they won’t remember the length of your resume or the number of “likes” you received on a social media post. But people WILL remember how you made them feel. They’ll remember if you embraced them in love and exhibited the character of God in your words and actions. What’s worse is that they’re even more likely to remember if you made snide comments, tore them down, were negative and self-seeking, and the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, the later list is the easier one to accomplished based solely on our fallen and sinful nature as humans.

2. Our personal relationship with Jesus.

At what point in our lives do we quit pretending? I’m guilty of it myself…the constant rabbit race. The constant struggle...”When school slows down, I’ll take a break.” “When I get adjusted to the new job, I’ll take a break.” “When I get through this project, I’ll take a break.” “When I get over this illness, this financial crisis, this struggle, this season…I’ll take a break.” But will I? If history is any predictor, the chances are that there will be no break. If it’s not one thing, it’s something else. And if we keep waiting for the perfect chance to devote time to our Spiritual lives well, my friends, we won’t ever find it. There’s never a good time to make sacrifices in our lives, to cut out fun things, work things, social things, etc. But before too long, if something doesn’t give, we must realize that we’re making the ultimate sacrifice – our spiritual health will suffer.

Truth be told, your neighbor, the PTA board at your child’s school, the bank you took out loans from, your boss who assigned a new project, and so many other people and things won’t care where you spend eternity. We live in a self-serving culture and sadly, many other people won’t care where you live out your eternal life, so long as you act in ways which serve them and their interests here and now.

But we have to see this as the lie that it is – it’s a lie to think we can always “get around to” our spiritual lives later on. Just because it doesn’t necessarily put a tangible deadline or demand physical exertion from us, doesn’t mean that everything else in our lives that demands our attention and performance has to get done first. We don’t have time to be complacent and passive with our faith. Our cross over into eternity could happen at any given moment and we have to make sure we are prepared and in right standing with Jesus.

I’m going to be PAINFULLY transparent here and tell you…

I am not a crier. I feel terribly uncomfortable crying in front of others and to be honest, I even feel uncomfortable crying alone. It’s a RARE occurrence that I shed tears. That’s honestly not something that I’m proud of – it’s been conditioned into me to not feel or express negative things – it’s an issue to be worked on, for sure.

But yesterday I was sitting in an appointment with my psychiatrist who basically (in kinder, softer words because the woman is a saint!) said that there’s nothing she can do for me – she’s stepping out of the way and letting the headache specialists take the lead. I began silent-crying (you know, the kind where you’re trying SO hard to hold it in but silent tears keep slipping out and running down your cheek?!)

She sent me downstairs to ask my medical doctor, who is thankfully in the same building, a medication-related question and since my medical doctor was with a patient I had to wait to see her. I started ugly crying. It came out of nowhere and I couldn’t make it stop, so the secretary – God bless her, truly – had me come and sit in a more private alcove so I wasn’t on display for the whole waiting room to see and marvel at the crying, snot encrusted girl with the puffy red face and mascara running down her cheeks. They sent word to my doctor of the…condition…I was in and she sent a nurse to sit with me. This nurse sat with me for over an hour while I bawled my eyes out and went through what had to be the entire box of tissues. Finally, my medical doctor was able to see me. I was a little more composed at this point – back to the silent crying, but as soon as I walked into her exam room I dumped my purse and book down in a chair and broke into outrageous ugly crying again and through muffled sobs and trying to catch my breath I asked her, “Is there anything you can do to help me? I’m so so sorry that I’m like this…I don’t know if it has to do with all the medication changes, or the pain. But is there ANYTHING you can do?” We talked through some options and she finally looked at me and said, “If everyone around you is willing to acknowledge how hard this is and they’re showing you grace, then you need to figure out some way to show YOURSELF grace during this tough time.”

And so as I walked out of her office – exhausted from the tears and mildly embarrassed at the volley ball sized clump of used tissues that I tossed in the trash on my way out the door, I began thinking about what showing myself grace should and would look like.

It’s really interesting to me how we aren’t TRULY able to compartmentalize our lives. Our spiritual health impacts every other facet of our lives, whether we realize it or not. Similarly our mental, physical, and emotional health does the same. And since my emotional and physical health are suffering at the moment – so are the other parts of my soul. All of this means that now, more than ever, it’s VITAL that I learn to show myself grace.

Showing myself grace means taking care of ALL my needs as they pop up – even when (maybe even especially when) they’re inconvenient. It means leaning into the places in my life that I know I can rely on – the Word of God, worship, quiet time, my tribe of beautiful souls surrounding me and lifting me up, and my bed – naps have been a lifesaver in this season (still advocating for an allotted nap time for 15-25 year-olds because I think the world would be a better place if nap time for teens and adult was a thing!!)

Showing myself grace means not beating myself up for the late assignment, the missed class, the violin practicing that’s not been getting done, the shorter walks for Rachi because I am JUST.SO.DANG.TIRED.ALL.THE.TIME, the less active social life, the days I end up missing work, or the lack of make up I put on and the increase in t-shirt wearing that’s been happening. Showing myself grace means emailing professors to let them know what’s going on, but not apologizing profusely, why? Because NONE OF THIS IS MY FAULT. I didn’t ask for any of this, but I’m having to deal with it anyway. Am I angry? Yeah, sometimes. Is that okay? Most definitely – it’d be weird if I wasn’t angry.

Showing myself grace mostly means making time to be sure that every area of my life that I do have some semblance of control over right now, is taken care of – nurtured, grown, and respected. It means showing up to worship, reading my bible, and sometimes interacting with people even when I don’t want too and don’t feel like it because my spiritual life and my relationships are a HUGE part of my value system and they bring me joy.

Showing myself grace means constantly reminding myself that things won’t always be this way… all the while acknowledging that, at any given moment, our lives can change forever. We never know when our time to exit this earth will come – science can predict it, statistics can make arguments and suggestions, but no one really ever knows…except for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

He holds us in His hands and He holds us together – even when we’re convinced that we’re going to fall into a million pieces. That old saying, “God will never give us more than we can handle”…well, I whole heartedly DISAGREE. God WILL give us more than we can handle because it forces us to lean into and rely on Him. We grow closer to the Lord through out trials and tribulations. And I would urge anyone and everyone to make time for the things that set their souls on fire. My teacher said it best when he said, “…and then I realized…I don’t have time to NOT do this.”

Because we don’t know how much time we have. Ever. So, it’s important to take care of the things that matter the most – from an eternal perspective. Don’t give the devil ANY strongholds in your life. Be sure you are nurturing, encouraging, and pursuing the right (Godly) things and all the other trials and tribulations – and there will be MANY of them – will grow you instead of destroy you.

What drains your spirit drains your body. What fuels your spirit fuels your body.”
Caroline Myss

Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.”
Rick Warren