Chapter Sixteen: Grace, Grit, Gratitude.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer; Here by Thy great help I’ve come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home.” –Come Thou Fount Hymn.

Today I’m going to fast forward to present day to share a little bit of what’s on my heart & how you can play a part in blessing our family. Throughout my health journey, I’ve had many unique opportunities to see God working in my life & circumstances despite my young age. It has been an unspeakable blessing to be a disciple God has chosen to reveal His glory to. In fact, one of my goals is to share each of them on this blog to encourage others. Now, most of His works I haven’t seen in the moment, but rather down the line as I reflect on different moments. But as my latest health journey (Wisconsin) has unfolded, I’ve had the rare opportunity to instantly see Jesus working right in the  moment & that has been a priceless gift I want to share with you today.

As most of you know, this year our goal has been for me to receive medical care from the auto-transplant team at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, but you may not know why or how we made that decision. My parents learned about the auto-transplant program in Wisconsin long before I did. This program is an absolute game-changer for those who battle severe NCS like myself. Because NCS is so rare, there are very few treatment options, & I had already tried the ones that showed promise without any success. This program is very unique, is composed of some of the very best doctors & specialists in the USA (& possibly the world) who have dedicated themselves to helping those who are in my position find relief, provides hope for those who have been told there is none, & offers a very promising chance of finding healing, or at the very least an improved quality of life. I am so, so blessed to receive medical care from this program. Anyways, my Mom had mentioned it to me a couple times, but I wasn’t yet in a mindset to be receptive to what she was saying. I wasn’t ready to hear that my Left Renal Vein Transposition Surgery had failed. I wasn’t ready to hear it was time to start over. I just wasn’t ready.

But as I sat in the UVA vascular clinic consultation room & listened to my surgeon confirm what I’d already known deep down–my surgery had failed–the walls in my mind began to crumble. & as I listened to an unfamiliar, inexperienced doctor inform me my “only” option was a painful, temporary procedure that more often causes terrifying complications than success, I knew that Wisconsin was my best bet & possibly my only hope. This was my next step.

There was only one problem. A week earlier I’d woken up & found my Mom tearful & distraught. Now, I’m not a morning person at all so I probably wasn’t the most helpful daughter right then…I’m sorry, Mom! 😛 Even though I sat there like a zombie as she told me the auto-transplant program had been placed on hold, I was freaking out inside. She fought back tears as she explained it had been announced the program would be on hold indefinitely (possibly due to budget cuts, but that hadn’t been confirmed), no one was sure if it would re-open, & how crushing this was for our family because this was our one hope for me to find healing in 2018. She went on to say that she was going to campaign like she had never campaigned before, that she would fight as long as it took, that she would never give up on me & my journey to find healing, & that we were going to battle like my life depended on it…because it did. & she fulfilled her promise with flying colors. Thanks, Mom. I wouldn’t be here today without you. ❤

Y’all know what happened next, because YOU made it happen! The entire month of January, we contacted every single person we knew & asked them to write letters to UW on behalf of me & all those who battle NCS. We set a goal of 100 letters & you helped us SURPASS it in record time! Y’all really came through for me in my time of need…just about 300 people wrote letters on my behalf! Some of you even sent me copies of the letters you sent, & I absolutely loved reading them. They touched me beyond words! We would not be where we are today without you! We were told the letters touched those who made the decision to re-open the program, & had a strong impact on their decision. Thank you!

Every week we would call UW to see if any progress had been made. The answer was always the same: they received our letters, but there was no news. I don’t think I have ever prayed more passionately or fervently than I did during that time. I’ve never wanted something so badly before & it was killing me. We knew they were going to have a meeting at the beginning of February to discuss the fate of the program, & I don’t think my family has ever been more anxious! To say that experience was a lesson in trusting God’s sovereignty is an understatement. 😉

At the beginning of February, we got word that UW had decided to re-open the auto-transplant program! Of course, we were ecstatic, but cautious. They hadn’t communicated when or how, & we were unsure where I was on the waitlist. But nevertheless, the program was going to open, & that was amazing progress!!! I was seeing God move a mountain that seemed immovable, but this was just the beginning….

On February 13th, I was resting in bed watching Netflix when I had a sudden impulse to check my phone. I had a missed call from just five minutes before. There was no voicemail, & it was an out of area number I didn’t recognize. I didn’t think anything of it until I realized it was a Wisconsin area code. I frantically called back, & a man answered.

“Hi, my name is Grace Balasic. I had missed a call from this number just a few minutes ago, & wanted to call back.”

“Oh yes! Hi Grace! This is Dr. Redfield calling from UW Health Center. I wanted to set up a time with you to have a phone consultation & go over your health history to get this process started.”

Oy!!! Oy!!!! I. Was. On. The. Phone. With. WISCONSIN!!!! THEY HAD CALLED ME FIRST!!!! WHAT WAS HAPPENING?!?!?! I started to tremble & a huge grin broke out over my face. 😀 I have no idea how I got through that call without having a full blown white girl screaming freakout, but somehow I kept my cool & calmly scheduled a time to speak with him on the phone just two days (!!!!) later, told him how much this call meant to me, expressed deepest gratitude, & hung up.

After letting out my excited energy with my Mom & Luke & calling my Dad to tell him the good news at work, for the first time in too long my very first thought was that I needed time with the Lord immediately before I did anything else. I went in my room & I prayed & praised on my knees & acknowledged His hand in this situation & His undeniable presence in my life. I’m not sure I have ever felt more on fire for God or closer to Him than in that moment. It was truly indescribable & I will never forget it.

Later that evening I called one of my best friends to tell her the news & we ended up talking for a several hours about everything on our minds/hearts. She told she’d started something new in her prayer life called an “Ebenezer journal” where she wrote down specific prayer requests our Father had clearly worked in & answered. She shared how encouraging it had been for her in her walk with the Lord & that she felt like the Wisconsin phone call was my own personal Ebenezer stone. I recognized the term from the popular hymn, (its one of my favorites) but I realized that while I’d sung it many times, I didn’t actually know what it meant. I made a mental note to google where its referenced in the Bible & look it up during my next devotional time, & went back to our conversation.

The next day, as I sat down to knock out my scheduled Bible chapters of that day, I’d forgotten about the Ebenezer stone. Just a few weeks before, I’d finished 1st & 2nd Kings & had spent some time in prayer to see where God would lead me to read next. He led me to 1st & 2nd Samuel. I was already enjoying it immensely, especially Hannah’s story.

Anyways, I opened my Bible to 1st Samuel 7 & started to read. When I got to the end of the chapter, my mouth fell open. It was none other than the passage that talks about the Ebenezer stone! I couldn’t believe it. It was so abundantly clear that God had prepared my heart for this moment, led me to that passage on that specific day, & orchestrated that specific moment to show me for the umpteenth time that He was working right then & there.

Wherever you are in your life right now, whatever your circumstances may be, may my story remind you that He is present. He is performing a real miracle in my life & giving me a front row seat to watch. Wow. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, He is working in your life too…even if you can’t see it yet. He loves you, & His plans for you are unimaginably amazing. He has got this & He has got you! Believe it, friend, because its true!!

For those who don’t know, the term “Ebenezer stone” is derived from Samuel the Prophet. In the beginning of 1st Samuel, it talks a lot about a series of various battles between the Israelites & the Philistines. Through these battles, Samuel led the Israelites as their prophet & judge. In one particular battle, the Israelites knew the Philistines were coming to attack them & they were very afraid. “They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” (vs.8) So Samuel made a sacrifice to God & cried out to Him & the Lord answered by throwing the Philistines into great confusion & panic.

So as reminder of the amazing victory God had given His people, “Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, (the stone of help) saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” (vs.12) & when the Israelites saw the Ebenezer stone, they were reminded of how their God had helped them in their time of desperation & trouble.

When my friend mentioned this Wisconsin situation was my own personal Ebenezer stone, she was saying this is a clear instance in my life where I could see God helping me win my battle in my time of desperation & trouble. & she couldn’t have been more right! This whole situation was an amazing opportunity to see my Savior working miracles, moving mountains, & performing the impossible right in front of my very eyes. It doesn’t get better than that!

But He didn’t stop there. He opened the door for me to have a phone consultation just a few days later, He opened the door for me to go to Wisconsin for my diagnostic just a few weeks later, He carried me through the long trip despite my debilitating health issues, I passed my surgery diagnostic, He opened the door for me to see a urologist three months early, & now He has opened the door for me to proceed with my kidney auto-transplant very, very soon. He is continuing to move mountains & work in my life!

I chose to share this part of my story with you today for a specific reason. As I shared above, the journey isn’t over yet!! This surgery will be taking place in Wisconsin, so in addition to medical costs there will be travel, food, & lodging costs, with the additional goal of my Dad being able to fly to be with us the week of my surgery. I’m not going to lie, the need is daunting, but we are very prayerful & trusting God to meet it. As I have shared above, God has moved every mountain & roadblock necessary, unexpected & expected, for me to receive medical care in Wisconsin, I know this is no different! I know He is my Great Provider & will provide for my every need!!

So this is where you come in. We are so grateful for every single one of you! We could not do this without you!

Our dear friend & my adopted aunt, Mandy Leeth has generously & graciously designed this beautiful bracelet & is hosting a fundraiser for our family! I am attaching the details written out by her below. Please feel free to share this with your friends & family! The following is written by Mandy:

GRACE + GRIT + GRATITUDE

Welcome to our FANTASTIC FUNdraiser! We are raising money to assist Grace on her journey to go and have a LIFE CHANGING SURGERY in Wisconsin in May 2018!

ALL proceeds– just to be clear, will result in ZERO profit for the jeweler, and ALL profit for Grace- will go to help with all the travel and preparation and lodging, etc., to assist Grace and her family with their needs. The cost of the bracelet is $59.00, plus shipping and state sales tax.

We have selected a gorgeous leather cord and gold bracelet that we feel reflects the GRIT and GRATITUDE that our GRACE has shown as she has gone through this difficult process. The financial burden is heavy, but I believe with your help, we can make a DIFFERENCE! By purchasing this bracelet, you choose to support Grace spiritually, financially, and with an outward statement and expression that will allow you to mentally and emotionally be on the journey with her, and to tell others about her situation. Please partner with me on this, and help change the life of this beautiful young woman!!

Get yours today by contacting Grace or Kristine directly, or do it yourself by following these simple steps:

Go to Mandy’s personal website. https://www.premierdesigns.com/mandyleeth

  1. Search for #50186
  2. Click “engrave me” & enter the “Grace~Grit~Gratitude” (if the “~” doesn’t look quite right (it didn’t on my phone) or it isn’t perfect, continue on anyway. Mandy will be double checking & perfecting each bracelet before finalizing the order, so no worries…they’ll all look the same by the time you get them!)
  3. Add it to bag
  4. Fill out the required check out information
  5. In the memo that says, “are you shopping for an event/hostess?” Say yes & choose the “grace grit gratitude event”
  6. Ship it to yourself
  7. Select pay online if you’re using a credit/debit card or “pay me” if you want to mail her a check or cash.
  8. Place the order!

Please be aware that this event will not close immediately, and shipping will not occur until orders have been collected at the end of the month of April 2018.

Credit Cards, Cash and Check made payable to Mandy Leeth, the jeweler, are accepted.

If you do not want to buy a bracelet, but still want to give or want to give extra, that is perfectly fine too! Every little bit adds up! Please don’t hesitate to contact me for more information or with any questions you may have.

You make a difference! We are GRATEFUL for you! I know God is going to do GREAT things in this fundraiser! I’m believing!

Chapter Fifteen: Nope, No, Negative.

“All these little decisions, these everyday things I surrender, these choices I make daily will one day shine in glory. They will all count.” -Vaneetha Risner.

Nope. No. Negative.

These were the first three words that popped up in my brain the first time my Mom brought up seeing a vascular surgeon at UVA. She had done her research & figured out (quite wisely) this was definitely the best next step for me. I, however, only heard the word “surgeon” & couldn’t figure out why in God’s holy name I needed to see one. Because clearly my issues weren’t the kind where drastic surgical measures needed to be taken…we could just get me some medication or change my diet or something. But I didn’t need surgery.

……& now here we are one year later & I’m preparing for my second major surgery. Ironic, isn’t it?

Yeah….I don’t know what I was thinking. 😛

But more than feeling dubious, I think I was becoming downright weary. At this time, I’d been sick for seven months, & with all the doctor visits, bloodwork, hospital visits, testing, & procedures, I’d only gotten one solid diagnosis. To top it all off, I’d been told I would almost certainly be back to normal after removing my tube, & I was not. We had just gotten home from my last speech & debate qualifier & I was confused, discouraged, emotionally exhausted, & skeptical.

I told my Mom I thought going to another specialist would be a waste of time, energy, & money. We’d checked in with my pediatric gastro specialist & he was skeptical anything was really wrong. We’d accidentally wasted a month in the wrong department (we needed vascular, not cardiology) & after wearing that heart monitor for a month, nothing ultra concerning was found. Deep down I knew I was sick & was going to need to figure out a new plan of action at some point…but my brain just wasn’t there at that time.

You see, I was feeling crazy. & not the fun, sugar high, 2am hyper crazy either. 😉 I was doubting if I really had something wrong or if I was just going mentally insane. Because maybe I’d just gotten used to feeling sick all the time. Maybe I was just pathetically lazy deep down inside. Maybe since no-one could find anything, nothing was actually wrong & this was all in my head. I think all the, “you’re just stressed” lectures, normal test results, & “birth control will heal you” talks just really went to my head & stayed there. Satan can really be oh so convincing when he whispers his lies in your ears…there’s a reason he’s called the king of deceit.

But oh my word, my pain was intense. Over the course of eight weeks, it had spread into my spine, lower back, thighs, left side, ribs, & pelvic region in addition to my right side, epigastric, & head. I also still had very low energy levels & while I was doing a better job eating, it remained an overall struggle. Despite this, I still tried as hard as I possibly could to continue “real life” in typical Grace fashion. But as always, these activities came with very harsh consequences that would land me in the bed in tears with excruciating pain. It was then I realized that my mind was so willing, but my body was so unable, & when I realized that, I instantly felt less crazy.

My Mom did a great job sitting me down & explaining why I should seriously consider seeing Dr. Cherry. In the end, she sold me, & we booked an appointment. After all, if I didn’t like him, I didn’t have to go back.

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On April 12th 2017, Mom & I made our umpteenth trip to the UVA vascular clinic. First, I had what’s called a “Vascular Duplex Exam,” which is “a non-invasive evaluation of blood flow through your arteries and veins. This test provides information to help your vascular surgeon make a sound diagnosis and outline a treatment plan.” Mom & I knew something was up when they impromptu called in a professional running a study on a rare disorder called, “Nutcracker Syndrome,” & asked her to take a look at my test. Shortly after that, she whisked Mom & I down the hall to a newer, high technology machine to check me out further. I heard bits & pieces of the nurses/radiologists conversation…”do you see that?”….”yes, there’s the compression”….but no one would actually confirm they’d found anything.

Next we headed to the clinic. Before meeting Dr. Cherry, I met with two NPs. They were both extremely kind & I instantly liked them. Mom & I felt much more at ease in the vascular department than previous ones. While I didn’t know it then, they would become two of my favorite medical peeps ever. We went over my entire health history in addition to my current symptoms. For the first time in my medical career, they didn’t make me feel crazy.

Then they began to address my vascular duplex exam results. & that was the day I was diagnosed with Nutcracker Syndrome. Nutcracker Syndrome is, “a vascular compression disorder and refers to the compression of the left renal vein (the vein that carries blood purified by the left kidney) between the superior mesenteric artery (SMA) and aorta.” They explained to me that they could select a random group of people off the street & 40% would probably have a slight compression. However, most people have very mild, practically nonexistent cases & don’t experience any symptoms at all. I, however, am in the rare minority. My case of NCS is very severe. Because of the severity of the compression, my blood flow has been compromised which makes the it very weak. Often when it can’t go where it’s supposed to go, the blood finds alternate routes, causing spinal congestion, midline congestion, & pelvic congestion in addition to causing my chronic pain + other symptoms.

Dr. Cherry came in & said his next recommended step was a gastro emptying study to make sure my organs were still functioning properly with the compromised blood-flow & that I didn’t have any gastroparesis (a condition that affects the stomach muscles and prevents proper stomach emptying) from being malnourished/unable to eat for so long. After the study, I would meet with them again to review the results & discuss my treatment options.

Believe it or not, my first emotion was immense relief. I know that probably sounds very weird that I was relieved about having another rare disorder, but I saw it as legit confirmation I wasn’t crazy. I did have a very serious problem going on in my body that was causing these issues & they had actually found it. I felt like I had been holding my breath for a very long time & I could finally let it out. Obviously, as time went on, these feelings would change & become more mixed, but for right now I was okay. I wasn’t crazy. & that’s what mattered to me in that moment.

I didn’t know the complexity & severity of NCS. I didn’t know how truly lucky I was to be under the care of Dr. Cherry…so close to our home no less. I didn’t know how few treatments there are for NCS. I didn’t know he was one of the few who could actually perform one of the rarest surgeries in the USA that I would end up having just a few months later. I didn’t know the craziness this journey would entail over the next year.

But I would soon find out.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen: Reckless Love.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, & your heart will certainly be wrung & possibly be broken.” -C.S Lewis.

I think I’ve always struggled with being vulnerable. Sometimes, it takes years for me to be completely vulnerable with a person. Because through unfortunate life experiences, I have learned that while it can take years to build trust…it only takes a few minutes for it to be broken. The thing is, I’ve been hurt by people. But let’s get real…who hasn’t? Who hasn’t had someone break your trust? Who hasn’t had their feelings hurt? Who hasn’t had someone let them down at least once in their lives?

I’ve never met someone who said, “I just love being vulnerable.” Ever. It just doesn’t happen. The truth is most of us avoid vulnerability at all costs because it is uncomfortable for us. We put on masks, fake it till we make it on social media, & constantly put on protective armor to avoid getting hurt.

Sound familiar?

Today I got curious to see how the word vulnerable is defined, & I admit, it wasn’t what I was expecting.

Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” The synonyms include, “helpless, weak, susceptible, impotent, powerless, defenseless…” Even further, the Latin root literally means “to wound.”

Ouch. This sounds like my worst nightmare.

But for all the work we put into shielding ourselves from this phenomenon, love is still our deepest longing, & loving is quite possibly the most vulnerable thing. 

If that girl hadn’t allowed herself to fall for that guy in high school, she would’ve been spared the pain of a wounded heart. If that woman hadn’t said “I do” to the love of her life, she wouldn’t be broken when he betrayed her trust. If that kid hadn’t taken a risk on a budding friendship, he wouldn’t be left hurt & confused after a fight. If that woman hadn’t allowed her parents to fill up most of the space in her heart, she wouldn’t be completely shattered when they died. The list goes on & on.

So why do we love, if it causes so much pain & heartbreak?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind & with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

I think God knew when He gave this command that by keeping it, it would inevitably produce suffering, but yet He still charged us with it. Sometimes, it seems easier to run away, lock the door of our hearts, & build walls. I know I’ve been tempted a time or ten. If we didn’t have connections, if we were completely detached from everyone/everything, it wouldn’t affect us…but our Father did not design us to be void, emotionless pillars of stone. As He said in the Garden of Eden, “it is not good for man to be alone.” We were made to love & be loved. & love is quite possibly the most beautiful, fulfilling, rewarding thing you’ll ever do.

But maybe we are less likely to suffer for others for the sake of love until we understand how His love made Jesus suffer for us.

Because how much more vulnerable is Jesus when He risks loving us? 

The Last Supper, when Jesus sat with His disciples & broke the bread & drank the wine–a foretelling of what was to come–it was a marriage covenant solidifying His love for us. “In other words, Jesus says to you with this cup, I love you. I want you. I commit to you. This cup is the covenant in My blood, which I offer to you.” -Voskamp.

Love is a risk, & Jesus risked it all for you & me. In fact, He continues to risk…day after day…time after time. Love is painful, & Jesus endured the ultimate pain so we don’t have to. Love is scary, & Jesus had awe-inspiring courage as He willingly faced the cross.

You see, “there are those big-banner, social media, camera-rolling moments, with some imagined soundtrack building to a thundering crescendo, times when we think we’d all pour out our lives, throw ourselves out of a plane, in front of a train, show no restraint & brave the haul of the hurricane to save our love. But real love doesn’t always look like that kind of heroism. That’s more like Hollywood.” Voskamp.

Real love looks more like a sacrificing Savior. A Father who sent His perfect Son from His majestic throne in Heaven to this flawed, sin-filled world to be born in a dirty barn surrounded by dirty animals & raised by two simple human beings. Real love is a Father knowing–even as He did this–that His Son–who never did a single wrong thing in His entire existence–would be beaten, condemned, mocked, & nailed to a cross as a sacrifice for all who have sinned & all who will sin. Real love is a Savior who knew the very same people He died for would reject Him time & time again, would continue to sin, would run away from Him, would curse His name…& yet He loved anyway.

In the ultimate sacrifice of love, Jesus was broken & given. 

How would you like it if someone you loved fully & completely, someone you risked everything for, someone you died for constantly rejected you? “I can’t spend any time with you today….I’m too busy.” “Sorry, I’m not interested in accepting your love or getting to know you.” “Okay, I only have 10 minutes & then I’m done…& don’t expect me to actually talk to you.”

That would crazy hurt, wouldn’t it? This is what Jesus has experienced & will experience a million times over, but yet He always continues to welcome us back with open arms.

I was recently introduced to the song, “Reckless Love,” by Cody Ashbury, & I love the way He describes the meaning behind the song. “God’s love is reckless. He is not reckless, but the way He loves is. He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regard to His own safety, comfort, & well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick. Its not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, its quite childlike & might I even suggest somewhat downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you & for me. His love doesn’t consider Himself first. It isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what He will gain or lose by putting Himself on the line. He simply puts Himself out there on the off chance that you & I might look back at Him & give him that love in return.  His love isn’t cautious. It is a love that sent His own Son to die a gruesome death on a cross. There is no plan B with the love of God. He gives His heart so completely, so preposterously, that if refused we would think it irreparably broken. Yet He gives Himself away again & again & again & again time & time again. Make no mistake our sins do pain His heart & 70×7 is a lot of times to get your heart broken. & yet He opens up & allows us back in every single time. His love saw you when you hated Him & all logic says they’ll reject me. He said nah I don’t care what it costs me. I lay my life on the line as long as I get their hearts.”

Wow. Just Wow.

So even though love is a risk, I believe the reward is greater. I want to learn to love like Jesus. I want to love selflessly & completely. I want to be broken & given in a thousand different ways & die a thousand little deaths for the sake of loving others. I want to love those who feel unlovable, & forgive those who feel unforgivable. Because maybe love isn’t always feeling “good” about others. Maybe its about ultimately being willing to suffer for others.

I want to believe there is enough love in me, that I am loved enough by Him, to be made enough love to give.

I want to be vulnerable. I want to give love to the hurting. I want to love the beautiful people in the backstreets. I want to love those who hurt me & betray me. I want to be brave & open my heart to new relationships. I want to share His love with everyone I come into contact with. I desperately want to love when it’s the most inconvenient…because loving should never be an intrusion or interruption.

Most of all, I want to participate in a full union with Christ. I want to be fully & completely loved by my Father…fully & completely loving Him in return. I want to remember & praise His sacrifice, His risk, His vulnerability.

In the words of Ann Voskamp, “I will love you like Jesus, because of Jesus & through the strength of Jesus. I will love when I am not loved back. I will love when I am hurt & disappointed & betrayed & inconvenienced & rejected. I will simply love. No expectations, no demands, no conditions. I will fall in love & fail at love & fall in my love. & nothing will stop me from loving. Not time, distance, disappointment, or death. You may not love me back. You may humble me, humiliate me, reject me, shatter my heart, & drive the shards into my soul—but this is not what matters. What matters is that in the act of loving we become more like the givenness of Christ Himself. Nothing will stop me from the risk of vulnerably loving because love like this is not a risk. For love defies logic & keeps on loving when it makes no sense because that is what love does. Because love is a risk that’s never a risk.”

Because love only has logic, only has meaning, when it takes the form of a cross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen: Its the Little Things.

“Sometimes, said Pooh, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” -Winnie the Pooh.

Last week’s chapter wrapped up the first third of my health story, which means there are only two thirds to go. Today, as I begin the first chapter of the second segment of my health story, I can tell this is going to be a lot harder to remember & write. There are aspects about what I’m about to share in the coming weeks that I haven’t even allowed myself to process yet, but nevertheless I know this is a great first step. I am learning that writing is therapeutic for me. It helps me to finally feel what I need to feel, mourn what I need to mourn, & close some unfinished chapters with finality & acceptance, & for that I am grateful.

In March 2017, I enjoyed the good days, & did my best to accept the bad days that inevitably followed. I was learning that every activity had a harsh consequence, & so I had to really think through each activity & decide if it was worth it. I enjoyed the Spring weather with Luke, did my best to keep up with Chemistry, & saw the long-anticipated “Beauty & the Beast” movie with my best friend. I was learning to notice the little things in life & embrace every single victory, no matter how small.

But my main March priority was attending what would be the last qualifying tournament of my speech & debate career. For those who don’t know me personally, speech & debate was a main highlight of my high school experience. Our family joined the league in 2013, but we had no idea the countless ways it would impact our lives. For example, one of my favorite memories is driving to Minnesota with my Dad for the National Championship & the quality time we spent together. The experience has taught me how to communicate effectively, defend my beliefs respectfully, speak in public environments with confidence & poise, & enhance my writing skills, among other things. As an added bonus, our family has made some of our very closest friends from the league. In fact, 84% of my closest friends I met at tournaments. The experience has grown me as a person & helped shape me into the person I am today.

I have always looked forward to tournaments & given everything I competed in 110%.  So of course, I’d planned to leave the league with a bang my senior year.

When my illness first started, I figured I would be healed waaaay before tournament season began. But as it turned out, I was dangerously worse by then. It was really hard for me to let go of competing. I had just let go of the Guatemala trip, & now I had to say goodbye to another significant part of my life as well. Plus, presenting speeches was one of the things I found my self-worth in at that time. Giving it up felt like losing my very last shred of self-worth. (See Chapter #11)

My parents knew I was having a really hard time letting go, & felt really sympathetic. They really wanted me to have at least one last semi-normal high school experience. I mean, I’d given up my entire senior year. So in an act of pure hope, they registered me for a North Carolina tournament in two events. Somehow…don’t ask me how because I really don’t know…I had written two speeches during the madness. (I tried to convince my Mom to let me do five in my typical overachiever way, but she wouldn’t budge. Looking back, I’m grateful, lol!) We knew it was quite a long shot, but figured it couldn’t hurt to try.

Over the next month, God opened every single necessary door: host housing, childcare for Luke, & health exceptions from the league that provided the exact flexibility we needed. In the weeks leading up to the event I made sure I stayed on complete bedrest & ate high-calorie foods to get my weight up. I knew my health was precarious, but I was determined. So Mom & I set off…skeptical, but hopeful.

I can honestly tell you I did not take one single moment for granted. I soaked up every hug, every conversation, every round, & every experience like I never had before. I wanted to document every moment & embrace the miracle that I could even be here.

I tried so hard that week. I tried to smile through the pain, keep up with everyone, remain perky & fun, & act like I was okay even when I wasn’t. I tried to stay strong, even when I was hurting, because I felt embarrassed. I wanted to pretend my illness didn’t exist. I even joked about my health to keep it from being a serious topic. I craved being normal & healthy like everyone else…I just wanted to blend in.

You see, while some people might like extra attention, I definitely don’t. I have never been someone who craves being the center of attention. When I was a kid, I would bawl my eyes out when anyone tried to sing me happy birthday. See proof below. 😛 Actually, a couple people have congratulated me on all the attention I get, but I just have to laugh a little bit when they say that. I mean, the only reason I’m getting attention is because I have chronic illness. Even if I did like attention, I would gladly trade it for a healthy life. IMG_1515

I think I felt this way because my friends hadn’t really seen me sick. They’d heard the stories & listened to me cry as I described it, but to me that was a lot different than actually witnessing it. To this day, the only person who has seen every single gory moment is my Mom. I hated being the sick friend. I hated being the person who couldn’t walk down the hall without assistance, who had special permission to use the elevator, & who had to come late/leave early. I hated needing special treatment & being looked at with pity. To me, it was just really embarrassing on all the levels.

But as much as I tried to hide it, it was a struggle. You see, tournaments are pretty intense even for a healthy person. The car ride is long, (which is very difficult with pain/nausea) it consists of three fourteen hour days with back to back rounds, (which makes getting adequate rest difficult) the nerves make it difficult to eat, (which is not good because it is very important for me to have adequate nourishment) & its a lot of walking everywhere. (which takes energy)

Believe it or not, it was during this week I gained a new appreciation for my heart monitor. You see, in a way, this situation was perfect. If I rested all the time, how would the specialist see the symptoms that occurred when I attempted little bits of activity? We needed something to show proof of an issue, & this was it.

My very first round, right in the middle of my speech, I had my first attack. The room started to spin, I started to shake, I couldn’t stop sweating, the pain hit, & my vision began to blur. Somehow I held my composure & was able to finish the speech, but when I came out I collapsed on the floor, pale, shaky & in tears, & texted for my Mom to come. I think my peers just assumed I’d had a really bad round, but in reality, I was just sick & scared.

We got a call from the hospital checking in later that day because my heart rate had been up past the 200s. They wanted to make sure we’d gotten it down & didn’t need emergency assistance. I couldn’t help but feel panic because I did not come to Cary just to spend time at another unfamiliar hospital. The lights, sounds, & people were overwhelming me, so I excused myself from the busy hangout, found a quiet spot in the hallway with a friend, & just chilled for a few hours. I was learning that I needed to do whatever I needed to do to take care of myself, no matter what people thought.

But Friday night was when everything hit a climax. In the middle of the night, high heart-rate woke me up. My FitBit said it was over the 200s again, & no matter what I did, I couldn’t fall back to sleep. I tried breathing techniques, rehydrating, watching a movie, taking a hot shower…..but nothing helped. Exasperated, I figured there wasn’t anything I could do but press on.

Later that morning I was sitting with two of my best friends waiting for semi-final announcements when suddenly it clicked: this was not good. I needed to stop ignoring it, go find my Mom, & figure out what to do. I got up, walked out of the auditorium, & motioned for my Mom to follow. We sat in two chairs right outside the doors. As I shared what was going on, more symptoms hit hard. My face lost all color, my head started to throb, the room started to spin, my arms/legs felt numb, I felt drained of all energy, my heart rate spiked even more, & there was not one Mom in my line of vision, but three.

Honestly, I don’t remember much of anything after that. It’s all a blur. But this is what I can remember:

  • Really wanting to get out of there to somewhere private because at any second a flood of 200 people was going to come out & see me & that was just more embarrassment that I could possibly handle.
  • Someone telling me congratulations that I’d advanced & the fierce determination that kicked in afterwards to go right then & there across the building to compete. (yeah..I was not of sound mind)

& that’s about it.

Thankfully, the tournament director opened up a private room right down the hall from where I was crumpled & set up screens to provide privacy. Mom recruited two of my friends to help me get down the hall, (which was a lot harder than you would think when you can’t actually move one foot in front of the other & the lights are blinding you) & another friend grabbed Mom’s backpack with all her supplies while I  continued to blabber complete nonsense. Apparently even when I’m only half conscious I’m still a super determined person with slightly warped priorities, lol.

After 15-20 mins of resting & a full bottle of Gatorade, I felt ready to present my very last speech ever. With assistance, I made my way across the building to my competition room, took a deep breath, walked in, & presented my speech as if I had no health issues at all. It was an absolute miracle.

I didn’t realize it in that moment, but that entire week was a miracle. With the diagnosis I would receive just weeks later, I should’ve had to go to the hospital. I should’ve felt a lot worse than I did. I shouldn’t have been able to be there at all, much less compete in that semi-finals round.

There is no explanation for that week except God. I know He touched my body every single day with His healing touch & filled me with the exact amount of His strength I needed to get through. My Father knew what my heart needed & as always, He provided for those needs beyond my imaging.

By the grace of God alone, I finished the tournament in a way that provided me with the closure I so desperately needed. There is no doubt it was challenging physically & emotionally, but it was worth it.

I captured pictures with my friends, shared priceless heart-to-heart conversations, competed to the very best of my ability, shared my health story to provide awareness, & said the necessary goodbyes that needed to be said. I made memories & prayed with people & had one-on-one time with my Mom outside of a hospital.

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I learned that I didn’t need to be embarrassed with my friends because the heart of friendship is being there–loving you as you are–even when the hard times come. Because real friends walk with you during seasons of sunshine & seasons of rain…sticking with you through the good times & bad. God has blessed me with some truly amazing friends that I can be real & raw with…friends that encourage me & are always there for me & pray for me & make me laugh through even the worst times. The fact is, I couldn’t do this without them.

I learned to stop, look around me, & soak up the little moments we so often tend to take for granted…the smiles shared from across the room, the laughter prompted by an inside joke, the precious time spent with friends, the kids squealing, the feel of the sun against your back & plush grass between your toes, the sound of your Mom breathing as she sleeps….because sometimes the smallest moments take up the most room in your heart. 

I think God knew I needed this time before the next leg of my health journey. Because He knew it was going to test me in ways I’d never be tested. He knew it was going to break me like never before. He knew it was far from over.

He knew I would cling to these joyful memories during the hard times.

Each day, each memory, each conversation, each moment was a gift.

& for that I am so thankful.

The tournament was a wake-up call for my family & friends. It showed us how scary my situation remained & that my health journey wasn’t finished yet. So, just a few weeks later, Mom & I embarked on another roadtrip to UVA.

We had no idea what was to come, but we knew God would get us through.

To be continued…..

Chapter Twelve: The Beauty of Lamentation.

“Lamentation is a powerful, & meaningful, form of worship because it places our love for God above even the worst of circumstances in our life.”   – Graham Cooke.

The healing was most definitely not sticking in February 2017. In addition to symptoms past (nausea, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, fatigue, etc) I began to experience a completely new set of symptoms: daily headaches, crippling back pain, swelling, hematuria, dizziness, blurred vision, high heart rate, shakiness, chest pain, & pelvic congestion among other things.

Of course, when I was officially diagnosed with SMAS, we wondered what sister syndromes could be linked to it, what could have caused it, & what other rare things my body could be battling, but by that time, treating SMAS was easily the main priority. I mean, a few times my parents weren’t sure I was going to make it through the night. I needed immediate treatment & SMAS was all we could think about at that moment. But now it was crystal clear I wasn’t better & more action needed to be taken immediately.

Now that we had at least one definite diagnosis, that gave my amazing Mom a solid research starting place. The more she researched, the more possible explanations she found for my flood of symptoms, & the more she knew I needed to get checked out for several possible rare syndromes.

Our main concern at this point was Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome, which is another compression syndrome. According to Cleveland Clinic, “Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome (MALS) is a condition in which the median arcuate ligament presses too tightly on the celiac artery (a major branch of the aorta that delivers blood to the stomach, liver, and other organs) and the nerves in the area (celiac plexus). In a patient with MALS, the median arcuate ligament essentially acts like a hammer and the celiac axis acts like an anvil, compressing (squeezing) the nerves in between. This causes a number of symptoms, such as pain in the abdomen that can be made worse by eating or activity. It is a very rare condition.”

Well, doesn’t that sound like great fun? 😛

My pediatric gastroenterologist referred us to the best cardiology specialist at UVA to pursue continued medical assistance on February 28th, & it was my least eventful appointment to date. We went over some brief history & niceties before she made her official professional recommendation: a 24/7 heart monitor for the month of March. I would keep it attached to my body, & when I had a symptom, I would click the button & log it into the matching cellphone. If an operator noticed something concerning, they would call & tell us to head to the nearest ER. It would become my constant, closest companion. At the end of the month, I would go back to discuss the results & our next step.

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If I had a dollar for everytime someone complimented me for handling my situation extremely well, I would be a very rich woman. In fact, around March 2017, I was starting to get really tired of  the pressure to handle everything like a champ. I felt like I had unintentionally placed myself on a pedestal by handling everything so wonderfully, so when I broke or reacted everyone would just expect me to instantly revert to my sunshine attitude. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I really felt without judgement. I was surrounded by people, but felt like I had no one. I was confused & angry, but I had taught myself that the only way to handle this whole thing was with 100% cheerful acceptance.

So I pushed every single broken piece of my heart deep down in a box, locked it up tight, & buried it never to be opened. Because good Christians always accept their trials with joyful smiles & exemplary attitudes….they never lament or mourn or scream. But I had never thought that lamenting could strengthen my relationship with my Father. I mean, good grief, there is a literal book of the Bible called, “Lamentations”. 😛

The story of Ruth in the Bible is very well-known, & in it Naomi is commonly known as the grumbling complainer…she has even been considered by some to have had weak faith. But one of my favorite devotionals, “The Scars That Have Shaped Me,” shows the story from the perspective of one who has also suffered.

Naomi definitely endured her fair share of tragedy. She lost her sons, her husband, & was left a widow in a foreign land for crying out loud!! I can completely understand her need to lament & mourn! But if you dig deep into the story & stop to think about it, Naomi’s trust in her Heavenly Father through it all was quite remarkable.

The devotional states, “Naomi’s trust is further evidenced by her determination to travel to Bethlehem alone. If Naomi felt that God had truly abandoned her, she would have never begun that journey. She would have stayed in bed, pulled the covers over her head, & died in Moab, bitter & angry at God. But she doesn’t do that. She acts in faith, trusting that God will provide for her.”

I actually admire what Naomi did next. She arrived back at her hometown & she didn’t plaster on a fake smile & pretend everything was perfect. She didn’t suffocate herself with an exhausting façade. She openly admitted she felt empty, she confessed she’d endured tragedy, & she invited those around her into her vulnerability. Risner expounds, “Naomi’s words were raw, but she speaks truthfully about God. She acknowledges that He is in control of all things, & everything is ultimately from Him. Her theology is profoundly God centered. Underlying Naomi’s lament is a deep trust & understanding of God. She is not resentful of God & has not turned away from Him. Quite the opposite, Naomi is moving towards God with honesty.”

Wow, I can only imagine the courage that must’ve taken. I’ve always been private about my pain & suffering. I have built impenetrable walls with every single person I know. I’ve never felt comfortable being completely vulnerable or honest with anyone in my life due to fear of judgment or condemnation. I’ve become a master in the art of faking a smile & saying, “well, things have been tough, but here’s what God’s been doing!” even when I’m not completely convinced. It never occurred to me that raw authenticity might draw those around us to God more than pseudo cheerfulness does. It invites them to be honest & real too without the fear of rejection/judgment. It shows them their brokenness is welcome here. But most importantly, it shows them Jesus doesn’t condemn us for our human moments. 

& you know, that uncensored honesty might have made some townspeople uncomfortable. There are always those people who ask how you’re doing, but don’t actually want to know. & it’s never comfortable to hear about someone else’s heartbreak, & no-one ever knows exactly how to respond. & you know, maybe some people judged her & questioned her faith. But I think some people–maybe even the majority–held her & accepted her. Maybe they even felt inspired to knock down some of the walls they’d built. Maybe they felt relieved that they had someone they could cry with without her questioning their faith. Maybe it was the proof they needed that they could lament to God without condemnation. Maybe it even drew non-believers to learn more about her loving, patient, merciful God.  

We know it had an effect on Ruth. Ruth was an unbeliever at the beginning of the story, but she had a front row seat to witness a completely different God than the one she believed as she watched Naomi.

What did Ruth see?  She saw a woman who’d lost everything remain loyal to her God & strong in her faith. She saw a woman who believed with every fiber of her being that God saw her tears & heard her prayers & would heal her. She saw a woman who trusted her God enough to be completely free & uncensored. & she saw a God who gave her absolutely no condemnation or judgment for it. So what does Ruth do? She gives up everything & follows her mother-in-law to her homeland, & it is in the midst of Naomi’s pain that Ruth comes to Jesus.

While it may sound strange, there is true beauty in lamenting in suffering. Lamenting is a way to keep us engaged with our Father. Lamenting is a way to invite God into our pain & heartbreak so He can comfort us & work in our hearts.

So you know what? I have a deep respect for Naomi & her honesty & abandon. But even more-so, I have a deep admiration for her trust in our Father. She has taught me some very important life lessons that I know I will cling to in the coming days.

I am learning that, “Godly lament does not repel people from the gospel, but rather draws them to the Lord; it strengthens rather than destroys the faith of others. When we live authentically, we naturally draw others to God’s grace. Naomi’s pain & bitterness could’ve pushed Ruth away from God, as Ruth saw Naomi’s struggle with God’s goodness. But instead, Ruth saw that Naomi’s hope—even through catastrophic loss—was in a sovereign God who was loving enough to hear & respond to her lament.”

& as we see later on, God does respond to Naomi’s lament. He gave her the gift of a faithful daughter-in-law Ruth, a loving son-in-law Boaz, & grandson Obed, who was in the line of Christ. & He gave her Himself…His presence & comfort, which was the greatest gift of all.

& if that doesn’t give hope to a hurting spirit, I don’t know what can.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven: What Do You Do When the Healing Doesn’t Stick?

“Thousands of feet in the air looking over a city lit up with thousands of tiny lights. I could almost hear the cries of suffering ringing out. I asked the Father, “how do You comfort an entire world in so much pain?” & He quickly answered, “with arms stretched wide on a cross.” -@sheiscaptivating

I’m sitting in the consultation room with teal walls & grey furnishings for the fifth time in just over two months. I’m wearing jeans & one of my favorite t-shirts & I finger the edge of the fabric just like I did when I was a little girl & wanted security. I have makeup on for the first time in weeks & my doctor notices & applauds my “pretty eyeshadow colors.” I hear the words coming out of his mouth, but I can’t help feeling skeptical. “After the feeding tube comes out, most people are able to go back to a completely normal life. While there is a very small percentage of people who continue to struggle without the feeds, I truly believe you will be in the percentage that thrive. Everything looks normal. You can exercise, get back to school, & eat ribs to your hearts content. You can get back to normal life!”

Its funny how sometimes something you’ve craved to hear for so long doesn’t always bring the desired effect you thought it would.

I’m thinking about how I don’t even like ribs & doubting everything really looks normal because something inside me still feels like somethings wrong. I can sense Mom’s brain silently running 123 mph, mentally scanning through her extensive research since my diagnosis while smiling politely at the doctor.

I inhale deeply & ask him one of the questions we’d rehearsed on the drive over. “Doctor, what about Nutcracker Syndrome? Can you explain what that is? Is it something I may  currently have?”

I’m not even sure what Nutcracker Syndrome is yet, but I make a mental note to talk with Mom about it later.

The doctor patiently smiles at me & launches into his personal viewpoints about Nutcracker Syndrome & what it is…a viewpoint we would later discover differed from other medical professionals I would encounter. Then he says, “no, no. You likely had Nutcracker Syndrome simultaneously with your SMAS, because it occurs as a result of that compression, but now that the SMAS has been addressed, you are definitely not currently experiencing that.”

He congratulates me & says he’ll see me in a year & we walk out of the office. I don’t think my Mom is convinced I’m okay either, because she’s negotiating for me to come back in six months time instead & somehow that comforts me…that I’m not alone in my feelings. I breathe a silent prayer of thanks heavenward that nothing unexpected occurred. I know I should feel more excited about this visit. I know I should be grateful nothing traumatic occurred. I know I should feel overjoyed this is all over. But I don’t. Something just doesn’t feel right. Something feels wrong. This doesn’t feel over.

We get in the car & I pull out my phone & start to text the news to friends & family who’ve been anxiously awaiting good news. Next I get out my iPod touch & put my headphones in & start composing a social media update to post when we get home. Everyone is congratulating me & praising God & celebrating & I’m playing along but I can’t help feeling hesitant. Because with everything I’ve gone through I just can’t let myself get excited quite yet.

I’d smiled when we got the call confirming my tube could come out a week prior, but also felt apprehensive. I was so nervous the tube would come out & I wouldn’t be able to eat without it. I was nervous that my symptoms would all come back & it would all go downhill & it would be declared the feeding tube absolutely had to go back in & that couldn’t happen because I would never under any circumstance go through that again.

As tempting as it was to leave it in forever, I knew I couldn’t, nor did I actually want to.  So I escaped into the solace of my bedroom & carefully began to pull it out.

As soon as it was out, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of relief. I had forgotten how wonderful it was to live life without that thing! & oh, how sweet freedom was! I caught up on Chemistry homework, took my mid-terms, played roly-poly (an original game invented by Luke) with Luke, attended Chemistry class, had a long-overdue sleepover with my best friend, & embraced the little things.

But something still wasn’t right. Mom knew it & I knew it. I did my best to ignore the heightening symptoms, but they demanded to be acknowledged. I did my best to hide the pain, but it screamed to be seen. & all too soon, just one week after I was declared “okay” illness began to rear its ugly head once again. Suddenly, there I was again, in the thick of what was supposed to be conquered…difficulty eating, debilitating pain, overwhelming fatigue, gut-wrenching nausea. It was deja vu in the scariest form.

Sweet Jesus, that was tough.

One morning I curled up with my legs under me, remembering everything I’d already endured & deciding I was done. I couldn’t comprehend why in God’s holy name this journey couldn’t be over. Geez, hadn’t this all been enough already? Hadn’t I already proven myself as a faithful follower & beyond? I was grateful for the things He had taught me through this, but enough was enough. He could continue teaching me with a healthy, normal life, right? On impulse, I reached over & opened the new journal my bestie had given me for Christmas, grabbed my favorite purple pen, & penned my first entry:

“The past months, weeks, & days have been filled to the brim with difficulties, disappointments, discouragements, & defeats. Yet somehow, they have also been filled with miracles, triumphs, & beauty. But in all honesty my heart is hurting & is torn in two different directions. Part of my heart is filled with pure humanness: confusion, grief, mourning, & pain. The other part is filled with thanksgiving, praise, & joy despite my circumstances, as I know it should be. But lately I’m worried humanness is winning out. Satan is throwing so many things at me & I am being tested more than I ever anticipated or imagined. I’m sorry I feel this way. I’m sorry.”

I’m sitting there & I suddenly realize I am void of emotion. Because I’ve given my all for a long time & suddenly I just need to stop because this is all taking too much energy that I just don’t have. It takes too much energy to cry. It takes too much energy to feel. It takes too much energy to think.

& then I realize in all the craziness I’d forgotten to create a 2017 theme. You see, the past five years I’ve set a theme for the year that I work on with God regarding my heart & my faith. So I’m sitting there & I think He knows I don’t even have it in me to pray because suddenly His voice rings completely clear & unbidden in my heart & mind—Faith Over Fear. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid but gives us power, love, & self-discipline.”  (1st Timothy 1:7) & just like that my theme is decided. I write it down in the top corner of the inside cover, let those three words sink in, stare at them written in flowy purple ink on the silky smooth paper.

I realize I desperately need strength & I need it now so I do the only thing I know to do. I open my Bible & begin to search for any & every verse speaking of healing.

“I have heard your prayers & seen your tears & I will heal you.” (2nd Kings 20:5)

“Heal me Lord & I will be healed. Save me & I will be saved. For You are the One I praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14)

“Surely He took up our pain & bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, & afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, & by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

“But I will restore you to health & heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 30:17)

I’m feeling strength seep into my mind, heart, & soul. I’m feeling a smile tug up my lips. I’m feeling my heart begin to lift. I’m feeling the fog turn into mist & sunshine hitting me again.

I’m feeling the miracle only Jesus could perform in my broken heart.

I take a deep breath & savor this moment. & I open my journal again & add to the entry:

“I lift my anxieties to You, knowing You hear each cry. I let the tears fall freely, knowing You are collecting them in Your bottle. I trust You are working in mysterious ways that are beautiful & will bless me beyond my imaginings. I know with impenetrable confidence I can do this now. Because You dwell in me & my strength is not my own, but Yours. A perfect strength. An unbreakable strength. You will never leave me, You never have. I don’t have to worry about breaking, because You make me whole. Come what may. Thy will be done. Because with You, all things are possible. I will have faith over fear.”

I still can’t help but utter some burning questions in a small voice heavenward…..

How can You comfort me when I am feeling shattered into a million pieces? How can You help me through the length & burden of this journey? How can You soothe my hurt & give me peace through the hurricane?

& again, He whispers, “With arms stretched wide on a cross.”

 

Chapter Ten: To The One Who Feels Like Not Enough.

“Society tells us we’re killing it when we’re grinding it out, working out, studying hard, & being incessantly busy & productive. Jesus tells us we’re killing it when we are kind, grateful, & loving. Go out & kill it for the kingdom.” –sheiscaptivating

Perfection is defined as, “the action or process of improving something until it is faultless or as faultless as possible.” Personally, I am very familiar with this particular word & definition because I have worked all my teenage life to be as faultless as possible. I have, in every sense, strove to be the picture of perfection. Actually, I believe that’s still putting it lightly. I’m an ultra-detailed, excessively organized, extremely meticulous overachiever who strives for perfection in every. single. area of her life.

I assure you, this is not an exaggerated statement. I have always fought a (losing) battle for absolute & total perfection in every area of my life. When working on schoolwork, every problem, paper, & sentence had to be written in my best penmanship, with the most thorough answer possible. If I didn’t feel my morning devotions had gone flawlessly, I did them again. When I sent a text or email, I would read it at least two times through before sending it & often tore it apart afterword with harsh condemnation. Everyday was scheduled with precision, & if even one step felt sub-par, the rest of the day felt off. In addition, my bedroom is always spotless & picture-perfect. When one thing is touched or moved out of place, it bugs me until I fix it. & God forbid anyone even touch my closet! 😛

Last month Mom & I were in Ulta smelling perfumes from the Philosophy collection & as we walked I literally paused at each display to straighten the perfumes, lotions & creams in pristine, measured lines.

Yeah…I may have a problem.

But in all seriousness, this chronic craving for perfection has led to a constant battle with self-worth. I found my worth in schoolwork, volunteer-work, glowing interactions with friends, & a busy schedule. Failure became my worst enemy, my worst fear.

My everyday actions began to define me.

Worse, I held myself to impossible standards & punished myself when I fell short of them with verbal abuse. Harsh critique became a habit, a routine.

Satan knew the lies that hurt most, & whispered them daily: “You’re a failure.” “You’re ugly.” “You’ll never be enough.” 

& then I got sick.

One by one, my illness began to strip me of every ounce of “perfection” I had desperately grasped for so long. One by one I watched helplessly as school, babysitting, volunteering, speech, church, & activities slipped away…taking every shred of my self-worth with them.

Defeated, I would lie in bed & believe my worth was completely gone. Who would want to be friends with someone whose life had been reduced to debilitating pain & bedrest? Who would want a daughter who couldn’t graduate with honors on time or go to college or leave home? Who would want a sister who couldn’t play with him or take him places? Who would want to pursue a relationship with someone who barely had enough energy to take a shower & had not one shred of beauty left?

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The other day I was sitting in my room & my mind was whirling with all the ways I had flopped this week & the stress of it all began to choke me. My breath came in wheezy pants, my eyes were wide, the tears were spilling, & my room began to spin. It took me a few minutes before I realized what was happening: I was clinging to anxiety & work & my to-do list like my very life depended on it. There was no outside pressure or urgency regarding these things, yet I was placing the weight of the world on my sick body & brain & for what?! A few minutes of satisfaction before a new task arose?

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, & began to pray, “Jesus, I am surrendering all my feelings of stress, anxiety, worry, inadequacy, guilt, unworthiness, brokenness, helplessness, fear, & doubt into Your hands & saying NO MORE! Jesus is where I find my peace & hope! Jesus is where I find my identity….for I am HIS!”

& then it hits me…the truth of that last sentence, & I pause. For so long, I placed my identity in all the wrong places, in all the wrong things, & it has suffocated me. Verses wash over my soul & I feel overwhelmingly like a dying woman in the desert receiving precious life-giving sips of water.

“He calls me beautiful one.”

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

“Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

A question slams into my mind with undeniable force, “Is anything you’re doing here adding up to anything that matters? In the end, is what you’ve chosen ultimately about Christ & His Kingdom? If not, then no matter what you’ve chosen, it won’t matter at all.”

Society teaches us to constantly strive for perfection, to fear failure above all else. We live in a world that notices & critiques our flaws far more often than noticing & acknowledging our strengths. & as a result we unwittingly put our faith in idols…idols of beauty, money, fame, grades, affirmation, intelligence, etc. We put our time & energy into things that are not ultimately glorifying Christ & His kingdom. We become increasingly aware of other’s strengths in differentiation to our own weaknesses. We begin to play the dangerous game of comparison to others who seemingly have their lives in perfect order. We put on an exhausting facade to hide our feelings of inadequacy & our flaws.

We forget that because of Jesus, we are enough, & worthy, & invaluable. 

I realize it is far more important to embrace priceless moments spent with friends & family than it is to be holed up in your room working on school from dawn til dusk. I realize it is far more important to read the Bible where God leads you, to pray with abandon, & to journal the precious things He taught you that day than it is to simply go through the motions. I realize it is more important to be a present friend than it is to be a perfect one. I realize it is more important to cherish the snuggles from my little brother than it is to stress over my blankets being muddled.

I admit, this is something I still frequently struggle with, but I’m learning. I’m learning not to elevate myself, but to elevate Christ in me: His love, His grace, His mercy, His goodness, His majesty, His power, His strength. I’m learning not to trust social media, to realize it is simply a platform that caters to the perfect facade people so desperately crave. I am learning to bring my vulnerability, flaws, & imperfections to the feet of Jesus who is passionately & perfectly in love with me.

I am learning to let go of masks & fake confidence & the pressure perfection brings. I am learning, in the words of Ann Voskamp, “to remember to put my priorities in all things unseen. I’m trying to slay the idol of seen, break the idol of performance, & believe the state of my house doesn’t reflect the state of my soul. It’s the priorities unseen—the prayers, the relationships, the love while doing the work—that hold the meaning, the merit.”

I am learning to trust that He is enough in me to make me enough.