November 03, 2014

A Pretty Good Place to Start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 30, 2014

I Just Do It

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

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

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

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

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

"I just do it." I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 12, 2014

World Arthritis Day 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 02, 2014

College Must-Have's for Getting Over a Cold

I went home this past weekend to spend some time with my family, see old friends, and attend my high school's homecoming football game. I got to hang out with my {old} nanny family on Saturday (I hate that I'm not their full time nanny anymore) as they got ready for a wedding and I got to sleep in an unlofted bed for two nights. It was such a wonderful time and it went entirely too fast, but I am in love with my new home here at Bethel and I missed my roommate/floormates WAY too much!

Last Thursday, my sweet roomie Maddie and I both woke up congested with sore throats. Womp womp. I was grateful that I would be going home for the weekend so I could pick us up some essential cold fighting items for us both!

1.) Lindt Chocolate - first and foremost, obviously! Because chocolate makes the my world go 'round. They just came out with a bunch of new flavors with their #ItStartedWithHello campaign and I've been obsessed with trying them all. The caramel brownie is pretty tasty, but anything salted caramel will always and forever be my personal favorite!

2.) Throat Coat tea - one of my awesome friends back home introduced me to this when I was fighting strep throat, a sinus and double ear infection this past summer. It's super soothing and way tastier than all those nasty cough syrup flavors they carry at my Walgreens.

3.) Emergen-C - now, this is not tasty at all, but it definitely does the job. Vitamin D + Vitamin C and a boost of other vitamins for the immune system. This stuff literally saves my life as an autoimmune disease patient a few times a year!

4.) Love notes!!! - both my roomie and I love leaving each other little notes, writing out cards, and just flat out being encouraging. Words of Affirmation + Quality Time are my actual love languages, contrary to what my mother would tell you (she swears it's coffee + scarves), so I absolutely adore little love notes!

What are your key essentials for getting over a cold?!

Full disclosure: this article is financially supported by Lindt HELLO. All thoughts/images are my own.

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