December 17, 2014

Conquering Mountains

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

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

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

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

And that's not even all of them.

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

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

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December 15, 2014

Embrace What's Difficult

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

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

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

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

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Full disclosure: this article is financially supported by Medtronic. All thoughts are my own.
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December 12, 2014

Next Stop: Jamaica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 09, 2014

Currently (December '14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your currently's?

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