July 16, 2014

Fit For His Service

When the idea of traveling to Swaziland, Africa to serve in a carepoint this summer first came about, my biggest concern was my health. I'd been struggling with bronchitis, mono, sinus infections, and ear infections all winter long. The medication I was on to treat my arthritis severely compromised my already overactive immune system and made my body a lot more susceptible to these infections. Not long after that, I came down with strep throat and battled a bladder + kidney infection. It was a long winter to say the least, and I began to worry that my health would simply not allow me to go on a trip I was so passionate about.

When I shared my plans of traveling to Africa, I struggled BIG TIME to convince my parents that it was truly something I needed to do. You see, I have this God-given, indomitable spirit that likes to travel the road less taken. My parents recognize this spirit and (unfortunately) have found ways to combat my insanity... Sometimes, anyway. This time, though, they knew they weren't getting away with it. Although it took time, prayer, and countless discussions that turned into arguments, I truly believe that they are my two biggest fans and supporters when it comes to going on this trip and fulfilling one of my biggest dreams. My sisters, my brother, my best friends, their families, and my blog readers have been equally encouraging. There is truly nothing greater than being surrounded by people who want nothing less than God's best for you.

As I have continued on with preparation and prayer for my trip, I have continually had to explain to others (family, doctors, friends, coworkers) WHY I would put my already weakened immune system at risk when I could "easily and safely" help people right here. After lots of thought, here's the best answer I can give them:

I don't want to just exist in life nor do I want to simply endure it; I want to LIVE a life worthy of the calling I have received in Christ.

I remember lying awake in bed this past Easter as I was attempting to rest and endure the pain of the bladder + kidney infections I was dealing with. I was in the most pain I had ever been in since my diagnosis. Our team was in the heart of fundraising for our trips and we were just about to begin t-shirt selling. The hugest part of me wanted to give up right then. Not on life, but on making my dreams for this trip to become a reality. I was crying, praying, and ultimately attempting to give God an ultimatum. I remember saying out loud, "God, if you do not heal me from this disease and its complications, I will not follow your call to go on this trip." Though (at the time) I fully expected Him to heal me right then... In hindsight, I can't say I'm surprised that He didn't. Instead, I heard the gentlest voice say, "Have faith child, I am taking you to Africa." That assurance and those nine words were what kept me holding on.

When I wake up in the morning all the way til the moment I close my eyes to sleep at night... I have no clue why God has put Africa on my heartI just know that He has and I am positive that He protects those who listen to His call no matter what the cost. That is why I am not afraid of this trip. Of foreign disease. Of wearing a mask to prevent infection. Of holding, hugging, and kissing children from entirely different backgrounds. Rather, I am whole. Not because my earthly body has been healed, but because I have Him and He is all I need.

In 3 days, I will board a plane to a place and people that I love so radically, passionately, and recklessly though I have never been there or met them. In doing so, I am choosing to believe that the wounds I've so desperately pleaded with God to heal and the burdens I've begged Him to lift are the very things that make me fit for His service.

I can't wait to watch God fulfill the promise He gave me during one of the darkest times of my life. I can't wait to learn how to love the way He has loved me. I can't wait to have my heart broken for the things that break His. And I can't wait to share it all with you.

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June 24, 2014

It Doesn't Go Away

Over the course of the past week, three people in my life have very openly asked me similar questions about what it's like to live with a chronic illness. After shortened explanations of the Spoon Theory, attempting to stay as lighthearted as possible, and the citation(s) of countless Web MD definitions... I've found even myself a bit bewildered by the pain that has forever changed the way I live my life.

Autoimmune arthritis is still confusing to me and I was diagnosed nearly 5 years ago. I don't know why I was one who inherited the HLA-DR4 gene or why I was 1 in 250 who was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at a young age. I don't know why my immune system attacks itself and causes pain and swelling or why I can go from feeling great to experiencing writhing pain in a matter of seconds. There are so many unanswered questions that I've simply stopped asking "why?" to.

In a nutshell, here's why: even when I'm in pain, I'm Kenzie. No amount of pain, no doctor's appointment, and no medication will change the fact that I am alive and human with a life to live and the choice on how to live it. I'm a teenage girl who wants to stay out with her friends til the wee hours of the morning. I want to be able to go on a date and not worry about having to explain the pain relieving patches or joint braces covering my body. I want to live, learn, and experience just like we all do. I just go about doing so a little differently.

For those reasons and others, I've found that even when I'm in pain, I somehow find the strength to go for a run. To go shopping with my girls. I finally say "yes" to that date I was avoiding. I stay out late with my friends. I put my swimsuit on and go out to the lake. I take on another babysitting job for the week... Because I've simply realized that if I'm not living my life, no one will.

In reality, the pain? It doesn't go away. My pain levels change more rapidly than anything else in my life does. One day may be a tough one, and the next might be excellent... An OMG-this-is-what-normal-feels-like kinda day. But ultimately and realistically, my diagnosis is chronic, and that means it never goes away. It doesn't go away, so I just make room for it. I create a new normal the best way I know how, and when I discover something better, I do better.

The truth is, I don't know how to explain what it's like to live with a chronic condition. There aren't words to describe something that changes you on an hourly basis. All I know for certain is that day in and day out, this is my reality and doing what I can to create a sense of "normal" in the midst of it all is essential.

I take it all one day at a time not only because it's the best way, but because it's the only way.

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June 13, 2014

Girl talk for #THATtimeofthemonth

WHAT I'M WEARING :: TOP // Gap ::  Jacket// JcPenny ::  SCARF // Vanity :: JEANS // American Eagle :: PURSE // Target ::  SANDALS // Target

As the months come and go, so does the mutual friend we all have, ladies. She's kind of a jerk, and I used to curl up in a ball on the couch when it was her time to visit each month... But after discovering Uby Kotex, things got a little easier.

Using their versatile and effective products has changed the way I live from month to month... Even when things are ugly! I still make sure to wear dark wash jeans and keep myself comfy, but no products allow me to thrive during that time besides Uby Kotex!

My favorite thing about their cute, bright colored packages is that I can sneak them all into my purse along with all my other #THATtimeofthemonth essentials and there would be no way of knowing! Easy, lightweight, and they get the job done - is there anything better?!

Some other essentials I love to keep close by are ibuprofen for cramps, Vaseline chapstick for chapped lips, and Lidocaine patches for back pain. #THATtimeofthemonth has absolutely nothing on me... And clearly, I'm jumping for joy about it!

What are your#THATtimeofthemonth essentials?

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June 06, 2014

Speaking LIFE to Someone with Chronic Pain

During the past 4 years of living with chronic pain and an autoimmune disease, I've dealt with multiple healthcare "professionals," outsiders who think I'm a hypochondriac, and discouraging, ignorant people who simply like to discount the importance of the things + a pain that they have never experienced, therefore cannot possibly understand.

During those same 4 years, however, I have also formed some really incredible friendships and I've had some life changing and beyond encouraging conversations. For every time I have been offended or hurt by something someone has said to me in regards of the chronic pain I feel on a daily basis, there have been 10 other things that have encouraged and given me the strength I need to keep fighting.

At times, chronically ill or not, we are ALL offended and discouraged by the words of others. It is a fact of life. I will be the first to admit that I've even been the initiator of discouraging words at times. Hurt people, hurt people. That statement rings true, I know. But there comes a point when those discouraging words must cease to exist. There comes a time when speaking life becomes vital.

Now, what I'm sharing today isn't meant to be force fed. I'm not asking anyone to take these 5 text messages I've received (and found helpful) and incorporate them word for word into their daily dialogue with others suffering from autoimmune disease or chronic pain. I'm only asking that you would read these words, recognize the compassion within them, and use them to better form your responses to conversations in the future.

1.) Get excited about the GOOD days. Sometimes, especially during particularly tough seasons, GOOD days are few and far between. Celebrate those good days, but don't discount the bad days in the process. Also remember that because of the instability of our immune systems, things can change quickly. Bear with us. Stay excited. Do your best to be encouraging no matter what kind of day it is.

2.) Remind the sufferer that they are strong enough to fight. It may sound cliche, but as someone who fights an autoimmune disease regularly... Day in and day out... It's easy to fall into the redundancy of it all. No day is the same, but one thing that doesn't change is the relentless pain. A simple reminder of the strength it takes to fight MATTERS.

3.) Out-of-the-blue encouragement. This is by far the most efficient, tangible, and meaningful form of encouragement in my book. It has gotten me through days and nights when I wanted nothing more than to give up completely. Sending a short text message takes seconds and can completely turn a day around.

4.) Humor... At the right time. One of my best friends has NAILED this form of encouragement. On injection nights or during vent sessions, she is able to make me giggle through the pain that has the ability to engulf every part of me. At the right time, humor can be incredibly beneficial. It tends to keep me more grounded than anything and it helps me to remember that there is a bigger picture beyond the here and now!

5.) Just. Be. There. Contrary to popular belief, there doesn't have to be a solution or a "fix" to help patients, just like me, through the pain the pain we experience on a daily basis. Simply letting the sufferer know that you care, are there to listen, and will continue to be with them along the way is more than beneficial. As a supporter, literally all you need to say is:

A simple, "Even though I don't know what you're going through, I'm here and I care," is enough to make the world of a difference.

Encourage. Listen. Laugh. Simply be there... And make that world of a difference with your words through speaking LIFE. 

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