February 23, 2015

What's In My Bag?

I haven't published anything around here in what seems like FOREVER. I have tons of blog posts in the draft folder, but I've been struggling a bit with writing + sharing and want to wait to publish them until I'm ready! Not to mention, my second semester started about a month ago and having homework while also working hard in physical therapy takes up a lot more time than I'd originally anticipated. All that being said, I wanted to keep today's post lighthearted and simple! Oh, and for girl's only. ;)

1.) It Works Blitz Cards and Greens -- It Works has done so. stinkin. much. for me the past few months. From the supplements that help control my joint pain to the amazing power of a packet of Greens for energy, I have been changed for the better. Not to mention, the financial opportunities this business offers are insane. I love, love, love sharing that with others.

2.) An assortment of chapstick/lipgloss -- I'm a self proclaimed chapstick hoarder and the lipgloss isn't far behind. There's a tube of each brand I own in my purse about 99% of the time, I would say.

3.) Chronic Pain Essentials -- I always, always, always keep acetaminophen on me, and when brain fog doesn't get the best of me, I usually carry my emergency pain med with me as well. Aside from medication, I like to keep Lidocaine patches and IcyHot with me at all times!

4.) Lavender Essential Oil -- I started using Lavender several years ago to aid with sleep and relaxation. In the process, I found that it helped control my headaches and neck pain. Plus, a whiff of this stuff is crazy relaxing...I need more relaxation in my life!

5.) U by Kotex Essentials -- Not only do they come in cute, colorful packaging...they are my favorite brand of girl supplies. U by Kotex offers a full line of feminine care products for periods including pads, liners and tampons. Their motto? "Outstanding protection that keeps you one step ahead." Thank you, U by Kotex.

What's in your bag, ladies?

Full disclosure: this article is financially supported by U by Kotex.

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January 29, 2015

Life Isn't Meant to be Lived All in One Place

Several years ago when I first met my friend Danielle, God began preparing my heart for the trip of a lifetime and relationships that would forever change the way I see and define love. He planted a seed in my heart that could only be watered and grown in a tiny little country called Swaziland, Africa.

I wrote about it some and desperately attempted to convey my feelings about the trip in a few published posts but really struggled to share the things I so intensely wanted to. So I kept them in the drafts folder and continued to write...but more importantly? Continued to pray. About what God wanted me to share and what He wanted to keep between Him and I along with that tiny little country I fell head over heels in love with.

Before committing to the team and trip, I scoured the Children's Hopechest website for a child to sponsor. There were several children in need of sponsorship, but no matter how much I prayed about it, I felt God saying, "just wait."

Hearing those words frustrated me beyond belief. "Just wait?" I want one now. I want to have a sponsor child to meet when I arrive! Looking back, I cannot believe how selfishly ignorant I was being. Oh, how I wish I had realized that this part of the story -- this chapter -- was not about me. Oh, I wish I had realized that it is never about me.

After travel delays, switched flights, and layovers in places I never expected to be (Amsterdam and Ghana, HOLLA!), we arrived in South Africa. I got to shower for the first time in days and eat something other than airplane food (which would make any American giddy). As I was getting out of the shower, I'd realized I hadn't even shampooed my hair because I was in such a hurry to get out. I wanted to get on the road so we could get to the guest house we'd be staying at for the remainder of the trip. I wanted to be one step closer to meeting the children I'd been praying for and about for so many months. "Just wait," He kept whispering to my spirit.

The first day was a whirlwind as our team got to know one another better, crossed the boarder to Swaziland, and got settled into the guest house where we would be staying. I spent a lot of time praying that night before sleeping like a rock and waking up to what I remember being the best day of my life thus far. Finally, our first day at the carepoint had arrived.

I vividly remembering pulling up to the carepoint and watching the children run to the fence to wave -- so full of joy and anticipation at the thought of meeting us, holding our hands, and sitting on our laps. It was so evident that these children loved without restriction. They were not choosy or stingy about whose hand they were holding or whose hair they were stroking. Though I'd never been to Swaziland before, there was something oddly familiar about the immense love, unexplainable peace, and overwhelming joy I felt being there.

That's when it hit me. Interacting with the children and watching the children interact with each other reminded me so much of the elaborate love of our Father in Heaven. Their innocence reminded me of the perfect, sinless sacrifice that Jesus was. My heart was broken, changed, mended, and filled over and over again that day and in the days to come. God was evident in each and every moment.

It was that day that I met my sweet Nontsikelelo -- a petite 10 year old with the most beautiful smile, sweetest laugh, and passion for school. She clung to my hand and side for majority of the day and shared her story with me. We talked about family, school, her dreams, and everything in between right down to discovering that we both shared a love for the color yellow. "It is so bright," she said. Oh, sweet girl, how bright you are.

The next day, we spent more time with one another and continued to enjoy each other's company and encouragement. Around dinnertime, we said our "see you tomorrow's" and went our separate ways. Just as our team was about to leave, Nontsikelelo came up behind me, tapped me on the arm, and handed me a piece of paper. "I have almost forgotten to give you your letter!" she said.

As she ran off and started down the path to go home (wherever home might be) I unfolded the piece of paper she had given me as tears began to stream down my face. Her words. Her handwriting. Her drawings. Her thoughtfulness. How worth it being obedient to "just wait," felt. How present God had been and continues to be.

In the days following, Nontsikelelo and I continued to laugh and sing and pray together. She brought some of her schoolwork to show me, I got to show her pictures of my family and friends here in America. As our time together came to a close, saying goodbye made me weep as I have never wept before. As we hugged one last time, she whispered, "I have been praying for a special friend for so long. You are my special friend and I love you!" Though the two of us are from what seems like two entirely different worlds -- and though those two "worlds" are so incredibly far apart, God's care and perfect will brought us together in a way that has forever changed and deepened the way I breathe, live, think, and pray.

It's funny, isn't it? How difficult the waiting is. How overbearing it can feel and how weary we can become when God asks us to do something while our flesh so desperately wants to do another. How much the journey matters. How one day things fall into place and the purpose of the process is revealed to us in such a marvelous way that leaves us breathless and saying, "only God," if we can manage to say anything at all.

Nontsikelelo is now my special sponsor child! I receive a stack of letters and coloring pages from her occasionally and everyday I look at her photo hanging on my bulletin board, I am reminded of God's faithfulness to and patience with us when we are, what seems, utterly impossible. On tough days when the world is so clearly baring its ugly teeth of stress and unfairness and tragedy, I am reminded of the ways that His goodness CAN be seen in this world if only we choose to fix our eyes on the eternal perspective He calls us to have.

I need to be reminded of that goodness. I need photos of this beautiful little spirit covering my walls. I need verses and quotes hung on my bathroom mirror, above my bed, and on my room door. When my heart longs to be back with the people I met in Swaziland, when it hurts to see how unfair this world can be, and when it aches to do something more...I need to be reminded.

{map art c/o Hip Little Squares}

Those reminders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They come in forms of people, places, memories, and words. This vintage map by my new friend Denise and her precious Etsy shop Hip Little Squares is one of those reminders. A reminder I need

I need to be reminded that loving and living and laughing...it all comes at a cost. A beautiful, beautiful cost already paid in full by a wonderful Savior who will one day, in the renewal of ALL things, beckon us home to be with Him in a much happier and pain free place. But until then, until the day we reach the gates of Heaven, life isn't meant to be lived all in one place.

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December 29, 2014

Positivity & Divine Appointments

Among the many blessings that God has given me in my time at Bethel University thus far is a beautiful, beautiful friend named Julia. She is joyful and energetic and motivated. Above all, she holds me accountable. I have mentioned her in posts before and this certainly won't be the last you hear of her. She is someone who, though at times, cannot understand me...desperately wants to. She finds the greatest joy in genuinely pursuing relationships with others.

Before Thanksgiving, I received the startling/unexpected results of my MRI's, went home almost every weekend to attend multiple appointments, and got the news about my upcoming surgeries. Each and every day felt like another excruciating punch to the stomach and each and every night consisted of me worrying about things completely out of my control. I didn't beg God to change the circumstances and I didn't go to any length to change them myself -- instead? I internalized. Though I wore a smile on the outside and answered the dreaded, "how are you?" question with a entirely fabricated, "I'm fine!" I was growing weary. During this time, Julia, my roommate Maddie, my friends Carrie and Paige, and my best friend Amy all the way in Missouri made it (what seemed like) their own personal mission to make sure they kept me lively. Whether it was a hug, an encouraging note/message, or a funny story...they were there, day in and day out.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, my friend Julia came flying into my room as she always so energetically does. In her hand, she held a small black bracelet that read: "positivity." 

"For you!" she said amongst a spell of her infectious laughter, "and every time you have a negative thought, you have to snap your wrist with it!" She settled it on my arm. I laughed it off and thought I'd forget about it...oh, how wrong I was.

Throughout the weeks that followed, the bracelet served as a deep reminder of the power that positivity has in any and every situation. I have worn it every day, and, yes, I've had to snap my wrist a few times. ;) By God's grace and strength, I was able to complete my finals, pack my things for a long break home, and still enjoy the remainder of my first semester surrounded by girls who so fiercely love and support me.

Now, am I saying a bracelet magically combated all of my negative thinking? No, not at all. In fact, where I am now has a lot more to do with what God spoke to me through the gift of friendship than it has to do with a mere elastic band around my wrist. But what I am saying is this: though things have been trying -- though things on this earth will ALWAYS be trying -- I have been personally reminded of what JOY we have in our Savior no matter what the circumstance may be...no matter how the pain may feel...no matter how weary we may become.

I have been severely nauseous since my surgeries. Most days since? I haven't even gotten out of bed. I refuse to take my pain medications anymore as they make the nausea even worse. The pain and uncomfortableness at night makes the nausea worst. A simple shower leaves me in need of a two hour nap. Many days, my mom starts making a meal I requested and I have to make a crutched run to the bathroom because I can hardly stomach the smell. Each day is a battle and all I can do is keep waking up and going to war...with my own body. While it is exhausting, I understand it is also essential

Yesterday morning, my best friend Amy and her family picked me up for church. Before I even got in the car, I didn't think I would make it through. I miserably sat through the service deliberating with myself over whether I should make a crutched limp to the bathroom or whether I should just stay seated and hope that I could hold it together for the remainder of the service. I decided to stay.

It's always amazing and glorious and bit a funny to me when God shows up like that. A divine appointment, some might call it. I decided to stay, and I'm thankful I did because the message reminded me of the power of positivity, something so important, yet again. As I bowed my head to pray, my gaze fell upon that black elastic band around my wrist...and I was reminded of another powerful truth. You see, whether we find ourselves in a season of illness, joy, grief, peace, or something entirely different...HE is with us -- WITHIN us, even, and He is worthy of our praise. 

Psalm 94:19 says: "When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul." I can't think of a better reason than that to remain positive throughout this difficult season though, at times, it seems entirely impossible. He is with me and I have decided to stay -- and whether staying means battling, celebrating, enduring, or rejoicing (and at times, all of those things)...I will do so for He is within me and I will not fall.

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December 22, 2014

Tales from the OR

Hello, hello! Though many of you would be able to tell from Instagram, I am alive and (somewhat) well after putting the whooping on two surgeries last week. :) Still not getting a ton of sleep, but each day/night is a bit more restful than the one before!

On Wednesday, I had to be at the hospital at 6 a.m. - my momma was with me. Things were pretty uneventful at first except for the fact that I couldn't get myself to pee for a urine sample because I'd been fasting for 10 hours! After that was finally completed, we went through questions and such and then started on pre-op procedures. This is where the fun began! I blacked out while the nurse was putting my IV in, I couldn't properly sign consent forms because of how nauseous/shaky I was, and my surgeon ended up being late. They finally brought me back to the the pre-op holding area right before the OR where they gave me medicine to settle me the heck down! I remember laughing a lot but I don't remember how long I was there for or when my mom left me. The next thing I remember is being wheeled into an OR that looked EXACTLY like my high school shop classroom. Um...yeah...let's pray I was just delusional at that point. ;)

The surgery took about an hour longer than expected. My surgeon shaved a solid inch of bone off and repaired my torn labrum in 3 tiny incisions! He also removed some scar tissue in there that was likely causing swelling. I woke up in recovery in excruciating pain. I faintly remember looking up at a nurse and desperately trying to scream but I couldn't make a sound. I was shaking horrendously and SOBBING. She asked me if I was in pain, I nodded yes, and then I went back out again. When I woke up the second time, I was still crying but my pain was much more controlled and my muscles were relaxed again. I was in recovery for almost 2 hours before getting back to my room.

There were a few minor complications when I got back, so I didn't end up getting discharged until the early evening. I spent a lot of the day sobbing and watching House Hunters while my mom stroked my arm and played with my hair. I was loopy as all get out but I remember my nurses being SO kind to me - praise God! They were encouraging and helpful and my mom said they even had me laughing sometimes. :) One of the nurses, Stacie, was exceptionally comforting and very good at distracting me from the pain I was experiencing. She knew about my surgery Friday, so she requested to get me as a patient then, too! She didn't end up getting assigned to my case but she came to check in on me multiple times while I was there and she came to give me a hug goodbye before I left...bless her for choosing to deal with me even when she didn't have to!

One of my church mentors came over Wednesday night. I remember having a long conversation about cute boots - I don't recall much else of our visit. ;) I had a post op appointment bright and early Thursday morning. Getting out of bed was a NIGHTMARE and I seriously didn't know how I was going to make it through the day. I have never, ever felt God's strength more present and active than I did that day! My physical therapist took the dressing off of my incision site and got me started on some stretching/strengthening exercises right away. She was amazed at how clean my incisions were and even let me shower that day!

My mom gave me my pain meds religiously and I ended up having a spinal procedure done that afternoon to help with my neck pain and migraines. When I got home from those appointments, three of my best friends came over to keep me company for the evening! Again, I don't remember much from their visit but I know I laughed and it felt so good to be surrounded by them. :) Plus, there's this cute picture to show for it - I love these girls!

On Friday, I had to be at the hospital at 7:15 a.m. They skipped the urine sample and just drew blood that time around which saved time and decreased my stress by half! My ankle surgeon came by to mark up my foot and explain things, I had another amazing nurse who put my IV in super smoothly, and I was whisked off to the pre-op holding area pretty quickly. We waited there for about an hour, I remember being wheeled into the OR, and then I was out for a nice little nap again. When I woke up, my entire leg was numb and apparently the first thing I said to the recovery nurse was, "You are so nice to me!" I then spent the next 15 minutes repeating it as she administered my pain meds and observed me. ;)

I dealt with the same complications following Friday's surgery as I did Wednesday's, but overcame them much more quickly and was discharged around 3. We were told that the tissue in my ankle is NOT cancerous and the surgeon was able to remove it all, so it should no longer be an issue! As the numbness wore off, the pain got progressively worse...but I slept much more than I had been because the anticipation of surgery was/is no longer. My leg is colors I did not know a leg could be and the swelling makes it very heavy, but icing and elevating seems to help! I got dressed Saturday and attended family Christmas for a few hours before landing my exhausted booty back on the couch!

My besties came over for a movie night on Saturday - I had a bowl of ice cream, then napped the whole time. ;) I slept 10 hours Saturday night and was only woken up by pain twice...huge progress...then spent the rest of my Sunday napping! Other than the throbbing, stiffness, and soreness, I've experienced a lot of nausea and a severe sore throat from the breathing tube they ended up putting in during both procedures. I sleep half the night in the recliner and half the night in my bed. The pain gets a little out of hand around midnight (making it difficult to rest), but during the day it is pretty well controlled and bearable! Still learning how to manage the crutches - no weight bearing for 6 weeks! That crap requires upper body strength like nobody's business!

I am excited to rest these next couple of days with no appointments or anything to leave the house for. :) Now that I am able to lay down and sleep without overbearing anxiety/stress about upcoming surgeries, I can already feel my body healing more quickly. I do, however, apologize for the rambling post - I just wanted to get an update down in one place for those wondering because my messaging back capabilities are at an all time low. I tried to reply to all texts, FB messages, e-mails, etc. yesterday and fell asleep in the process...sigh!

It is such a relief + joy to doze off to my worship playlist each night...feeling so thankful for my family, friends, and faith. God's provision always shines brightest for me during times of uncertainty! I am especially grateful for all the support from this community. THANK YOU for the care and concern you have extended to me throughout this journey! Prayer is powerful and comforting and absolutely beautiful in every way. Seasons change, but God's goodness does not and my prayer is that you would all enjoy the holiday season with the ones you love most. :) We must always remember how exceptionally blessed we are to be given the honor of celebrating the birth of the Son and Savior who took away every trial, inequity, and illness we could ever experience here on earth! Merry Christmas!

 "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love." -Romans 8:38

"My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever." -Psalms 73:26

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