(After having the opportunity to share my testimony last night, I woke up this morning feeling inspired. It was like I had gotten a good smack in the face, and my focus was put back where it belongs. I've never actually written out my full testimony, with every nitty gritty detail, and after some encouragement, I decided to go ahead and do it. So here we go. I pray that if you choose to read this, you leave having learned something.)
When I was little, saying prayers was just something we did every night before bed. It wasn't a big deal, it was just a part of life. I was baptized when I was a baby, so I know the influence was there from the beginning. I don't really remember going to church and things, though I know we did because I remember seeing the old church directories, but I remember word for word the prayer Mom taught Holly, Chelsea, and me to say: "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God, I'm thankful for........God, I pray for.........Amen."
My parents split up in March 1997, and my mom, sisters, and I moved to Swansboro and in with my grandma until my mom could find our own house. We fell right in with the Methodist church in town, and it was nice. We still got to see my dad, who still lived in Raleigh, some weekends, and we had a routine. When my dad got diagnosed with leukemia in August 1998, my 6-year-old mind was sure that God would heal him, because that's what I was always taught God does, and healing in my mind meant I'd get to keep him. The following March, when doctors found benign tumors in my thyroid and I ended up in Duke four floors away from my dad, I didn't even really think anything of it. I was just excited that I got to talk to him on the phone.
Then, on June 17, 1999, two days after my 7th birthday, my whole world got rocked. This day is the first vivid memory I have. I woke up that morning like a typical kid, still excited about all the presents I had received, and found my mom and one of the pastors from our church sitting in the living room. They told my sisters and me that our dad had passed away early that morning. We sat there and listened to the pastor pray, and then I ran to my room. A shot of me laying on the bottom bunk in my sister's and my room and sobbing for hours is still stuck in my head like a photograph. In the days after that, I pretty much decided I was done with God. My 7-year-old, heartbroken self couldn't rationalize how a God that was supposed to love me would take away my daddy. So that was it, there couldn't have been a God. I still went to church basically because my mother forced us all to do it, but I didn't listen to a word that was said. I blocked it out because I just didn't believe any of it could actually be true.
In 2002, when I started 6th grade, I joined the Youth Group at church. It was just what you were "supposed to do," but like before, my heart wasn't in it. I went through "Confirmation" because people told me to and because I wanted to be included in the group. This is also the time when I remember Chelsea's mental issues getting really out of control, which did nothing to change my belief that there couldn't be a God taking care of my family as I was watching it fall apart. Then, in November 2003, I went with some of the Youth Group to a weekend retreat at Camp Don Lee, a Christian camp my sisters and I had attended several summers. The Saturday night of the retreat, there on the beach in front of a campfire and a wooden cross, I broke down. I started crying and begging God to forgive me for all the mistakes I had made, for turning my back on Him. I remember one of the group leaders coming and kneeling beside me, and I asked her if I could be alone because I had to come to terms with everything that had happened in the past five years. I consider that day the day I got "saved." I told God I loved Him and wanted Him in my heart and for Him to be with me always. Afterwards, I was pretty much on top of the world. I told everyone I knew about what had happened, and I believed my life was going to be different from that day on. It just had to be. The next fall, I went back to the same retreat. I was ashamed at what I saw as all of my "failures" from the previous year, and I again promised Christ that I was going to be better this time.
Then, I started high school. High school was a whole new game for me. I had always had friends, even though I had never been popular. But in high school, the slight bullying that I had had to deal with in the past got magnified about a hundred fold. People I didn't know were spreading rumors about me. People, especially guys, that I thought were my friends only pretended to be nice to me so they could emotionally abuse me; I let them because I thought I deserved it, I believed them when they told me it was my fault. This was also the point when my health issues started getting really out of control, which only fueled the rumors about me more. This wasn't just at school, either. In the fall of 2006, there was a blow-up at church in which I found out that basically the entire youth group, kids and adults, believed I was faking my problems. So I left, without a second thought. At this point, I had sunk into such a deep depression that I completely and totally shut down. I didn't speak to anyone at school except for the one friend that always believed me (Matt, of course), ever, not a word. At home, the only times I spoke to anyone in my family were when I needed to release all the anger that had built up inside me. And I certainly didn't talk to God. I resorted back to that 7-year-old version of myself, the one that believed that a God that loved me wouldn't let my life be going the way it was. I contemplated suicide on a weekly basis, and I honestly believe that Matt is the reason I never actually attempted it. Even when he went to college and was gone for my junior and senior year, he was still the one soft place I had to land. So it's not too surprising that I completely fell in love with him. I put my entire peace of mind, my happiness, my existence on him, because I didn't believe that there was a God anymore.
A month before I graduated, I returned to school after being homebound for seven weeks. It was at this point that I realized I really didn't care what anyone in that school thought of me, and I was done trying to be who they wanted me to be. I thought I was actually turning a corner. That summer was really pretty good. I had graduation and birthday celebrations, I had Matt home for the summer, and I was focused on getting out of Swansboro and getting to experience my new life at Campbell. I was finally starting to think again that there could actually be a loving God watching over me.
If you've been a longtime reader here, you know what happened next, starting in August 2009 - six brain surgeries, several life-threatening complications, and staph pneumonia all within a three month span that caused me to miss that first semester. I spent a total of 49 days in hospital beds that fall and I don't even know how many days in bed at home, and in those 49 days, I questioned everything about the world around me. All I wanted was to go to college, to be a student, to have a regular life. I was 17, 17-year-olds weren't supposed to have to deal with stuff like this! Every time I thought I was getting better, a new complication showed up and I just got angrier and angrier. I sunk even further into the hole of depression that I had just felt myself starting to climb out of weeks before. I made everyone else believe I was still trusting in God's plan for my life and my health, but to be perfectly honest, I only kept saying that because part of me hoped if I said it enough I'd actually believe it. I never did. I was angry at the world. I was angry that God had "abandoned" me. I was angry that my mom was depressed and that her principal was trying to fire her. I was angry that I couldn't catch a break. I met a lot of amazing Christian friends through the blog world around this time, but there was nothing anyone could've said to bring me out of that. I was a master at making them all believe that I was fine and a Christian.
That following spring, in January 2010, I went to Campbell. Finally. I was weak, I was constantly exhausted, but I was finally getting to experience a taste of the life I had been dreaming of. When I went to see a podiatrist and scheduled my foot surgeries, I was actually excited because these surgeries could only make my life better! It was at this point that I finally started processing everything that had happened to me in 2009. I had to come to terms with what I'd been through, but the process was so overwhelming I didn't even know where to begin. All I knew was that I was not going to let this stop me, I was not going to be "the sick girl" and let that define my life.
I didn't even really have the time to dig into that before I hit my breaking point. In September 2010, less than two weeks after I got the cast off from my second foot surgery, I contracted a massive MRSA infection in my foot. This infection was missed by the hospital near Campbell , and thus got to the point that by the time I made it to my foot doctor, as I later found out, I was 24-48 hours from going into septic shock and probably dying. I had emergency surgery on Saturday, September 25th, to clean out the infection and laying there in that hospital bed, I told the doctors that I didn't care what had to be done, this was not, under any circumstances, going to make me miss another semester of school. And when no one was watching, I basically told God "since you apparently want to see how much I can take, how many tests you can throw at me before I break, I'll prove you wrong. I can do this." I was more determined than ever to fight. The only problem was that I had the wrong opponent in mind.
I spent two weeks at home before I went back to school. I had a PICC line in my arm for six weeks with which I was required to give myself high-dose, extremely intense IV antibiotics. I missed every other Monday of class because I had to be consistently checked by both my podiatrist and my "Infectious Disease" doctor. Going into this, I thought it would be a cake walk compared to all of the brain surgeries. I could do this, no big deal. I had no idea what I was signing up for. It was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting to be constantly paranoid about another infection or medical problem. But I kept going. I stayed in class, because in my eyes, I had no other choice. I wasn't going to let whoever was "doing this to me" prove that I was weak.
At least, that was until I hit my breaking point. Sometime right at the end of that 6-week period, I broke. I completely and utterly shattered. I felt like I was suffocating and there had to be a way out. I had no choice but to accept the fact that if I kept trying to do this on my own, I was going to kill myself, whether I intended to or not. I had an epiphany of sorts, in that I realized that God didn't cause my problems; instead, He saved me from them by letting me cheat death more than half a dozen times. I was tired of fighting by myself. I had no worldly comfort or support, as my relationships with my mom and sisters were basically non-existent and Matt and I had our own rollercoaster ride. Somehow, I just knew that if I was going to make it through this, there had to be a God that was taking care of me, that gave me the strength to get through it, because clearly, the strength I felt by myself wasn't enough.
This is when I decided to take that same stubbornness I had felt before, the determination to "prove God wrong", and use it for something good. Something in my gut just told me that I wouldn't have gone through all of this pain and suffering for no reason, that a God who saved my life so many times wouldn't let it all be for nothing. There had to be a reason I was still here because, according to every doctor I saw, I should've been dead. And so I started praying that God would show me the reason for this, that God would show me why my life was the way it was, and what He wanted me to do with it. I prayed that I could make a positive difference in someone's life with what I had learned; then, I would feel like it had a purpose, like I had a purpose.
Months later, those prayers already started getting answered. I got diagnosed with Bell's Palsy in January, and it went away after 16 days instead of the 3-6 months all the doctors told me. I joined my first Bible study. I made real friends at school for the first time, and those friends started confiding in me the things they had learned from watching me and my struggles. That was when I finally got it. God was using me to teach others. I had been so caught up in my self-pity before that I didn't see it, but my life was (and is!) part of a much bigger purpose. It was my job to show the world the miracles that had been performed in my life, and to therefore tell them of the miracles that He can perform in theirs. I'll never forget the first time Ryann told me she appreciated her life and her health more because of me, or when I sat at lunch and poured out my entire story to Bruno the day I first met The Vespers and he told me that I was going to do big things with my testimony, "bigger things than [he]'ll ever do."
I started out 2011 with the goal of that finally being the year I found peace. And honestly, while I wish I had known that all it took was making the decision to find peace to actually find it, I can see now that I went through immense growth during those very hard years. I wouldn't be the same person had I not survived all of that. That was the start of becoming grateful for everything I faced, even as far back as losing my dad, because as cliché as it sounds, it really did make me stronger. And it took all of that to bring me back to God and make me willing to invest my heart into Him 100%. Furthermore, once I realized the impact that my life was having on the people around me, the more I wanted to share it with the world and tell more people. This story, my story, was giving me the opportunity to change the world, something I always knew I wanted to do.
Life is hard. There is no way to prepare someone for it. It's just hard. It's frustrating, and scary, and overwhelming, and sad at times. But you can get through this. I am a living, breathing testimony to the power of God, to His unending love and grace, to the fact there is no limit on the number or magnitude of miracles He can perform in your life. Don't give up. Please. Because once you're on the other side, you will see the purpose. It may not be immediate, it may not even be until you're in Heaven (that's frankly when I was expecting to find out the purpose for everything in my life), but you will see it. Everything that happens is for His will, and He will redeem every bit of pain and suffering you have faced if you let Him. I promise.
I may not be sure of many things in life, but the one thing I am 1000% positive of is that giving your life to the God that loves each of us more than we will ever understand is a decision that you can never regret.
If you'd like to talk privately with me, my email is email@example.com